At 5 a.m. on the Sunday after the 2013 RedBud National, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was dotted with tired industry folks heading home. Jeremy Malott, Red Bull’s motorsports marketing manager, was taking a stab at breakfast inside Chili’s. He waved me over, and even through his exhausted eyes, his enthusiasm was apparent. He opened a manila folder and unfolded six connected pieces of paper with a blueprint of a track design. The blueprint showed supercross obstacles but no turns—this track just went straight. I had never seen anything like it before. Until that weekend, no one had.
We quickly unleashed bench-racing scenarios, thinking through this playground for Red Bull scrub masters like James Stewart or Ken Roczen, but Malott referenced an unlikely inspiration. Four months earlier, in the Last Chance Qualifier at the Daytona Supercross, privateer workhorses Bobby Kiniry and Weston Peick battled to the finish for the final spot in the 450 main event. As they scrubbed, over-revved, and over-jumped, the fans went nuts; Kiniry was awarded the final transfer to the main by inches, leading Peick to kick his bike in anger back in the pits, knocking it off the stand and onto the ground. That was the type of moment Malott wanted to capture: two guys with no excuses, side by side in front of cheering grandstands in a race anyone could win and anyone could understand.
Later that fall, his vision became Red Bull Straight Rhythm, a two-lane, two-bike drag race over dozens of identical jumps. It was supposed to be fast and furious but fun for all. Unfortunately, for a race rooted in excitement and simplicity, the industry greeted the actual race with a less enthusiastic “it’s complicated.” Over the years to follow, stars like the Red Bull-backed Stewart and Roczen rotated in and out of the annual event, those backed by competing energy drinks rarely showed, and Malott—who had worked tirelessly to promote his concept, only to see the industry take a lukewarm view—was ready to turn his attention to something else.
But first, a Hail Mary. Red Bull Straight Rhythm’s survival would ultimately be rooted not by anyone with a Red Bull logo on his helmet. The hero would have his own version of an energy-drink logo painted on his lid: Pabst Blue Ribbon. Ronnie Mac, a fictitious character with real talent, riding a Craigslist-sourced 1998 Honda CR250R, was the event’s knight in shining overalls.