Preparation a dirty job

Motorcycles: This weekend, the Baltimore Arena becomes an indoor track for the Arenacross races.

January 22, 1999|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

For hockey, the floor of the Baltimore Arena is a sheet of gleaming ice. A carpet of hay greets the circus and polished hardwood goes down when basketball comes to town.

But for the roar of indoor motocross racing -- in which the topography of open fields, landfills and quarries is re-created inside concrete sports palaces -- you need Mother Earth.

Lots of it.

Tons of it.

Yard upon rich, brown yard of it.

More than 120 trucks teeming with local fill dirt lumbered into the Baltimore Arena this week in preparation for this weekend's PACE Motor Sports Arenacross series of indoor motorbike races.

The dirt was dumped right on top of the arena's concrete floor, and over the next 48 hours, a pair of bulldozers sculpted it into straightaways, embankments and short, sharp hills off which the bikes are launched.

This is the Arenacross tour's first visit to Baltimore and, for the uninitiated, a press release describes the three hours of action quite simply: "Ride like you just stole the bike or get run over."

The jumps send man and machine flying high as a pigeon, more than 70 feet; 30 riders racing like the wind while pulling stunts known as the "Nac-Nac" (in which it appears that the rider is dismounting in mid-air) and the "Dorothy" (in which a rider brings both of his legs over the handlebars and clicks his heels while airborne).

The checkered flag comes down at 7: 30 p.m. today for the pros -- young people mostly, between 17 and the near edge of 30. The event continues tomorrow night and culminates at 2 p.m. Sunday, when more than 400 amateurs will pay between $40 and $55 to whip over the embankments.

The circuit's hotshots performing these and other tricks -- like "The Superman," in which the rider appears to fly -- include Buddy Antunez, Cliff Palmer, Jeff Willoh, Jeremy Buehl and Denny Stephenson.

The track is "tamed down" a bit for the weekend warriors, who never took the gamble of quitting their day jobs for a shot at prize money that runs as high as $100,000 at the end of the 17-city tour.

On Tuesday, a crew of four arrived in advance of the racers to usher in the rented soil and sculpt it to transform the arena into an appropriate dirt track. Baltimore-area dirt is among the best, according to crew member Mark Price, 21, because it has a lot of clay in it.

"It has to be done perfect," said Price on Wednesday night as Kyle and Shane Schaefer, cousins from Milwaukee, pushed the dirt around with bulldozers. All three are former racers who wanted to make a living while staying close to the sport.

"There's really no perfect track, but it has to be competitive, has to be made difficult so it's a challenge for the riders," said Price. "We wet it down and pack it in. When the water dries, it makes the dirt nice and hard. Loamy dirt is not so good and topsoil ruts up. Clay is the best because it dries like cement."

PACE's dirt bill for this weekend, including the rental of the bulldozers and salary for Price, the Schaefer cousins and their boss, is $25,000.

When it's all over, they'll truck the dirt back out.

And what remains will get swept away with brooms.

Pub Date: 1/22/99

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