Between the Motos: Rich Winkler

February 18, 2009 5:44pm | by:
There’s a sub-season to the Monster Energy Supercross tour that we like to call “the California season.” That’s because six of the first seven rounds take place in the Golden State, with only a brief weekend jaunt out to Phoenix breaking up the intra-state travel pattern. The California season is always filled with big crowds and good racing, and this year was no exception. In fact, there was not only good racing, but lots of dynamic track conditions thrown in—some on purpose, some a result of the unpredictable winter weather.

Now that he’s finally out of California and able to take a breath, we tracked down Rich Winkler to see how things were going with his crew. Winkler’s company is Dirt Wurx, and they build all of the tracks for Feld Motor Sports. We found him in Atlanta, where he’s already hard at work on this weekend’s Georgia Dome race course. (To preview the track with Stephane Roncada, check out this week’s Smith Optics’ Track Walk)

  • Rich Winkler
Racer X: Rich, a lot of people probably didn't realize that 2009 is one of those really difficult calendar years for supercross because you had, what, a day after New Year's to get the place ready? The series starts on January 3.
Rich Winkler: I took a few days off last week, but other than that, I hadn't been home since the day after Christmas. The same with our guys, and Dave Prater's guys (at Feld). We were working right through New Year’s. Next year it'll get better where they switch up and you actually get an extra weekend. But yes, that first week was pretty tough. We went home right after Christmas and then working through New Year's and the whole thing.

Once you guys get the dirt in Anaheim’s Angels Stadium, you move onto Phoenix, but there’s more stuff going on in Anaheim. Who works on the dirt in the facility as far as the next events—Monster Jam—that are in there?
I leave guys there to do the monster truck, but the monster trucks only requires like 60 percent that much dirt. So, they have to haul that dirt out and back in. They haul out what they don't need for the monster trucks. Depending on our travel schedule, either them or us when we get back haul it back in. So, that is what caused the time crunch on that last Anaheim. A third or more of the dirt we need for the supercross is still out in the parking lot and here they are saying it's going to start raining on Wednesday night and rain straight through the weekend. You get there already 4 or 5 o'clock Monday. That's a pretty short window, you know?

Now you're heading back towards the east coast where you don't have the same weather challenges because most of the stadiums are indoors, but that doesn't mean the dirt is dry, does it?
No, just the time of the year the series is, there is always that problem when the dirt is outside, but we are lucky that even the local people we do business with in most of these places are repeats so they kind of know what's going on. So, we can call ahead if we have to mix lime or cover or move dirt in early or whatever. Here in Atlanta, I don't know what kind of weather they've had here previously, but I mean the dirt is in great shape. It's going good here.

As far as the tacks go, I have been fortunate enough to be at five so far, and I've seen a lot of different stuff. Some were fantastic, others weren’t. I've seen one that looked pretty complicated, and ones that just didn't look the same as they were supposed to on paper… But at the same time, the points are tied in one series, and you've got two points separating the guys in the other series.
I think that as far as the track designs, we did a lot of thinking and talking about it over the summer. The old formula of parallel lanes as long as you could make them and connecting them with bowl turns and lots and lots of rhythm, you know, that worked really well with the 250cc two-strokes because they could get alongside one another and race. Now the 4-strokes are so good at jumping immediately out of the turns and things that the rhythm lane, it’s not longer really a choice lane. The idea if that you went inside of something that there is some other cadence of way you're going to go down the lane, it just kind of doesn't really happen anymore. We experimented. Some of the track things were a little one-lined. We knew that would happen. Our thinking was that at least it would keep the guys bunched up where there was still racing and where there was a little more emphasis on cornering speed and that kind of thing, as opposed to big combos of jumps. The fact hat it just comes so easily to the top few guys and then they just distance out far from the rest of the guys, I was unhappy with the way that worked last year, and I think a lot of other people were too.
I know there's been some talk. You know, this one was good, this one was bad, but at least they were different. I am not particularly a believer in every track on the series has to follow some set theory. I mean, look at the outdoor nationals, there are tighter, more technical ones and higher-speed, faster ones. I like when it changes up, and the fact that say in Phoenix it is bigger and faster and flowier, then the McGrath-designed track was tighter and more-rhythmic; I don't know, I kind of like that it changes up.

If the McGrath track had been dry, I think that would have been fantastic. And when I saw Anaheim II, I wasn’t too sure if I liked it. Then Reed goes down on the start, Stewart is 10th, then they battle through the pack and finish to each other as you are to the phone, passing everybody on the track. So it turned out to be a great track.
Yes, and Dave Prater had a lot to do with the design of that one and it was one we worked together on because we had in our minds in the summer when we were doing the design that that was going to be a retro night like in years past. At some point above us, they decided they weren't doing that this year. But that was the direction we were heading for, something that looked a little more like an old-school track and didn't have sections that it was going to be choppy and hard to get a rhythm on. I think it accomplished that. Obviously some of the riders didn't like that, but surely that wouldn't be the way to go with every race of the series, but was does it hurt to have one that's different every now and again? I liked it.

You guys are being proactive and reaching out to some of the athletes. I was looking at Travis Pastrana’s track for St. Louis today and I was like “Wow!” Then you watch Travis's show and you think, well, that makes sense now….
[Laughs] He says he's going to come down there and hang out with us during the build, and honestly, I really hope he does. I'm looking at that thinking like; it's so twisty and turny. I don't even know how we're going to lay that up on the floor. How would you line that up with anything in the seats or anything to even measure it or lay it out? Even just the basics of getting the footprint laid out on the floor looks a little confusing to me.

  • Leave it to Pastrana to come up with the most unique layout of 2009.
You guys just finished your California tour, man, there was more rain out there than I remember seeing in a long time. In at least two circumstances I remember thinking, man it's going to be a mudder, but sure enough, somehow you guys managed to salvage some really good race tracks.

Yeah, again, that's how this whole conversation came up with Prater. It's not particularly me or Dave or whoever, it's this group of soldiers in the trenches—my guys and Prater's guys. In all the years I have been doing this, I never saw guys that kept such a good attitude regardless of if they're getting rained on or it's freezing cold or there's none of that horseshit of whose job is whose. When the weather report looks like it’s going to be in San Fran or Anaheim III or San Diego, man, it's just a cool thing to be part of a team that's working that hard to get it done. Three weeks in a row, they had that track built—I mean completely built with tuff blocks, starting gate, score tower and the whole thing—in like a 20-hour period and covered with plastic. It's just amazing.

Now all we've got to do is find a way to get the tarps off without leaving the water!
[Laughs] We actually think about that a lot.

At Loretta Lynn's we have the same problem every year. The track is raised up a little bit, but I mean, the water has got to go somewhere. You cover it and...
Exactly! I hear the people bitch about it on the internet and all, but actually when we lay that plastic, we pay attention to that where we lay the outside lanes first, then the next one, then the next one. So the theory is that you are overlapping it in the direction that you can keep flipping the water to the outside, but I mean, we all know, you are inside a bowl and you've got every bit of drainage area covered with dirt. The water has got to go somewhere! Here and there it's going to soak into the plastic, into the bottom of jumps. Sometimes you read this stuff on the internet, like why didn't they build the whole thing on a paper. I mean, come on, you know as well as I do, some of that stuff is just impossible. We leave that gravely road base that's on the surface as much as we can so that where there's no track so that we can hopefully channel water to there where it will percolate down and into the grass and get lost. We do everything we can do. The flat straight-a-way on the start is the biggest problem. It's been raining on flat plastic on a flat start straight. Where's that water going to go?

{LINKS}Well, good luck with the rest of the series and congratulations on completing the first big swing through California.
Thanks DC. It will be good to change it up a little now.