On track with Tom Ritz | Interview
On track with Tom Ritz | Interview
Tom Ritzenthaler has probably built every iconic BMX track you can think of! He’s been behind all three Olympic tracks, the sculptured works of art that were the Red Bull R. Evolution tracks in Berlin and one of our favourite tracks to watch racing on, the 2016 ‘Mariana Pajon’ Worlds track in Medellin, Colombia.
We’ve all heard riders talk about his tracks but we can’t recall hearing his opinion on them and the sport in general … time to find out a little more about Mr. Tom Ritz and his new venture ‘Tom Ritz Designs’ …
15: We guess the first question should be, how did you first get involved with designing and building BMX tracks? Where you involved in the sport before that?
Tom Ritz: My parents ran a BMX track from 1979-1986 in Norwalk, Ohio. Between my father and Bob Tedesco, we were always changing up our track. Then around age 9 or 10 I starting driving bobcats to make the track work easier.
15: You have been intimately involved with the birth and introduction of Supercross … where and why did it come into being, were the Olympics the ultimate goal?
Tom Ritz: Yes, Johan and myself started the BMX Supercross with the downhill races at Camp Woodward, then Dew Tours, which all lead to BMX in the 2008 Olympics.
15: The most famous tracks you’ve built have obviously been for the Olympics … what’s the overriding goal when you sit down to design a track for the biggest sporting stage on the planet?
Tom Ritz: Well I like to try and incorporate something on each track from the host country. In London we had the Underground, Rio was the Sugar Loaf Mountain and in Beijing we were trying to get them to build the starting hill to look like those ancient buildings you see in China, but that didn’t happen.
15: The most recent Olympic track in Rio is probably the most visually iconic with the green hill and turns … some riders clearly didn’t like the green but it was certainly impactful, do you have input into those visual decisions at events like the Olympics or is that down to the event organisers?
Tom Ritz: I had no input whatsoever. At the last minute the organizer did it, and UCI approved it, even though the UCI made the statement saying the track must be proven/tested before any changes can be made for the Games. I myself didn’t mind the green turns but I’m not a racer anymore, lol.
15: Rio developed hugely after the test event, as did London, were you expecting the rider reaction at the Rio test event? What’s your feelings on what happened at the event?
Tom Ritz: A lot of stupid shit went down that week UCI was there. From the beginning of construction, we built everything to what the UCI signed off on and UCI still threw us under the bus, kinda shitty if you ask me. As for the athletes, UCI should have gotten a better control on them from the start. Other sports never let the athlete’s takeover, they put a stop to it from the start. But everyone wants to stay friends and not be the bad guys. Thank god for Corbin and David that said ‘fuck off we are riding’. After sitting in a meeting with 4 riders and 2 coaches yelling and saying what needs to be changed on the track, the athletes finally tested the track and without surprise, what they wanted changed and the feedback we got was total different. Then you have coach’s yelling at the UCI because they want the track built for their athlete(s). Then the UCI picks a coach to be in charge of the track and the rebuild. I’m gonna stop there ‘cause it was all bullshit at this point …
15: By the time the games rolled around most riders seemed to really like the track, it must be immensely satisfying to sit there and watch the biggest event in BMX unfold on your creation?
Tom Ritz: It was a lot of hard work and we delivered one of the best tracks … and we still have not gotten paid for this track … thanks Rio fuckers!
15: With 20/20 hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently on any of the Olympic designs?
Tom Ritz: Yes.
15: Do you have a favorite track that you have built, what are you most proud of? Are there any you just didn’t like?
Tom Ritz: 1998 Christmas Classic track for the NBL. First successful berm jump, which started it all, thank you Bob Tedesco for believing in me. Then the new era RAD track for both Red Bull Revolution tracks in Berlin.
15: We loved the Red Bull R.Evolution events, the tracks where wild and you could argue that they embodied the rebellious spirit that BMX should be all about …
Tom Ritz: Red Bull…what can I say…damn they got their shit together…WOW…amazing company to work with and a big, big, BIG thank you to them!
15: The use of all the different materials on the Red Bull tracks impressed us a lot, do you think any of that will ever trickle down to ‘regular’ SX tracks or even traditional BMX tracks?
Tom Ritz: Never! UCI made a new set of Guidelines:
-No wooden lip take offs.
-No untested areas or features.
-Must be approved by their ‘specialist’, lol.
15: Has there been any behind the scene’s talk of another Red Bull R.Evolution event?
Tom Ritz: Yes, talks here and there …
15: The 2016 UCI Worlds ‘Mariana Pajon’ track had one of our favorite second straights, almost trails like … How much input do you get from riders when designing and building?
Tom Ritz: When your building for Mariana, what do you expect, she is the best. It was great to have free reign on that build because I felt that her track and the Challenge track were 2 of the best World Championship tracks we have seen in a long time. We didn’t have to water down anything on the elite track and the challenge track had a shit ton of great racing on it.
15: There are always the inevitable 8m internet debates going on. What do you think about the hill, is it here to stay?
Tom Ritz: Keep them. Let the old timers bitch and say it’s not BMX racing. It’s the same thing when disco slippers and those weird pedals came to the sport.
15: Tokyo is fast approaching; do you know yet if you will be building another Olympic track? How long in advance does the planning start for these builds?
Tom Ritz: I know nothing…because of some people that have issues and are childish because their feelings got hurt somewhere, sometime.
15: And finally, you’ve recently changed from ‘Elite Trax’ to ‘Tom Ritz Designs’ what has been the thought process behind that?
Tom Ritz: I want everyone to know that I’m on my own now, and to maybe have the UCI believe in me again as a track designer & track builder. I just wanted to go back and have fun doing what I do best…building BMX tracks and keeping the sport RAD.
We’ve asked some follow up questions to this interview and will update it should we get them.