But there was a storyline that seemed to get swept under the rug and forgotten about throughout the summer. That being the tale of the red #1 plate in the 450 class. Where was it? Where was the 2007 AMA Toyota MX Champion?
Grant Langston was on top of the world when he won the 2007 title. After his late-season charge, the image of him on the podium with his family at Glen Helen holding the #1 plate captured the soul of our sport more so than any podium scene ever. But it really went to hell from there. Grant began to suffer from an eye infection that eventually took him out of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series. Surely he would be healed in time to defend his hard earned outdoor title, right? It was not to be. Glen Helen arrived and when the gate dropped, Grant Langston was nowhere to be found.
Let’s go back a few years. Dubbed “The Zulu Warrior” when he came to America in 2001, Langston was an immediate threat for the 125cc title. Grant squared off with perennial American tiddler specialist Mike Brown, and the two took the championship down to the final round at Steel City, where Grant suffered a broken wheel, which effectively destroyed his chances for the title. When 2002 rolled around, Grant was met with the arrival of James Stewart and was once again denied the championship. Langston would finally achieve his goal of an outdoor championship in the following 2003 season, where he bested Ryan Hughes amidst the controversy of a rain out at the Troy, Ohio round. He would try a move to the Motocross class in 2004 and not defend his Lites title.
Grant was trying to make a transition into the premier class but the injuries had diminished his confidence. The decision was made to drop back down to the Lites class with Mitch Payton’s power house squad. “Zulu” would win a pair of supercross titles, but again, injuries took him out of outdoor contention in both the 2005 and ‘06 seasons.
Then came another big change in Grant’s career with a move to factory Yamaha and their new aluminum-framed YZ450F. Grant didn’t exactly set the world on fire in supercross or the opening moments of the ‘07 outdoor season. The new bike didn’t seem to turn well, and Langston was struggling. Then came two pivotal events that thrust him into the championship scene in one fell swoop. First, Yamaha produced a new frame, which turned much better, then James Stewart blew out his knee.
A win at Texas would follow, then another one at Steel City, and then an all-out sprint to the last lap at Glen Helen, which landed another AMA #1 plate in the hands of the friendly South African. But the championship proved to be a crown of thorns as again Grant would not have the chance to defend it due to his bum eye.
Last weekend I was wiping the sweat off my brow after carrying a case of Monster Energy drink to the Parts Unlimited Hospitality tent. After putting my shades back on I glanced over and saw Langston preparing to head out for a lap on the track—the same track that one year ago he went to war on against Kevin Windham and Mike Alessi to take one of the most hard fought wins of his career, and where six years ago he ended up crying on the side of the track next to his broken bike. At the conclusion of this parade lap, he would meet the 2008 champion James Stewart on the finish line jump and hand over his #1 plate.
Later Grant would be say, “Man, I’m just glad to be here. There is nothing better than being at the races, and it doesn’t get any better than this. If I can’t race I still want to be a part of it here.” He then put in some time on the Racer X Live Webcast, and explained that his career may be done if the eye doesn’t improve soon.
It's stories like Grant Langston’s that help cement our sport as one of the most pure and soulful gigs in motorsports. He’s been living the dream, then it turned into a bad dream, but he’s dealing with it like he deals with everything—that’s why he’s a champion.
In closing, I’d like to take a moment and congratulate James Stewart on his perfect season and Ryan Villopoto on his third Lites championship. Now we have to wait until January to see them start banging it out together on a supercross track.