• Aaron Hansel

Scene Report: NorCal Motocross Catches Up With Some of the Local Track Operators and Race Promoters

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.

Todd Nelson

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.

Mike Sexton

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.

Jerrad Fisher