By Ashley Price
On Jan. 7, most motocross fans turned their attention to Anaheim, Calif., as some of the fastest dirt bike racers in the world prepared for the opening event of the 17-round AMA Supercross series.
But in Cincinnati, another school of the world’s fastest racers lined up to do their own battle on a very similar track, inside the U.S. Bank Arena.
While many tend to think of Arenacross as Supercross’ little brother, the racers who participate in the Arenacross series are hard-charging competitors who perform at the same levels as those who race in Supercross. In fact, nearly all the racers in the Arenacross class have lined up at an AMA Supercross starting gate before.
Gavin Faith, the 2016 Arenacross champion, spent time on the Geico Honda team in the 250SX class, while the 2016 Arenacross series second-place finisher Jace Owen has qualified for many Supercross night shows and main events, along with winning a championship overseas.
At the Arenacross season opener in Cincinnati, both Faith and Owen showed their credentials in a flashy race, with Owen emerging victorious in a flawless and dominating performance.
After cruising to a victory in his heat race, Owen went on to win the Arenacross the head-to-head battle and his heat race, followed by both main event wins over his rival and good friend, Faith.
Faith was able to fight his way to a second-place finish from a third place start, which in Arenacross, is a much harder task than it seems.
In Supercross, racers like James Stewart and Ricky Carmichael were iconic for their come-from-behind wins after a crash would leave them dead last. Many fans assume the same can be done in Arenacross. But that’s not quite the case.
Unlike Supercross, Arenacross has a two-race main event format that combines rider'ss finishes from both races into an overall score, similar to that of outdoor motocross. This format makes it hard to salvage a bad finish or start for a win. But the main reason come-back performances aren’t as common in Arenacross is the style and layout of the track.
Both Arenacross and Supercross tracks are built inside a stadium from dump truck loads of dirt hauled in from the area. They both feature a long start, a sharp and narrowing first turn, a rhythm and whoop section and a big double jump for the finish line.
The tracks may appear virtually the same, with length and lap times being the only major difference. But the two series call for very different styles of racing.
Supercross track lap times typically run about a minute, with two or three long rhythm sections and at least one section of whoops. Arenacross, on the other hand, has lap times of about 30 seconds, with a single section of whoops and one short rhythm section. With the track being much shorter and narrow, this makes jumps much steeper and the whoops so deep that most mini bikes bottom out during amateur day. As a result, Arenacross requires riders to be much more agile and forces them to be prepared for anything to happen at any moment, while staying committed to their lines.
Traveling at the same speeds as Supercross racers, but on a much smaller track, means these athletes have to be able to make decisions in hundredths of a second. If another racer crashes in front of them, riders must decide while flying through jumps and with other dirt bikes all around them, whether or not they should continue straight where they are going or find a different line. Sometimes crashes happen so fast that there isn’t time to think, just react.
This difference is what makes Arenacross incredibly exciting and requires its racers to be astonishingly talented. The smallest mistake can lead to the biggest of consequences.
On Jan. 7, this was made clear as riders like Travis Sewell and Steven Mages, who have both spent their fair share of time racing the Supercross 250 class and getting Top Five results in Arenacross, both were involved in crashes that put them in unfamiliar conditions.
While Mages finished outside the Top 10 overall, Sewell looked utterly defeated as he rode his bike back to the pits after failing to qualify for the night show. For both racers, the Cincinnati track proved that experience and talent don’t always result in victory.
Matt Goerke, Ben Lamay and Jacob Hayes–all Supercross and Arenacross veterans as well– finished third, fourth and fifth.
Supercross racer Gared Steinke, who quickly rose to motocross fame when he raced his two-stroke dirt bike in the predominant four-stroke professional classes, found himself just squeezing into a Top Five finish in one of the Arenacross mains, ultimately finishing sixth overall.
When Owen whipped his bike sideways over the finish line as the overall winner, he pumped his fist in the air, knowing that his flawless performance had made a bold statement for the first round of the AMA Arenacross series, but also that he had achieved a great feat on a track that didn’t make it easy.
For the remaining riders, there are many more rounds of racing left in the Arenacross series which will provide each of them an opportunity to prove themselves as some of the world’s top motocross racers.
The series also serves as an opportunity for fans to get up-close and personal on the action of AMA Arenacross for themselves. By visiting the AMA Member Benefit page on www.americanmotorcyclist.com, AMA Members can get up to four discounted ticket to a race.
If the rest of the series is anything like the opening round, this is definitely an event that any motocross fan won’t want to miss out on!