Imagine staying up late on a Sunday night, listening – not watching – an Extreme sport on ESPN while doing some late-night writing. All of a sudden, this nothing event comes to life. The words sounded familiar.
“… and in the Street Luge category … a man made a name for himself … from Redlands, California … David Rogers.”
What’s that? Redlands? Late-night ESPN TV? Made a name for himself? I kept watching. Sure enough, Rogers was there, on his back, racing downhill, battling for a gold medal. From Redlands, of all places. As a media member, you’re always looking for local angles.
I had to get it into the newspaper the next morning. Late night phone calls. Early morning. Let’s see. If this took place on tape-delayed ESPN, he might be traveling home at this hour – and maybe just getting back.
Maybe I could catch him before he went to bed. It was 1 a.m.
I’ll do anything for a story on deadline.
Rogers, who resided in Redlands, took that ride down a San Francisco hill near the famed Cliff House restaurant on one June summer day. While the temperature soared to nearly 100 in his home town, the City By the Bay was nice and cool.
Rogers took first X Games Street Luge championship in August 1999, thus earning a gold medal along the way. It was a first. He’d come from last place on that daring dangerous downhill plunge at the Cliff House.
With names like Biker Sherlock, Rat Sult, Earl “The Squirrel” and Dennis Derammelaere in the sport of Street Luge, a name “Mr. Rogers” doesn’t seem all that exciting, does it?
By the way, the Godfather of the sport is Bob Pereyra.
It’s a Redlands Connection that Rogers copped a street luge gold in the Super Mass category.
Some background: The programming department of ESPN in 1993 came up with the idea of holding a meet for athletes from the alternative, or extreme, sports. After nearly two years of preparation, the first Extreme Games were held in Rhode Island and at Mount Snow, Vt., from June 24 through July 1, 1995.
Competition in nine sports attracted 198,000 spectators. Based on that success, ESPN decided to do it again in 1996, when the name was changed to the X Games.
The 1997 and 1998 Summer X games were staged in San Diego. The second Winter X Games, in 1998, were held at Crested Butte, Colo. By the following summer, arrangements had carried the event to San Francisco for two years in June.
Rogers’ racing expertise lied, perhaps, in the fact that he crafted his own racing machinery. A Texas A&M engineering graduate, Rogers fabricated his own boards on which he lied, facing up, as he rode downhill and steered in that crazed position.
The event was called Super Mass.
Summer attendance climbed continuously over a three-year period, to 221,000 in 1997, 233,000 in 1998, and 275,000 in 1999. ESPN hasn’t released attendance figures since then, so the supposition is that they’ve reached a plateau or declined somewhat.
Many competitors had arrived in Utah to compete in the Street Luge X Games’ “Last Chance Qualifier.” The weather had been hot but nice with moderately heavy winds in the evening. The hill features a steep grade with an off camber sweeping right followed by a very challenging left turn. Braking was required.
Redlands’ Rogers had a blistering qualifying run which would have placed him as a top 10 qualifier for Street Luge. Comparing the two related events, riders noted less fear of injury and little pressure to perform.
Whoosh! Rogers, from his past place sport, whizzed past Sean Slate in the rear position, taking the best line through the Cliff House Turn, winning the Super Mass category.
Position is everything. Pushing a racer into the hay bales might be perfect strategy.
There might’ve been 10,000 watching in this remarkable view.
Unfortunately for the racers, lying on their backs, they had no view of the great Pacific Ocean as they raced downhill for the gold.
For the local newspaper, I had an off-the-beat story.
I couldn’t wait for my first face-to-face interview with Rogers. He’d given me his address. I met him at home. His wife, dressed to the max for this special interview with her husband, looked lovely and supportive.
One day later, Rogers met me on a road course – part of the Sunset Loop for the Redlands Bicycle Classic – for a photo spread with photographer Lee Calkins. It led to a full-page spread in the local newspaper.
The gold had one to Rogers – A Redlands Connection – with some nice