Red Bull Stomping Ground

One of the fundamental elements of BMX riding has always been the dirt jump. It’s where BMX started, back in the woods or in a field, launching off of a mound of dirt to achieve that almighty moment of weightless airtime. Over the years, that mound of dirt morphed into a take-off and a landing, which got bigger and evolved into a complex series of jumps, lovingly crafted by passionate riders in tucked-away wooded areas. Trail riding is the essence of BMX, the roots of the movement and the bedrock upon which the sport was built.

While competitions on wooden ramps thrived over the years, the contest arena for dirt jumping never seemed to truly capture the skill and essence of trail riding. A hastily-prepared straight line of three jumps failed to emulate the complex nature of the true trails set-up, with the events favoring those who trained on wooden box jumps and foam pits over those who could carve flawless lines through berms, rollers, step-downs and doubles.

In 2005, Red Bull Elevation set out to change that. The massive jumps built on a downhill grade in the pristine natural setting of Whistler, British Columbia challenged every rider, and the bike-handling skills that had been developed from trail riding were a huge asset. Dirt jumping competitions had been revamped, and Red Bull Elevation was the quintessential event, taking place three times in Whistler and once in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Always driven to evolve, Red Bull set out to change the dirt contest landscape once again in 2010. Taking the traditional trails set-up out of its natural setting, Red Bull Stomping Ground brought it to the decidedly more urban environs of downtown Chicago, Illinois. The challenges associated with such a move were many, of course, but the will to create yet another unique dirt event was strong.

After multiple scouting missions to investigate potential venues throughout the industrial heart of the city, a location was chosen. Based on the restrictions of permits, cost and logistics, most cookie-cutter dirt contest courses are erected in less than five days, but Red Bull Stomping Ground would feature an elite build crew with three weeks to craft a challenging layout. The word went out, and BMX riders the world over waited with anticipation. The day that the first shovelful of dirt would be moved loomed on the horizon.

When course-build boss-man Tim “Fuzzy” Hall arrived in Chicago, he was greeted with unsavory news: the original build site had been taken off the table at the last minute. Back-up sites were quickly re-evaluated and a new lot – the site of an old paper mill – was chosen; however, the three-week build window had been compromised. Red Bull didn’t set out to hold just another dirt contest, so the event was postponed to ensure the original goals would remain intact, and Fuzzy and his crew became temporary residents in the Windy City.

Speaking of which, the jump builders were battered with plenty of wind and varying weather conditions, including bouts of rain, over the ensuing weeks. The elements seemed to be conspiring against them, but with the world’s best riders planning their trips to Chicago, nothing could stop Red Bull Stomping Ground from happening.

The building that was once the paper mill had been demolished years before, with the crumbled remains of rock piled up at the site. Concrete loading docks and foundations remained, and the course took shape organically using the on-site features and resources, much like the most famous trail spots in the world had come to exist.

We got to use the old building as a foundation for the course,” says Hall. “We built a downhill grade with all the rock.” The crew put in 12-hour days working from top to bottom, one feature at a time, to craft the course. The neighboring taxi garage supplied the boys with a retired city taxi, sensing they might need to blow off a little steam. Plenty of demolition-derby antics went down on the private lot, and as the crew grew attached to the car, it became obvious that it had to play a part in the event. As you can see by the photos, it was built into the second-to-last jump for some extra Chicago flavor.

Arriving riders were greeted by a complex, 18-hit course, complete with an optional berm section, multiple transfer opportunities and a huge wallride to cap things off. More than 50 riders then set to the task of mastering the unique layout, with some faring better than others. Once the sun set on Thursday evening, however, the lanes at 10 Pin bowling alley served as a great equalizer. Although there were a few impressive throws, let’s just say that night didn’t look like a clinic on proper bowling technique…

By the time Friday’s Qualifiers rolled around, the site had been buffeted by wind for the better part of a week. Riders squeezed in practice runs between gusts and brief showers as the 4 p.m. kickoff approached. With safety concerns a number one priority, the Qualifiers were pushed to Saturday morning, the entire course was covered with tarps and everyone hoped for a brighter day.

Riders hit the course early on Saturday, and Qualifiers began under threatening skies. 26 competitors vied for 10 spots, hoping to join the pre-qualified pros later in the day. Everyone knew it was all on the line, hoping to get one run in before the skies opened up. As the last rider finished his run, that’s exactly what happened, and everyone scrambled to get the tarps in place as the downpour began.

It became obvious that nimble reactions to the ever-changing conditions were going to be more valuable than sticking to the original schedule, so an early-afternoon rider meeting was set and everyone headed back to the hotel while the crew on site stayed glued to the forecast. When the clock struck 1 p.m., the Doppler showed a clear window on the immediate horizon with a gloomy outlook right behind it. It was go-time.

Riders pounced on the course and practice started firing right off the bat – experience had shown that the window of sun and calm could be short-lived, so the riders wasted no time taking stylish runs and dropping big moves. The final results would be decided by a two-run format, followed by a jam session for the Chipotle Best Trick award. First place overall brought a whopping $25,000 with the Best Trick prize being free burritos for a year, so things got serious real quick.

The pool of talent ran extremely deep, with the field ranging from teenagers to vets in their 30s, so the job of judging such a varied group of riders couldn’t have been easy. Everybody had something to offer, but the top ten riders combined killer tricks with consistency, style and flow to come out on top.

TJ Ellis finished in the number ten spot, throwing frontflips and turndown backflips, solid 360 moves and a huge superman downside whip 360. Australia’s Cam White landed just ahead of TJ, despite the fact that he was riding with a fairly recent knee injury. Cam’s so strong that it didn’t really matter, so he was still able to drop many of his usual tricks, including turndown flips, double tailwhips and 720s.

Drew Bezanson was the only rider to make it out of the Qualifying round all the way into the final top ten. He did a giant 360 whip transfer, a cannonball and a Luc-e stall to toothpick on the vert wall to land in eighth. Ryan Guettler packed a lot into his first run to finish seventh, doing a big flip transfer, a couple of whips and a 360 over the step-down, a 720 and a wallride to whip.

Coming in sixth was Corey Bohan, who ran into trouble after a massive 360 lookback transfer in run one, but came back swinging on his second visit to the course. Pure style and plenty of his signature one-footed table variations were simply splendid, as announcer Paul Roberts would put it.

In fifth was Ryan Nyquist, who stepped up the transfer most people were doing by crushing a 720 over it, then threw double barspins, a suicide no-handed 360 and an opposite 360 x-up. The kid who can ride anything, anywhere, anytime – Dennis Enarson – held down fourth by hitting a truckdriver to opposite truckdriver, a nothing to no-footed can-can and a wild three-stage pendulum, throwing three no-footed can-cans in one jump!

The podium was occupied by a couple of new-schoolers and one of the most consistent and stylish dirt-jumping veterans of all time. Third went to Mike “Hucker” Clark, who entertained everyone during one of the rain delays by using the tarps on the course as a slip’n’slide. Always up for a good time but just as reliable when it comes to putting on a show, Hucker landed a nosedive 360 transfer and a double tailwhip 360, followed by a truckdriver to x-up, a turndown and a frontflip for his spot on the podium.

Chris Doyle, as usual, put on a 360 how-to, stuffing every variation possible into them. He did turndown, x-up, tailwhip, invert, topside no-footed can-can and even barspin-to-barspin-back versions – all pushed to their max.

It was Brandon Dosch’s day, however. From lookback, tailwhip and downside whip 360s to double whips and a 720, Brandon was as solid as a rock. To top it off, he also ruled the Best Trick jam session by being the only rider of the day to pull the massive 31-foot transfer at the bottom of the course – with a tailwhip, naturally.

Other highlights from the jam included Hucker’s double-downside whip 360, Enarson’s double whip to opposite double whip, TJ’s frontflip tailwhip, and Guettler’s wild “360 every set” run, including a nac-nac to can-can 360, all topped by a clean 720.

When you pair the world’s best dirt jumpers with a unique, challenging course, things are destined to get wild, so despite the weather complications, Red Bull Stomping Ground went off. “Red Bull contests are always the best contests there are,” Clark said after the event. “The transfer lines were good; Fuzzy and the guys did a great job building the course.”

The contest was super awesome,” Dosch added. “My favorite part was that it was more laid back, not as stressful as some of the big tours. I think everybody had a good time!

Speaking of good times, the wrap party at Debonair Social Club featured a performance by Del the Funky Homosapien, which was a perfect way to cap the event. The festivities were briefly interrupted by a procession of naked cyclists, who were apparently protesting the recent oil spill in the Gulf (although they seemed just as likely to strip down if the price of deep-dish pizza went up). Between that and the celebrations surrounding the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup win, the streets of Chicago definitely kept the world’s best BMX riders quite entertained.

During the party, the Stay Strong award was also presented. Stephen Murray, a legendary dirt jumper who suffered a career-ending injury in 2007, had watched Red Bull Stomping Ground via webcast and chose the rider he thought had charged the hardest, representing the spirit of his own efforts. Once again, it was Brandon Dosch who took the honors, sealing up the hat trick in Chicago.

The riders partied the night away, and the heart of the city reclaimed the terrain on which the course was built. Red Bull Stomping Ground had provided a trails experience within a bustling downtown setting, opening the door for even more dirt contest innovation. What will come next?

Photos by Mark Losey, Nicholas Schrunk and Justin Kosman courtesy of Red Bull Photofiles.
Story courtesy of Red Bull Photofiles.