Barely a teenager when he started, Adrian Wilson has ridden dirt bikes off and on for more than a decade.
At 25, Wilson hopes to turn his hobby into a professional career.
One of the first steps toward the pro circuit comes Sunday at the National Arenacross Series. The 1st Mariner Arena hosts the indoor event, which spans three days and includes professional and amateur races. On Sunday, Wilson will compete in the latter.
Wilson's parents bought his first bike, a yellow Suzuki RM-80, when he was about 13. They built a track with a few small jumps behind his house in Chestertown on the Eastern Shore. Wilson rode there for three years before losing interest in it, he said. Forking over cash for upkeep was one reason the hobby wore on him, he said.
"One thing with racing - there's a lot of money involved," Wilson said. "If you don't have the money to keep the equipment on the bike, you're just pretty much wasting your time."
After graduating high school in 1999, Wilson spent a year studying at Marietta College in Ohio before withdrawing and moving back to Maryland.
When he returned, so did his itch for riding. In 2001, he borrowed a bike, practiced for a week and registered for several races at Budds Creek National Amateur Day in St. Mary's County. In the amateur 125 C class, he won the Supercross and placed third and fifth in two Motocross races. The "125" is cubic centimeters, or engine size, and the "C" is a skill level.
Wilson scraped some money together and got an old bike. He entered the 2003 competitions at Budds Creek, but the bike's top end blew out during practice runs and sidelined him. He went back to Chestertown and fixed the clunker back up enough to ride around, but it still couldn't cut it, he said.
"She just couldn't keep up," Wilson said. "It was too old. I was like, `If I'm going to race, if I'm going to take it seriously and race, I've got to get a bike that's really good - that's race-ready.'"
In 2003, Wilson enrolled in Morgan State University to study business administration. Last year, he took out loans and bought a Suzuki RM-125. He also redid the track by his house, adding bigger jumps - his favorite aspect of riding.
"I think it's the best part when you've got air," Wilson said. "Right when you get to the highest point that you can probably get off a jump - that's the best."
With jumps come falls. Last summer he was riding in Delaware when a small jump tipped his front end a little too high. Wilson couldn't bring it back down right, and ended up bruising the balls of both his feet.
"I had to go get X-rays on that," he said. "I couldn't walk - couldn't even put a shoe on one foot for about two weeks."
Sunday, Wilson will enter two races, the 125 B Intermediate and the 125 B for age 25 and older. At Arenacross events, amateur racers do three to 10 laps around the indoor dirt track, depending on their class. Each lap takes about a half minute.
Pro racers ride six to 20 laps, on a course with higher jumps. Wilson said he hopes to attract sponsors this weekend, and then will try to qualify this spring for the Loretta Lynn Regionals in Tennessee.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I'm feeling kind of confident about it. I've got a good bike, and pretty much it's up to me how much I can get out there and practice and go from there."
The 1st Mariner Arena hosts the National Arenacross Series at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and noon Sunday. Tickets are $20 each day for the professional races tomorrow and Saturday; $8-$16 for the amateur races Sunday. The arena is at 201 W. Baltimore St. For more information, call 410-547-SEAT or visit ticketmaster.com.