Getting great traction off the starting line is a must if you hope to enjoy a good start. We quizzed Blake Baggett’s Yoshimura Suzuki mechanic Brandon Anderson about his gate-prepping technique after watching him work the dirt like a sculptor at one of the MX Nationals this summer.
“Choosing the starting gate should be left up to the rider, ultimately. Depending on your gate pick or how you did in qualifying, you will have either a great choice of any spot on the line, or a limited selection left for you. Blake always like to have the straightest shot to the first turn, and he always checks out the dirt in front of the starting gate, too. We are not allowed to work on the dirt in front of the starting gate at the professional level, so having a starting area that is free of debris or ruts is important. Of course, if there is something in front of the gate we can ask an AMA official to move it. At the Santa Clara Supercross this year there was actually a piece of pipe in the dirt!”
“In addition to the ground in front of the gate, you want to choose as level a starting spot as possible. You never want to choose a slot that is below the starting gate because you never want to have to ride up and over the gate. Because a rut places you lower, I always start at the back of it and kick the sides of the rut down. This eliminates a sharp edge that the sidewall of the rear tire can grab and it also produces some dirt to help fill in the rut. Wearing a set of pit boots is a big help. They don’t always look the coolest, but they protect your feet and allow you to work the dirt with more intensity. Some guys add a steel tip to the front, because that helps when you have to dig into the dirt. Anyway, I start at the back of the rut and work my way forward, kicking off the sharp edges of the rut and filling it in with dirt. Once the rut is filled, be sure to pack the dirt in as hard as possible. This is where having pit boots helps because you are stomping on the dirt.”
“It’s important to make sure that the dirt you’re adding does not prevent the gate from falling flat on the ground. You should also check the insides of the gate near the actuation pin and remove any dirt buildup in there that could keep the gate from either falling smoothly or laying completely flat. You don’t want your rider to hit the gate, even for a second, because that robs forward momentum.”
“If there isn’t enough dirt to fill in the rut, a good secret stash of dirt can always be found inside the channel of the starting gate. Make sure that it has some moisture in it though, because powdery, dry dirt will just make your tire spin.”
“The starting gate at Glen Helen was odd because there were concrete areas before and after the gate. Because there was moist dirt to be found, I packed some over the concrete and also built a small bridge of dirt in the channel, so that there would always be dirt for Blake’s rear tire to find traction on. Concrete has no traction and would cause the tire to spin. Even if it helps a tiny bit, it is worth going the extra mile for a good start.”