It’s time to step out of our usual V-Twin cruiser niche and take a look at another aspect of the motorcycling universe. Last weekend I went to the AMA Monster Energy Supercross in Atlanta, Georgia. This is a traveling circus that crisscrosses the country for 16 weeks culminating in the season finale in Las Vegas.
Supercross, for those not familiar, is basically a condensed version of motocross that is held in everything from football stadiums to the tri-oval at Daytona International Speedway. It features close racing, lots of bar banging and high flying jumps. This is a young man’s sport in which some of the best athletes in the world compete. The main events are 20 laps long for the premier class and take an incredible amount of stamina to be going strong from beginning to end.
Having raced some amateur Supercross races in the past, I can confidently say that the speed these guys are going today is so much faster. One of the more recent advancements is the “scrub,” where riders will actually flick the bike sideways before leaving the face of a jump. Instead of the trajectory of the jump being straight up and down like physics should dictate, they will actually be 90 degrees to the ground in the air that keeps the flight lower and gets the bike back on the ground and moving forward more quickly.
It may not be the obstacle that gets the most attention from fans, but you can bet that the first thing riders check out is the whoops, a series of smaller bumps that are placed close together. These are by far the gnarliest obstacles on the track. The fastest way through a set of stadium whoops is to click up a gear, hit the first one wide open, and get on the top of them with the bike flat. The penalty for mistiming them or a slight bit of hesitation on the throttle is a broken collarbone. Given enough time anyone could get up in front of a major league pitcher and stick the bat out in time for a 100 mile an hour heater and given enough time you will not get through a set of stadium whoops at speed. I should know. My first time racing as an amateur Supercross, I crashed in the whoops on my first four laps.
The day starts in the pits with the free pit party. The pits for the race I attended were located indoors at the Georgia World Congress Center. It was nice to get out of the chilly outside temperatures and explore the pits in climate controlled comfort. I admit – this Michigan boy has officially lived in Florida too long and cannot deal with the cold weather anymore. Hours before the night’s racing starts, the top riders are stationed in front of their respective team’s semi-trucks signing posters taking pictures and meeting fans. Try to get LeBron’s autograph before a game. Besides the riders, there are various other activities going on. Industry companies are giving away swag and everywhere you look an energy drink company is doing giveaways. The Monster Energy girls seem to be a big hit for some reason. Shy kids were getting their pictures taken with trophy girls and were being put up on motocross bikes by their dad for a snapshot. There was plenty to see in the pits and you can plan on spending a couple of hours exploring, ogling the hotties and best of all, checking out the trick bikes. The pits close about an hour before the night’s program starts. This gives you time to get to your seat and get some snacks while the racers put their game faces on.
The biggest clue to how exciting this night would be is the opening ceremonies. The lights on the stadium go down, they bring spotlights out and follow the top 10 riders around as they are introduced alongside a full pyrotechnic display with laser lights filling the stadium. Each rider picks his own music to come out to, everything from Jason Aldean to Eminem, Metallica to Ted Nugent. The most exciting introduction, one which we will not be able to see again once this season is over, is Kevin Windham’s. Kevin retired earlier this year, but his transfers on the introductions are such a crowd pleaser that he continues them through the end of the year. In a pitch black stadium with just a spotlight to show him the way, he launches off a jump on one section of the track and land on a completely different lane. One wonders what would possess him to attempt such a thing. At 34 years old, he may be too old to be competitive, but K-Dub can still bust big air. After all the introductions were complete we were treated to one final introduction, The GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) Ricky Carmichael came out mic’ed up on his Suzuki to a now fully lit stadium. He rode one slow lap explaining the fast lines over the public address system. Then he put one hot lap in, whipping it over the big jumps like only he can.
Once the actual racing started, the night moved along fairly quickly and not enough gaps between races for the smell of high octane race fuel to dissipate. There are two different classes 250’s and 450’s. The 250 class is primarily filled with the younger riders who are just getting their start in the pro ranks. There are two divisions of 250’s. They’re separated geographically by east and west. In Atlanta the east coast series was being contested. The 450 class is filled with the best Supercross riders in the world. Of the 20 riders that lined up for the final, seven of them were past main event winners and two of them were the defending east and west coast 250 champions. Justin Barcia made the move to 450’s full time and Eli Tomac is competing in the 250 west coast series, but stepped up to the 450’s for the east coast rounds. Both riders showed great speed and served notice that the veterans will be forced to deal with them going forward. The 250 class was won by Honda’s Will Hahn who took his first ever Supercross win against former 250 Motocross National Champ Dean Wilson (Scotland) and former MX-2 (250) World Champ Marvin Musquin (France). The 250 final was a truly international affair. In the final 450 race, former two time champ James “Bubba” Stewart took the holeshot and fought off a charging Ryan Villopoto who is the two time defending AMA Monster Energy Supercross Champion. Stewart would lose time to Vilopoto through the majority of the track, but gap him on a rhythm section where Bubba had the fast line and Ryan could not match his speed. Stewart has been accused of enjoying his “rockstar” status a little too much, but he has been riding with a torn ACL all year and showed some true grit in hanging on for the win. They were both followed home by series point’s leader Davi Millsaps, a local Georgia boy who was a crowd favorite.
If you are going to be in town for Bike Week make sure you get to Daytona International Speedway for some great racing action on March 9. Who knows, you may end up seeing some of these guys on Main Street after the races Saturday night because even though they are topnotch athletes, they still are bikers. No matter if you decide to come see a race in person or you just catch it on television; make sure you give the sport of Supercross a shot.