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Between the Motos: Todd Jendro

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Todd Jendro is a name that most supercross fans are familiar with. As Feld Motorsports’ Senior Director of Two-Wheeled Operations, he’s been involved with the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series for many years—and before that he was a pro rider himself. Now he’s helping dial in a new project with the company, helping to manage their new Nuclear Cowboyz property, which kicks off this weekend at The Igloo in PittsburghPA. We caught up with Todd as he was getting ready to hit the road for 22 straight weekends of SX/FMX with his team.

  • Todd Jendro's Supercross experience gave him the chops to put on this first-of-its-kind FMX show.
Racer X: Todd, I hope you’re family had a nice Christmas and all, because I know Christmas is short for you and everyone at Feld, especially this time around because of what you have coming up this weekend.
Todd Jendro: Yes, that’s right, we have our Nuclear Cowboyz load-in coming up here on Wednesday, so we’ve been spending most of the holidays—when we would normally be home with our families before we head on to the SX opener at Anaheim—we’ve been planning out the 15-city tour for Nuclear Cowboyz, which kicks off this Saturday night, January 2, 2010.

From what I heard from our guys who were at the rehearsals from a couple weeks back at the L.A. Sports Arena, as well as read on some of the other sites, you guys might have quite a show on your hands. It sounds like a nice hybrid of old-school freestyle motocross and a Broadway show.
Yes, it went really well, and it seemed like the friends and families and media that were in attendance at the LA Sports Arena to witness the show were quite impressed with it. So were we, but we also knew that there were some holes that needed to be fixed, and that became apparent after the rehearsal—especially telling the storyline and taking the audience on this journey through a post-apocalyptic world. So we went back and started working with the script writers that work with our Disney Live properties and our Disney On Ice properties and started writing more of the narrative to help tell the story better.

How do you guys come up with this show?
My opinion is that freestyle motocross contests were becoming a bit stagnant over the last six years or so. And while we’re used to competitions, we’ve really set out to dig deep and change the face of freestyle motocross as it’s been. So this is a hybrid where we took a motorsports property and married it with a theatrical program. We were able to create a storyline, set in this scenic world inside the arena, an adventure that changes the whole presentation of freestyle motocross, and we believe we’ve accomplished that. We also have the 16 of the best freestylers in the world right now coming to your hometown, when you would typically only be able to view them on TV or maybe see some of them at the X Games once a year.

  • How many riders can you count in the air in this shot?
  • Two huge tricks, now part of just another day on the job.
I know that one of the things that has always been a challenge for FMX is the fact that there’s usually only one bike in the air at a time. By some of the pictures that I saw from the Nuclear Cowboyz rehearsal, it looks like there’s a half-dozen bikes up in the air some of the time.
That’s right, and it’s a bit of sensory overload, as one of the media folks told us after the rehearsal. At any given moment, there could be twelve guys up in the air at one time, depending on the scene. There’s also so much misdirection and bikes coming out of different areas that it’s exhilarating. It’s all choreographed and scripted routines where we see the guys doing their best stuff, but often at the same time. It’s kind of like seeing a 60” plasma screen for the first time, after watching an old tube TV all this time.

Speaking of the script, how has the Metal Mulisha been at taking their cues and direction and all?
[Laughs] The Metal Mulisha has actually been great to work with. I can’t say enough about Brian Deegan’s crew, and especially Jeremy “Twitch” Stenberg. We’ve been putting them through a grind—where they may have been used to riding for maybe two or three hours a week, we’ve been doing four hours a day during rehearsals, trying to memorize their patterns and routines and choreographed maneuvers. It’s been a tough twelve days of rehearsal for them, but they dug deep, and they finally got it all down.  I really commend the guys, they’ve all done a great job.

What about the guy on the ATV doing the back flip?
Yeah, that’s Derek Guetter.
{QUOTE}
Did that wow even the Metal Mulisha guys? Because I heard that’s a real jaw-dropping moment.
It was pretty intense, that’s for sure. And especially for Derek. While he’s done the back-flip many times, in this environment, with these new ramps and in this whole new world, it was pretty nerve-wracking for him to commit to nailing the back flip. But the last day in rehearsal, he nailed it, and everyone there ran out and high-fived him and was just really pumped for the guy. I think that helped give him the confidence to do what he does, and I gotta tell you, it’s amazing to see those four wheels going upside down and then seeing him land that thing.

  • Derek Guetter's ATV flip is a highlight of the show.
You’ve spent the last 12 or 15 years working on supercross, and your role there is to help build the stage—the whole platform of the series—and then let it play out and let the athletes decide it. How is this different for you, where you’re basically mapping things out from start to finish?
It was a difficult process, no doubt. I come from a bit of the old-school world, and while we produce the world’s largest off-road racing program in supercross, where we deal with rules and regulations and sanctioning bodies and sponsors and sponsorship implementation and all, this was just a whole new experience for our whole team, and I think they did a fantastic job in being able to adapt into this world. It was a painstaking process of planning and cues and 16-hour days and routines and patterns and charts… It was a lot of work, but when you finally see this thing, you’re going to be amazed.

Isn’t that what their always after in entertainment? I mean like James Cameron, the director who just spent years bringing that ridiculous Avatar movie to the screen, just to get that jaw-dropping moment out of the audience—one that lasts for two hours?
Absolutely.

And I also know that if you didn’t have that bum wrist, you might be the 17th Mulisha rider out there, huh?
[Laughs] Funny you say that, and one of the guys said to me, “Hey, where’s your bike, Jendro?” and I said sorry, it’s not on the truck this time!  Actually, Micky Dymond, who has been very instrumental in helping to pull all of this together, working as a liaison between the company and the riders, and Andy Bell actually got me to jump into the foam pits last summer off the ramps, so I think I am an honorary member of the Mulisha now!

You mentioned Micky. Who are some of the people that have been helping bring this property to life?
We’ve assembled what I call “the Dream Team” for this show. Micky has been a special member of the team; he’s been instrumental in choreographing the routines, as well as working with all of the riders. We’ve got Jesse Blevens, who has lots of experience in the lighting business, lighting people like [No Doubt’s] Gwen Stefani’s for years. Brian Wallenbach has worked on supercross for years with me, and he’s our director of freestyle motocross now. We have Troy Kuszmaul is the Senior Event manager, and we have Barry Lather, who helped choreograph all of the routines with the specialty acts and the dancers, and he’s worked in the past with Rhianna and Jay-Z, as well as Michael Jackson.

  • More 3-D than Avatar, and way more dirt bikes.
You kick this whole thing off this weekend in Pittsburgh. How do you think you will be, as far as your nerves do, compared to next Saturday night at Anaheim when you kick off the 2010 Monster Energy AMA Supercross tour?
Honestly, I think I will have butterflies in the stomach as I would for any opening night of the supercross tour. This thing has been a huge production, with so many minute details and cues that it takes to produce a theatrical production of this magnitude, it’s just been an overwhelming challenge. So yes, the nerves will be high, and we look forward to executing a flawless opening night in Pittsburgh, and I will definitely be glad to get this first one over with and then be off to Anaheim.

Good luck and Happy New Year, Todd.
Thanks, you too. 

(For more information on the Nuclear Cowboyz, including show times and event schedule, check out www.nuclearcowboyz.com)
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