Burns leads the pack in women's off-road dirt bike racing
For many parents, just the thought of putting their child in the driver’s seat of a dirt bike is gut-wrenching enough, but Mackenzie Burns’ parents decided long ago to not let fear dictate how they raised their children and encouraged their daughter to take up dirt bike racing.
Today, she is the champion of the women’s division of the Arkansas Hare Scramble Championship Series racing, and she’s only 12 years old.
Burns got her start riding dirt bikes early on with her father, William. He would sit her on the front of his bike and drive around having her place her hands on top of his as he rode so she could familiarize herself with the movements of the bike and the rumble of the engine. Eventually, Burns took the handlebars into her own hands when she started racing at the age of 4.
“Racing is a family thing for us. I started riding when I was 3 and when I turned 4, we decided that I was going to race. I went to my first race and that’s when all of this really began,” said Burns.
According to her parents, William and Brandy Burns, her eagerness to race and win was evident from the start. In her first race, she was the first rider to reach the first turn; something referred to as a “hole shot” in racing. Her parents said they ran behind her bike the entire time at her first race.
“There were no reservations when Brandy and I decided to put McKenzie on a dirt bike — hence all of the safety equipment. Everything has its dangers, so you take a risk. As a parent, you take measures to reduce the risk of your child getting hurt but it comes with the territory,” her father said.
In 2016, Burns won the championship for the Arkansas Hare Scramble Championship Series in the women’s class, where she competed against women almost twice her age. She attributes her success to the nearly 20 hours she dedicates each week to riding.
Although the women’s class of racing is small, Burns said that does not discourage her from pursuing her dream. Growing up, she would regularly race against boys and win but today, she exclusively races against women across Arkansas and in surrounding states.
“I love racing because it gives me a chance to compete with other people and just ride. There’s nothing like getting on my bike and letting loose,” she said.
She competes in cross country off-road woods races that take place on trails where it is not uncommon to find creek crossings, fallen logs, and large rocks directly in her path. She says she sees difficult tracks as a challenge she eagerly faces head-on.
“When we get to a race, the first thing I have to do is get dressed and ready to go. It sounds simple but there really is a lot of gear. I’ve got my knee braces, racing pants, and a jersey, then a neck brace, helmet, goggles, and gloves. After I’ve warmed up my bike a bit, everyone in the race goes up to the line and takes a practice lap,” she said.
Burns says that the practice lap allows her to set up a strategy for the race. By knowing where the fallen logs, sharp turns, and waterways are, she can formulate a plan of action with her father before the beginning of the race.
Since she began riding, Burns has cycled through four different dirt bikes and countless sets of safety gear. Her father estimates they’ve easily spent a small fortune funding both their children’s love for the sport and he insists every cent was worth it.
“Racing is not for everybody. It takes a lot of want to in addition to skill and practice. Her mother and I are very proud. At first, we never expected this but now we hope to see her racing on a national level in the future,” her father said.
As for Burns herself, she said her goals for this year are to increase the time she rides during a race from 45 minutes to two hours and bring home another championship title. Burns will race in the Hot Springs Hot Water on June 3.