Local motocross pro to race at Washougal National

Washougal native Levi Kitchen to compete Saturday at Washougal MX Park

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Washougal native Levi Kitchen competes during a Pro Motocross race in Lakewood, Colo., on Saturday, June 10, 2023. (Contributed photos courtesy of Pro Motocross Championship/Align Media)

Washougal native Levi Kitchen sustained a broken wrist after a crash during a practice session in Minnesota in July 2022, just 10 days before the professional motocross rider was scheduled to compete in the Pro Motocross Championship’s Washougal National event. The injury not only took away his first opportunity to participate in a professional race on the track that he grew up on, but virtually ended his first full outdoor season several weeks early.

Bound and determined to not let that happen again, Kitchen shifted his mindset entering the 2023 campaign.

“You look at some of the past champions and the people that are good in the sport now, (they) put seasons together and get that experience. If you get hurt and you have to take some time off, you lose so much physically and mentally with your confidence — you don’t know where you’re at (because) while you’re sitting on the couch healing, everybody else is working and racing to get better,” said Kitchen, a member of the Cario, Georgia-based Monster Energy Yamaha Star racing team.

“I definitely put more emphasis on it this year, trying to get through a good season and really make next year my push to where I’ll do absolutely anything it takes to try to win. That’s kind of where I’m at with things.”

That mindset has served him well so far this season. He has managed to avoid injury while continuing to establish himself as one of the sport’s top young talents — he sits in sixth place in the series’ 250-class standings heading into the 2023 Washougal National, to be held Saturday, July 22, at the Washougal MX Park.

“I had slightly higher expectations coming in,”said Kitchen, who lives in Tallahassee, Florida. “But the biggest thing for me was to try to stay healthy this year and learn as much as I can. Last year, I got cut short around this time (of the year). I’ve had good races. I’ve shown the speed that I’m capable of. But I haven’t put everything together. That’s really what I’m looking to do as we get a little further into the season — just put some good full days together and not just little bits of it.”

But, in the meantime, Kitchen said he is “extremely excited” to race on his home track for the first time as a professional.

“There’s obviously going to be a lot of pressure,” he said. “I think I’ll feel some pressure just because it’s my home race, and a lot of people are going to expect me to do good. I’m all for it, though. I think as long as everybody’s cheering for me, that’ll have me ready to go. I look forward to it, most of all, just being able to go home. I don’t get to go home much, so I’m looking forward to seeing some friends and family and enjoying some time after the race with them.”

Kitchen is expecting to receive a warm welcome from Washougal community members.

“(Their support) means a lot,” he said. “Certain people (get to race at their) home tracks, but I’m not sure if anybody besides maybe the Martin brothers have more home-track (support) than me. It’s huge. There’s not a ton of (professional riders) who have come out of the Northwest, and the ones who have have done really well. There’s a lot of Northwest moto fans, and I’m looking forward to seeing all of them. I hope they’re all cheering for me.”

Kitchen might not have as much of a “home-course advantage,” as people think, however. He pointed out that most of his competitors have raced the Washougal track several times since the last time he did.

“People say, ‘It’s not been that long since you raced there.’ But it really has been,” Sara Kitchen, Levi’s mother, said. “He moved away at 17 to Louisiana, and he’s 22 now, and he hasn’t been back to race Washougal since even before (he moved away). He is, I don’t want to say nervous, but there’s guys, some of them on his own team, that have (have done) well at Washougal, so there is a little bit of pressure for him because it’s his home track.

“(But) he knows the shadows from the trees and the different spots on the track that develop from his childhood, so it’s going to come back to him pretty naturally, and he’s just so excited for the hometown crowd and just being there with family and just being home, honestly.”

Kitchen posted his first professional victory in early January at a Supercross race in Anaheim, California, on his way to a third-place finish in the 250 West overall standings. He has earned two top-three finishes during the outdoor campaign, which began in late May — third place in Lakewood, Colorado, on June 10, and second place in Buchanan, Michigan, on July 1,

He took fifth place in his most recent race, the FXR Spring Creek National, held July 15 in Millville, Minnesota.

“I think the biggest thing is just confidence, and being more relaxed,” Kitchen said. “The nerves can be pretty bad, but now that I’ve been doing it for a little bit, it’s getting a lot easier, so that’s super helpful. And just knowing the tracks is huge. It was hard being a rookie (last year) and not knowing the tracks.”

Kitchen has another incentive to stay healthy and perform well — his contract with Star Yamaha expires at the end of 2023.

“After he finished third in Supercross, that’s when the phone started ringing for him,” Sara said. “He does have decisions to make. He hasn’t made a decision yet, but I would imagine (he will) by the end of the outdoor (season). We never thought he would get to this point, so at the end of the day, it’s about what’s going to make (him) happy. We keep telling him, ‘It’s not all about the money, although you need that to survive. But you need the team environment that’s going to be best suited for you.’ At this point, he’s got different options. The bike that he’s on is amazing. The team is great, but the team is getting really big. So he’s kind of just keeping things open.”