PUTNEYVILLE – “A lot of it comes down to believing in yourself. Everyone believes in him, and he’s finally starting to believe in himself.”

That’s how Chris Rupp described his son, Keihin, after the 15-year-old off-road racer for Team Green Kawasaki brought home the 250 Schoolboy National Championship of the Grand National Cross-Country (GNCC) series.

Keihin Rupp of Putneyville, who has been racing since he was two years old, has won 14 local off-road championships, but his Sept. 11 victory at the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC Mountaineer at Summit Bechtel Reserve in Beckley, W.Va. marked the first national championship of his racing career.

“This was going to be a learning year,” Chris Rupp said last week of his son’s 2022 GNCC racing season, pointing out that not only was it Keihin’s first year in the national series in an adult class, it was also his first time on adult-sized Kawasaki 250 (KX 250) dirt bike. “But then he wins eight races in a row and a championship.”

Although Keihin was eligible to participate in youth classes for another two years, Chris explained that he decided to move up to the GNCC 250 Schoolboy class for the exposure on a national platform and to experience a higher level of competition.

“It’s a 14- to 17-year-old age bracket,” Chris said, noting that Keihin was at the bottom of the age bracket at the beginning of the season earlier this year. “He was only 14 when the season started, so the other kids are older than him.”

According to its website, the GNCC series is comprised of 13 rounds of off-road racing that take place “on some of the toughest off-road terrain” tracks across the United States from February through October.

A contestant’s place as champion is determined by their best performance in nine of the 13 rounds. Keihin secured his spot early in the process with a third place finish, followed by seven consecutive firsts. His eighth first-place win in the series came after the conference-wide hiatus, and a broken wrist Keihin suffered in the Round Nine race.

“I forgot about the 30-foot drop over the knoll and flat landed on the paved trail, skidding and crashing into the second turn at the bottom of the hill,” Keihin said of the June 26 race at the Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia.

It wasn’t the initial crash, however, that caused his broken wrist.

“I got clipped by one of my buddies when I stood up, and it broke my wrist,” he continued, noting that he attempted to continue the race but had to pull out about five miles in. “I just couldn’t take it on the rocks.”

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“In all his years of racing, this was his first mid-season injury that took him out for a little bit,” Chris Rupp added. “In his first race back, he won the race and the championship.”

Recalling his championship race, Keihin said he took the lead about three miles in and jumped to about a two-and-a-half minute lead.

“I knew I had a great shot of wrapping up the championship, so I just laid back on the start to stay out of trouble,” he said, adding that he was able to maintain the gap, finishing the four laps in a time of two hours and 23 minutes, a full three minutes before the second place finisher. “I was so happy.”

Keihin also pointed out that the track at Summit Bechtel Reserve is his “favorite track,” with its abundance of roots and rocks, and mud created from a heavy rainfall the night before made the race one to remember.

“It was nothing but mud,” he said of the track, noting the muddy terrain reminded him of many rides at home. “There were people quitting after one lap.”

A second thing that Keihin said he will remember about the race is that it took place less than a week after the passing of his grandmother.

“I want to dedicate this championship to my grandmother,” he said. “I was honored to get the win not far from where she was born in Charleston, W.Va.”

With one national championship in hand, Keihin said the door is now open for even bigger things, including increased sponsorships and the opportunity to advance to a higher class.

“This was a dream season, and I couldn’t have done it without our great sponsors, my parents’ hard work and the advice and assistance from Doug Douchette of Team Green Kawasaki,” Keihin said, noting that he is looking forward to finishing the final three races in this year’s GNCC series “just for fun.”

He thanked his many sponsors including: Kawasaki; Team-Green-kawasaki; Full Send Racing; Stiller Motorsports; Ride for 5; Wossner Pistons; Fxr Moto; Fxr Racing; Full Throttle Xtremes; Seat Concepts; Pr2 Racing; Xcgear; Devol Racing; Evs Sports; Gaerne Boots; DP Brakes; Mx Graphics; Muddy Buddy Protectant; FMF; Kenda Powersports; Mika Metals; Dt1 filters; IMS Products; 6D Helmets; Evans Powersport; Scott Motosports; and TM Designs.

“My plan is to keep on racing and see where it takes me,” Keihin said.

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