SALT LAKE CITY — To the casual observer, it may seem there are a lot of ways for a supercross race to go wrong — or right.
The riders who converged on Salt Lake City Thursday morning for Saturday’s Monster Energy AMA Supercross stop at Rice-Eccles Stadium said most races are decided within the first few seconds.
Not only are the bikes (and the engines) better, but the riders are more experienced and more talented.
“There are a lot of good guys in the class now,” said Tyla Rattray, who will be looking for his third podium of the season in the 250 class race. “It used to be a couple of years ago, you could have a bad start and recover and maybe come up to the top three. But now I’d say the start is like 80 percent.”
His Kawasaki teammate Martin Davalos, 26, agrees.
“Yeah, I’d say it’s 80 percent,” said Davalos, who has earned two podiums this season and plans to move up to the sport’s main event, the 450SX class next season. “I’m pretty decent (at starts). There is a lot of pressure, and a lot going on at the line. There are so many competitive guys now.”
Last year he earned third place in the Salt Lake stop, so unlike some of the other riders who are unsure about the course and the altitude, he’s confident.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I love this place. It reminds me of Ecuador, the altitude, the mountains. I’m just happy to be here. It will be a great weekend.”
The native of Ecuador, who now lives in California, said he moved to the U.S. when he was 16 because his father saw promise in the way his son rode motorcycles.
“My dad gave me the chance to try and make a living doing this,” he said. “I always was racing for fun, but he obviously saw something in me.”
Until then, Davalos aspired to play soccer.
“I played soccer during the week and raced motocross on the weekends,” he said.
Living so far from his family has been difficult, but it has also been worth it.
Davalos is hoping to have a great weekend after a disappointing finish last weekend. He won his heat, but then finished ninth overall. He said he doesn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the frustrations of racing.
“You can’t get frustrated,” he said. “You have to forget it and move on.”
Davalos loves the atmosphere of an arena like Rice-Eccles.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” he said. “You can feel the vibrations of the fans.”
Rattray, a native of South Africa, prefers the outdoor motocross races that begin next month.
The 27-year-old said the smaller arenas require near-perfect riding.
“You have to have good technique and everything, timing on the jumps, turns, everything has to be perfect,” he said.
He started riding motocross at the age of 5 when his mother bought him a dirt bike.
“Ever since then, I’ve been racing and riding,” he said. Rattray stuck with it because the lifestyle appealed to him.
“You can see you can make a career of it,” he said. “It pays good money, it’s doing something you love. It beats sitting at a desk in an office all day.”
In addition to rising stars like Davalos and Rattray, Saturday’s event will feature defending champion Ryan Villopoto in the 450SX event. He won the title last year without even racing in Utah, but this year is more competitive. He has seven AMA championships and has a total of 59 wins in his career.
The doors open for practice and qualifying at noon Saturday, with the races starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at www.utahtickets.com or by calling 801-581-UTIX.