10-year-old East Dundee boy on fast track to racing success
When 10-year-old Damian Jigalov says he likes speed, he means it. The fifth-grader from East Dundee reaches speeds of up to 130 mph while racing a motorcycle three times his body weight -- and beats adults while he's at it.
Damian has won four of his five races against adults so far this year in the clubman novice category of the amateur WERA Motorcycle Roadracing Association. Last year, he won two WERA titles while racing against older kids. And two years ago -- his first year racing -- he won a Wisconsin-based kids racing championship.
Despite a busy racing schedule that often entails him missing school days to travel as far as Alabama and Louisiana, he's a straight-A student at Immanuel Lutheran School in East Dundee.
So how is he so good? "I just got really good support, and my dad always pushes me," Damian said. "And I train as hard as I can."
Damian is a good-natured kid with a great head on his shoulders, said Emily Chandler, a spokeswoman for Georgia-based WERA. He's not the first 10-year-old to race against adults, but he stands out.
"He knows what's right and what's wrong, and if he should take that chance or not," she said. "He wants to go out there and win, but if he doesn't win, the way he sees it is, 'I didn't crash, I didn't hurt anybody.' And that's a good way to look at it."
Adult riders often don't quite know what to make of having Damian in their midst, Chandler said. "You can hear the older people say, 'Gosh, that little kid went up right under me and I didn't even see him.'"
Damian isn't too fazed about squaring off against adults. "There are two kinds out there," he said. "The ones that are like, 'Oh, that's so cool.' And the ones who don't even look at me and pretend I'm not there.
"Honestly, I don't really feel much pressure," he added. "The last time I felt pressure was the first time I rode this big bike. I was all nervous, then I went to the track and I thought, 'Man, it's not that scary.' I just felt awesome."
Chandler credits Damian's father, Adrian Jigalov, with imparting excellent guidance without pushing too hard.
"His dad has taken the right steps," she said. "He is not moving him real fast; he is letting him grow with each (racing) class. He's growing, and he's growing the right way."
Adrian Jigalov, a police officer in Buffalo Grove, said he never imagined that sharing his passion for motorcycles with his son would lead to all this. "He's really determined and focused," he said of his son. "When he doesn't do something right, he keeps trying until he gets it right."
Damian rode a motorcycle before he rode a bicycle. He started with motocross at about age 3 -- with training wheels for the first couple of years -- and transitioned to road racing three years ago.
His father said he makes Damian race in a higher class against more powerful motorcycles because that hones his skills by not allowing him to rely on speed alone.
"We didn't expect any wins. I expected he would finish 7th, 10th. And he's leading the championship," his father said. "I tell him all the time, 'You can stop any time. Only do it if it's something you want and can have fun at it.'"
Supporting Damian's passion is quite expensive, which means things like dinners out are rare, the Jigalovs said. "We are making sacrifices. It's kind of like paying for college now," his mother, Rene Jigalov, said.
His mother admits she usually can't stomach watching her son's races. "I feel nauseous. It's too hard," she said. "As proud as I am, I am probably twice as scared."
Still, she's supportive of her son's passion because her husband always focuses on teaching him to be a responsible, safe rider, she said.
Riding on racetracks is much safer than doing so on the road, Adrian Jigalov said. "(On racetracks) there are no objects to hit. You slide and don't hit anything. Serious injury is not as likely."
Not that Damian is any stranger to injury. He's been in his fair share of crashes, suffered lots of bruises and fractured a rib once.
Adrian Jigalov, a native of Romania, said he knows some might raise an eyebrow at the notion of a little kid riding powerful motorcycles.
"In Europe, kids do this. It's the norm out there to train and ride at the speeds that Damian is," he said. "There's probably more injuries with football than there is with motorcycle racing, as far as concussions and stuff."
Damian said his strategy is to get a good start, unless it's a longer race and he needs to conserve his tires. And if he doesn't win, he doesn't get down on himself, he said.
Barry Faga, Damian's teacher and assistant principal at Immanuel Lutheran School, said Damian is a hardworking student who always has a smile on his face.
"Fairly regularly he will miss half a day of school, a full day of school because he's traveling either Friday or Monday -- or sometimes on both ends -- but he gets his stuff done," Faga said. "He makes up his work and still maintains good grades. That's what I am impressed with. That's not easy for anybody."
After Damian is done with homework, he and his father go to the gym to work out based on a regimen approved by Damian's physician. In the evening, Damian watches on his iPad lots of videos of professional races.
His goal is to become a pro racer.
"If don't make it as a pro, obviously I would be a little bit disappointed. But I would have it (motorcycle racing) as a hobby and go to law school and hopefully become a lawyer," he said.
Being a good student comes before everything else, Damian says.
"I have to get good grades -- or I can't ride."
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Damian JigalovAge: 10
Hometown: East Dundee
School: Immanuel Lutheran School
Who inspires you? Motorcycle racers Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi.
What book are you reading? I read the second book of "The Chronicles of Narnia" series by C.S. Lewis.
What music are you listening to? Pop. My favorite is Maroon 5.
The three words that best describe you? Fast. Smart. Dedicated.