KTM Canadian Arenacross Championships

A brawling brouhaha of bar-bending excitement

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A young man going over a jump on a neon green dirt bike.

Wyatt Waddell, who is from Ladner, B.C., executes a step-up triple that many pros elected to give a miss. — Jim Muir photo

While motocross racers across the country sit on the couch playing Mortal Combat and eating Cheezies, we’re still racing! 

The event

The first two rounds were run at the Cloverdale Agriplex in Surrey, B.C., and I was lucky enough to catch rounds three to six at the Chilliwack Heritage Park in Chilliwack, B.C. Riders swarmed in from all over the B.C. mainland, Vancouver Island, Alberta and Washington State, and there were even a couple of pros from Ontario and Quebec. If you like motorcycles at all, and have never experienced the spectacle of arenacross, you have to drag yourself out to one of the remaining rounds when the series resumes in January.

Arenacross is a roaring rush of adrenalin—an action-packed, knock-'em down, drag-'em out, brouhaha of brawling and bar-bending excitement! Ten riders per race rip around a track barely wide enough for two bikes, filled with ominous jumps, whoops, step-ups and 180-degree turns. Often the only way to pass is the ever controversial "block pass"—where the progressing rider cuts to the inside of a corner and blocks the digressing rider’s forward progress by planting his bike in front of him. The number of ways this can go wrong is astounding, and highly entertaining. Each night of racing has 24 races on the card, including pee-wee racers as young as four years old up to some of the top pros in Canada, and a handful from the United States.

The players

B.C. riders hold the top two plates from last year’s series, and both riders are right up there again this year in both the Open Pro and Pro Lite classes. Brock Hoyer is the current arenacross champion and he currently sits second in both of this year’s series; Ryan Lockhart is the No. 2 plate holder and he currently sits third in both series.

So far this season, though, another B.C. rider, Spencer Knowles, has been stealing their thunder. Knowles leads both the Pro Lites and Pro Open classes, and his winning has only been interrupted by American visitors, Brad Nauditt and Ryan Abrigo. All of these riders are among the best in the country, and you never know who might show up on any given weekend. Jeremy Medaglia, who was the best Canadian in this year’s outdoor Lites Championship, showed up from Ontario for the first two rounds, and Kavin Benoit, who won the Montreal Supercross a couple years back, showed up from Quebec for rounds five and six.

There’s some huge pro talent in the house each night, but there’s also some of the top amateurs in the country. You can write these names down: Jacob Piccolo, Casey Keast, Wyatt Waddell, Riley Paulik, Jesse Pettis and Ethan Ladd. They are all up-and-coming stars of the future who have been attending these arenacross events. If you drop in to see them race, I guarantee someday you will be watching the Pro Nationals on TV and have the opportunity to say, “I saw that kid when . . . !”

The pro racing

The racing has been spectacular! Spencer Knowles won all four pro mains the first weekend in Cloverdale, then hounded American pro Brad Nauditt for all four mains the second weekend in Chilliwack. Nauditt got out front on every start but he couldn’t shake Knowles. Beating Knowles must have felt like trying to pull a rotten tooth out of a pit bull’s mouth. Knowles was chomping at Nauditt’s rear fender all night, trying inside manoeuvres, outside manoeuvres, and eventually a hugely unsuccessful "right through him" manoeuvre. Nauditt couldn’t shake Knowles, but neither could Knowles get around Nauditt. Nauditt won all four pro mains at rounds three and four.

Nauditt didn’t attend rounds five and six, but American stand-in Ryan Abrigo represented the stars and stripes just fine. Abrigo won three of the four pro mains, but it must be noted that Knowles crashed while leading twice, piled up in the first corner once, and won the only race he stayed upright throughout. Knowles is leading the series for a reason; when he doesn't beat himself, he’s the man to beat!

Hoyer and Lockhart, for their part, haven’t really been in contention for wins, but have hovered just in and around the podium and kept themselves in the title hunt. Abrigo is fourth in the points in both classes. He missed the first weekend of racing and was disqualified from one race for a fist fight that occurred on the track—such is the nature of arenacross.

The amateur racing

While the masses flock in to see the pros, many leave talking about the amateurs. Amateur racing tends to have more thrills and spills per inch, and seeing a nine-year-old kid doing all the same jumps on his 65-cc bike as the pros do is something you have to see to believe. I’m talking here specifically about Jacob Piccolo. I’ve seen many eventual top-level pros ride minis over the years, but none have been as startling or freakishly fast as Piccolo. Seeing him ride feels like you’re watching the action in "fast forward" mode. He brakes too late, carries too much speed through the corners, and gets on the gas too soon. Your mind does a disconnect when he launches his little bike over the big double jump in the centre of the arena. It just doesn’t seem possible, and yet he does it lap after lap.

The only thing standing between Jacob Piccolo and super stardom is Jacob Piccolo. He crashed out of the event both weekends doing things he didn’t need to do to win. His mom and dad are praying his mind will mature to develop rational thought before his body is devastated. He’s clearly one of the special ones.

Likewise, Casey Keast was putting in lap time comparable to some of the fastest big bikes, and Wyatt Waddell (a junior rider) mastered a triple step-up option that even top pros like Brock Hoyer elected to give a miss most laps! Add to this display of talent the copious supply of mishaps and blunders that the "slightly less gifted" amateurs are prone to, and you’ve got a recipe for some very stimulating racing.

I highly recommend that you get out to one of these events. There are people all across the country wishing they could have been there, but the event is B.C. born and bred. We are the chosen ones so it’s time to get off the couch, put down those Cheezies, and take in some real Mortal Combat—arenacross style!

Click here to see the schedule and standings. 

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