In between packing our suitcases in preparation to head west, we
were doing a little bench racing about some of the biggest surprise
winners of the highly anticipated season opener. With ’06 starting out
this weekend with the opening round of the Amp’d Mobile AMA Supercross
Series, we were talking about surprise winners of the first race on the
calendar each year. Here are some of the ones that really stand out in
my lifetime (though I’m sure there’s a few from even further back).
Four years ago was another surprising opening round. Ricky Carmichael was coming off his first 250cc AMA Supercross Championship season, where he won an astonishing 14 races, but he was also switching from a Team Kawasaki KX250 to a factory Honda CR250. Still a heavy favorite coming into the race, RC got a mid-pack start then had a terrible crash entering the brutal whoop section, which resulted in a 20th place finish for RC. France’s David Vuillemin took his factory Yamaha to the winner’s circle that night, followed by the Honda’s of Mike LaRocco and Ernesto Fonseca. But RC would rebound to win the championship that season—Honda’s first since Jeremy went yellow (then blue) in 1997.
After four straight 250cc supercross championships with Team Honda, McGrath shocked the racing world when he decided to switch to a Suzuki of Troy-supported RM250 for the 1997 season. Still a favorite to win, Jeremy suffered some unfortunate mishaps – one with former teammate Steve Lamson – resulting in an uncharacteristic 15th place finish. Suzuki was still able to win the race, though, with former World Champion Greg Albertyn taking his one and only SX win. Doug Henry and Larry Ward round out the podium.
Another muddy Anaheim, and this time it’s David Bailey winning his first-ever AMA Supercross. Wearing #11, in a race broadcast two weeks later on NBC, Bailey did his classic no-hander over the finish line jump and basically catapulted himself into the title chase. By the end of the season, he was the AMA/Camel Supercross and Grand National Champion.