- The 25-foot-wide dirt track must be identical for each rider, requiring extra precision.
- The track near the shore at Huntington Beach requires 9,000 yards of gear.
- The 1,800 foot long track will feature 80 obstacles, all built to exacting specifications.
On the 25-foot width of the Red Bull Straight Rhythm motocross track, builder Jason Baker cannot allow any variation. The unique nature of two motocross riders, racing side by side on an identical dirt course, requires exacting precision for the 1,800 feet of track.
“The best way to sum up Straight Rhythm is that it’s a supercross drag race,” said Baker, owner of Florida-based Dream Traxx. Popular mechanics of the track nestled against the shore in Huntington Beach, California.
“We do a half-mile drag race and the runners have to clear 80 obstacles. Both sides (of the track) must be absolutely identical.
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Red Bull is bringing this unique brand of racing to Huntington Beach on October 15 for the first time, turning a beachfront parking lot into a dirt road. This will require Baker and his team to transport 9,000 meters of equipment and use a stable of machines to create a track for the 32 competitors vying for the Straight Rhythm title.
“It’s like building a road,” says Baker. “We are a construction company and our product is an abstract version of what a typical construction company would do, but the process is the same.”
To start, Baker strives for a solid flat base with good compactness for maximum consistency. “The process of making it is no different than a road, building the highway near the beach where the course is,” he says. “Then we go in and add those obstacles. Part of the process is to keep everything to the most specific and demanding levels, the distances between jumps, the straight line, there can be no curvature impacting the distance between jumps.
Dream Traxx is working with Trimble to integrate the technology. Baker creates a digital map of the trail and converts this file into a 3D model through Trimble’s software suite. Now in digital form, the file has two primary purposes, one for Baker and builders, and one for everyone else.
By working the file in an augmented reality setup, it allows site visitors to walk the route and use their phone to understand the layout before a speck of dirt is laid. This can help the ESPN team understand where they should place the cameras, by getting an idea of how high a jump should be. This can help an event planner understand where they can lay cables.
For Baker, however, the design loads right into the cab of the bulldozer. Dream Traxx uses GPS for machine automation and laser guidance, allowing Baker to build without leaving his cab for measurements.
Straight Rhythm is a different type of track, so it needs a different style of construction. Most motocross tracks are designed with curves and turns mixed in with the obstacles, all designed so that a rider can take on the full width as they please. Straight Rhythm divides the 25 feet in half, with white chalk marking out the middle, giving each rider 12.5 feet to work with.
“Because it’s straight, you have to stay in your lane the whole time,” says Baker. “If the right side or the left side has any deviation or variation, you’re dealing with top pros, and they can notice the difference.”
The process begins with dirt. A logistics team travels to construction sites and local mines to collect soil samples. They find 9,000 meters of material that they can truck – expecting to be trucked around the clock with 30 trucks – from a reasonably close location. The optimal dirt is a mixture of 60-70% clay and sand. The clay allows for compaction, while the sand allows the soil to accept water penetration for optimum grip between the tires and the earth.
Initially, crews use rubber-and-tire track machines to build the first 100 feet of base, so as not to damage the asphalt parking lot. With the base down, including building scaffolding to climb up and over the public restrooms that sit in the middle of the track, teams will begin building super-compact pads that are 25 feet wide and 2 3 feet high from which they can jump. “The technology shows where each piece is, where to cut and where to stack obstacles,” says Baker.
Each obstacle, or feature, can vary from a single 3-foot-high jump (in the shape of an A-frame) to a table up to 20 feet long. The course is divided into five main sections with a large ‘speed control’ feature marking the end of one section and the start of the next.
“We take all of these different features and place them in random order,” says Baker. “We’re basically building a puzzle so the runners can figure it out.” Each runner will then decide which jumps they can “double” or “triple”, putting together combinations of jumps to determine the fastest pace to run the course.
Once built, riders have the opportunity to test the track before competition. The construction team remains present throughout everything. Baker says the key aspect of maintenance is making the track material compact enough to hold up, but not so compact that it can’t accept water. “We don’t want extremely harsh and dusty conditions,” he explains. “We like to have a bit of moisture for traction.” The areas that crews pay particular attention to during the competition are the jump landings. Anywhere a tire lands at high rpm, “that tire is almost like a saw blade on dirt that cuts every time it hits the top,” Baker says.
The fact that this is a new lead in a place never used before has Baker worrying about the logistics of staying in the timeline. “How many feet of track do we have to do per day? That’s the only unknown,” he said. “Something as simple as two trucks having problems importing materials could add up. It’s the logistics that keep me awake at night.
But when he has all the hardware in place, he’s confident the precision construction will make the track flawless. “It’s one of the first motorcycle-specific events I’ve been to where technology is part of the build,” he says. “I’m super excited because the level of precision we’re going to deliver is truly unprecedented.”
Tim Newcomb is a journalist based in the Pacific Northwest. It covers stadiums, sneakers, equipment, infrastructure, etc. for a variety of publications, including Popular Mechanics. His favorite interviews include interviews with Roger Federer in Switzerland, Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles and Tinker Hatfield in Portland.