Click and Clack won’t take my calls on their Car Talk radio show. They think my lack of mechanical know-how has to be an act. Nobody knows that little about cars.
When I was growing up, my Dad introduced me to two of his passions: sports and engines. Guess which one stuck.
Of course there’s always been an intersection of the two, and motor sports have been wildly popular ever since the first guy said to his buddy, “I’ll bet my Model T can get to the end of that road faster than yours.” But until the advent of the “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Tour, I had never really ventured outside of the stick and ball world to check it out.
The alert reader may wonder why, given that when the thermometer displays 10 degrees, the description of the weather is never just “cold” – there’s always an adjective in front of it.
My motivation was simple: At the time it was 0 degrees, and I was going to be spending the bulk of the next day outdoors at the Winter Dew Tour’s Killington, Vermont stop. By comparison, 10 degrees would be a huge improvement. At 10, we’d be talking “excruciatingly painful” as opposed to the “potentially rushed to the hospital” I normally associate with 0.
I really needn’t have worried though. I had the Ski Diva on my side.
The Ski Diva started out as a self-professed Ski Chick, but her years of working in the ski business have undoubtedly earned her a promotion. And for her efforts on my behalf she’s now up for Ski Sainthood (assuming there is such a designation).
In preparation for the “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Winter Swing, she had given me a checklist of clothing articles that I needed to think seriously about bringing along. None of which I actually owned, of course.
…Continued from the previous post.
It’s fortunate that I don’t wear a pacemaker, and that my heart is more or less sturdy. Because if I did, or if it wasn’t…well, The Bird would be on The Concorde to Paris right now, with the generous proceeds of my life insurance policy tucked under her wing.
And she’d have the Professional Bull Riders Tour to thank for the windfall.
See, I was recently sitting in the upper balcony of Las Vegas’s Thomas & Mack Center, just looking around and minding my own business when the time arrived to introduce the cowboys about to compete in the PBR World Finals.
It was not subtle.
But once I climbed out of the lap of the woman seated next to me and apologized for having landed there, I had to admit it was quite a spectacle to behold. Well, to visually behold, anyway.
If this blog was entitled “It’s Sesame Street Somewhere”, we’d be going into the “One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others” segment of the show right about now. And if you selected “cowboys” from the list above, you would receive…well OK, I don’t exactly know what the purse is for the average Sesame Street episode, but that’s beside the point.
I was surrounded by cowboys because the Professional Bull Riders Tour was in town, conducting their season-ending World Finals at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center. And bulls and cowboys go together like…well, like bulls and cowboys.
Seriously, it takes between six and ten iterations of the latest trend in popular culture to play out before I become vaguely aware of it. My friends will back me up on this – in the full bloom of youth, at my pinnacle of trend and fashion awareness, on my absolute best day…I was not cool.
I’m OK with this. I’ve made the necessary adjustments. I call my buddy Kels for updates and tutorials as needed.
But last week I had to face this deficiency head-on, for the “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Tour was headed to Costa Mesa for the 3rd annual Maloof Money Cup – one of the premiere events on the pro skateboarding circuit. If skateboarders actually acquiesced to having an organized “circuit”.
And I was going it alone. I apologized in advance to all of the friends of mine who would no doubt be embarrassed by my attempt to blend in. I knew I would be a poster boy for “One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others”.
But being pop-culturally challenged does not mean that I can’t tell time. And so it was a bit of a surprise to me when I arrived at the Orange County Fair event site and found nothing that even resembled the World Industries Am Street contest that was scheduled for 4:00.
After wandering around for a bit and asking apparently difficult-to-answer questions like “What time does this thing start?” and “Is there a competition here today?”, a flurry of activity around a small stage signaled to me that we were about to get rolling. With the Nelly and Yelawolf concert that was originally slated for much earlier in the afternoon.
You could look at this in one of two ways. On the one hand, this must have been what Woodstock felt like – all good intentions, but short on executional expertise. In both cases, the event organizers were ultimately captive to the whims of flighty musicians and therefore unable to keep to a schedule.
Or you could just look at it as basically sloppy event production. Even then though, the burning question is whether this sloppiness is an intentional part of the aura of the skateboarding experience – that is, to eschew organization and professionalism…or whether the producers themselves are essentially just slack.
I gave the production team the benefit of the doubt that they had come fully equipped to present a world-class event. Until later, when in the middle of the action a voice came over the P.A. system asking “Does anybody have a Phillips-head screwdriver?”
Once things got rolling, it wasn’t long before I began to get that “if you aren’t cool enough to know this stuff already, then you’re not cool enough to be here” vibe. The three guys who were emceeing the event used their time mostly to trade inside jokes, make snarky comments, and ensure that everyone listening knew that they had at one time made a living as skateboarders.
Their patter attained a certain level of above-it-all coolness for a while…then descended into glibness…then executed a free-fall into the realm of annoying, where it remained for the rest of the contest.
Occasionally, one particular emcee remembered that people were actually listening, and made a brief attempt to set the stage for the event, conveying that the 42 competitors were all amateurs who were vying for 12 spots in the field for the weekend’s World Industries Street Contest – which, depending on who you listened to at any given time, would either include pros…or not. They were still a little light on the specifics.
As for the competition itself, I couldn’t exactly tell when it actually started. There was no formal introduction of the contest, and the participants basically kept doing what they had been since I arrived there – riding all over the elaborately constructed skatepark while experimenting with different stunts and jumps. The only difference was that at some point they began to receive scores for what they were doing.
After a while I began to decipher the ramblings of the emcees and picked up on the fact that the competition was broken down into “jams” that lasted five minutes each. A jam featured seven competitors that freelanced throughout, hoping to impress the judges with their…well, with whatever it is that they did best. Some concentrated on aerial acrobatics. Some focused on riding rails and benches. Some attempted to execute combinations of the two.
The panel of judges was comprised of a group of skateboarding experts. Theoretically. I’m guessing at least one of them had significant experience managing an outdoor public facility with lots of stairs, handrails and benches. Hey, you can pick up a lot about a sport from constantly chasing kids off the property.
And that experience no doubt came in handy, as throughout the competition there was constant pleading with random skateboarders to get off of the competition course. This drew a smile from me at first, mostly because it so fit the archetype of the skateboarder.
After a while though, it became emblematic of the looseness of the event. People continued to utilize the areas of the skatepark that momentarily weren’t in use for a jam. And every now and then they spilled over into the competition area. Picture a national ice-skating contest being conducted on New York City’s Rockefeller Center ice rink on a Sunday afternoon during the holiday season.
The total mystery behind all of this is that this event by far outstripped any other that I’ve covered in the number of sponsors it attracted. On the back of the official program was a tiered list of four different sponsorship categories, yielding a total of 47 sponsors. And here’s the thing – based on the three hours of prime time that I spent at the Maloof Money Cup, that number translated into roughly one sponsor for every 6 or 7 attendees.
If indeed there is that much financial promise in reaching the 12 to 24 year-old demographic, I propose that we seek to eliminate the national debt by simply raiding the piggybanks of this fiscally blessed group of Americans.
At this point, allow me to deeply apologize. I’ll be the first to admit that this dispatch was a little sketchy on the details of this tightly honed sporting event – but given the handicap previously discussed, it was the best I could do. I promise to make it up to you. Perhaps with a review of a Lady Gaga concert. She’s still popular, isn’t she?
How’s this for ultimate irony – of all of the sports that I’ve covered in the last four months, it was an Action Sports event that offered the least in the way of…well, action. When I originally penciled the X Games Moto X competition into the IGTS Tour I expected loud. I expected annoying. I didn’t expect boring – but that’s what I got from my stint in the studio audience at the most tightly packaged and mass-marketed “counter-culture” gathering on the planet.
Dolly Parton once famously said “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap”, and the X Games is living testament to that. It takes a gargantuan effort to pull off a full slate of events that ESPN would have you believe sprang up virally amongst the dudes down in the local 7-11 parking lot.
Viewed from the ground level, the X Games has grown way beyond a concept – eclipsing even franchise status. As someone who is familiar with the Convention Center area of downtown L.A., it was a shock to the senses to arrive there and find that a small city had been built within the city. Full stadiums had magically appeared where only a couple of weeks ago there were streets and plazas. And inside the Staples Center itself, where I was used to seeing a basketball court, there was now the equivalent of a vacant dirt lot.
I knew in advance that Classic Party Rentals’ sports event division was playing a major role in the buildout of the X Games venue, so I knew that it would be ambitious. But if I thought that the stadium that Classic built on Miami’s South Beach during Super Bowl Week was impressive, it was nothing compared to this. See, sand tends to be pretty flexible about where you can move it. Buildings and streets in the country’s second largest city…not so much. It was a true engineering marvel.
If only the Moto X competition had been that impressive…
I shared with you previously my disillusionment with the amount of drama-killing dead time that we were subjected to throughout the competition. Today let’s talk about the integrity of the event.
“Stealth marketing” was the phrase that came to mind when I first arrived on site, but as the evening wore on I came to realize that there was nothing even remotely “stealthy” about this event, right down to the shameless plugs provided none-too-subtly by the cyclists themselves.
One particularly inelegant scenario occurred during a close-up shot of one of the riders upon completion of his heat. Once he was cued that he was on camera, he extended front and center into the picture a water bottle bearing the Monster energy drink logo, and then gave an animated wave – exposing a Target logo on the palm of his glove. And if you still didn’t get it, he pointed to the logo with his other hand.
As variations of this scenario played out repeatedly, I half-expected the riders to join in a chorus line and break into song with the jingles of the companies that sponsor them.
I’m guessing that even the inveterate hawkers among NASCAR drivers would’ve blushed had they witnessed this advertisement disguised as a competition.
I couldn’t help thinking about the fact that the entire X Games franchise was originally built around attracting the kids who were continuously being shooed out of public parking lots with their skateboards because they were too scruffy and anti-establishment. And now the next generation of that kid is a walking, talking billboard.
Can I please have some sullen, uncommunicative attitude here?!? For God’s sake, some of the competitors didn’t even appear to have any tattoos! Where’s the modern-day rebel without a cause? The only cause that I could detect was that of getting people to guzzle gallons of heavily caffeinated energy drinks.
But enough about that – let’s cut to the action…
The first couple of motocross runs were really impressive, as I started to get a feel for just how hard this sport was. After that though, every run was the same, down to a variation on two or three themes on what the rider would do in mid-air coming off of a ramp.
No matter what they did though, it elicited a Pavlovian “ooooohhhhhh” from the crowd – almost as if they had forgotten that just a few minutes earlier they had seen basically the same thing. It was like 18,000 four-year olds screaming “Do it again!” over and over and over. And I thought I was easily amused.
In the eight-man finals bracket of the Speed & Style competition, I expected more diversity in what I would see, given that these would be actual one-on-one races as opposed to solo rides. You can usually count on the unexpected when athletes go head to head – even without motor vehicles involved. I looked forward to some sparks, both actual and figurative.
What actually transpired though, was that in all but one race, one rider jumped out to an immediate lead and increased it throughout – resulting essentially in separate stunt rides, each of which was pretty predictable. If I had an ounce of cynicism in me, I might think that it was actually arranged that way…like when one rider wiped out and his opponent’s bike mysteriously stalled and wouldn’t start until the other guy had caught up with him. Nahhh – had to have been pure coincidence.
Against this backdrop of sketchy authenticity, one light shone brightly. Since I actually do live in a cave, thank you very much, I had never heard of Travis Pastrana. Then again I haven’t watched MTV since they did away with the “M” part. But I learned quickly, both at the event and later when I did a little more research on him.
This 26-year old from Annapolis, MD is the real action sports deal, and he has earned every ounce of the adulation heaped upon him. And on this night, he didn’t just win the competition, he toyed with it.
In each head-to-head race, he jumped out to a huge lead coming down the very first stretch of moguls, and was virtually riding alone from that point forward. It almost seemed like he never landed after taking off of the upslope of the first mogul – he just floated in the air until reaching a convenient landing point. And in the gold medal race, he almost lapped his competitor despite the race being only 3 ½ laps in total!
I sincerely appreciated him closing out the competition in such overwhelming fashion, as it gave me a chance to get out of the gate quickly in an action sport of my own – that of beating everyone to the parking garage and onto the Harbor Freeway.
Which turned out to be easy to do, given the 17 Red Bulls I had felt strangely compelled to drink during the event.
Goofy. But fun. That was the original X Games. I’m not sure that the hordes of people that descended on L.A. Live over the weekend know that “X” is (or at least was) shorthand for “extreme”, what with that word being sooo before the millennium.
But that’s what it was. In the mid-90’s, some forward-thinking sports production types at ESPN (yes, I know that I’m bordering on oxymoronic territory there) decided to take a chance on a new concept for filling hours of air time in the deadest sports month of the year.
“Why not,” they reasoned, “hold an Olympic-style competition featuring the types of sports engaged in by those kids who…well, who aren’t quite right.”
Rumor has it that it was originally going to be called the Jeff Spicoli Games, but the producers of Fast Times at Ridgemont High wouldn’t license the name. OK, I made that up. But a partial line-up of the sports that made up the first Extreme Games (as it was called then) reveals how eclectic the event was when it debuted: Bungee Jumping. Sky Surfing. Sport Climbing. Street Luge.
Seriously – Street Luge. I actually happened to be living in Providence, Rhode Island when the first Extreme Games site was being built out and I remember being alternately fascinated and horrified at the route chosen for the Street Luge course. I couldn’t imagine anyone surviving a crash. And I wondered…where exactly does onepractice Street Luge?
But what was once delightfully off-beat and viral is now so contrived and tightly packaged you would assume that even the most naïve of kids would recognize that the X Games is one big infomercial. Indeed, if you look up the X Games on Wikipedia, the first sub-heading that greets you is “Economics”. Enough said.
But evidently they’re OK with it, as I learned when I ventured into downtown L.A. over the weekend.
My first instinct for my coverage of this event was to say that the Moto X (Moto X…Moto Cross…get it?) competition that I witnessed was no more a sport than the Real World television show is…well, the real world. But then I realized that this was a tremendous disservice to the athletes involved. Because what they do is amazingly athletic.
If you are a motocross racer – and especially a motocross stunt racer, you absolutely, positively can NOT mail it in on practice. If you decide to slack off in preparation for a competition, you might as well spend the time you saved by adding every ambulance service in town onto your speed dial list.
These athletes are dedicated to both their craft, and to putting on a good show. And it was a good show. For the bite-sized pieces of action that were interspersed with looooooong stretches of staring into space. Make no mistake about it – this was not a sporting event that ESPN happened to be covering. This was a made-for-television event, for which we the public were a studio audience. How else do you explain this scheduling:
• At 5:30 the qualifying round for the Moto X Speed & Style competition began, with the objective of narrowing the field of 11 racers down to 8 finalists. Each cyclist did just one run.
• At 6:20 the qualifying round was concluded.
• At 7:40, the first quarterfinal heat began.
For the mathematically challenged, that is a break in the action of exactly 80 minutes.
And we were held captive. Literally every exit door of the Staples Center was clearly labeled “No Re-Entry”. If you had a notion to stroll through the street X-Po or simply go for a walk in the beautiful evening sun during the break, you forfeited the right to see the finals.
Why the time gap? Because ESPN shifted coverage to a skateboarding venue. And since this X Games was billed as All Live All The Time, we had to wait until the skateboard competition had concluded.
It’s not like we had nothing to keep us occupied though. For about 45 minutes we were enraptured by the sight of maintenance workers packing and smoothing the dirt track. Then we got the ESPN feed of the skateboarding, which through the Staples Center’s clarity-challenged P.A. system sounded like: “And thienonfne klsingish fnnnuugled lipstonssssnnng! WOW!”
Did I mention that each and every one of the 1,396 bars inside the Staples Center was open throughout this “halftime”? At this point I invite you to close your eyes, lean back, and envision what some portions of an “extreme sports” crowd were like after having nothing to do but drink for over an hour and a half.
OK, you can open your eyes now. Hey! I said you can open your…damn…I always lose readers when I try that technique.
To be continued…
I admit it. I was skeptical. I didn’t expect to enjoy a NASCAR race. It’s not that I expected to not like it, but whenever I thought about the sport all that I could think of was watching cars go in circles, looking to cut each other off for better positioning. Which I could see in the parking lot of any mall during the Christmas shopping season.
So this is where I say with great conviction that I was mistaken. Having just witnessed the SaveMart 350 Sprint Cup race at Sonoma’s Infineon Raceway, I defy anyone to attend a NASCAR event and not enjoy at the very least the sheer spectacle.
Maybe it was the queuing marathon the day before at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, but I wasn’t in the least bit phased today when I exited the 80 Freeway onto California Route 37 and found myself at a dead stop – still 16.5 miles away from Infineon Raceway and the SaveMart 350 Sprint Cup race.
I actually started to calculate it out… “OK, at 10 miles an hour that should put me in the parking lot at just about noon, so I’ll only miss the first few laps”. Imagine my pleasant surprise to find that the lion’s share of the traffic was actually getting off the very next exit at the Six Flags amusement park. My own slowdown didn’t kick in for another six miles or so. Which was OK, because it was a beautiful NoCal morning as I edged ever closer to my first-ever encounter with NASCAR.