Racerhead #52

December 28, 2007 1:12pm | by:

Well, that’s about it for 2007. We close our eyes and another year passes by…. This was a good one, for the most part, though we are also left with a somewhat uncertain future. There are huge things going on in our world—the long war, ongoing terrorism, a struggling economy, the growing divide—that make motocross such a small matter in comparison. But motocross is what we do, and we do it because we love it and it helps make all of the other difficulties in life a little more worthwhile.
The year ends with a lot of excitement about the immediate future of our sport—supercross is starting in eight days, there’s preview show tomorrow on CBS, and James Stewart vs. Chad Reed and everyone else will be shown live next Saturday night on Speed TV—and also some not-so-clear forecasts. Bike sales are suffering, the nationals question is still up in the air, NOISE is still a problem, and we really have seen the last of Ricky Carmichael and Jeremy McGrath on AMA circuits.

As far as Racer X goes, we had a fantastic year. I am very proud of what everyone here on the staff has accomplished, what we continue to do, and what we have coming up in the very near future. Well done, gang.

The Racer X Motocross Show on Motocross.com was a smash-hit, and my thanks go out to the AMA, the Speed TV crew, and of course the Wasserman Media Group for helping pull all of that together. Oh, and Wes Williams, the 21-year-old director of those shows, is going to be a star in this industry.

After 26 years, Loretta Lynn’s was bigger and better than ever—full props to the MX Sports gang on the other side of the building for continuing to make that event better with time (and a lot of hard work and effort). And while the High Point National was another excellent race, the weather turned Steel City into a mess. We will rebound in 2008, I promise you that.

Looking back here in this last Racerhead of 2007, I thought it might be a good place to compile a list of the most interesting/provocative moto people of the last 12 months. I know, it sounds like a People magazine thing to do, but with a brand new season upon us, this is as good a place as any to put a bow on this season and start all over again.

RV1 is #1.

photo: Carl Stone

For starters, there’s AMA/Speedvision Rider of the Year, Racer X Rider of the Year, Cycle News Rider of the Year, Transworld Rider of the Year… Wow, that’s a lot of accolades, but Ryan Villopoto deserves them all. In only his second full season as a pro, the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider established himself as the premier Lites rider on the planet and, based on his stunning weekend at the 2007 Red Bull Motocross of Nations, maybe even the best of both classes. The kid has it all going for him right now… Well, he did until he broke his collarbone and had to switch over to the East Region, but that’s a minor setback. I can’t wait to see what this kid does next.

Unfortunately, I probably won’t see what Ricky Carmichael does next, because it won’t happen at a motocross track. The greatest of all-time has completed his motorcycle racing career, and he’s now climbing the considerable ladder of the hyper-competitive stock car racing world. RC had a plan going into 2007 and he stuck to it. He was almost as fast as James Stewart in SX, but he stopped right where he said he would. Outdoors, he really was faster, winning all six of the nationals he competed in, but he stopped right where he wanted to there too. Granted, the MXoN did not go the way he hoped, and only afterwards did he find out that he had developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome from his unbelievable schedule—two sports, two new babies, and the everyday pressure on himself to succeed at everything. Carmichael gave it all he had, every time he had to. What more can we ask for from our heroes?

James Stewart dominated the AMA Supercross Series in an RC, MC-type way, winning 13 of 16 races. But it didn’t seem like it was going to be like that for #7 after his disastrous trips to Canada in December ‘06, did it?  The only races the mercurial Kawasaki rider lost—San Fran, San Diego and St. Louis (all saints?)—came by his own mistakes. Those mistakes of course caught up with him outdoors, and he won a single national before having to bow out with a knee injury—maybe the worst thing that could have happened for his 2008 competition. How so? Stewart took time off, started working with RC’s trainer Aldon Baker, and the word around the SX practice tracks is that his is cut, he’s ready and he’s riding better (and smoother) than ever. We’ll see soon enough!

Ricky and James

photo: Simon Cudby

Maybe the saddest story first came out of Florida, where Doug Henry crashed while practicing at a supermoto race and broke his back—again—and this time there was serious nerve damage. The story took an even more ominous turn when it was learned that his wife Stacey is now battling cancer. What the hell? How can so many bad things happen to good people? Fortunately, the Henrys are a formidable team, and here’s betting that neither setback will beat them—individually or all together. My thoughts and prayers are with both.

While Tony Cairoli and Steve Ramon won the FIM World Championships, it’s the two men who lost their way in 2007 that come to mind from the European tracks. Josh Coppins had the MX1 title in the bag—he even flew a bunch of family and friends to Europe from New Zealand to see him finally conquer the world after ten years of trying. But then it all went to hell in a hurry when he had a problem with his motorcycle in the Czech Republic, rammed himself into a fence post and ruined his title hopes. Josh will be back, but it was horrible watching this thing slip away from the really cool Kiwi while he tried everything to bounce back in time to save his season.

Even more tragic was the ordeal of Christophe Pourcel, the defending MX2 champion who already had a ticket punched to the U.S. after winning the Lites class at the Phoenix SX. The French teenager landed on a fallen rider’s bike in practice in Ireland and broke his pelvis. Worse, he did some nerve damage, and while he can walk, he’s having trouble with the internal injuries. He’s been rehabbing and healing as best he can, but his dream of racing in America in 2008 is on indefinite hold. As a result, Branden Jesseman, the unlikely winner of the Orlando Supercross and 2003 Eastern Regional 125cc SX champ, gets a chance to show one last time what he can do with a premier bike. 

Well done, Grant!

photo: Simon Cudby

Back here in the states, another former MX2 World Champ—Grant Langston—finally won himself a premier class championship when he took the AMA Toyota Motocross title after a thrilling four-way battle royale that also included a revitalized Tim Ferry, a reformed Mike Alessi, and a steadily improving Andrew Short. Seriously, at the beginning of, say, August, who would have ever guessed that Grant would be the first AMA Motocross Champion crowned in the post-RC era? Well done, Langston.

One more SX/MX rider I really followed this year was Darcy Lange. He’s a tough, inspired racer from Canada, and he was given a last-minute shot by Pro Circuit to ride the East Region. He damned near won it all, and his story was every bit as good as East Region champ Ben Townley’s, or AMA Rookie of the Year Ryan Dungey’s…. But then Darcy found out he had cancer, and his story changed dramatically. He’s recovering well back home, but he’s a no-go for 2008. Here’s hoping that when this kid comes back, he’s still got a seat in the same rig and another shot at an AMA title.

Darcy Lange

photo: Simon Cudby

The Isle of Man’s David Knight is the new AMA Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Champion, as expected, but at the end of the season he found himself a new nemesis in Taddy Blazusiak, who topped him in both the AMA Maxxis EnduroCross finale in Las Vegas, and then again at the Red Bull Last Man Standing in Texas, where Knight was suffering from a chest cold. The runner-up that long-day-turned-into-night? Good old Geoff Aaron.

And there’s Kurt Caselli. He’s the WORCS Champ now, but it’s what he did at the ISDE in Chile that made his season. That’s where he became the first American to lead the whole thing, as well as the highest-finishing American ever in second overall. The ISDE isn’t followed quite like it used to be here in the U.S., but it’s amazing that in the 88-year history of that race, no American has done better, which speaks volumes for Kurt Caselli.

Kyle Lewis has had a great motocross career.

photo: Steve Bruhn

And we also saw Kyle Lewis ride off into the sunset after 20 years on the circuit. I said it before and I’ll say it again he’s the best American motocross rider never to get a factory contract—an injustice I will never understand.

Off the racetrack, there were lots of headlines, from Rob Dingman’s stunning makeover of the AMA and racing as we know it, to Giuseppe Luongo’s bid to run both the FIM Grand Prix Series and the AMA Motocross Series, to Leticia Cline being on both the Racer X Motocross Show on Motocross.com and The Howard Stern Show (decidedly different vehicles, wearing decidedly different outfits). Jeff Ward and Jeff Fox retired just as Damon Bradshaw came out of retirement to race monster trucks. Kevin Walker got his Loretta Lynn’s record, and Travis Pastrana set his own record by not suffering any serious bodily damage in a whole year. Supercross founder Mike Goodwin was finally found guilty of the double murders of his former business partner Mickey Thompson and his wife Trudy, a notorious crime that was unsolved for nearly 20 years—he is working on his appeal right now. And, alas, our tender daredevil Evel Knievel is jumping with the angels now….

But the single person who I think had the most influence in our sport this year was The Icon himself, David Bailey. Always a champion, Bailey had been quietly suffering through some health issues, while also keeping an eye on things around our sport. When his friend Ryan Sipes nearly broke his neck in a practice crash, Bailey decided that he had to do something about safety in motocross. So he propped himself up in the bed he’d been in for nearly a year, looked into Guy B.’s VitalMX.com video camera, and made a case for every rider to at least consider wearing the Leatt Neck Brace.

David Bailey

photo: Mike Farber

The response was stunning. While I don’t have access to the sales numbers, I know that I saw usage of the brace grow by the weekend, and by the end of this season, it started to look weird seeing some guys without one. And while there is not enough data to say it with any hard evidence, it does seem like the number of serious injuries has declined ever since David’s decision to “stand for something.” The impact of Bailey’s message was huge, and it still reverberates today. Thanks for once again leading the way, David. It’s always been a pleasure to follow you.

Speaking of Bailey, we currently have a fresh supply of David Bailey mousepads for $12.98 in which all proceeds go to UCIrvine Research Center. You can purchase one right here.

So that’s about it for 2007. There were more interesting and provocative people out there for sure, but I’m running out of time here—a new little girl named Sloane Michael Coombs and her big brother Vance require the rest of my evening.

I thank everyone for coming here on Fridays to read Racerhead, and I thank “Bad” Billy Ursic and the rest of the Racer X crew for helping pull all of this together on a weekly basis. As I mentioned before, there are lots of big things coming in a hurry, and I can’t wait to share them with you. But that’s next year.

Now, for some of our regularly scheduled programming….

The Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship is right around the corner, and the 2008 season preview is on CBS Sports tomorrow, Saturday, December 29 at 4 p.m. EST.

Per the press release we seen earlier: “During the off-season, CBS Sports visited the top supercross race teams and captured in-depth analysis of the up-coming Monster Energy® Supercross season, foreshadowing reigning AMA Supercross class champion James Stewart’s title defense against the world’s top racers. Included are behind-the-scenes interviews with key team members and riders, as well as an in-depth analysis of the 2008 season. The 2008 preview show will provide fans a comprehensive look at what the season has in store for them.”

So, set your DVR or TiVo or just watch it live.

Maddo is going big on New Year's Eve! Make sure you check it out LIVE on ESPN!

photo: Ryan Cropley

This is the last Racerhead of 2007, as Monday is New Year’s Eve. If you’re not out on the razz, tune into ESPN and watch Robbie Maddison go for a world record distance jump live from Las Vegas. In fact, we caught up earlier today with Robbie to talk about it in this 5 Minutes With...

You might also want to check out this video interview with the Metal Mulisha's Brian Deegan and Maddo that's posted on MetalMulisha.com.

Here’s Ping:

First of all, I was sent this and thought that it was really cool. Whether you know someone in the military or not this is worth the time it takes to load. It was made by a 15-year-old girl.

The Perris Pro Invitational was brought back to life last weekend and, though the gates weren’t full in either class, there were quite a few fans there to watch. The Lites class was basically a Torco Racing Fuels Honda test session as Jake Weimer and Josh Grant scrapped back and forth for the top spot. Weimer got the nod at the checkers after a pretty aggressive pass on his teammate. Weimer will be a contender on the west coast this year. Third place went to Billy Laninovich on his new MDK/KTM ride.

The 450 class had a total of eleven riders. It didn’t matter much though as the racing was great up front. Honda-mounted Jeff Alessi pulled the holeshot in the final while heat race winner, Josh Hill, was stuck in the back of the pack. San Manuel Yamaha's Nathan Ramsey slowly moved to Alessi’s rear fender and went by as Jeff bobbled in the whoops. Hill slashed his way to the lead battle on his factory Yamaha only to wash out in a tight corner before the finish line. He got up and closed the gap on Ramsey, showing him a wheel with one lap to go, but ran out of time.

Ramsey won the briefcase full of cash followed closely by Hill and then Alessi. Josh Hill was impressive, especially in the whoops. This kid is the new Travis Pastrana in deep, rutted whoops. The word at the Yamaha test track has been that Hill is impressive (and he also may have a new trainer soon…)

You can read more about the Perris SX Invitational right here in this race report by Eric Johnson.

Did you know that Racer X has a MySpace page that has a ton of cool features and contests? Check it out at www.myspace.com/racerxill.

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade here, so to speak, but I happened to glance at the ten-day forecast for the Anaheim area and, well, it looks wet. Friday and Saturday of Anaheim 1 have a 60 percent chance of rain. That means that there won’t be a press day and guys that consider themselves “mudders” are smiling big. Kevin Windham has come through in the slop before but James Stewart is no slouch either. Isn’t Josh Hill from Oregon? Jason Lawrence loves the mud and if it is a muck-hole, I pick the Boost Mobile/Yamaha of Troy pilot wearing #338 to win the Lites class.

Either way here, the biggest loser is… the bikes. All of those hours put in by the mechanics to meticulously piece their race machines together are wasted as they are smeared with mud and ruined. That is a bummer. Keep your fingers crossed for some dry weather!

The Racer X crew will be joining in at Ride at the Ranch, Asterisk’s Med Center benefit Ride Day at the famed “MX Heaven” (Castillo Ranch) on January 23. Will we bring a camera, an editor; maybe, most of all, we are bringing our bikes, plus our work gloves to help build a bitchin’ track for the lucky folks that get to go ride there. If you do not have your ticket yet, go to http://asterisksuperpass.com before they are gone.

Stephan LeGrand is still in France spending quality time with his family and friends for the holidays, but he wanted to make sure we shared a link of his video on Rockstar/Makita Suzuki’s Mike Alessi and his new house on Motoverte.com.

He also sent us the MV Bayle 10th Anniversary cover, and said, “Everything is well here in Paris. Cold, rainy and cloudy! Have a good New Year’s Eve.”

Fox Racing just posted a new video of Ivan Tedesco, one of their three main men on the Honda CRF450Rs for the 2008 season.

To check out Ivan-in-Red, go to Foxracing.com, click on the video channel and look for #9. Or click here.

Here’s another video to check out, this time Cernic’s Kawasaki team riders Dusty Klatt and Jeff Gibson, by Guy “Noir” B. of VitalMX.com.

Last year's etnies photo contest winning entry.

We’re happy to announce the ten finalists of the Second Annual etnies/Racer X Photo Contest. You can check them all out—and vote for your favorite—right here. You only get one vote, so make sure you look at each photo closely.

The winner of the contest will get his photo published as a full-spread Gate Pics image in our April issue, plus a bunch of cool swag from etnies and Racer X. The runners-up will all share a second Gate Pics spread. Vote now!

Finally, here’s a note DC got from his old friend and ’85 Rodil Cup competitor Bader Manneh, when he asked the Italian transplant if he was coming back for more SX at age 41: “Oh I wish, I’m staying in Italy and doing some schools.”

That’s all. Have a safe and happy new year’s and see you at Anaheim!