Founded in 2003 as a way to give back to the community, the Big Air Kids Fair has been a yearly event put on by Steve Bauer and friends in an attempt to bring the motocross industry together with the kids of the Loma Linda University Children's Hospital.
Now, nearly a decade later, with the help of TNT Action Sports' Jeff Tilton, the Big Air Kids Fair has put smiles on the faces of the patients, families, and hospital staff every February in what is now one of the most highly anticipated events of the year at the Children's Hospital.
On May 6, the 2012 Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, season concluded with the year-end awards ceremony at The Joint by Rogue inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. At the event, Bauer and the Big Air Kids Fair were recognized with the Humanitarian of the Year Award.
Jeff Tilton was on hand at the event to accept the award, so we decided to ask him to discuss the experience and talk a little bit more in depth about the Big Air Kids Fair.
ESPN.com: Hopefully your hangover from the Vegas SX is gone by now, what did you think of this year's Supercross season?
Tilton: This was one of the most brutal seasons I have ever seen. So many of the big names got hurt. I feel bad for the guys who are hurt, but the flip-side of that is it gives guys who may not normally make mains the opportunity to get up there and try to mix it up with the big boys.
The SX main I made was a similar situation, it was one of those weeks where a bunch of guys were out and I took advantage of it and put it in the main. I was able to get a 15th in the big bike main at Houston in, I believe, 1998.
On a serious note, you were in Vegas Supercross for another reason. Can you tell us a little bit about the award you received at the Vegas Supercross awards banquet?
Yeah, it was a pretty big surprise when I found out myself and Steve Bauer were going to be receiving the Humanitarian of the Year [Award] for the work we have done at Loma Linda University Children's Hospital. What is cool is that we don't do that event to get awards, we do it to support the community, but for SX and Feld to recognize us for doing the Big Air Kids Fair, that's pretty cool.
It was funny at the banquet, Carey Hart and his team won the "Innovation" award and obviously I won my award. If anyone would've told us that 10 years ago, we would've died laughing. It just shows that you can't read a book by its cover. The whole sport of FMX has grown up, and a lot of the original guys have become important members of the motorcycle industry.
This is not a new thing for you, you have been working with the hospital for years now. If you can go back a bit and explain how it all came about and the growth since day one. In 2003, Steve Bauer started the Big Air Kids Fair. He organized a few riders, both SX and FMX to go and visit the hospital and give out items donated by the motorcycle industry. In 2004, [Travis] Pastrana attended the event and told Steve they should do a Freestyle demo in front of the hospital, so that is when the seed was planted. TP hit me up after that and told me about his idea, so I got in touch with Bauer, had a couple of meetings with the hospital and the next thing you know we are doing a demo in front of the hospital. It was obviously well received because we have been back every year since!
What made you want to do the demo, was there any personal reasoning?
Well, doing this event is my way of giving back to the community. Jimmie Johnson is an old friend of mine, we grew up racing dirt bikes together and have remained friends over the years. It has been awesome to watch him become the biggest star in NASCAR, but it has been equally impressive to watch the Jimmie Johnson Foundation grow. He raises millions of dollars every year to give back to the community. Some of that money goes to the area where we grew up and I still live, El Cajon, Calif. So I may not be able to raise the money Jimmie can, but I can certainly put together an FMX demo to put a smile on the faces of some kids who are in a difficult situation at the hospital.
So basically, Jimmie motivates me to find a way to give back in any way I can. I challenge everyone who reads this to do the same. Whether it is donating time and working at a local YMCA to serving meals to the homeless, if you really want to give back there are a lot of different ways to do it.
You are obviously there on behalf of TNT, I know you guys do the Children's Hospital and a pretty good stint at the California State Fair every year. But where else do you guys perform? TNT has slowed down a little bit over the last couple of years, mainly because Red Bull has shifted their focus to bigger events, not just local demos. We will be at the California State Fair [in Sacramento] again this year. This will be our 11th year in a row doing that event. It is an 18-day event and we do three demos a day. That is July 12 to the 29th. We will be doing a show at the Rose Bowl on July 4, a Red Bull demo in Colorado Springs on July 6 and a demo for Fox at the East Coast Surf Championships in Virginia Beach [Va.] on Aug. 24 to the 26th.
We have also had the ramps at three different commercial shoots this year. Doing that type of stuff is a lot of fun. The commercial we did for Time Warner Cable was aired during the Super Bowl.
Do you typically stay busy all year long?
Between TNT and my other company, Tilton Group Productions (TGP), I am beyond busy. TGP manages a motorcycle safety campaign for the United States Marines Corps called Semper Ride. I have been a part of developing and managing that campaign for the last four years.
It started with a movie that gives direction to new riders and has developed into motorcycle training events. We do both on-road and off-road, on-base and off-base. In 2008, 25 Marines died in off-duty motorcycle crashes. Over the last three years we have been able to help reduce that by 48 percent, with a low of nine fatalities in 2010. I take Semper Ride very seriously. It is a great program and when you do a good job the results are saving lives.
It is truly an honor to work with the Marine Corps. To be able to give back to them after all they do for us is unbelievable.
This is a loaded question: You have been around since the early years of FMX in the mainstream, what letter grade would you give FMX as an industry? And tell us what it does well and what it needs to improve on …
Huh, interesting question. I would give it an A. To look from where it started to where it is now is pretty impressive. If you dig into it, there are some aspects of the sport that could be better, but I try and always look at the positives. There are a lot more riders making a living riding FMX now than there was 10 years ago! I also like how the sport is much more accepted in the industry than it has ever been.
The one thing that could be better, is the freeride side of the sport. I really wish guys could make a living by shooting video parts and getting photos in the magazines. Unlike surf, skate and those types of sports, the motorcycle industry doesn't seem to see the value in that type of coverage. The industry gets so focused on results at the X Games that it doesn't even really make sense for a top FMX rider to go out and risk getting hurt freeriding.
Looking back on your competition career, what was your favorite memory or accomplishment?
I had a blast riding the X Games and doing contests, but when I think back through my career, those aren't what I am proud of. There are three things that stick out when I look back.
No. 1 is making a Supercross main event. Not many people realize the sacrifices you have to make to get to that level, especially as a privateer. I really have to thank my parents for that, because they got me to that point.
No. 2 is TNT's role in pioneering the demo part of the sport. When Tommy Clowers and I decided to pull the trigger on our first set of portable ramps, we never thought it would grow to what it is.
No. 3 is the "Great Ride Open." Producing that show really showed the world what freeriding is all about. If it is the last thing I do, I will produce another show on freeriding. Maybe ESPN would be interested …?
We just started the outdoor motocross season, but do you have any predictions?
Man, I love the outdoors! I think on the 450s it will be a battle between [James] Stewart and [Ryan] Dungey. I don't really have a favorite, I just hope it is a good battle that goes until the last moto of the year.
On the 250s, it will be a battle between PC [Pro Circuit] and Geico. I will actually make a prediction here and say [Eli] Tomac gets the championship. I am really impressed by his growth in the last year.