Mike and I arrived at the arena several hours prior to the 7:00 event starting time so that we would have time to sign liability waivers, visit with the participants, photograph bikes and riders in the pit area, and determine good locations from which to photograph the racing action.
I was pleased to visit with Anthony about the XIIR series. His great personality and British accent made the interview especially enjoyable for me.
CC: XIIR raced here five years ago and now returns to Independence. Has your series been in continuous operation in the interim?
Anthony: Actually this is our fourteenth year. We were doing really well. Then the economy crashed, so everything got a bit scary in the arena business. Everyone was watching their pennies, so we reconstructed it with different ticket prices, and this year we haven’t had a crowd under 3,200 which is pretty good for ice racing.
We set out in Everett, Washington’s Xfinity Arena, and we had about 3,200 in attendance in spite of a Seahawks game that was on. Then we went to Casper, Wyoming, in a brand new venue. They’ve only had ice in for a year, and we did 3,600. Then we went to my home town at St. Charles, and we did 4,600. Last night we were in Peoria, Illinois, and we sold 2,800 tickets before the show and had 1,400 walk-ups, so we had 4,200 in the building for a Thursday night show. We didn’t do as well here with advance sales, but the weather is good, so hopefully we’ll get a good walk-up. My good friend and partner Robert Nichols has sought the Elmira, New York, date out, and that’s already sold 2,500 tickets pre-sale. We’ve got the last scheduled round next weekend in Danville, Illinois, and we’ve got two brand new dates I can’t talk about yet, so we’re stormin’ it. I’ve got a good crew. Everybody gives Anthony Barlow the credit because I own it, but if it wasn’t for the crew and the riders that support me, it wouldn’t happen.
CC: How many riders do you have?
Anthony: Pro riders, we have six in each class on the road all the time, and we try to get locals to participate because the locals bring people in. We’ve got some really good guys, and we all get on. When you do a tour everybody has to get on. That doesn’t mean to say we don’t go racin’ each other, but there’s no fighting in the pits. The referee, Mike Lowe, has been with me for ten years and his son Cameron Lowe. We’ll all go out for a beer after, and if there’s a bad decision made or somebody’s crashed, we’ll joke about it, and it’s not like it’s personal. My daughter’s here from Australia, and it’s her first year helping dad run it. I feel really blessed! Of course my wonderful sponsors like Red Bull and SuperTrapp and Kold Kutter; they’re what keeps it going.
CC: I see you have mini-bikes. What’s up with that?
Antony: They’re electric mini-bikes from Burromax. We pick four girls out the crowd and then four guys, and they race, and it’s really good.
CC: You’ve scheduled three events in three days from Peoria to here to New York. How did that develop?
Anthony: What happens in ice racing is your routings are all over the place. We’re not the Rolling Stones, and we’re not Supercross, so it’s difficult. The buildings these days have soccer, basketball, arena football, hockey, and concerts. To do an ice race, you’ve got to have three days to build the ice normally, and then you’ve got a day to tear it out, so you’ve got to work with the building schedule.
CC: The Mavericks played hockey here Tuesday, so I guess they started with that ice.
Anthony: Yeah, that’s what happens. Hockey is normally about ¾ of an inch. For us it needs to be at least a couple of inches, and the arena has to freeze it as hard as they possibly can.
CC: The screws in the tires tear it up big time.
Anthony: One thing we do--my referee has been around a long time, and he watches for damage, marks it, and as the night goes on we pull our carpet out so we’re not running in the same groove.
CC: Ice racing is something we don’t see every day, kind of a novelty.
Anthony: It’s more of a spectacle, and people do follow us, but we’re not Supercross, and that’s just being honest. What we do is make the ticket prices low. I love flat track, but they charge a fortune to go and watch an A.M.A. flat track race. You might pay $20 a ticket for kids and $30 or $40 for adults, and when go and watch it’s the same people, and the crowds are dying off because everybody’s getting older, whereas when you come to see ice racing, you’ll see riders from four years of age to 70. You don’t see that in flat track.
CC: Is social media a big factor in creating awareness of your sport?
Anthony: Last night we did a thing with Walters Brothers Harley-Davidson; they sponsored it. I’ve never had this before on views. We would get 15,000 views, maybe 20,000, but this got 150,000 views. It’s all about getting on TV and radio and promoting it. I can do that. Obviously I’ve got the English accent. American people are good to the English. American people have always been good to me. All my sponsors are American. I get on the TV and radio, and they think, “that guy must be crazy,” so it’s all good.
CC: Your sport looks very dangerous.
Anthony: It is. I’ve got a bruise on my back from a crash three weeks ago. Shea Knuth is riding with an injury from a crash. Everyone thinks it’s a show, bur racing is racing. Everybody wants that prize money, don’t they?
CC: And the chance to stand on the podium at the end. Thanks, Anthony.
I also cornered Jamison Minor, one of the pro riders, and the youngest pro on the tour.
CC: How long have you been racing on ice?
Jamison: This is my second year, so I’m still learning.
CC: Tell me about your bike.
Jamison: It’s a motocross bike. 2010 Honda CR450. The suspension is a little modified. Obviously has the tires for the ice and has the ice fenders on it. The fenders wrap around so no one gets into your tires and cuts them up. It also protects the other riders. If a tire made contact with someone’s leg, the studs would tear it up like a chain saw. I also race it on dirt. The only thing I do differently for dirt vs ice is different fenders, wheels and tires.
CC: What kind of dirt racing do you do?
Jamison: I ride A.M.A. professional flat track. It’s good doing this (ice), and it helps to stay in practice. It’s good to stay on the bike during the winter so when Daytona comes around in March you are fresh, and you’re not rusty.
CC: Are you doing all of the races on the circuit?
Jamison: Yeah. This is Round 5, then tomorrow we are going all the way to Elmira.
CC: That’s a long trip.
Jamison: Oh, yeah. And then next Friday night is the finale in Danville, Illinois.
CC: Would you like to mention your sponsors?
Jamison: I have JMC Motor Sports (Jay Maloney), Anthony Barlow who lets me ride the speedway bike in the ice series, Moose Racing, Factory Connection, Moto Gear, CP Carrillo, and Wiseco. Racing is expensive, so sponsors are necessary and really appreciated.
CC: How did things go for you at Peoria?
Jamison: I struggled a lot. The ice was weird. The snow built up a lot, I think because the ice was soft. I ended up crashing, but I got third on the speedway bike, so that was good. I’m hoping to do a little better tonight. (Note: He had a top three finish.)
CC: Good luck tonight and thanks.
When the action began, the audience was treated to some exciting racing. There were about ten riders including Aaron Dunnam, Manager of Operations at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena, who competed in the quad class. The international pro riders were Jim “The Gentleman” Terchila, Shea “Bad Boy” Knuth, Ben “The Dark” Knight, Jamison “Braveheart” Minor, Jay “Bad Attitude, Pretty Boy” Maloney, and Anthony “The British Bulldog” Barlow. Others were Clayton Criswell and Colby Long. Apologies to anyone whose name I missed. The announcer who introduced the riders looked sharp in a tail tux, white shirt, and bow tie. His skill as a race announcer added to the enjoyment of the evening.
Each round consisted of heat races for speedway bikes, dirt bikes, quads, and the mini-bikes (audience participation). After each round, a Zamboni was used to undo some of the ice damage inflicted by the studded tires of the racers. Lineups were changed for each heat of each round, and most of the riders competed in multiple classes, so the relatively low number of competitors did not detract from the high level of competition. There were three rounds of four-lap qualifying races followed by the six-lap feature races in each class. There were four riders in each of the heat races, and everyone raced in the main events with starting position based on points earned in the qualifiers.
For me, the speedway bikes are the most fun to watch. A 90 horsepower nitro-methanol fueled engine mounted on a lightweight (roughly 180 pound) frame with no brakes produces jaw-dropping performance. Rear sprockets have 60 to 80 teeth depending on rider preference. For all classes, the tires have roughly 1,600 steel studs for traction on the ice.
The crowd enjoyed cheering on their favorites through all of the rounds of competition. In the end, the evening belonged to Jay Maloney who finished first in all three classes, an unprecedented feat. In spite of the fact that they were faced with a drive of 1,100 miles to Elmira for Saturday’s race, the riders took the time following the races for a meet-and-greet session with the race fans in the concourse. There was a long line of fans including many youngsters who were eager to meet the riders and get their autographs.
Special thanks to Anthony Barlow, Dillan Esco, XIIR, and the staff at Silverstein Arena for putting on a terrific event. We're hoping to see XIIR in Independence next year.
Photos by Stripe and Mike Schweder