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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Columbia County’s Mini Motocross Star

At only 9 years old, local motocross star Sebastian “Sea Bass” Witherell is rising in the national rankings of this exciting, dizzying, mud-drenched sport.

Motocross racers are tough. They zigzag through rivers of dirt, fly over bumps and soar into the air. Mud and rain? No problem.

Meet Sebastian Witherell, a.k.a. Sea Bass. He’s been riding off-road motorcycles since he was 4. Now, at the ripe old age of 9, the Columbia County kid is winning big time at local tracks and is a serious contender at national amateur races. Everyone knows Sea Bass. And they are watching him.

Motoplayground, the magazine of amateur motocross, deemed him a “top 100” young rider. In 2019, he took first place in his class at the 50th anniversary Unadilla National in New Berlin, a competition in Central New York that’s considered the “Woodstock of Motocross.”

Sebastian (at left) and his friends Aidan (at right) and Max.

The rising fourth-grader at Ichabod Crane Primary School even has an American Motorcyclist Association plaque from a national race in Englishtown, NJ. “You have to be a top rider to receive one,” says Andrew Witherell, Sebastian’s proud father. And let’s not forget Daytona International Speedway. This past March, at the Daytona Super Cross, a race held near the famous NASCAR track, Sea Bass placed sixth in his class.

Sebastian, who lives with his parents in Ghent, is a regular racer at Claverack MX in Hudson, his hometown track. “We were just there the other day and he swept all four motos [individual races] that he entered,” Andrew says. “It’s just very natural to him. His form, his style—he’s a little horse jockey. He goes for it.”

Ask Sebastian about motocross and he has a speedy answer. “I love the races, meeting families and making new friends,” he says. On the track, the fun is “battling” the other competitors, and the hard part is “not letting kids get in my head.” Oh, and Sea Bass wants you to know that his motorcycle, an American-made Cobra FWE 50, is “really fast.” Next year, when he turns 10, he’ll race on his blue Yamaha YZ 65.

For Mom, Dad and mechanic/manager Johnny Lyon, driving to weekend competitions nearly all year round is a challenge, but they enjoy seeing the country together. “We’ve been pretty much from the Canadian border all the way to Daytona,” Andrew says. “We travel wherever the competition is.”

Sebastian (at right) with his cousin Keaton watch a race at Claverack MX in Hudson.

Columbia County businesses and private supporters, including Claverack Pump Service and Chatham attorney James Kleinbaum, help the team by paying for fuel and gear. “It’s an expensive sport,” says his mom, Kami Ressler. “Without sponsors, without donations, there’s no way we could do half of the traveling we do.”

At competitions, Sea Bass and his support team sleep in tents or campers in the friendly colony that sprouts up at a track, or they bunk at a nearby hotel. “Everybody is like family at the track, and the kids are all playing together,” says Andrew. “He’s met so many friends,” adds Ressler. 

Riders are classed by age and engine power. Sebastian’s age group rides 50 CC motorcycles with speeds up to 40 miles per hour. Boys and girls race together on a one-to two-mile track, with each race about five to seven laps.

Sea Bass and his buddies are young, but they are Northeast tough. They race rain or shine and bundle up when it’s cold. They are masters of the mud and come off the track happily frosted with the stuff. “They grew up riding in it,” Andrew says.

Sea Bass, (a nickname given to him by his grandfather) grew up in the motocross world because of his father, who raced when he was in his twenties, and Lyon, his father’s friend, who was a mechanic on a pro-level team in California.

“Since he was a baby, we were taking him to motocross,” Lyon says.

Five-year-old Sebastian washing his motorcycle before a race.

When Sebastian was still toddling, he learned to balance on a Strider bike, and at age 3, he was riding an electric bike. By 4, he was commanding a dirt bike around the backyard. When he entered his first race, he chose his own race number, the familiar “518.”

This summer, Sebastian is training for the Mini Os, the next big amateur event, which is held in November in Gainesville, FL. He returns to Unadilla August 12-14 to race on amateur day during the Pro National. In the Hudson Valley, he competes at Claverack MX on August 7 and September 11.

Anyone curious about motocross should plan to attend; spectators are always welcome. Prefer to stay home? Search “Sebastian Witherell” on YouTube and take a dizzying GoPro ride as he zooms through the dirt.

Karen Bjornland
Karen Bjornland
Karen Bjornland is a contributing writer for Capital Region Living and Saratoga Living magazines.

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