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Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Where Will X Go Next?

By Devon O'Neil
XGames.com

Over the past week, in four distinct cities pining for the same thing, a lot of like-minded people from divergent backgrounds have awaited word of their X Games fate.

It's been two months since the list of more than 20 applicants was whittled to four finalists, each hoping to replace 11-year host city Los Angeles and stage the games from 2014 to 2016.

In Chicago, the city sports commission wants to know if its bid was enough to defeat, among others, longtime rival Detroit, whose campaign was conceived by a pair of twenty-somethings and backed by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. In Austin, the folks who run the only Formula 1 racetrack in the U.S. want to know if they'll be hosting an X Games RallyCross race, too. And in Charlotte, a.k.a. NASCAR world headquarters, even five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has hinted he might jump behind the wheel if his hometown is picked.

Action sports heavyweights like Tony Hawk (who favors Detroit, according to Los Angeles Magazine), Nyjah Huston (also Detroit, according to the same story) and Travis Pastrana (who drove ESPN executives around Charlotte Motor Speedway's track to woo them last month) have joined the fray. The announcement will come prior to X Games LA, held Aug. 1-4 in Irwindale and downtown Los Angeles.

"I keep having people say, 'What's going on? What do you know? What's the inside track?'" says Bonnie Starrak, marketing coordinator at ADVMX, a popular motocross facility outside of Austin. Her answer: She's just as eager to find out.

Citing "four incredible bids," an ESPN spokesperson says they are "very far along in the process" but do not have a final decision at this time.

Each city has gone to significant trouble to win. Starrak recalled the scene at the Austin X Games rally at the state Capitol, where thousands showed up to sway ESPN's site survey team. In her opinion, there is no debate where the X Games should go next: the Live Music Capital of the World, of course.

"I think what sets us apart from other cities is the interest in action sports spans generations here," Starrak says. "We had entire families at our big rally downtown. In my neighborhood the other day, I saw a man in his 60s wearing an X Games shirt."

Jimmie Johnson, seen here winning the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, told a fan he'd consider racing RallyCross at X Games if the event moved to his hometown.

Then there's Detroit, whose bid was masterminded by college buddies Kevin Krease and Garret Koehler. The duo not only staged rallies but enlisted a global sponsor in Ford -- whose X Games drivers test their cars 30 minutes outside the city -- and Gilbert, who founded Quicken Loans and, like everyone in Detroit, wants to see Motown thrive again.

Ben Clarke, owner of the People Skate and Snowboard shop and a resident of Detroit Metro all his life, has attended downtown parties to support the cause. "The city itself represents action sports in a lot of ways. It's a gritty place," he says.

"The bid process alone has brought a big community together," he adds. "It wasn't just a bunch of money being thrown at a problem and making it look like we care. It was literally spray painting a banner with the X Games Detroit hashtag and hanging it up on freeway overpasses. It's been a grassroots level of effort and that's very Detroit to me. It's a city that is what you make of it."

Social media, not surprisingly, has played a role throughout the bid process. Some committees put big value in it -- the X Games Austin Facebook feed reaches more than 30,000 people, compared with Chicago, which reaches 208 Facebook users and is the only finalist not to maintain a Twitter account.

Perhaps due in part to Chicago's strategy, a well-known street skateboarding city has struggled to rally the locals. At Uprise, a skateboard shop founded in 1997, employee Ken Keistler said he was learning about the bid for the first time. "I haven't heard it talked about in or outside of the shop," he said. "We rarely get big events here. We haven't had Street League or X Games. We wouldn't discourage it from happening, but I don't think we'd be a driving force to get out and push for it to happen."

Ryan Wayne, a longtime Chicago street and park BMXer, said he and his friends have been talking about the bid for months. He worries that Austin, which has one of the strongest BMX scenes in America, will win out, but he's staying optimistic.

"The X Games are something I've always hoped to see come here. I've always wanted to go to one of the competitions -- it makes you feel like a little kid to see that kind of riding in person."

Chicago resident and Fly Bikes BMX pro Kevin Porter thinks his city is the perfect fit for the event. "One of the best parts about Chicago is riding in the inner city. I love pedaling around town and taking the train to spots. You don't get to do that in California," Porter says. 

Charlotte, meanwhile, is hoping its local motorsports base seals the victory. Like Austin, Charlotte's bid is centered around a racetrack, the Charlotte Motor Speedway (and a hard-to-ignore Twitter bio: "We were built for extreme!"). The track would host most of the events, with room to seat tens of thousands.

So advantageous is Charlotte's connection to NASCAR -- more drivers from which are dabbling in RallyCross -- that even gurus from other sports tout it as the key to the city's bid. This includes Keith King, a North Carolina native and two-time X Games BMX flatland competitor who, for the past three years, has staged professional BMX competitions in Charlotte.

"BMX is my passion. I've been doing it for 26 years now," King says. "But Charlotte is a racing mecca. All the big NASCAR teams are based there. So much of the industry in Charlotte is based off motorsports. I would love to see it come here, man. I think we've got to use everything we have to make it happen."

After five-time NASCAR champ Johnson endorsed the bid on Twitter last month, a fan asked if he'd consider entering the X Games RallyCross if the race were in Charlotte. Johnson's response: "All of us would consider it if we are home." Another fan asked if he'd consider dropping in to the MegaRamp.

"Yep, @tonyhawk has been secretly training me for the event," Johnson replied.