“I’m just standing on the track right now watching Jason Baker and Dream Traxx put the final touches on this two-stroke only, half-mile supercross track,” says Red Bull’s Jeremy Malott, the man with the idea of taking a supercross track, nixing all of the turns, and lining riders up for 45 seconds of one-on-one intensity. With this weekend’s Red Bull Straight Rhythm only a few days away, we decided to give him a ring to chat about this year’s event, going to an all two-stroke format, bringing the fun back into racing, his thoughts on riders electing to not participate in the event, and more. Below is a transcript of our conversation.
Racer X: How’s the track looking? Is it pretty similar to last year, completely different? Fill us in what you can without giving too much away.
Jeremy Malott: Upon first sight it looks similar to every other Straight Rhythm track—just like every supercross looks like every other supercross track. But when you get down to it, this will be the first year, because of having 125s and 250s, that we’ll have two very distinct rhythms going through the course. 250Fs and 450s generally do the same rhythms—the power can just make that happen—but with 250s and 125s I think you’re going to see two different race courses, but on one track. So, it should be great.
Do you anticipate the racing to be a little bit closer and a little bit better than the past? The last couple of years the racing has been pretty good and pretty close. So, do you think this is just going to amplify it?
Absolutely. I think these guys are so used to going so fast on these four-strokes, [that] they’re riding these now two-strokes for all they’re worth. So, the guy who qualifies in 15th in the two-stroke class is going to have just as good of a chance against the guy who qualified second in the brackets as ever before. I think you’re going to see close racing throughout, just because these guys are so used to going so fast on a supercross track, where these bikes are… it’s like riding a bike at altitude now. They’re just going to be ringing them for they’re all worth. So, it should be very close all through the entire program.
Talk a little bit about the origin of Straight Rhythm, the idea behind it, how it came into fruition and what your role is with Straight Rhythm.
The idea just kind of came from obviously Excite Bike, right? That’s the first time we all saw this. I’ll send you a video of a freeway wall that I sent to Weege [Jason Weigandt] last night, in which the pattern on the wall looks like a never-ending rhythm section down the freeway. I kind of laugh. I noticed those things my entire youth growing up, [kind of a little] rhythm sections you’d see off to the side of the road while you’re looking out the window of a car. Funny enough, 35 years later or whatever I am now, it comes to fruition. You’re actually able to do that with dirt. The idea, really, was just to change it up. The sport just has been doing the same thing for 40 years, so that’s kind of why it became what it is.
What’s your personal role in the event?
I hesitate to use a crazy title. I just kind of help put this event on. It was an idea that we had, or I had, six years ago now. We first tried it at [Jeremy] McGrath’s ranch in I believe 2012. This will be our fifth year putting the event on. I just wanted to push the sport into an area that it hasn’t gone and makes everybody a little bit uncomfortable, because when you’re uncomfortable that’s a great thing in life. I think our sport just tends to live in its comfort zone far too much. Just kind of pushing people to see where they go and see how they respond. It’s always hard busting through the wall first. You always seem to get the bloodiest. It’s hard to get people to understand what we’re trying to do, and that we’re trying to do it for the sport and not necessarily for our brand. But we believe that if the sport is healthy, our brand is healthy, and [we’re] just trying to get people to understand what we’re doing. Not everybody’s receptive, but we’ll keep trying.
It seems like there’s been a little bit of a struggle to get riders, whether it be with other energy drink companies or sponsors or whatever. I know that you’ve kind of had some frustrations with that. What are your thoughts on riders with two-strokes who post videos on Instagram of them riding them, but won’t come ride your event?
Yeah, you have to ask them why they don’t [participate]. Maybe they don’t like the idea of going in a straight line. We’re just trying to create something fun and different and just try to capture the imagination of people. This is the one event where you don’t have to win when you line up. Every single event Jason Anderson or any other big name lines up for, they have to win or they have the pressure to win. This one, if you lose, who cares? If you win, great! You’re buying the first round of beers at the bar. It’s an event that literally you can… everybody wants to be Insta-famous. This has that ability. If you play your cards right and leverage it and have fun with it—Ronnie Mac grew 100,000 Instagram followers last year at this event in one week leading up to the event. That’s not a made-up number. It’s real. So, if you do it right, you can benefit from it. If you own it and kind of lean into it and have fun with it, there’s so much outcome and opportunity for you. I just don’t think some of these guys understand that for some reason. It’s foreign to them, but we’re trying over here.
Last year Rockstar sent an email out saying none of their guys can do the event, so I had to go fight to get [Ryan] Sipes and Colton Haaker to be able to do it. I can’t understand that mentality when they raced the Monster Cup the weekend before, and all year long, every race they do is [sponsored by] another energy drink. The idea that they would stop their guys from competing, if they truly wanted to compete, is just ridiculous. Our sport grew up far too fast for how small it really is, so we’re trying to give the guys the opportunity to have a little bit of fun for one weekend a year of racing where it’s not as serious. Some of these guys, it seems like this is in their wheelhouse of, “that’s fun,” and it takes no training at all. You can roll off the couch and with a day of riding be ready to go. It’s there for them if they want to take it. For some reason these guys just can’t seem to say yes to these things. Whether it’s political or maybe they just don’t want to do it—I don’t know. [It] Just seems they stop short of completing the sentence and giving the fans what they want, which would be a really fun event of the best guys in the world on two-strokes having the most fun.
What’s your take on all this fun trash talk and stuff, with Stank Dog and Villopoto and guys like that who are really digging into each other on Instagram?
Again, this is the one event where... If you talk trash at A1, you’re probably going to get parked in the first corner by that guy who you were talking about. Plus, it’s probably going to add to the nerves at a high-pressure race like that. But this is it. You’ve got to stay in your lane. It’s a bit like swimming or a track race. You can talk all the crap you want. It’s all in good-hearted fun. No one’s taking it too seriously. Talk the trash, but then at the end of the day it’s still you versus the other guy. The other guy has no effect on your race. As much as he maybe wants to take you out, the moment he crosses the lane he’s DQ’d and you move on. So, it’s fun. It allows for a lot of guys to open themselves up, show some personality. You see Dungey doing it a little bit. You see RV fully embracing it. He’s just the best version of himself. Then Stank Dog, for one week a year, he is the king of this event. He’s fully owning it and he’s showing up looking like Jeremy McGrath in the early 2000s on a Bud Light replica KTM. So, he’s fully accepting his role as the king of two-stroke racing. [Laughs]
Rightfully so. He’s the self-proclaimed king of two-strokes anyway, right?
Some of the moves at Straight Rhythm—from electric bikes to two-strokes to just the basic idea of running a track without turns—are strange. But you’ve maintained all along that it can be strange, because you’re not trying to make this a serious event. You’re still okay with that?
It’s absolutely a spectacle. That’s all it’s supposed to be. We’re not taking ourselves seriously. If you show up with the intent of you must win, go home now because you’ve come with the wrong attitude. It’s all fun. We’re trying to create storylines that just don’t exist all year long. A cartoon character versus a champion. A retried guy versus a rookie. There’s so many different storylines that just don’t exist anywhere else in our sport. We’re trying to exploit those storylines to give them a little something to have fun with and latch onto. So that’s our lane. We’re not trying to take ourselves serious and call ourselves some big race and some big championship. It means nothing to win this race, but if you own it right and you have fun with it, there’s so much outcome. I would argue more outcome here at this event than maybe any other normal supercross or motocross race of the year. That’s kind of how we’re doing it. Then every single race is an Instagram post. It’s under a minute long. So think about the possibility of a great event, a great race. If you’re looking to get new consumers, this has a chance to get them because they might see something really fun for 45 seconds on Instagram. You can’t show any other highlight or a full race of supercross or motocross on Instagram. Ultimately, Straight Rhythm can do that.
Kind of banking off the Instagram deal, what’s the fan feedback been like? What’s the atmosphere like versus a race that might be more serious?
I think last year up until we figured out the two-stroke thing, I’d say it was very similar to any other race. The four-strokes just kind of were expected, but when the two-stokers came out, the fans completely changed their attitude. Ronnie Mac’s fans took over. The race, the entire event got this whole new energy around it. The two-strokes came out and I think just the fans never wanted two-strokes to go away. They smell better. They sound better. They’re more fun to ride. They’re more fun to watch people ride. I think we kind of saw that last year where it was like, “There’s something to this.” That’s why we solely went two-strokes this year. There are 31 events a year with four-strokes. We don’t need to be the 32nd event with another race with four-strokes. No one cares about that. So we’re going different, we’re doing all two-strokes and we’ll see how that goes. We hope that the fans who love two-strokes and all the dads who love that nostalgia bring their kids out to see something that they got to grow up on that their kids may have missed because of the four-stroke era. So that’s kind of what’s happening with us.
What’s the one thing you’re looking forward most for this year? I know there’s a lot of replica bikes with the James Stewart 125 that AJ Catanzaro built. Luke Renzland’s working on a McGrath bike, and Stank Dog with his deal. What’s the one thing that you’re like, I can’t wait to see this?
You’ve got RV showing up in a completely new look and feel he’s never been seen in, which is going to be insane. I think he’s going to launch that in the next day or so. Obviously, you’ve got Dungey riding the two-stroke for basically the first time ever. So those are good. I think the most exciting part for me is to get through qualifying and then to see the potential match-ups and head-to-head racing, because that’s where anything can go. When you see the brackets for the first time, you kind of look through and say, “Okay, well, if this guy beats that guy, then oh my god, the semi-finals or finals could be incredible.” I think just seeing how those lay out is always the most fun part for me, just because that’s where those cool storylines start to emerge. You can’t really plan for those. They only happen after qualifying, so for me just seeing the bracket match-ups is the most exciting part. That’s the only time of year we have bracket match-ups and head-to-heads. It’s just again completely different from all the other races.
With all these riders that are doing replica kits and stuff, I assume maybe one day the goal is to get MC or K-Dub or somebody to come out of retirement and ride for 45 seconds?
Yeah. That was the hope originally. I think that’s sort of past those guys, but I don’t think it’s totally outside the realm of a Ricky Carmichael, at this point. MC and K-Dub, maybe too much. When guys retire, it’s just like they don’t necessarily want to retire, but there’s no place for them to race a pretty short duration. So that’s what we created. We hoped that guys that maybe retired for the next three to five years had a place, if they chose to, to come still compete and have fun, and again, not take it too seriously. So that’s our sweet spot. Seeing Dungey and RV both out here, it allows for those guys to continue on with the fans, have a blast, scratch that itch of competitive nature that they will always have. But they don’t have to do gnarly training anymore. If the bracket works out in the 125 class, they’re going to have a 259 James Stewart bike versus a number 125 MC bike. It’s something that can only happen in a video game or in a dream, but if it works out, that could be a really fun match-up. Yeah, it’s not those two guys, but they’re probably going to go as fast as those two guys would anyway on a 125. So, it should be fun.
Where do you see the future of Red Bull Straight Rhythm when you look down the road? What’s next? What do you want to see Straight Rhythm do next?
I think the big innovation was obviously the track in itself. After that, it’s small innovations from there. I’d love to see the best guys in the world come and actually allow themselves to be vulnerable and have fun and have a smile, and also not have to come win. Like an Eli [Tomac] or a [Justin] Barcia or a Jason Anderson. Those guys should just come out and enjoy themselves and not have the pressure of winning. That would be where I’d love to see it go. Then from a location standpoint, I would love to put it… I’ve always talked about it. If we could ever put it on Broadway Street in Nashville with the rooftop bars and people in the streets, I think that would be the ultimate location for it. This event will never end up at a motocross track. If this thing ever goes to a motocross track, a traditional motocross track, we just won’t do the event. This event was made to go everywhere except a motocross track. We’ll continue to push the innovation on the track, and hopefully also where the track may live in the future.
Is there anybody you want to give a shoutout to, say thanks to? The guys that help you put this event on?
Dream Traxx, those guys and Dane Herron at DHI, by far the best track builders in the world. That’s why we have them. They build for everybody who’s anybody in the sport. So the riders automatically know that the track builders are designing with them in mind and safety and doing it right and not cutting corners. I’d put these guys up against anybody in the world. Without Dream Traxx, [we] couldn’t do it. And then just the riders that are embracing it—good on you. AJ Catanzaro and Luke Renzland might be the most relevant they’ve ever been. Then you’ve got Stank Dog, the everyman hero, but for this one event he’s going to be the star of the show. If he wins it back-to-back and beats Dungey and Pourcel and RV and Josh Grant and Jordon Smith and Shane McElrath and Sipes and everybody else, that’s going to give Stank another year of talking trash. I think we could all use a little Stank Dog trash talk in our lives.
Can you imagine how big Stank Dog’s head’s going to get if he goes back-to-back?
One can only hope. I can’t wait to see it, if it happens. [Laughs]
I don’t know if Instagram could handle it.
He’s the thing our sport needs, but doesn’t really understand it yet. One day they’ll realize it. We can’t all be serious and living in Florida sweating our brains out on a bicycle. There’s a little bit of fun to be had. This time of year, have some fun, guys. Stank Dog’s doing it. I know he’s unorthodox and maybe hasn’t had the career others have, but no one can doubt he’s having the most fun.
Anything you want to add?
Just for those who aren’t in California, the beauty of Red Bull TV is that anybody in the world with an internet connection or with data can watch this event live. There’s no verification codes. You put it on your phone, your app, your Smart TV, your computer. You can sit and watch it live with us here on Saturday night. So that’s kind of special. I think that allows anybody in the world who may have an interest in this race. There’s no excuse why you can’t watch it. It should be a fun time.