The brand new Independence Events Center is the home of the C.H.L. Missouri Mavericks hockey team and also hosts concerts, basketball games, and other events. On January 2 and 3, fierce competition took place on the Events Center ice, but the Mavericks were not involved. Instead, high-powered motorcycles and quads contested two rounds of the Xtreme International Ice Racing series.
Prior to Saturday evening’s racing, Editor Mike and I had a much-appreciated opportunity to visit the pit area to photograph riders and their machines and to visit with some of the competitors. I had noticed in the XIIR website rider profiles that several were European. Our first interview opportunity was with one of them, James “Demolition” Mann.
CC: James, your accent tells me that you’re one of the riders from across the pond.
Mann: Yes. I’m from Manchester, England.
CC: Why come to the U.S.A. to race?
Mann: I have been a professional speedway rider. I was invited to come to the U.S. and ride on the ice. I just tried it and loved it. I actually live in Warrenton, Missouri, near St. Louis now.
CC: Do most of the international riders reside in the States?
Mann: No, most of them just fly in to race, and that’s it. Anthony Barlow lives in Missouri, but the rest just fly in. They race all over Europe--Poland, Wales, Scotland, etc.
CC: How does indoor ice racing compare to racing outdoors?
Mann: People are surprised how fast it is even though the arena is small. It’s a tight course, and that makes it very entertaining.
CC: The bikes are light and have lots of horsepower.
Mann: Exactly. It has a 500 cc motor and weighs only 180 pounds. You just rev it. It’s got no brakes.
CC: What’s the format of the racing program?
Mann: Each heat race is four riders and four laps. The top four riders in points are in the first race. Six riders get through the heat races and last-chance qualifier and race in a six-lap main event. Each of the two days is a separate round in the series.
CC: Does the ice vary?
Mann: It changes. It can be slick or have more grip. It depends somewhat on the temperature in the building. Even outside--if it’s cold outside, it’s usually slicker. If it’s warm outside, the ice is a bit softer and has more grip.
CC: Thanks, James. Good luck tonight!
After James, we moved on to talk with another Englishman, Anthony “British Bulldog” Barlow.
CC: I understand you’re the founder of the X.I.I.R.
Barlow: Me and my wife started it. I used to ride in a different series, but it was never A.M.A. sanctioned. So we decided to start our own series, and the rest is history, really.
CC: Where are you from originally?
Barlow: I’m from Merseyside, England
CC: I understand your organization has its headquarters in St. Peters, Missouri. Is that because of the central location?
Barlow: Actually, my wife, Marlene, lived there.
CC: How do you recruit racers?
Barlow: I’ve known a lot of the riders from when I used to race in Europe. The word gets around. We’ve always had a good European connection. I know a lot of the promoters and F.I.M. (note: stands for Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme) people. I just say, “Hey--we’re looking for a couple of guys to come racing.” It’s cool that we have some great California riders as well—like Charlie Venegas. We have a good group of guys. When you do an ice racing series you travel week to week, and you’re all together, you’ve got to get on. It took about 8 years, but we all get on now. We still want to kill each other when we’re racing, but off the track we get on.
CC: How much different is speedway racing on the ice versus dirt?
Barlow: Personally, I’m a lot better ice racer than I ever was at speedway. You find that some guys are unbelievable on big tracks and others on small ones. I feel the ice racing is prestigious. You’re in a building that holds 6,000 people. Some of the clubs in England are struggling to get 500 people to go and watch. I really like speedway because not many people can do it. It’s a unique sport.
CC: I read that your series started in 2004. Have you been affiliated with A.M.A. from the start?
Barlow: Yeah, and that’s good. They have the name, and that’s what you need. I race not so much to win but because I enjoy it so much. We’ve got great sponsors-- Red Bull Energy Drink, Red Line Oil , SuperTrapp , S100 , TNT Action Sports . The list goes on and on.
CC: Do you have a staff with you to run the events?
Barlow: My wife runs the whole show. She’s very smart and quiet--opposite me. I’m loud and full of crap, so the two of us are compatible. I try and invite family and friends to the races. It’s no good being a champion and having all this great stuff and not sharing it with people. When I get a sponsorship I share. I think that’s what it’s all about. Jay Nelson is my nephew and his wife is Chrystal. They’ve come this week to help out. He’s the flag official, and she’s the pit steward. We have a lot of people around us that enjoy it and travel with us.
CC: Thanks. We are looking forward to watching you ride.
As we talked with the competitors and looked at their bikes and quads, Mike and I became more and more eager for the races to begin. We split up in order to provide different photo perspectives of the action. The riders were illuminated by a spotlight as each rode his bike or quad into the darkened arena. Surprising many in the audience, several of the riders did wheelies as they were introduced. Wheelies on ice? Oh, yeah!
At the starting line, a spring-loaded barrier pops up to begin each race. A rider who jumps the gun and breaks the barrier is moved to a second line in the back for the restart. Since each races lasts only four laps, this is a serious disadvantage.
In spite of the slippery racing surface, the studded tires provided excellent traction, and the acceleration of these racing machines was amazing. Heat races alternated between bikes and quads. During breaks between qualifying rounds, special-interest races such as a celebrity quad race, a father-son quad race, a California bike race, and a bike “race of champions” were run, so there was never a dull moment. Racers ranged in age from sixteen to mid-fifties. A pair of Kansas City area quad riders entered the competition.
As the event progressed, Californian Shawn “Mad Dog” McConnell seemed to accumulate more audience support each time he took to the ice. It’s hard to determine how a particular rider becomes a crowd favorite during the course of an evening, but Shawn’s floppy-eared “Mad Dog” helmet combined with exceptional riding skill certainly drew attention to him. The bike main event began on a controversial note. Charlie Venegas left the ice after a dispute involving a false-start penalty. The remaining riders put on a good race with McConnell finishing ahead of “Krazy” Kelly Kerrigan, Barlow, Russell “The Rocket” Green, and Eddie “Double E” Martinez. The finishing order for the quad feature was Justin “Superstar” Ebbing, Nathan “Hippy” Siegel, Dusty Crouch, Dan Hawk, Phil Smith, and Rich Schoeberl. Many of the riders were available after the races to meet their fans and sign autographs. The crowd of 3,450 was treated to a great evening of racing. During the event a heavy snowfall had begun and added to an already deep accumulation that blanketed the Kansas City area.
Before Sunday’s racing began, Mike and I caught up with Saturday’s feature winner in the pit area, and he took the time to field a few questions from us.
CC: Congrats on a great performance yesterday.
McConnell: Thanks. Things are getting better. I’ve been struggling a bit. The first couple of weeks I got behind on points in this tour. I was working on a movie in New Mexico and missed the first two races. Everything’s settling down now. The bike’s running good. No more carburetor issues. I’m used to the screws in the tires. Now it’s easy to ride.
CC: How long have you been racing on this tour?
McConnell: I started halfway through last season.
CC: I’m sure our readers would be interested in hearing more about the bikes.
McConnell: They are interesting. It’s 100% speedway bike. The screws in the tires are the only difference. The motor is a 500 c.c., 65- to 70-horsepower, 4-valve, 4-stroke and runs on methanol. Some of the bikers are Jawas. I ride a GM, and so does Anthony. It’s an Italian bike. The upkeep is a little more expensive, but they run good. A lot of the other California boys are running Westlakes from the Eighties. They use an upright motor. The problem with them is that the ignition boxes are 20 years old and have a lot of issues.
CC: We noticed you had quite a following last night. What was up with that? Were they people you knew?
McConnell (laughing): I flew in Friday. I don’t know anybody here. I don’t know what that was all about, but I was pretty stoked. It felt like the whole back straightaway were my people. When you get people behind you like that, you have to be good, don’t you? You disappoint a lot of people if you don’t do well. That was pretty exciting to have that many people cheering for me. I don’t know where it came from. I didn’t do anything special.
CC: You do stand out a bit with the “Mad Dog” nickname and your trademark helmet and long hair.
McConnell: That’s kind of what this is all about isn’t it? If you’re in the spotlight and you do what we do, you don’t want to blend in with everybody else. You want to be different. I’ve pretty much lived my whole life that way.
CC: What kind of racing have you done in the past?
McConnell: I used to do motocross and flat track. I still do motocross once in a while for fun. I’ve made a living in speedway and with the movie stunt work. Where else can you get paid for falling off a motorcycle? Between the two, I keep pretty busy.
CC: How’s the prize money?
McConnell: There’s good money in it. This is the A.M.A. sanctioned ice racing series. If you win it, you’re recognized as an A.M.A. champion. You get to go to the banquet. In our world, it’s a pretty big event.
CC: Do you stud the tires yourself?
McConnell: I’m just finishing that rear one over there. I had a bead come out my first night out, so I had to take all of the screws out and do it all again. There are different length screws, and every one has to be put in a certain way. There’s 750 just in the back. Every one has to be pointed exactly how it needs to be. If I was doing nothing else, it would probably take me eight hours to complete one.
CC: Do the screws stay in or do they sometimes get loose?
McConnell: They sometimes need adjusting between races. They turn a bit. Maybe once a night I’ll check them. .
CC: We know you have things to do to get ready for the races. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us and good luck.
The snowstorm had an impact on Sunday’s attendance, down to 2,760, but the racing was just as competitive and exciting. The finishing order in the bike main was Venegas, McConnell, Kerrigan, Alan Rush, Siegel, and Mann. For quads it was Ebbing, Barlow, Schoeberl, Tyler Hughes, Hawk, and Siegel. Mike and I both had a blast covering the event for Cycle Connections. Xtreme International Ice Racing is a colorful and exciting sport and we certainly encourage our readers to take in a race if they have the opportunity.
The remaining XIIR schedule follows:
Saturday Feb 6, Rio Rancho, NM-SANTA ANA STAR CENTER
Saturday Feb 13 Allen, TX-ALLEN EVENT CENTER
Friday/Saturday, Feb 19 & 20-TBA
Saturday Feb 27 Kitchener, ON, Canada-THE AUD
Saturday March 13 Dawson Creek, BC, Canada-ENCANA EVENTS CENTRE
Saturday March 20 Penticton, BC, Canada-SOUTH OKANAGAN EVENT CENTRE
Special thanks to the staff and riders of X.I.I.R. and to the Independence Events Center’s Director of Marketing, Sarah Miskew.
Article by Stripe
Photos by Stripe and Mike Schweder