John Berry had been trying to qualify for the Amateur Motocross Assn./Air Nautiques Amateur Motocross Championships for four years, but one thing or another had kept him from doing so.
John, 12, admitted he'd started to lose faith that he'd ever make it to nationals. But on July 11, in Walnut, Ill., the racer had another chance to make his dream come true. He and his parents, Johnny and Dacia, knew what he had to do.
"It was the last race of the day, so it was like, okay, this is it," Dacia Berry said. "Either you do it now, or we're going home."
In prior years, sickness and injuries prevented John from qualifying for nationals and bad luck almost struck again this year. In the qualifier, he misjudged a jump and was nearly struck by the racer behind him. John avoided the collision, though, and kept on going.
As he approached the finish line, luck was in John's favor. Two racers in front of John collided, and he was able to make his way passed one of them to move up a spot before he finished.
Throughout the race John tried to keep track of where he was in the standings to see if he would make the cut. Judging by the racers he finished with, John had a feeling that he'd finally qualifed for nationals.
"I know I'm doing good if I'm up with them," John said.
It turned out, John was right and beginning Aug. 1, he will compete at nationals in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. For John, qualifying for nationals has been the culmination of all the hard work he's put into racing since before he was in kindergarten.
John first dabbled in the sport by riding All-Terrain Vehicles but switched to dirt bikes after watching Supercross videos from his father Johnny's boss. The action on the screen had made quite an impression, and by the age of 6, John was racing competitively.
To get to this point in his career, John taught himself how to ride, but early on the young racer did look to those around him for help. Johnny Berry had ridden dirt bikes a little and occasionally raced, so he was able to help. A few weeks before his first race, John even went to a Motocross school.
For expert advice on the craft, though, John sought help from his extended "family" professional Motocross racers Cory Francis and Nick Metcalf.
"They're all willing to help whenever kids have a question and stuff like that," Dacia Berry said. "I call it a Motocross family because everybody helps each other out."
John was soon on the tracks, but his first result was a little bittersweet.
"He got last, but there were only four kids so he still went home with a fourth-place finish," Dacia said.
Later in John's first year of racing, he was competing in the National Motocross Assn. Grand Nationals in Ponca City, Okla. John reached the run-off stage and nearly gained the early advantage.
"On the start, there was a big pileup and there was this little hole and I could have got through it when they went down," John said. "Right when I got to it, some dirtbike all of a sudden just came out in front of me."
John ended up finishing 24th in the race, but it marked a turning point in his racing career. Dacia Berry said her son raced noticeably faster after that race, motivating him to race even more.
Since then, John has been racing and winning all over the nation. And despite competing almost year-round in such an unforgiving sport, John has suffered only a few injuries.
During his short career, John has broken his heel and his arm. Of all his injuries, though, his broken heel came at a most inopportune and unexpected time, in the 2004 U.S. Open at Las Vegas.
"It was in the second lap in the practice," John said. "I jumped this jump and flew off and put my foot down to catch myself, and it just shoved right into the ground."
With injuries being a part of the action in Motocross, Dacia Berry said she gets a little nervous while John races, but takes pictures to help calm herself down.
More than anything, though, Johnny and Dacia don't worry too much about their son because they realize John knows what he's doing on a bike.
"John's kind of an aggressive rider, but yet a cautious rider," Dacia Berry said. "He doesn't ride over his head or over his limit. We've had several people tell us that he's a smooth rider."
As John's gotten older, other sports and activities have taken away from his spare time. In fact, the only practice John sometimes gets for a race is the few practice laps he takes before a race.
More amazing still, John has been able to keep pace with the riders around him on basically a stock bike, while other riders use modified bikes. Not even John can make any sense of it.
"They should have been able to flat beat me," John said.
Even though John will race against modified bikes at nationals, he isn't worried. He said he rides faster on a stock bike because he's more used to it.
Dacia said the big step for John was reaching nationals, which she called the "World Series of Motocross," because so many professional racers won this race when they were amateurs.
She said a top 10 finish would be ideal, but the sky's the limit as far as John is concerned.
"I'm real happy," John said. "But I want to do good here so that I can maybe get a Kawasaki (motorbike) and get big and famous."