Watching the XGames live in person is a little like being on the set of Jackass - or the movie Idiocracy. Sure, you're immediately humbled by the talent - and the cojones - of the kids doing backflips on their bikes fifty feet in the air. But you notice rather quickly that the audience's cheering is just that one decibel louder when someone screws up and gets nailed in the crotch with a handlebar.
That same sort of fueled-by-energy-drink-more-so-than-brains philosophy carries over to the XGames' rally car event. Say what you want about the event, it's awesome to watch.
Last year, WRC legend Colin McRae had only a tiny lead against XGames hero Travis Pastrana when he rolled his Subaru Impreza WRX in the last few seconds of the last stage of the event. As if the roll was scripted - it wasn't, I asked - he was in first gear dumping the clutch within a fraction of a second of landing shiny-side-up. It was the roll heard 'round the world, and I confess, I jumped clear off my bench screaming like I was in some bad Monday Night Football spoof. My cheering wasn't enough, and Colin lost to Travis - a seeming impossibility. Who is this kid? How did he beat Colin Mc-champion-Rae?!
Just like last year, the 2007 event happened on Colin's birthday. When I asked McRae if I should slash Travis's tires for him, he just laughed and declined. That's a shame, because it would have been fun to do.
The problem is that Travis Pastrana is just about the most likeable guy in the world. Unlike other kid-tested, mom-approved heros who suck crystal meth once the cameras turn off, Travis stays the same nice, wholesome guy. Sure, he's an adrenaline junkie, but, unlike the Jackass crew, he's not just insane, he's also immensely talented.
"Travis has natural driving talent in anything with an engine or wheels," Colin admitted. But not enough to beat him again, he thought, since last year, Colin's split times on the Super Special stage were faster, and this year, that stage was the whole event. Last year's long, difficult mountain stages were eliminated.
So, Colin had a good chance of beating Travis, but how could he ever beat the PR of last year's last-stage roll and the near photo finish? Well, if you're asking that question, you obviously didn't watch ESPN's live coverage of the event.
This year's XGames was the thirteenth ever, but it was only the second time cars were included. Just like last year, the field was dominated by Subarus - Subarus that love to fly. And since the Impreza seems to take flight better than its rivals, the Subaru teams must have been thrilled at the sight of the seventy-foot jump in the middle of the stadium.
Colin was a little worried about the jump, since it came after a tight left-hand bend. "Looking at the jump, you think you'll need 80 mph, but the way they designed it, you need only 50 mph. Still, it's tough to get that much speed coming out of the corner on the gravel - if you miss a shift you're in trouble." His worries weren't unfounded - Ramana Lagemann crashed and rolled his car during practice when he hit the jump with insufficient speed. The jump used for the event, however, was slightly redesigned - still seventy feet wide, it took less speed to clear, so there were no major incidents.
After the first round, that is. On the very first run of the event, Ken Block's WRX hit a chicane, a hay bale, and then a couple of walls, so it looked like it was going to cost him the round - and therefore any chance of continuing. To add insult to injury, he then lost a tire. But this is XGames, after all, and the rival Mitsubishi Evo barely made the jump, blowing out its rear suspension. Block wound up winning the stage by limping the WRX through the stage, another few barriers, and ultimately the finish line - on three wheels.
Then Andy Pinker hit something approaching ten different walls and Lagemann's how-did-they-rebuild-that-car-so-quickly Evo suffered from overheating problems. But the real excitement came with Colin's turn at the wheel. Halfway through his stage, he nailed a few barriers, launched the WRX into the air, and landed on top of one of them. All four wheels were spinning - but even Subaru's "Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive" doesn't help when none of the wheels are really touching the ground.
So, with Colin out, everyone assumed that the race was going to Travis, which made it all the more surprising when Travis was disqualified for accidentally ramming into Tanner Foust's Subie as they crossed the finish line. Travis lost a lot of time at the beginning of the stage because of the mudslide created by the water leaking out of the barriers that McRae had demolished. Although he made up a lot of that time, Travis was, in fairness, still slightly behind Tanner.
Of course, the fans went crazy when Travis was disqualified, with a loud boo that could be heard even over the piped-in crowd roar coming from the PA system. If Travis weren't such a good sport, he would have drowned out the boos and the cheering by screaming at the judges, "Do you know who I am?! I am the XGames - how dare you disqualify me!?"
Instead, the final round was Tanner Foust versus Ken Block - Subaru versus Subaru. And though they crashed into the same finish-line barrier at the same time - from opposite sides - Tanner took the win with barely a bumper's length to spare.
The fun lasted an hour and a half, and while the event looked more like an autocross (with a jump so big my house could fit into it) than a real rally, it certainly combined the jumps, the body damage, and the collapsed suspensions of the World Rally Championship with the sit-on-your-ass convenience of an XGames stadium event. And, let's face it, the guys at Jackass are on to something: what's more fun than watching the other guy get hurt?