In Salt Lake City the vibes were different than other Monster Energy Supercross events. In Utah the crowd attending appeared family based as Utah doesn't have the “So-Cal Bro” feel of Anaheim and Las Vegas. If you wanted to bring children to a clean race, this was the event. My day started with a stroll through the pits where I took pictures and made the rounds catching up with industry friends and coworkers. I spoke with Charles Castloo from 100% about their impressive growth. I chatted tire preferences with my WPS co-worker and working man hero, Kyle Gills. He prefers to run the Michelin Starcross 5. Kyle is about as privateer as a rider can be. While he has some friends as mechanics, he does most of the work himself. Kyle only competes in select events as he has a 9-5 job and traveling across the country every week isn't feasible.
From there I headed to the track walk, specifically to get a closer look. As I tried to enter the track I was stopped by an official and told, “Sorry, working media only.” While I could have easily become upset or explained my way onto the track I didn’t have too. Standing to the side and towering over most, wearing a cowboy hat and boots, Teddy Parks and his grizzly voice directed me to a VIP view from the grandstands, after posing for several photos of course. I would proceed to see him multiple times throughout the night, even holding the flag during the National Anthem! After track walk and rider’s meeting a chapel service was conducted on the track. The pastor was puzzling to say the least. Typically, most members of the media head to the press box to watch practice, but I like to watch from different places around the stadium. This gives me a better idea of what the riders are doing and how they are feeling. I enjoy watching the B and C practices as this give the best indication as to how difficult certain sections of the track are, sometimes the A riders make it look too easy.
After practice and timed qualifying I headed to the press box. The press box is strange, there are a few seats reserved for “working media” mixed in with JT$’s VIPs taking in the experience. JT$ walks the VIPs through the track during track walk explaining the sections, level of difficulty, and possibly what the riders are thinking. I usually don't sit in the “working media section” because I can't watch the race without showing emotion. In the end none of us were able to watch Tomac and Dungey's epic battle without screaming emotion. By the main event the normal stress and tense mood of the room melted into an outcry of emotion for Tomac. For a brief moment every media member put their deadlines to the side and became a fan in the crowd.
After the race, leaving the press box becomes a race itself. With elevators jammed packed and the press conference held in secrecy, no media person desires to walk into the press conference room late, or get locked out unintentionally. The press conferences have been a source of great controversy, as it is a new system and there is little or no guidance outside of asking any question to the podium finishers. Some of the old guards of Supercross media despise the new format, they feel it removes their inside advantage. For newbies like myself it provides access to the top stars. In previous years you had to be a rider’s friend or grind through the system for years to get an interview or quote. The new format allows media access to riders who might otherwise avoid them.
I was extremely nervous, as this was my first press conference since the infamous, “there was no crown” incident in Glendale. I heard a rumor the 250 class changed their eligibility rules allowing champions to defend their title. I wanted to know if Justin Hill would defend or look for a 450 ride. I asked my question and without hesitation he confirmed he was racing 450 in 2018.
Ryan and his wife Lindsay sat directly behind me during the press conference and I did a little eavesdropping. I cannot be 100% sure of everything said, but I caught a few things. Ryan described Eli’s performance to Lindsay as Eli riding full of confidence after signing a multimillion dollar contract and Eli’s willingness to hang it all out. Since I didn't hear the entire conversation or the exact context consider this “fake news” but interesting nonetheless. As the 450 riders were called to the podium Daniel Blair announced Jason Anderson would not be in attendance as he was battling altitude sickness. Dungey took his seat in the 2nd place spot. Tomac avoided sitting in the middle, in the first place seat, and chose to sit furthest away from Dungey. Tomac appeared professional showcasing his Monster Energy drink, but avoided direct eye contact with Dungey. While they both respected the press conference process there was definitely tension between the two, even if it was one sided from Tomac.
After a few reporter questions had been asked, the mic was passed to me. With hands sweating and my heart racing I tried to hide my nerves and make sure I asked my question correctly. This time I held the mic tight until I was sure Dungey understood exactly what I was asking. I didn’t want to ask the cookie cutter questions others were asking, but also I didn’t want to be disrespectful as these guys just put their hearts and lives on the line for 28 laps. I asked Dungey if the implementation of the chase format would have any impact on his retirement decision. To my surprise Dungey appeared relieved to share his thoughts on the future format. He expressed his opinion that he didn’t want things to change or turn into a “circus,” but did not break any information regarding his retirement.
As they dismissed the 450 riders from the podium, the top 10 riders from both 250 and 450 classes were obliged to hang around for 20 minutes for individual interviews. Dungey didn't want to hang around and headed straight for the door, I thanked him for not yelling at me this time and he gave me a funny look, I’m positive he did not remember me from before. At the end of my 14 hour day, I was mostly relieved to complete my first press conference since Glendale, and look forward to Vegas!