The XDL Championship Series season opener on July 21 & 22 marked another step in the continuous improvement of this rapidly growing series. During the off-season, management underwent a comprehensive review of the global opportunity and XDL’s position within it. What became clear was that the sport of street freestyle would be on a much bigger stage come 2013, so 2012 would be the year to get aligned with that change.
First order of the day was a comprehensive review of the existing XDL rulebook and judging criteria, which led to new assignments on the judging panel that now includes Chris Theis, Michael Nagler, Craig Emrick and Nick Brocha. Chris Theis was also promoted to Director of Competition. In addition, XDL created its first-ever competition committee that is comprised of athletes and judges, and discusses and decides relevant issues such as rules changes and improvements in the judging format. The combination of all these changes created open lines of communication, as well as complete transparency and accountability, once again placing XDL at the forefront of the development of the sport. When the action started at Round 1, the improvements quickly paid off. Athletes unanimously praised the clarity, openness and accountability now present in XDL Cup.
Round 1 was held in conjunction with the WPGC Bike Fest, an established event featuring the MIROCK Superbike drag racing series, which regularly draws 5,000 to 7,000 spectators. And while it is normally hot and sunny this time of year, the week featured almost non-stop rain, with only a slight let up on Sunday for the main event. The rain made for treacherous conditions and aside from practice and qualifying, the bulk of the XDL program was shifted to Sunday.
The main event opened up with a brand new format under the Motul Drift Battle banner. The mission behind this new format is to bring drifting into street freestyle competitions and it opens up tremendous opportunities. Drifting can be performed differently depending on the size of the venue and the configuration of the track and so the Motul Drift Battle is designed specifically to maximize the opportunities in each venue. The newly installed XDL Competition Committee, along with Director of Competition Chris Theis decided that this venue-specific approach to competition design would be the safest and most entertaining way to approach this competition. For DC, this meant an incredible course that had two riders racing head-to-head through a coned course and then drifting side-by-side out into a big sweeper, followed by a mandatory 200-foot stoppie and a final wheelie race to the finish line. As soon as the green flag dropped for the first practice session faces everywhere lit up. The Motul Drift Battle was fast, exciting and a lot of fun to watch. Many athletes, including eventual winner Aaron Colton called it the most fun event of the weekend.
The Motul Drift Battle was followed by the now familiar K&N Circle Challenge, which saw the return of Lin Eshalom to active competition. After taking a relatively easy win in his first draw, Eshalom sized up the competition and figured he could take it all the way, which he did when Bill Dixon made a mistake that handed him the win in the final pairing. It was good to see Eshalom back on top of the podium in one of his favorite events.
The Yamaha Generators Wheelie Race unfolded into one of the fastest contests ever due to the fact that the venue at MIR had almost 500 feet of straightaway available. In the end, Luke Emmons took his first-ever Wheelie Race win in the final bracket against Aaron Colton by outfoxing him at the turnaround point.
The main event featured the new XDL Cup format of two 2-minute runs versus the old three run format. That meant competitors were no longer in a position to drop one of their scores, which worked out great for most, but cost Luke Emmons dearly when he crashed in his first attempt. Chris McNeil had big hopes because the new judging favors his style of riding, but he had to settle for a 5th place. Aaron Colton took 4th and Ernie Vigil, another rider known for an aggressive and fluid style took 3rd. The top two spots came down to a close battle between Bill Dixon and Rafal Pasierbek from Poland. Pasierbek had won the 2011 XDL Finals and came well-prepared to battle it out in the season opener. His fast and furious “all over the bike” style is a stark contrast to Bill Dixon’s “balls to the wall” attacking style, but it is a credit to the new judging system that it was able to reward the two divergent styles. Dixon finished 1st in the first run and 2nd in the second run, compared to Pasierbek’s 3rd and 1st. Under the new scoring, this result gave Dixon 3 points and Pasierbek 4, with the lower score determining the winner, just like in Motocross.
But Pasierbek would get a measure of revenge in the final event of the day when he took the win in the Racing 905 Sickest Trick with a switchback Christ zero.
Round 1 was a thrilling start to the new season and not everything happened on the track. XDL launched its first-ever Facebook Broadcast, which was a real time play-by-play on Facebook with picture and video posts. In fact 115 posts were made over the course of the event weekend, garnering almost 400,000 views. And a gallery of unedited competition clips is viewable on XDL’s YouTube Channel.