Mountain bike LA Coliseum Supercross intermission race

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In 1985 I was working at JT Racing, and we were just starting to develop protective gear for the “new” sport of mountain biking. I was surprised how many motocrossers didn’t know about mountain bikes.

To help publicize the sport I came up with the brainstorm of promoting a mountain bike race during the halftime of a Supercross race at the LA Coliseum. I worked with my longtime friend – Stadium Motosport’s Helen (Molleta) Smith. I knew Helen back from the old days at Saddleback in the early 70s. The mountain bike intermission race during the halftime of the Carlsbad USGP was the template for the idea to do it during a Supercross. I raced Carlsbad on my Specialized Stumpjumper in the summer of ‘85.

Byron Friday and Brian Skinner helped to co-promote the event with me. Haro Bicycles stepped up to be the primary sponsor. Other big supporters were Shimano, and Fat Tire Flyer Magazine with Charlie Kelly. Long time philanthropist Al Farrell also contributed some cash. (Al’s behind the scenes donation to so many mountain bike events in the early years cannot be appreciated enough. RIP Al). I promoted it, got the entries, coordinated our spots in the pits and wrote press releases for the SX program. I also test rode the track and did the staging and scoring. This race was John Tomac‘s very first pro mountain bike win. He was just a BMX kid from Michigan with a mohawk when I first met him at a downhill race in SoCal. His win took everyone by surprise since he was an unknown at this point. The race had such a unique format that nobody really knew who would succeed, motocrossers, downhill mountain bikers, cross country racers or BMX racers. Mike Bell, an athlete who excelled in two sports, took a second in the first year in 1985, then came back to win in 1986’s second race. Here’s what Rob Rupe remembers about the event : “Tring to get the memories straight in my head about the race-there were 2 correct?-…I Remember leading the first lap;Jumping down the parastyle and feeling All the energy of the 60-80 thousand Supercross Fanatics and being passed by my then young brother in law John Tomac mid flight. As my Sprinter legs kicked in and a handful of other racers went by—those would be some of my memories.”

At the time, Jimmy Deaton was acknowledged as the fastest downhill mountain bike racer. Here’s what he had to say about the night: “I remember I was just as excited to watch the super cross as much as to race. My free hub broke right after the start and I had to ride the whole race without being able to stop pedaling. So I don’t think I did that well. I finished though.”

One of the favorites, BMXer Stu Thompson, had a big get off during practice : “I ended up breaking my collarbone when trying to jump a pair of doubles at the bottom of the Peristyle up portion. From what I have been told I overshot the landing and crashed. I don’t remember as I knocked myself out for a second. I do remember a super sore shoulder and spitting up some blood. I had modified one of my 24” BMX cruisers with gears in order to race the event.”

Here’s how Stebe Boehmke remembered the Supercross course : “It was hard to go fast on the track. It was so chewed up from moto knobs, there was kind of “one line” that would kinda work if you could get into it. It felt a little embarrassing to go so slow compared to the motos, but we knew how rad our sport was on the trails we normally rode, so it was OK to sacrifice ourselves like lambs to the slaughter, to expose our sport and the bitchen machines we had under our butts.”

Jim Harlow described the track like this : “I was prepared for smooth fast dirt conditions, but it was sandy spongy clay, like a sprint car track. And huge deep ruts! I did okay in the “race” (I think?).” Note : Jim got 22nd overall out of 57 riders and won the Veterans class. This despite the fact that he was “still recovering from a bad crash by a fire truck in 1984 (broken bones). I think at the time of the event, I had been off work since January. Did a lot of riding & training but still not 100%.“

Helen Smith who helped organize the race and worked for promoter Mike Goodwin reminisses : “I do have a few memories of the first ever stadium mountain bike race despite it occurring a generation ago. The one that I think readers might enjoy results from my perspective as the person managing the event production. Although there was much thought and discussion about what to expect while the mountain bikes were on the track, I’ll admit that I miscalculated the crowd reaction. We knew that during the race it would be much quieter than the motorcycles, but from the stands it was essentially silent. I was into jazz at that time, so I selected a Manhattan Transfer piece that would build and crescendo about the time I expected the riders to round the far corner from the peristyle start. Before the song got to that point, my boss, Jeanne Sleeper, came roaring into the production booth to tell me to change the music because beer fights were breaking out in the stands. It seems that we lost our audience’s attention without the roar of engines. Well, I scurried into the sound booth and we fumbled to switch out the cassette tapes (yes, it was the 80s) to one provided by our sponsor, the much beloved but now defunct LA rock station KMET. It was almost like a lullaby. The crowd settled down and the race finished, even the stragglers. Needless to say, I learned a huge lesson that day: know your audience.“

To make things more exciting I offered $50 to whoever could jump off the LA Coliseum peristyle the furthest. We even had somebody stand there for the race to measure who launched the furthest. Brian Berger was a BMX rider who got winded on the very first lap and after pushing his bike up the ramp, took a break at the top to catch his breath. A little later, all refreshed, he gets a running start and just launches to win the cash. After the successful LA race, I moved to Hawaii and started putting on mountain bike races. One of the first was another Supercross intermission race, this time in Aloha Stadium. We did the Aloha Stadium intermission mountain bike race for two years.

Written on September 29, 2023