Arguably the most unique supercross event in Australian history
We take a look back at arguably the most spectacular supercross or motocross event ever held in Australia. The Red Bull City-X dropped our sport into the centre of Sydney for everyone to see
STORY BY SHANE BOOTH PHOTOGRAPHY BY DA ARCHIVES
I remember when the rumours started floating around about this event during the regular racing season. There was talk of a track where we would be jumping off the back of dump trucks, riding up stairs and launching across a water gap. All this sounded pretty crazy and cool, but then when I heard the location I decided that was even crazier. Dirt bikes racing around Darling Harbour? A very cool idea but hard to imagine it happening, even with Red Bull behind it. As the months rolled on, there was more and more talk about it. We began to realise this wasn’t going away. Slowly, more details started to pop up and because it was known early on it would be invite only, the question on everybody’s lips was, who would get a start? Once the list was finalised with my name on it, I began to realise this was going to be the most professional moto event I had ever been part of. Once we received our invite to enter, Red Bull had us supply all sorts of details about ourselves, along with photos for print media and the television coverage. We received a track map which showed obstacles that were still hard to believe, even at that point. There was a pond, trucks, tugboats, berms made from plywood, and to top it off, a double over a water gap. Not your average supercross track.
Heading into the centre of Sydney to race a dirt bike wasn’t totally foreign from a racer’s point of view, but it was usually to race inside the entertainment centre on a small but normal track. This was different. We were out in the open, right in the centre of Darling Harbour, and it was a free event. It was there to be seen. Darling Harbour surely had thousands of people visiting on any regular Saturday, so when those people stumbled across this invasion of dirtbikes, it was going to command their attention. To top it off, the weather couldn’t have been better for an event literally over the water; a hot sunny day made the event look even more spectacular.
We were there early in the morning. The pit area was set up on grass surrounded by palm trees. It was a little oasis by the water — even that was impressive. Getting out and walking the track was high on the list of priorities; we all wanted to see it for ourselves. A TV crew was snatching us to the side for interviews, asking for our predictions for the event and who would end up in the drink first.
Walking the track required a different approach to the norm. We had to walk it one way first, then backtrack and walk the other half. The track headed out onto the water on barges, then turned 90-degrees left and straight up an up ramp. The corner had a clunky berm made from plywood that led straight into the jump. Then there was a water gap of about four or five metres that completely separated the track. Upon landing there was another 90-degree flat turn, then we headed along a barge and back onto dry land. There was literally a landscaped section in the centre of a double that included a pond filled with water, which also had a fountain that randomly squirted water directly upwards. If you were unlucky it would squirt you right in the face mid-flight.
Following the garden section was a double that used a tipped-up dump truck as an up ramp. If you rolled off the top of the up ramp you would end up on the roof of the trucks cabin and then proceed to go over the handlebars and onto the ground. Of the whole track there was only one obstacle you didn’t have to jump first lap out there. Sure, none of the jumps was huge, but that was not normal.
There were a few little modifications the officials had to make before we could race; really, it was just a matter of putting some foam padding around a couple of steel bollards that were directly in the centre of the track. They weren’t going anywhere and forced the pack to split either side of them during the race. My dad, John Booth, was the steward for the event and had to trust that the riders were going to ride to the conditions. He’d been around all the guys long enough to rely on them to do the right thing. After all, there was no rulebook for a track like this; the normal track licensing wasn’t going to apply to this track, that’s for sure. Red Bull was safety-conscious too, and had everything in place to ensure the day moved forward without any more risk than necessary. There was a zodiac in the water at the jump, with divers on board ready to collect anyone who ended up in there, as I would later find out.
WHO GOT WET?
The racing itself seemed to take a back seat to the actual occasion. There were some great races, but as you can imagine the track didn’t lend itself to passing opportunities. The race format was fairly standard, with heats, an LCQ and final. Red Bull athlete at the time, Craig Anderson, dominated the day with his patented holeshots and mistake-free laps to win both the 125 and 250 classes. The usual suspects for that time were up the pointy end, including Craig Carmichael, Paul Broomfield, Paul Grant, Shane Metcalfe and Daryl Hurley. There was also a very impressive freestyle show during the event, in which Ben Jones dazzled with some of the biggest whips ever seen at the time. The crowd loved every second of it.
Yes, there was a little carnage on the water jump. Three riders had a run in with it throughout the day, including yours truly. I managed to get a little trigger-happy on the 125 and break into some wheelspin on the plywood up ramp. Losing drive but committed past the point of no return, I lobbed off the up ramp, actually making it to the other side — just not quite well enough! My rear wheel was hanging off the edge. I planted both feet but I slowly slid and went over backwards into the water. My brand-new YZ 125 was on the bottom of the harbour and I was cooling off with a nice swim. West Australian Aaron Klanjscek also had a moment which resulted in him ending up in the water and his bike dangling precariously from one of the cables used to hold the barges in place. The third rider was Victorian Cheyne Boyd, whose bike went in, but he managed to stay dry, losing a bit of skin in the process.
Form a rider’s point of view, it was a cool atmosphere to race in. People just kept coming; I guess as word spread about what was happening, more and more spectators rolled in. I remember the overpass above us being that packed it was starting to cause traffic problems. There were boats parked up, packed with people, and just about any vantage point in Darling harbour was used to catch a glimpse of what was going on.
WHY WAS THERE ONLY ONE?
A very good question. Why did such a great event only happen once? There were all sorts of reasons flying around as to why that event never happened again, but there was never an official one given. Maybe it was so successful and drew such a crowd that it scared off the city council. I’m sure there were some environmental hoops that would have been put in place after the initial event too. I would think it exceeded most predictions about how popular it would be; it did clog up Darling Harbour for a day and I’m sure not every person who visited at that time liked dirt bikes. Whatever the reasons, I feel privileged that I was racing at the right time to be part of it.
FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE HARBOUR TO THE START LINE
After my brand-new YZ 125 took a trip to the bottom of Sydney Harbour, a bunch of legends went into action bringing it back to life again. My mechanic Greg Masters, along with then Kawasaki mechanic and good mate Byron Draper, tore my bike apart. It was upside down, spark plug out pumping out the salt water. They ditched the fuel, air filter, gearbox oil and removed the carby to be cleaned out. While this was happening, I was being followed by TV cameras and trying to change all of my soaked gear. Boots and helmet that have been fully submerged feel like they have tripled in weight!
As my bike was coming back together, my next race was approaching just as quickly. The bike was upright again and fresh fuel was being tipped in. It started with a bang first kick but it sounded like it had no muffler — it made your ears bleed. The sodden muffler did no silencing at all, so it was a sprint to the van to get a replacement. Meanwhile, I headed to the start line and raised my hand to get an extra two minutes. Just as the 30-second board went up, my bike rolled onto the start line and I proceeded to grab a holeshot! It was about half a lap in when the events of the previous hour hit me, and I went from racer to riding around thinking about what just happened.