This might ruffle some feathers, but when I think of an all-American form of motorsport, I think drag racing (sorry NASCAR fans). In this land of excess and consumption, what’s more Americana than 500 cubic inch big blocks drinking 11.2 gallons of nitro-methane per second, pumping out massive amounts of horsepower (top fuel dragsters make in excess of 8000 horses!), and clearing the quarter mile in under 4.5 seconds at over 300 mph. It’s impressive stuff. Add in the one-on-one competition between two drivers/riders and the emotional highs and lows that come from victory or defeat, and you have a drama-packed event with non-stop action. I mean, have you been to an NHRA drag race before? It’s intense.

That’s why I was really drawn to the Red Bull Straight Rhythm event, held at the Pomona Fairplex recently. While I’ve only been a casual fan of Supercross, for whatever reason, I don’t find myself glued to my TV (err…computer screen, as it were) whenever a race comes on. Straight Rhythm is different. Essentially a SX track without any turns, the SR is a half-mile long straight filled entirely with a rhythm section (get it, Straight Rhythm). Some numbers for you: the introductory Pomona event featured 80 jumps, with the longest one measuring 90 feet. Add in 30 feet of whoops and five back-to-back table tops. The fast guys will be hitting fourth gear in some spots – on a track that takes about 50 seconds to complete.

As an added element of suspense, each competitor lines up at the starting gate like a traditional motocross race, but neither racer can see the other until they launch.

As an added element of suspense, each competitor lines up at the starting gate like a traditional motocross race, but neither racer can see the other until they launch.

While a traditional drag race is all about keeping the throttle pinned, in Straight Rhythm, many times catching major air over a jump is not the way to go. It looks cool, but whenever the rear wheel isn’t putting power to the ground, you’re losing time. Each rider has to balance their time in the air versus their time on the ground to get the best lap time. It’s this juxtaposition between aggression and finesse that I find appealing. Straight Rhythm is a real thinking man’s race, rewarding power, grace, tactics and speed all at once.

You know, I could spend my time trying to explain the event, but why bother when this video captures the excitement better than my words could.

Pretty cool, huh? There are two classes, 250cc and Open, with the latter featuring mostly 450-class machines, but there were some 350s, as well as a 500cc two-stroke called “RM-Zilla” ridden by none other than Travis Pastrana. Unfortunately, he was eliminated rather early in the tournament. He looked a little rusty, but to even hang with the competition, who compete week after week, despite all his years away was a rather impressive feat. Better still, Pastrana knows how to race in style; check out his backflip video on Youtube to see what I’m talking about.

The scrub master, James Stewart, took to the Straight Rhythm course like a fish to water.

The scrub master, James Stewart, took to the Straight Rhythm course like a fish to water.

What impressed me most, however, was just the sheer speed of the top guys. Marvin Musquin, the 250cc class champ, was simply flying. His technique wasn’t flashy, but ruthlessly efficient, his time only slightly more than a second slower than James (when did he stop being called Bubba?) Stewart on the 450. Speaking of Stewart, he and his brother, Malcolm, looked like the class of the field. The man who created the Scrub, James was the number-1 seed all weekend, and blitzed the field on the way to winning the event overall. He had to challenge his brother Malcolm in the process, who gave his big brother a run for his money and finished third. If it hadn’t been for a botched jump in the second run of their best-of-three matchup, Malcolm could have made his way to the finals.

Big brother James might have been a trailblazer in the sport, but Malcolm has picked up almost all of his brother’s moves. He scrubs arguably better than James, and from a talent standpoint the two are virtually on par. But James has experience and just a few more tricks up his sleeve. Not to mention he is an absolute demon in the whoops.

In case it wasn’t clear by now, the Red Bull Straight Rhythm event was a huge success in my eyes. Great fun to watch, as each athlete continually tried new ways to go faster. Sometimes it worked, other times it didn’t, but it created real variety. Most importantly, mistakes can happen anywhere on the course, even at the end, and because of this the race truly isn’t over until it’s over.

The Brothers Stewart, racing side by side until the very end, when older brother James capitalized on a mistake by Malcolm.

The Brothers Stewart, racing side by side until the very end, when older brother James capitalized on a mistake by Malcolm.

Did you get a chance to watch Straight Rhythm? If so, I’m curious what you thought about it. Let me know in the comments section.

  • Backroad Bob

    Great idea and the crowds proved it.

  • Craig Hoffman

    It’s the head to head nature of this event that is so compelling. Straight Rhythm distills SX racing down it’s essential core. No lappers, no block passing, just straight up balls out attacking of SX obstacles. Pretty cool.

    Travis may have been eliminated early, but the man sure knows how to put on an interesting show! Good to see James still has it. James has been a bit problematic as of late.