Motocross riders make no bones about it: their sport is all about showing off and playing to the crowd.
Their midair twists, turns, even back flips are all for audience enjoyment -- especially because more crowd noise translates into a higher score.
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Five riders in the U.S. FMX Championship Series thrilled crowds Saturday at the DuPage County Fair in Wheaton, earning points from a panel of three local judges whose job was to gauge the crowd's appreciation for each trick and turn it into a score on a 10-point scale.
"I think it's all in the styling," said Chuck Ingram of Wheaton, one of the judges and a member of the fair's board of directors. "The showmanship is basically what I'm looking for."
Judge Joey Catanzaro, 14, of Wheaton, said he was looking for flips and full-body extensions.
The riders, with nicknames like Hazardous Hal, provided plenty of such action, even before the afternoon competition's final round. Dressed in boots, helmets and brightly colored full-body suits, they held handlebars with their feet, let go of their bikes entirely, twisted, contorted and even flipped in the air after launching from a 14-foot tall ramp.
"That guy's like a spider on the bike," Ingram commented after one trick. "That was a high one -- all he needs is a set of wings now," he said after another.
Riders' acrobatics earned applause and fist pumps from about 250 people gathered in the fair's grandstands and a couple dozen others catching glimpses from outside the arena's perimeter.
The afternoon's partly cloudy conditions were nearly perfect for the competition because winds were light, said Daryl Baier, national tour director for Stunt Tours Network, a division of RPM Productions, Inc., which organizes the tour.
"It's amazing how a little breeze like this can throw them off," Baier said about the trick-throwing, daredevil riders. "Even though it's subtle to the crowd, it affects them significantly."
The sport of pulling midair tricks on high-powered motorcycles also can be dangerous, but there's a thrill in "pushing the point of safety and sanity right to its limits," Baier said. "It's a constant contest to one-up the other guy."
Andy Winckler, a member of the fair's board of directors, said the afternoon and evening motocross competitions were a new addition after riders did a few tricks between demolition derby events last year.
"The crowd loved it so much we brought straight motocross" this year, Winckler said.