RedBud is All in the Family for the Ritchie's

On Saturday--- the dirt will fly, the jumps will be leaped, old glory will wave proudly and close to 30,000 fans will invade Buchanan, MI for the biggest motocross race in the country: RedBud.

"It's hard to explain really," says RedBud founder Gene Ritchie about how big the event has grown. "It's hard to understand. You never would have dreamt anything like this when you get started to what it is now to thousands of people."

Ritchie, now in his 70's, is a motocross legend--beloved by legends.

"The 1st time I saw him, I was like this guy's real mean," says 7-time RedBud champion Rick Carmichael. "And really he's just a big teddy bear."

A native of Valparaiso, Gene Ritchie just loved to ride in the 1960s. As he goes through some old photos, he comes across one of him with the front wheel up.

"I won a wheelie contest and got [my daughter] Amy a teddy bear," Ritchie says with a smile looking at the photo.

"I raced for quite a few years, I just fell in love with it," Ritchie explains. "I knew I couldn't make money racing because I wasn't fast enough."

So he realized he had to take a different path. One day in the early 1970s, he was in Buchanan for a snowmobile race.

"I came up here right where the announcers tower now is and I said 'boy what a place for a motocross track,'" Ritchie recalls. "I talked to the owner and he said, 'I've been thinking about selling the place.'"

Gene and some partners bought the place and RedBud was born in 1972. He eventually bought his partners out. But growing his business wasn't easy at first.

"We weren't well liked when we first got here," Richie says with a laugh.

He remembers the bank not wanting to give him a loan and his neighbors just not being fond of him. "Kill Ritchie," is what Gene remembers some neighbors proclaiming.

But over time, Ritchie and his track won the community over. He says it took about ten years to gain traction and then they were off and running.

"Since then it's become quite the spectacle," Gene says. "We quadruple the size of Buchanan.

Gene credits RedBud's growth to his kids--Amy and Tim, who now run the track.

"They've made it what it is," Gene says of Amy and Tim. "I got it started when it was on the ground floor. Now that I got old and retired, they took over and do all the hard work and my son says my main job is to go around kissing babies. That's what I try to do mostly."

But make no mistake--Gene still makes his presence felt around the track.

"This is his other child so this is kind of one of our siblings I guess," Amy says with a smile. "This is his baby and he looks out for it."

Tim says it always helped having his dad as a resource to get feedback on how the track is operating. He remembers the time when he really took over the reigns from his dad. It happened when Tim pushed for the building of a 120 foot jump.

"He didn't want to do it, didn't want to do it," Tim recalls. "And finally he let me do it and now that's the first place he takes people is to LaRocco's Leap."

Tim was right. LaRocco's Leap is now the signature spot at the RedBud track.

At 77, Gene may be slowing down but RedBud is just getting bigger and bigger. On race days, he stands high above the track on a giant scissor lift. He admits those moments are special.

"Oh certainly. Especially when they start screaming RedBud," Gene says with a crack in his voice before he stops himself before getting emotional.

Who doesn't love saying----"ReddddddBudddddddd." It's the signature yell of any motocross fan that will be at RedBud on Saturday.

And it's all thanks to that fateful day when Gene took his snowmobile up a hill and had a vision. His vision grew into the nation's biggest motocross race.

Saturday's main event races begin at 1pm. Tickets are $40 for adults, $20 for kids aged 6-11 and free for those under 6. The finals will air live on WNDU at 3pm on Saturday.

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