Dirt Bike Riders Take Flight
At Annual Pikes Peak Supercross
Over a two-day period leading up to the Pikes Peak Supercross, the event crew will transform the flat rodeo grounds of Norris-Penrose Event Center, with 175 truckloads of dirt making for hills that will send riders some 20 feet into the air.
Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, this isn’t the stuff of a beloved superhero, but it should have you oohing and aahing nonetheless at the spectacle of riders aboard modified motorcycles taking on manmade mountains of dirt and soaring 20 to 30 feet in the air. And you don’t have to go far to see it all firsthand when some 400 riders converge on Norris-Penrose Event Center on June 9 for the 31st Pikes Peak Supercross, the largest race of its kind in Colorado.
“For someone who doesn’t know much about this sport, you have to see it live,” says Colorado Springs pro-class racer Mitchell Gifford, who graduated from Doherty High School in 2014. “By the time you hit the triple, you’ve built up some speed. You can see into the parking lot over the stadium. It’s pretty high. This is the biggest local supercross that we have, and to have it in my hometown is definitely cool.”
Motocross, widely considered the most popular form of motorcycle racing, takes riders across winding, dirt-packed off-road courses, fraught with steep hills, sharp drops and hairpin turns. If that weren’t enough, they’re racing against scores of other competitors who want to beat them to the finish line.
In the Pikes Peak region, the sport has a hardy following, fueled by the state’s rabid, outdoor lifestyle and coupled with dirt-track facilities such as Aztec Family Raceway, Wildrat Raceway and RAM Off-Road Park, all located just east of Colorado Springs off Highway 94.
“As we all know, Colorado is a pretty active state,” says John Murray, the Pikes Peak Supercross event owner since 2005 and also an active motocross competitor. “The extremists seem to flock to motocross as it gives you a good shot of adrenaline. There’s definitely a love for it around here.”
From April through October, 17 events sanctioned by the Littleton-based Sports Riders Association of Colorado will take place up and down the Front Range, including additional local races scheduled for June 17 at Aztec and Aug. 12 at Wildrat.
In the supercross format, all the thrills and spills of motocross are brought into a stadium, where fans of all ages can enjoy the action.
It’s not only the spectators that represent a wide variety of age groups.
Riders as young as 4 years old to those in their 60s will take part in the festivities on race day, with the 7 p.m. headline event featuring professional riders competing for $5,000 in prize money.
Gifford recalls his early days racing at Norris-Penrose, going back to when he was 5 or 6. As he progressed in the ranks, he realized it was more than just a weekend hobby. By 2016, he was SRAC Open Pro year-end champion, claimed first place in a handful of local races in 2017 and finished fourth overall in the top pro division at the Pikes Peak Supercross.
He’s able to race for a living, but it’s come at a physical toll.
“I’ve broken a lot of arms, a lot of collarbones, ribs and my leg in my career,” says Gifford, who spent three months earlier this season on the sidelines after suffering a broken arm that required surgery to insert a plate and several screws. “It’s a matter of time, but I race because I love to do it. If I can make money and afford my stuff, that keeps me happy.”
Promoting races and seeing crowds that ooh and aah make Murray happy. Since 2000, he’s been promoting races of all kinds in Colorado, the past 13 with the Pikes Peak Supercross.
Come rain or shine, the engines will roar and the dirt bikes will soar in a transformed Norris-Penrose Event Center venue that will look very little like a rodeo arena.
That’s what happens when six dump trucks haul in 175 loads of dirt over a two-day period.
“We start out with a flat landscape,” Murray says. “We’ll have six dump trucks and two loaders, and it’ll take a day to move the dirt in. While that’s happening, our track builder (Travis Bannister) will have things started and completed in a day and a half. We’ll test it out, have a public practice the day before and be ready to go Saturday morning.”
Tickets are available online or on race day at the Norris-Penrose Event Center, located at 1045 Lower Gold Camp Road. For more information, visit pikespeaksupercross.com