If you’ve been a motocross rider in Northern California for at least 10 years, you’ve no doubt bore witness to an evolution in the style and number of motocross tracks North of the Bay Area. Ten years ago, tracks like Club Moto, Riverfront Park, and Hangtown were some of the biggest attractions for motocross fanatics.
Sure, there were other tracks, but depending on where you lived, track variety was often found (and shared with drunken, helmetless goons on utility quads) at backwoods locations in places like Auburn, Gridley and the Shad Pad (now E-Street MX) in Marysville.
Today, the scene is much different. Several tracks have come and gone, while some of the newcomers, such as E-Street MX, MMX, and Honey Lake, have cemented themselves as some of NorCal’s premier riding destinations. Tracks like Argyle Park and Cycleland Speedway have continued to improve, while Riverfront Park has changed hands several times, and has a long way to go if it ever wants to regain its crown as one of the busiest and best tracks in the North State area.
So what’s behind all these changes? Factors like increased competition and a floundering economy definitely make a difference, but the most important and influential force that affects our dirty playgrounds are the people in charge of running the tracks and promoting the races.
That’s why NorCal Motocross thought it would be a good idea to sit down with some of the owners/operators, and promoters in the area. Here you will find interviews with Jerrad Fisher, operator of MMX, Mike Sexton, operator of Argyle MX and Club Moto, Todd Nelson, operator of Riverfront Park, and Jack Azevedo, the main man and co-owner at AMP Racing.
We attempted to interview Scott Davis, operator of E-Street MX and Hangtown, but he declined our request for an interview. We hope you enjoy reading these interviews, and most of all, we hope they enable you to become more familiar with some of the most important figures in Northern California Motocross.
Some of the slightly older NorCal MX enthusiasts can remember a time when Riverfront Park was on top of the motocross world. The dirt was great, the layout was fun for many skill levels, it offered night riding, and the permanent bathrooms were actually functional. It was also one of the only legitimate tracks in the area. These factors were enough to draw literally hundreds of bikes every time the park’s gates were open. If you rode motocross in Northern California, Riverfront was the place to be. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case. Increased competition and a poor economy have caused the track to change hands more than once, and it seems to have fallen out of favor with the local MX community. Todd Nelson took over the facility in October, and now faces the daunting task of restoring Riverfront to its former glory. Here’s what he had to say.
How did the California Motocross idea come about?
Sitting at a Supercross race at Anaheim 1 years ago, we all started asking how much you’d pay to just ride on a track in a stadium…from there the model grew to where clean flush toilets, grass, asphalt parking, sidewalks, drinking faucets, shade and good, fairly priced food was available all of the time…from there the idea became a business model that was proofed out by some very smart analysts and we went to work.
Why did that end up not working?
The bank commitments that we had (three different ones) fell through…we literally signed all of the loan documents for loans from $23 Million up to $106,000,000 and had all of the paperwork in place for the bank to fund three times and the European economy, then the U.S. economy imploded…our 1st European bank that failed had the commitment picked up by a US bank, which promptly failed to have a Chinese backed English bank pick it up for the whole build, ultimately to later implode…timing was the undoing of the project, not location or build…the economic forces simply flowed against us. HISTORY, now.
So now you ended up at Riverfront, how has that been going?
Great! I love the soil, it reminds us of our track at Calmoto…very weird to work with, but once you find the right water/soil formula and mix it just right, it becomes farmland and something magical. The people that have been coming out are friendly and supportive of our efforts and seem to be having fun. We look forward to a long haul out here. It’s definitely different staying out here at night with the “thump, thump, thump” of the 10th Street bridge next to us, but I’m getting used to it.
Jason Becker seems to be very involved. Is he part of the ownership group?
Jason is an owner along with my family, yes. Jason is hands on, fully involved and invested in the project and a whiz on the heavy equipment.
Lots of people are wondering how you are going to pay the bills, is there anything you can share with us that wil shed some light on things?
We plan to pay the bills by electronic check…or do you mean something else? Consistent operation of the facility as a multiple track park venue that has retail and food sales components will more than cover the bills and keep the ownership group in the black. Troubled properties in need of renovation and modernization is where my strong suit is, so Riverfront fits that bill quite handsomely. We have some good bones to work with and a lot of good history with the property, so we simply need to start at one end and work towards the other while being ever so mindful of our bottom line.
Now that you have been doing it for a while, what is the hardest part?
I always am dirty, but that washes away, so not really something hard, just weird.
Did you expect that it would so tiring and time consuming?
Yes. When I start a new renovation on a property, I focus on it and it alone as a priority and as such put in as much time as necessary, so the time in to date is not unusual or unexpected. I don’t feel tired, so time consuming is an obvious one. Jason and I have our set schedules and my family and friends fill in as necessary. We have a good vibe building out here, it is nice to see.
How is your relationship with the promoters and track operators in the NorCal area?
Great. AMP/GFI obviously rented the track last month while Jason and I were up at Boreal with the Gran Prix and a meeting of the promoters/operators is in planning to go over the winter racing schedule…the common goal is to try and not overlap as much if possible.
What changes do you see Riverfront undergoing over the next five years?
Lots of grass, Food, parts and accessory sales, rental and demo motorcycles. Shifter kart track, additional lighting, rv hook ups and dump…the standard Calmoto lite model, without the stadium, clubhouse bar or Starbucks.
If you want to get a deep look into the history of motocross in Northern California, a good place to start is with the Sexton family. Charlie Sexton, Uncle to Mike Sexton, ran the Riverfront Park facility in Marysville for decades, and has since passed the torch to Mike. After losing control of the Riverfront facility when he was outbid by Scott Davis (Riverfront Park is leased from the city) several years ago, Mike Sexton moved on and is now in charge of running both Argyle MX in Dixon, and Club Moto, in Livermore. Although he thoroughly enjoys both of his current facilities, Mike still misses the Riverfront environment and riders. His interview follows.
What are your duties at Argyle and Club Moto?
I do a little bit of everything, actually. I’ll be the guy running the gate, I’ll be the guy on the tractor, I’ll flag, whatever I gotta do. If we’re short somebody, I fill in for everybody.
How did Argyle Park get its name?
Well the guys that owned it are Scottish, so most of their kilts are made out of argyle type material, which we could call plaid. They named it Argyle Park, and we just kept it Argyle MX because that’s where we ended up after we got outbid at Riverfront.
How long did Charlie Sexton Operate Riverfront?
Charlie ran races at E-Street and Riverfront over the past thirty years. I got the chance to come work for him for the last two years he was at Riverfront. I was obviously hoping to take over Riverfront, but we got outbid. We had an extension due, it went up to bid, and Scott (Davis) out bid me by $80,000 a year.
Charlie has been in the motocross scene here for decades. How did he get started?
I think he kind of got conned into it because nobody wanted to do it! (laughs) He just kind of fell in love with it and has been doing it forever now.
You must have some favorite stories or memories that stick out above the others from your time at Riverfront. Tell us one of them.
Oh gosh. I’ll tell you, I miss all the people from up that way. We left a lot of friends up there that don’t get to come down our way often enough. Favorite stories though… How about the time we pulled everything out of that park three times in one year when it flooded. The water was 15 feet deep in the parking lot. All the locals pitched in to put the place back together. That’s a good story.
Wow, 15 feet! Were the bathrooms underwater?
The water was about halfway up the door on the bathrooms.
What did you like most about running Riverfront?
How busy it was. The place was a basic goldmine.
What did you like least?
How hot it was. It was hot there!
Were you hoping to get Riverfront back once it was announced that Scott Davis would no longer be running the facility?
Absolutely. We put in a bid, had interviews with the city, and absolutely were hoping to get the track back. I wish Todd Nelson the best of luck. Is it doable? I don’t know. People say he’s got money to burn, I hope he does. I don’t personally know the guy, but I wish him the best of luck, that’s for sure. He ran my sand section, I’ve been dreaming about running that section for about five years, hoping nobody would ever do it until I got back there, but they did. It was a no-brainer.
I rode that sand section a few weeks ago, it’s pretty fun…
I had my whole sand section after the place flooded, we did the track with about eight inches of sand everywhere. It was phenomenal.
Were you surprised when you heard the news that the track was going to be up for bid again?
No, I was not surprised.
I guess that was a pretty big bill to pay in a floundering economy…
Oh, it’s impossible, it’s impossible. I don’t see how they’re going to make it, but like I said, I wish him luck.
When you were running Riverfront, there wasn’t as much competition in the immediate area. With that in mind, do you think Riverfront will ever be able to once again become the successful facility it once was?
I don’t know. The economy was really good then. We’d have 250 guys at the gate every Thursday night, that was average. 175 on Tuesdays, that was average. On Sundays we’d have up and over 400 riders for practice!
I remember riding there on Thursday nights, and sometimes even at 9:00 at night the track would still be jammed! I would think, “Where are all these bikes coming from?”
That’s what I was thinking too, where are all these people coming from!? But who knows whether it could be that again. You’ve got MMX and E-Street right there now. Who knows, only time will tell.
Which track do you like better, Argyle or Club Moto?
Argyle is my right arm, and Club Moto is my left arm. I like them both equally. If I was going to ride one, I would probably ride Argyle because hills and valleys hurt my back a little bit with the g-outs and stuff. But right now I’d probably ride Club because of the sand. We’ve been hauling in tons and tons and tons of sand, and the place is just phenomenal right now.
What can we expect from Argyle MX and Club Moto over the course of the next few years?
Wow. It all depends on the economy. We’d like to make lots of improvements for sure, but it depends on money. If people don’t ride, there’s not much we can do. Just to change the track itself, it’s like $1000 just in diesel! There’s a lot of man hours, and with equipment breakdowns, it can cost a lot just to make minor changes. If you’re just paying the bills, that money’s just not there. But both tracks will see good changes at least every couple months.
Is it possible that NorCal could see a cooperative effort in the future between E-Street, MMX, Argyle MX, Club Moto and Riverfront to run a series?
I’m not so sure about all that, whether it will happen or not. Would it be cool? Yeah, it would be cool. But, you know, Scott (Davis) has kind of rubbed some people the wrong way by taking over their tracks. He and (Jerrad) Fisher were best friends for a long time and that went sour when the Riverfront thing went down… It’s almost like everyone has a little bit of a vendetta against Scott. I’m pretty much over it. Who knows what could happen in the future. It think it’d be really cool for the sport, no doubt, and it’d be good for the promoters, no doubt. Will it happen? I’m not so sure. Could it happen? Yes it could.
As far as racers, I’m sure a lot of the NorCal riders would be down for it.
People would be down all over the place. But you know, a lot of people think its just business, but it’s a little bit personal when it happens to you. Like I said, I’m over it. We’ll see what happens in the future.
My last question is about gate fees. Lots of people hate paying to race, and then paying more money to get into the gate. As a track operator, do you think there’s a way of eliminating gate fees, or are they just one of those things that you have to have?
Absolutely there is a way of eliminating gate fees. The only way to eliminate gate fees is to raise the price of the entry fee ten bucks, unfortunately. The gate fee helps pay a lot of bills, and with the turnouts being what they’ve been lately, it’s not like we’re making money hand over fist. It’s not that way now; I’m living day to day.
That’s pretty much the same sentiment I’ve been getting from the other owners and operators I’ve spoken with.
It sucks, trust me. I hear it all the time, and when we go to other races and we have to pay that, we’re like, “Man that sucks!” But that’s just the way it is, the bills have got to be paid. It costs a substantial amount of money per hour, just to run a race. No one works for free.
That’s it for my questions, Mike. Thanks for your time, this should be up on NorCal Motocross soon.
Cool, I’m there every day.
As previously mentioned, the number of legitimate tracks in NorCal has risen in the past several years, and that is especially true in Marysville. Jerrad Fisher knows all about this, as he has been deeply involved with the motocross scene there for several years. Fisher, or Fish, as some of the locals call him, worked at E-Street for two years before going his own way and opening MMX on the adjacent property late in 2009. So far, it hasn’t been an easy road for Fish, but he remains enthusiastic, and maintains a philosophy of good customer service and hard work. He also has some big plans for his track in the near future, some of which are so big he couldn’t share. Read on for the interview.
You own and operate a motocross facility in Marysville, Ca. How did your involvement with motorcycles evolve into the eventual ownership and management of a motocross track?
I remember the day I was in Daytona Beach, Florida, when the guy who I actually lease the property from now, called Scott (Davis) and asked if he wanted to be involved with developing E-Street MX. Long story short, I followed the development of E-Street the whole time. I moved into working for Scott and E-Street and buying into a partnership there. Down the road, two years later, we had our differences in paths, which led to my exit from E-Street, and what I love to do came to an end. The way that it ended was kind of harsh. Then the gentleman who originally called Scott and I when we were in Daytona Beach for supercross, had the adjacent property to E-Street MX and said that if I wanted to develop the property for him, he would give me a long-term lease on the facility and work with me on it. I said, “Done!” He gave me a job doing cabinets for his business while I developed the property for him. Two years and 11 months later, that’s where I’m at now.
Why did you decide to split off and open your own track?
I didn’t get much choice in it. Differences of opinions would be the nicest way to say it. Apparently the friendship wasn’t as important to Scott as his business.
What’s your favorite part about being a track owner/operator?
The people. Seeing smiles on their faces, and seeing that everyone is enjoying themselves. After a good day of hard work and seeing that everyone is enjoying themselves is always nice. At the same time, you can put in the work, and some people may not be pleased. Sometimes that’s kind of a bummer. It’s like, “Could you have done this or that better?” I do the best that I can with what the economy allows right now. It’s best when people are enjoying themselves. I try to make sure that people have as much fun as possible at my place.
So if someone is unhappy with something at your track, do you encourage feedback?
I like to walk around my pits a lot. I ask people where they’re from if I haven’t seen them there before, what brings them out to my track, how they like it. I typically ask everyone what do they not like about the track, or what intimidates them. They usually tell me if there’s something, or they’ll tell me it’s great. If there is something they don’t like, depending on what it is, I’ll definitely put a check in the box. Sometimes I make changes in things, especially if it’s a safety thing. I take notes as best I can, and make improvements in areas where people feel it’s needed.
Looking back, what would you say has been your most memorable moment at MMX?
I opened up in December (2009), and I’m rollin’ up on my one-year anniversary here. I’d say the best part was getting all the permits on the place and having everything come to fruition. It took forever. When Scott developed E-Street, it took him like 19 months. One permit alone of mine took 19 months. So many things in the law have changed in the last few years, which made everything so much tougher. I believe it was the 13th or 14th of (December) last year that I had my first practice. From the time Scott bought me out, November 27 at E-Street, I turned in my conditional use permit to Yuba County for my own facility on December 28, 2006. It was literally like, two weeks short of three years. Talk about wanting to put a gun to your freakin’ head! (Laughs).
How is your relationship with the promoters and track operators in the NorCal area?
I would say pretty good. I talk to Mike Sexton almost every single day, I talk to Matt Lorenzo of Motowest Racing, about every two weeks. Lorenzo, Sexton and I are the three promoters for CMC. I was over at Todd Nelson’s place (Riverfront Park) three weeks ago, and look forward to talking to him in the near future to potentially run some races together. I talk to Scott every three weeks or so as our paths cross, I keep that civil. I talked to Lowell Morales of Cycleland Speedway a few weeks ago to maybe set up some races but that guy is so hard to track down!
Is it possible that NorCal could see a cooperative effort in the future between E-Street, MMX, Argyle MX and Riverfront to run a series?
I don’t know if it’s possible to be able to work with all these tracks. With some of these tracks I think it would. I’m working with Argyle MX and Club Moto with Mike Sexton, and I’m in the works of trying to work with Riverfront. As far as E-Street MX, I don’t know if that will be possible, just due to past business dealings over the years between promoters and Scott Davis. I do know that the bulk majority of promoters are trying to work together right now, so that we avoid putting dates on top of each other for 2011. Everyone has found out that it’s not financially feasible to hold three races in one weekend. If we do that we’re all going to go broke. We’d like to do a CMC/GFI thing. They have their winter series, and we have our winter series, and we’d like to have a CMC/GFI showdown. We’ve all tentatively discussed that, but so far it’s been impossible for us to put all of our race faces together.
Where changes do you see MMX undergoing over the next five years?
I’d like to see MMX having some lights, and hopefully, MMX will be hosting the biggest event Marysville has ever seen sometime in 2011. I have a full irrigation system set up, so as soon as I can afford to do that, I’m going to irrigate the whole facility. It all depends on what the economy does.
Can you give us any details on that event?
No, none whatsoever. Absolutely not. Let’s just say the sales pitches are going out, and I’m working on it.
Has the state of the economy affected rider turnout at MMX?
It is down incredibly lower than anyone ever expected. It’s very, very difficult for promoters to even make ends meet right now. Let’s just say, nobody is getting ahead, and we’re all just hoping we can pay the bills. It’s all about trying to get your bottom line as low as humanly possible.
Years ago, Riverfront was one of NorCal’s best places to ride. Over time, other tracks evolved and more competition arrived and Riverfront seemed to fall out of favor with a large portion of NorCal’s MX community. With competition at an all time high, and the economy floundering, do you think Riverfront will ever be able to regain the status it had 15 to 20 years ago?
I think Todd Nelson has a good thing going over there, and I think it’s important that all of us work together, so we’re not all trying to stomp on each other’s feet. During the week, you’re only open for the riders. You’re not paying for anyone’s time, or diesel, or anything. So to have two facilities open on the same day at the same time, you’re going to take a whole 25 riders, 50 if you’re lucky, and you’re going to split that? That isn’t going to pay even a percentage of anyone’s bills.
Do you think there is a way of eliminating the gate fee to racers, while at the same time maintaining decent profitability?
I can get rid of a gate fee if I raise my entry 10 bucks. Let’s drop the gate fee, and I’ll raise entry 10 bucks. I know the racers don’t want to pay the gate fee because they aren’t spectators, but financially, right now, there’s no way for any promoter to get rid of gate fees, it’s completely impossible.
Thanks for your time, Jerrad!
Jack Azevedo doesn’t operate any tracks in Northern California. You won’t see him at your local practice track on a dozer or running a water truck. If you want to find him, you’ll have to attend some of NorCal’s biggest races, where he’s likely to have his hands full running the event, operating tractors, and speaking orders into a radio, all at the same time. Azevedo is the co-owner and head honcho at AMP, the promoter behind the Dodge Amateur Nationals (held at Hangtown), one of the country’s largest amateur events. He took a few minutes out of his busy schedule for NorCal Motocross during this year’s Dodge Amateur National, and this is what he had to say.
What made you decide to get into track promoting?
I was a professional motocross racer. I started when I was 12, and turned pro when I was 17. I just thought there was a need for a better organization to provide better and safer tracks to ride here in California.
Have AMP and GFI always been associated with one another?
No, the first five years of us running our motocross events, we were GFI sanctioned. Then a lawsuit came in with CMC, and then we started AMP racing. For the past 16 years we’ve been AMP racing, prior to that we were GFI. We combined them together after the three year waiting period for AMP/GFI, now Azevedo Motocross Promotion. GFI was formally owned by Todd “Goat” Breker, and now my family, the Azevedos, own the GFI name and rights.
Lawsuit? What happened?
It was between CMA, another organization, and they were running the GFI races down here even though it was owned by Breker. Breker wanted to take the organization away from them and not have them run the events anymore and go to us, but it went to court and was tied up for three years. Then after that, we took it over.
Do you have a favorite facility that you like running races at?
Oatfield Raceway, which is our home track. It’s probably one of my favorite places because of the dirt. Also, Hollister Hills, because of the location, and Prairie City (Hangtown) being third. Those are my three favorite tracks.
What is your favorite event that AMP promotes?
The Dodge Amateur National because of what it stands for, it being the only real amateur national for California where you don’t have to go to Ponca, or Loretta’s, or Texas, or travel out of state. It’s the only one here in California that’s a true amateur national. It’s ranked in the top five of the amateur nationals to attend in the United States, along with Ponca City and Loretta Lynn’s. The Dodge Amateur National is right in there with them.
The Dodge Amateur National event is the largest race that you guys promote. How did it get started, and what kind of growth do you expect to see in the future?
With the economy and stuff right now, we still had close to a thousand riders this year, which was great. We’re looking to always grow, of course. This is the eighth annual amateur national. Bob Swift, who owned a dealership in Sacramento, he helped get the Dodge Amateur National going, and got sponsorship for it. So that’s how it pretty much got started.
What kind of growth are you expecting in the future?
I would like to see a 2000 to 3000 rider turnout someday, just like at Mammoth, Loretta’s or Ponca. We’re doing everything right with all the activities and promoting the event, so it’s just going to keep growing.
Do you think it will ever evolve to the point where it could be thought of as the Loretta Lynn’s of the West?
I want it to be as big as a Loretta Lynn’s or a Ponca City. I think we’re in the same category as those guys, but I want it to be recognized as the Dodge Amateur National, not as someone else’s national.
Do you plan on always holding the event here at Hangtown?
Yes. It’s a grandfathered event now, so it’s locked in forever, as long as we want to host and hold this event here at the Prairie City Hangtown National track. It’s up to us if we keep it here, so that’s a good thing.
What kind of relationship do you have with the track owners and operators in the Northern California area?
I get along with most of them. I’m one of the easiest guys to work with, and reasonable with the other track owners and promoters. I believe in fair business. The track owners that I have a hard time working with are the ones that don’t want to put out the effort and give the riders, the customers, what they deserve when they come to an event. That’s the only problem I have with some of the other promoters, is when they aren’t able to step up and do what’s right.
Do you feel like saying any names?
No, they know who they are.
It might be unfair to ask you about gate fees, since they are usually charged by the track operator, but have you ever considered working a deal with the track operator to eliminate gate fees?
The thing is, you can’t eliminate the gate fee because it’s not in the budget. It wouldn’t be affordable to run these events. With the cost of everything, to not have a gate fee wouldn’t be feasible. You wouldn’t be able to do it.
Thanks for your time, Jack.
Written by Aaron Hansel. You can check out more of Aarons work in RacerX, on Racer X Online and on his own website. http://www.vision-mx.com/