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NorCal champion Perez sets sights on Grand National
Zach Perez, surrounded by various trophies and awards earned in the 2011 American Bicycle Association BMX National Series, is gearing up for the Black Jack Nationals in Reno, Nev. this weekend. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

The comeback trail has had few bumps for the Manteca BMX whiz formerly known as “The Stinger.”

Sierra High junior Zach Perez is working on reviving a once-promising career after taking seven years off from the sport.

Currently ranked No. 18 in the 16-year-old boys National Age Group (NAG) of the American Bicycle Association BMX National Series, Perez’s 2011 campaign continues this weekend in the Black Jack Nationals at the Reno Livestock Events Center in Nevada. It’s the site of Perez’s first race back from early retirement.

On Jan. 14 and 16 he picked up second- and first-place finishes in the Silver Dollar Nationals, and he’s been busy racking up the trophies since.

“It’s been fun,” Perez said of his return to the tracks. “I’m just trying to get back into the mentality of racing like I used to and get my skill back.”

So far, so good — saved for a severely bruised hip and sore lower back sustained while training earlier in the season.

Since the Silver Dollar Nationals he has brought home hardware from major events such as the SoCal National in Chula Vista in April, the U.S. Nationals in Bakersfield in June and the Las Vegas Nationals in July.

But his biggest prize was earned in his most recent race: the NorCal State Championships in Roseville back on Aug. 21. Perez earned the No. 1 state plate and a sharp ABA-issued championship backpack.

Now, it’s just a matter of building up points to climb his way up the NAG points standings. Perez hopes that by winning the Black Jack Nationals he can put himself in better position to capture a coveted top-10 NAG plate by season’s end.

“It’s just an honor to have that top-10 plate,” his father, Mike, said.

Young Perez has done it before.

In 2000, when he was 5, Zach narrowly placed second in the Grand National — the race that ends all races in the ABA BMX National Series — and settled for a NAG-8 plate.

This year’s Grand National takes place Nov. 26-27 at the QuikTrip Center in Tulsa, Okla.

“The sport has developed from when I was younger to where I am now,” Perez said. “The kids are a lot faster and there’s a lot more skill and technique involved. I’m training more and trying to be as fast as I can be.”

If all goes well, Perez could have a new sponsor — which would help with race fees, repairs and equipment — within the next week and be elevated to the expert level after the Grand National.

He currently competes in the intermediate class, but in his early years he raced as an expert — the highest amateur circuit and the last step before turning pro.

“That’s like three years away, but that would be the ultimate goal is for me to turn pro,” Perez said.