"I was so nervous, but once I got out there it was absolutely awesome-the biggest adrenaline rush ever." That's how Dallas-based stunter Patrick Stephens describes the sensation of busting stunts in front of 46,000 screaming fans at Houston's Reliant Stadium during the first round of this year's International Freestyle Motocross Association tour. Stephens and the seven other stunters (Anthony D'Orsi, Kane Friesen, Ronnie "Hitman" Hurst, "Crazy" Dan Jackson, Warren James, Chris "Teach" McNeil and Grant Sunday) who faced off in Houston had a good reason to feel queasy, and it wasn't just the 92,000 eyeballs watching their every move. After five years of fighting for an opportunity to be part of a mainstream extreme sports event, street stunters got their chance in Houston. To some it seemed like the future of street freestyle rested on their shoulders, and these eight riders were absolutely determined not to screw it up. In the end, of course, they had nothing to worry about. Our boys put on a show to remember, blowing away all 46,000 fans-not to mention the Clear Channel bosses who control the IFMA tour-and finally thrusting stunting into the extreme sports mix.
So, how does the future of stunting look? As bright as the 2000-watt spotlight that followed each of the riders onto the stadium floor for the main event. Thanks to hard lobbying by Xtreme Sportbike Association (XSBA) director Ken Abbott, who convinced Clear Channel Entertainment to include stunting at this event, and some capable organization by XSBA stunt rider McNeil along with well-known stunt emcee Thomas Evans, the XSBA was able to put together an absolutely professional stunt program that stood up in every way to the superstar freestyle motocross program that shared the evening's bill.
For once, stunters weren't a sideshow attraction-they were given the respect they deserved, showcasing their talents in a program identical in makeup to the FMX riders'. Each rider entered the darkened stadium under a spotlight, greeted by the thunderous applause of thousands of wild fans. Each rider then did a solo two-minute routine on the stadium floor, followed by a post-run debriefing beamed up on the Jumbotron. Points leaders were installed in the hot seat (complete with a bevy of babes), and after the judged competition the top three finishers were invited back to the stadium floor (along with the top three FMX riders) for a five-minute "expression session" that closed the show. For a first shot, the stunters couldn't have asked for more.
Of course, there were a few first-event bugs, the biggest being the stunt space. The polished concrete stadium floor provided less traction than the riders were accustomed to, and this, coupled with a coating of dirt raised by the FMX riders, greatly limited the tricks the riders could complete. McNeil was the only stunter who managed to huck up a stoppie (perhaps because he has loads of dirtriding experience) and burnouts, and more involved acrobatic tricks were virtually impossible to pull off because of the limited grip.
In the end this hardly mattered, though, because the vast majority of the audience had never even seen street stunting before. "It wasn't like other stunt events where we needed technical tricks to entertain other riders," McNeil said. "Most of the crowd had never seen it before, so even without the technical stuff the crowd just flipped out." Stephens whipped them up with a run full of bar tricks and acrobatics-tank handstands, seat stands and off-the-back skitching-that drove the crowd mad. Tony D kept it going with some sit-down no-throttle-hand circles that had the crowd on its feet, and when Teach threw down a rolling stoppie you would have thought he did a backflip off one of the ramps from the crowd's roaring reaction. But by far the biggest response was when James' attempt to flip off his seat and into a skitch went awry and resulted in a bang-up crash-FMX guys hardly ever crash, so the crowd went wild.