The List: Race Format Innovations and Gimmicks

The List Race Format Innovations and Gimmicks

November 7, 2013 4:45pm
This off-season has seen several high-profile experiments, like the Joker Lane at the Monster Energy Cup and the Red Bull Straight Rhythm gathering. The Joker Lane may have seemed like a gimmick last year, but it paid off in spades, playing a dramatic role in the results of the first two of three "main event" motos (that three-race format is another one-off tweak). As for the straight rhythm racing, it looks like a blast, and you can check it out right here.

With those interest-builders in mind, the Bercy SX in France has incorporated its own version of a mandatory detour like the Joker Lane. We thought we’d list a few other spicy elements added to various race formats over the years.

Match-race party like it’s 1999: A young Grant Langston goes up against an older Tallon Vohland.
Geoff Meyer Photo

Match Races: The one-on-one format has been pulled out from time to time over the years, to various degrees of success. From the Saporitti Fast Cross races in Italy to Jeremy McGrath's Invitational Supercross back in 2006, the racing can be good—but it's hard to keep a massive stadium or an outdoor circuit interested in just two guys on the track at a time.

Toyota Long Jump Award and Coca-Cola Catapult: Back in the late seventies and early eighties, mid-race bonuses were given to those who would launch their bikes the furthest off a particular jump on the track. It was revived for a while at the Las Vegas SX, but as the bikes got faster and suspension better, guys would jump so far back into the stadium that it was scary.

Bob Hannah almost jumped the starting gate in this late-seventies match race with Brad Lackey!
Dick Miller Photo

Two-Moto Mains: The 1985 AMA Supercross Championship hosted a pair of main events each night for the premier class, giving fans more chances to see close action. But the added math caused some confusion for many and the plan was scrapped the following year.

One-Moto National: This was tried (on purpose) just once: at the Glen Helen AMA National in 1993. It was interesting, but fans wanted to see more, and the idea never gained traction.

Doug Henry leads Jeremy McGrath at the one-moto, on-a-Saturday-afternoon-in-1993 Glen Helen National.
Fran Kuhn photo

Saturday Nationals: That same race in 1993 at Glen Helen was also held on a Saturday—an idea that had more merit. It didn't catch on until it was tried again in September of 2009 at Steel City, for the purpose of live TV, as well as the business execs in the paddock like Yamaha's Jimmy Perry and Pro Circuit's Mitch Payton who argued that they would rather travel on Sundays and be at work on Mondays, moving their departure dates from Friday to Thursday. All nationals went to Saturdays in 2010, and while some fans didn't like the change, the riders and race teams loved it.

125 Supercross: Believe it or not, the addition of a 125cc class was a big deal back in 1985, as SX in America had been 250cc-only since they scrapped the 500cc division after 1976. The winner of the first 125cc main event? Kawasaki Team Green rider Todd Campbell. The first 125 West Region Champion? Bobby Moore. The East? Eddie Warren. The rest is history—although it's no longer the 125 class, nor the Lites class (thankfully), but all-250 SX four-strokes.

Mandatory Pit Stops: Remember Supermoto X? Back when they used to do the X Games races at the Home Depot Center, the racers had a mandatory pit stop and wheel change. Think of it as a gimmick wrapped in an innovation, featured in a fad.

Who can forget Supermoto X?
Simon Cudby Photo

Inverted Starts: On paper it seems simple—fastest qualifiers start in the back or the second row—but in reality it didn't quite work out. Riders would simply sandbag their heat races (see the 1985 Rodil Cup at the Los Angeles Coliseum) in order to get the front-row starts. The best argument ever made against it? Ricky Johnson on the floor of the Coliseum that night!

Three-Moto Grand Prix Races: In 1992, the FIM experimented with running three 25-minute motos rather than two longer ones. The best man ultimately won the title—Donny Schmit—but the three motos were rather confusing for fans, and the riders would often coast in one or two motos while really going for it in the others. Three-moto GPs didn't last long, maybe three years.

One-Moto Grand Prix Races: The one-moto format didn't last long over there either. It was tried by Dorna in 2003, and the superbly fast and supremely fit Stefan Everts started making a mockery of it by racing a YZ250 in one class and his YZ450 in the other, often sweeping both Grand Prix wins. And when all three classes ran at the last GP of the year at Ernee, France, Everts pulled off a hat trick, winning all three classes! It's a feat that will likely never be repeated, and one of the reasons why, in Europe, Everts was rightly called the King of Motocross.

Metal Freestyle Ramps: See the 2006 Jeremy McGrath Invitational. The event also had match races and a huge purse—just not enough fans to keep it going.

The 1980 New Orleans Supercross included this headaches-for-mechanics-inspiring water crossing.
Dick Miller Photo

Water Crossings: Believe it or not, SX races used to have a water crossing—a small pond framed by wood, covered in plastic and filled with water. The idea goes as far back as the 1973 Superbowl of Motocross at the Los Angeles Coliseum, where promoter Mike Goodwin wanted to add a “natural element.” The fans liked the splashes, but the riders and teams hated the mud and the extra time cleaning the bikes. You can still see the indoor water crossing in action in the EnduroCross Series, where it seems much more at home.

Night Races: Sure, we have them every Saturday night during the winter and spring, but there used to be an outdoor national lit up, too. The Thunder Valley race ran at night for a couple of years, with massive kliegs brought in to illuminate the mountainside track in Colorado. It was cool, but also very expensive. But the legacy lives on in the GPs, as the opening round in Qatar runs under the lights, albeit almost spectator-free—an unintentional gimmick that came with opening in a sparsely populated Arabian oil kingdom.

Ivan Tedesco won the 2009 Thunder Valley National, which was held under the lights.
Simon Cudby Photo

Arenacross Tries It All: The Joker Lane and Straight Rhythm are getting some hype, but many tricks are actually in active practice in points-paying races. Amsoil Arenacross now incorporates inverted starts and double main events into its format. After the first 12-lap main, the race winner selects one of three identical briefcases (ala Deal or No Deal), which will denote a full 16-gate inversion for the second race, an eight-gate inversion, or no inversion. Quite often, the winner of the first main ends up with the 16-gate inversion and heads to the back row of the start for race two. And twelve Arenacross laps doesn't give much time to make passes! In addition, Arenacross features head-to-head bracket racing (with a championship point awarded to the night's winner) and a Chase to the Championship points structure, which resets the standings for a five-race sprint to the finale. Most of the time, these new rules just seemed to make life harder on AX champ Tyler Bowers, but he overcame it all to win the title again last year, and the series was much closer and more exciting to watch.

Split Start: Like the Joker Lane, you surely noticed this at the Monster Energy Cup. It actually didn’t start there, though, as a few years earlier the supercross folks incorporated a split start at races like Anaheim, Phoenix and St. Louis. The difference was that those races only featured a 20-foot spread between the sets of gates, while the Monster Energy Cup spreads the gates 220 feet apart. And, oh yeah, they had a few malfunctions. Being innovative is never easy!

Triple Crowns: In the late 1990s, Vans began putting together the Triple Crown of Supercross, a three-race series within the supercross series. If a rider won three predetermined rounds of the series, that rider would win $500,000. That’s a lot of money 15 years ago! In 2000, David Vuillemin came close, winning the first two legs, but he came up short at the third race. He still netted $25,000 as the best rider overall in those three races. There was also a Monster Energy Triple Crown of Motocross for several years, which counted three rounds and included a bonus, and was won a couple of times by Ricky Carmichael. He also pocketed $25,000 for his efforts. You know what’s crazy though? RC won the first two Triple Crown rounds in 2007 and only needed to win Steel City to make the $25,000 again. But RC said all along he would retire from racing after the Millville round, and he stayed true to his word and stayed home for Steel City, leaving that money on the table.

Okay, surely there’s more. Tell us some gimmicks and innovations you remember!