There’s no disputing it: Monster Energy Supercross is the spectacle that all other racing series should aspire to be.
Forget the compelling and challenging racing for just a moment (we’ll get back to that later). From the packed party in the pits that starts early in the morning, to the theatrical driver intros and attention-commanding pyrotechnics, to a seamless live show in which the faces on camera and the production behind the scenes never set a foot wrong, Saturday’s event at Gillette Stadium was the kind of masterclass in motorsports entertainment that ought to be used as a blueprint elsewhere in the racing world.
I’ve either worked in or attended most forms of racing in my life: stock car racing (at all levels), open-wheel cars on both ovals and road courses, drag racing, various forms of off-road like desert racing and rallycross, and even a handful of motocross and flat track bike races as a kid. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses from a spectator standpoint, and depending on what you want out of your racing, each and every one of them is genuinely enjoyable.
But I admit that this past weekend was my first time seeing Supercross in person—after all, this weekend’s action was only the third time that the series visited New England since 1990. I’ve seen the series enough on TV to have a general idea what to expect, but there’s something about it that just can’t be replicated unless you’re there in person.
And at the home of the New England Patriots, the NFL’s best team of the past two decades, Supercross put forth the same caliber of competition and quality of entertainment.
To start, the pit party has plenty of reasons for fans to get to the track early. If you’re only there to see the pros, autograph sessions with all of the sport’s top riders and the ability to see the bikes up close at your own pace should suffice. But there’s plenty more to enjoy, from multiple merchandise haulers with well-designed gear to interactive bike demos to the professional riders taking part in the Monster Energy Smoke Show. If you’re only there to see the on-track action, that’s no problem: the track is consistently in use all morning for practice and qualifying sessions for both the 450SX and 250SX classes, and the track maintenance and track walk break is the perfect length to go get lunch and explore the pits as teams make their final preparations.
But it’s once the opening ceremonies kick off that the real magic starts.
It should be no surprise that the folks running Supercross know how to put on a show. After all, parent company Feld Entertainment doesn’t just run motorsport events—it also runs Disney On Ice, and was responsible for the Ringling Bros. Circus in its final half-century. All that promotional experience truly begins to shine in the buildup to the racing, as a slick Supercross 101 clip leads into a series of unique and clever driver introduction videos that show off the unique personalities of some of the sport’s biggest names. (Special shout-out to Dean Wilson for the most entertaining of the bunch.) And don’t forget plenty of explosions, each of which was welcomed by those of us in the chilly stadium!
Despite the challenge of keeping a racing event on time, the experienced Supercross crew knows not only how to meet its printed schedule, but also keep fans engaged during downtime. During track maintenance before the 450SX final, the announcers gave a lucky child the opportunity to not only pump up the crowd, but also “magically” set off the pyrotechnics above the finish line. It’s those kinds of memories that make lifelong fans, even out of the kids who are still hopeful that they’ll someday be chosen to participate.
If you’ve even watched a Supercross event on TV, you don’t need much of an explanation of the on-track proceedings. While a constantly evolving track is par for the course, the Gillette dirt seemed particularly difficult to conquer, and the sand section before riders crossed in front of the starting gate was just one of many sections that forced a number of them off their bikes in both classes.
For my money, 250SX saw the most impressive individual ride of the day as top qualifier Jeremy Martin overcame a first-lap collision that knocked him back to last place. Undeterred, and with 15-plus minutes to work with, he aggressively climbed back through the field to salvage fourth place. Zach Osborne won to extend his championship lead, but Martin’s many passes thrilled the crowd.
By now, the 450SX finish has been talked about over and over. Whether or not you agree with Marvin Musquin’s move on Eli Tomac on the final lap, it certainly drew a strong reaction from the fans, both on site and online. Tomac was the crowd favorite on Saturday, earning plenty of cheers when he passed Musquin late in the final, while Musquin was the target of plenty of boos and obscene gestures after earning the victory. It’s that kind of drama that produces the effective storylines that allow the on-track spectacle to live up to the hype that the promoters build in pre-race.
Folks in the southern half of America are likely well used to this sort of thing, as the Supercross schedule consists of plenty of warm-weather markets in its winter to spring season. But if you’ve been able to attend for a number of years, just remember how good you’ve got it. For us New Englanders, it’s the kind of motorsports spectacle that we don’t get quite often enough.
And whether it’s a matter of Supercross returning next year or other series taking a lesson or two from the production values, there will always be plenty of people willing to pay for that kind of show.