450 Words: Minneapolis

March 17, 2008 10:41am
The mantra for motocross has always been “this is a young man’s sport.” Status quo went out the door though in the late 1990s, when riders like Mike LaRocco. John Dowd and Larry Ward kept on winning into their 30s. Then riders started doing the unthinkable—getting married, having kids, and still winning races. Tell that to anyone who raced 20 years ago and they’ll think you’re talking about winning the local vet class, at best.
However, based on Saturday night’s Minneapolis Supercross, we’re looking at a youth movement again. A pair of 18-year-olds finished first and second in the main event, an amazing rise considering they were both toiling through the amateur ranks just two years ago.
Surprisingly, the victory by Yamaha’s Josh Hill is as much of a relief as it is a shocker. Hill’s rookie season in 2007 featured only a few high points. He was clearly overshadowed by his fellow graduate Ryan Dungey, who wasn’t nearly the equal of Hill as an amateur but notched a bunch of East Region Lites SX wins last year and ran up front in the AMA/Toyota Motocross Championships on the Rockstar/Makita Suzuki.

Hill’s size was an issue. He grew up quite a bit after he notched two class championships at the AMA/Air Nautiques Amateur Nationals at Loretta Lynn’s in 2006, which landed him that year’s AMA Horizons Award. Hill says he hit his peak on a 250F when he was 16, and after struggling with his size on a Lites bike last year, he lobbied Yamaha for a shot on a 450.
It looked like a good move when Hill ran strong in the last two AMA Toyota Motocross Nationals last year. It looked even better when he lit up the Yamaha test track during the winter. And when he landed on the podium at Anaheim 2, there were surely no regrets about letting the kid move up early.
The only bad part was that the move would potentially hurt his win record. While some riders his age can cash in on victories and podiums racing in the Lites class, Hill would have to push his way into the AMA record book by beating the best riders in the world in the most prestigious class of racing in the sport.
Now he’s accomplished that, too.
Rockstar/Makita Suzuki will have a similar problem on their hands with Dungey, who took a podium in just his third race on a 450. And you can’t say the kids didn’t earn it, because they steadily pulled away from veteran Kevin Windham throughout the night. Dungey maintains he will race Lites in 2009, but you have to wonder how long Suzuki can keep the kid on the farm when he’s obviously ready for the big leagues.

And on a similar note, how about Motosport/Xtreme Kawasaki’s Tommy Hahn finishing fifth in his very first race on the big bike? 
If Hill and Dungey are already this ready for prime time, then it looks like the sport is ready for another youth movement.

1. Josh Hill (Yam)
2. Ryan Dungey (Suz)
3. Kevin Windham (Hon)
4. Andrew Short (Hon)
5. Tom Hahn (Kaw)
6. Davi Millsaps (Hon)
7. Chad Reed (Yam)
8. David Vuillemin (Suz)
9. Travis Preston (Kaw)
10. Nathan Ramsey (Yam)
11. Paul Carpenter (Hon)
12. Charles Summey (Yam)
13. Eric Sorby (Hon)
14. Heath Voss (Hon)
15. Nick Wey (KTM)
16. Tyler Bright (Hon)
17. Jeff Gibson (Kaw)
18. Dusty Klatt (Kaw)
19. Jason Thomas (Hon)
20. Manuel Rivas (Kaw)
21. Bryan Johnson (Hon)