January 10, 2011

Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing, baby: Anaheim 2011

When I rolled into the Anaheim parking lot for the first race of the Monster Energy Supercross Series (MESS), pumping old Led Zeppelin tunes in my old Mustang, I only had two objectives in mind. First, I wanted to meet Geico Honda's supercross rookie Eli Tomac and ask him to sign a jersey acquired at a benefit auction for Ross Maeda. I'm still stoked about Tomac winning his very first pro race at the season motocross opener at Hangtown last year!

Second, I just wanted to have a good time. And it's really hard not to have a good time at any sort of motocross race. In fact, I think you have to sort of work at it - at not having a good time, that is - because the sport is naturally enjoyable. Supercross® has certainly had it's ups and downs over the past 35 years, but the people managing the product have managed to make their brand of indoor motocross consistently entertaining, even in the cases when the actual racing fails to bring the necessary drama. Racing motorcycles on dirt... what's not to like?

So I had two goals, and I knew from years of attending these races that proper preparation would be necessary for success. So my plan was to arrive as early as possible, have a pocket full of disposable entertainment dollars and be willing to stand in as many lines as it was going to take to achieve my aims.

Of course, with Anaheim, the biggest lines are to simply leave and re-enter the stadium, which is required to go the the “party in the pits.” There must be a method to their madness, because it has never changed. At least the autograph line for the Geico team moved well, and Kevin Windham and Eli Tomac were friendly and I accomplished the first goal.

And by that point, I was already having a good time, so it was all looking pretty good. Sure, it was kind of expensive: $20 bucks to park. $50 ticket plus $9.15 for “Trans Conv. Chrg.” and $5 for order processing. $10 for the program and another $10 because I was too stupid to drink Monster and redeem the can for a free pit pass (and stand in that long line). All told, $100 and change to park my butt in a plastic bleacher one aisle away from the industry seating section and in the very last row, mere steps from a beer station and the men's room. Pretty decent seat, actually. I just wanted to sit on the end of a row, and it worked out pretty good.

As you probably know by now, the on-track action didn't disappoint. Kawasaki made it a Monster night, winning both classes while sweeping the 250cc podium. I'm not going to deliver a full-on race report; you can get the professional grade stuff from Transworld MX, Vital MX and of course Racer X Online. But I will tell you what I saw.

In the 250cc class, I saw Josh Hansen has decided to win a championship this year. He ain't playing around; he just might sweep the series. He's going to face some stiff competition from his own team mates, and I fully expect the “youth brigade” (Tomac and German sensation Ken Roczen of the Red Bull KTM team) to give him fits once they find a level of comfort in their rookie seasons, but Hansen is clearly on a mission, and his Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki is more than up to the task of taking him to the title.

In the 450cc class, I saw the return of supercross superiority during the very first qualifying session, when before anyone else was able to break the 1 minute mark, James Stewart clicked off a 58 second lap. The best of the rest would get closer, but no one else got into the 58s, not even in the second session. So when the 450 main finally got underway, and it was apparent that Stewart would have to spend his evening battling through traffic, I felt my face break out into a big smile. I was really enjoying myself, watching these guys ride!

Mission accomplished.

A podium full of champions.  From left to right:  The 2009 Supercross Champion, San Manuel/Red Bull/Yamaha's James Stewart (3rd), 2007 West Region Supercross Champion, Monster Energy Kawasaki's Ryan Villopoto (1st) and 2010 Supercross Champion, Rockstar/Makita/Suzuik's Ryan Dungey (2nd).   Photo by GuyB/Vital MX

On Sunday I was able to catch some of the TV coverage of the race, and I have to say I felt kind of sad for those motocross fans who were not able to see this race in person. This sport has become far too complex for our standard broadcast practices to accurately capture; there's just too much going on at one time. Fans in the stadium have the luxury of being able to switch their attention to what interests them most at the moment; maybe it's the guy running off with the lead, maybe it's the guy fighting his way back from a bad start, maybe it's the gorgeous girl that keeps looking over her shoulder... all of that is missed by TV. The internet was supposed to fulfill a promise of multiple streams of sports information, multiple camera angles, diverse coverage, but the Supercross powers-that-be haven't figured that out yet. Trust me when I say this: the ONLY way to truly enjoy a supercross is by actually attending an event. Luckily, there are 16 more to go.

Don't sleep on this supercross season. Even if you have to drive for hours to get to the nearest race, go see at least one... it will be well worth your time!

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