Breaking Down  Tracks That Breakdown

Breaking Down Tracks That Breakdown

January 30, 2013 8:00am

Oakland was a throwback track. For the first decade of my career, tracks were rutty, rough and nasty by main event time. The dirt would often come into the stadium wet or even frozen, and this led to an ever-changing condition throughout the weekend. I personally liked this aspect as it forced the rider to choose lines wisely and adapt mid-day and sometimes even mid-moto.

As with all things, Dirt Wurx has evolved their methods and found ways to dry the dirt during the week. We rarely see a rutted supercross track these days. But with Oakland’s outdoor stadium and soggy weather leading up to Saturday, the track in the main event reminded me of the old days. Riders didn’t just put in robotic, perfect laps. There were mistakes and crashes, good laps and bad laps. As Ryan Villopoto pointed out in his Monday Conversation, the last few laps of the main event were more about survival than the normal sprinting you would see most weekends. Typically, riders charging from a bad start or first turn crash can put in some of their best laps near the end as they move to the front. On a track like Oakland, that just wasn’t feasible as it deteriorated badly and the lines that were fast on lap 1 were almost un-useable on lap 20. Being creative and aware on a track like that can be all the difference. This is where the parade lap can be key… you can use that last track look to not only find the fast line, but the alternate lines for later in the race. I saw a few guys, namely Short, Dungey and Canard, use different lines after the halfway mark to make passes in unusual spots. If Rider A is able to avoid that tunnel vision scenario and really look for a line that is still fresh, it’s remarkable how much time can be made on Rider B who is in the rough and rutted so called “main line”.

Finding the right line was crucial for ever rider in Oakland.
Simon Cudby photo

An example of this for me was Indianapolis in 2008. After the finish line jump, there was a right hand 180-degree turn leading into a long rhythm section. The absolute fastest line was to triple out of the turn over a tabletop and then triple-triple out of the section. Kevin Windham had this section dialed in all day and until Chad Reed took note, he was the only one doing it. Many other top guys were tripling onto the tabletop and then stepping over a single jump but this threw off the rest of the section’s efficiency. As the track worsened in the main event, even tripling onto the tabletop became hit and miss. Having to go outside to set up for the leap was a huge liability if you bobbled and didn’t triple. Taking this into account during the race, I decided to try out something different.

Upon landing on the finish line, I immediately braked and dove to the inside. I figured out if I rolled over the first jump on the inside and then stepped over the tabletop, I could then re-join the rhythm that Windham had been doing. Immediately I started making passes here and closing the gap on riders in front of me. The kicker of the deal was that by going to the inside, I avoided the ruts and mess that comprised the outside berm. I had a perfectly groomed surface and jump faces to work with all the way down the straightaway once I made that quick turn. Being able to relax on a smooth part of the track is a Godsend in a 20 lap main event. Of course I didn’t win the race and in fact, I probably got lapped, but without little moves like this my career would have been much worse than it actually was.

In my opinion, this ability to adapt and change lines mid-race is a dying art. With track maintenance and preparation at levels never before seen, the importance of this skill is waning. The tracks are near perfect for the main events most weekends and while this is much safer, it has dulled this skill level amongst the paddock. I do think that keeping the tracks in better condition is necessary as the bikes are so powerful now and the speeds are so great. If the elite riders are on the couch at home due to injury, the whole sport suffers. Having said that, however, it was interesting for me to watch Oakland, where this old school methodology came into play, and then see who was capitalizing and who wasn’t. Next time when the weather isn’t cooperating and the track looks treacherous, take a closer look at how the riders are individually affected. I know I will be!