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Monday, October 10, 2011
Updated: October 11, 5:46 PM ET
2011 Monster Energy Cup preview

By B.J. Smith

The last time Ryan Villopoto raced at Las Vegas's Sam Boyd Stadium, he was celebrating this year's AMA Supercross title.

Fingernails will be chewed to the cuticles; teeth ground to the gums; soles worn out from pacing. If any rider sweeps the first two of three main events at the inaugural Monster Energy Cup [MEC] in Las Vegas this Saturday night then someone watching from a suite at Sam Boyd Stadium will face the strong possibility of writing a check for $1 million. But, the MEC is more than a chance for the best AMA Supercross and Motocross riders to win the biggest prize in motorcycling history. It's also an opportunity for Feld Motor Sports, the promoters of AMA Supercross, and the American Motorcycle Association, the sanctioning body, to open the rules package, try out a completely experimental format, and race on a very nontraditional track design.

All technical rules, with the exception of sound levels and fuel regulations, have been left open for teams to experiment with new technology like traction control, GPS, and in-helmet communication. Weight restrictions are gone. Riders can compete on any bike they choose, even machines unavailable to the public because there is no homologation rule. AMA Director of Supercross Kevin Crowther said the open rules approach is possible due to the distinct stand-alone event.

"As a singular competition event, the Monster Energy Cup gives us more freedom to think outside the box and try some innovative concepts that might not always be practical for a national championship," Crowther said.

Spectators will instantly notice a radically different track from what normally fills Sam Boyd Stadium -- traditionally the final venue on the AMA Supercross calendar -- as well as a unique format for supercross racing; three 10 lap main events. "We're starting with a piece of paper that's blank and clearing our minds of what supercross is and was and what motocross is and was and creating something that's uniquely different," said Todd Jendro, Feld's senior director of two-wheel operations.

Jendro emphasized that this isn't the 18th supercross race of 2011. The course, designed by former champions Ricky Carmichael and Jeremy McGrath, will be a hybrid of motocross and supercross. The two legends were asked to think outside the rectangle that usually makes up the course at Sam Boyd Stadium. They delivered by laying out a 3200-foot long track that is one third motocross, two thirds supercross, requires 900 truckloads of dirt, includes two 100 foot obstacles, sand whoops and shoots 120-feet up into the bleachers and back down to the floor. Jendro said lap times are estimated to be around 1:06 to 1:13, much longer than the 45-55 seconds average for AMA Supercross.

The Monster Energy Cup will give James Stewart, who has had a disappointing year, one more shot at a podium.

Riders will still qualify down into a main event but instead of one 20-lap winner-take-all race, all qualified competitors will line up for three separate finals. To win the "Monster Million" one rider must sweep all three main events. If no rider sweeps all three, the overall winner will be determined by the lowest average score of the three races and awarded $100,000 of the $250,000 purse. "I think it would be very hard for one guy to win all three because it's only 10 laps," said 15-time AMA SX/MX Champion, Ricky Carmichael. "There are a lot of guys who can go fast for 10 laps. There will be a lot of dark horses who can shock you, guys who can rely on talent and not strength."

"They're trying to keep the racing closer," said 2011 AMA Supercross Champion, Ryan Villopoto, who committed to the event on September 15. "When you start going 15 laps, 20 laps, that's where we start getting a gap. By the first 10 laps of a race, most of the time there isn't that big of a gap. It's usually within a couple of seconds so we're pretty close to each other."

The MEC is in its first year but Feld was also the promoter of the US Open of Supercross, which ran every October in the MGM Grand Garden Arena from 1998-2009. Despite the event being held at the end of a 29-race scheduling beginning in January and ending in September, many riders have signed on, including two of the top four from the 2011 AMA Supercross season. Villopoto, who was married on October 1, has delayed his honeymoon to attend. He said an extra $1 million would be nice but added, "It's tough to get to the end of the season and have to keep rolling on."

Former AMA champion James Stewart committed back in June but he still hasn't announced what, or for whom, he will be riding this weekend. His most recent Tweet on October 2 implied that even he didn't know: "I know y'all want answers on who I'm riding for next year but until I know anything I don't know what to say."

Top riders missing will include Chad Reed who is in Australia until November and Ryan Dungey who announced his two-year contract with KTM on October 1. Other confirmed riders include Kevin Windham, Dean Wilson, Justin Barcia, Brett Metcalfe, Broc Tickle, and Josh Hansen.

McGrath, a seven-time AMA Supercross champion has picked Kevin Windham as a favorite to win the event. "I think this is a really good race for Windham. He's really good in Vegas, for one. He's great on hard pack. And 10 laps is the perfect length for him. He can do three 10 lap motos, no problem."