Levi Sherwood takes grandad along for the ride
New Zealand's Levi Sherwood is on the verge of becoming a Red Bull X-Fighters freestyle motocross world champion for a second time and, regardless of what happens when he competes in the grand final in South Africa this weekend, there will be at least one Taranaki fan shouting his support.
The 22-year-old Sherwood, from Palmerston North, heads to the final round of the 2014 World Tour on Sunday with a five-point lead in the five-round series and a confident attitude to go with it.
And, when the 2012 World Tour winner embarks on his throttle-twisting, high-flying, back-flipping, body-contorting freestyle motocross antics, he'll again be taking his 90-year-old grandfather George along for the stunt-riding adventure.
George Sherwood, who lives in the Westown, is proud of what his grandson has achieved and, although he won't be travelling to South Africa, he'll certainly be with Levi in spirit as he watches the competition on one or other of the Sky TV channels that screen it.
It's probably safe to say that, while Levi is hanging off the seat of his KTM motorcycle and even sometimes letting go of his handlebars in Pretoria, George will be in an equally precarious state in New Plymouth, perched on the very edge of his sofa and nervously gripping the armrests.
''I think South Africa is about 12 hours behind us, and I'm not sure whether I'll be getting up to see Levi in action, live ... but 1am or 2am is not so bad is it? I'll just be hoping he comes through the event and gets out the other side OK,'' said the irrepressible George.
''Levi has a pretty wise head on his shoulders, and he thinks strategically. If he doesn't need to risk it all, and third place is OK to win that title, then that's what he'll do.
''He doesn't get his bike-riding skills from me. The most I've ever done is once ride a 50cc bike from Shannon to Levin. The sport has been good for Levi though ... he has already earned 20 times more than I have in my lifetime.''
Despite his age, George Sherwood is still very active - he has an impressive vegetable garden and is renowned nationally as an amateur rose hybridist.
He says ''hard work never killed anybody'' and believes that's what has kept him going all these years, and probably also what stands young Levi in such good stead.
George and his two sisters, aged 93 and 88, are ''still going strong, none of us need walking sticks and we're still driving.
But all of my school friends and army buddies are underground (dead) now.
''So it is pretty nerve-racking to see young Levi put his life on the line every time he rides. Levi knows that his career in this sport will be fairly short-lived. It's a young man's game.
"I just hope he knows when to quit before it's too late and he hurts himself.''
Levi Sherwood grew up on two wheels, and has spent the past 18 years following the footsteps of his father, Dave Sherwood, a professional speedway racer, as he established himself as the shooting star of the international freestyle motocross (FMX) scene.
Initially set on a path in motocross racing, it didn't take long for Levi to realise that he loved jumping and learning new tricks.
Even though he is still racing the occasional motocross and supercross (stadium motocross) for fun, FMX is where the Kiwi's heart and soul is.
Having competed on the Crusty Demon's Tour and battled in national events in his native New Zealand and in Australia for several years, Sherwood 's international debut at the Red Bull X-Fighters in Mexico City in 2009 to showed he was yet another wonder from Down Under when he rocked up as a wildcard entry and won the main event.
A starting place for the next Red Bull X-Fighters event in Calgary, Canada, followed and the rest is history.
Sherwood finished third at the previous round of this year's series in Munich, Germany, on July 19, which put a bit of a dent in his points lead.
However, he is still the favourite to take the title after posting a 1-1-3-3 scorecard in the four events so far in Mexico, Japan, Spain and Germany.
As Sherwood heads to Pretoria, he enjoys a five-point lead over Australian Josh Sheehan, with Frenchman Tom Pages a massive 70 points further back.
Pages was the world tour winner last year, while Sherwood finished fifth and Sheehan was placed ninth equal.
Whatever happens to Levi in Pretoria on Sunday morning the armrest of George's sofa in New Plymouth is sure to take a battering.
The Red Bull X-Fighters in Pretoria screens live on Sky Sport 4 from midnight tonight , with the action replayed on Sky Sport 1 at 11.30am tomorrow.