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5-year-old smokes competitors
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James Andres Jr. took his training wheels off his bicycle this past summer.

The Don Pedro kindergartner started racing competitively on the Central Valley BMX Big Track, which is located next to Rainbow Fields in Modesto, soon after.

"One of our neighbors races," said James Andres Sr. "They told us about the big wheel (training wheel) race. We took him out there to go to the bike race. After that he was always asking us to take him out to the track. He was hooked right away."

James, 5, has competed in more than 30 races, including several national events.

"He's got a lot of trophies and ribbons," James Sr. said. "They're on display in the living room."

James has collected 25 trophies and 11 ribbons.

He has placed first six times and second 14 times.

"You have to advance past two heats to make the finals," James Sr. said. "Each race is one lap. It's a pretty good sprint for him."

James finished fourth in a field of 14 in the 5&under novice class at the American Bicycle Association Silver Dollar Nationals, held at the Reno Livestock Events Center in Nevada, Jan. 7-8.

"He raced against 13 kids from all around the United States," James Sr. said. "He won a big trophy and points that go towards his plate number for the year."

At the end of the season, points are totaled to determine district rankings.

James took eighth place in a field of seven at the ABA Fall Nationals in Del Mar in October.

"He usually races two to three times per week," James Sr. said. "Trophy races are on Fridays and Saturdays. Ribbon races are on Thursdays."

James has had a lot of success against local talent at the Modesto track.

"He always finishes in the top three out there," James Sr. said.

James trains once a week, on Wednesdays, at the Central Valley BMX Track. Each session lasts two hours.

"At first, he had trouble pedaling over big hills," James Sr. said. "He finally started making it around the track real good after four races and weeks of practice."

James has crashed several times.

"When he first started racing, he took the handle bar to the chest," James Sr. said. "He didn't even finish the race and he started crying."

For protection, James wears a chest guard, shoulder, elbow and knee pads, and a full-face helmet.

"He's got every pad they make on him," James Sr said.

James scraped up his helmet in Reno.

"I jumped in the air and I came off my bike and I hit my butt hard," James Jr. said. "I was okay. I didn't cry. I got back up and finished the race."

James' hobby is costly. His parents have spent thousands of dollars. His bicycle, an Avent, is worth $1,700.

Dad and mom (Trinidad) also have to pay for hotel accommodations and racing fees. The entry fee at the Silver Dollar Nationals in Reno was $180.

"Local races are $10 per race," James Sr. said. "Ribbon races are $6.

"It gets expensive."

Road trips are also taxing.

"It took us seven hours to go there (Reno)," James Sr. said. "We were going 10 miles per hour (because of the snow). By the time we got there, he missed his first race."

James plans to participate in at least seven national races this year. The next event is being held in the state of Washington in March.

If James continues to excel, he'll face tougher competition.

"He has six wins," James Sr. said. "He needs two more to move up to 5-and-under intermediate."

Asked what he enjoyed most about the sport, James Jr. said: "Winning. I have lots of trophies."

James' younger sister, 3-year-old Isabella, also races.

"She does the big wheel race," James Sr. said.

"She wants to go on the big track with all of the big kids. I don't think it will be too much longer before she'll be out there."

Added brother James: "I"m better than her. She still gots one training wheel on."

This spring, James will split time on the track and at the ballpark. He'll be playing t-ball for the second year in a row.

"He's a busy kid," James Sr. said. "He played soccer and raced bikes last fall."

James is a sports junkie.

"He checks what's on ESPN before he puts on cartoons," James Sr said.

James won two trophies and one ribbon this past week. He placed first at the Central Valley BMX Track on Thursday and at the Atwater BMX complex on Friday. On Saturday, James placed second in Modesto. - By DALE BUTLER / Staff Reporter of The Ceres (Calif.) Courier