On the banks of the Ohio River, amid all of the black and orange (and the occasional black and yellow) attire from the Bengals-Steelers NFL playoff game just down the road, AMSOIL Arenacross made its return to the Buckeye state on Saturday night. (Check out the full race report here.)

This was the second year in a row that the series kicked off inside US Bank Arena. Last season at this event the pits were very busy. Every time that you braved to go down to visit with riders it was a nightmare, and a panic attack usually followed. This season many improvements were made to ensure a more organized area to work.

The promoters had a designated area inside of the arena that was reserved for Team Babbitt’s/Monster Energy/Amsoil Kawasaki and Rockstar Husqvarna OTSFF teams. Next to those teams were some of the smaller teams. The rest of the riders had the luxury of pitting out of two huge tents that were right outside of the arena. This was easier than stuffing all of the guys into the depths of the arena like sardines.

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I caught up with Slaton Racing KTM’s Zac Commans on the track walk. This was his first arenacross and he was surprised at how tight the track actually was. He told me that he absolutely loved Cincinnati and thought it was very nice. I had promised him and some others that we would see snow at the event—however, it ended up being a rainy day in the high 40s and Commans was upset he didn’t see the white death. It’s still weird to me that some of these California kids have never seen snow before. Regardless, everyone woke up on Sunday morning to a blanket of snow, so you’re welcome.

Also, if you’ve never been on an arenacross track walk before I suggest you either be really tall, or wait until its about over to go check it out. It’s one giant waiting line to get around the track and it stays like that until the riders meeting is over. It’s no ones fault. It’s just a lot of people on small surface area.

I was talking to a lot of the guys and they all agreed that Cincinnati is one of the tightest tracks on the circuit. It had four narrow lanes that included the start straight, whoops, a rhythm lane that included a double, step on-off option into three smaller jumps, and the finish line catapult. Kyle Regal was the only rider to double quad the rhythm section, but he only did it on the parade lap after opening ceremonies. Had he been able to do it in the race then the defending champ would have made up a bit of time on everybody—it was a fast line.

Opening ceremonies were what you would expect from the folks at Feld. Arenacross follows the same format as supercross and gets the fans involved with the riders. Cory Green made his entrance from the crowd and riders like Chris Blose and Regal made their intro on their bikes. Regal’s video should win “Best of the Year” award. He basically just shows up to a party and acts like he’s so fly while Drake and Future’s ‘Big Rings’ song plays. Seriously, it’s hilarious.

Once racing started it was clear that all of the riders on the gate wanted to make a statement in the first round. One rider in particular who stood out consistently was Keith Tucker. Tucker has trained most of his life at Millsaps Training Facility and is gearing up for the 250SX East Region with these Road to Supercross events. He looks ready after dominating the Lites East main event on Saturday and finishing second in one of the AX class mains. Tucker was one of the only riders consistently skimming the whoop section and that was one of the reasons he was able to stay so consistent.

Another rider who stood out was Jacob Williamson. Williamson is on a Babbitt’s supported Kawasaki and pits near the team, but he isn’t a full-time member like Gavin Faith and company. Williamson went 7-6 in the mains and was extremely fast through the whoops as well.

It was rumored that Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Austin Forkner was going to be in the building to get his supercross points, but he wasn’t. There were two riders signed to a supercross team on hand trying to receive their points, with Commans (Slaton Racing) and Blue Buffalo/Slater Skins/Yamaha/Herrera Ranch’s Benny Bloss. Bloss had problems all night through crashes and bad starts. He looked frustrated leaving the track. Commans had his fair share of problems as well but fought through it in each AX main. He missed his goal of top ten and will be racing at least two more rounds to get his points.

We had an Austin Stroupe sighting! Yes, Stroupe raced! Stroupe showed flashes of brilliance throughout the night. Sometimes he looked like the Stroupe of old, while other times he struggled. He made the main event, but could not buy a start in either race. Without a start he was forced to come through the back and that doesn’t work very well in arenacross. Toward the end of the last main event he made a lot of mistakes.

Stroupe was the Phantom of the Arenacross. It seemed as though once the races were over he disappeared into the rafters. We’re still trying to track him down. It was great to see him race once again, but that’s pretty much all we have here. You could follow him on social media but you probably won’t learn much from that—you well, though, be entertained.

Regal and Gared Steinke look to be having the most fun as far as teammates are concerned. They both ended up in the Head-to-Head race and goon rode on the second lap. Regal came out on top and earned a championship point. It was also a big night for Regal as he was presented with his championship ring from last season. Every time I saw them, they looked like they were having a good time from the track walk to signing autographs, to the races. Unfortunately for Regal, his night didn’t go well at all. A bad start and early crash in the first main left him in tenth, and race-one winner Travis Sewell drew the start inversion briefcase for race two. Sewell drew a zero, so the gate selections in race two were the exact same as the race-one results. This left Regal way back again.

The Rockstar Husqvarna and Babbitt’s Kawasaki team both told me they were each staying at the Millennium hotel a few blocks away from the arena. This is one of the nicest hotels in Cincinnati and these boys were far from roughing it. It’s cool to see those teams step up and give the Amsoil Arenacross guys some rockstar treatment. Kyle “Can’t Find A” Bitterman said that he wasn’t used to staying in such a nice place. This is his first year on a team and when he was paying for hotels as a privateer—and that means roach motels.

If you’re going to an arenacross you will get your fill of Jacob Hayes. I couldn’t get away from the guy. I ran into him on track walk and every time I went into the pits. I told him he did a great job on the local news on press day and he told me he was just yelling into the microphone because he couldn’t hear anything. It’s a good thing the news had sound issues. After the main events were over he came running out off of the podium and then gave everyone he found a fist bump.

His training is on point because he ran up four flights of stairs in his riding gear on his way to the autograph signing. The rest of us struggled behind him. Once there he gave all of the Monster girls a warm embrace then sat down to be a hero for the little kids. A great guy that Jacob Hayes is.

In the races, he came from pretty far back to fifth in race one, then took the victory in race two. He’s definitely going to be in the hunt for the title again. His Babbitt’s teammate Gavin Faith edged him for the overall win. (I grabbed this interview with Faith after the race.)

It’s going to be a great season of racing. Next weekend in Baltimore two more competitors will join the field in Jace Owen and Ben LaMay. Both of them had to miss the opener due to conflicting races in Germany. They will bring their supercross experience and be an immediate threat to the championship this season. Remember, the Race to the Championship format means these guys can miss a race and it doesn’t ruin their year. No one is going to be dominating this series because the field is deep (yes) and the points format pretty much guarantees this is going down to Las Vegas.

Arenacross rebranded itself as well this season. The new logo has a cleaner look and the new podium is state of the art. Below the podium is the gate and above it is an announcer’s tower, and DJ booth. Although the Road to Supercross is part of the deal, this isn’t a minor league series for amateurs to make their way onto the supercross circuit. Arenacross stands alone as a legitimate series and a way for riders to make a living. I can tell you that just comparing last years opening round to this one makes it clear where the series is going—the changes have been drastic, and the talent is deep. The series also has a new trophy that will go to the champion and it goes by the name of the Ricky Carmichael Cup. Even the new trophy had its own opening ceremonies video!

Overall the Cincinnati Arenacross opener was a success. More than half of US Bank Arena was filled with people who braved the very large downtown crowd, and took their eyes off of other events to watch the races. With the Bengals-Steelers playoff game going on at the same time as well as a car show, parking was limited and expensive. We saw one lot that charged $50 per car! Tailgating for the football game clogged up most of the metropolis but that didn’t stop people from seeing their dirt bikes. Yeah, Amsoil Arenacross might not be NFL big, but the fans who came out loved it.

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