NORTH STONINGTON — One of the best lightweight motorcycle riders in the nation lives in North Stonington, and he is only 16 years old.
The rider, Austin Gray, is a junior at Wheeler High School. His sport is MotoTrials, and in his age group there is no one better.
MotoTrials uses specialized motorcycles; they are very light and have no seats because they are ridden while standing up. Competitors ride through an obstacle course while attempting to avoid touching the ground with their feet. Each rider is judged by an observer who tallies how many times the competitor touches the ground with his foot, assessing a one-point penalty for each touch.
Depending on the course, the obstacles can be either natural or constructed. Each route is designed to accommodate different classes, or skill levels, of riders. In many cases the obstacles look insurmountable, but that’s not a problem for Gray — with a combination of foresight, speed and balance, no rock seems too high.
This past year has been full of achievement, and Gray found himself jumping from junior class to advanced class and even expert class. He is excelling at a remarkable rate. This year he was the North American Trials Council Junior Class national champion; the New England Trials Association Advanced Class champion; and the third-place finisher in the New England Trials Association Expert Class. The North American Trials Council is a professional circuit.
Next year he will be competing in the New England expert class. Not bad for someone who just received his driving permit.
“I can’t compete in the nationals, I’m too old,” he said.
Competing in the national event was an experience requiring a lot of mileage. The competition took place in states like Arizona, New Mexico, Minnesota and Vermont, to name a few. In the end, he won the junior class championship.
“This was the first time I worked the national circuit,” Gray said. “It’s really hard to find the time during work to drive all the way out West.”
On occasion the bike was shipped first while Gray flew later on. “It was still nice to go around the country doing what you like to do,” he said.
When he was named national junior champion it was even better. His nearest competitor was racing in Minnesota and had he won both events he would have been the champion.
His competitor won the first day while Gray was fighting an illness. Still sick, Gray competed the next day and won the pressure-packed championship by a single point, coming through in the clutch.
“It felt awesome, especially when I won in Minnesota. It didn’t hit me until I flew home,” he said. “Usually the difference is by about 50 or 75 points so it was very, very close,” he said.
He was equally impressive in the local organization, the New England Trials Association.
“I’ve been doing this since I’ve been 8 years old, basically half my life,” he said. “But I still practice. I try to get in about two or three days in the week and then at least one day during the weekend.”
Some days he makes use of his family’s 12-acre property in North Stonington. As a member of the Rhode Island Trials Club, he also has access to areas in the Arcadia Management Area in Exeter.
“I have a lot of friends there, riders like Gary Borque and Keith Dumain. They are both champion riders and are my mentors as well,” he said. “We ride around and challenge each other.”
The teenager, the son of Charles and Lisa Gray, has sponsors that defray his costs, providing him with almost everything he needs, from active wear to motorcycle repair. Places like Jack’s Cycles, Ocean State Harley Davidson, Sweet Iron Works, RU Focused, New England Cycle Works, GasGasUSA and others seek him out to use their equipment.
“Little by little they all help out,” he said.
Gray rides a 250 cc two-stroke motorcycle made for the sport, and the experience has given him mechanical skills. “You have to work on them a lot, they’re very temperamental bikes,” he said. “They are very lightweight, so they are pretty simple to pull apart.”
As for schoolwork, it isn’t a problem. He is devoted to the sport but also knows his grades are important. “I’ve got a 3.977. I am taking honors pre-calculus and honors chemistry because I like the math and sciences the most,” Gray said.