BLOUNTVILLE — Once again, the Tri-Cities area has set the standard with its support of a motorsports event.
It had been 15 years since an AMA Pro Racing event was held in the Southeast prior to Saturday, and nearly 36 years since an event had been in Tennessee. That drought whetted the fans’ appetite for a professional motocross event, and they responded in a big way with the inaugural Built Ford Tough Tennessee National at Muddy Creek Raceway.
The traffic to get into the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship event on Saturday morning stretched an estimated four miles, all the way near Tri-Cities Regional Airport. Early crowd estimates had the event only behind the series opener in Sacramento, Calif., as the most attended race on the tour.
Sam Gammon, owner of Victory Sports, which promotes the track, talked about the incredible turnout believed to top 20,000 fans before the tickets were counted.
“Amazing, absolutely amazing,” Gammon said. “Hopefully, a lot of the fans stay for the whole weekend. The weather couldn’t have been better if we ordered it. Victory Sports and MX Sports are very proud of the event.”
MX Sports is the company which promotes the whole series. Carrie Coombs Russell, the CEO of MX Sports, said it’s pretty safe to say there will be a second annual Tennessee National.
“The fans here are true fans. They have been starved for this event,” Russell said. “It’s been in the planning for a long, long time. We were just waiting for the right time. You look at this race track, it’s beautiful. These fans have been so passionate, ready to cheer them on. We’re glad to bring the best riders in the world to them.”
Inside the track, the AMA national event was a fan-friendly event, comparable in many ways to the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
The teams did much of the work under awnings with the fans able to see the crews making adjustments to the racing machines. Even the top stars in the sport like Ryan Dungey and Ryan Villopoto had set times for autograph sessions. It provided the perfect chance for fans to mingle with the top stars.
Zach Osborne, a local rider from Abingdon, Va., who finished fifth in the 250 Class, talked about the large crowd and how the fans in South support motosports.
“You look at any form of racing, at Bristol or Atlanta Supercross, those races are huge with all the spectactors,” Osborne said. “It’s definitely a good move to bring the series to the South. It was a huge crowd and a major success in sort of a short notice for this kind of event.”
Watching a major motocross event is something all race fans should experience at least once. If you stand at the end of the first turn on the holeshot, the dust flying in one’s face is reminscence of taking in a breath of nitro when a drag racing engine is fired up.
Ricky Carmichael, the co-owner of RCH Racing and nicknamed GOAT as the “Greatest of All-Time” motocross rider, talked about the track hosting its first national event.
“I raced here a lot when I was a kid. To see this facility get an outdoor national says a lot for Sam Gammon, the promoter,” Carmichael said. “He’s done a fantastic job. This is a really good market for the sport. It’s going to be a good event for the fans, the sponsors and the sport. At the end of the day, that’s what it is about. We have beautiful weather and look at the crowd, this place is packed. It’s great to come back to this place and see all the people.”