Red Bull turns a BMX rider loose in the ravaged shell of the Silverdome
As a kid growing up in Detroit, Tyler Fernengel waited in the Silverdome’s tunnel—the same tunnel used by the Detroit Lions and their opponents—with his motocross bike primed, ready for an annual competition held every year in his hometown's iconic stadium. It was a special moment that Fernengel experienced year after year, starting at age three.
But the last time Fernengel, now 20, had that experience was about eight years ago. He hadn’t been in the once-proud venue since—not until Red Bull called up the now well-known BMX trickmaster and offered him the chance to take over the dilapidated structure—all alone—as his personal playground.
“I had a past there, grew up in there,” Fernengel says. “I said 100 percent I’m down to go and look at it to see if anything is possible.”
Possible? How about jumping out of second-level windows, grinding handrails down an entire bowl section and riding the highest point of the stadium.
How’s that for possible?
While the objective was to produce a cool BMX video that Red Bull could promote, that goal hinged on Fernengel’s ability to create singular moves out of a gutted structure. The process started with a scoping day in January, on which he “called a bunch of stuff out.” From there, a couple of months later, the Red Bull crew had four days to take over the Silverdome.
From builders to videographers to the one lone biker who would make it happen, everyone was working frantically in the small window of time.
“It was bringing some memories back seeing everything, where we would warm up to race, old memories,” Fernengel says. "To have a free-for-all and do whatever I wanted was crazy. It was really gnarly, but it got me excited.”
Over the four days, Fernengel says, one of the hardest parts was pacing himself, but also not wasting time, a tricky balance for a rider prone to injury. “I would have loved to have been there for a month, really taken my time, but I only had four days,” he says. “I had to make sure I didn’t get hurt the first day. We wanted to film things that looked crazy, but make sure I didn’t hurt myself so the project didn’t go to waste. I had to pick and choose to make sure my body was going to last.”
So he saved the hardest trick for the last day, the only day his dad—who lives in Michigan and used to come to every single Silverdome event with his young son—was able to make it. “I get hurt a lot and he didn’t want to see it happen,” Fernengel says. “Even when he was there, he was turned the other way. He is sick of seeing me hurt myself, but he got to see the last trick and experience the celebration with us. It was really crazy, kinda surreal.”
Just like jumping out of a second-level window.
During his scoping run in January, he noticed broken-out windows in some suite-level rooms, leaving only open air down to the lower bowl. Fernengel wanted to jump out of the window and land on the bleachers.
The builders constructed a landing ramp, but still, “the last trick was pushing it.”
While the trick was nothing innovative in terms of skill level, it spiked the danger meter simply due to the big drop. “Nothing is done that big,” he says. “That is where I was pushing the sport. We measured it, it was just about 20 feet from the window to the wood.”
So Fernengel did something he’s never before done on a BMX bike: he rode out of a window to a 20-foot drop, one of the “craziest” experiences of his life.
But that was Day 4. There were other memories. Other tricks.
The video opens with a 30-second shot of him hitting different tricks in the heart of the building. Fernengel says it was a new way of shooting BMX. Normally the camera operator stays in one spot and knows what the rider will do. This time, the shooter was driven in a golf cart ahead of Fernengel, who simply hit locations as they appeared. “It was crazy to work with these guys and try to time it out,” he says. “We had to really work together to make that thing happen.”
While that ride took place on solid ground, Fernengel also rode on the roof. “It looks really crazy from the view,” he says. “Once up there, there was so much room, I wasn’t really going to fall off the roof. I was riding on top of some big AC vent. It is such a crazy view up there, the highest point in the whole stadium.”
Being a bike rider, dream locations pop up frequently. “You just jokingly say I want to do this and that,” he says, “and I got that opportunity and it was humbling and just crazy to think Red Bull gave me the opportunity to do that.”
There’s more. “Going to any stadium like that, you walk down the stairways and the handrails are a perfect grind,” he says. “It is a dream come true to hit all those in a row.” And that didn’t even require a build, simply Fernengel riding.
A dream he shared, now well beyond youth-level events, with his dad, his bike and a busted-out window.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.