Given its pastoral nature and historical charm, it may come as a bit of a surprise that one of Chenango County’s most prominent draws is based on the rather modern phenomenon of motocross racing.
Hidden among the rolling hills near the town New Berlin is one of the international sport’s most hallowed grounds. It goes by one name: Unadilla. And if anyone in the motocross world hears it, they know exactly where you’re talking about.
“It was one of the first and it’s one of the best,” says Jason Weigandt, motocross play-by-play personality for NBC Sports and longtime contributor to Racer X Illustrated magazine. “Out of those first motocross tracks, it’s one of the only ones that’s still around.”
Unadilla opened in 1969 just as motocross was taking off in the U.S. Many tracks have been lost to suburban sprawl over the decades since, but Unadilla’s rural location and reputation ensured its preservation and status as an iconic venue.
“It was really in on the ground floor. It’s hosted big races from the start and it’s really never stopped,” Weigandt says. “There’s not really any other track you can say that about.
“There’s probably not any other track in the world that has had all of the best riders ever – in both the U.S. and Europe – race there at some point,” he says.
More unique, still, is the fact that the course has not changed much at all.
“Unadilla is unique because it really uses the lay of the land. They don’t build a lot of jumps and obstacles, they just use the hills that are there,” says Weigandt, who’s been attending races at Unadilla since 1985 and covering them for nearly 20 years. “So, you can watch an 8-millimeter film from 1974 and watch the track on TV today and it’s totally recognizable. You rarely get a track that’s that similar over the course of 40 years.”
Both riders and fans wouldn’t change a thing about the beloved bastion either.
“Because it’s in upstate New York, the track has a kind of Woodstock vibe to it,” Weigandt says.
The Pro National MX Weekend is the signature event at Unadilla each August. Thousands come out to watch the finest riders in the country in one of the sport’s biggest events with plenty of campers, enthusiasm and national television crews in tow.
Thinking about heading to Unadilla? Here’s what to expect …
It’s fast. Though the cycles top out at about 60 mph, the crowded and relatively small track makes them seem as if they are going 100. Given all the twists, turns and jumps, it’s something to see.
It’s close. Unlike auto races, fans can get pretty close to the action. At Unadilla, spectators feel as though they are on top of the track. If you’re into auto racing, this is an intimate experience you have to try. If you’re not, it’s still a pretty cool view.
It’s physical. Motocross requires some exceptional physical abilities, so you are definitely watching bona fide athletes do their thing. It may seem like the motorcycles are doing all the work, but riders are actually sweating out the 30-minute races start to finish, keeping balance and jumping hills all while trying not to run into each other.
It is indeed reminiscent of a rock festival in the middle of nowhere. This and other national events tend to clog Route 8 with masses legendary for their motocross passion. But, you don’t have to be a fan or even familiar to enjoy it.
Racers bring a little showmanship to the heart-pounding contest with tricks off the jumps that Weigandt likens to a slam dunk in basketball.
Spectators are also treated to a sweet view of all the action. The track is located in a valley, which situates the course below the stands and gives the fans a unique and comprehensive close-up.
“It’s a spectacle. And Unadilla is one of the best places to see it,” Weigandt says of motocross.