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Home is off-road racer's haven

He has an action figure and is a celebrity in California. He likes that he is inconspicuous here.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 26, 2001


DADE CITY -- Few Dade City residents have an action figure in their likeness.

But there is at least one.

Tim "Red Dog" Ferry may not be a household name locally, but in the big league of motocross racing, Ferry's relentless style is as distinctive as the deep rumble of his new-generation 250cc off-road Yamaha.

For anyone who thinks motorcycle racers aren't celebrities, there is a Tim Ferry action figure, complete with the Number 15 motorcycle, that says they're wrong.

And since last winter, Ferry, 25, has been a resident of Dade City. He lives on a 40-acre spread, complete with a driveway half a mile long, two private motocross tracks and a 3,000-square-foot home.

"We just really like it up here," Ferry said, resting last week before a race this weekend at the 71,000-seat Georgia Dome in Atlanta. "It's the hills, the country, the area. It's just perfect."

Ferry has made a name for himself on tracks around the world. He has competed in Europe, Japan and across the United States. He goes into this weekend ranked ninth on the sport's most prestigious circuit, Supercross, even after dropping out of two races -- one for mechanical problems and one from a crash in Phoenix that put him in the hospital overnight.

"I'll move up," he said.

Motocross racing pits off-road motorcycle riders against each other on a twisting course of switchback turns, moguls, hills and valleys in a race for the checkered flag and series points.

The sport that the 5-foot-10, 175-pound racer chose might have been a bit easier to break into if Ferry moved to southern California, where racers are recognized on the street and crowds jam football stadiums to capacity for a glimpse at their heroes. But Ferry said he is a Florida boy at heart and couldn't imagine leaving the Sunshine State, even for California.

His wife, Evie, said that even though they spend months training and working with sponsors on the West Coast during the off season, Florida is their home.

The two found Dade City almost by accident, Ferry said. The couple were living in Largo when a friend who lived up here stumbled across the 40-acre wooded spot. Ferry said he fell in love with the rolling terrain and liked the quality soil that was perfect for setting up his private training tracks just a few yards from his garage.

Ferry said he uses his secluded Dade City home as a decompression chamber after weeks on the tour. While he said that he and others in the sport take pride in being more fan-friendly than athletes in other sports, it is nice to get away once in a while.

"In the pits, before a race, the fans come right down and talk with you. They watch everything you do," he said. "We sign autographs in two sessions before every race, and you really get to know your fans."

In Los Angeles, where the sport is huge, Evie Ferry said the two were trying to lie low during a visit to a neighborhood restaurant, only to be recognized by numerous fellow racers, mechanics and fans.

Tim Ferry said he isn't bothered by those encounters. After all, the sport has been good to him. With nearly $1-million in career winnings, plus sponsorship deals with Yamaha, Fox Racing clothing, Etnies shoes, Fly helmets, Smith goggles, gaerne boots and others, he has done well in his career.

And then there is the action figure.

"It was really weird at first," his wife said. "They sent us the head in the mail, just the head, to make sure he liked it. It's pretty weird getting your head in the mail."

Ferry's father, Tim Ferry Sr., said he remembers his son getting started on a little 60cc Yamaha in West Palm Beach.

"You couldn't get him off the bike," he said. "I had to pull him inside every night. It'd be getting dark, and he'd keep telling me he could still see. Just one more lap."

The family sacrificed weekends and money to traipse around the country for amateur events.

"It was tough. We sacrificed a lot of things, but we knew it would be worth it," Ferry Sr. said.

When he was 16, Ferry turned pro.

In his first year, not even out of high school, Ferry estimated he made about $40,000.

"You could tell he was special," said Pat Nicolini, a Dade City resident who was one of Ferry's earliest sponsors. "He was the fastest around on the amateur circuit, and he had that dedication. He was really quiet. He just wanted to ride."

Ferry doesn't have to worry about many of his expenses now. He joined the Yamaha factory-sponsored team this year and rides a newly created four-stroke motorcycle that he said may be the wave of the future for motocross racers and sport riders. It may someday replace the two-stroke variety that has been the industry standard for decades.

With his home now in Dade City, his career on track with top-10 finishes and a solid race team behind him, Ferry said he is settling into the sport he loves. The tough years are behind him, and he is looking forward to parlaying his experience into 10 strong seasons.

"This is home," he said. "I like where we are."

- Ferry's race in Atlanta this weekend is scheduled to air Saturday at noon on ESPN2. He is also scheduled to be the guest for an online chat Thursday at www.pacesupercross.com.

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