The Pasadena Mud Bowl
World Supercross
Review by Ross Anthony

They break out of the gate like aggravated wasps from the hive. Their finely tuned engines biting into a mixture of high octane fuel and oil, leaving a detergent odor in the air with a backlash spray of dirt and mud. The Pasadena Mud Bowl.The sprinkling of rain during the pre-dawn has left the 60,000 cubic feet of dirt moisty, meaty and perfect for these able racers. Their trainers and mechanics rolling the two wheeled magic carpets to the mark, while the jockeys kick a well shaped cavity into the faceless dirt -- soon to be bitten by the staggered teeth of their chain-driven knobbie tires.

No longer the one jump event of "Evil Kneivel" yesteryear, these neon painted mustangs routinely complete seventy foot jumps, achieving heights that could clear a two story house. Twice a lap, in fact, in a multi-lapped heat, with no more than fifty feet in which to return to earth and lean into a 180 degree hairpin turn. In roughly five seconds, they've landed, changed direction, and begun teetering like "California Gnarly" hand signs across the stuttered moguls. Suzuki in flight.Two minutes into the heat, the dense team of wasps has become a wisping swarm of scattered tumblers hovering over the entire dirt-bowl, with the motion of a hundred football games playing at once. It's simply dizzying. Without the aid of the video screen, keeping my eye on the battle for the lead is nearly overwhelming.

But the swarm stirs more than dirt. The blood in my body races through my veins. I don't care which corpuscle makes it to my heart first, the beauty is in the turbulence -- the invigoration. As if these poisonous florescent tops have jumped from the course under my skin and are racing my goose bumps from one end of my arms to the other.

Their steeds narrowly outweighing them by only 25%, the riders take to flight in an instant, leaving vehicle correction an in-flight maneuver. Governing wheel speed by breaking or throttling in the air, they can actually manipulate the tip and lean of the bike before it lands. Video-gamers climax. During free style "domestic" flights, daredevil riders challenge each other with aerial acrobatics. How about leaping off the bike so that your feet hook on the handlebars, looking like a man on the wing of a plane before finding your way back to the seat just in time for a perfect landing? This is just one of the many tricks with which trained stunt jumpers can wow their cheering crowds. Much to the dismay of today's crowd (myself included), the planned Xtreme Air Show was canceled.

Nontheless, one lucky attendee went home neither disappointed nor empty-handed, he won himself a brand new Honda XR-400 motorbike, simply by triumphing at EA Sports' Supercross 2000 video game for PlayStation/N64. It feels good to win a motorbike.In between heats, the eight people who were chosen from the 200 or so that had signed up early in the day, competed from the safety of the stage with finger-point precision through a video race course on a screen big enough for all of us to watch.

An all day event, Rose-bowlers didn't go home without a show. Those families arriving early could plop their youngsters (3 to11) on a midget bike (50cc) with or w/o an instructor (depending on the level) for a relaxing ride around the looped haystack markers. Says Scooter (one of the instructors), "We're hoping to inspire a new group of riders while promoting safety in the sport." A local enjoys his free demo ride.This "free-ride" is sponsored by American Supercamp, a twice a year school for those interested in learning the dirt. For more information check out or call 970-669-4322.

An extra ten bucks buys you pit access. Noon is a good time for this. Here you can watch the mechanics make last minute adjustments to the beasts soon to rip up the track. Or check out the newest gear. One interesting development caught my eye. A clutch lever that bends backwards instead of breaking. Jeremy McGrath, two time World Supercross Champion. Designed and machined by Bob and Bob at A.S.V., "The Lever" as they call it, represents yet another example of good old fashion American inventiveness from a couple of local boys. For more information mouse over to "The Lever" also sports a "handy" reach-adjustment and can soon be grabbed up for around 65 bucks.

Still in the pit you might choose to wait in line for your favorite rider's autograph. During this pre-event hour, America's #1 Supercross champion, Jeremy McGrath steps away from his never-ending line of fans to speak briefly with me. Cracking a distant smile, he extends his hand politely shaking with the grip of a thousand hours of hand-breaking, throttling, and hanging on to a scrambling machine. Not a crushing grasp, but a firmer grip I'll not likely find.

RA: What do you ride on the street?

JM: I don't ride on the street.

RA: Why not?

JM: I don't think it's safe. I mean it's kind of a funny thing to say. But, I mean, everyone thinks my sport's dangerous, but I do it everyday. On the road, you can't really trust any of the drivers out there.McGrath's #6 Yamaha YZ 250.

RA: Encouraging words to those new to this sport?

JM: Racing or watching?

RA: Watching..

JM: Our sport's great fun, a lot of action, a lot of, I don't know ... It's great racing. It's a good true sport. A lot of people think it's not a sport, but it's good.The McGrath Team.

RA: What's it like to be up in the air during a long jump?

JM: It's like the resting point. It's fun. It's probably the most fun of the whole sport. Jumping is the best.

RA: Any particular kind of jump you prefer?

JM: No. All of them. I like them all.

RA: Do you have any advice for up and coming young riders?

JM: I think it's important to have fun with our sport. There's a lot of motocross families and dads and stuff that put a lot of pressure on their kids to be like, maybe be like me, and you know, when you're at a young age -- it's really important to have fun.

RA: Aside from biking, what do you do? What's your favorite movie?

JM: Ah, I don't know. I haven't had much time to watch a lot of movies. So ... I don't know. I mean ... I can't even remember the last time I went to the movies.

McGrath in flight at night.RA: How do you like your life?

JM: It's really fun. I'm really happy to be able to do what I like to do and that to me is real important. I'm lucky.

RA: You might just be the Michael Jordan of motocross ... have you thought of retiring or playing baseball?

JM: No. No. No. I like my motorcycle too much. I'm not going to make any plans real soon. I'm having a good time. I don't see retirement here anytime that soon. So ... I'm not really worried about it.

A two time World Supercross champion, Jeremy finishes third on this the day after he turned 28. A good sport, but obviously less than pleased with his performance, he accepts the trophy like a Christmas gift he hadn't asked for; he knew exactly what he wanted and third place wasn't it. During the press conference, he mumbles about the tightness of the course, then leans over the table, face down on the wood, arms stretched out in exhaustion. One reporter hoping to end the session on an upbeat asks, "Does this event mean less than others you've competed in?" McGrath steers away from the easy out, his answer reflecting the pure competitor within, "You know, Ezra, and the other [top racers] were on the track, it doesn't matter the series, if those guys are there -- winning is important."

In the elevator, we bump into each other one last time. "Did you have fun?" I ask grinning, hoping to cast a lighter tone on his frustrating day. "Well, the track was tight. It beat my back. My back never hurts ... so did I have fun?" A gritting half smile smirks below a rising one-sided eyebrow to finish his answer. The elevator doors swing open, he sprints out, catching up with his pals (the aforementioned competitors), escaping like a puff of smoke from a heated exhaust pipe.

For McGrath the event is over, but for Rose Bowl general manager Darrel Dunn, the job of putting the stadium back into tip-top shape for its signature January first affair begins. According to Dunn, the dirt will be removed by the Supercross people, then the field will be completely re-sodded. Dunn, concurring with the many cheering fans, remarks simply, "The event went well."

The Rose Bowl.

All Photos © 1999 Ross Anthony

  • Produced by Speedvision, World Supercross 1999 was held on November 20th at the Pasadena Rose Bowl. (For more information see

Copyright © 1999. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Monday, 23-Apr-2007 15:10:40 PDT