How the Coal Miner's Daughter Became the Mother of Dirt-Bike Racing

loretta lynn
How Coal Miner's Daughter Became Motocross MamaCourtesy of MX Sports
loretta lynn
For most people, Loretta Lynn doesn’t conjure the image of dirt bikes and the wail of a two-stroke. But for a certain group, their first taste of country came with the smell of premix.Courtesy of MX Sports

Loretta Lynn’s reign as the queen of country music began with her first record in 1960 and continued until her death in 2022 at age 90. Along the way, she racked up awards for her lyrics, albums, and performances. Lynn is in eight entertainment-­industry halls of fame, but one of her most recent honors was for a soundtrack of 125-cc two-strokes and the roar of a crowd. In 2021, the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame inducted Lynn in recognition of her role in the sport’s history.

This story originally appeared in Volume 15 of Road & Track.


While motocross’s amateur-crown event is officially the Monster Energy AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship, everyone calls it Loretta Lynn’s, so fundamental was her connection.

loretta lynn
The first event at Loretta Lynn’s in 1982 was a muddy affair.Courtesy of MX Sports

“There are other big amateur races, but Loretta Lynn’s is the most important,” says Brett Smith, founder and editor of the We Went Fast motocross history podcast.

The roster of past racers at Loretta Lynn’s includes motorcycle champions like Colin Edwards and Travis Pastrana, unexpected names like ­Robert “Vanilla Ice” Van Winkle, and four-wheeled legends too. Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champ Jimmie Johnson remembers the race back in 1985: “It was just a great place to be a kid, surrounded by hundreds, maybe thousands of other kids, all there to race.”

loretta lynn
A normal start line with a legendary namesake.Courtesy of MX Sports

A great place for kids’ racing was on “Big Dave” Coombs’s mind when he pulled into an empty campground back in 1981 on the way home from a frustrating event in Ponca City, Oklahoma. “We were newbies. There was a lot of favoritism at those early races. We didn’t have a very good time,” says Davey Coombs, son of Big Dave and editor of Racer X magazine. “Dad decided he was going to build a stand-alone event somewhere in the middle of the country at a place where no one could rent the track out the week before, where local riders wouldn’t have any advantage from someone coming from across the country.”

That place turned out to be Loretta Lynn’s ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. The senior Coombs struck up a friendship with Mooney Lynn, Loretta’s husband and manager, and the Lynn family has hosted the race since 1982. Loretta was no rider herself, at least not that anyone can recall, but it didn’t stop her from making a memorable entrance. “One year her son-in-law Alan rode her into the ­riders’ meeting on the back of a Kawasaki KX 250,” says Davey, who doesn’t remember ever seeing her on a bike otherwise. “It was probably the shortest riding career ever to get in the hall of fame.”

loretta lynn
For 41 years, this has been the premier event on the amateur motocross calendar. While Lynn has died, the race known as Loretta Lynn’s will remain a mainstay.Courtesy of MX Sports

She may not have been on track, but Loretta often stopped by to talk with the racers, occasionally performed, and was present via music, even when not in person. “The announcer would play ‘Coal ­Miner’s Daughter’ over the PA every morning before the first motos,” says Davey. “That’s become a tradition. You don’t hear anything until 7 a.m.; then it’s Loretta over the loudspeaker. That song has become an anthem for amateur motocross. Our demographic leans more toward rock ’n’ roll, I think it’s fair to say, but Loretta Lynn’s name is synonymous with the biggest motocross race in the world.”

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