The Flyover States: A Week at Red Bull Imagination and Ponca City

When most people think about the states of Kansas and Oklahoma we tend to think tornados (rightfully so), miles and miles of flat prairie and just some good ole fashion blue collar folks. The reality of those two states is much different this given week. The rolling hills of eastern and central Kansas provide the backdrop to some incredible events such as the Dirty Kanza 200 gravel cycling race, which is where I became familiar with the area in 2018, and now with Red Bull’s newest project with Tyler Bereman, Red Bull Imagination. Top that off with a little amateur moto action just 3.5 hours away in Ponca City, Oklahoma and there was quite a bit going on in the heartbeat of America last week. Let’s dig in!

Imagination

Arriving in Kansas on Sunday I didn’t really know what to expect. From the course size and layout to the Signature Series production level, all of it was a new experience. The course itself was laid out on the E3 Ranch owned by former Major League Baseball player Adam LaRoche and his family. LaRoche, Bereman and Jason Baker with Dream Traxx were able to come up with an incredible location for the course itself on a hill that would be transformed over three weeks into the course you see today.

One thing that people know all too well in the heart of the Midwest is that the wind is almost always going to be a factor throughout the day. The riders and crew faced just that with most of the riding on practice days happening in the mornings then again into the golden hour stage of the afternoon which lead to some of the most picturesque photo and video shots the crew has ever captured. Heck we even got a night session on the quarterpipe and tower hip jump under the lights! Couple that with the incredible riding from Bereman, Sipes, Parsons, Raha, Seely, Golden, and Durham, the week was next level all the way around.

American Badass(es)

Vicki Golden and Darryn Durham have to be crowned “Badasses of the Week.” Vicki came into Imagination with a bit of a foot injury that seemed to be bothering her during Monday morning’s riding session on the tighter SX side of the course but when we got to the more freeride side of the course everything changed. Vicki was out there hitting most of the features before the rest of the riders were and then turning around and tricking it a couple attempts later. She was the first person outside of Bereman to hit the 98’ tree gap, which was an absolutely insane hit—even throwing an Indian Air over it. Unfortunately for Vicki (and the viewers) her foot gave way on Tuesday which ended her week much too soon.

After getting the last-minute call, Durham made the drive straight through from Pennsylvania to give the event a go. Durham admittedly hadn’t ridden in a little while but seemed right at home after a quick warm up hitting all of the big features with ease and TONS of that Durham style we all know and love. Then… he sent it.

There was a road gap around 120’ that took you from the freeride section over to the SX section. Durham sent it a touch too big and went approximately 200 feet on the 120-foot gap. His front wheel detonated which sent him for a ride. He ultimately got up and walked away with some ankle pain but considering the severity of the crash, it could have been much worse.

The Crew

As far as capturing the events that unfolded throughout the week, Wes and Chase brought in the heaviest of hitters in motocross filmmaking: Danny Stu, Kyle Cowling, Stephen Erickson, Jason Monroe, Cole Beach, Wes, and Jason Crane running audio all week. These are names you may or may not heard of, but they are the ones keeping the Moto Spy content cruising throughout the season. Each has a slightly different role, some with the wider angle interview style shots, while others were buried in the brush getting those insane cinematic riding shots, then there was Jason running around with his MōVI all week which is not an easy feat, those things are HEAVY!

The amount of production that goes into a single shoot like this is actually pretty crazy. Between those names listed above, the editing staff, production staff, track crew, etc. it takes a few bodies to bring an event like Imagination together. Thursday was the competition day, but the wind played a bit of a factor pushing the riders to more of an afternoon format versus the proposed morning format. More of the best filmers in the game showed up to capture the event in its entirety for what will be an hour length broadcast on FOX in November.

Once the event wrapped and the cameras were tore down, cleaned up and placed in their travel cases the entire production took the party to Adam’s man cave for a cookout and some good times which may or may not of included running around with a Canon C300 camera filming Beer Olympics, night vision goggles, and tannerite, among other things.

We cannot thank the LaRoche family enough for their hospitality throughout the week, Steve and everyone else at Red Bull for making this a possibility, Oren and his staff for actually being able to execute a production during COVID, Wes and the Moto Spy crew for allowing me to tag along and capture moments of the people behind the cameras and everyone else involved on making this trip to Kansas one for the ages. 

PONCA!

This race has been on my radar for a while now and I figured what better time than this week to get down there and check it out. After getting some much-needed sleep Friday morning I loaded up the car and headed southwest to The Motoplayground Race at Ponca City. The weather was looking solid on Friday, windy as hell on Saturday, then cold and rainy Sunday. The weather was correct on all fronts. Sunday was a bit of a mess.

Ponca this year seemed to have a little more sauce behind it. Maybe it because people are still itching to get to a race to feel that sense of normalcy again or maybe new faces in new classes or the record number of rider entries. Whatever it was it provided some of the finest amateur racing of the season.

Jeff Simpson photo

Same Name, New Class

Ponca provided our first look at some newcomers across several classes.

It was Haiden Deegan’s first race as a full time Supermini rider and he didn’t skip a beat looking unbeatable all weekend. Even in the second moto after coming around the first corner in last after a bad start he put his head down and put on a show grabbing the lead 3/4 the way through and pulling away from the W and the overall.

Levi Kitchen and Matt LeBlanc made the jump to Pro Sport and swapped moto wins in 250 Pro Sport with Jack Chambers in tow. Those three would be upfront the entire weekend.

Ryder D made his big bike debut at Ponca. Expectations are always high for one of the most touted amateurs we have seen since AC but after talking with Ryder he just wanted to get his feet wet and learn. After a high-speed crash on Friday he tempered expectations and just got through the weekend with some solid second place finishes and took it all in as a learning experience. Mini O’s should be fun to watch as has gotten the first race jitters out of the way and is ready to lay claim to the class.

Evan Ferry made his big(ger) bike debut as well on the 125 in Schoolboy 1 taking the overall with 1-1 scores.

Jeff Simpson photo

Reynolds vs. Romano 

These two put on a freaking show in Schoolboy 2. Easily some of the best racing on the weekend with these two going at each other every moto they were in together. After some incidental contact which led them both to crash hard while battling for the lead just passed the finish line, it was Reynolds who came away the victor, this time but Romano would come out ahead in 250B. These two are still early in their careers and if this is a glimpse of what’s to come, I’m getting the popcorn ready.

Shout out to Luca Marsalisi for a very impressive showing in the B classes. Keep an eye on him leading into Mini O’s, he could be here to crash the party for good!

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Written by Jeff Simpson

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