Waves of unmuffled engine noise reverberated off the walls of the Los Angeles Coliseum last Saturday night, as masked, helmeted figures sailed through the darkness on motorcycles, avoiding the occasional pileups on a rutted, muddy course that forced the riders to keep at least one wheel in the air about half the time. This was the Superbowl of Motocross, a hyped-up, flipped-out sporting extravaganza that's all mud, sweat and gears, an event full of 20-year-old millionaires with colorful nicknames. These boys just want to have fun.
Stadium motocross is different from regular motocross, which is conducted somewhere out there in the hills, and everything else, for that matter. In what other sport could you find motorcycles flying beneath the peristyle of the Coliseum and completing a Carl Lewis-style long jump to the stadium floor while 62,699 sudsed-up whackozoids scream for more noise, dirt and pills? At what other event would the sport's controversial impresario be able to count the house and call the shots while lying in a hospital bed recuperating from an injury suffered while he was racing? Stadium motocross has fireworks, beauty queens, truck giveaways and a list of corporate sponsors so long that at times it reads like the Dow Jones ticker tape.
True, plain old motocross is pretty wild, with the riders—frequently described as "the best-conditioned pro athletes in the world," at least by motorcycle magazines speaking through the mouths of physiologists—flying over rough terrain. But move the sport into a stadium and give competitors a chance to get rich, and you've got something else. Supercross is what Mike Goodwin calls it.
Goodwin, 39, is the sport's inventor, a fact he repeats about 100 times a day. He's a tireless promoter of Supercross and himself, not necessarily in that order. Last week, while preparations were being made for the Coliseum spectacular, Goodwin was in traction, first in his Laguna Beach home and then in the nearby South Coast Medical Center, under treatment for a couple of crushed vertebrae. The injury was sustained while Goodwin was indulging in another of his myriad passions, off-road car racing. Goodwin is a former music promoter—he did the first Burt Bacharach concert, which in his parlance means he invented Bacharach. According to press releases, he's also a gourmet whose favorite food is p�t� de foie gras; a motocross grand prix national champion in the 30-and-over division (well, really it's a state championship, but all the best riders are from California); a world champion spear fisherman and underwater photographer (Goodwin likes to pass out copies of his award-winning picture of a sunken ship); a hunter who has killed a bear (brown) and a boar (wild) with a pistol; a real estate developer; a hotel owner; and a boat broker. And we're only touching the surface. The man is so busy that he always has two cassette tape recorders with him, one for his super-important brainstorms and another for merely important thoughts—plus a third that his wife, Diane, produces if one of the other two fails. Says Goodwin: "My goal is to be the best, and to live two lifetimes at once."
Tape recorders, in fact, are a big feature of the million-dollar-plus house the Goodwins have drilled into the side of a cliff that looms over the Pacific Ocean. The place is wired with six computerized tape recorders so that Goodwin can plug his enlightened, 3 a.m. ideas right into the "mainframe" downstairs and his secretary can have the paper work all ready for him in the morning. He picks it up right after he takes 11 minutes for brushing his teeth, shaving and combing his hair—Goodwin times everything—and as he begins another day of epic deal-making over a phone that has pasted upon it the admonition, SPEAK LOW AND SLOW.
A dozen years ago Goodwin was more or less broke. Then he invented Super-cross. The idea came to him after he had quit the music business and headed off aimlessly with Diane in a van, ending up in Central America. Goodwin was in Belize when he thought of moving motocross into a stadium, and before you could say " Abner Doubleday" his brainchild was a success. Goodwin is quick to note that Supercross has an average attendance of close to 57,000, which puts it in a league with the NFL. In fact, Super-cross drew the largest crowd in the history of Anaheim Stadium: 70,205 in 1982.
Aside from the crowds, the big surprise in Supercross is that many of the riders are making big money. The money comes from promotion-minded Japanese motorcycle manufacturers who sign the top riders to contracts worth as much as $300,000 a year. Then there are the bonus clauses. Honda, for instance, would pay Johnny (O'Show) O'Mara, 23, a $100,000 bonus if he could wrap up the national Supercross championship, which is based on points earned in a 15-race series held in stadiums from Buffalo to Seattle. L.A. was the final event of the year, and O'Mara had a 43-point lead going into it. Second place in the standings, however, was worth nothing to O'Mara; if he failed, his new nickname could be O'Pshaw.
"We're talking serious stuff," said Ken Clark, who's a team manager for Yamaha.
Most of the leading Supercross riders use special 250-cc factory bikes that cost the manufacturers hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop. The motorcycles are fast, and, it's hoped, durable. They also have 13 inches of suspension travel to cushion the rider against the jolts from a very rough course. At the Coliseum there were several spectacularly bumpy spots, among them the Peristyle Jump, where riders rocketed through the arch of the stadium and remained airborne down past 70 rows of bedazzled fans; the Catapult, a high ramp that sent the cycles about 30 feet in the air; and the Triple Jump, where riders not only had to fly, but also had to land precisely on the downside of a ramp 50 feet away.
"It just chews you up," says rider Broc (Golden Boy) Glover, a 24-year-old with a shock of snow-white hair and a matinee idol's profile. "When you get damage, half the time you don't even know it. After the race you think, 'God, that hurts.' This sport is brutal.