Hurtling down a deserted stretch of Nebraska highway, freestyle motocross impresario Marc Burnett sat behind the wheel of a tour bus while a party raged in the seats behind him. Local girls from the last small-town show danced on board. Eyes on the road, Burnett's solace was singing '80s rock anthems with a fresh-faced Jeremy Lusk riding shotgun.
A certain X Games gold medalist, specializing in jumping over a bar, but who will remain nameless, decided it would be highly amusing to drop their pants and sit on Burnett's head. For Burnett it was time, once again, to lay down the law and rein in the FMX animals -- part of the job when you're managing the longest-running, farthest-reaching and biggest tour in the history of freestyle motocross, the Boost Mobile Freestyle MX Tour, presented by Monster Energy.
With the road stretching in front of Burnett in a straight line, he clicked on the cruise control at 80 mph, stepped away from the wheel, and went back to kick some butt. Luckily, Lusk grabbed the wheel. Not so luckily for the unnamed medalist, Burnett did go back and kick some butt.
"I have to wear a lot of hats in this job, and while the riders are my friends, I also have to keep them in line from time to time," he acknowledged. "And of course, after I kicked that guy's butt, we sat down and drank some beers and he's still a friend of mine and still occasionally rides the tour."
When you crisscross the country on an FMX cannonball run, doing in excess of 120 shows domestically every year, plus shows overseas and throughout Mexico -- managing four separate tours, keeping sponsors happy, negotiating with penny-pinching state fairs, staying in cheap motels and keeping the lid on a bus overflowing with testosterone-fueled FMX madmen -- your job description is lion tamer, entrepreneur, father figure, priest, insurance adjuster, travel agent, weatherman, truck driver, mechanic, bookkeeper, talent scout and, well, the hardest working man in freestyle motocross. That's Burnett in a nutshell, and he's been at it for 15 years.
A San Diego, Calif., native and former Supercross racer, when not on tour, Burnett races a class six mini Trophy Truck and has a Baja 1000 win to his credit. He takes his role in the FMX world very seriously. "I get great satisfaction from finding new talent and then seeing them go on to the big stage at X Games," Burnett said. "Jeremy Lusk is a perfect example. He begged to come on tour and actually came to my house and worked with a shovel, building jumps on our practice course to get a spot. You could see right away he was not only talented, but also a great guy. It made me really happy when he won a gold at X Games, and I felt a little part of that having given him his start.
You name them, if they're anyone, they've been at one of my shows -- Twitch, Deegan, Metzger, Adams, Bartram, Faisst, Hart, plus OGs like Clifford Adoptante, Jeremy Carter and Mike Cinqmars -- they all rode for me at one time or another.
-- Marc Burnett
"You name them, if they're anyone, they've been at one of my shows -- Twitch [Jeremy Stenberg], [Brian] Deegan, [Mike] Metzger, [Nate] Adams, [Kenny] Bartram, [Ronnie] Faisst, [Carey] Hart, [Chuck] Carothers, [Dave] Demangos, Maddo [Robbie Maddison], [Mike] Jones, [Dustin] Miller, [Matt] Buyten, [Mike] Mason, [Jim] McNeil, [Myles] Richmond, [Tommy] Clowers, [Beau] Bamburg, plus OGs like Clifford Adoptante, Jeremy Carter and Mike Cinqmars -- they all rode for me at one time or another. Except for one ... Travis Pastrana," he explained.
While launching new careers -- he's pegging Brody Wilson and Australia's Rob Adelberg as the next big things -- the endless tours with limitless stops are also the spot for former legends on a last go-round. "Some guys have been smart and saved their money, but only a few. Mike Jones, the oldest freestyler in the world, is still on my tour at 45!" exclaimed Burnett. "And he's still a machine at night as much as he is during the day, and that's saying something."
On the front lines of what consumers want from FMX, what Burnett sees is the best of times and the worst of times. "People don't want contests -- those days are over -- which means it's really hard to make a name for yourself. I try to help as much as I can. I let the riders use a foam pit, and young kids are really pushing the limits. I'm seeing more guys trying everything from front flips to barrel rolls, as well as some tricks I've been sworn to keep secret. Progression is alive and well. I've given a few guys bikes so they can try and make it and I hope I'm giving them the break they need to make it big. On the other hand, freestyle has become a staple of entertainment in so many places -- people still love the sound of motors and watching someone go upside down 40 feet in the air. The appeal is timeless. But I'm also more concerned about safety than ever before."
With summer looming, Burnett is signing up a new crop of riders, wrapping buses, tweaking ramps and locking in routing and dates; it's an enormous jigsaw puzzle with ever-changing pieces. He's just about ready for another season of rocking through the heartland from truck stop to county fair. So if you see a tour bus rambling down the highway without a driver behind the wheel, and a rumble going on in the back, don't worry, it's just the Boost Mobile Freestyle MX Tour, coming to a town near you. Lock up your daughters, and get ready for a show.