Observations from Houston

January 28, 2009 2:23pm | by:

We were in Houston this weekend, home of the beautiful Reliant Stadium, which was recently repaired from the damage it sustained from Hurricane Ike. As a matter of fact on Thursday before the race was the first time the roof had been closed since the hurricane (we also cannot confirm that Ike had to pull over for the Hurricane). We did have some interesting questions to ponder this week such as would the East Coast-like dirt change any results? Who would grab the opening win on the East Region? Would James just show up with a saddle on his Yamaha? Would I continue to bother the Kawasaki guys with my requests for food and coffee? (We know the answer to the last question before Team Green even got the tent up—a resounding YES!)

Let me get into the track before I begin with a recap of the race. It kind of sucked. There, I said it. After last week’s “Let’s take some ‘shrooms and design a great track” moment, I think the guys had an off week here. That’s okay, it happens to the best of us; some people say that I have had an off-career, so I completely understand.

  • This was not the track that we saw on Saturday. It was changed for some reason and in case you were wondering, there was no over/under bridge added.
  • Here's Reedy and his old wrench Dave Dye, who's now the new AMA Technical Director. These two made sweet music together in 2003, winning the World SX title and bunch of races but not Budds Creek 1st moto. That was won by me and Ferry.
The track strayed from the original track map as well. Originally it called for the start to just veer left into a rhythm section but for some reason—lap times, safety, lost blueprints—it went right into an “S” turn that just bunched the guys up and caused problems. For the night show they fixed it so it was as at least an option to go outside. In practice the guys would just follow each other inside to inside. This section and the lack of options in the other parts made it, to me, the worst track of the year. One thing to keep in mind also was that it was the first race in a football-only stadium and that limits creativity a bit and affects design.

Uh oh, he won again. James Stewart grabbed the lead early and checked out for his third win in a row and closed his points deficit to nine. It wasn’t without some scary moments as The Seven was the only guy in the main event to jump all the way over this downhill dragon-back whoops section. He cased it a couple of times and got sideways, but all in all it was a great ride for Stewie and it’s funny how a win like that will silence goofballs like me in the media from saying that he’s lost anything. But there were no long whoops…. I’m just sayin’!

Interesting to note that as of last week, James switched back from the usual 50mm works forks to the production sized (but still works) 48mms. For years and years, bigger was better when it came to forks and shock shafts but in recent times, the trend has been to go back to smaller sizes as flex is becoming the rider’s friend. I spoke to team manager Larry Brooks about the switch and he was open and honest about the team getting the bike better but I had to point out that I saw the 48s before he fessed up.

Christophe Pourcel of the ever-mighty Monster Energy/Pro Circuit team captured his second career 250 win when he grabbed the lead two corners in and sped off for the victory. It’s an incredible ride considering that Chris P. hadn’t raced in about a year and a half after a gnarly hip/pelvis/spine injury suffered in the GPs. He was in the unseeded practice and dominated that so bad the AMA moved him into the seeded one for the second time. His English has also gotten a lot better since Phoenix 2007.

His mechanic Roadblock told me that the team was laughing at him because, in his heat race, he looked to have the start but then inexplicably hung a right and went out the berm. He came out like 5th or so and when the team asked him about it, he said that he hadn’t been in an actual start for so long he forgot what to do!   He rebounded for second in the heat behind Brett Metcalfe.

  • I'm scared of change so Metty looked weird and strange to me. At least he was his usual strong at the end of the race self. I can't wait until him and Weimer battle outdoors, the sub-plots are juicy!
Speaking of Metty he was really good, he almost won the thing when Pourcel got into some lappers and blew a few sections. This allowed Brett to get up pretty close to the Frenchie but ultimately he got second in his first ride for the GEICO Powersports Honda team. He also went with a new two digit number (24) and I bet that helped him out with the moto gods (they like when you run a low number and not some zip code number).

Chad Reed was good but not as good as he’s been early on. He still got second so it was obviously a good ride but he kinda struggled all day. And by struggling I mean not coming through the pack like he usually does. Nobody, and I mean nobody comes through the pack after a bad start as good as Reedy has lately but this week it took him a little while to get into the second spot. He still got second so no need to write a eulogy but he needs to win and win real soon because those noises he hears at night is James trying to get into his head.

There were rumors in the pits of a big time rift between Mike Alessi  (or maybe just his dad) and Suzuki this weekend. This isn’t news but according to multiple sources Mike’s dad seems to think Suzuki is out to sabotage Mike’s bike to get out of paying him. Yes, you heard that right. There were multiple witnesses to Mike’s mechanic and dad getting into a huge shouting match in the tunnel last week. Things are tense right now over there so stay tuned. Oh and the dad fired the boys’ agent. Again. For the second time.

Now onto the actual riding of Mike and it was the best we’ve seen this year. Once again, #800 shows no fear of anyone and grabbed the holeshot in the main. He was quickly dispatched but instead of just going backwards, he held strong and got nipped by Ivan Tedesco on the last lap for sixth. I saw him after the race and he wanted to make sure I wrote something good about him which isn’t a problem after a ride that like. He’s getting better everybody, and his bike looked pretty good too.

DC pointed something out to me that was pretty amazing. Star Racing’s Darryn “DDT” Durham, in his first ever supercross race was third on the first lap when he got together with Austin “Rollerball” Stroupe and crashed off the track pretty hard before the triple. I kinda wrote him off and watched the rest of the race and didn’t really look at the results, but who do I see in eighth? Darryn freakin’ Durham! Looking at the lap chart, it shows he crossed the line first lap in 19th and worked his way up into the top ten. Good ride for Billy Ursic’s favorite rider, and with DDT’s teammate Matt Lemoine also showing serious speed this weekend (although crashes held him to 17th), Star Racing looks to have a good East Coast lineup. (Editor’s note: Durham still has a sore shoulder from a practice crash and spent part of the morning in the Asterisk rig getting checked out. Stay tuned for an interview with him by his biggest fan.)

Cernic’s Kawasaki’s Bobby Kiniry has been riding with a cracked shoulder blade for the opening rounds and riding well at that. Bobby finally did himself in this week practicing and that crack became a break after crashing. He’ll be out for at least four weeks. Too bad for the New Yawker, he was really on it.

Ryan Villopoto got his first 450 podium and first-laps-led in Houston. RV was on it and rode great, the Kawasaki looking like it suits him pretty well. He had a fall late in the race in the left-hand corner before the finish line and did a 56-second lap time, which allowed Reed to catch him big time. He kept James honest for a fair amount of time while in second and like I said last week, he just needed to get up front and see the pace and what the top guys are doing and now he knows.

What the hell is going on with trainers and riders? I harped on this last year and nothing’s changed. We get word that Ryno and J-Law have broken up for the 121st time and this week I see Ronnie Tichenor back with Nico Izzi. Izzi had broken up with RT and went to Buddy Antunez last summer, but he’s come home again with the 1987 East 125 SX champ. So let’s do this: the first reader that comes up with a family tree thing of the trainers and riders over the last couple of years will win some Scott goggles from me.

Ivan Tedesco is riding very well lately. He had just an okay race in A2 after riding great in Phoenix but this week he was back as a force again. Coming from 13th after lap one all the way to 6th (with a ballsy pass on Alessi on the last lap) shows that the Hot Sauce is back to spicy and ready to go! I spoke with him before the night show and he again asked if I talked shit on him recently… You guys should appreciate the amount of abuse I take to bring you this crap every week.

I may be watching too much classic AWA wrestling lately but I think it would be cool if we had a championship belt for the top guy. Seriously, hear me out! Imagine Reedy walking into Anaheim 1 with this massive gold belt and carrying it around (don’t even get me going on his man-friend Joel Bueller holding it up in the background while Terry’s interviewing Reedy—oh, the possibilities with that!).  Then after the main event on Saturday, Josh Grant is awarded the belt because he is the points leader after A1.

There could be this big ceremony with Grant gets the belt and puts it on, leans into Erin’s mic and says “Y’know Erin, this fits me pretty well. I don’t think I’m ever giving it back!” And the crowd goes nuts. Whoever the points leader is gets the belt. The entire marketing campaign can be the voice of god guy saying “Who will get to wear the belt?” I’m not saying we fix anything or do anything shady (although there could be somebody getting hit in the head with the belt at some point) but just add some drama into the whole thing. Somewhere after reading this, Weege is smiling and nodding (and, thanking God almighty that he’s no longer typing SX Live!).

  • James Bon Jovi in all his glory. Best opening video ever. On the track we saw Stewie with his most dominating ride of the year, I don't think it was a coincidence that it happened when he embraced Jovi.
Still on the subject of awesome things, the Feld guys outdid themselves with the opening ceremonies video of Stewie this weekend. It was set to Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” and featured video clips of both JBonJ and JbubS, with The Seven in a wig and shiny jacket playing Guitar Hero and singing to the song. I’m serious. He then came out in the same outfit and rode his bike around the stadium. I’ve heard so much bad stuff when it comes to James and trying to get him to promote himself but then I see something like this and think “this guy gets it.” Awesome video and great of Stewie to play it up (and full props to Wes Nobles, the Feld video man who is becoming a HUGE part of these shows with his creativity and his production work).

And I’m 1950-some words in and nothing about Tim Ferry.

Of all the hundreds of riders, mechanics, industry people and associated hangers-on (like me and Cox) that follow the series each week the list of people in this group that love GNCC Racing the most would be:

  1. Weege.
  2. Josh Summey.
  3. Everyone else in the pits.

So that’s why it was surprising to me to hear Summey tell me last week that Weege bro’s him down at the GNCC races but at supercrosses, he totally rockstars him. That’s not like the Weege; he’s a friendly chap that probably thought Josh needs his space at a SX race so I set up a meeting with them after practice where they could get this “beef” out into the open. But when they saw each other they started talking about GNCC’s, some KTM team, Barry Hawk and god knows what else…. Anyways, the love connection has started and they are now buddies all the time, everywhere.

Summey crashed in the main and finished 18th. His teammate was Ryan Sipes and Sipes was pretty fast in practice (11th best time) but crashed his way out of qualifying. He didn’t have very much time on the bike so he’ll get better. Did you know Sipes has ridden a GNCC? Weege did; so did Summey. When Weege, Summey and Sipes were all standing together, I had to split. Too much talk of dead-engine starts and hand guards for me, despite Truck Driver Joe’s awesome nacho cheese dip.

  • Jase
The bikes in the pits that drew the most “That’s awesome” or “That’s hideous” comments were the blue-plastic, white-rimmed Suzuki’s of Jase Lewis. I was in the “That’s awesome” camp.
JGR’s Josh Grant was solid again and it’s time to remove the “he was solid” comments from now on. It’s no longer a surprise when he’s up there on the Alex Ewing-tuned YZ450.

Stewie had “O Bubba” on the back of his pants in tribute to some popular politician that’s apparently got a lot of potential or something. I didn’t see it at first and when Roger the Answer Guy asked me about it and I said I never saw it, I thought I saw a tear roll down his cheek. By the time you read this, Stewie’s also going to announce a personal deal with Nike that will start this weekend in San Francisco.

Years ago when RC was on a Honda, his setup was pretty much considered un-rideable by anyone but him. The stiff and slow shock, the stink-bug front end, the funky bars—all of it added to the mystique of how anyone could ride such a set-up. Well, well, well, how times have changed. The bar bend that RC used is now in vogue with the riders. It’s got like, zero rise and very little sweep-almost a straight tube! (Editor’s note: You mean like the old Bayle-bend?) I tried it with Ferry and he couldn’t ride it. Nowadays, the number of guys that use this bar is staggering: Hill, Reed, Dungey, Lawrence, Byrne and Izzi, just to name a few.

Did you know that Larry Brooks really looks for any advantage that he can for his riders? Well he does and sometimes it gets the AMA upset. That’s ok, Stewie and Chisholm love him for it. Larry needs to realize that this isn’t ‘nam, there are rules here.

Speaking of the rules and, by default, the AMA, the men (and Karen) in the striped shirts really did listen to what Alex Martin had to say in the rig last weekend at Anaheim 2 when he made his case—all 5’ 3” of it—for allowing the riders to build up little start platforms out of dirt on the gate. At this weekend’s riders’ meeting, it was announced that the AMA had decided to change this policy and place a deep bucket of soil behind the gate for the riders and their mechanics to grab chunks of dirt (and no rocks or wood or other debris) and build platforms to help them balance on the start. It’s part of the new cooperation between the riders, the teams and the officials, getting little things (pardon the pun) like this fixed in a hurry, and in this case it makes a lot of sense to do it now rather than wait for the next meeting.

  • Well, well looky who is the main event! Chisholm is a good kid and now that he's made the first one, the rest will be easy. It's like how that first Big Mac isn't easy to finish but then the other four go down nice. What? You don't know what I'm talking about?
And speaking of San Manuel, Kyle Chisholm made his first main this year in a good ride. Brooks told me he was getting hard on Kyle because we all know he has the talent to be in the main every week. LB seemed to think it was a case of the awe-factor for Kyle, as in he was awestruck to be racing against his heroes every week. I can understand because I’m in awe of Simon Cudby every week.

Finally, 2400 words and I’m going to talk about Red Dog. I waited this long because I wanted to punish him for his ride this weekend. We’re talking tough love people! I’m sure being this far down in a janky column like mine will motivate him. He got eighth and his finishes have been 4-7-8-8 so far this year so nothing to sneeze at, but he got caught and passed late in the race and that, like, never happens to the one-five. He hasn’t been riding as good as he can, I know he knows this and I’m in his corner and will help him through this (maybe he’s hurt and not telling me). We can do it together! I’m also sure Millsaps (12-10-10-10) and Hill (teens-8-teens-teens) would love to have his finishes so it’s not all bad but I wanna see him in the mix more. I went by to talk to him after the race but he was gone already. No doubt to go into seclusion in some small wooden cabin somewhere and will be running sand hills with his boots on.

It’s painfully (for us to watch and for him to feel) obvious that JGR’s Cody Cooper is simply not ready for the AMA Supercross class quite yet. He’s battling a knee injury that caused him to miss last weekend and showed up in Houston ready to try again. Well, it didn’t go so well as the Kiwi Warrior got whiskey-throttle, went off the track in the dragon-back section and nailed the wall in the process. He was carted off and wasn’t seen again. They need him ready for outdoors so maybe they should park him, let him heal and learn, then come out swinging in MX, which we know he can.
There are 13 guys that have made all four main events. One of those is Matt Boni of the DNA Energy Drink/BTO Sports.com/Butler Brothers MX. Betcha wouldn’t have thought he was one of them but quietly Boni has been riding well.

That’s all I got from Houston. Email me at matthes@racerxonline.com and look for this report next week from San Francisco where I will no doubt not be singing in the rain. Thanks for reading!