Travis Pastrana raced in the Pro Class on Sunday (above). The Catalina GP track was carved out of the hillside above the golf course and is a 5.9 mile loop.
After a 52-year hiatus, Catalina Island once again opened the city of Avalon to the roar of racing as the Red Bull 2010 Catalina Motocross Grand Prix kicked off on the first weekend of December. Considered the event of the year, racers and spectators alike came out to be a part of history in the making. There was no shortage of nostalgia and excitement with 800 rider entries and an estimated 3000 plus spectators.
Racing on the island took place from 1951-1958 during the month of May and was a premier West Coast racing event during that time. The past races were 10 laps on a 4.5-mile course that ran through city streets and dirt roads around Avalon’s hillsides. The new track is a 5.9-mile loop overlooking Avalon, sitting above the Catalina Island Golf Course. The track included fire roads, two paved road sections and a user-friendly motocross track designed for riders of all skill levels. The races catered to all classes of motocross riders and motorcycles from vintage to junior with a final 2 hour Pro Class race on Sunday that attracted today’s top riders such as WORCS Champion Kurt Caselli, SCORE Baja Champions Kendall Norman, Quinn Cody, FMX rider Ronnie Renner and Nitro Circus star Travis Pastrana to name a few.
Arriving by boat on Friday aboard the Catalina Express out of Long Beach, it only took an hour to make the journey across the channel joined by new friends that I had just met on the float over. Many folks traveled from all over the country excited to be attending the Catalina GP. After arriving it’s easy to catch a cab or simply walk into the beautiful island town littered with boutique stores, pubs and restaurants. The locals were welcoming and all merchants were open for business on Crescent Avenue running along the bay.
In a letter from Avalon’s Mayor Robert Kennedy in the event program, he wrote “The City of Avalon, City Council, staff and citizens extend a warm welcome to Catalina Grand Prix participants, organizers and sponsors who will be participating in this year’s long-awaited, legendary Grand Prix. This unique event would not be possible without special efforts of the City of Avalon, Island Stakeholders and race organizers working countless hours to make this a memorable and historic return to Catalina motorcycle racing. We are very optimistic that this unique motorcycle race will be a fun-filled event for all, while bringing back a piece of Catalina’s history.”
The island certainly had a variety of hotels to choose from ranging in price but the place to be was race headquarters located bayside at the Metropole Hotel where Red Bull staged its Friday night extravaganza including live entertainment from the rock band Winchester Rebels. On the agenda for Friday included a golf tournament at the Catalina Golf Club with proceeds benefiting the AMA District 37 legal fund and closing out Friday night with a Grand Prix Barbeque located at the Descanso Beach Club. Next to the golf course sits the Field of Dreams baseball facility where the motorcycle impound and American Honda Rider Support Area is located. The impound is the staging area for all pre-race activities and where all motorcycle fueling, repairs and shipping preparations took place since the bikes shipped earlier in the week by boat. Red Bull displayed motorcycles of their sponsored riders and had Red Bull girls handing out free product while participants prepped their rides for Saturday and Sunday races.
Race day began at 7:30 a.m. with a parade of vintage class motorcycles riding through downtown Avalon to commemorate the event that many thought would never be possible. Former 1957 and 1958 Catalina GP champion Bob Sandgren served as the Grand Marshal and was the only rider to win two Catalina GP championships. Many of the locals stressed that this was a great time to have this event and they were very happy to see a boost in their economy during the holiday season. A local resident by the name of Herman Lewis, who was born and raised in Avalon had once rode this historical event back in ’57, was on site to view the parade.
“I never thought I would live to see another Catalina GP again and especially to see race bikes parading through downtown Avalon, it’s a great sight to my eyes,” said Herman.
Racing began soon after the parade lap and delivered six races on Saturday and six on Sunday including the Pro Class that ended the event. Access to the track was an uphill hike for most with an optional golf cart shuttle for handicapped patrons in need. The track branched through the hillside with plenty of pathways and track crossings for spectators to travel through. Motorcycle clubs such as Dirt Diggers volunteered their services to keep the track open to spectators looking for viewing positions. Red Bull-supplied bleachers were also placed in areas for those to witness the motocross action in comfort.
The tracks starting line was a long uphill chute with a sharp 180-degree right hand turn visible from the town below. The track then snaked up and down the hillside with a maze of turns leading directly to a large motocross section. There were various size table tops, double doubles and a large triple giving riders the option to launch off it or play it safe with a double, single or perhaps a triple single combination. There was even a man made pond jump in the motocross section that added some great viewing opportunities as riders plowed through the puddle of mud. After the motocross section the track meandered through the golf course and included a paved golf cart path leading up to carved out, wide open dirt fire roads where riders could hit fifth gear.
Some of the highlights of the weekend’s racing included Kurt Caselli leading the Pro Class on his factory KTM when suddenly his bike seized while running in fifth gear on the paved section and ended his victory ambitions. FMX rider Travis Pastrana was sporting heel clickers off the motocross triple jump and also had his bike seize up while running in third position. Baja champion Kendall Norman ended up taking the lead and continued laying out huge whips riding his JCR Honda 450X to the overall Pro Class victory, making his mark on history. Other big name riders were motorcycle legend Malcolm Smith racing his KTM 250XE, new up-and-coming Red Bull rider Jessy Nelson on his Troy Lee Designs Honda CRF250R, Johnny Campbell, Danny LaPorte, Ronnie Renner, Quinn Cody, Kurt Nicoll, and Rick Johnson. Every race had some kind of action and was filled with various makes and models of all eras. Rumor has it that a descendant from the former Catalina Island owner and chewing gum mogul William Wrigley had a grandson entered in the youth race at the last minute. (Read more in the 2010 Red Bull Catalina GP Sunday Results)
Other events aside from racing was Saturday nights Nitro Circus Greatest Hits video premier at the famous Avalon Theater. With the entire Nitro Circus crew present, including Travis Pastrana signing autographs, the theater reported that all tickets were sold out reportedly for the first time in history. The showing raised $5000 in proceeds for the Island Motorcycle Club that supports young riders on the island and included an after party in the grand ballroom that overlooks Avalon Bay.
From a spectator’s point of view it was a grand spectacle and amazing to be a part of the Catalina GP rebirth. There was almost too much to soak in with plenty of good times for all. Not only was it incredible for racers but also for family and friends who stayed on the island and enjoyed the comforts of a vacation destination mixed with booming nightlife and a variety of shopping all within a walk away. If you didn’t attend this year’s event, then cross your fingers for next. This event was a one-time contract and may not be coming back anytime soon but if it does then make your plans early.