Red Bull Just Mashed Up Drag Racing and Supercross
Folks who grew up in the ’80s may remember playing the classic Nintendo game Excitebike.
For the uninitiated, it was like a motocross race with motorcyclists riding along a straight course with jumps and sand pits and accelerator boosters. Red Bull, the energy drink producer and extreme sports sponsor, has recreated the experience in real life with a new type of racing.
Normal Supercross motorcycle racing happens inside a stadium (or similar outdoor venue), with sharp lefts and rights and U-turns making things more complicated than just hitting the jumps. Drivers will pass each other—or mess up and collide—on the turns, taking a sharper line to get through quicker, but maybe not setting themselves up as well for the jump sections.
In Red Bull Straight Rhythm, riders take on a half-mile, straight track studded with jumps and obstacles. They race side by side, but everyone gets their own lane, so there’s no jostling for position. It’s a bit like the difference between racing on a drag strip and on a circuit: Take out the turns, and you get a new kind of strategy.
Red Bull debuted Straight Rhythm last year, inviting riders from across the world of Supercross (stadium circuits) and Motocross (outdoor tracks) for the one-day event. This year’s race is set for Saturday, at the Fairplex in Pomona, California. The 16-man Open Class uses 450cc, 4-stroke bikes, while the 12-man Lite Class uses smaller-engined 250cc, 2-stroke bikes. They race head-to-head, in a bracket system that eventually produces a single winner.
This year’s 2,500-foot track is the work of Jason Baker, the head of Dream Traxx Motocross Track Builders. He does most of his initial designing in Google SketchUp, a simple 3D rendering program. “My stuff is very elementary, it almost looks like Excitebike,” he says.
Baker’s task is to design and build a track that makes racing exciting, without getting too dangerous. The most obvious result of taking out the turns is that there’s no natural point to slow everything down, so Baker builds in “speed checks” like near-vertical hills and sand spits to limit riders to a still very quick 60 mph.
This year, riders will clear 74 jumps between the starting gate and finish line. They begin on an elevated platform to gain speed at the start, then go right into big jumps called doubles, launching off one hill and landing on a smaller hill. The doubles space out as the riders gain speed, and are followed by a series of small jumps called “speed whoops.” Then come the “stadium whoops,” which are smaller and closer together, like moguls on a ski course.
The track culminates with a gigantic, 10-foot tall jump followed by a 14-foot landing area. The racers do the whole thing in about 50 seconds.
Straight Rhythm rewards riders who know how to time their jumps perfectly, who land so they pick up speed when they return to earth, rather than lose it. Riders aren’t fighting through a pack of competitors at each corner, but they do have to balance their strategy with the adversary in their peripheral vision. If you’re lagging, you have to add speed somewhere, but without getting so desperate you mistime a jump and fall hopelessly behind.
“We’ll go back and forth and get a lot of rider input,” Baker says. Based on rider feedback from previous years and his years of experience building tracks, he’ll adjust the course until it’s just to his liking. Every year is a little different to keep things interesting for riders and spectators.
Once the basic layout is designed, Baker and his construction crew head to the venue, this year on a half-mile long track at the Pomona Fairplex. They have twelve days to make the track, using a pair of crews to lay out the jumps and obstacles. 10,000 cubic yards are dirt are hauled in, some of it from the nearby horse track.
Once it’s dumped in place, the crews mix in just the right amount of water to ensure it sticks together properly. They’ll let it dry, then wet it again to create a sort of crust that holds the jumps together. Before riders hit the course, they’ll run a bulldozer over the surface and then wet it down again. “We can get a couple inches of loose dirt on top,” says Baker. “Get a really good traction surface.”
Don’t expect the track to stick around though. “It’s not a historical monument,” says Baker. “We gotta tear it down and do it again next year.”
You can watch this year’s Straight Rhythm on Saturday starting at 3:30 pm ET, on Red Bull’s website.
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