Story By Chris McNeil
Photos By: Greg @ StuntCards
The XDL National Championship events are the premier series of Sportbike Freestyle competitions and as the defending East Coast Champion, I had my work cut out for me at the East Coast Eliminators held at Virginia International Raceway.
I had just flown back to California from New Hampshire Tuesday night after spending upwards of two weeks traveling around doing demos for one of my sponsors, only to have to get back on a plane bound for North Carolina at 4 a.m. Thursday morning. Needless to say, I was a little jet lagged and ready for my own bed.
XDL events are by far the most professionally run in the country and they really treat the athletes as just that - athletes. Competitors from across the country made the trek this year in order to earn a qualifying spot at the finals to be held in Long Beach, CA in March since more than a few of us missed the chance to qualify during the western XDL visits. For me, winning was the only option and I went into the weekend not being satisfied with even a podium finish - I wanted victory. After arriving in North Carolina and taking a 2 hour car ride to the hotel, I went to bed early so as to be fresh for Friday's practice.
I had just come off an event held on a dragstrip and I was not happy with how I had ridden, so I was stoked to see the usual perfect riding spot provided by the XDL staff. Smooth pavement, a grippy surface, and an area suited for my maniacal and flowing style - 300 feet long by 100 feet wide. There were some inconsistencies in the grip, but nothing out of the ordinary and within a half an hour I felt like I was back home at the practice spot...a feeling that bode well for me and spelled trouble for all of my competitors. I manage to get comfortable enough to pull off some super wide circles that were unable to be duplicated by any of the other riders and I was happy that my hard work and practice were paying off.
Saturday morning arrived bright and sunny, which was a nice change from last year's rain soaked weekend. The XDL organizers had a few tricks up their sleeves and we were introduced to a few different competitions besides the main event of Individual Freestyle. First up was a head to head battle to see who could spin 10 circles the quickest. This is not only a fun event for the riders, but the crowd really enjoys it as well because it’s like an old school street battle.
I easily beat my first opponent with traditional foot in the trunk circles, but I was not able to get them spinning as fast as I would have liked. Round two saw me go up against Bill Dixon, one of my rivals and the man who placed 2nd to me last year. Knowing that he was riding well, I decided to try sit down circles instead of the traditional methods. I can spin those sitdowns like a top, but the question in everyone's mind was whether I'd make it to 10 before I got dizzy and set the tire down. I managed to jump out to a 3 circle lead a little after halfway before I began to lose control. I saved the circle with some fancy clutch work a couple of times and then gyro'd down...a half circle from completing the required ten revolutions! Instant replay may have shown that I actually twirled 11 and a half, but I accepted defeat with a smile and moved on.
Next up was target stoppie where you have to complete 3 endos in the shortest time possible. The three targets are a can on the ground which you have to crush with your rear tire, a board in the air which you have to tap with your helmet (while in a stoppie), and finally you have to place your rear tire on top of the k-rail. I was excited and wanted to win badly. I had a unique line picked out but was unsure about parking on the wall as it's not my forte. I nailed the first two targets and as I expected, I had trouble with the wall and was subsequently eliminated due to a poor time. A little disappointing, but another exciting and fun event for sure.
Next up was qualifying for Individual Freestyle, my best event by far. Freestyle captures all the disciplines of stunt riding and applies them in a really exciting flow that is very enjoyable to watch, but even more fun to actually ride. As the winner from last year, I was last to qualify and had a long wait. Normally, I watch my competition closely to see how they are riding and that will determine whether I put certain more difficult tricks into my run. This time I decided to do things a little differently and forget about what everyone else had and just do what I do best: ride hard! I came out full throttle as always and just about nailed everything I was going for including some sick sit down circles, and my most difficult combo of the day: wide O's directly into no handed circles followed by some nice handbrake combos. The rest of my run was fluid, aggressive, and flawless in the eyes of the spectators and judges. I left some of the technical aspects out so I would have room to improve on Sunday, but it didn't matter as I was awarded 1st place qualifier with a personal best score of 94.
Going into Sunday, my confidence remained high and I knew that I was the guy to beat. All I had to do was relax, forget about everyone else, and ride to my capabilities. Once again, as the first qualifier, I was the last rider of the day. It was really hot and muggy out and it seemed that no one was riding as well as they had yesterday. I was ready to add some of my more technical variations to score more points with the judges and I didn't even catch a glimpse of any other runs. I came out hard and hit my first difficult trick: a sitdown coast with the bike shut off and my throttle hand waving at the crowd, directly into wide, fast sit down circles...definitely one of the hardest tricks thrown down that weekend. Once I hit that combo, I let the bike flow underneath me and I was off. I opted to once again leave out feet over circles because I felt like I was a lock at that point.
I continued to ride well, but the heat got to me just like everyone else. My burnouts were a little inconsistent due to the changing surface and I didn't nail my no handed circle set. Instead, I was forced to set it down, continue my run and then go back to finish the set at the end of my time. Overall, it was a good run, but the judges are on their game and they recognized my mistakes, even if they weren't noticeable to the untrained eye. I was confident with my result and I was not disappointed, as I defended my title and was once again crowned King of the East!!
Rounding out the day were 3 more fun contests: sickest trick, wildest burnout, and last man standing. I opted out of sick trick, but decided to burn some rubber in the burnout contest. My technical, highspeed burnouts, while perfect for individual freestyle were not enough to overcome the winner who smoldered his tire down to the rim, and I was awarded 3rd place.
Last man standing is an event I never do because it ruins the bike, but because this was my last ride on the Honda before I switch over to the BMW's, I decided to give it a go. The contest is exactly how it sounds - last man standing, except that you have to sit on the gas tank with your feet over the front, and the area gets smaller by the minute. Chaos ensued, I was laughing hard enough to give myself cramps, and I made it to the top 5 before my radiator hose was ripped off, spilling coolant and oil (apparently my overheating problem was a blown head gasket) all over myself, other riders, and the surface. So in the end, I parked the bike without getting knocked over and everyone had a good time.
The event as a whole was everything I've come to expect of XDL and I was proud to be a part of it. My sponsors continue to give me the support I need to do my best and it was evident once again this weekend. I feel I have the best team around me and continue to strive to be on top of the podium each and every time. Thanks again to my friends at Shift Racing for keeping me protected and looking good at the same time; without them, I wouldn't be where I am today. Check me out at myspace.com/teachmcneil and don't forget to always Ride Hard!!
Watch video here: http://www.shiftracing.com/sport/videos.cfm?nav4=5&sportID=3