Young Racer Taking Circuit By Storm

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A few years ago, George Conley had to wait at the top of the hill on Airport Road for his son Daniel to catch up to him.

Not anymore.

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Daniel Conley does odd jobs to pay back his parents for his expensive 27-pound, carbon-fiber frame Giant mountain bike. The night before a race, he adjusts the brakes and gear, oils the chain, tightens up the bolts and does a little riding to make sure everything is working properly. Conley is taking odd jobs to earn money for a new bike. He can be reached at (928) 472-6669.

"I live on my mountain bike," Conley said. "It's my car and it's faster than walking and cheaper than driving."

In just two competitive seasons, 13-year-old Daniel has earned 14 medals racing his mountain bike and beat a bout with skin cancer, all while maintaining straight A's at Rim Country Middle School.

Lance Armstrong sent Conley a jacket, a hat and a T-shirt and autographed the Feb. 9 race story Max Foster wrote for the Payson Roundup.

At the NOVA Nationals held in Fountain Hills three weekends ago, he won all three mountain bike races to take the overall win in his 12-13 age category.

The 10-mile Cross Country loop took Conley an hour and 45 minutes and a few seconds to complete.

The six-mile Timed Trial took him about 20 minutes.

The Super D (downhill), he finished in 19 minutes and 58 seconds.

The downhill trail was "pretty smooth" and the decline not too steep.

Racers start in 30-second waves, so cyclists are racing against themselves.

"The challenge is to go as fast as you can without biffing it," Conley's dad said.

Crashing does become a danger when competitors happen to bunch up.

"Figure there are ten starting out at one time, so if you are trying to pass and get too close and someone loses it -- it's pretty much a chain reaction," he said.

Conley crashed once last year, but was fortunately able to pick up his bike and keep going.

Which is just what he does if he crashes on one of the numerous trails around Payson.

Devin Wala (he owned Manzanita Adventure Sports in town), award-winning racer, Wayne Gorry and teacher, Scott Davidson, encouraged Conley to enter a race in 2006 and just see how he did.

"Devin was always around to answer questions," Conley said.

The young man's next competition is the Prescott Punisher and is part five of the Mountain Bike Association of Arizona's five-part series. Conley races as a beginner on the six- to 10-mile courses.

His main rival at the McDowell Meltdown, Hedgehog Hustle, White Tank Whirlwind and Payson Pounder has been is 12-year-old Ryan Geiger. Geiger has been anywhere from a flat two minutes to 7:39.1 minutes behind him.

Conley thinks living at 5,000 feet elevation gives him an edge when he competes against flatlanders.

"Each race is worth a certain number of points," Conley said.

At the end of the season, whoever has the most points will be the state champion for that age category.

Conley beat all beginning age riders at the Hedgehog Hustle and the Payson Pounder.

This year, Conley is within a minute or so of the boys in the age category he will compete against when the 2007/08 season opens.

Ask Conley if he wants to be a professional racer one day and he will tell you he is looking for sponsors now.

"It would be cool if I could make a living doing what I love to do," he said.

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