STAMFORD -- Dalen Vernazza's bedroom is a wall-to-wall tribute to 250cc engines, dirt-caked motorcycle tires and big air. Bright posters of motocross champions adorn nearly every inch of wall space in the 11-year-old's bedroom.
Trophies of all sizes, some several feet all, rest on the floor or atop dressers.
Dalen is a motocross racer, the sport in which riders tear around a dirt track on a motorcycle, hugging sharp corners that open into steep jumps. Instead of taking to baseball or basketball, Dalen opted at a young age for motorcycle engines and long family road trips to dirt tracks far from their Thornridge Road home.
"I like something with a motor in it," Dalen said. "I like going out to win."
Motocross is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor for an 11-year-old. It's an even bigger commitment for his family. Dalen's father, Jerry, bought a 36-foot RV so his family could travel to tracks in upstate New York and as far away as Kansas and Florida. Behind the RV, he hauls a smaller trailer that fits tools and his son's dirt bikes.
On the outside of the trailer is Dalen's racing number, 410 -- April 10th, his birthday -- alongside a depiction of Chucky, the killer doll of horror-movie fame. Most of Dalen's bikes and racing suits have "Chucky" written on them. His mother, Lorrie, gave him the nickname during his "terrible twos."
Jerry gave Dalen his first dirt bike when he was 3. The 50cc bike had training wheels, and the engine power was cut back so Dalen could go only 5 mph.
"Instead of a Power Wheels type of thing, we bought him a real dirt bike with training wheels," Jerry said. "He actually learned how to ride a motorcycle before a bicycle."
Eight years later, Dalen races in the Metropolitan Sports Committee racing series in upstate New York and has various equipment sponsors. His biggest sponsor, though, is his father, the founder of Affordable Glass and Mirror in Stamford.
The past two years, Dalen has won championships in his division. He is one point behind the first-place leader in his division this season, and this weekend the Vernazza family -- including Dalen's sisters, Brianna, his twin, and 1-year-old Isabella -- will travel to Claverack, N.Y., to try to claim the top spot.
His racing season runs from March to October and features as many as 26 races. During racing season, the schedule is mostly the same for the Vernazza family. Dalen practices racing Mondays and Wednesdays, and he races on Fridays at a track in Milford. Saturday morning, Jerry breaks down his son's racing bikes in his garage, and the family sets out in the RV for the racing site. Races are usually Sundays.
The family is hoping Dalen can qualify next season for the Amateur National Motocross Championships in Hurricane Mills, Tenn.
Dalen has a small, single-loop track in the yard of the family's Thornridge Road home. He outgrew that track years ago, Jerry said. Still, on Thursday morning, Dalen revved up his 85cc bike, pulled wheelies and vaulted over a small mound, the track's only jump, using just a few feet to gain enough speed to go airborne.
Jerry said that before Dalen was 8, the bike controlled him. Now he controls the bike. When asked about the future, Dalen talks about either going pro in motocross or working with his dad at his family shop.
"Before the gate drops, I start to get nervous," Dalen said. "You never know what's going to happen after the first turn."
Motocross is not for the faint of heart, and crashes can result in broken bones. Dalen's mother says a prayer before each race.
"It's extremely nerve-racking to watch, but at the same time, I love it," Lorrie said. "I love watching him win."