Ride or die: 406 Freestyle stuns crowd during Speedway intermission show
“We’ve all been there and had huge injuries but it’s just part of it...It really tests how tough you are and how bad you want it," says Levi Renz
DICKINSON — Southwest Speedway welcomed 406 Freestyle, a professional motocross stunt team to the track July 23 for three breath-taking intermission performances. Of the crew, five riders have risked their lives launching their bikes off ramps 30 to 40 feet in the air while mastering some of the most difficult motocross tricks. Some have suffered severe injuries and come face to face with death, but nothing has stopped them from soaring through the sky. For these guys, motocross is what makes life worthwhile.
Twenty-six-year-old freestyle rider Levi Renz is the owner and founder of the stunt team. He grew up in Butte, Montana and started riding dirt bikes when he was 15. As a child, he was inspired and fascinated by the legendary stunt man and Motorcycle Hall of Famer, Evil Knievel.
“I just fell in love with it and as a kid, it’s what I wanted to do,” Renz said.
Since then, Renz has turned his wild childhood dream into a reality. He says he enjoys the challenge of managing a business and has made life-long friends because of his involvement in the sport. 406 Freestyle has traveled across the U.S. and abroad, including parts of Dubai, to share their daring passion with the world. This year alone, they are scheduled to perform at 106 different shows.
Throughout his motocross career, Renz has experienced several accidents that landed him in the hospital. One of his most debilitating injuries occurred at a show in California when he was 19. His bike landed incorrectly which shattered his leg and ankle. The damage required a complete reconstruction and he went into surgery immediately. Renz was unable to ride the bike for 14 months and ended up having four surgeries on his ankle.
“It was tough mentally,” Renz said. “The doctors couldn’t control my pain and that starts to wear on you. They just couldn’t get it to where it was strong enough…and they said I wouldn’t be able to do this again. I put in a lot of work to get back here. It’s been worth it, but at this point in my life, I’m starting to feel the injuries a little.”
At just 26-years-old, Renz has undergone eight different surgeries as a result of motocross accidents. He has also broken his collarbone, arm and wrist.
“We’ve all been there and had huge injuries but it’s just part of it,” Renz said. “It really tests how tough you are and how bad you want it. For me, I love riding bikes and I love doing shows with all these guys. To get out and be able to perform for these people, the kids love it. It’s so cool when we get here and the kids are going nuts. I was that kid at one time.”
Renz’s friend Samuel Rogers is also a member of 406 Freestyle. He performs aerial stunts on a snowmobile. The 34-year-old Billings, Montana native has been riding snowmobiles professionally since 2005. He was born into a motocross family and has been riding freestyle for 15 years.
Rogers set a distance world record back flip in 2011 and is an X Games silver medalist. He has been competing in the X Games for 10 years but was forced to temporarily retire from the sport after a series of motocross-related shoulder injuries that did not heal as planned. After several surgeries, Rogers developed a staph and strep infection that traveled to his heart.
“It was supposed to just be a four-month recovery with no problems,” Rogers said. “I was in the Bozeman Hospital for one month but had to get transported to another hospital in Salt Lake City for another month. I basically went into heart failure. There were a lot of world-renowned heart surgeons involved but they didn’t know what to do. I almost had to get a heart transplant.”
Luckily, Rogers was treated with an experimental steroid that cured the infection and brought all of his vitals back up.
“This sport is so unique,” Rogers said. “I took a little break from it and worked a normal job, but I missed it and was always thinking about it.”
Today, Rogers is back on the ramps back flipping his snowmobile.
406 Freestyle member Ed Rossi is also still riding at 40-years-old. He has had a 20-year-long professional freestyle motocross career with fairly few injuries. But the ones he has endured, threatened his life and mobility.
Rossi grew up on a dairy farm in Kenosha, Wisconsin where his family raised beef cattle and hogs. He rode his dirt bike around the farm and built ramps for jumps. At age 16 he lacerated his spleen in a motocross race.
“Two years in a row I was in intensive care and I almost died,” Rossi said…”But I followed that passion and never gave up.”
In 2007 Rossi broke his neck learning how to back flip on the bike and also fractured a C6 vertebrae. Now, back flipping the bike is just a regular trick for him. He says one of the most challenging stunts for him is the front flip.
“I’m one of only six guys in the world that do front flips,” Rossi said.
It took him three weeks of practicing 100 flips in a foam pit at his friends training facility in Michigan before he could successfully land the flip on dirt.
“It was a big investment to build up the confidence to be able to do that trick,” Rossi said. “It’s very scary, even now that I’ve done it a couple hundred times.”
Freestyle crew member Koltin Polinsky has also been working to perfect a new trick: The Kiss Of Death (KOD). He says it is one of his top favorite tricks now. Polinsky has been riding freestyle motocross for about one year and raced amateur pro motocross for five. He worked his way up to tricks and ramp jumps had has fallen in love with it.
“This sport gives you freedom,” Polinsky said.