WELLSVILLE-Thousands of amateur motocross racers converged this week on country music star Loretta Lynn's ranch in Hurricane, Tennessee for the AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship-the largest and most prestigious amateur motocross race in the world.
On Thursday, in the middle of all the action, the event stopped to pay tribute to someone who, tragically, was not there.
The late Nicholas Prendes of Wellsville had a love of motocross racing that was irrepressible. During his 26 years, he raced bikes nearly every summer and qualified for the Amateur National Championship five times.
Prendes had a goal of one day turning pro, but his life was cut short in January when he died suddenly of natural causes.
"Nick was planning to be out racing again this summer," said Nicholas' brother Marcus Prendes. "We were hoping he would eventually get noticed by a sponsor and be able to go pro. It's tragic that he isn't here."
Event Director Tim Cotter from the American Motorcyclist Association stepped to the microphone Thursday and asked for a moment of silence to honor Prendes. He then dedicated the rest of that day's racing to his memory.
"It was a very emotional, moving tribute," said Nicholas' mother Marie Prendes. "It's really hard to explain how proud we all were of Nick."
Nick Prendes caught the Motocross bug very early, at the age of 3. His father Bobby was a bike enthusiast who had a collection of four-wheelers.
"Bikes were always around," said Marcus Prendes. "For whatever reason Nick wanted to race at a very young age, he took to it naturally."
At the age of 5, Prendes raced in his first event and finished third at Malvern Raceway. By the time he was nine, Prendes accumulated 10 first place trophies.
"He was so enthusiastic about racing, the more kept doing it the more serious it got," Marie Prendes said. "It just kept building."
Prendes raced on average about 16 weeks a year. He collected three top-20 finishes at the Loretta Lynn Nationals.
"Going down there was my favorite memory," said Marcus Prendes, who served in his brother's pit crew. "There were a lot racers there who are now racing professionally. Nick competed very hard against them."
Despite suffering a broken wrist, broken scapula, broken collarbone and five concussions during his 21 years of racing, Prendes embraced it all as part of the motocross lifestyle.
"I think you have to have a screw loose to be a part of this sport," Prendes said in a 2008 article in the East Liverpool Review. "I always try and have fun out there. When it's not fun, it's time to stop."
Prendes competed hard away from the track as well, flying around as a 160-pound running back/defensive back for the Wellsville High School football team and earning praise for his toughness from Tigers coach Ron Paul. He also participated in the wrestling program.
"Whatever Nick did he put everything he had into it," Marie Prendes said. "Football was tough for him because he had to miss the first two weeks of practice every year because he was still racing. Once he got back to football he worked very hard to catch up."
While in high school, Prendes' racing was supported financially by his father Bobby, an enthusiastic supporter.
"It was a huge commitment for our dad," Marcus Prendes said. "At the end of every season, expenses were over $3,000 dollars. He was a huge supporter of Nick."
Prendes held down a job at Allied Gator in Struthers after graduating and kept up a strict riding regimen. He was never able to gain enough points on the amateur motocross circuit to get his pro license.
"He was a little short a couple of times," said Marcus Prendes. "We were hoping he would get noticed by a sponsor, which would have allowed him to race more and given him a better chance to go pro, but it never happened."
Marie Prendes was filled with a mixture of sadness and pride as she watched Thursday's ceremony.
"You're whole life changes in an instant when you lose a child," Prendes said. "I'm so proud of all Nick accomplished and proud that he was able to do something he loved."