Friday, January 29, 2010

San Francisco Giants Prepare Baseball Park for Monster Energy AMA Supercross FIM World Championship

It's going to be a dirty but thrilling weekend down at the San Francisco Giants' baseball park.

The spruced green turf is covered with plastic sheeting and wood and has become a building site. All in preparation for one of the Giants' biggest events of the year, the  Monster Energy AMA Supercross FIM World Championship.

Denny Hartwig, press spokesman for the event, is expecting a stadium of over 40,000 people.

Last year saw a large crowd attend, 'but we're attracting better than last year,' he said.

'Everywhere we go in San Francisco there are welcome arms and everyone here seems to have some kind of interest in motorcyles, either in the street or in sport. I think we have a built-in fan base,' he said.

Bringing the huge, annual event to San Francisco, the only Northern California location of the championship, has a distinctive feel.

'It's cool!' Denny said. He is from Chicago, and says the downtown feel of the AT & T Park is quite different. 'It's a big park...and this is a huge major city in the US, but it feels like a neighbourhood venue.'

The event, sponsored locally by Big O Tires, is only the fourth so far in the world championship series of 17 races. Outside the ballpark today, a mobile office for promoters, Feld Motor Sports,  was in action, and  the area around McCovey Cove is a gigantic truck fest.

A mobile medical center with rescue jeeps is parked immediately outside the gates on the cove side, and across the water the Giants' grounds have been transformed into the pits, with trucks gleaming with team and sponsorship logos.

At midday, the pits were quite quiet with only a few mechanics and team managers around.

Enjoying a casual lunch under their canopy were the Yamaha team of mechanics with Team Manager, Brad Hoffman.

Brad leads the Factory Yamaha 250 cc Team, which has two West Coast riders. His young charges are 19-year-old Broc Tickle and one of the youngest competitors, 16-year-old Max Anstie.

Brad has high hopes for them. 'These guys have been, speedwise, capable of winning, they've won qualifying races, but they have made some mistakes in the main races.'

Their highest placing has been fifth, but Brad is optimistic that a win is there for the taking on the track. Of tomorrow, he said, 'We hope to be on the podium - top 3. Our guys are all fast enough to do it. You have to have a (good) start, be fast and not make mistakes.'

So what makes a star rider?

'You have to have riding ability, kind of a natural talent,' said Brad, but after that boys 'train like a top athlete.' They cycle, go to gyms and focus on nutrition. 'Most of these kids have been riding since they were three-or -four-years-old,' he said, 'and that's because dad's rode or raced.'

At 16 years, Max, who's father was a professional rider in England, is at the youngest age possible for someone to enter the sport professionally. In the 250 cc range, the top age is around 25 years, whereas in the 450 cc class, riders continue into their 30s.

Brad has worked his way through the sport beginning as a rider - 'I went pretty far at amateur level' - then training as a mechanic before becoming a Team Manager. pic Dave, Ricky, Eric Brad, Karl

Under the Dunlop canopy, there was a small production line energetically fitting tyres onto wheels. The team kit out all 80 bikes in the competition.

Of the new tyres, Brady said, 'They're more intermediate whereas normally it's a hardpack.'

Both Brady - centre pic - and John - left - run their own businesses during the week, Brady an engine repair business in Michigan, and John, a motorcycle shop in Murrieta, Southern California.

Why do they work for supercross at weekends?

'I like it a lot!' said John with great enthusiasm.

'There's something different every week. I get to work with a good group of guys,' said Brady.

Safety is paramount and Risk and Safety Officer, Joe, who works for the promoters, was wandering around the ballpark late this afternoon.

How does he find the burden of responsibility?

'It's pretty laid back. It's all about common sense, there's not a book on it,' said the Ohio man who has been running the safety aspects of the races for 32 years. His number one priority is 'safety of people on the floor. There's no place where you are immune from being hit with a motor cycle.'

A safety upgrade is that every group of workers is colour-coded by their clothing, eg TV crews, of which there are only two, 'house' and CBS, flag stewards, promotors, medics. Instead of having to scrutinize identity tags, Joe can see at a glance where everyone is and, importantly, immediately pick out anyone who shouldn't be there.

Referring to the stands, he said, 'There are people up there - and he mimicked using binnoculars - and they're on the phone to me all the time. This is the greatest motor cycle spectacle in the world. This is very professional.'

And 40,000 people is no great shakes! There are 72,000 in Atlanta, Georgia, he tells me calmly.

Does he enjoy his job? 'I wouldn't be here if I didn't! I like meeting people, you meet people in all phases of life, that's an education,' he said.

Plus, there is one small bonus. For the 18 locations - 17 races and the US Open of Supercross - he sees home only on a Monday and Tuesday.

'Then I'm on vacation seven months of the year!' he said, with just a hint of a smile.

Someone who is ready to champion the riders is Scott, who had just purchased his ticket.

'It seems like they're really athletic, it's a real endurance race, and they don't get the recongnition they deserve for how hard and dangerous the sport is,' he said.

'And I feel they should get better TV time on prime time.'

All the $10 dollar tickets had gone, so Scott had a $25 dollar ticket, but paid $18 dollars with a coupon.

He's looking forward to tomorrow!

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