By Mac McLeod,
“If you’ll learn to ride a bicycle, then I’ll let you ride your sister’s motorcycle,” were the early words from David Ashburn to his son Jordan that got things rolling some 25 years ago. Jordon took his dad at his word, learned not only to ride the bike but almost everything that had two wheels on it.
And today, the Overton County resident is one of 12 people in the entire nation who makes a living racing in the Grand National Cross Country division of off-road motorcycle racing.
“That seems like a long time ago,” the laid back, easy going Jordan recalls. “I’m 29 now, so that was about 25 years ago. My two sisters had a little motorcycle and I wanted to ride it, but dad wouldn’t let me until I learned to ride a bike. I took the training wheels off, had my share of crashes, but in a week or so I was riding the bike, then I got on the motorcycle and have been riding them ever since.”
Ashburn recalls riding all over the yards and fields over around Cookeville where he grew up and is “proud” to say that he used to ride where the Sam’s Club is now located.
A short time later, the competitive Ashburn was taking his newly discovered adventure seriously and started racing, when and where he could.
“I guess I was 7 or 8 years-old and was racing a little 50cc motorcycle,” Ashburn continued. “I raced on every flat track around, and especially at the fairs. I raced at the Putman County Fair, Overton County, over in Crossville, Jamestown, anywhere, and would win a lot. That was the fun part.”
Bear Hollow, in the Highland section of Overton County, was where Ashburn made the change from flat track racing to cross country, and it was there that he ran his first Hare Scramble.
With at least four years still ahead of his first Tennessee driver’s license, Ashburn took on the Mid-South Hare Scramble series with his dad picking up the expenses that included the cost of going from Livingston to all parts of the country, including Indiana, Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
At 12 years of age, Jordan Ashburn was the series champion. That was in 2003, and he repeated the feat the following year.
“We were on the road every weekend somewhere,” Jordan continued, “and after winning those back-to-back championships, I decided I would move up to the National Division that went everywhere east of the Mississippi River and from New York to Florida.
Racing there was the chance to get recognized and start picking up sponsorships.
The following season he went for the “big time”, the Grand National Cross Country series, and finished 5th overall that year, and 2nd the next year.
“I was still racing at the amateur level in the professional class B and amateur class A and it was at this level I realized that if I really wanted to do this, I had to move up to the next level and adopt the attitude that if you want this, you are going to have to do what it takes to get better and better,” Jordan explained. “Now it was going to be against the best in the country, and just so-so wasn’t going to get the job done.”
In 2011, Ashburn moved up to the Championship Division and “started making money”. He won two championships in cross country that included the Open A Class and Local Pro Championship.
“That seemed like a long time,” Ashburn continued, “but at the time, I thought I had finally made it. Nine years of hard, hard work, hundreds of thousands of miles from race to race, but now I’m making a living racing motorcycles.
“I was a professional motorcycle racer.”
In 2014, Jordan was selected by GNCC (Grand National Cross Country) to represent the United States in Japan. He went and won.
“That was cool,” he smiled. “I won the biggest GNCC event in the world, but looking back, I realized just how much I had put into this and it’s just hard to explain how hard it is to get to this level. I guess it’s like any other professional sport: there are only so many people at that level and you really have to be dedicated to get here.”
Ashburn races for team Babbitt’s Monster Energy Kawasaki out of Ohio and has a teammate, Josh Strang, who is from Australia but now lives in Denver, NC. The team includes two riders, two mechanics, a truck driver, and several others. Ashburn has a new mechanic this season, Andy Gray from Livingston.
“That has really made things a lot easier,” Jordan said. “He’s right here in town and I can get with him anytime I need to. Right now, we are just like all other sports in that we don’t have anything going on because of the coronavirus. Our season usually starts in March and runs through October, and we are scheduled to race every other weekend. I can’t wait to get back. Right now, I’m riding my bicycle about 100 miles a week to stay in shape.”
Ashburn grinned when the mention of “getting hurt” came up.
“I’ve broken one of my wrists,” he explained, “and had some bruised parts, but that’s about it. I guess I just learned to crash,” he laughed. “I realize the dangers, but it’s not something I dwell on. You can’t and do this.”
So how about his wife Mary, a teacher at Allons Elementary School. Does she get nervous when Jordan’s racing?
“I’ve been with him at so many races, I guess I don’t think of the dangers either, but there are times when I get nervous,” she said. “I accept that and just pull for him as hard as I can.”
When the season does resume, it will be back to 12 miles of cross country racing all over the country and the one goal that has eluded him so far: The championship in GNCC.
“I’m going to get that if hard work and dedication will get it done,” he concluded.