ONE PHOTO & ONE STORY: MXGP IS COMING TO CHARLOTTE

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Dragstrip_Charlotte_MXGPThe photo—but what will the reality be?

By John Basher

High-profile races at artificially made motocross tracks are nothing new. History reveals a myriad of purpose-built tracks on the infields of car speedways. And so it goes with the MXGP of the Americas, which is set to be held on Saturday, September 3rd, in the evening. What separates the Charlotte USGP is that it will be held at the zMAX Dragway, a four-lane dragstrip, rather than the infield of the superspeedway. Charlotte boasts the first four-lane dragstrip in the world. It opened in 2008 and rests on 46.5 acres of land adjacent to the dirt track. There are 30,000 grandstand seats and 40 luxury suites. It also has two pedestrian tunnels underneath the strip to increase fan mobility.

Charlotte Motor Speedway is a first-class venue set in the heart of NASCAR country (Huntersville and Mooresville–the headquarters of several NASCAR teams–are just up the road). According to JGRMX owner, Coy Gibbs, the MXGP of Charlotte will be well attended by NASCAR teams, drivers and fans, as there’s crossover from auto racing to motocross.

Jeremy_McGrath_Giuseppe_LuongoGiuseppe and SuperMac.

To me, it’s not a question of spectator attendance, because North Carolina and the surrounding states are havens for motocross enthusiasts (look no further than the Atlanta Supercross and Muddy Creek AMA National). While it’s hard to imagine the event will reach maximum capacity, there should be bodies in the stands. The real question is whether U.S. riders will line up at Charlotte. Monster Energy will encourage their sponsored teams (namely Pro Circuit Kawasaki, factory Kawasaki and JGR Yamaha) to support the race by sending their riders to the gate. Cooper Webb has expressed interest, given that Charlotte is five hours from his hometown. What of everyone else?

Furthermore, the USGP of Charlotte is set one week after the AMA National finale in Indiana. U.S. racers typically take a few weeks off following the Nationals to get some R&R before diving into Supercross testing. What will entice them to race a one-off event that doesn’t pay purse money or count towards a championship? American pride? Maybe. I’m not sure that’s enough of a reason for Ryan Dungey, Jason Anderson, Trey Canard, Cole Seely, Justin Brayton and others to answer the call. I hope they do, because it’s a good opportunity for fans and first-time observers to watch great racing.

evgeny-bobryshev-and-gautier-paulin-in-assenThe sand at Assen made all the difference in the failed history of MXGP at car tracks.

Eric Peronnard, the man responsible for bringing Giuseppe Luongo and Marcus Smith (Charlotte Motor Speedway president) together, has a great idea. Peronnard wants to build a Team USA of sorts that would fight the world racing superpowers on a track that is new to everyone that sets knobby to dirt. It would be a level playing field that takes home-field advantage out of the equation. The idea might work. Still, there needs to financial compensation for Americans who are willing to race. It could happen, though those details would likely remain secret.

IS THE ZMAX DRAGWAY A WORTHY VENUE FOR HOSTING A GRAND PRIX? HA! YOUTHSTREAM HOLDS THEIR PRESTIGIOUS EVENTS ON WRETCHED DIRT WITHIN THE INFIELD OF THE LOSAIL CIRCUIT IN QATAR, A DUSTBOWL IN THAILAND, AND THE INFIELD OF THE ASSEN TT CIRCUIT IN THE NETHERLANDS. CHARLOTTE IS WORTHY OF HOLDING A PROFESSIONAL MOTOCROSS RACE, FAR BETTER THAN QATAR, THAILAND AND THE AMA NATIONALS THAT WERE HELD IN LAKE ELSINORE AND MILLER MOTORSPORTS PARK.

Now for the real question. Is the zMAX Dragway a worthy venue for hosting a Grand Prix? Ha! Youthstream holds their prestigious events on wretched dirt within the infield of the Losail Circuit in Qatar, a dustbowl in Thailand, and the infield of the Assen TT Circuit in the Netherlands. Charlotte is worthy of holding a professional motocross race, far better than Qatar, Thailand and the AMA Nationals that were held in Lake Elsinore and Miller Motorsprts Park. I will say the man-made Assen circuit was a success last year, mainly because truckloads of deep Dutch sand comprised the track surface. Charlotte will not be sand, and the course will also be very tight. It has to be, given the width of the dragstrip (even at four lanes wide). One look at the track map reveals how narrow the layout will be. That’s not a sticking point for the casual fan who is happy enough to sit in the grandstands and see most of the action front and center (think Supercross). However, the motocross purist will be none too pleased to see the Charlotte MXGP layout.

After the presentation, Jeremy McGrath asked me what I thought of the idea. I was hesitant to answer. He quickly took over the conversation, generally stating that it was something new and should be embraced, because it could bring growth to the sport. I agreed with him, not because he’s a seven-time Supercross Champion, but because he is right. I’ll be one of the first people in line to get into Charlotte’s zMAX Dragway on Saturday, September 3rd (yes, the race is held on a Saturday, and it’s also being run in the evening). In the meantime, I’ll withhold further opinion beforehand and wait until Sunday morning, September 4th, to reveal my thoughts. Sunday morning will be the same time Charlotte Motor Speedway and Luongo meet to discuss whether the event was a success, and if they’ll hold another Grand Prix at Charlotte in 2017. Time will tell.

THE MXGP TRACK ANIMATION

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