Levi Kitchen | Stock Class Standout
Levi Kitchen went to Loretta Lynn’s as a mostly unknown 19-year-old. Backed by the Rock River Yamaha team, Kitchen had been assigned the 250 B Limited and 450 B Limited divisions, two competitive classes that put emphasis on a rider’s talent and less on the performance on the motorcycle, which must maintain the stock parts like the engine intake-internals, suspension components, and elements of the braking systems or wheels, but suspension setup and other areas can be personalized for the rider. This proved to be the perfect set of classes and by Thursday Kitchen’s unexpected speed, results, and riding style was the talk of the event.
Kitchen wasn’t surprised, though, and when we talked on Thursday afternoon, he was unaware of the building buzz around his riding. “I knew that I was capable of doing this, but I liked coming in under the radar. I just think that it’s funny, seeing people that kind of didn’t believe in me at first are now by my side,” he explained while we sat in the Rock River rig. By the time we talked Kitchen had already claimed three holeshots, four Moto wins, and more confidence every time he went to the gate. “I actually think that it got easier. When I lined up for my first Moto, my start was terrible and the nerves got to me. To work through the pack and get into the lead after four laps, after that I knew where I belonged. Since then I have just gotten more and more confident with every Moto.”
The more Kitchen won, the more people from the Pacific Northwest hyped him up online. A native of Washougal, Washington, he’s known as a sort of two-stroke specialist and for showing up to the 125 Dream Race. Wait, how does a rider that wrings out a two-stroke barely rev a four-stroke? “I thought coming from the two-stroke that I would be revving a lot and clutching it. There are days when I struggle with that, and every once in a while I get a little excited, but for the most part, it has been pretty easy,” he shared with a laugh. “The 250 bike stock I can ride very hard, sort of because I just got off of 125s last year. I can already ride that bike similar to how I rode the 125. But the 450 is no joke and it’s fast.”
His definition of riding “hard” is a bit different than what you’d expect of an amateur rider. While many in his classes scrubbed and revved their way around the track, Kitchen wasted little energy, landed softly off of some of the biggest leaps on the track, and doubled his way over braking bumps. “I think the Loretta’s track suits me very well because you have to be technical to ride it. Not a lot of people have that, a lot of guys are just wide-open,” he noted. “You have to finesse, be super smart and have an open mind. You can’t hit just one line every lap. You have to be looking because there are plenty of good lines that are out there.”
While Washougal is home, Kitchen has spent the past year and a half in Louisiana training at Real Deal, a program based at Wildwood MX in Kentwood. The year-round facility is run by Rob and Sherry Burkhart, puts an emphasis on training for the big amateur events on the calendar like Loretta’s/Ponca/Mini Os, and allows some time off after. But with a move to the A Class coming soon, Kitchen said he’d like to do more racing and already had a post-Loretta’s plan laid out. “I’m going to drive home, all the way back to Washington, and take my time so that we can go fly fishing in Colorado and Wyoming, I’m big into fishing. After I get home, I’ll race some local A races to get into it and then head back to Louisiana so I can get ready for Ponca, which will be my first big A Class race,” he said. “It’s a lot of training and practice (at Real Deal) but maybe after this race, since I’m going to A Class, I’ll do more local races and fun stuff like that. In years past, I’ve just focused on the training.”
Two things that Kitchen said during our interview stood out, especially coming from a 19-year-old. The first was that he knew how important his week was to Yamaha, especially because he was on a stock bike while Nick Romano and Matt Leblanc lined up on their highly modified Star Racing machines in 250 B and 450 B. “I’m trying to show what the stock bike is capable of for Yamaha. They’re great bikes that handle very well. And also, I hope people that are watching take into consideration,” he explained. “The kids on their Mod bikes, yeah, they are pretty dang fast and they have better suspension and motors, but we have the best stuff that you can get when it comes to stock stuff.”
The other thing was the way he didn’t get caught up in the hype of the Ranch. Yes, he was aware that the week’s results will do more for his career than any other race on the calendar, but it viewed it as just another race. “This race, in my opinion, it’s kind of dumb how much pressure is on this race,” he quipped. “There are so many other races that we go to, but this is the one that really counts. It doesn’t matter how you did at the other ones, this one has the most pressure, so if you can win here is pretty big.” Where did this maturity and outlook come from? “As far as school goes, I graduated last year a little bit early. I don’t do many interviews, they’re kind of new to me, but I feel like I was well-spoken in school [Laughs].”
Kitchen completed his clean sweep on Saturday with six Moto wins and the 250 B Limited and 450 B Limited championships.