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X Marks the Spot

Today's supermoto event has drawn best of supercross and street racing

August 08, 2004|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

When word spread of a supermoto event being added to the X Games, interest penetrated deep into Europe. Eddy Seel, the reigning world champion and one of the invitees, expressed his feelings on a popular website.

"American people are specialists in creating astonishing shows, so I think they will give a great importance to this event too," the Belgian star wrote on supermotoxxx.com. " ... I'm glad I've been invited to this supermoto debut in the most extreme sports Olympiad."

It seems everyone who is anyone in motorcycle racing is entered in today's Moto X Supermoto event at the Home Depot Center. Supermoto is a blend of supercross and street racing. Participants include Jeff Ward and Jeremy McGrath of motocross and supercross fame. Road racing star Ben Bostrom is here. So are freestyle specialists Travis Pastrana, Mike Metzger and Brian Deegan.

Many of the top riders from Europe, where supermoto has flourished for nearly 20 years, are on the roster.

And they all seem to share Seel's enthusiasm.

"Everybody that I've ever idolized in my entire life is here, pretty much," said Pastrana, the X Games Moto X Freestyle gold medalist in 2003. "From Doug Henry to Jeremy McGrath to the most amazing street riders of ... now. And then there's the best supermoto riders coming from Europe. Now we're coming to the X Games, where everything is bigger and gnarlier. The jumps are going to be way bigger than the street guys are used to. No one knows what's going to happen."

Today's competition -- the only true race in the X Games -- is sort of like a martial arts contest in which experts in karate, judo and kick boxing converge at one venue and battle it out until one man is left standing. Nobody can be sure who that man will be; only that it'll be the one best able to adapt, in this case on a modified motocross-style bike, with smaller, wider wheels and slick or near-slick tires.

But one thing seems reasonably certain. With Ward, McGrath and Henry -- all part of the inaugural AMA supermoto series in 2003 -- lending their names to supermoto, fan interest in the United States should be higher than it was when the sport was first showcased more than 20 years ago, during a made-for-TV "Superbikers" event.

And the X Games version, which will showcase the event before millions of television viewers, is expected to give the event an enormous boost.

"I know it's going to grow, and after this event it should take off even more," said Bostrom, an AMA superbike standout from Las Vegas and winner of last year's AMA supermoto title. "They've put together a crazy course, with some serious elevation."

One person who has been working to ensure that Moto X Supermoto is a hit with viewers is Rich Feinberg, senior coordinating producer for ESPN. Because this is a new X Games event, Feinberg "threw the kitchen sink at it." He hired longtime Indianapolis 500 announcer Paul Page to do play-by-play. He hired as producer Neil Goldberg, who also produced this year's Daytona 500. Goldberg's director will be Conrad Piccirillo, who had the same duty for this year's Indy 500 telecast.

"Just like the event organizers gave us an all-star cast of riders, I've provided an all-star cast of production people," Feinberg said. "What the fans will see, from the type of riders and from my production people -- we have 24 cameras for just this one event -- is going to blow people away."

Feinberg said cameras would be placed on some of the athletes' motorcycles, and on a cable that spans the length of the soccer stadium, in which the dirt portion of the event will be held. An airplane cameraman will follow the riders from the stadium to the parking lot, where the street portion will be held. "So the looks and angles are just going to be spectacular," Feinberg said. "It'll have a much different appeal to it and the ultimate experience will be a wow factor for the audience."

Fans inside the soccer stadium will see only the dirt portion live. The street portion will be carried on a large-screen monitor. Riders will leave and enter the stadium via ramps that pass through the grandstands at either end. Many in practice have been catching air as they enter. Those not used to street riding have been catching mostly pavement as they slide into some of the sharper corners.

"I've been on the ground sliding more in the past three weeks than I care to remember," said Pastrana, who rides for Suzuki. "The other guys, they flat-track so they're used to it. They just pitch the bike sideways on the pavement, hit the gas, slide around the corner and wheelie down the straightaway. It's unbelievable. I pitch the bike sideways and I high-side and go flying over the other side."

Bostrom, who rides for Honda, offered a different perspective.

"I'm real fast on the road and try to just survive on the dirt," he said. "Those guys try to survive on the road and do good in the dirt. And the supermoto guys, they just do good everywhere. They're not great in either area, but good everywhere. It really makes for good racing."

Pastrana, whose supermoto experience was limited to one month's practice for today's event, lists Bostrom as one of the favorites, along with McGrath, Ward and Henry. But he acknowledged that his knowledge of the participants was limited.

"I don't know much about any of the Europeans," he said quietly, looking around to make sure he wasn't being overheard. "In fact, the world champion is here and I don't even know who he is."

Chances are, he'll have a better idea sometime today.

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