By Air Force Airman 1st Class Christopher Thornbury 22nd Air Refueling Wing
MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan., September 23, 2015 — Flying at 70 mph isn't a big deal to many people, but when that involves flying 140 feet in the air at high speeds on a 250 pound, two-wheeled vehicle without wings, life can become exciting.
Motocross racing on the weekends provides the ultimate getaway from the stressors of work for Air Force Senior Airman Zach Buccieri, an aircraft hydraulics specialist with the 22nd Maintenance Squadron.
"It's a way of life," Buccieri said. "It's one way I feel that I can express myself, and even though it is a very intense sport, it relaxes me."
Buccieri described the feeling of hitting a large ramp.
"I am leaned back, my boots on the rear of the foot pegs to get as much traction to the rear tire as possible. The throttle is wide open, transmission is in fourth or fifth gear, pushing the bike as fast as I can and lifting off the ramp," Buccieri said. "As I'm flying through the air, my jersey is flapping in the wind. It feels like I'm on a roller coaster."
Early Interest in Dirt Bikes
He became interested in riding at age seven when he saw his neighbors riding up and down the street on their peewee dirt bikes.
"I was just crazy about them," Buccieri said. "I told my dad, 'I want one!'"
There was just one problem, he didn't know how to ride a bicycle, and his father said he would not get him a dirt bike until he learned to ride a bicycle first.
For the next couple of weeks, every day after school Buccieri taught himself how to ride his bike in the yard. The grass was difficult to pedal in, causing him to fall often, but he would brush himself off and try again and again.
One evening, his dad came home from work and suggested that he ride in the street after seeing he was having trouble in the yard. He rode with ease and the rest fell into place.
Top Motocross Rider
Buccieri took to motocross racing so well that he was ranked one of the top 15 amateur riders throughout the nation and sponsored by several companies as a teenager.
When he was 15, his family could no longer afford to keep him in the sport and had to give up on his passion.
"It was a depressing time," Buccieri said. "For those eight years that I didn't ride, I thought about it every day."
After coming home from a deployment, he bought a 250cc Yamaha dirt bike to be his sidekick in fighting gravity.
"It brought me out of depression," Buccieri said. "It was awesome. I love riding, it makes me feel free."
For most riders there is nothing more fun than hitting jumps and winning trophies, but for Buccieri the most enjoyable thing is sharing memories with others.
"My favorite aspect of motocross is going out and racing with friends," he said.
"He seems to be in complete control when others are all over the place," said Air Force Senior Airman Paul Keith, 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief. "He has a grace and style on the bike that is super fun to watch, and inspires less talented riders like myself to try and rise to that level."
Making Friends, Mentoring
Riding has been a great way to meet friends, mentor and build friendships, Keith said.
"I have made many lifelong friends through riding, but none that have shared my military experience like Buccieri," he said. "I feel very blessed to have him as a friend and riding coach."
Buccieri has been in the Air Force for nearly five years. He came in as a combat controller, but was injured after seven months of training. He was reclassified and has been an aircraft hydraulics specialist ever since. He primarily fixes or replaces hydraulics systems on the KC-135 Stratotanker airframe, in addition to performing inspections and troubleshooting.
Once his contract with the Air Force is complete, Buccieri plans to follow in his father's footsteps and become a civilian firefighter.
"The Air Force has given me great avenues, but I think that the best thing for me to do is separate and become a Denver firefighter," Buccieri said. "I love being a patriot and serving my country, but I want to be able to impact peoples' lives more intimately and immediately."
Even though he plans to separate from the military he still wants to serve people and plans to ride as long as he can.
"I would do it all again," Buccieri said. "Motocross has been a way of life for me for a long time, it has been an avenue of expression, and it has been there for me during the hard times.”