The acrobatic excitement of Supercross has caught the attention of race fans who are thrilled by the fearless feats of today’s cycling stars.
By Lazelle Jones
It’s an amazing sight, one that can be seen only at an American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Supercross Series race. Imagine 20 daredevils racing full-throttle around a winding dirt course laid out inside a football or baseball stadium. Riders fly through the air, whip around hairpin turns, and bounce across teeth-rattling moguls in pursuit of the checkered flag. All this motorcycle mayhem might even make Evel Knievel a little skittish.
Drawing crowds that can reach upward of 70,000 (who are seated inside the stadium), Supercross attendance is exceeded in motor sports only by NASCAR Nextel races. To no one’s surprise, hundreds of fans arrive in recreation vehicles for each two-day program, just as they do at NASCAR events and other sporting competitions. At the Supercross Series event in January 2004 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, occupants of an estimated 400 to 500 RVs dry camped in the stadium parking lot, where families, groups of friends, and individuals used their RVs as base camp for the weekend’s activities.
Supercross is one of two similar professional dirt-track racing series sanctioned by the AMA. The other is Motocross. The main difference between the two is that the Supercross Series is competed in stadiums, while the U.S. Motocross Championship Series takes place on natural terrain on a closed course. The Supercross season begins in January and ends in May and is composed of 16 events. After that season ends, the riders compete in 12 Motocross events (two races at each event) from May to September. Supercross encompasses three different classes of competition: a 250cc class and two 125cc classes (the 125cc class is divided into two regions, East and West); Motocross includes a 250cc class and an undivided 125cc class.
Before each Supercross event, an army of heavy-duty equipment operators and a team of track-building experts arrive at the arena to design and build a temporary dirt track that will be embraced by a legion of riders.
The event begins with a number of qualifying races as riders on Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha dirt bikes fly around the track like there is no tomorrow. It’s difficult to imagine two or three of these riders passing each other in midair while engaging in jumps that can reach heights of 30 feet in the air and stretch for 70 feet (the point from where the bike leaves the ground to where it again touches down), but that’s exactly what happens.
The competition is especially intense in the heat races, because not every cyclist makes it to the main event. Riders must earn their spots in the finals “” 20 in the 125cc class and 25 in the 250cc class “” during the heat races. Supercross competitors earn season championship points only in the main event, making it imperative for riders to do as well as possible in the qualifying races.
In addition to mingling with these RV/Supercross enthusiasts who arrived in their RVs, I spent time in the rider’s compound, visiting with several Kawasaki and Honda teams that use motorhomes to get to and stay at each competition.
One of these riders is 30-year-old Nathan Ramsey. Ramsey, who was born in Alabama but now makes his home in California, has raced dirt bikes since the age of 15. Today he is one of three riders on the Honda Factory Team that competes at each Supercross event. Accompanying Ramsey to the races are his wife, Monica, and their two children, Tatum and Tyson. I had a chance to visit with the Ramseys in their Fleetwood motorhome while it was parked in the rider’s compound at Anaheim. The young couple said that their motorhome provides a quiet harbor away from the racing storm that dictates their lives 25 weekends out of every year (he also competes in the Motocross Series during the summer).
Ramsey began racing in 1989 and turned professional in 1993; his achievements include a West Region 125cc Supercross title in 1999. He also was the first Honda Supercross rider in history to pull off a victory with a four-stroke motorcycle. The fact that he is one of only three riders on the Honda team speaks volumes about his riding prowess and capabilities.
When I chatted with the Ramseys, Nathan ranked third in points in the 125cc West Region division. He eventually finished the season in second place. He also finished 13th in the 250cc Supercross Series and fifth in the 2004 125cc Motocross Series.
Another member of the Honda factory team is Supercross/Motocross dominator Ricky Carmichael, who has won a record 11 AMA national championships in the past eight years (more than any other rider in AMA history). Carmichael was recuperating from major knee surgery and did not compete during the 2004 Supercross season. However, his motorhome driver, Jarrett Suber, brought Carmichael’s Mandalay diesel-pusher coach to Anaheim for hospitality purposes and parked it in the rider’s compound. Suber, a personal friend of Carmichael’s, grew up with him and now takes care of his motorhome. He keeps it clean and stocked with the rider’s favorite foods. He maintains and prepares the coach for each new venue that Carmichael will be competing at and has it ready when he arrives at each Supercross and Motocross event across the country.
Although Carmichael missed the 2004 Supercross season, he went on to win every race during the 2004 Motocross season in the 250cc class, wrapping up his fifth straight 250cc title in that series. Incredibly, he is the only rider in AMA history to win all 24 Motocross races in a season, and he’s now done it twice, having accomplished the feat in 2002 as well.
Although Carmichael is the most prolific Supercross/Motocross rider in AMA history, the competition is about to get a little tougher with the arrival of a young gun from Florida who has become nearly unbeatable in his brief career.
James Stewart Jr. raced in the Supercross East Region in 2004, and, therefore, did not compete in Anaheim. “Bubba,” as he likes to be called, opened his season in Houston and quickly set the Supercross series on fire. By the fifth race (of seven) of the year in St. Louis, Missouri, Stewart had already wrapped up the 125cc East Region Supercross title on his way to a perfect season with wins in every race he entered, proving why the cycling world is so high on him. He nearly made it through the Motocross season unbeaten as well, winning all but one race he entered. The only blemish was a did-not-finish brought on by a mechanical failure during the fifth event of the season in Red Bud, Michigan. He is part of Team Chevy Trucks Kawasaki.
In 2003, Stewart, who won’t turn 19 until the end of December, claimed seven wins and one second-place finish to capture his first 125cc West Region Supercross title. The year before, he earned his first AMA professional championship by taking the 125cc Motocross series. Although Stewart is young, he has plenty of experience. He began riding at the age of 4 and collected 11 AMA amateur titles before turning professional.
Stewart travels in a Country Coach Lexa to accommodate this demanding lifestyle. Often his mom, Sonya; his dad, James Stewart Sr.; and his 10-year-old brother, Malcolm (who competes as a member of Kawasaki’s amateur race program, Team Green), travel with him. As a family they enjoy the luxuries, the appointments, and the comfortable sanctuary their motorhome provides.
This being my first experience with Supercross, I quickly discovered the fun and excitement that prevails at such events, even for the thousands of fans who have never ridden a motorcycle. And as 400 to 500 families and groups at Angel Stadium had already discovered, bringing a recreation vehicle, spending the night, eating good home-style barbecue, visiting with friends, and then going inside the stadium to see one of the greatest shows on earth truly is about as good as it gets.
For more information about the American Motorcyclist Association racing series, schedules, results, and driver profiles, visit www.amaproracing.com.
2005 AMA Supercross Schedule
January 8: Angel Stadium, Anaheim, California
January 15: Bank One Ballpark, Phoenix, Arizona
January 22: Angel Stadium, Anaheim, California
January 29: SBC Park, San Francisco, California
February 5: Angel Stadium, Anaheim, California
February 12: RCA Dome, Indianapolis, Indiana
February 19: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California
February 26: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
March 5: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, Missouri
March 11: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona, Florida
March 19: Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida
April 2: Texas Stadium, Irving, Texas
April 9: Silverdome, Pontiac, Michigan
April 16: Qwest Field, Seattle, Washington
April 30: Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas
May 7: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada