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Supercross primer for this weekend’s event at Raymond James Stadium

Broc Tickle, a 450SX rider, is part of the Monster Energy Supercross Series field that hits Tampa this weekend. (Feld Entertainment, Inc.)
By Jim Tomlin, Times Correspondent
Tuesday 20 February 2018 19.30

How on earth does one bury dirt?

Not bury something in dirt. Actually bury dirt.

There is a difference between normal dirt in the neighbor’s petunia garden and the dirt that will lay above the turf at Raymond James Stadium for Saturday’s Monster Energy Supercross event. The latter surface creates a track where some of the world’s fastest motorcycle riders will slide, jump and bounce.

That’s where "The Dean of Dirt" comes in.

Tim Phend is the Supercross director of operations for Feld Entertainment, the Ellenton-based company that puts on the series. He gives serious thought to the Supercross dirt track’s composition. Too much moisture and the surface gets sticky. Too little and the track deteriorates. It’s easier to build a track in the East, where clay is more readily available.

"In Tampa we’ll have to keep moisture in the dirt," Phend said. "We’re going to have to keep water sprayed on the dirt daily up to race day."

Phend said a facility will re-use dirt for several years, not just for Supercross but monster truck events as well. And for Tampa events, it’s stored right in the stadium parking lot.

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"It’s actually a mound that they cap with sod. It’s shaped so the cars can get on top of it and park on it," said Phend, a Riverview resident. "We dig it out and hope it doesn’t rain too much in between the time we pull it out and the time we put it back in there."

He said the RJS track will have a unique feature as a nod to the Tampa Bay area — a sand lane. Another feature that has not appeared all season is an area called a bridge. Riders will jump over it on one part of the track, then circle back and go under it.

The sand lane "will really mix it up for these riders," Phend said.

What they’re saying

The Supercross series has not visited Tampa since 1999. Here are some thoughts from a few competitors:

"It’ll be interesting to see what kind of dirt we have at Raymond James. Whether it’s like, ‘Wow, it’s just like my house,’ it’ll be interesting." — Chad Reed, Dade City resident and two-time 450SX series champion

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"At the beginning of the day you’re going to see lap times probably at least five seconds faster than they’re going to be in the main event." — RJ Hampshire, Hudson native and 250SX rider

"I just feel like it’s a good place to be once the series heads east. The dirt’s awesome." — Broc Tickle, 450SX rider

Three things to watch

The whoops: Multiple bumps in rapid succession; riders typically take this section standing on their bikes

The turns: Great passing opportunities, they are usually high banked and often have deep ruts

The finish jump: One of the highest jumps on the course and the one where the first-place rider is likely to do an aerial trick to celebrate victory

By the numbers

16 Tractor trailers to haul everything from city to city on the Supercross tour

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30 Pieces of heavy equipment to build the track

60 hours to build the track

702 Foam barriers, or "Tuff Blox," which line the course and protect riders from injury when they fall

5,500 Cubic yards of dirt used; that equals 77,000 wheelbarrow loads

6,800 Sheets of plywood to cover the stadium floor for protection


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