Jake Zemke won his first motorcycle race at age nine in Monterey and when he returns this weekend, he'll try to get his new team to the podium in the final race of the 2013 AMA pro racing series.
Pro motorcycle racing is returning to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca today as the FIM Superbike World Championships makes its first trip to Northern California in eight years and AMA pro racing concludes its 2013 season with the AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike. Zemke, a San Francisco native, is just one of the 88 professional bikers from around the world who will be on hand for the three-day competition that ends on Sunday.
"For people who have never seen a motorcycle race in person — it will be unbelievable," Zemke said. "You're getting some of the best riders from around the world and the best riders from here in America."
Zemke, who was born at the Children's Hospital in The City and grew up in Paso Robles, rode his first motorcycle at age six and he started racing soon after. At age nine in 1985, he won his first race at the Monterey County Fairgrounds.
"It definitely feels like home," said Zemke, referring to his return to Monterey. "Every year when we race there, I drive by the fairgrounds and it just brings back the memories."
The 37-year-old pro started riding motorcycles with his father, an amateur racer, and quickly fell in love with the sport. Growing up, he raced all over Northern California on tracks, like the Lodi Cycle Bowl and the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San Jose.
"I grew up at the race track," Zemke said. "From the time I was born, I was always around motorcycles races."
In 17 years of professional racing, Zemke has finished among the top three in AMA championships 12 times. He won the 2006 Daytona 2000 and in 2008 he captured the AMA formula extreme championship.
Zemke, who's racing in the Daytona SportBike class this weekend, recently joined a new team, Rider's Discount Racing Triumph, to help develop its motorcycle, the Triumph Daytona 675R.
In just two races, Zemke said the team has made great strides.
"Their average finish was probably anywhere from 12th to 15th," Zemke said. "A week-and-a-half ago, we placed eighth and seventh, so our goal for this week is to get up there in the mix and finish inside the top five."
Zemke isn't slowing down and he plans to continue racing as long as he remains competitive.
"From nine years old, all I've wanted to do is be a professional motorcycle racer," he said. "I'm quite lucky that I've been able to make a living out of this and travel all over the world."