Radical recreation: For the thrill of it

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Desmond Ongaro (pointing to the camera) getting ready to begin the race Photo credit: Cyrena Royal

The motorcycle road racing community in Alaska is a relatively small group of dedicated racing enthusiasts. Desmond Ongaro, mechanical engineering major, is one of these passionate road racers.

Ongaro chose to pursue engineering with the goal of combining his two major interests.

“Though it may not happen at first, I hope to mesh my love for racing with my passion for engineering. Anything involved in improving a racer’s performance and having a hand in that community would be a dream job,” Ongaro said.

Ongaro has been road racing for three years and has competed in the Tanacross Motorcycle Road Races. During his first two years, Ongaro only competed in a total of four races. This season was different, he competed in every race and Ongaro was able to place third in the 600cc Class, finished seventh place overall and set a personal record time of 02:38.09.

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Desmond Ongaro in action during a motorcycle road race in Tok, Alaska Photo credit: Cyrena Royal

“This recent season I aimed to make every single race, regardless of weather forecast, costs and equipment condition. I wanted to race to be fast, I liked having others being able to vouch for my skill and have others be able to look to me for advice,” Ongaro said.

Motorcycle Road Races are held at the Department of Natural Resources Air Tanker Base near the village of Tanacross, which is roughly a six-hour drive from Anchorage

“Getting there is half the battle. The road to Tok Junction is a rough one. There are challenges of having reliable vehicles, proper gear storage, road conditions, and wildlife threats,” Ongaro said. “For us locals to make that journey six times in one summer — loaded to the brim with race gear for a sub par track — you know, its unique.”

Ongaro says racing makes the rough journey to the track worth it.

“The feeling of riding should be described as the most fun anyone can ever have. You have the freedom of doing what you want when you want to. On the track, all outside distractions snap away and you’re focused on the here and now. Dialing in your lines and finally turning out those lap times you were working for is one of the best feelings in the world,” Ongaro said.

Thomas Davidson, fellow competitor and sponsor, describes Ongaro’s potential for road racing as one of the most apparent and defining qualities of his persona.

“I think Desmond’s strongest quality that benefits him the most is that he listens to advice and actually applies it. As a high-level motorcycle mechanic, I give advice all the time, I’d say it gets listened to about 25 percent of the time. When I give Desmond advice, 100 percent of the time he listens and applies,” Davidson said.

Ongaro’s determination to learn as much as he can to improve makes him stand out from other racers.

“Watching Desmond race is very exciting. Even when a race is finished, you can tell Desmond is tuned into processing every corner, every line and what he will do better the next lap. He’ll normally watch the racers after him rather than resting from the exhaustion, to be a support to his fellow racers and to make a mental note of who is good, why and what he can learn from them,” Cyrena Royal, friend of Ongaro, said.

Besides racing, making friends within the motorcycle road race community is one of Ongaro’s favorite part about racing.

“TanaX is a tight knit community that offers any and all help to each other. When a rider goes down, new or old, everyone is concerned. The bond of racers is strong and so is the competitive nature,” Ongaro said.

With support from the motorcycle road race community, there is no doubt in Royal’s mind that Ongaro will achieve his goals.

“I find Desmond admirable for many things. He’s a great person, fast as hell and more fun than I can handle. I’m excited to see what lies in Desmond’s future because he has a good one in store,” Royal said.

Aspiring racers can visit akroadracing.com to learn more about how to get involved with the Tanacross Motorcycle Roadracing group.