My Superprestigio: Five Crashes, Two Podiums!

What was it like to have the best seat in the house for Saturday’s Spanish short-track shootout between Brad Baker and Marc Marquez? Read on.

Flat Track Super Final start

What a night! Last time I lined up for a flat-track race in front of a crowd was more than 10 years ago. The Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, Spain, wasn't sold out Saturday night for the Superprestigio Dirt Track, but the 8,000 fans in the arena were so into the racing, doing "The Wave," shouting and applauding, whistling and stomping for this "new" sport. The seats along the front and back straights of the arena were packed, and the atmosphere was just tremendous. A lot of it—most of it, in fact—was because 2013 MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez was racing and Brad Baker had come over from the United States with his AMA Pro Flat Track number-one plate.

Everybody was saying Marquez was risking a lot, going up against the guy who won what I think is the most prestigious title in the world last year. Really, I can’t think of many riders who would have put themselves on the spot like that. For me, this puts Marquez even higher as a rider (if that’s possible), like when Jean-Michele Bayle crossed over from Supercross to Grand Prix roadracing in the ’90s. But the Superprestigio was just as much of a challenge for Baker. If he would have lost to a rookie dirt tracker, well, that would have made for a long flight home to Washington state.

Of course, Marquez isn’t really a rookie. I mean, he’s a three-time world champ, plus he has always trained on dirt. I remember him more than a decade ago sliding a minibike around a soccer field at an outlaw dirt track. I wasn’t surprised he was so fast at the Palau because I know how often and hard he rides at the practice track in Lerida.

I felt a lot of pressure, too. I got my start racing dirt track in the States. As a high school kid, I was a Lodi Cycle Bowl regular, and I won the first Formula USA Pro Singles championship racing guys like J.R. Schnabel, Bryan Smith, and Will Davis—really good riders. But instead of moving up to 750s, I went to Spain and switched to roadracing.

I run a dirt-track school, Noyes Camp, aimed at guys who ride on the street or roadrace and want to work on their sliding and throttle control. A lot of people expected me to do well, but the evening started all wrong with two crashes. I was sitting on the starting line for the LCQ, thinking, “It’s been a while since I didn’t make the main. I gotta win this!”

Luckily, everything worked out. I won the LCQ and went on to have a pretty good night. I had never raced a motocross-framed DXT bike. When I raced AMA and Pace, we rode “framers.” Handling and setup are way different, and, to be honest, I never figured out the DTX bike all the way. I mean, I ended up on the podium in the Superprestigio division, for roadracers, and again, in the Super Final—when the top four guys from the roadracer division faced the top four dirt trackers and off-roaders—but I was a little squirrely out there, crashing five times during the night.

Superprestigio Dirt Track - POV Kenny Noyes - Filmed with LIC Goggles

DTX bikes, at least the way my Suzuki RM-Z450 was set up, want to come around on you in the middle of the corner. You don't have much steering to correct it, either, so you every time I was too aggressive, I hit the steering lock, and the bike would try to highside me.

As soon as I saw Baker do a few laps at Lerida before the race, I realized my bike had some important setup issues. The first one was easy to fix. Baker ran a really short gear, bumping against the rev limiter all the way down the straight. When I raced dirt trackers, they didn't have rev limiters. I know it sounds like a "grandpa story," but it's true: I blew up my Husaberg a few times over-revving the engine. The Rotax guys used to gear their "cheater 680s" way long to use the torque and lug the engine off the corner. That doesn't work any more. With current 450s, it's all about having power off the turn even if that means bouncing off the limiter all the way down the straight.

As far as suspension goes, I’m going to send mine off to the US to get the right dirt-track setup. Even though the team I raced for, Suzuki Catala, has one of the trickest supermotards in the Spanish Championship, the setup for flat track, especially with the fork, is way different.

The Michelin 17-inch rain tires we used looked wrong, but since I had never raced a DTX bike on 19-inch wheels, the tires weren’t much of an issue for me. Baker looked like he took about two laps to get used to them. One of the funniest things to watch was the GP guys telling the Michelin rep they didn’t have any grip. He suggested paving the oval.

During morning practice, the track was really dusty, and I didn't know if we would be able to run the event. It was so bad, they had to bring a cleaning crew before they opened the doors to the crowd; dust is going to be coming down from the rafters at the next concert, for sure. They solved the dust problem by putting down salt. In the States, they use calcium chloride, but the salt worked okay. The track was real slippery down low, but Baker was really the only guy who could run up high and make it work.

Baker had the track dialed, but Marquez really stepped it up. I beat Marquez in one of the Superprestigio finals. That was the only time all night I got a good start, but Marquez won the other three whether he got a good start or not.

In the Super Final, I got sideways off the gate, and my rear wheel hit Merle Scherb, one of the instructors at Colin Edwards' Texas Tornado Boot Camp. Luckily, we both stayed on two wheels. Then, we all got into such a scrap, balking and slowing each other down so much that, by the time Tito Rabat and I finally got loose, Baker and Marquez had broken away.

Brad Baker battles Marc Marquez in the Super Final.

I knew Marquez would be that fast, but my ex-Moto2 teammate Rabat was the guy who really surprised me. He really stepped up and went fast. I think we probably hit each other 10 times during the evening. I was going to say he was riding really wild, but I was the guy who crashed five times, so I guess I have to shut my mouth.

At the end of the main, when Baker got into Marquez and Marquez went down, you could hear the crowd whistling. If I was Baker, I would have been worried about getting out of there alive. By the look on his face before the podium ceremony, Baker was definitely concerned. But Marquez took it the way you have to take it. It's not just racing, it's short-track racing. If we had a penalty-points system like MotoGP, by the time we got to the main, all of us would have been disqualified. Half-miles and miles are a different game, more like roadracing, where the consequences are bigger, but in short-track racing, bar banging is part of it. Marquez also got into Baker a few times, so it was all good.

If AMA-style dirt track becomes popular in Spain, the Superestigio Dirt Track and the battle Marquez and Baker had in the Super Final will be the reason. That was one of those races where, if everyone who says they were at the Palau really had been there, there would have been more people than seats.

I heard some Spanish press guys saying they doubted Honda would let Marquez race dirt track next year. But Marquez, Rabat, and I were talking after the race, and Marquez said he really was stoked about upping his game, getting a low-mounted exhaust pipe for his Honda like the one that Baker ran on his KTM, changing his setup, and applying all that he has learned to get faster.

Next time I heard somebody say Honda would put a stop to Marquez dirt tracking, I thought, "Good luck to anybody trying to tell this guy what to do!" I believe we'll be doing this race for years to come, and I plan to step up my program, as well. Living over here, I'll probably never do AMA half-miles and miles again, but I'm going to do all the dirt tracking I can around here and go to the UK to race some rounds of the DTRA series, especially the half-mile they have in August.

It was really great for Spanish dirt track to have Baker there. He’s a real racer, like Marquez, but from a different world, one I used to be part of and one that I still feel is part of who I am as a racer. Sure, I’ve been roadracing for 13 years, and, like I said, I hadn’t raced dirt track for more than 10 years, but talking to Baker and Scherb took me back to my days driving coast to coast in a box van and racing my Husaberg. (By the way, Scherb was in there good all night and third in the Open class. So all three Americans stood on the podium in Barcelona.)

When Baker was asked about the long 15-hour flight from Seattle to Barcelona, he didn’t hesitate. “It’s a lot easier than 62 hours in the truck to Daytona,” he said. “I got to watch movies, and I didn't even have to drive.” That’s pure dirt-track talk that GP journalists are definitely not used to.

But the best quote of the weekend came from Marquez’s manager, Emilio Alzamora. When one of the race officials asked if he was looking forward to the main, Alzamora, who doesn’t show a lot of emotion, said, “What I am looking forward to is getting Marc out of here alive!”

1987 500cc World Champion Wayne Gardner with his sons, Kenny Noyes and Brad Baker.

Palau Sant Jordi.

AMA Pro Flat Track flagman Kevin Clark.

Super Final start.

Marc Marquez body english.

Brad Baker battles Marc Marquez in the Super Final.

Flat track style check.

Super Final wheelie.

Kenny Noyes takes the checkers.

Brad Baker victory lap.

Super Final podium with Baker, Marquez, Rabat and Noyes.