Inside Those Thirty Laps To $1 Million Glory At The Monster Energy Cup

What if I told you that all you have to do for a million dollars was win three 10-lap races? It sounds easy, until you realize that the race is on a 250 CC motorbike. But even if you still think you can do it, let my story be the one to set you straight: No, you likely could not.

As part of my experience at the Monster Energy Cup in Las Vegas, they let certain members of the media ride the bikes to get a taste of what riding a supercross bike would be like. What made it even better was that the greatest motocross and supercross rider ever, Ricky Carmichael, would be the one who would teach this motley crew of journalists.

Carmichael is the Michael Jordan of motorsports. The man has won a total of 15 national titles in motocross or supercross and designed this year’s Monster Energy Cup track. Carmichael even owns a few riding schools to teach laymen like myself to ride, so to say I was in good hands would be a dramatic understatement.

After a good 15-to-20-minute session where I’d been given instructions on how to ride the bike, pop the clutch, and do a tiny mini-lap on the bike, I was ready to go … or so I thought. I’d gotten on the bike, put the bike in first gear and promptly went two feet on the bike before I flew off for revving too hard.

I’d wrecked in front of the greatest to ever do it, that’s the equivalent of getting blocked by the rim in front of Jordan or blowing a penalty kick in front of Lionel Messi. Needless to say, my pride has yet to recover from this and it’s nearly been a month.

But for the chance at a six-figure payday, a racer has to be perfect in three straight heats. An amateur like myself couldn’t make it five feet without falling, these racers have to make it 30 laps and win. No matter the condition of the racer or the track, a strong dose of perfection and a light sprinkling of luck is required for a racer to even find themselves in contention, much less win the entire thing.

The million-dollar challenge is so daunting that up until this year’s race, there’d only been one man who’d climbed the mountain: Ryan Villopoto. Sure there’d been plenty who had come close, but issues would arise, be it equipment failure or a loss of focus from the Monster Cup exclusive Joker Lane.

The Joker Lane is the most daunting obstacle on the path to victory. Typically, the Joker Lane has been something to add time to a racer’s lap, to essentially even the playing field. If a racer misses the Joker Lane, they’re docked time and spots, making it impossible to win the million dollars. This year, Carmichael chose to invert the design on the Joker Lane, instead making a routine lap six seconds shorter to invite more strategy.

“What’s not typical about Monster Cup is you have the Joker Lane,” Villopoto says. “This year is quicker. Say you’re leading and the guy in second, I believe it’s six seconds quicker to take the Joker Lane, so it’s a lot. If you’re in that range and the guy that’s leading forgets it, they’re docking you five spots so you can’t forget it.”
Going into the race that night, it was one of those things I’d look for, on top of seeing if someone would actually win the money. The strategy of using the Joker Lane was one of the things that’d fascinated me, were racers going to take that Joker Lane early to try and establish a dominant lead? Or were racers going to save it for later in order to make up time?

It wasn’t long before I found out. In the first race, those who got a great start like Eli Tomac and Marvin Musquin broke out of the starting gate and took that Joker Lane as quickly as they could, making it look like a two-man race to see who’d even be eligible for the big payday. It’d seemed like a duel was on the cards.

That was until Tomac wrecked in the first race, and after you experience the feeling of falling from a motocross bike, you absolutely get their pain, especially because the chance for a million dollars went by the wayside because gravity didn’t necessarily agree with whatever he decided to do. That was the heartbreaking part of it all, the chance for a battle between two racers over a life-altering amount of money was officially over.

On the restart of the race, Musquin wasn’t challenged at all. He conducted that track like it was jazz, smooth and improvised every step of the way while hitting each note perfectly. He’d kill all three races and let everyone in Sam Boyd Stadium know that he’d arrived, including the best to ever do it.

“He was perfect tonight,” Carmichael would later say. “He did it the same way I would do it.”

At the end of the night, I’d sat back and marveled at what I’d witnessed that night. A guy was perfect in all three races for the second time since the Monster Energy Cup’s inception. At the same time, I knew that the chances of someone repeating this feat the following year were going to be next to impossible because so much can change between this year and next while the stakes are as high as ever. However, I dwelled on the fact that I just saw history made in Las Vegas, and the opportunity to see it again is something I would not want to miss.

That said, if they don’t let me ride the bike again, I won’t be upset at all.