CANANDAIGUA — “They had one bike left, and my dad bought it for me,” Kolby Carlile remembered about his childhood days. “My dad always wanted to race flat track but never could. He gave me what he couldn’t have.”
Carlile is making the most of his opportunity.
In October, he drove his 450cc single-cylinder motorcycle to first place in the American Flat Track Singles championship at Perris Auto Speedway, a half-mile dirt oval in California. The Canandaigua native had achieved the most prominent goal of his young lifetime at the age of 20 — and he had done so the only way he knew how.
“Work as hard as you can,” Carlile said when reflecting on the best advice anyone has given him. “A lot of people say they work hard, but you can always see who is telling the truth.”
Carlile believes that flat-track racing is primed to achieve greater prominence in our sports-mad country.
It originated in America at the turn of the 20th century. From the dangerous, oiled wood-board track racing of the 1920s, to the dawn of the Harley-Davidson and Indian motorcycle rivalry, to the emergence of the post-World War II manufacturing boom and mass-produced, high-powered bikes, it has endured and evolved.
Now, Carlile predicts that flat-track racing is ready to be reintroduced to the masses.
“The closeness is what draws the fans in,” Carlile stated. “We are always inches apart at such high speeds. It is easy to watch and understand.
“The sport has been quoted to be in a ‘golden era’ right now. We have prime television coverage, huge media outlets writing about the sport, and the contingency money being invested in it is higher than I have seen in my lifetime.”
Yet, when Carlile tells people what he does, most jump to the same conclusion.
“When people hear that I race motorcycles, they think I race motocross with the jumps,” he said.
Instead, flat-track racing is performed on oval tracks ranging from very small to a mile long, with speeds of up to 140 mph.
Carlile’s drive to improve has earned the respect of his peers — as well as a distinctive nickname.
After winning his first all-star race at the age of 16, riding his self-described style of “NASCAR motocross,” a fan referred to him as “The Flying Tomato.” The redhead said he “instantly fell in love” with the moniker.
His efforts to make motorcycle racing a career were boosted when the professional team of Estenson Racing signed him to a deal last July.
“It took a huge load off my back, and my family’s,” Carlile said. “It made me happy knowing that a team of that caliber believed in me like they did.”
Speaking of his family, Carlile’s parents have been behind him every step of the way.
“They have invested everything to get me where I am now,” he said.
What his mother and father, Doreen and Kent, are most proud of is the manner in which Kolby carries himself, treats his fellow competitors, and never loses sight of what is most important — win or lose.
“He has worked very hard, but more importantly, he is a great person,” Kent said. “He does everything the right way. He’s very humble.”
The elder Carliles own K.C. Cycle and Helmet World, a motorcycle parts store in Canandaigua. The business has been a fixture in Kolby’s life.
“I spent all of my time in my parents’ business, hanging out with my parents,” recalls Carlile, who until recently envisioned a future plan of “taking it over one day before my racing career kicked off.”
The steadfast family support has helped the younger Carlile deal with the adversity that comes with a sport that can be calamitous.
“In 2013, I had a bad crash over a jump in qualifying, leading to a severely broken wrist, and I damaged my kidney pretty bad as well,” he said.
Last year, at that very same track, he returned to finish second.
“If you have fears you will not be able to compete at the level that I need to,” he said.
Perhaps the biggest risk Carlile took was quitting school when he was 15 to pursue his racing dream.
“I wouldn’t change a thing, although I went back and finished online high school this year, which I am very proud of,” he stated.
Carlile works with a personal trainer to combat the rigors of being a professional athlete, and he winters in Arizona so that he can race year-round.
“The traveling and commitment to the job are tough,” Carlile admitted. “The hardest part for me is when I do everything right leading up to the event, and then I have a bad day.”
Carlile certainly doesn’t envision many bad days in the coming year.
His goals for 2018 include a second consecutive singles championship and podium finishes (top three) in all 18 of the circuit’s races.
Down the road, he plans a move to the bigger, twin-cylinder division, where he will pilot machines that produce about 100 horsepower from 700-750cc engines.
While there seem to be many big moments ahead, Carlile said one of his proudest will always be one he was able to share with the father who never got the chance to race like the son did.
“Being able to win my first race, in 2016 at Charlotte, N.C., (I was able to) give my dad a true victory lap,” he said.