He’s been before, but this year will be special for a number of reasons.

For the second time in his young career and the first time since 2016, Ottawa native Brandon Yates, 20, has qualified for the Amateur National Motocross Championships July 30 - Aug. 4 at Loretta Lynn’s ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. It is the pinnacle of motorbike races for amateur motocross riders.

Yates will honor a good friend and fellow rider Dalton Hull from Tonganoxie who died in June in a car wreck, he said. Since Yates started racing, he has always donned No. 23.

“Whenever you qualify for Loretta’s you get to pick a number,” Yates said. “I grew up racing with him, and he raced a lot of the local stuff back home. This year for Loretta’s I decided to run No. 88, which is his number. It will definitely be special for sure.”

This also will be a special competition for Yates as he makes his comeback from two knee surgeries over the past two years. Following 2016 nationals, Yates returned to Georgia where he trains full time. He tore his ACL and meniscus and had surgery on Jan. 7, 2017, he said. For six months, he stayed off the bike to heal, and returned home to Ottawa to work. He was cleared in September 2017 to ride again, but that didn’t last long. Just 10 months following his first surgery, he tore his ACL again.

“I was pretty bummed about that,” Yates said. “It was a full 12 months that I was out due to knee injuries. The past two years, I haven’t raced a big national. I’m really just kind of getting back into it.”

Despite not having a lot of time on the bike, Yates put together a good season, making it through both the area qualifiers and the regional qualifiers to punch his ticket to nationals.

Yates competed in two regions — the Mid-East and North Central — qualifying for nationals in the 250B Limited and 450B Limited classes. The B class is the intermediate class, one step away from the A pro class.

Yates placed second in 450B and seventh in the 250B races May 19 in the Mid-East area qualifier at Thunder Valley MX in Bristol, Tennessee to advance to regionals. His regional race, however, didn’t pan out exactly as planned. The top six in each class earn a trip to nationals, and Yates finished 13th in 250B and 20th in 450B June 9 at his the Mid-East regional at Redbud MX in Buchanan, Michigan.

“The B class is just super tough,” Yates said. “I woudn’t say it was a set back, but it definitely opened my eyes to how fast these kids are.”

Yates got another chance after making it though the North Central area qualifier May 26 in Byron, Illinois. At the North Central regional June 16 at Spring Creek MX in Millville, Minnesota, Yates hit the qualifying mark in both the 250B and 450B, including a fifth-place finish in the 450B.

With Loretta’s on the horizon, expectations are high for the young rider. Depending on how his races go, he plans to either stay in the B class another year, or move up to the A class to collect points and eventually get his professional license that will allow him to race pro outdoor tracks.

“I’m just hoping to get top five in one of my classes,” Yates said. “That is kind of my goal right now.

“I’m feeling really good going into it despite the fact I haven’t really raced a whole lot in the past couple of years. It has definitely been a tough road getting here, but I’m finally feeling really good and the ball is rolling the right way it feels like.”