Are Motocross Tracks Alive?
Did you ever think of a Motocross track as being alive? In some ways, it is a living, ever changing substance of organic material. Of course, not all Motocross tracks are created equal. A top notch mx track has to be brought up to a high standard of soil composition. It must be soft and loamy with the right amount of moister in the soil. It has to be ripped deep and have the clumps of dirt smoothed out. Then it can start off like a big, soft sponge. As the bikes go out onto this blank canvas, they will begin forming lines, ruts and bumps. Think of an artist, his brush and his canvas. You are the artist, your tires are the brush and the track is your canvas. As the Motos go on throughout the day, the living track continues to change. At the end of the day the master piece has been created!
In the Early Years of Motocross
In the early days of Motocross, the tracks were not prepped, nowhere near, as well as they are today. For example, there were two famous tracks in SoCal called Carlsbad and Saddleback. These tracks were, blue groove, hard packed clay, especially Carlsbad. The only time, I remember, the Carlsbad track getting ripped was once a year, for the GP (now called MXGP) that was covered by ABC's Wide World of Sports. Even then, only parts of the track got ripped. Otherwise the track was super hard packed and left rough all the time. At local races, when it rained, it was almost like riding on ice. Saddleback was ripped a lot more often. That's because it was open to the public almost every day. It also, hosted one National and one Trans Am race per year, and local races about every weekend. For the races they would rip and water the track. So, the track would form a lot of lines, ruts and bumps. But, then it would remain like that until the next race. Under the dry, hot sun, all those, lines, ruts and bumps would turn into concrete. For many riders, that concrete track, was what we got to practice on during the week.
Most of the tracks back east offered soft soil conditions, but there wasn't much, if any, track grooming going on there either. The famous Unadilla track in upstate New York was one such track. I remember racing Nationals and Trans Ams there when the entire track was covered in two feet of grass. Under the grass were all the big bumps from many years of previous races. After a few laps, with so many bikes on it, all the grass was matted down. After several more laps the soil was coming alive. The track would become one year rougher by the end of the day.
Back in the 70s, at the Nationals, after the two 40 minute Motos were done for the day, many of the riders would slowly ride a pit bike around the track. We did this bc we enjoyed taking a close look at the master piece, to talk about what lines we were taking, and to learn!
My First Motocross Track
When I retired from pro racing in 85, at 31, I started doing mx schools. Over the next decade I traveled all over the US and some other countries, racing and doing mx schools. Countries like; Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the Dominican Republic. This made me want a Motocross track of my own. Finally in 1998 at 44 years old, I had one. I didn't realize how much work it takes to have a good Motocross track, until I had my own. In 1998 we bought 12 acres of raw land. The property was farm land in the shape of a long rectangle. It had been a cornfield, but when we bought it, four foot weeds had taken over. We planned to build a shop and house on the front three acres sometime later. But, first things first, how was I going to get the most track on the remaining nine acres? First I measured the width and length of the 9 acres. I don't remember the exact measurements but it was roughly 190' wide by 900' long. Then I scaled those measurements down to fit on a sheet of paper. Next, it was time to layout the track on the paper. After, five or more tries I was happy with the layout. The next day I was on the tractor with the brush hog attached. I mowed out the track while holding the paper. Next we got out there on our bikes to test the layout. After two slight modifications we were happy with it. The next project was staking out all the jumps, and a whoop section. Then it was a long process on dumping dirt from the front of the property. We were lucky to have two hillsides that needed to be widened for the shop and where the property met the road. This dirt was moved with an excavator and dump trucks. I was amazed at how much dirt it takes to build one good sized tabletop. For the first two years most of the jumps ended up being doubles.
That November I made my usually trip to California to help Jeremy and some other riders get ready for the SX Series. When I return to my new mx track in April, I was amazed at how much erosion took place from the snow melt and late winter rains. Some places had ruts two feet deep. The farm rich top soil was worn away, all the way down to the clay.
My track is at the bottom of a slight slope, so the watershed from the property above, comes down across much of the track. I didn't see this coming because, with so much grass and weeds there was no erosion. Over the next several years, I installed underground pipes, and diverted the water into the pipes. Other places were swells and some places got slight banks and ditches to control where the water went. Finally all the water runoff stayed off the track.
But, no matter how much water shed you keep off the track, the track will still ware down over time. That's why maintaining a good track takes adding organic material to the soil on a regular bases. Compounds like, sawdust, woodchips, leaves, grass, silt and/or mulch. Anyways, it was a lot more work than I thought it would be. I didn't even mention the equipment…bulldozer, skid-steer, tractor and attachments, and a water truck. In 2004 we bought 40 more acres and each year we kept making improvements on the track.
Through the evolution of Motocross it's obvious that the bikes and gear has improved immensely, and so have the tracks, at least the main amateur events and pro nationals. This has raised the bar for local promoters, as well. Before you young bucks throw the track promoters under the bus bc the track is too dusty, muddy or basically sucks, give him a break and make the best out of the situation.
How to Improve Line Selection
With this new perception of a mx track being alive (it is the canvas and you are the artist) you should be able to be more creative with your lines. In order to become a "Line Artist" it will help to do the following; when you practice try as many different lines as possible, and make new lines, even if they are slower. A primary key to practicing smart is being aware of certain things that you want to improve on! After a race, go out and view all the lines on the track. Sometimes, you will find line options that were not even used. Remember, you can't pass when you're following. Never, focus on the rider in front of you, instead, focus in front of him and how you can make a pass.
How did I become a Line Artist?
One way was from a lot of racing experience, but there were other ways, as well. I remember when I was changing classes in high school. While walking through the crowded hallways, stairways and anywhere around corners, I would maintain about the same walking speed, set people up, and make passes. I just did this for fun, but later I realized it helped me make passes on the track. Sometimes my close racer friends and I would walk a National track the day before the race. We would talk about the possible line options. We have even made bets on which lines would be the best. One time my friend (the late Gaylon Mosier) bet me he would take this, way, way, inside line that no one would see or consider, during the race. If he did, I had to pay for his motel room. Lucky for me, he didn't take it! This particular, abstract line, didn't work out for Gaylon that day, but many did! Don't always take the main C Class lines around the track, find the possibilities, and become a Line Artist!
No one can improve their riding techniques or become a "Line Artist" unless they use they're "Power of Focus."
Put all your eggs in one basket. And watch that basket very closely! - Andrew Carnegie
Ride hard, ride smart and have fun,
About Gary Semics:
Learn our GSMXS time tested and proven practice and training methods to improve your riding skills and race results. How? Through our hands on Motocross School Group and Private classes, with 10 GSMXS Certified Instructors located in six countries. Through our Techniques and Training DVDs (currently 28 titles) shipped worldwide or through our Instant Access Video On Demand Streaming and downloading website, that includes all the DVDs, plus tons of new videos that are not in the DVDs.