“Thank You For Coming”

Having come from another race in northern California the previous Sunday, we picked up our new rig in Phoenix, drove eighteen hours to the heart of Texas, made a quick stop to pick up groceries, and ambled down a dirt road that seemed to lead to nowhere, before we arrived at the world-class national track of Freestone County Raceway Texas Motocross.

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Exhausted and exhilarated, we watched the sun rise over the track, skies melting from midnight blue to pink to gold creating a brilliant backdrop for the eighty foot tall flags—one for Texas, one for America—that rippled in the dawn breeze. “This feels like pro motocross,” I whispered. The track was eerily quiet, the calm before the storm. You could feel all around you that Freestone was ready for it.

We hadn’t been alone in our mad dash to get here. We heard more stories from other families who had pulled their sons and daughters out of school, hopped in their motorhomes and driven through the night across country for the chance to earn AMA titles at the James Stewart Freestone Spring Championship. They came from Florida, California, Ohio, Colorado, Georgia, and all over the country. We even met people from New Zealand!

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Over the course of the day, once more as before we encountered that strange sensation of seeing familiar faces thousands of miles away from the last place we had seen them, this time in the midst of the backroads, family farms, and cow pastures of rural Texas. “I call them the traveling circus!” the announcer, Don Collings, said with a laugh, and we nodded, because the label fit.

The sun brought with it the day’s action and promise of glory. For every child who stepped proudly onto the podium before the flashing of cameras and cheering of fans, a dozen more trudged away from the track disappointed, even crushed, but with the hope that the next moto would yield better results. “The highs and the lows,” we always say to ourselves. Because in every corner of this wild circus, from the people who race to the people who support them—parents, families, mechanics, sponsors, fans, promoters, and track owners—there are the highs and the lows that lead to this strange moto addiction that simply cannot be explained.

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By the end of the day, still sleep deprived from the drive and running on fumes we began packing up our booth and debating what to cook for dinner. Something quick and easy, we decided. Almost as if we had summoned him, some unknown individual pulled up on a quad and said, pointing in a general direction, “We’re barbequing ribs. Come on by, we’ve got plenty of food.”

We followed our noses to the barbeque, pausing sheepishly on the outskirts of their pit, scanning the scene for a familiar face. “I don’t think we know anyone here,” I mumbled, but someone on the inside caught our hesitance and summoned us over, offered us a plate, and encouraged us to “Eat up! This is real Texas barbeque!” So we did, and those ribs were so melt-in-your-mouth delicious I can proclaim with honesty they were the best I had ever tasted. We loaded our plates with chicken and sausage, macaroni & cheese and salad and we ate until there was no room for more. We mingled through the group, shaking hands, trying to figure out who to thank for the food, but it seemed that everybody was host, and yet nobody was host. Maybe it was Jimmy, maybe it was Paul, but they were all from Texas, and they were all proud to say, “Thank you for coming.”

 

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Why are Pros Racing Amateur Races? An Opinion Piece…

“Why are PROS racing AM races?” a tweet notification popped up on my screen. A fair question, of course. One that I’m sure many MX riders, particularly women riders, are asking. As many of you know by now, women’s pro motocross, dubbed “WMX,” has been relegated to amateur events for 2014 after losing its home alongside men’s Pro MX.

The responses that followed from fellow angry tweeters were absurd, at best. No, it’s not because “some man” decided. And no, “that man” most certainly isn’t D. Coombs. For some reason people at large have crowned Coombs as the King of Pro Motocross, as the man behind all the decisions. I don’t know much, but I certainly know this to be a vast misconception. In the Pro MX world, there are much bigger players than Coombs. (And to his credit, it was Coombs who dreamed up bringing WMX to the Pro series in the first place, so give the guy a break.)

If you want to blame the television networks, or the sponsors, you’re getting warmer. The simple fact is that pro racing hardly exists without the corporate bodies who fund it, but let’s not pretend that these are acts of charity. We’re all in business to promote ourselves—our brands, our products—and thusly, we invest in the events and athletes that are marketable.

Female MX athletes are some of the most dedicated, die-hard athletes in the biz. Factory team managers are completely at a loss.  Imagine watching these girls with so much talent, so much drive, and nowhere to go. In fact, most people in the industry are pretty bent up about the state of WMX.

But the cold, hard truth is that WMX is simply not marketable—at least not yet. And if I’m going to charge anyone with that crime, I charge you. Yes, YOU: Motocross fans. There’s little money behind women’s racing because the fans aren’t behind it.

“But they’re not as fast as the guys,” you say, and I admit, this is largely true. And while there’s simple anatomy to blame (men are anatomically stronger than women, generally speaking), and while female athletes on the whole are at an evolutionary disadvantage (men have been competing in athletic events for thousands of years; meanwhile, in the powder room, the women are knitting), I think it goes deeper still. After all, we’ve seen the likes of up-and-coming female athletes like Courtney Duncan who has the speed to beat plenty of her male competitors in the amateur scene. Still, at Loretta’s I didn’t see a whole lot of people—sponsors or fans—who seemed all that interested in pursuing her.

If you really get down to it, I think you’ve got to dig into the very culture of motorsports, one in which women play a very clear role, and it’s a silent, porcelain-faced, half-clothed one. Let’s be honest, the Monster girls get more coverage at motorsports events than all the female racers combined. Female athletes can only hope to be blessed with a pretty face, so that maybe the camera will be so generous as to gaze upon them.

Now before you misconstrue my argument, please understand that I mean no disrespect to the models. Haters: pipe-down. There’s room for both Dianna Dahlgren and Jessica Patterson in this industry. All I’m saying is, what if we celebrated talent just as much as we celebrated beauty in our young women? What if we gave WMX another chance, a REAL chance? What if we, THE FANS, invested a little more time and interest into WMX, not just for ourselves, but also for our daughters, our sisters, our girlfriends, our wives, our mothers, and for the sport we love?

Maybe instead of being angry about WMX joining the amateur events, we can see this as an opportunity. After all, this year female racers have eight national events at which to compete, compared to last year’s measly three events with the Triple Crown. At least one of these amateur events will be televised, and that number is expected to grow in the coming years. Look at the attention amateur national MX events are getting these days: last year, Loretta’s garnered a larger television viewership than the X Games! These amateur events are going to get a lot of press, and WMX is going to be a part of that.

The decision to hold WMX races alongside amateur events was merely a financial one, one that was necessary in order to give female athletes the opportunity to race this year. Now, it’s up to us to decide what the future of WMX holds. As for me, I’ll be at the track with a front row seat when the women take the gate.

-Rachel Witt

Redbuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud!

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At any track we witness the natural progression: empty space becomes structured, camping lots emerge and fill up, and with them, pro pits, vendor rows, media centers, and VIP zones appear.

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But Redbud takes it to a whole new level.  Their campsites have campsites.  There’s even an 18 and older lot, where the real debauchery unfolds.  Take a morning stroll past Lot B, and you will see more than a few people face down in the grass next to mountains of beer cans, music still blaring.

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But don’t get me wrong, there’s more substance to the extravaganza than can be found in a can of Bud Light.  I’m not sure if it’s because of the Fourth of July holiday or the incessant back-to-back race events (five events in three days!) or perhaps it’s simply the frantic excitement generated by the resounding, guttural cheers of, “Redbuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud” that make it such an extravaganza.  Whatever it may be, it is an event that can only be learned through experience.

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Working the podium at all four amateur events, we got to talk with the many people who come to Redbud to race.  We greeted the champions who returned to winner’s circle again and again.  We high-fived tiny kids who had just finished their first races.

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We celebrated with proud moms and dads who we knew put in all the behind-the-scenes work to make it possible for their children to compete.  We reminisced with vet riders, who were pleased that they ‘still had it’ after a good run on the track.

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Watching the fireworks exploding, showering comets of red, white, and blue over the ruts and jumps of Redbud MX Park, I decide that if Redbud owes its reputation to any one thing, it’s tradition.  Each year, the Ritchies and the rest of the Redbud staff put on the biggest, most impressive weekend of racing on the series.  And each year, fans, competitors, friends, and families return to celebrate Independence Day together, creating the memories and traditions that shape our lives.

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This year, I finally got to experience Redbud, and I must admit, it was worth the hype.

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A Brief Walk of Fame

When they asked me if I wanted to be the 30 second board girl for the pro race on the following day, I was hesitant.  “Well I’m not sure about wanting to do it,” I said, “But if it helps you guys out, certainly I am willing,” and I told them to put me down as a backup plan. 

I was aware that donning a sexy outfit and sauntering across the track doesn’t do much to help a woman establish her credibility in a man’s sport.  Wasn’t it just recently that I had read a thread on Vital MX debating whether or not all trophy girls were sluts?  An absurd assumption, of course, but that did little to assure me that this was a position I wanted to put myself in.

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When 1:00 came the following day, I was whisked off to the starting line for the 450 class race.  Standing just a few feet away from the front lines of battle, I waited for my cue.  I watched as team managers and crew chiefs prepared the gates, carving out ruts in the dirt and carefully aligning the bikes as they came in.  Malcolm Stewart leaned in and exchanged a few words with his brother; Ryan Villopoto’s gaze remained fierce and stoic as people bustled around him; a pretty girl in a pit shirt handed goggles to a privateer I didn’t recognize; and someone leaned in with an umbrella, offering some last minute shade to Ryan Dungey. 

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There was a controlled, frenetic energy in the air.  We were just moments from combustion. 

Countdowns were announced.  “Three minutes!” someone called.  Another minute passed. The officials pointed at me, “You’re on in 10-9-8…”  I silently completed the countdown and started my brief walk of fame from one side of the track to the other. Image

In the subsequent two minutes, the earth trembled beneath my feet as the low grumbling of engines grew to a powerful roar.  The fans who were pressed up against the gates all around the start line let out a collective cry of anticipation.  The 40 world-class riders crouched over handlebars like predators, their sights intent upon the next thirty minutes and two laps that lay ahead of them.

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In the midst of my personal concerns, I had failed to realize how freaking cool this would be!  The gates dropped, they funneled into the first turn and through the holeshot.  In a quick blur, they were out of sight.

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When they asked later if I would be willing to fill in again, this time I responded confidently, “Absolutely.”