Here’s the Facebook message the Ritchie family posted on February 20, 2016: “Our dad passed away this morning. We’re so thankful that he left this earth just the way he wanted to: peacefully, at home with his dogs and family. RedBud was his vision, his dream. To everyone who ever threw a leg over their bike or set foot there, he was so very grateful. He often said, ‘If you get to do something you love for a living, you’re truly blessed.’ He was blessed. Godspeed, Geno. We love you.”
Not much else really needs to be written in this introduction. This Sunday, the gate will drop on the 71st annual Motocross of Nations at RedBud MX in Buchanan, Michigan. While moto patriarch Gene Ritchie will not be there to see it, his son Tim certainly will (likely from the seat of a bulldozer!).
Q: Way back in 1972, your dad Gene purchased theis property and etched out the circuit now known as RedBud…
TR: Yeah, 40 years ago this year my dad saw the Motocross des Nations in Gaildorf, Germany. [ED: Team Russia won the Chamberlain Cup that day, while Finland’s Heikki Mikkola took the measure of Californian Bob Hannah]. He went with some friends that were European and that was kind of his first taste of it – it was the first one he ever went to. It wasn’t like a super-hardcore thing that he wanted to do before he died or anything like that, but he liked the event and he wanted to do it, but after Budds Creek in 2007 the political climate was so scary that from then on he was really, really hesitant to do it from there on out. But yeah, it was a race that he wanted to do.
Q: RedBud creally goes back to the infancy of the sport in this nation…
TR: Yeah, it does. I’ve already been telling people that this week 47 years ago I believe they started to build the track. In 1974 they had their first AMA National. Back then the AMA was looking for people to take races! Kind of a little bit different than these days. He started the track with two of his moto buddies. It was just a buddy deal that they went in together on and said, “Let’s go do this for something to do on the weekends.” My dad was running a bike shop in Indiana and somebody broke into it and torched it, and after that we moved up here and he bought his partners out and make a goal of it full-time. He also opened a Bultaco and Maico shop on site-called Red Bud Cycle. I think my dad ultimately realized the track had more potential than the dealership. We keep bringing him up because he would have been really, really, really been excited about how well this race has been received already.
Q: Compared to the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship National at your track last July 4th weekend, is the Motocross of Nations an entirely different event and race to prepare for?
TR: It’s just a whole lot more. The VIP stuff for this event is pretty huge. A lot of work goes into those areas. My tent guys are just packing up today and they started their build here last Saturday. They’ve been here for more than 10 days just doing tents. A lot goes into that. I guess it’s just a little bit more than a National, I guess. It’s just a little bit more everywhere. Everybody is all-in with the event. And wanting to make it work.
Q: Are you pleased with where the track is at right now?
TR: I think so. I changed a couple things on their request for length of track. We changed the start to house the pit lane. Everybody kept asking me why we did it: It’s strictly to house their pit lane structure, which is very large. It’s the longest straightaway on the race track; doesn’t curve or sweep or something. It’s 300 feet of just nothing but straightaway. That project was big. This race just elevates everything. You elevate the facility. You put nicer fence up and you get everything nicer everywhere. It’s a lot more work than it was 20 years ago when it was just some farm fence and you just pushed some dirt around, you know? I was looking forward to it because the Motocross of Nations is a fun thing to do for a track guy, but it turned out to be a whole bunch of work in getting it all done. The other changes to the track are that we shortened it a little bit. I’d say it’s five seconds shorter than what the National track is.
Q: There has been a whole lot of talk about how many people are motoring towards RedBud for this race. Can you talk with us about that?
TR: Yeah, I think it has impressed everyone – us included. Youthstream (MXGP series organizer) tells us it’s about 40% higher in pre-sales than the any MXoN to date. That’s pretty scary! Anything limited has been sold out. Camping, VIPs have all been sold out for over a month. With the presale tickets that we have, we’ve already outsold our National crowd already. That’s pretty gnarly, huh?
Q: That it is. I keep hearing 60,000 fans on race day. That true?
TR: We’re not going to talk numbers yet. We’ll see when it is over. Parking is what we’ve been concerned about. We have about 25% more camping spots than at the National. The car parking was our concern. We acquired 37 acres to the north of us. We also rented 50 acres across the street. With all the parking we have right now, we have room to park three times what we did for the National. I should add that the local community is very, very excited about it. From the local high school people to all the municipalities to all the police departments to all of the road commissions; they’ve all been involved and they’re all very excited about it. Even if they’re not into moto and not coming to the race, [people are] still excited about it.