The changes to the 2020 motocross racing season were not quite as drastic as brothers Everett and Elliott McDonald envisioned.
Thank goodness for that.
Anticipating the worst, that competition within the sport that the Garson siblings love, one which has immersed them the past three summers, would be cancelled altogether, the family constructed their own private training track in Warren.
Of course, that might have more to do with the fact that there is no public motocross track in Sudbury whatsoever, as it does with the arrival of the pandemic.
"Our track has nice, loamy dirt, so we can get ruts going and practise ruts, because in Sudbury, all it is is sand," said Everett, the elder of the two riders, aged 17 and in grade 12 at College Notre-Dame. "You get really good at sand, but when you get to Walton (site of qualifying races and nationals), that's when the deep ruts come out."
"My dad added a lot of corners on our track - it's like 90% corners and the rest is obstacles."
"I like the jumps, because they're not too gnarly to jump, and the soil is perfect for riding," chimed in Elliott, a grade eight student at St Augustine in Garson.
With the start of the race season delayed by roughly two months, the practice venue proved invaluable. "We used it a lot, twice at week, at the start of the spring," said Everett. "When it rained, it was really good to get you prepared for mud riding and the rainy races."
Still, it's safe to say that the news of the Amateur Motocross Ontario (AMO) series being granted approval to run, the only circuit that would stage races in Ontario this summer, was greeted with exaltation.
Everett, in particular, was chomping at the bit after parlaying a phenomenal set of results in 2019, earning himself a promotion to the Intermediate class, the last of the amateur divisions before riders in this stratosphere turn pro. "At this level, everyone is fast," he said. "They're all doing little things to make themselves faster and faster."
"My first couple of races, it was tough trying to keep up. Last year, when I passed someone, I could pull away. These guys will come right back at you, try and pass you back. They're a lot more aggressive, they don't mind getting right into you, and they will make contact. It's just a whole different level of competitive."
Working with coach and Runway Park owner Rylan Nolan in Sault Ste Marie, the 2019 champion of both the 250 junior and youth junior spring series would overcome the early season jitters. Success at this level would require a slightly different game plan.
"Going into the corners, I would brake a little bit too early, and then coast into the corners," said Everett. "Ryan taught me to just charge the corners and leave the braking until the last minute. And then as soon as you are off the brake, you're on the gas. Also, I had to learn to soak up the jumps so I wouldn't go as high."
The local speedster battled his way back, climbing to the podium in both the 250 Intermediate class (2nd place) and the Open Intermediate class (3rd), with Wyatt Kerr taking top spot in both and Devin Rae flip-flopping with McDonald in the overall standings for the two brackets.
Qualifying for the Canadian National Motocross Championship, the devoted racer would post a best finish of 11th place, just shy of his goal of cracking the top ten. Ironically, while his southern Ontario sojourns were quite rewarding, McDonald had somewhat mixed results in the north, with crashes at Runway Raceway providing a valuable lesson.
"In the Sault, I'm going there to have fun - I know everyone there," said Everett. "But the competition there is still pretty good. There are four or five guys who are really fast and great off the start. That's one thing I have to practise."
"It's a matter of working on your reaction time and how you are positioned, on the bike, at the start," Everett continued. "You can't be too far forward or too far back. You won't get traction too far forward, and you'll spin out if you're too far back."
"You have to be in the perfect position."
As for Elliott, the ascension was somewhat more moderate, tackling the 85cc and Supermini classes, both of which are open to athletes aged 12 to 16. The summer of 2019 would see the young athlete, who turned 13 just three weeks ago, as an elder in his grouping, much different than was the case this year.
"The 7-11 (age) group was less experienced, but still with some pretty fast riders," he said. "But in this age group, it's just tough being a younger rider in the class. Obviously, other riders have more experience, but they're also stronger, just because they're a little bit older. Having that stamina, being able to last as long as you possibly can in moto, is quite important."
Despite giving up a few years on much of his competition, Elliot McDonald still ended the season in 7th (85cc) and 11th (Supermini), just enough to allow him to snare the eighth and final qualifying slot to nationals.
His weekend in Walton was all about the experience.
"I had been there as a rider at some qualifying races," said Elliott. "At nationals, it was basically pretty much all of the same riders as those races, but they switched up a few jumps, and that caught me by surprise."
Yet as he looks towards a second year in the same division, the three year veteran of motocross racing is confident in his development on the bike. "I got better with my cornering and jumping," he said. "I got better at being more aggressive, holding on to the throttle a bit more and trying to move faster on guys, passing them as quickly as possible."
And come spring, if that still needs more practice, there is a track fully prepared in Warren, just waiting to welcome the McDonald brothers back in 2021.