Monday, February 20, 2006

My Review of Wide Open: A Life in Supercross by Jeremy McGrath

I think it's safe to say that the early years of a fringe sport are critical to its growth and development. If an athlete in that sport enjoys great success and takes it upon him- or herself to become a spokesperson for the sport, then there's an excellent chance that the general public will start to get interested before long.

For an example, just take a look at what Lance Armstrong did for professional cycling in the U.S. or what Tony Hawk has done for skateboarding. Before those guys rose to the top, there wasn't much interest in either sport. But during Armstrong's career, tens of thousands of new fans tuned in to watch the Tour de France each year. Were they cycling fans? Absolutely not: they were Lance Armstrong fans. The same thing can be said about Hawk and skateboarding competitions.

And, as readers of Wide Open: A Life in Supercross will discover, Jeremy McGrath can (and should) be credited for helping the sport of indoor motorcycle racing achieve a similar increase in popularity and mainstream exposure.

McGrath's book is an autobiography that takes the reader behind the scenes in the world of professional supercross and motocross racing. On the outside, motorcycle racing looks like a very polished sport. The promoters, sanctioning body, manufacturers, and sponsors come together nearly 28 weekends out of the year to put on a great show for the fans. However, there is often a lot of bickering, turmoil, and general animosity between some of the riders and the powers that be, which is something the fans don't often get to see.

Wide Open: A Life in Supercross reads pretty much like any other sports autobiography. It begins by detailing how McGrath got started in motorcycle racing, and giving an account of his early struggles as a privateer who was just barely able to keep scraping funds together to get to the next race. Finally, through hard work, perseverance, and sheer talent, McGrath rises to the pinnacle of the sport and becomes a living legend by winning an unprecedented seven supercross championships and earning the title of "The King."

Along the way, fans are also given a look at what it was like to be the most popular racer on the supercross circuit. McGrath writes rather candidly about the parties and the groupies, as well as the jealousy of other riders.

One unique feature of Wide Open: A Life in Supercross is the way that McGrath gives actual riding and maintenance tips every now and then. I do not ride motorcycles, so I can't tell you if these tips actually help, but considering McGrath's personal record as a champion, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and say they did!

In general, I had mixed feelings about McGrath's book. As an avid reader, I couldn't bring myself to overlook the numerous typos, outright spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors that made their way into the printed edition of the book. Those kinds of things may seem trivial to some, but they really bothered me and took me out of my reading rhythm whenever they popped up (which was often). The general tone and layout of the book was a bit off, too. When taken as a whole, the story came off as extremely choppy and uneven, which was disappointing even though I was hardly expecting to be treated to Shakespearean prose. Finally, there were many slow spots throughout the book that either should have been spiced up a bit with more input and insight from McGrath or that should have been cut altogether.

On the positive side, many of McGrath's accounts of the racing and the business aspect of Supercross were very exciting and interesting. Long-time fans of the sport will think to themselves, "Oh, I remember when that happened," while newer fans will think, "Yeah, I can totally see how that could happen." In other words, the reader won't doubt McGrath's version of the events in this book.

Overall, I would have to say that confirmed fans of supercross and motocross will most likely love Wide Open: A Life in Supercross. However, unlike the King himself, I doubt that this book will have much success crossing over to the mainstream market.


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