When The Whip Comes Down In Las Vegas
Eric Johnson tells the tale of the 2013 Dirt Shark Best Whip contest at the Monster Energy Cup.
Photos: Chris Kimball
"I'm looking for some razors, man, is there a gift shop or something around here? I figure a slick head might get me a better whip."
Among a bank of slot machines blinking and pinging and clanking and making all the WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP! Sounds that slot machines make, Jeremy "Twitch" Stenberg looked a bit lost. It was just short of 9 A.M. in the lobby of the 2,664-room Treasure Island Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip and one of the world's most beloved and charismatic motocross riders was on hell-bent on completing his mission of coming up with a few disposable razors. It was important to him for today was the big day and he wanted to make sure he had all, at least in his mind's eye, all the boxes checked off.
After being announced a month earlier as a new variable in the calculus that is the Monster Energy Cup, the inaugural Dirt Shark Biggest Whip contest was scheduled to go down this very evening inside the Sam Boyd Stadium. In fact in that very release, Stenberg, the multi-time X Games Best Whip Gold Medalist (including two Golds collected in both Foz Do Iguacu, Brazil and Munich, Germany, respectively, in 2013) had proclaimed of this new Dirt Shark Biggest Whip contest: "The whip is just something that every single person that rides a dirt bike has done always while growing up. Everyone can appreciate a whip. These days' people are whipping gnarly."
Added the Dirt Shark himself of his creation, "This is the first time ever that not only are we going to have all riders in the world who throw the biggest whips in one place at the same time, but the whole deal is going to be judged by professionals. We're all tired of everybody running their mouths and talking shit claiming they can throw bigger whips. So Dirt Shark, Monster Energy and Feld Motor Sports decided to do something about it. It's put up or shut up this time around – straight up – this is no popularity contest!"
So now, well at least approximately 10 hours later, the clock was about to strike on "put up or shut up time".
"I'm feeling good," said Stenberg after purchasing his Gillette Fusion ProGlide razors. "Usually with any jump contest, the jump is always at 72 feet to 75 feet. Me and [Josh] Hansen rode practice yesterday and we have it set at 85 feet now which is good because at all the other contests our jumps are so short that by the time that you get under it or get upside down you have to come back. It should be better today.
"I think it's going to be bitchin' tonight," added Stenberg. "Honestly, I think the fans are going to love it because they're going to see racing all night and then right in the middle – at halftime – there is going to be gnarly dudes throwing down big ass whip. I think anyone can appreciate a good whip – especially race fans. I think it's going to be really bitchin' I'm really looking forward to it."
10:30 A.M. and inside the Will Call trailer sitting adjacent to the Sam Boyd Stadium and Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki racer Dean Wilson is waiting to get his passes sorted out for his family and friends.
"Yeah, I think this Dirt Shark Biggest Whip thing is cool. It's really cool," offered the 2011 AMA 250 National Champion who would be competing in the Monster Cup that evening. "I like it, man. I think Hanny has it. I want Hanny to win it. He comes from the racing and Hanny is a great rider so what he does he does doesn't surprise me. I will say what all these guys do with the whip is amazing."
Las Vegas is a town that was built on a premise of placing good judgment and reason off to the side for a brief period in time and taking chances and nor really dealing with a full deck in an effort to beat the odds and come up big. All this withstanding, what a perfect place to allow 10 of the planet's best freestyle riders come best big whip pilots to roll into its big neon lit glitter – all toothpaste and mouthwash hues of green, blue, red, yellow, orange and purple – and bet the rent on coming up the big winner.
As Bon Scott sang it, So, spin that wheel/Cut that pack/And roll those loaded dice/Bring on the dancing girls/And put the champagne on ice/I’m goin’ in – to Sin City/I’m gonna win- in Sin City/Where the lights are bright/Through the town tonight.
With the elimination heat that would boil down the 10 invited riders to three lucky ticket holders who would be entered into the night show (joining the already seeded Josh Hansen, Jeremy Stenberg, Todd Potter and Edgar Torronteras) set for 4 P.M. on a purpose-built ramp to dirt course built up from the Asphalt parking lot of the Sam Boyd Stadium, a few minutes before the bikes were fired, a meeting of the men who would act as judges at the Dirt Shark Biggest Whip contest was held. Paul Taublieb, the organizer of the contest, addressed judges John Basher (Motocross Action), Doug Parsons (former X Games competitor and longtime freestyle rider turned writer/producer), Ivan Tedesco (former AMA National Champion, West Coast Supercross Champion and winning Motocross of Nations team member) and yours truly.
"This is the big first time this has been done," explained Taublieb. "As far as judging, do we break them down by a scale? By the three best whips they each do? The single best whip they do?"
The four of us looked at him, then at each other, talked it through and then assumed our place at the judging table. The clock struck 4, and upon doing so, Jarred McNeil, Nate Adams, Andre Villa, Destin Cantrell, Tyler Bereman, Lance Coury, Billy Laninovich, Tom Parsons, Brett Cue and Ronnie Renner began hitting the ramps and throwing out classic Supercross Whips, Turn-Down Whips, Look Back Whips, Twitch Whips (A.K.A. the Nose High Whip, Under-Whips… The four of watched on, tried our very hardest to "interpret and score" it all, and while doing so, furiously spun the red dials of the iSX scoring handhelds and punched in scores between 1 and 100.
"Scores in AND good!" shouted head judge Basher after seven minutes had elapsed and the very last rider had executed the very last whip of the heat. Not four minutes later, and after the computers that served as the platform of the scoring system had crunched all the numbers we had thrown at it with our red dial contraptions, the three finalists lit up on a scoring monitor: Tom Parsons, Jarred McNeil and Bill Laninovich would be moving on up to the night show set for 7:30 P.M. The crowd cheered, the riders waved and, mercifully, nobody bitched about the judging. Always a good feeling. Especially since I had to walk right back to the pit area.
"Man, Parsons threw down!" exclaimed an impressed Ivan Tedesco.
Added a nodding Doug "Punk Rock" Parsons, "Finally, Whip is worthy of a huge stage. It's like when the backflip came into freestyle motocross – now everyone has to have respect for it. The racers can't do whips this big. It's a history setting day."
An hour later I came across Tyler Bereman. A young, supremely talented rider from San Luis Obispo, the happy go lucky and super-enthusiastic kid, Bereman asked me what I thought.
"I thought you were fantastic," I answered. "You were certainly in the mix."
"Did I put on a good show for the fans?"
"Absolutely," I said. "You didn't hit the top three, but you were right there.
"Oh, I don't care about that," he smiled. "It was just awesome to ride for all the fans and to be able to stoke them out. I was just so stoked to be out there and to be a part of the show. I had a blast and I think the fans really loved it."
They did and they loved Tyler.
Later that evening, after the piercing Vegas sun had dropped and day turned into night, we were led up to the judging room, which was based on the press level and which looked out over the jam-packed stadium.
"I don't know how you guys are going to judge this thing," Kevin Windham, recently retired and in Las Vegas to enjoy the races – and the whipping! "Everybody is so good and so close. You know I didn't back out of doing this! They were going to invite me to compete and I really wanted to do it but I guess it didn't work out."
After the second Monster Cup Main Event was run – and Ryan Villipoto was carefully removed from the track after hitting the ground in a frightening crash which catapulted him headfirst into the Vegas dirt, the Biggest Whip ramp was dragged out onto the track, positioned and down onto the stadium floor rode the magnificent seven. In the matter of a few minutes, and after dozens of sensationally performed Whip tricks and whole lot of dial spinning and number crunching, it was all over with. Little known Tom Parsons (not to be confused with Doug) won the whole tumbling dice shooting match over Torrenteras and McNeill.
"How in the hell did he get in this deal?!" asked Ivan Tedesco aloud. "He was great. He'll be pumped. That was so rad!"
Reflected Josh Hansen back in the pit area: "I thought it was cool and I thought you guys judging the whole deal did a good job. I felt like I did good. I was stoked. I think that the biggest thing that we accomplished was getting the crowd going. I think I could have done a little bit better at pumping the crowd up in Vegas. I love doing that and, actually, actually no matter if I win it or I don't win it, I want the fans to walk away stoked with what they watched. We were all pumped and everyone was stoked to be riding and we all had fun. You know doing a whip is a trick every fan can relate to. It was one of the very first things ever brought to a motorcycle. It's the OG trick that anyone can do on a motorcycle and it's also one of the raddest and coolest tricks you can do on a motorcycle. It never gets old."
Said a visibly Kevin Windham after all the dust had settled and the seven motorcycles had cooled.
"They really stepped it up. The whole thing was really cool. These guys have taken the traditional whip and turned it all upside down. No, wait, they've taken the taken the classic flat whip and turned that upside down! I loved all of it!"
Even Johnny O'Mara, a former AMA 125cc National and Supercross Champion and an athlete/racer coach who comes from more of a traditional, old school, pure motocross background. "It's amazing how they do that Look Back sort of whip. It's like the bike totally sideways. Guys like ET – Edgar Torrenteras, right? – actually get the back wheel of the back way behind the front end and then he can pull the bike back before he lands. I almost can't believe that a motocross bike, with all the G forces and inertia, can even do that."
However it was Tom Parsons who came up big when the spinning wheels stopped turning. A former racer from Florida who gave the sport up after just too many injuries, Parsons decided to give freestyle motocross – and in particular, and as a sort of special interest, Whipping – a go. And "go" he went on Saturday in Sin City, yanking down a high score of 95.5 points and making history before the 33,845 fans present.
“There were big whips all day,” said somewhat dazed and confused Parsons after his remarkably impressive victory. “I mean, everybody was amazing. The guys earlier, we had to qualify to get into this, and I’ve never seen so many good whippers in my life. It was a struggle, but I came here to do well and I threw as big as I could. I guess it worked out.”