SIX POINTS, Pa. (EYT/D9) — On the Friday before a race, Lexi Ruckdeschel walks the track.
Some of the courses are relatively open and straight, but most are extremely narrow with G-force curves and precipitous climbs and drops.
Examining the route puts the 16-year-old’s mind at ease and gives her an idea of what to expect during a weekend of racing ATVs at an elite level.
“I walk the track to find spots where I really need to pay attention,” said Ruckdeschel, a junior at A-C Valley High School. “That keeps my worry down.”
Her father, Mike, who also races quads, was taken aback by his daughter’s maturity when it comes to racing.
“I don’t even walk the track before a race,” he said, letting out a soft chuckle.
Lexi Ruckdeschel takes her craft seriously. Before she examined the track before a race, fear of the worst inevitably gripped her, worried a bad wreck that would result in a serious injury and end her season.
So far, Ruckdeschel has been fortunate when it comes to racing mishaps. The worst wreck she ever had was during a practice run when she rolled her ATV and suffered minor bruises and abrasions.
“I’ve never broken a bone, knock on wood,” she said.
No time for injuries. Ruckdeschel is a young girl with big dreams when it comes to racing.
She rode her first ATV alone when she was 8. By the time she was 13, she had started racing them.
Three years later, she’s one of the top 10 quad racers in the region at the youth level and has already won a race in the women’s division.
“It’s been quite a good three years,” Ruckdeschel said. “I’m definitely getting where I want to be.”
But top 10 isn’t good enough for Ruckdeschel. She wants to crack the top 5 in youth and snag the top spot in the adult division.
That’s not an easy task for a young woman competing in a sport that is dominated by boys and men.
“In the top 10, there’s only me and one other girl,” Ruckdeschel said. “So, yeah, the percentage is really low for girls.”
That hasn’t stopped her, though, from trying to bring about a change in the sport. She has noticed more females getting involved in racing and hopes to be a role model for girls who are just entering racing.
“I want to show that girls can do what guys do and put my name out there,” Ruckdeschel said.
She put her name out there a little more than a week ago when she won the women’s division in an American Woods Racing Championship Series event in Kittanning. She finished first despite forgetting her new brake pads on the work bench at home.
Ruckdeschel helps her father with the mechanical aspects of racing, as well. She rolls up her sleeves and gets engine grease on her hands with the best of them.
“There a lot that goes into it behind the scenes,” she said.
Mike wasn’t sure if Lexi was going to take to racing like he had at first, so he made sure his daughter’s first race was on the worst track he could find. It was a way of making sure she was really all-in.
“I figured if she didn’t like it, that would be the one to break her,” Mike said. “She came back in smiling, so I knew she loved it.”
Lexi said her father is one of her main motivational forces.
“He really pushes me,” she said. “I want to make him proud.”
Mission accomplished there.
“I’m really proud of her,” Mike Ruckdeschel said. “I’m proud of the way she just works hard and finds a way through.”
Finding a way through can sometimes be difficult when you are as fast as Lexi Ruckdeschel, who often has to fight through lap traffic through the narrowest of tracks.
“Being on an ATV and not two wheels like a dirt bike, you can’t go everywhere they can go,” she said. “That makes it pretty difficult to pass. It can cost you position in the end. That’s something not a lot of people know about racing.”
Lexi Ruckdeschel is busy beyond racing. She works at the Foxburg Inn Hotel in housekeeping and is also a volleyball player at A-C Valley. Luckily for her, she said, there aren’t many conflicts between the three.
“I’m very grateful that my work is very flexible with my race schedule,” she said. “Racing is just the weekends and volleyball is during the week. I got lucky this year because, in the fall, we have some Saturday volleyball games that don’t fall on race weekends.”
Volleyball has also taught Ruckdeschel a valuable skill: braiding hair. It’s a skill she has found a way to market on race days to make a earn a little extra pocket change.
“I braid hair for girls to make money for registration,” she said. “If someone has their hair braided, it’s usually by me. I learned to do it by myself for volleyball and eventually so many people asked me to do it for them that I was like, ‘OK. I’ll start making some money off of this and put it toward racing.’”
Eventually, Ruckdeschel hopes to be braiding hair at national events — and racing well there, too.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, she wants to gauge her racing chops against the best of the best on the Grand National Cross Country series circuit one day.
“I just want to see what it’s like in the GNCC and how the competition is different from the smaller ones,” Ruckdeschel said. “I want to see where I end up.”
Wins and success are nice for Ruckdeschel, but she also enjoys other aspects of racing, like spending time with the friends she has made and especially bonding with her father.
Mike, also enjoys the time he gets to spend with Lexi. He has two other daughters — Aubrey, 8, who has just started riding; and Evie, 17, who is not into racing.
“Honestly, I can’t even describe it,” he said. “We’ll both be out in the shed fixing stuff. We’re a team.”