The List: Fresh Ideas at the MECFriday, October 26, 2012 | 9:40 AM
The 2012 Monster Energy Cup is in the books, and after an extremely short deliberation, we have a verdict: This year’s event did indeed top its inaugural running last year, despite the fact that nobody was able to take home the Monster Million. But it wasn’t just the racing that made it better; Feld Motorsports and Monster Energy worked hard to implement many new ideas and fun fan activities. So for this week’s List, we’ve put together some of the unique things that helped make this year's MEC so good.
This feature definitely added to the night’s excitement, although not necessarily in the way the riders and teams would have preferred. For sure, two 30-second girls are better than one, and it was thrill to see the riders converge on one another at what seemed like 1000 mph from opposite ends of the stadium and the unique start didn’t result in any injuries, so from those angles it was a success. Also, all three Open main events were devoid of massive first-turn crashes ('kept poor Justin Brayton, who leveled a tuff block in the final race). On the other hand, we very nearly got to see how wrong things could have gone when Shane McElrath got squirrely in the second moto of the Amateur All-Stars race and launched himself into the pack of riders that was coming from the other start. Fortunately, he threaded the needle and didn’t make contact with a single one of them. The occasional split start can be entertaining and exciting, and we’re not ready to condemn the idea just yet, but if it’s ever featured again in the future, it needs to be refined so the two lanes don't come barreling so close to a head on collision. Oh, and next time let’s make sure both gates drop at the same time!
No Heat Races
At a normal supercross race, the heat races are a proven part of the night’s entertainment. If you polled the fans, we’re betting the overwhelming majority would say "keep the heats." But at the Monster Energy Cup, where the fastest eighteen riders transfer directly to the main events, it’s better without them. There’s already an LCQ and three main events are spaced out by four separate amateur motos, along with a pair of short intermissions. Even in this condensed format, the night show is still a good three hours long, which works out to about the same amount of time as a regular super cross. And technically, the stars are doing 30 laps during the night, instead of 28 (a 20la- main plus an eight-lap heat). For one night only, the racing is hotter without the heats.
Monster brought in athletes from many different disiplines to showcase their skills at the MEC.
This idea is a carryover from last year, but that’s okay because it’s a good one. Not that one race can yield a definitive answer to who’s the undisputed king of the dirt, but combining all riders into a single class allows the fans to finally get a chance to see how some of the 250 and 450 riders actually stack up one against one another. And even if 250 kids decide to race this one on a 450, you're still ensuring that the main events are absolutely brimming with star power, which almost always results in better racing. Aren't you glad Eli Tomac had the chance to do battle against the bigs?
If you couldn't make the MEC in person, you got a real treat at home with Feld Motorsports streaming the practice sessions live via internet video. Makes twitter updates seem lame in comparison! If you were at the race, though, you might have been better off skipping practice and watching all the off-track entertainment that took place during the day. In addition to the normal attractions of meeting the riders, sipping free Monsters in the V.I.P. Monster Lounge, getting autographs and staring at the plethora of roaming Monster Girls, professional drivers BJ Baldwin, Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Ken Block were all on hand putting on driving demonstrations that eventually just turned into colossal burnout exhibitions. It’s a good thing Falken Tires was there!
Adam Jones, Taka Higashino and Blake “Bilko” Williams were also there putting on FMX demonstrations, which was complemented by a pair of street bike stunt riders. In the final show, the FMX riders formed a backflip train as the three drifters slid sideways underneath them in rapid succession. The pit party was concluded by a concert from Grammy nominated rapper Paul Wall. If rap music isn’t your thing, no problem; they had a mechanical bull set up where fans could either gape slack-jawed at giggling Monster Girls getting tossed into the hay or even have a go at it themselves (a go at the bull, not the girls). By the time the first gate dropped, many people, including this writer, were in danger of suffering from sensory overload!
Rotating Gate Picks
Having a split start with an odd number of races presents a special challenge when it comes to ensuring fair gate picks, but the final system seemed to work out pretty well. Original gate pick was determined by qualifying times and was kept the same for the second moto, except for that the riders switched gates. For the final moto, gate pick was based on overall scores from the first two races.
Last year the MEC track had a section that went up into the stands. It was a cool idea, but it turned out to be much better in theory than it was in practice, as it quickly become one lined and presented no passing opportunities whatsoever. This year Ricky Carmichael and company came up with an improved design that was much more successful this time around. It was fun to watch and several riders were even able to make passes there. Having a section that goes into the stands forces massive seat closures to ensure safety, so hats off to Feld Motorsports for sticking with a cool idea, even though it limits the number of seats they can sell.
Talla-Vega turn was a huge hit at this year's MEC.
Simon Cudby photo
No, we aren’t referring to Justin Barcia’s nearly flawless night of racing, we’re talking about the lack of big stadium whoops on the track. At the beginning of the day the long straightaway that immediately followed the start was set up to somewhat mimic whoops, although the loose, round uneven piles of dirt looked more like moguls on a ski slope than anything else. After the first set of practices came through, it was clear that the idea wouldn’t work, as a clear, single line had developed the whole way through. So the bumps were taken out. The top guys probably would have preferred to have whoops to separate them from the pack, but not having them there probably kept the racing a little tighter. Mike Alessi was up there as a thorn in the side of the leaders for much of the night--you have to wonder if eliminating the whoops helped keep him up there (which kept it exciting).
In-helmet communication was allowed at the Monster Energy Cup, as teams could designate a person to talk to the riders during the race. We hear that few teams tried it (and it's darned hard to hear if you have the throttle pegged) but MotoConcepts not only busted it out for Alessi, the TV show picked up the feed. They hit some technical glitches there, but, this race is all about the concepts. Expect the excecution to get better and better--and then expect more teams to consider using it.
The rulebook gets darned near thrown away for the Monster Energy Cup, with bikes only having to meet FIM sound and fuel requirements. Otherwise, at this race, full works bikes are free to make their return to a U.S. supercross track for the first time in nearly 30 years. Two years in, we haven't seen the factories try this, because most of them see this race as a testing ground for the production-based machines that will take to Anaheim. But that means we still see cool new stuff. Despite a very short testing window and a lot of riders who needed to test, Honda's 2013 CRF450R made its debut (a triumphant one, at that). Kevin Windham tells us it's the easiest transition he's ever had to a new-generation bike. Monster Energy Kawasaki took a trial run on fresh new Showa stuff (in place of KYB, the brand they have run for eons). Jeff Ward Racing (Kyle Chisholm) and MotoConcepts (Mike Alessi) were trying Ohlins components. JGR has a new Showa rear shock instead of last year's JRI unit--and both Brayton and Grant were running the slimmed-down aluminum tank developed for James Stewart last year. Blake Baggett had the new 2013 KX250F underneath him in practice. He was also donning the number four, because the MEC is also the place to debut next year's national numbers.
The best amateurs in the country were back for a second year and put on quite a show.
Simon Cudby photo
This is another carryover idea from last year, and just like it was one year ago, it was a hit. For die-hard fans of the sport, it offers the chance to see the stars of tomorrow race on today’s stage. It also offers a chance for some of the lesser known amateurs to gain exposure. How many of you were pointing at the screen saying, “Who is that guy?” while Shane McElrath dominated the first Amateur All-Stars moto? This is an aspect of the MEC that we hope continues for as long as the race exists.
The Joker Lane
The Joker Lane isn’t something you’ll see on any stop of the Monster Energy Supercross schedule, but at the MEC, it definitely provided an extra element of entertainment. Admit it, you were on the edge of your seat wondering if Mike Alessi was going to forget to take it during the second moto, and when Eli Tomac was closing back up on the leaders after taking the Joker Lane early in the third moto, you probably couldn’t wait to see if he would inherit the lead when Barcia and Dungey took it near the end of the race. That’s a degree of excitement you won’t get at a normal race, and since the MEC is all about unique and innovative ideas, the Joker Lane gets a thumbs up for this specific event.
Free Parking and Shuttles
Okay, so the free parking thing happens at the Las Vegas Supercross too, but it’s worth including here. How many times have you forgotten about the crazy parking fees and been forced to shell out your hard-earned beer money just to have a place to leave your wheels? For fans that like to drink, and let’s be honest, motorcycle racing attracts a lot of them, there were free shuttles going back and forth between Sam Boyd Stadium and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino (also featured at the Vegas SX). If you ask us, those are two great ideas that help save the fans money and keep the streets safer. That’s always a win-win.
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Each of the five major manufacturers had its ups and downs during the 2013 Monster Energy Supercross campaign. Page 118.