By Eric Johnson
This Sunday the gate will drop on the 71st annual Motocross des Nations at Red Bud MX in Buchanan, Michigan. While moto patriarch Gene Ritchie will not be there to see it, his son Tim certainly will (likely from the seat of a bulldozer!). Tim checked in with us from the battlefield that is – and will be – Red Bud. Constantly interrupted with one question or request after another, Tim did a fine job of getting us up to speed on the world’s greatest motocross race.
OKAY TIM, YOU GUYS ARE ABOUT TO HOST THE 2018 MONSTER ENERGY MOTOCROSS DES NATIONA. IS IT A DREAM COME TRUE FOR YOU? I don’t know if it was ever my dream, but I hope we’re going to make some money on it. That’s the goal. It was kind of my dad’s dream more than mine.
WAY BACK IN 1972 YOUR DAD GENE PURCHASED THE PROPERTY AND ETCHED OUT THE CIRCUIT NOW KNOWN THE WORLD OVER AS RED BUD. TALK ABOUT THAT A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT. Yeah, 40 years ago this year my dad saw the Motocross des Nations in Gaildorf, Germany. (Team Russia won the Chamberlain Cup that day while Finland’s Heikki Mikkola breezily took the measure of Californian Bob Hannah). He went with some friends of him that were European and that was kind of his first taste of it – it was the first one he ever went to. It wasn’t like a super-hardcore thing that he wanted to do before he died or anything like that, but he liked the event and he wanted to do it, but after Budds Creek in 2007 the political climate was so scary that from then on he was really, really hesitant to do it from there on out. But yeah, it was a race that he wanted to do.
RED BUD GOES BACK TO THE INFANCY OF THE SPORT IN THIS NATION, RIGHT? Yeah, it does. I’ve already been telling people that this week. 47 years ago I believe they started to build the track. In 1974 they had their first AMA National. Back then the AMA was looking for people to take races! Kind of a little bit different than these days. He started the track with two of his moto buddies. It was just a buddy deal that they went in together on and said, “Let’s go do this for something to do on the weekends.” My dad was running a bike shop in Indiana and somebody broke into it and torched it and after that we kind of moved up here and he bought his partners out and make a goal of it full-time. He also opened a Bultaco and Maico shop on site-called Red Bud Cycle. I think my dad ultimately realized the track had more potential than the dealership. We keep bringing him up because he would have been really, really, really been excited about how well this race has been received already.
YOU’RE THE TRACK MASTER AT RED BUD, BUT THERE MUST BE COUNTLESS THINGS YOU AND YOUR SISTER AMY ARE TASKED WITH. Well, at this point in the game it’s really hard because every once in a while you have to stop doing everything else and go back and make sure the track is good. You can’t forget about that part. The set-up and the details of the event are just phenomenal. All the assets are coming in now as we’re getting four, five, six semi-truck deliveries of stuff. Monster is here today doing their activation and set-up. We have all of the VIP activation being built. It’s just a bunch, a bunch, a bunch of set-up.
IS THE MOTOCROSS DES NATIONS AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT EVENT, TRACK AND RACE THAN THE AMA NATIONAL? It’s just a whole lot more. The VIP stuff for this event is pretty huge. A lot of work goes into those areas. My tent guys are just packing up today and they started their build last Saturday. They’ve been here for more than 10 days just doing tents. A lot goes into that. I guess it’s just a little bit more than a National—a little bit more everywhere. Everybody is all-in with the event. And wanting to make it work.
THE WEATHER FORECAST CHANGES EVERY DAY. YOU LIVE THERE, WHAT DO YOU THINK? We got an inch and a half last night which meant we were trudging through mud today. The weather has been out of sight, out of mind for me. I’m just looking at the weather right now. It doesn’t look like huge, huge rain. I guess we’ll see.
ARE YOU PLEASED WITH WHERE THE TRACK IS AT RIGHT NOW? I think so. I changed a couple things on their request for length of track. We changed the start to house the pit lane. Everybody kept asking me why we did it: It’s strictly to house their pit lane structure, which is very large. It’s the longest straightaway on the race track. It doesn’t curve or sweep or something. It’s 300 feet of just nothing but straightaway. That project was big. This race just elevates everything. You elevate the facility. You put nicer fence up and you get everything nicer everywhere. It’s a lot more work than it was 20 years ago when it was just some farm fence and you just pushed some dirt around.
ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT IT? I was looking forward to it because the Motocross des Nations is a fun thing to do for a track guy, but it turned out to be a whole bunch of work in getting it all done. The other changes to the track are that we shortened it a little bit. I’d say it’s five seconds shorter than what the National track is.
HOW ARE THE TICKETS SALES? Youthstream tells us it’s about 40% higher in pre-sales than the any MXDN to date. That’s pretty scary! Anything limited has been sold out. Camping, VIPs have all been sold-out for over a month. With the presale tickets that we have, we’ve already outsold our National crowd already. That’s pretty gnarly.
EVERYONE KEEPS SAYING 60,000 FANS ON RACE DAY. TRUE? We’re not going to talk numbers yet. We’ll see when it is over. Parking is what we’ve been concerned about. We have about 25% more camping spots than at the National. The car parking was our concern. We acquired 37 acres to the north of us. It was a gravel pit that has been there for years and it was spent and empty, so they reclaimed it and we’re using that for parking.
We also rented 50 acres across the street. With all the parking we have right now, we have room to park three times what we did for the National. I should add that the local community is very, very excited about it. From the local high school people to all the municipalities to all the police departments to all of the road commissions. They’ve all been involved and they’re all very excited about it. 99% of it is all positive. Even if they’re not into moto and not coming to the race, they’re still excited about it.