AURORA, Ill., (Feb. 3, 2006) – At one point in the 2005-’06 Toyota AMA National Arenacross Series title chase it looked as if Team Yamaha’s Chad Johnson was going to run away with the overall AMA Arenacross class title and the brand new Toyota Tacoma 4x4 that goes with it. Johnson, who finished third overall last year, pretty much holeshot the first three events – going 1-1-1-1-1-1-2 at Albany (N.Y.), Des Moines (Iowa) and Charlotte (N.C.) - to open the nation’s premier arenacross racing series season.
It’s that last 2nd place finish disrupting the series of five 1st place finishes that created a bit of a stir in the Toyota AMA National Arenacross Series circles. Charlotte, and the following round, Rockford (Ill.), showcased a new face to Toyota/AMA Arenacross scene - one that burst all the way to the top of the podium. Having broke Johnson’s win streak in Charlotte, then backed that up with a win at Rockford, Team Thor/Honda/TUF Racing’s Brock Sellards made it know that Johnson was not invincible. No stranger to national title chases, Sellards is in fact quite a familiar with fans of Toyota AMA National Arenacross Series – who also follow Amp’d Mobile Supercross tour and the AMA Outdoor Nationals. And on paper he was certainly one of the preseason favorites to win it all.
But Johnson came firing right back, taking Saturday night’s main event at Rockford to give him a 25-point lead heading into the traditional holiday break, down just a bit from the 34-point lead he enjoyed at one point of the season.
Digging in deep during the month off, Sellards spent time in California training with buddy and former Yamaha of Troy teammate Danny Smith. Johnson rode as well, even putting in some laps near his home in Rhinelander, Wis., at the indoor track owned by Dave Antolak – who curiously enough also owns the Thor/Honda/TUF Racing team.
After the holidays the season opened back up in Dallas (Jan. 6-7). Sellards’ hard work paid dividends quickly as the Ohioan went 1-1 and cut Johnson’s lead to 17 points (222-205). The points spread would hover around that mark until this past weekend in Hampton (Va.) when Sellards took advantage of some great starts and trimmed Johnson’s one time 34-point lead down to a mere seven points with two stops to go (Memphis & Denver).
We took a moment to catch up with the two Toyota AMA National Arenacross Series combatants before they take center stage at Memphis’ FedEx Forum this weekend in what’s sure to be a burner as the series comes down to the final two events.
Q: Talk a bit about this title chase, guys. Are either of you surprised that, after Chad’s great start, we’re down to a seven point lead with two races remaining?
Johnson: “I definitely knew it could happen, and I’m not surprised. I came out hard and was winning a lot, but Brock’s been able to catch up. I was sick for the first few races to start the year, but don’t want to use that as an excuse. I’m back up to speed and these next two races are going to be very exciting.”
Sellards: “I’ve never been down in a championship before. I’ve lost them, but never been in this position where I’m coming from behind. This is more intense than anything I’ve ever done in racing.”
Q: Talk about the pressure you guys are feeling.
Johnson: “I wish I had a little bit more of a cushion, but I’m trying hard to stay focused. Yeah, there’s pressure. But I’m sure Brock, as a former supercross star who’s been around for a while, is feeling it too. I need a bit of luck on my side, but so does he.”
Sellards: “There’s pressure, sure. I still get butterflies in my stomach every time I go to the starting gate. But the good thing about this year is that I’ve been having more fun than ever at the races. Everything’s lined up in my life, from my family situation to my sponsors and all the other things I deal with. So because of that I’ve been able to focus on the racing and that’s why the points chase is so close.”
Q: What’s it going to take to win this thing?
Johnson: “I definitely have to step it up, especially with my starts. My speed’s there, confidence is there, so we (with Junior Jackson) worked on starts all week. Back in the beginning of the season I could get away with a top ten start. Now that everybody’s up to speed that’s not the case. If you’re not in the top three to five spots, or the other guy (Sellards) pulls the holeshot, it’s pretty much over.”
Sellards: “I need a good start and to ride smart. When I was out in front at Hampton it gave me options and allowed me to save my body through out the race. I separated some ribs at Guthrie on Saturday night (Jan. 21st), so those are giving me some problems. But from there I haven’t lost yet, so I guess they don’t bother me that bad. But yeah, you’ve got to start within the top four and have the leader in sight early to win at Arenacross.”
Keep in mind that 2nd place loses three points on 1st place. So if Sellards goes 1-1 again and Johnson is right on his heels in 2nd, Johnson will hold a one point lead heading into the finals at Denver next weekend (Feb. 10-11). Also add into the mix that Team Faith’s Kevin Johnson, who went 1-1 at Baltimore (Md.) recently, has consistently been the fastest racer on the track. Throw in Sellards’ teammate Jeff Northrop and a fast and healthy Greg Schnell (ROCKSTAR/Suzuki) and this is going to be one heck of a final two weeks on the Toyota AMA National Arenacross Series tour!
The Toyota AMA National Arenacross Series returns to action this weekend (Feb. 3-4) at the FedEx Forum when the world’s top arena-based motocross racers converge on the great state of Tennessee for what’s sure to be one heck of a weekend worth of racing action! For more information on the events please visit www.arenacross.com or contact the FedEx Forum at (901) 205-2640.