Runaway winners don't slow Supercross


Americans love domination in sports. Balanced competition and level playing fields are not this country's personality.

Our taste is for superstars. Runaway winners.

When someone stands head and shoulders above the rest, the bandwagon's suspension needs to be fortified.

That's the way it is in golf with Tiger Woods. The way it was in basketball with Michael Jordan.

The same holds true in motor sports.

NASCAR's popularity rose when Dale Earnhardt's 1986-94 run included six of his seven Winston Cup championships.

Hanging around a winner or rooting for one is the American way.

Runner-up is first loser.

You might think fans would lose interest when the outcome of a game, match or race has little drama.

Were that logic valid, plenty of seats would be covered with dust instead of butts Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium when the AMA Supercross series wraps up its season.

The season finale will sell out before the first gate drops at 7 p.m.

Though James "Bubba" Stewart clinched his first U.S. championship a week ago in Seattle, fans still will flock to Saturday's race. His six-race wining streak and run of 12 victories in 15 races this year are great lures.

Crowds flock to see good racers as much as good races. Unlike most forms of racing and other sports, a Supercross event provides nonstop excitement even if only one bike is dominating the track's whoops, jumps and rhythm sections.

Simply, Supercross races guarantee action from start to finish, from turn to turn, jump to jump. One rider's domination has not hurt Supercross' growing popularity. If anything, it's helped.

Supercross first crowned a season champion in 1974, and a title wasn't defended successfully until Bob Hannah won three in a row beginning in 1977. Ten years later, Jeff Stanton had a two-year run.

Then along came Jeremy McGrath in 1993. He won seven of the next eight titles, and more people became interested in Supercross.

So long, Jeremy, hello, Ricky Carmichael, who won five of the next six titles, including last year's.

Carmichael, 27, has retired from full-time Supercross racing. But he won two of the seven events he entered this year while finishing second to Stewart five times.

He started a career in stock-car racing but will be at Saturday's race providing commentary for the live telecast on the Speed Channel. He won't miss trying to keep pace with the 21-year-old Stewart or needing dental floss to get dirt out from between his teeth after a race.

No one seems to care about the lack of parity in Supercross, based on sellouts and near-capacity crowds for each of this year's events.

And no one cares that the newest king of whoops can lap nearly everyone in the field. They come for the action and to watch one of the all-time greats, the way they did with McGrath and Carmichael.

Carmichael says Supercross would love to have the stature of NASCAR's premier series but doubts the circuit will get it until it shares stock-car racing's relative parity.

He says "one marquee guy" needs to emerge until Supercross does something to make the races more competitive, with 10 guys having a chance to win instead of one or two.

For now, Stewart is king of the dirt, and his name is in those flashing lights.

Parity will have to wait.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 383-0247 or jwolf@reviewjournal.com.

 

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