By Brandon HENSLEY
For his sixth grade promotion, Drake Barron received a mountain bike from his parents. Here was a boy about to embark on a new journey into junior high, and to do so he needed a new ride. His parents, after all, are Tanya and Ted, who run Janssen’s Carpet Cleaning in La Crescenta. They got to work early, so Barron was told his new bike, which replaced his BMX, would help him “gear up” for the trek to Rosemont Middle School.
Soon Barron became fascinated with mountain biking. He took to the hills of Deukmejian Wilderness Park and learned the courses. He had grown up riding quads, but this was now his calling – the adrenaline rush, the thrill of the speed, zooming downhill over tough terrain.
“I just like going to the mountains and feeling it. You feel like you’re on top of the world, pretty much,” he said.
Barron is a sophomore at Crescenta Valley High School, and his skills on a bike have progressed so much since he began riding competitively in 2014 that he is currently the 25th ranked junior expert rider in the nation, going from Category 3 (beginner) to Cat 1 in that time. (The next level is pro).
He said he’s still behind some of his peers in that he still has more techniques to learn, like how to have a better handle on his bike. But for someone who has only been riding for this short amount of time, the fact that he’s hanging with kids who have at least several more years’ worth of experience is a tribute to his talent and desire.
“He’s a really aggressive rider … really fast. He’s a smart rider. He knows his lines, his trails,” said Daniel Burt, brand manager at Foes Racing USA, which sponsors Barron.
Barron, who on this day has his cap backward and a Quicksilver pullover on, waxed poetic about his sport as if he were a character in the movie “Point Break.”
“It’s super intense,” he said with more than a hint of SoCal cool in his voice. “Your legs are on fire, lungs are burning. You’re sprinting as fast as you can on your bike.”
Not to be outdone, Barron’s cousin, Rosemont seventh-grader Eric Greco Jr., is compiling an impressive resume in a similar, yet different arena: car racing.
Greco, wearing a FOX Racing T-shirt and a more serious demeanor during the interview, won the 2014 Quarter Midgets of America Grand championship in the Heavy Honda Division (over the age of 8 and over 100 pounds) and the 2015 QMA Western Grand in the Heavy World Formula Division.
Quarter midget cars fly over a small track. Some of the lap times are as few as four seconds. Greco must be careful how to drive and when to drift. It’s that attention to detail that fuels his love of racing. There’s also something else in his blood.
“I’m very competitive. I hate to lose,” said Greco Jr., who recently sold his quarter midget cars and bought a California Sprint car, the next level of racing to satiate his competitive appetite.
Greco’s been racing for about eight years. He said he now knows how to get an edge on the track, while he’s burning rubber locked in that frighteningly small cage. It took a while, though.
While both kids seem to live parts of their lives on the edge – Barron also plays football; he was co-MVP of the Falcon JV team last season and is currently training with the varsity – might their parents be somewhat cautious?
“Really, it’s safe enough for me to feel comfortable, [and] I get really freaked out [easily],” Tanya said.
Greco’s father Eric said the experience of bonding not only with his son but with other families over the years has been a high-point.
“It’s been awesome to hang out with your kid,” Eric said. “Now [Greco and his peers] are all trying to get to the next level. We’ve been blessed.”
It not only takes time, but a hefty financial commitment, even with sponsorships, to be a part of racing year after year. Greco’s family spent around $15,000 last year on entry fees, traveling and parts, including tires, which need to constantly be replaced and don’t come cheap.
Barron has had to save money earned, and Tanya and Ted match his savings for bikes or parts. That number reaches the thousands. But that’s what it takes to be one of the best. Barron wants to go pro someday, and be a World Cup racer, traveling the world.
“There’s maybe 10 guys out of everyone in the world who can just do mountain biking and make money off of it,” he said.
“I think he’s on the right path. He’s got everything lined up,” Burt said. “He has good parents behind him, too. That helps.”
Greco, who plans to attend Clark Magnet High School for engineering, would love to make parts for NASCAR, or maybe drive in NASCAR one day. Whatever he may do, he just wants to be around racing.
“Yeah, definitely. Anything that has wheels,” he said.
It can be hard at first to accurately explain to people just how challenging mountain biking can be, but once Barron takes his friends out riding and shows them videos, their perspective changes. “Oh, that’s what you do,” they say, with newfound appreciation.
The same might be said for Greco. Quarter midgets could be dismissed as simple go-kart racing next to a local miniature golf place, but he enjoys changing the perception of his passion when he has the chance.
“They’re definitely more impressed, because I’ve won a couple trophies,” he said.