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Racer was 'gifted at riding motorcycles'

April 16, 2002|BY DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

dank@herald-mail.com

Michael Frantz Loper died doing what he loved.

Just before noon Sunday, Loper crossed the finish line at Mountaineer Raceway in Inwood, W.Va., when the motorcycle accident occurred, his father, Sam Loper, said.

Michael Loper, 23, was completing the second of two jumps, and two other motocross racers were airborne and about to approach the second jump when their motorcycles and Loper's collided, according to West Virginia State Police.

He was pronounced dead at City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va.

"He died doing what he loved," said Sam Loper.

Michael Loper, who was born and raised in Hagerstown, took an early interest in motorcycles.

"He was naturally gifted at riding motorcycles," his father said.

"Mike considered himself the fastest kid in Hagerstown," Sam Loper said. "But he didn't brag about it."

His first motorcycle, a small mini-bike, had training wheels to keep a 3-year-old Michael from falling over, Sam Loper said.

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Michael Loper rode around his family's yard on Redwood Drive, where he still lived, and in nearby fields.

"I loved him and was doing my best to raise him. I thought I had a wholesome activity," Sam Loper said.

Michael Loper started racing when he was about 9. In his first race, he fell at the starting gate, Sam Loper said.

Over the next 13 years of racing, Michael Loper had his share of bumps and bruises - a broken leg, a broken wrist, and he broke his collar bone "a half dozen times," his father said.

Racing was "all we've done almost every weekend," Sam Loper said.

"You're aware of the hazards," Sam Loper said. "But I just can't believe it."

"We really feel sorry for the family ... This is very unfortunate," said Bob Myers, who handles marketing and promotions at the raceway.

Myers said the other two racers involved in the accident were not seriously injured.

The raceway was the site of a fatal all-terrain vehicle accident in April 2001, police said. In that accident, Kenneth Kent Jr., 20, of Brandywine, Md. went off the track and then over the handle bars of an ATV and into a bank, police said.

Raceway officials were investigating the Sunday accident, Myers said. No changes to the race course were planned at this time, he said.

"We're constantly looking for safety (improvements)," he said.

"It's tragic that it happened," Myers said. "This was a young man who was very good at what he did."

Michael Loper also spent time fishing.

"If he wasn't riding motorcycles he was fishing," Sam Loper said. "He loved to go fishing."

Michael Loper was studying to be an electrician in an apprenticeship program at the Associated Builders and Contractors, Cumberland Valley Chapter.

"We were so sorry to hear. He was a nice young man. A bright young man," said Joan L. Warner, group president.

Loper was working during the day and taking classes at night, Warner said.

He started working last week at Ellsworth Electric in Hagerstown, his father said.

"He had a good life and we'll always love him," Sam Loper said.

The family will receive friends Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Douglas A. Fiery Funeral Home, 1331 Eastern Blvd., Hagerstown.

Funeral services will be Thursday at 2 p.m. at the funeral home.

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