I attended my first Supercross race this year, mainly because a buddy had an extra ticket for the second Anaheim race. I wasn't expecting to love it, but I had the night free, so of course I was in.
I entered motorcycling as a café racer kid and thought that anyone whose version of motorcycling was different from mine was doing it wrong. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to experience many different forms of motorcycling and have learned that each one is amazing in its own right. Supercross is just the latest in a long line of “Oh, now I get it. This is awesome!” Where maybe I expected something like UFC on wheels, cheap thrills and crashes, what I experienced that night instead was motorcycle racing at its finest.
For those of you who aren’t in-the-know, the AMA Monster Energy Supercross series is also sanctioned by the FIM as the world championship in the sport and draws the world’s best riders. A night of Supercross consists of a series of five-lap qualifying sprints for both the 250cc and 450cc racing classes, as well as an LCQ (last chance qualifier) for each and then main race in each class. With only four riders advancing to the main from the qualifying races, the most intense racing is sometimes not for the win, but for fourth. I saw some truly epic battles between guys who were pretty evenly matched and were fighting to get into the main event to keep their pro careers on track and earn some TV time for their sponsors.
What I expected to be a night of hanging out with friends with a soundtrack of dirt bike engines became one of the most stressful nights of my life. Every single race had a battle that went back and forth and wasn’t decided until the final straight, and I couldn’t help but feel invested in every second. I watched as guys struggled to make passes they shouldn’t even try, to throw up Hail Marys in a final corner or over one last jump to try to get into that fourth spot. I saw guys get sloppy in their efforts, then try to relax and ride smooth, and adjust their race tactics on the fly as they threw every ounce of effort at trying to out-ride their opponents.
Attending a Supercross race is an experience very different from something like MotoGP roadracing. At MotoGP, you’re at eye level and have such a better reference for how fast those guys are moving, but it’s harder to follow the big picture of what is happening in the race. Supercross is the exact opposite. Seated above the track, you lose some of the ability to appreciate the speed, but you gain a perspective for the race as a whole and the stories unfolding within it. The high-flying skill of the riders is the main attraction that draws nearly 1 million people to football and baseball stadiums for Supercross races each year, but this ability to follow the race from a comfortable stadium seat is also part of the draw. Of course the lasers and fireworks and theatrics don’t hurt, and it’s neither surprising nor insignificant that you’ll see more kids at a Supercross race than any other top-level motorsport event.
Since that race in Anaheim, I’ve watched every second of the Supercross season. I’ve read the race recaps and learned all about the riders, picked guys to root for and root against, and become a full-fledged Supercross fan.
While I can go on and on about the beauty of Supercross all afternoon, I can appreciate that it took attending a race for me to become a fan and that my words alone won't convince you. For that, the best I can do is ask you to watch this. If your attention span is as short as mine, start at about the 9:15 mark where the announcers catch on to the real story. This, to me, is racing at its absolute finest. It’s a man excelling at every aspect of his sport and the results being displayed in a way that is so apparent, it makes even non-fans stop and realize they’re seeing something special.
Or, if you prefer, watch it from his view, to see what it looks like to go from 14th to first:
I’d like to conclude that Supercross is the best version of motorcycle racing. I think the truth, however, is that any segment of motorcycling is awesome when viewed through the lens of its dedicated fans.
If you’ve pigeon-holed yourself into any single version of our sport, like I did those years ago when I thought it was all about café racers and nothing else, I suggest you broaden your view of motorcycling. There’s a big world of greatness out there just waiting for you to take a closer look.