MOTOBALL: Arenacross Turns 20

By Danny Livermore

Photos by Garth Milan

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The National Arenacross Series has become one of two things for the riders who contest the small course series: a minor league for aspiring Supercross racers or a retirement home for the elder statesmen of the sport. As the circuit celebrates its 20th anniversary, a host of riders converges in Albany, N.Y., for the first of 12 rounds of competition. The scene in the pits has the typical ambiance of any race with bikes being prepped and last-minute sponsor stickers being applied to the semis; however, the inside of the arena looks like the floor of the mercantile stock exchange.

Under lights at the Pepsi Arena, series track designer Rigg Hipps stands among a posse of union-clad soldiers hurrying dump trucks that are filled with the moist terrafirma into the arena. This pristine soil will make up the playing field for tomorrow night’s event. The Pepsi Arena–for the first time ever–plays host to the opening round of the series, but Hipps is battling the clock.

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It’s 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 6, and the day seems endless to Hipps. He shrugs his shoulders and says, “This is going to be a long night.”

Faced with a one-day move in, this is one of the challenges that no one understands.

“We are on a tight deadline because the arena had a show last night, which means we have one day to get the track ready for tomorrow’s press conference at noon, followed by practice,” says Hipps. “We normally have two days to get the track completed. Today, we are going to work all night to get this thing completed.”

As Hipps continues directing the trucks, the world’s top Arenacross riders are eating dinner and getting ready for another season on the tight circuit.

The last truckload of dirt is spilled on the arena floor and Hipps’ watch reads 9:00 p.m. In order to complete the track, the crew workes until the wee hours of the morning before getting a wink of shuteye.

Although the event is a pressure cooker for Hipps and his staff, it’s all part of the job. Enter Arenacross founder Mike Kidd. Kidd, a former Grand National Dirt Track Champion, hosted his first race event in 1983 at Fort Worth Texas’ Tarrant County Convention Center in the winter of 1983 and sold the joint out.

The following year Kidd decided to move forward with a full-on race series that had seven stops. “I always knew that the series would grow into a national championship, but I wanted to take my time,” said Kidd.

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In 1997, Mike Kidd Productions was acquired by Clear Channel Entertainment, the producer/promoter of the supercross series. The merger helped solve Kidd’s dilemma of expanding the series into more cities.

“I always had a hard time getting into new venues, but when Clear Channel came on board, things were much easier,” said Kidd. “With the national and regional tours taking place in conjunction with one another, we have had as many as 43 stops in a season.”

The growing series has riders from all calls of life, including the debut of former factory rider John Dowd, who is riding for the newly formed Empire Suzuki team.

“This is so different for me,” said Dowd before Friday’s race. “I have been practicing for the past few weeks on some of the tracks I built, but it’s weird because you don’t go through a lot of gears. I am used to having the bike wide open down a long straightaway.”

Although Dowd’s best finish on the weekend was just a fourth, he has a new respect for the series. “I’m actually really impressed with how fast these guys go,” said Dowd. “This is the type of racing that is the exact opposite of my style. I have always been one of those guys who gets a decent start and gets faster as the race goes on. Here it’s two fferent bikes, 30-second lap times and the whole evening just flies by, like a big sprint race.”

At 38 years of age, Dowd shows no signs of slowing down or getting what some might call a “real” job. “I just like to ride my dirt bike,” Dowd said jokingly. “I have thought about retiring and starting an excavation company, but I have so much fun riding and racing. This is a great life.”

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Two-time reigning champion Josh Demuth, who did the supercross journeyman thing for five years, has a similar story. Before Demuth could procure a solid ride in the supercross series, he ventured full-time into the tight, no-holds-barred world of Arenacross racing. After struggling for some five years in the sport, it was a turning point for the Fort Worth, Texas native. In his Arenacross debut, Demuth took home the championship and found a new lease on his career.

Demuth’s career hit rock-bottom after a less-than-stellar 2001 Supercross season. He quit racing and worked at a local shop. “I was into partying and didn’t have any ambition to race after the 2001 supercross season,” said Demuth. “Things started to turn around when I met my wife. She has been a huge asset to my career.”

As Demuth drifted into the Arenacross series, five-time champion Buddy Antunez returned to the Supercross series as a factory 125cc rider for Team Suzuki. Antunez returned to the arenas in 2003, but was unable to beat the new king of Arenacross.

This year, the 20th chapter of the sport will be written with more appeal than ever before, and this family-like series will crown a well-deserved champion.

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Past Champions

2003: Josh Demuth

2002: Josh Demuth

2001: Buddy Antunez

2000: Buddy Antunez

1999: Buddy Antunez

1998: Buddy Antunez

1997: Buddy Antunez

1996: Jimmy Gaddis

1995: Jimmy Gaddis

1994: Grayson Goodman

1993: Robbie Reynard

1992: Cliff Palmer

1991: Jason Langford

1990: Dennis Hawthorne

1989: Dennis Hawthorne

1988: Dennis Hawthorne

1987: Dennis Hawthorne

1986: Dennis Hawthorne

Five Minutes With the Champ

What has Arenacross done for your career?

It has done a lot of things. I would say it has made me a better person. I guess when you are growing up, you see your heroes, winning championships and riding for a factory team, you hope that you will, some day, be there.

Do you want to win a supercross championship or are you content with Arenacross?

I think where I am at, I love Arenacross. I have friends on the circuit and am happy on the circuit. I don’t think I need anything else.

What were you doing the year before Arenacross?

I had a lackluster year before I started racing Arenacross. I even gave up racing for about six months. I had a job working at a local dealership. I was not happy about the way things were going. I took a break. During the break, I met my wife and I had a chance to grow up a little.

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What were some of the changes you made to your career and your life?

I guess, just being a kid. I was not very serious about a lot of things. I was into partying. I was not very serious about things at all. I had no direction. When I met her, we had responsibilities; we had an apartment together and she had a job, so it was more than growing up.

When you say you had some growing up to do, what did you do?

I met Brian O’Rourke the first year I was on the tour and he made me realize that there was a lot more to life than racing. I got to know the Bible. My mechanic, Jack Yost, he helped me a lot. He is a really knowledgeable guy and has been around for a while, so he is great to have in my corner. He knows what is going on. It was cool to have a supportive girlfriend as well, so if you combine all of those things, it helps makes things better.

How much has this sport grown?

You see a lot more people in the stands and you get to meet those people year after year and they are bringing their family members, so it helps the growth process. It makes me feel good to see the same fans at the same venues year after year.

Is this a series that helps riders get ready for Supercross and the motocross Nationals?

You can use it as a stepping-stone and other riders have used it as something to fall back on. I think Arenacross is really strong; we have several talented riders. It’s a way for a rider that is not good at Supercross or motocross to have a career and make a good living.

How hard is it to race with a guy like Tommy Hofmaster, who is your teammate, but finished second to you last year?

I try to give the rest of the riders the respect that I want. It’s not as bad as everyone thinks. It is small and tough to pass people, but you know, it’s racing. Everybody gets along and we have a few scuffles every now and then, but everyone likes one another. There is no long-term hatred towards one another. It’s not this big soap opera. That is what I like about this series. It makes racing fun.

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In Supercross, it seems a little different when guys start banging bars…

I don’t know if it is a difference in fans but it’s something with Supercross. If someone takes someone out, the fans get crazy. I remember back in the day when guys like Bob Hannah and those guys would kill each other to win a race and now if you bump someone, it’s a big soap opera. In Arenacross, it’s expected because it’s a small area. Everyone just expects that stuff.

What about the strategy in Arenacross? It seems a little different.

With Arenacross, it’s different because you have two bikes to get used to; you have a 125cc and a 250cc. You have to be competitive on both of them. In Supercross, you have one bike, one race, and then if you screw up in Supercross, you have to make up for it in the next week. With Arenacross, you have four races in each weekend, so you have time to adjust.

You only have 12 weekends of racing a year; what do you do with your free time?

I like to ride my chopper a lot; it’s pretty relaxing to me. You know, my family is pretty important to me. My wonderful wife and my kids are fun to hang out with.

How much longer will you race Arenacross?

I hope for a lot longer; this is a great way to make a living as long as I can stay healthy. This is a great series, as long as it’s still fun, I’ll keep racing.

What are some of the perks that you have enjoyed because of Arenacross?

I get to race on great bikes. I think they are the best bikes out there. When you are doing well, the sponsors are better at coming out with more help. Our sponsors are doing well. It’s one of those things where if you are doing well, you have a lot more people following your career and that makes me happy.

There are several guys in Supercross who go to the races each weekend and don’t make half the money you make; do you think this may be a series that you would recommend to them?

Well, there are guys who want to do well in those circuits, and that’s their deal. I was doing Supercross for probably five years–I think could have tried a little harder and I was immature. I could have gotten a lot more out of it. Those guys are working their tails off and that is what it takes. I have all of the respect for those guys. The Arenacross series is a good way for a rider to make good money and continue to race.

What about when you are fanic, Jack Yost, he helped me a lot. He is a really knowledgeable guy and has been around for a while, so he is great to have in my corner. He knows what is going on. It was cool to have a supportive girlfriend as well, so if you combine all of those things, it helps makes things better.

How much has this sport grown?

You see a lot more people in the stands and you get to meet those people year after year and they are bringing their family members, so it helps the growth process. It makes me feel good to see the same fans at the same venues year after year.

Is this a series that helps riders get ready for Supercross and the motocross Nationals?

You can use it as a stepping-stone and other riders have used it as something to fall back on. I think Arenacross is really strong; we have several talented riders. It’s a way for a rider that is not good at Supercross or motocross to have a career and make a good living.

How hard is it to race with a guy like Tommy Hofmaster, who is your teammate, but finished second to you last year?

I try to give the rest of the riders the respect that I want. It’s not as bad as everyone thinks. It is small and tough to pass people, but you know, it’s racing. Everybody gets along and we have a few scuffles every now and then, but everyone likes one another. There is no long-term hatred towards one another. It’s not this big soap opera. That is what I like about this series. It makes racing fun.

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In Supercross, it seems a little different when guys start banging bars…

I don’t know if it is a difference in fans but it’s something with Supercross. If someone takes someone out, the fans get crazy. I remember back in the day when guys like Bob Hannah and those guys would kill each other to win a race and now if you bump someone, it’s a big soap opera. In Arenacross, it’s expected because it’s a small area. Everyone just expects that stuff.

What about the strategy in Arenacross? It seems a little different.

With Arenacross, it’s different because you have two bikes to get used to; you have a 125cc and a 250cc. You have to be competitive on both of them. In Supercross, you have one bike, one race, and then if you screw up in Supercross, you have to make up for it in the next week. With Arenacross, you have four races in each weekend, so you have time to adjust.

You only have 12 weekends of racing a year; what do you do with your free time?

I like to ride my chopper a lot; it’s pretty relaxing to me. You know, my family is pretty important to me. My wonderful wife and my kids are fun to hang out with.

How much longer will you race Arenacross?

I hope for a lot longer; this is a great way to make a living as long as I can stay healthy. This is a great series, as long as it’s still fun, I’ll keep racing.

What are some of the perks that you have enjoyed because of Arenacross?

I get to race on great bikes. I think they are the best bikes out there. When you are doing well, the sponsors are better at coming out with more help. Our sponsors are doing well. It’s one of those things where if you are doing well, you have a lot more people following your career and that makes me happy.

There are several guys in Supercross who go to the races each weekend and don’t make half the money you make; do you think this may be a series that you would recommend to them?

Well, there are guys who want to do well in those circuits, and that’s their deal. I was doing Supercross for probably five years–I think could have tried a little harder and I was immature. I could have gotten a lot more out of it. Those guys are working their tails off and that is what it takes. I have all of the respect for those guys. The Arenacross series is a good way for a rider to make good money and continue to race.

What about when you are finished racing?

I guess I would like to have another baby with my wife. I would like to catch up on all the family time I miss with my wife and family. It’s kind of up in the air. Things always have a way to work out. I would like to have a place in the mountains, because I really like to snowboard.

re finished racing?

I guess I would like to have another baby with my wife. I would like to catch up on all the family time I miss with my wife and family. It’s kind of up in the air. Things always have a way to work out. I would like to have a place in the mountains, because I really like to snowboard.