Levi Keller, 16, didn't expect much the first time he flipped his leg across the seat of a dirt bike, but it's easy to see expectations have grown a bit since then. Keller's story began when he practically still was in diapers, riding a bike that had special-ordered training wheels so he could keep a bike as big as he was upright. Love at first sight is a cliché, but as it happens, it fits in this case.
"My dad used to race, so he's the one that got me into it," Keller said. "It just went from there. As soon as I put my leg over that first bike, I loved it, and I've been with it ever since. I can remember Dad had a work truck, then he had another truck sitting at home that I'd always make sure was loaded with the bikes so when he got home we could go ride. We'd ride until dark. Man, we went through so much stuff: bikes, pain, broken bones. But I still loved it."
As it turned out, Keller found some untapped potential in all of those rides. That potential was noticed by Mike Downs, a dirt bike racer and owner of Downs Construction, who decided Keller had enough potential to sponsor.
"I race too, and that's how I met Levi. Now he's like a third son to me," Downs said. "He's a good kid, and of course he dates my daughter now, but I helped him before he dated my daughter. Without Downs Construction, he probably wouldn't be where he is right now because we're able to pay for everything he needs."
"If it wasn't for (Mike) I wouldn't be here," he said. "He picked me up, and now I race for him."
Along with Downs Construction, sponsorships such as Moose Racing, Twin Air, D2G Graphics, Cycra, FMF and Maxxis tires means Keller is no longer an amateur, which puts him now at the crossroads of where his story started and how it will write itself out.
He's good, but how good? It started out as just a love of the engine roaring between his feet. Although it's still just for fun, according to Keller, he's now starting to hope for bigger things.
"As for my amateur years, I always did well," he said.
"Now that I've jumped up on the big bike I'm getting better. Now I'm starting to look at it as more of a job, but still having fun with it at the same time. That's why I like it, and I love the sport so it would be awesome to do it as a job. That's the way I'm starting to look at it."
It's not really the common path for a 16 year old. Keller says he's home-schooled to allow more time to work in the morning to help pay for what expenses he can cover, as well as time after his school work to hit the gym and the dirt track.
It's a sacrifice from the normal teenage agenda that he said he's willing to deal with. That is mainly because he knows he isn't the only one making sacrifices.
"I work in the morning for basically gas money, but I can remember we'd skip house payments and stuff to go race," Keller said.
"I've never really actually sat down and thought about it a lot, but thinking about it now, I'm very thankful for what I've got. I don't really realize it because I'm not the one going out there and making the money and then putting it out there, but I'm very appreciative for what I have. But I worked for this point; it just didn't come to me. I just thank (Mike) over there. Without him, I wouldn't be racing. He gets me the bikes and the confidence that I need."
Keller just finished the Can-Am GNNC Racing series schedule, where he finished second in points in the 200A division. He hopes to move to the 250A division next year.
"Right now I'm taking a little break, but (the series) starts back in March," Keller said.
"It's about time to get my butt back in gear and start riding a lot more."