Fun & Games: Tales from the pit


by Anthony Harrisonanthony

Gasoline fumes smelled sharp. Two- and four-stroke engines blatted deafeningly despite their small size. Racers crossed themselves and batted both sides of their helmets, knocking out their nerves. Clouds of exhaust condensed and dispersed immediately as the dirt bikes zoomed off the starting line. Clods of brown dirt — not earth, but dirt — flew in every direction.

Card girls strutting in front of the rows of riders at the ready had waved placards demanding the crowd to “GET LOUD.” But there was no need.

On Jan. 30, the screaming audience couldn’t compete with the howling bikes in the Greensboro Coliseum for this AmSoil Arenacross event.

At least, not from my vantage point on the track, down in the pit.

I don’t know what it was like in the stands of Greensboro Coliseum, but it was damn loud at the starting line. I might as well stand on Piedmont Triad International Airport’s runways if I ever wish to replicate the aural experience.

But unless you treasure your hearing more than I do, this was not a negative point of watching motocross — it only added to the visceral intensity.

The cacophony from the caterwauling engines, buzzing like swarms of yellowjackets as they wound around the tight track, not only overloaded my eardrums. It rumbled and reverberated in my chest cavity; it tickled my toes.

It was as cold as it was loud in the pit. Immense industrial fans blew endlessly for a few reasons. The hazy light pall of dust created by the fans added a certain aesthetic pleasure to the event, whether intentional or not.

But the main reason was to prevent a mass episode of carbon monoxide poisoning. All the exhaust burped out from the dozens of dirt bikes during races and Caterpillar earthmoving equipment mending the berms and ramps during breaks risked causing everyone to succumb to a case of the vapors, even in the cavernous coliseum.

Though I wore a bulky vest, jeans and heavy socks inside my boots, in the path of the fans, I froze down in the pit.

I felt much worse for the card girls.

These poor women — officially, the Monster Energy Girls — were dressed in tight, black pleather corset tops and butt-length skirts, emblazoned with the ragged green Monster ‘M’ on the hips. Light, black down jackets draped over their shoulders staved off hypothermia during the races. No matter what, goosebumps stood out on their tanned skin as they shivered on the sidelines.

“I have thermal socks on, so my feet are the only warm part of me right now,” Monster Girl Mandy Moore — no relation — told me with a strained smile as she foxtrotted in place to keep her blood flowing. “If I get a cold after this, I’ll know why.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Maybe the bikers kept warmer in their jumpsuits and other protective gear.

It also helped that they were racing. After all, maintaining control on such a light bike while sliding into turns, vaulting over jumps and bounding across bumps demands peak physical fitness. All the racers looked to me like jockeys — rail-thin, compact; I guessed no rider was much taller than about 5-foot-8.

Most of them were just kids, too. But that didn’t detract from their abilities.

In only his second career start, 17-year-old Missouri native Austin Forkner swept the field with victories in the second heat and both main events.

From my angle at the starting gate, I couldn’t see exactly when Forkner claimed the top spot in his initial win, but I caught one magic moment of this kid’s talent.

After a series of small ramps, a hairpin left turn opened up into the short, flat straightaway. Every go at it, Forkner cut this turn as shallowly as possible. Once, as he vied to keep second place, the rear wheel of his bright green Kawasaki dug into a little divot and halted bike and rider for a moment. But then, with a tiny spurring kick, his bike spat a backfire like a single pistol report and Forkner shot down the straightaway and into first.

In his second victory, Forkner established what seemed like an eternal lead on everyone else in the race. As he flew over the finish line, the teenager dabbed in mid-air, relishing his first big-time showing with a flourish.

Before he was the night’s champ, I saw Forkner standing alone in a safe zone on the track, watching two-bike trials as though meditating. I patted him on the shoulder, and this fresh-faced, blond-haired kid turned, surprised.

“How’d you get into this?” I shouted over the roar of the bikes.

“What?” he shouted back.

“How’d you start?” All verbal communication required clipped sentences at high volume.

“My dad raced,” he yelled back in a twangy tenor. “I followed him. Bought a bike. Started racing.”

“No way! My dad did, too. In the ’70s. European bikes. Maicos, CZs. But I never saw a race.”

Forkner grinned ear to ear.

“It’s fun, man,” he yelped.

I wished him good luck, shaking his hand before I returned to the pit.

DSC02159 (2)