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Dave Prater wants to keep SuperMotocross riders guessing in 2024

Conceived in the forced quietude of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2021, the SuperMotocross World Championship (SMX) entered its second season in Anaheim with the Monster Energy Supercross kickoff.

Now, with one champion crowned following a dramatic season that witnessed Jett Lawrence defeat Cooper Webb, and one race in the books for the Pro Motocross season, it is fitting to look forward to the three-round playoff series that begins September 7, 2024, at zMax Dragway in Concord, North Carolina.

SuperMotocross was created with two purposes in mind. Supercross and Motocross already shared athletes and ran their series in a manner so they did not compete head-to-head on any given weekend. Still, SMX further unified stadium and outdoor racing. The SMX series took the cooperation of friendly rivals to a deeper level and created a playoff akin to what one is accustomed to seeing in stick and ball sports.

But there was something else the executives wanted to accomplish. They wanted to disrupt the sport from the inside.

Jett Lawrence congratulates Chase Sexton SMX 2023 Rd 01 zMax Dragway.JPG
Jett Lawrence congratulates Chase Sexton SMX 2023 Rd 01 zMax Dragway.JPG

Track Maps revealed for 2024 SuperMotocross World Championship; ticket sales announced

SuperMotocross Priority Members can begin purchasing tickets April 2, 2024; general public sales begin April 9.

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  • Dan Beaver

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"The challenge this year is to try and replicate [what we did in 2023] and keep [the riders] guessing," Dave Prater, Vice President, Supercross, told NBC Sports just before the season finale in Salt Lake City. "Now that they have a year under their belt it’s going to be tougher on us to surprise them. ... I’d love to not show them the track. We’d release the track Saturday morning. … That’s the biggest thing; it’s not so much what we learned as to how to improve on that and keep them guessing."

SuperMotocross has already released track maps for the three playoff races, but they also did that in 2023 and riders found surprises that were not revealed by those one-dimensional maps. Riders were left to guess about the rigidity of their suspensions and other critical components of bike setups.

Chase Sexton got the formula right at zMax Dragway and snapped Lawrence’s 11-race winning streak on a 450. Ken Roczen won the following week at Chicagoland Speedway, and Lawrence was the third winner in as many rounds for the finale at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

"Track design for the SMX championship was an absolute success," Prater said. "We’re going to have to duplicate that this year."

That success was echoed by the other variable of the SMX equation.

"We did a good job of bringing Motocross indoors," said Tim Cotter, Director, MX Sports Pro Racing. "When you listen to racers and they would say ‘when we were in the Motocross section,’ they figured out that was the ‘Motocross’ section and we truly did have different sections."

The SuperMotocross tracks in 2023 were true hybrids. While they were purpose-built facilities—a strength of the Supercross series—much of zMax and Chicagoland was built on natural-bottomed courses instead of the hard base of a football or baseball stadium—and that was expertise Motocross brought to the table.

"It’s rare that you get consensus from any group, especially our group of athletes and race teams, simply because they are so competitive," Prater said. "We had a steering committee meeting right after LA last year and asked everyone what they thought and what could we do differently or better, and to a man, they all said, ‘We got exactly what said we would get and kept us guessing,’ and it was challenging. Everyone seemed to love it, so we need to replicate that and take it up a notch."

SMX Chicagoland 2023 Jett Lawrence clears the fence.JPG
SMX Chicagoland 2023 Jett Lawrence clears the fence.JPG

A Meeting of Minds

Combining unique characteristics from the two series required a meeting of minds. That was another 'absolute success' of the inaugural SMX championship.

"The collaboration is just unbelievable," Cotter said. "Anytime you can get people together to collaborate and really check their habits the door, sit around the table, and talk about what is best — only good things come out of that. ... Now that we're together and we have learned to trust and believe in one another, when we come across an issue, there's five people in the room to help solve it opposed to two so it really works out well."

For all the similarities apparent from the outside — both series pit dirt bike racers against one another at the pinnacle of their sport — Supercross and Motocross have distinct personalities.

Supercross's parent company, Feld Entertainment, is a large corporation that includes ice capades, Monster Truck competition, and the Ringling Brothers circus; Pro Motocross is owned and operated by the Coombs family with roots as deep as the sport. What might have once been considered a weakness to the other party has revealed strength instead.

"When we got together, it seemed like there were so many differences between the two groups, and they are different in ways," Prater said. "Our company is a bit larger. They’re more grassroots and that’s what we’ve been able to key on, the grassroots marketing."

Given their size, Supercross helped Pro Motocross see some hidden benefits in how to travel personnel and gain knowledge from ticketing metrics.

Motocross introduced new marketing techniques, not the least of which was specialty merchandising unique to each round and venue. In fact, merchandising is so vital to Motocross that Carrie Coombs-Russell, CEO of MX Sports Pro Racing, takes a hands-on approach to creating the t-shirts and peripherals that give each of the 11 rounds a distinct personality.

SMX Los Angeles Aaron Plessinger opening ceremonies.JPG
SMX Los Angeles Aaron Plessinger opening ceremonies.JPG

In 2023, the three venues each revealed distinct characteristics.

Fresh off the outdoor season, the SMX-opener at zMax was contested on a course that had more Supercross elements than the other two. Given Chicagoland's long and wide frontstretch, more Motocross elements were added, including a last-minute wall jump on one of the longest straights. The Coliseum's unique characteristic was the runup to the peristyle that was so iconic in the formative years of the stadium series.

In 2024, zMax Dragway returns with Chicagoland replaced by Texas Motor Speedway. The Coliseum gives way to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Mixing up the venues will continue to be part of the strategy in the future.

"Venue [selection] is very challenging," Cotter said. "Dave Prater, this is his vision, and he is really the brainchild of what SuperMotocross could be, he had some big visions. When he told us he wanted to go to the LA Coliseum, we thought it was crazy but he pulled it off — we pulled it off together and it was great.

"[We're] looking at horse tracks. He mentioned one day that [he'd like] to go to Churchill Downs, not that they are going to let us in there, but you've got to think out-of-the-box. It's hard to find venues to let us spread out that can still hold 40,000 people and stretch your legs out. Those are hard to find. Car tracks are obvious that you can do that at, but there are popup stadiums we're seeing and how we parlay some other events — perhaps an F1 event that has the infrastructure that we can come in on their heels."

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