The Monster Energy Cup serves as experimental ground for Monster Energy AMA Supercross. You know it: Joker Lane! Monster Million! Three mains! Pushing the envelope is standard fare here, and the 2019 edition of the race (on October 19) will have its own new wrinkle: three tracks in one night.
The folks at Feld Entertainment have given us the exclusive look at the 2019 track designs—yes, designs, plural. There will be a different layout for all three races in the Cup Class. To do so, they’ve engineered two different starts (one inside the stadium, then another outside the stadium) and then a third design by having the riders turn a different direction from the starting gates inside the stadium. In one race, they’ll use the starting gates inside the stadium and turn right. In another race, they’ll turn left. You know what that means? In one of the races, the riders will actually race the track backwards.
Backwards! Yeah that’s right.
“Dude I am so amped for it,” said Ricky Carmichael, the five-time Monster Energy AMA Supercross Champion who helps design the track. “The starts, one will go to the right, one will go to the left, and then we’ll have another one from outside the stadium. That was kind of challenging to fit all that, how they would come into the stadium and how they would merge. But it’s worth it. Dude, that’s the wow factor this year.”
This begs a few questions. First, can a supercross track be ridden backwards? Carmichael says it’s not a problem, and in fact he used to do this on his own track in Florida just to add a challenge.
“The one way it always helped me, practicing backwards, is I never felt like I flowed at the races like I did at home,” says RC. “So when I ran my track backwards at home, I didn’t flow as well, either, so that made it easier for me to adjust at the races.
“I hope everyone enjoys it and everyone has an open mind,” he continues. “You have to think like a racer. You have to understand that when you have a rut in one direction, there might be a rut where you land. Dirt Wurx guys [track crew] are probably going to have that all fixed, but just in case you need to be mindful.”
There will be a few small tweaks to jump designs to make sure the laps are doable in both directions. Mike Muye, Sr. director of operations, supercross, explains.
“For the track at Monster Energy Cup, we call them hot dogged-out type jumps. They have smooth transitions in between and typically pretty large transitions, with more rounded tops. All of the rhythm lanes will be built that way. The finish line will be built with a large shelf that can either be scrubbed or rolled, but will still have 55 feet of run before taking off in each direction. The backside of the finish landing will have a smoother transition that typical, it’s pretty vertical in a regular supercross main. Once you actually shape the jumps, you’ll see it’s not that crazy. We’ll have to focus on the transitions from both angles, certainly more so than a regular supercross track, but the key thing as we’re building is to make sure both directions have enough lift to get the riders over the obstacles.”
The Monster Energy Cup will continue to offer classes for Supermini and 250SX Futures (amateur) racers, and a KTM Jr. Challenge. However, those classes only race twice, so while they will use both the inside and outside starting gates, they won’t use the backwards direction.
As for the three mains in the Cup Class, Feld is considering running a fan voting contest to determine which layouts will be used first. The three designs are labeled as Inside Left, Inside Reverse, and Outside. There will be practice sessions for each start and each layout during the afternoon.
The old U.S. Open, forerunner to this event, ran on Friday and Saturday night, and there would be track changes overnight. But this idea appears to be a first. We can’t remember another supercross race that changed the start and track layout in one night.
“I think, by and large, everyone knows Monster Energy Cup is where we like to try unique features,” says Muye. “We’ve all done this a lot of years, we have a pretty good idea how it will work, but we do this at every round of supercross: we let the riders ride it on press day, we take their feedback, we make changes if they’re needed. After track walk, they’ll give us more advice, and we’ll even adjust after the free practice if that’s what we need to do.”
During his racing days, Carmichael liked the idea of riding his track backwards so much that he eventually built a triple jump in both directions, to make the track simpler when he switched sides.
“My last year or so I would have one side of the triple shaped to go one way, one going the other, just so I could do this,” he says. “This is kind of where the idea came from, I practiced like that a lot at my track, and sometimes I’d ride the factory track backwards, too. The first few laps were weird, because coming into the corners you would have acceleration bumps. You just needed to land outside of the rut, just change your line. It always seemed like one way would be a little tighter, because it didn’t have established line.”
The rest of the Monster Energy Cup trademarks remain. A sweep of all three races will earn the rider the Monster Million bonus (now claimed in two-straight years by Eli Tomac and Marvin Musquin). If a rider doesn’t sweep all three races but takes the overall win, he earns $100,000. Oh, and the Joker Lane remains, and yes, it’s been designed to work in both directions.
“I don’t even think this, in my mind, is that crazy. If it was dangerous I wouldn’t be pushing for us and they wouldn’t let us do it,” says Carmichael. “But I think it will be challenging, and that makes it fun. It’s just not the same old thing. You want to see someone try to pull off the sweep and the Monster Million, and now they will have to do it with different starts and different track layouts. I can’t wait to see how quickly the guys adapt.”