Mike Lafferty: A Family Affair
By James Holter
When he was little, going to woods races with his dad and two brothers, Mike Lafferty just figured he was having a good time.
In fact, when his dad, Jack Sr., and brothers, Jack Jr. and Rich, went racing, they were helping light the fire in Mike that would later lead to a record-tying eight AMA National Enduro titles.
One of the most successful woods riders ever, Mike credits his early years—and the sense of family they created—with helping him persevere in one of the most unpredictable, and physically demanding, racing disciplines in the world. Here’s his take on family life and racing.
On how he got the racing bug: It was easy for me, because we got carted to races all the time as a family. Watching my dad and brother race, and watching Jack win a bunch of races, made me so hungry to ride and race. Then, when Rich and I started racing, I wanted to go to every one.
On the need to start small: One of the most frequent questions I get at the races is how to handle the terrain. Parents are always wondering if their kid will be able to handle what’s out there. That’s why for beginning racers, junior enduros and races like the AMA’s East and West Youth Hare Scrambles Championships Series are such a good idea. At most of the junior or family enduros, the parents can ride with their kids, helping them through the tough stuff, and everyone has a great time.
On practicing with kids: I have two nephews. Ryder (Rich’s son) is 9 and Justin (Jack’s son) is 6. A big part of what we do is just practice with them. That way, not only do we know what their limitations are, but so do they. You’re always learning about your limitations in racing. I’m still learning about mine every time I ride.
On how different kids are different: You need to recognize how each kid looks at racing. Justin is how I was. He really isn’t into racing for the sake of racing. Ryder is more of the racer. Justin is more of a rider. So that’s how we always bring it up with Justin: “Hey, there’s a hare scrambles. We’re going to go ride, just have a good time.” We aren’t like, “You have to finish! You have to beat this guy!” That’s one reason I was drawn to enduros. You start on a minute with a few other guys, and you just run your own race. It’s like a trail ride. You still get scored and timed, but there’s not that much pressure.
On what riding schools are really good for: It’s hard to teach a kid. You can give them some basics, but where a riding school can really help is with the parents—especially if they don’t come from a riding or racing background. It helps the parents learn what to expect, and what their kid can and can’t do. Schooling is important, but what really matters is that the parents are there, are involved and that they pay attention, too. It’s the whole racing family idea. The kids need to learn, but so do the parents. Everyone needs to be in it together.