Outside of a Mall of America garage, a baby in a chest harness caught a police officer’s eye. The infant wore earmuffs, the kind worn at NASCAR races that look like headphones.
“You’ve got him ready,” the officer said to the mother as he pointed at the child, then at his own ears.
The only outdoor events of X Games Minneapolis occurred on Day 1 Thursday, and the noisiest of the weekend happened in a parking lot turned action sports course. It’s called flat track racing, in which twin-cylinder motorcycles race on a flat track about a third of a mile long and a foot deep in dirt. The bikes hit around 100 miles per hour, and their engines were so powerful that, as they passed, they seemed louder than the airplanes that flew low overhead preparing to land at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
So many motorcyclists showed up that parking attendants had to expand the lot space for their bikes more than three hours before the X Games competition began. There seemed to be just as many novices as diehards, maybe more. With this being Minnesota’s first X Games, some spectators came just to see a single event.
At the most lively area around the track, near its second turn, a promotional employee for Monster — which sponsors many action-sport athletes — told a boy he couldn’t have a free energy drink without a parent. A Harley-Davidson VIP tent offered food, drinks and haircuts — even ones with the motorcycle manufacturer’s logo carved out.
“It’s rad,” a biker said as he started his motorcycle before participating in the Hooligan competition, held before the X Games bikers took the course.
A few feet farther up in the line of bikers, a man placed his forearms flat across his handlebars, and he bent over to rest his head. His eyes were closed. He could’ve been feeling calm or making a panicked prayer.
As the first Hooligan race neared its start, engines revved and cellphones were pulled out to take pictures.
Dave Ziozios of Chicago puffed on a pipe of tobacco and sipped a beer. He said he’s a fan of anything with two wheels, an owner of a few Harleys and a first-time X Games attendee. At lunch Thursday, he saw a preview for the night’s festivities on television and thought about how he’s finally attending after curiously watching the thrills and spills on television for years.
“Ahhh, alcohol fuel,” he said as the pungent scent spread into the air. He waved his hands toward his nose. “That is not made for longevity. That’s made to go fast.”
The single event at the Mall of America set up differently from every other X Games event that will take place this weekend. The other two outdoor events Thursday, BMX vert and skateboard vert, took place outside of U.S. Bank Stadium and, with a DJ and vendors, had the feel of a massive tailgate. It was hard for a passerby on the light rail to miss.
Only about 4,000 people were at the flat-track course, most of them assembled in the one set of bleachers available. But the X Games, owned by ESPN, are a made-for-TV event. In the infield of the track, a production crew set up what looked like a full barbecue near the Games’ on-screen host, Jack Mitrani.
“This is, like, cream of the crop,” said J.J. Flairty, the Hooligan winner from Waukesha, Wis. “It just feels crazy.”
His final race included a crash by a competitor, which stopped bikers momentarily. The bike was wedged into the track’s plastic barrier, and the man lay flat until paramedics took him away.
But that’s normal for action sports. The momentary hush that fell over the VIP section after the accident faded by the time Flairty won and another biker burned out his tire for fun and produced a cloud of smoke. Flairty said he couldn’t wait for the X Games athletes, the true pros, to show how to race on a dirt flat track in a parking lot. Eventually, Sammy Halbert of Graham, Wash., showed that best, winning the main event.
Soon, more engines would roar, more fuel would burn, more cellphones would take pictures, and the X Games would continue on into the night and weekend.