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Picture a 45-second drag race on a dirtbike line littered with jumps, bumps, and whoops. That's essentially the idea of Red Bull's one-off Straight Rhythm event next weekend. Taking place at the Auto Club Speedway in Pomona, Calif., the race will have riders face off one-on-one as they battle for the top spot of a one-and-done bracket. Professional racer Ryan Dungey took some time to speak to us about the unique opportunity to drive this style of racing for the first time and what it's like to be racing against some of the sport's greats. See what the 24-year-old had to say:
Interview by Tony Markovich (@T_Marko)
What exactly is the rhythm of this course and how is it different from other courses?
There’s obviously a lot of rhythm in our sport in general. Just for the fact that there are multiple jumps, obstacles, rhythm lanes, all kinds of different variables to getting through the course. You need to have good rhythm, hit your marks, hit your lines, be real smooth through the big jumps, the little jumps, even the whoops and stuff like that. You know, our sport’s very tough. Too much gas or not enough and you come up short or over jump it and you ruin the rest of the rhythm through the whole rhythm lane. With this track, there’s very little room for error. It’s all about getting in a flow and keeping it there while focusing on making sure that you’re hitting your marks at every obstacle along the way to get through it as fast as you possibly can.
Because hitting a jump wrong would screw up your entire run.
Right, right. Just like I said, if you come up short or over jump something you then have to roll the next one where you could have been tripling and making up a ton of ground. Now you’re at a deficit behind the guy you were racing against. You might not make that ground up because he’s got such an advantage on you now that you’ve done that.
How does this event present new challenges for the riders?
It’s pretty interesting actually. I don’t think it’s something we’re not used to. Racing it is something we’re all pretty familiar with. But the fact that there’s no turns, that’s something, in my racing and what I usually race, that we usually have. Turns present a lot of opportunity to make up ground on a guy ahead of you. You can’t make up a ton of ground through the jumps and stuff like that. Maybe tenths and little bits. With there being no turns and more rhythm lanes, just being able to hit your marks is going to be important.
I think it’s going to be very hard to make up ground on the guy you’re racing against. It’s just two guys out there. You’re either winning or you’re losing and it’s as simple as that. Last year we were both going all out. If we all hit our marks and we made the rhythm lanes we were supposed to make by the end, and neither of us made mistakes, it was like half a bike length difference. It was so minimal. I think that’s what’s unique about it. Usually, it’s not so close. I think, for fans, that’s what’s going to be more interesting, is that it’s going to be such a nailbiter by the end.
How was it decided to do two people at a time with a bracket?
Realistically, if you get more than two guys out there, it creates more of a risk factor. There might even be a penalty for crossing over into somebody's side of the track when you’re racing against another competitor. It’s 25 feet wide, but at the same time, when you have three guys out there, the risks go up. At least with two guys out there, one sticks to his right, one sticks to his left, and you have a little bit of room to play around with. But we’re used to racing against 20 guys on the supercross track, so it wouldn’t be too surprising. I just think it’s more interesting with two guys. Why make it dangerous if it’s going to be more fun with just two guys out there from a fan’s perspective. It’s either win or lose. You’re going home or you’re moving on to the next round.
How has Red Bull's involvement helped progress the sport and help its exposure?
I think Red Bull helps in tremendous ways. With the media and the exposure, I think Red Bull is unique for doing that stuff. You don’t hear any other company doing stuff like that, you know? It’s almost like some things are more set up for fun and maybe a little advertising and stuff like that. Last year they set up this whole rhythm lane for us and we’re like, “oh okay, this could be cool.” I didn’t know what to expect. They spend all of these dollars just to try out what could be something in the future, which is a big gamble. But at the same time, that’s what I give them credit for. For going out of their way and trying different stuff and reinventing.
We’re so used to racing either outdoors or supercross, and this is something new and exciting for the athletes and gives everybody something else to be excited about too. They spend all of this money just to try it out and I walked away from that day last year thinking, “this was the most fun I’ve ever had on a dirt bike.” So it was really cool to see it turn into something and it’s unique in it’s own way. I think that’s just Red Bull, you know? They’re unique, they experiment, and they’re not afraid to try different stuff. That’s what makes a company like that grow and help the athletes that they take to the next level excel.
How have you prepared for this event compared to other types of racing?
Nothing crazy different. It’s like Supercross but no turns. That’s kind of how I’m looking at it. It definitely takes a good bit of time to figure out the course. It takes about ten to fifteen runs to make sure you’ve got everything dialed. At least last year it did for me. Because it’s so long you really have to focus. It takes a few practices through the lane to get it right.
What else do you think your sport should be doing to help find new audiences and expand?
That’s a good one. I don’t know, I mean I think at this point the sport is continuing to grow from when I came in in 2007 as a professional. The TV packages, the live events and the same-day airing, and even the networks we’re reaching are growing. NBC, COTV, NATV and more. So it’s taken off quite a bit, the sport’s growing. Obviously, we had that little crisis in 08-09, but things have seemed to rebound pretty quickly. I think stuff like this, things like what Red Bull’s doing, it’s just one more thing to air on TV to capture more attention. I think the social media side of things has helped things take off tremendously too, from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If somebody new to the sport looked back at where we were ten years ago they’d be like “wow.” And we’re continuing to grow.
Switching topics a bit, what has it been like for you as an athlete that’s in a completely separate realm of sports watching all of these major sports getting torn apart right now?
Those main streamlined sports are definitely the level we want to take our sport to, but it’s amazing. When we do something in our sport, it’s all on the moto Internet. It’s not crazy all over the TV. But if somebody does something wrong in a mainstream sport, it gets talked about. I don’t know, that’s definitely always been where I want to see our sport go.
When I came into this sport I said to myself “I definitely want to be the best I can be, but I also want to leave the sport better than it was when I came in." You always want to be better for the sport you’re in and the sport that’s given you a career and given you a life. It’s too good of a sport not to hit mainstream. There’s too much excitement, too much fun, and you can capture such a wide audience. We just have to find a way to introduce the sport to people who don’t know about it. The more we do that, the more it’ll take off, but it’s going to take a lot from the promoters, the athletes, the media and public relations. Everybody has to do their part.
One of the people who has helped with exposure is Travis Pastrana. What’s it like with him coming back to do this event?
I think it’s pretty cool. That’s definitely a guy I looked up to growing up as a kid. Obviously, the guy has amazing talent and is known for some of the crazy things that he’s been able to pull off. He’s a likeable guy too, just one of the nicest, down-to-earth people.
When he left our sport, everybody thought he was crazy. It was like, “dude, you’re wasting your career and your talent” and all this stuff, but he went on to do something bigger than any motocross athlete has ever done. He made a name for himself and has taken off. The guy is definitely one of a kind and we need more like him for sure. And to be able to race with him for the first time, and maybe the only time, unless he does more events, is cool. That’s what makes this event unique and special. It gives a guy like me a chance to race against my childhood hero Travis Pastrana. Or if a guy like Ricky Carmichael came in here to do this. It’s almost like you’re bringing it back. Everybody always had these questions like, “if Ryan Dungey raced Jeremy McGrath, how would they do against each other?” It’s like “I don’t know. It’s a different time.” I guess this gives a chance to show you.
That’s about as close as you can get.