Ah Las Vegas, Sin City, the city that never sleeps (and I mean literally never sleeps. Unlike New York, which in known by that name for some obscure reason, but actually does sleep), the jewel of the South West and the boulevard of broken bank accounts. It is the home of the terracotta roof (is it just me, or does every house in this city look exactly the same?), the $10 steak buffet (still looking for this Unicorn) and once a year, the home of the AMA Monster Supercross Series a FIM World Championship (I know it is stupid, but the fact that the FIM is still involved in our SX series still torques me a bit. I know I should just let it go at this point. Stupid JamSports debacle).
Love it or hate it, Vegas is like no other city the in world.
This annual tradition is a piece of motocross lore, as tales of insane Supercross after-parties and Awards banquet escapades have become the stuff of legend. Although I have attended several US Open SX races over the years, I have never been lucky enough to make the trek for the Supercross season finale. That is, until this year, when I finally decided to bail on my usual SX destination of the Dirty South and go westward, young man to the land of Pawn Stars and stripper poles. This year, I would be going to Vegas, baby!
As an added bonus, by coming into town for the Vegas race, I would get to have the pleasure of making my first trip to the Lion's Den for the fourth annual PulpMX Show Vegas pre-show on Friday. Since I have been to dozens of Supercross races over the years, this was actually the thing I was most looking forward to. I am (as are, I am sure, most of you reading this) a huge fan of the show, and the thought of actually getting to sit in studio while the magic is being made was pretty much AWESOME. With plans made and ticket bought, all that was left was to trust in the Wright brothers and get ready for some epic bench racing. Here, without further adieu, is the tale of my three days in the belly of the SX beast.
If you look really hard, you can see the PulpMX studio in the lower right.
My Supercross adventure started with a 4:30 AM alarm sounding to get my butt out of bed up in Princeton NJ, where I am currently working. I had a 7:30AM flight out of Philly (an airport I had never been to) and wanted to give myself plenty of time. Not knowing where I was going, I put the destination into my nav, fired up the PulpMX Show archive and hit the road bound for Philly. Now, I knew the airport was right off of I95, but being a person with absolutely NO sense of direction I always let my nav do the talking. This, as it turns out, is not always the best tactic. As I got ready to hit Philly, my navigation system insisted I take one of the exits off I95. While this made me a bit trepidatious, I don't believe in questioning authority, so I did as I was told (hey, maybe it knows something I don't). In any case, as soon as I made the first turn, I knew this was a mistake.
It seems like sometimes these incredible pieces of technological wizardry take the whole, "shortest distance between two points" thing a bit too literally and send you off on some god forsaken adventure through the bowels of downtown Philly at 5:00AM in the morning. I don't know about you, but I can't see anything good happening in the more "adventuresome” parts of Philly at 5 in the morning, so I was sure as hell not about to stop and ask for directions. All told, I spent a good 40 minutes basically driving in circles through lovely downtown Philadelphia. By the time I finally came to my senses and called the parking garage for directions, I had donked off my lovely time cushion. When I informed the nice lady at the counter I was lost, she immediately asked me if I had been using a GPS. When I told her yes, she enjoyed a wonderful laugh at my expense with her co-workers and informed me that this happens all the time to poor hapless nav users like me. Apparently, the Bermuda Triangle is actually in South Philly- who knew? In any case, I finally made my way to the airport with nary a minute to spare and settled in for the five hour flight to Vegas.
This is where the magic happens.
Disaster averted, the flight cross-country was an uneventful one (Except for the lady next to me who seemed to be in some sort of war of wills with the flight attendants. Every time he would ask her to turn off her IPod or store her tray table, she would stare him down with one of those “oh no you didn’t” scowls straight off of Jerry Springer. At one point I thought someone was going to throw a chair). Once I arrived in the desert oasis that is Las Vegas, I was treated to a sweet car rental upgrade (Winning!) and perfect top-down convertible weather.
My reservations were at the Luxor, which seemed like a great idea when I booked it. As it turns out, the Luxor may not have been my best choice. For starters, there was no Wi-Fi in the room (WTF? The friging No-Tell Motel in Scranton has Wi-Fi, for God's sake!). Normally this would be no big deal, but yours truly thought he would be a smart traveler and just bring his iPad on this trip- his Wi-Fi only iPad (Not winning). That meant no Internet except for my smart phone and a major bummer. The Luxor also has a strange layout and these weird elevators that actually go diagonally up the pyramid inside. Every time you ride one, it feels like the thing is about to plunge you too your death as it wobbles and bangs up the shaft like some sort of turn-of-the-century Coney Island amusement park ride. I imagine this is great entertainment for the drunkard returning to his room at 3AM, but to me, it was a little more excitement than I like in my elevator rides.
King Tits upon his throne (yes, his shoes matched the shirt).
After I got settled into little Egypt, it was just about time to head over to the Lion's Den for the show. Thankfully, the Lame-or is right next to the MGM, so it would be a short trek to the show. Well, you can imagine my disappointment when I get to the MGM, and not only are the lions gone, but apparently so is Matthes. It seems the costs of hiring Pingree facilitated a move to the suburbs for the show and a vacating of the costly real estate along the strip. This was not a total loss, however, as it once again gave me an opportunity to put the top down on my Camaro and try out another round of nav roulette (it is Vegas after all) during my adventure into the desert wasteland that is the Vegas suburbs.
Forty minutes and a frustrating amount of traffic later, I was rolling up to the palatial Matthes estates. Surprisingly, the Matthes abode looks like every other house in Vegas; white stucco with an orange terracotta roof. This sameness is slightly creepy in a Stepford Wives sort of way, but hey, it is Vegas and everything is a little weird out here. After a knock on the door, Steve and a pack of Bassett Hounds, who are a lot bigger in person than they look on Instagram, greet me. In any case, Steve is nice enough to show me around his and Pookie's pad and let me poke around the man cave for a while. It is still an hour until we go live and so I get a chance to shoot the sh*t and pick his brain about all the sweet MX memorabilia he has accumulated. He has all kinds of amazing stuff in the studio, ranging from walls full of signed jerseys, to various Works parts just lying around hither and there. You could literally spend days combing through all this stuff, but he has show prep to do, so I just do my best to stay out of the way.
For the first two hours, we have J-Bone, JT$, Thomas Fichter (owner of the N-Fab team), Eddie Ray and Jessica Patterson in studio.
Around fifteen minutes until show time, Producer Pete arrives. Apparently, he is still basking in the glory of his poll victory, because he informs me he is to be addressed as King Tits for the duration of the evening. Seeing how as I finished last, I agree to comply with his wishes. Shortly after the arrival of his Royal Highness, Jason Thomas and Jeremy Albrecht make an appearance, followed by Jessica Patterson, Eddie Ray and Tom from N-Fab. Aside from JT, I have never met any of these people, so it is a bit intimidating. J-Bone is a guy I have always thought was super cool, so getting to meet him is pretty sweet. To be honest, the whole thing is quite surreal and I just try to take it all in.
The PulpMX Show studio is basically a shrine to classic moto.
Before the show, Matthes informed me that there were going to be more guests than microphones for the first segment, so I can sit in and watch, but won't be able to pipe in. The plan is to have one set of guests come in for the first two hours, then bring in a bunch of new guys for the second, and hopefully then, get me a mic. For me, the whole thing is just way cool, and to quote one Ryan Dungey, I am super pumped!
The one thing I will say about being there is how easy these dudes make this whole thing look. All these guys, from Steve, to JT$, Ping, DV, Berlutti and even his Royal Highness, Tits, have this thing down and really know how to play off of each other and crank out a great show each week. It is not easy to extemporaneously talk on the mic for four plus hours, and even harder to keep the conversation interesting and worth listening to. All these guys have developed a genuine chemistry over the years and that chemistry shows in the quality of the broadcasts.
For hour three, we reset the deck and welcomed Travis Baker, BROtocross and Wes Williams from Vurb in studio.
When you watch them working, you can see Matthes and these guys communicating through gestures and signals that you can’t pick up on radio. There is a lot going on and I found it really interesting to go back and listen to Friday’s show afterwards. The experience is so different when you are there looking at everyone and seeing their faces than it is when all you can hear are their voices. I was just blown away by how seamlessly they make it all work and it was a real treat to be there to witness it.
While the first segment was over two hours long (brought to you commercial free by N-Fab, thanks to a bit of quick last-minute thinking by JT), it went by in the blink of an eye. At 7:00 PM, JT, J-Bone and the rest of the guests, said their goodbyes and headed back to the Strip. I get to shake everyone’s hands and move up to a set of headphones with a mic. I am pretty excited about this and get ready to kill it with my repertoire of biting quips and zings.
Well, a funny thing happened on my way to a guest spot on the Stern show- I sat there like a deer in the headlights for an hour and forty minutes (nice one, Blaze). The funny thing is, I have been on the show several times before, but it was always over the phone, and the one time I was on as a guest, it was just Matthes and I, one on one. I had never been involved in a “round table” format like this, and to be honest, I was completely out of my depth. Before we started, Steve said he would like to talk to me at some point, but he never told me if I could interject, and I never thought to ask. On top of that, when a group of charismatic dudes like Travis Baker, BROtocross and Wes Williams are on, who am I to jump in? These guys were all good friends, knew Matthes and were obviously comfortable being on the air. I was one: not sure what to say, two: not sure if I was supposed to say anything and three: did not want to sound like some tool trying to bogart the show. In all, I think I said two sentences in three-and-a-half hours (which my wife later informed me she thought completely impossible).
The Two-stroke Taliban made an appearance in Vegas.
Now, in truth, I'm sure nobody noticed or gave a crap that I had sat in the corner like a church mouse during the show (except my family, who I had told to listen). After all, I was not one of the guests and certainly not the focus of the show. I just felt like I had locked up mentally there (exactly like I did when I ran into Jeff Emig in the BTO truck in Atlanta), and not acquitted myself particularly well. Afterwards, I was a little bummed that I had pulled what I perceived to be a massive boner, but Steve assured me that no one but me had even noticed. He also informed me that I was far from the first guy to sit there all night mic'd up, with a glazed over expression in my eyes.
After I realized I hadn’t made an ass of myself, I could reflect on what an amazing night it had been. Yes, I had not come off as the next Ed McMahon, but I did get to meet lots of cool industry people and bask in the glory of King Tits. It was cool just to be there and as always, Pookie was a super gracious host. Thanks for the guacamole!
Contrary to my online reputation, I am actually not a big fan of vintage bikes. For the most part I find them cobby and quaint. In this case, however, I will make an exception. This XR500R motored Elsinore in the Legends and Heroes display was just a work of art from stem to stern. Sex on wheels here my friend.
Next, it was back to Luxor for another ride in the coal mining lift and hopefully a good night’s sleep. At that point, I had been up since 1:30 AM local time and it was starting to catch up to me. Luckily, my navigation didn't send me to Reno this time and I got home safe and secure. Next stop, SUPERCROSS!!!!!
My adventure with West coast time did not end Friday night, unfortunately, as my body insisted on arising at 4:39 AM local time Saturday morning. I had gotten to bed around 11:30 PM, but apparently that did not help matters (I don't know how frequent travelers endure this constant messing with their body clock). Worst of all, the crappy Lame-or only had ten channels available on the TV. Of the ten available, seven consisted of Uber-creepy homoerotic Carrot Top promos (The fact that he is the “headliner” at Luxor should have told me everything I needed to know about this dump. BTW, what the hell is up with all those muscles?), Spanish speaking channels (Is it just me, or are all the dudes on Univision fat, middle-aged sleaze balls while all the ladies are half-naked twenty-something’s, busting out of their dresses?), and two showing Chinese game shows (WTF?). I guess they want to make sure you are blowing $$$ in the casino and not watching CSI in your room.
Although Matthes is still wailing on N-Fab to get him some side steps, the rest of his Ridgeline is shaping up nicely.
After an excellent breakfast buffet (credit where credit is due, the buffet at Egypt-light was pretty dang good) and a nice hot shower, I decided to make my way out to Sam Boyd for the first time. My first indication that I was indeed in Vegas, was the ridiculously intense sun at 9:00 AM. Back in VA, we are still in the 60's this time of year, and I was not really ready for the strength of that big yellow orb in the sky. Dry heat or not, Saturday was going to be a scorcher. The drive to the track was quite uneventful and actually quite beautiful. Before I came to Vegas for the first time, I imagined the place being some big flat plot of desert like something out of a Road Runner cartoon. In truth, beautiful mountains in every direction surround the city. Driving around, it is hard not to get distracted by the gorgeous scenery (geological and otherwise) surrounding Vegas. Lack of plant life aside, Vegas is a pretty place.
There is some serious activation and B to B going on over here.
Once I got to the track, I picked up my press pass (thanks Matthes!) and made my way into the pits. Interestingly, on my way there, a fan saw me and shouted out "PulpMX"! Now, since I am wearing a PulpMX shirt and hat, and am not one to shy away from a nice meal, I am not sure if this is meant to be a general shout out to the show, or if this guy does indeed think I am Matthes. In either case, I appreciate the nod and thank the guy for supporting PulpMX (At least he didn't yell at me about something Matthes wrote). Last year, I got the hook up at Atlanta and let me tell you, it would be hard to go back. It is sooo cool to get into the pits early as everyone is getting set up. You can actually see everything without the massive crowds and get a chance to talk to the team personnel and take pictures unobstructed. You also get to run into guys like Kenny Watson (Who “Rockstars” me and pretends to not to know who the hell I am as he rips by in his Mule with a silly smile on his face. Thanks, Kenny) and GuyB from Vital, who is super cool and always makes time to chat.
I ran into Steve Giberson in the pits Saturday morning and he was kind enough to put me in the Vegas Pit Bits. Thanks GuyB! Credit: GuyB Photo (obviously)
As far as the pits themselves go, it was a good bit different than I expected. For starters, the pits are actually on grass- something I have not seen since my arrival in the land of rock lawns. The lovely grass seems an extravagance in the desert, but is a huge improvement over the foot melting pavement, or dusty desert floor I anticipated. Considering the enormous cost and care it must require to provide this lovely turf on the surface of the sun, I am amazed they are allowing a million tons of equipment and 40,000 feet to trample the crap out of it. In any case, it is a welcome surprise.
I loved this sweet retro looking Fox stuff Roczen was sporting for the season finale. Credit: Cudby photo
In years past, the teams have gone to a great deal of trouble to put on a little extra show for Vegas, but this year, things seem much more low key. There is no badass Vegas Special CRF for Team TwoTwo (maybe if Chad were having a better year, he would have wanted to put out the effort). There is also no sweet Vegas bike for RV (a real bummer considering they had one for him last year and he did not even ride!). Only team BTO Sports KTM (who has a slightly odd looking white seat on Shorty’s bike that looks like he is riding on bare seat foam), HRT Honda and Valley Motorsports Yamaha seem to be in the Vegas celebrating mood, with some cool custom graphics.
The BTO KTM team was one of the few actually running special Vegas graphics for the event.
While the bikes might have been a little plain (aside from some epic vintage Hondas and a sweet '96 MC replica), there was a lot of cool gear to goggle at. A lot of the teams are debuting new gear at Vegas and some of it was downright remarkable. Troy Lee Designs in particular has their entire team decked out in some of the craziest stuff I have seen this side of a Chinese New Year’s parade. It was day-glow green, with what appeared to be dragons all over it (maybe Troy is a Game of Thrones fan). The stuff was eye popping and really stood out on the track (Although not quite as much as the florescent orange stuff that they wore earlier this year. Good God, that stuff must have been visible from orbit. Can you say BRIGHT!?!).
Wrapped and ready to rock
Troy Lee also had some sick chrome helmets made up to match the How to Train your Dragon gear that looked pretty freaking cool. Apparently the chrome lid will be available to the public soon. Even though I don't always love all his stuff (the bizarre Cyclopes gear comes to mind), I really admire his desire to push the envelope and create really interesting designs.
Z German would be dropping 93 digits by nights end.
In addition to the cool gear, Alpinstars pulled out the jams with all manner of day glow boots for their riders. While some looked awesome (the orange Day-Glo ones the Geico guys were running matched their Alias gear to a T and looked epic), others were less successful (Bam-Bam's Barbie Corvette pink boots clashed with every inch of his bike and body and made me want to throw up). Clashing or not, I love sweet custom stuff like this and applaud A-Stars for the effort.
Here are some interesting facts that I learned in the pits in Vegas-
The greatest announcer in motocross.
1- Erv Braun is the greatest announcer in Motocross.
This information was gained when I sat in on the KTM Junior Challenge riders meeting and Erv was introduced to the fast little throttle–twisters with this impressive bit of hyperbole. Generally, I don't believe in lying to children, so this little tidbit disturbed me quite a bit (Not as much as when Erv seemed to be inferring that KTM's are built in Australia later in the day, but disturbing none the less). In the end, I chalked this bit of exaggeration up to a childhood fantasy like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and made a mental note to tell Jason Weigandtto watch his back.
Mmmmmm Bubba Burgers goooooood…..
2- Bubba Burger's are pretty freaking awesome.
Call me biased, but these puppies may be the best addition to the pits since the invention of the pressure washer. Do yourself a favor and buy some. You get to support the sport (they sponsor the BTO KTM team) and enjoy a kick-ass burger at the same time. That my friends, is a win-win in my book.
Time to party like its 2009, Bro!
3-Team Factory Yamaha never left.
I'm not sure how this little bit of information never registered in my brain, but this revelation actually caused me to do a double take at one point Saturday morning. I was making my way through the pits, minding my own business, when what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a big blue Factory Yamaha truck straight out of 2009. I mean the thing could have had Langston and Hepler under the tent to all outward appearances. It looked exactly as it had when there actually was a Factory team, right down to the lettering on the side and awning out front (which looks about due for replacement). Apparently, the Valley Yamaha team bought the old rig after corporate bailed in 2010 and never bothered to get a new paint job. It is a weird bit of wishful thinking in my book, but certainly good for a trivia question (When is Factory Yamaha, not Factory Yamaha?).
Quick, can you tell me what brand of motorcycle this is? If you said Honda, you would be wrong. This is actually a Kawasaki (Didn’t you notice the tiny logo and 1/8 inch of green at the tip of the shroud?), masquerading as a Honda. Welcome to the new reality of motocross racing in America.
4-You can no longer tell the players by the uniforms.
In the old days, you could tell the teams simply by the colors they wore. Honda teams were red, Yamaha’s were blue (or yellow if you go back far enough) and Kawasaki’s were Green. While we have had the occasional orange Tuff racing bike and blue Peak Honda, these were the exceptions. In this current climate of little or no manufacturer support, however, it is becoming more and more the rule. Take a quick look at a Smartop team bike and tell me what brand it is (heck, they don’t even run the same brand in both classes). How about a Motoworld team machine, what are they running? If Rockstar Energy did not have black and yellow on their can, I can guarantee you Davi’s bike would not look very much like a Suzuki. It has gotten so bad, that the teams don’t even want the manufacturers name mentioned, let alone promoted. Can Team Hurricane bikes be far behind?
One benefit of having absolutely no sense of direction is that I often end up in interesting and unexpected places. This unplanned trip to the Sam Boyd roof, for instance, did offer me a spectacular vantage point for shooting photos. Look Ma, I can see my house from here!
By the time I got done perusing my way through the pits, I was drenched with sweat and ready to find a little shade. It was also time for the first untimed practice sessions to start, so I thought it best to make my way to the stadium. This being my first trip to Sam Boyd, I hit up Matthes for directions to the press box. He just told me to go to section “P”, wherever the hell that was. Undeterred by my utter lack of direction, I made my way back towards the stadium (Although, it did take me several minutes to find my stupid way out of the pits again. Like I said, I can get lost in a paper bag).
The stadium itself was not hard to find (for obvious reasons), and luckily enough, section “P” was the first one I came to (maybe my luck was changing). As I entered, I saw a door marked suite level and press and thought “bingo”. After a quick check of my credentials, I was let through into a staircase. Considering I was already on the verge of melting down from the 90+-degree heat, the stairs were not a welcome revelation, but oh well. Five flights and a near stroke later, I emerged…on the roof. Oh Magoo, you’ve done it again.
In the press box, I was lucky enough to spend the day bench racing with Weege, Matthes, JT, Arron Hansel and the great Jim “Hollywood” Holley. Can you say “moto-dork dream come true?”
The only good thing about this was that it offered a really nice view of the track, so I took a few pictures and made my way back downstairs in search of the elusive press box. This time, I actually spotted some team personnel and tagged along with them over to the elevator (ah, an elevator, what a novel concept), which I had not bothered to notice the first time. Once I had made my way to the press box, I was greeted by 72 degrees of climate-controlled awesomeness and a glorious view of the track. The only thing that I will say was odd was the slightly disconnected feeling I got from how quiet it was in there. The glass in the press box must be really thick, because you pretty much cannot hear the bikes on the track at all. Considering the sound is a good deal of the appeal of a live race, this was a little strange at first. On the bright side, however, it did afford me the chance to listen to Erv all day unobstructed.
Probably the coolest part of this whole experience for me was getting to hang with Matthes, Weege and JT up in the press box during the day. These guys are hilarious, as they pretty much put on a show bantering and bickering back and forth. As an added bonus this year, I got to meet and hang with a personal hero of mine, Gentleman Jim Holley. Jim is every bit as nice in person as he seems on the radio and it was a real treat getting to talk to him. I also got to meet Arron Hansel from RacerX , who is a really cool dude in his own right.
The Year of the Dragon. Troy Lee certainly has no fear when it comes to bold designs. His new 2014 GP Air gear is a bit of an “acquired” taste in my opinion. Credit: Cudby Photo
As the night show approached, my biggest challenge of the day seemed to be finding the password for the Wi-Fi (what is it with me and Wi-Fi on this stupid trip?). I was hoping to use my iPad to live tweet during the event instead of my iPhone, but once again I was in search of a data connection. Since everyone around me seemed to be on Wi-Fi, this should have not presented much of a problem, but as I quickly learned, no one seemed to know the stupid password. While you might think finding someone in charge to ask would be easy at an event like this, it turns out that is not the case. I basically wandered around asking random strangers for a half an hour before a nice lady who had been experiencing the same problem, but had had better luck than I obtaining assistance, rescued me. Disaster two averted!
Right on the 50-yard line, I had an awesome view of the festivities.
Up until this year, I had not been a fan of the new East/West Vegas format, but being there in person and watching all that drama play out this year really changed my mind. The tension was truly palpable as both championships came down to the wire. The race in both classes was amazing, as we got a first time winner and two first time champs (big congrats to Bowers, Lil Will and Kenny). To be honest, after the excitement of the first two main events, the rest of the show was a bit of a letdown (of course, the fact that RV had the title wrapped up had a lot to do with that). Even so, it was great racing and the track was real fun to watch all night.
After the main events, it was back to the luxurious Luxor for some much needed sleep. One Cory Moser suggested I imbibe a little Red Bull at that point and hit the parties, but to be honest, I was totally beat. Two days of screwed up sleep patterns and a day in the desert sun had one TBlaze ready to pass out on his feet. Call me a lightweight, but an early flight to Philly and four hours of sleep had me on course for a rendezvous with my pillow.
After two really tough seasons, I was very happy for Will Hahn and his Geico team.
So what did I learn from my three days in Sin City? Well, I learned that Pookie is awesome and the Luxor sucks. I also learned that doing a radio show is harder than it looks and I have the on-air personality of a plank of wood. Broadcasting failures aside, I had a fabulous time in Vegas. I got to meet lots of interesting people, see some great racing and watch a few hours of Chinese game shows. In my book, that is a pretty sweet weekend, indeed. I want to once again thank Steve and Pookie for letting me invade their home, the folks at Feld for putting on a great show and my wife for letting me abandon her and the kids for the weekend. See ya next year!