Racerhead #5

January 30, 2009 3:27pm | by:

It’s Super Bowl weekend, which probably doesn’t mean much unless you’re a Pittsburgh Steelers or Arizona Cardinals fan. In our sport, it’s time for the San Francisco Supercross tomorrow night, which means a return to the West Region for the Lites and another match-up between Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series defending champion and points leader Chad Reed, and the slowly-but-surely-closing-in James Stewart.

  • Can James make it four in a row?
Make sure you tune in to both SPEED and CBS on Sunday for coverage of the San Francisco Supercross. This week the Lites class will air first on Speed at 12 p.m. ET, and the AMA Supercross class will run over on CBS Sports at 2 p.m. ET.

And if you can’t wait that long, don’t forget to tune in to the Supercross Live! webcast, featuring Weege and Hollywood, beginning at 10 p.m EST tomorrow night on www.supercrossonline.com. If you’re not a season subscriber, you can sign up for just one night’s listening for less than the price of a six-pack of Stella.

In case you missed it, the Icon himself, David Bailey, took us around the SFSX track for this week’s Smith Optics Track Walk. Bailey had some excellent input and ideas on how things will go, so if you missed it, check it out here.

Want more proof that Florida—and particularly the Tallahassee area—is becoming a vital hub in motocross? On Wednesday afternoon I flew down to the Sunshine State capital for a visit with Ricky Carmichael. Upon landing, I ran into former world champ Ben Townley and JH Leale, who is Cody Cooper’s agent. Then on Thursday, in the airport on the way home, a cab pulled up in front of me to drop off West Region SX points leader Ryan Dungey and his father, as they were headed to Atlanta then San Francisco for this weekend’s race. As they walked through the sliding doors, the very next cab that pulled up carried Townley’s teammate Ivan Tedesco and his wife, Teresa, who were headed to SFO as well! In about 18 hours, I ran into four of the fastest guys on the planet … and JH.

  • Ben Townley is hoping to be 100% soon
Townley is really focused on getting his shoulder right, as there have been some complications in his preparation to return at Daytona as he has planned. But the New Zealander is optimistic that he will be ready and fit for the outdoors, which start Memorial Day weekend at Glen Helen in San Bernardino, CA. And yes, the mustache he wore in the team photos is gone.

A lot of people were talking about the opening ceremony video of James “Bon Jovi” Stewart that played before the race, featuring clips of James and his friend Raddo doing their best Guitar Heroes, with real footage from a Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” video. The work was the creation of Feld Motor Sports’ Wes Nobles, the son of floor manager Cliff Nobles, and it was as entertaining as it was funny. But there was a video last year that was to run on Retro Night at Anaheim 2 in which James cruised into the parking lot of Angel Stadium in some big muscle car, Jheri-curl wig flowing in the breeze, looking like the late Eazy-E of NWA, just rolling to the races. Then he stops the car and proceeds to breakdance in the parking lot on sheets of cardboard, Electric Boogaloo-style, then takes his boom box and heads into the stadium.

Unfortunately, James was hurt in practice that afternoon, and I really don’t recall that they ever showed it. Maybe they were holding it for this year’s Retro Night, which was unfortunately put on hold for at least a year. Point is this: It was absolutely hilarious (and Chad Reed in a mullet and listening to Men at Work wasn’t bad either). A lot of credit goes to Bubba for playing along with these videos, but save some for Wes too. He’s contributing a lot to the show and the series for Feld, and I can’t wait to see what these guys come up with next.

  • The video before last week’s race was exceptional.
One more thing: If I were a rider lucky enough to be part of the opening ceremonies, I’d be trying to come up with something cool to shoot with Wes. But these guys have other things to worry about right now, so let’s help them out with a suggestion of two. Try to think of a funny video intro—a song or video that totally goes with a rider’s persona and imagine—and we’ll post them here. Best one gets a signed James Stewart signature jersey from Answer! Send your suggestions to: Letters@Racerxonline.com

Has Stewart turned the momentum around in the series? It sure seemed that way in Houston, though I do think the track favored James’ style more so than Chad’s. The lack of a whoops section played right into Stewart’s hands—especially since what whoops were there going up and down the dragon’s back, he jumped half of them!

Reed, meanwhile, struggled in practice, as you’ve probably read all week and even saw on the next-day coverage on Speed TV. I rarely watch practice (keeps the actual racing fresh), but I was in the stands on Saturday afternoon and saw Reed visibly struggling out there. He and Mike Gosselaar and the rest of the Rockstar/Makita Suzuki team did what they could to work out the problems with his bike (or with Chad) and the fact that they were able to salvage second shows a lot about how they are approaching the championship: Take all the points you can get, when you can get them, but don’t throw it away all at once. I think Chad was even with James at Anaheim 1 as well as Phoenix, then faster at A2. This week, James had the champ covered.

Something to keep in mind: As the series gets closer—it’s down to nine right now between Reed and Stewart—keep an eye on the length of the whoops. If they suddenly get shorter, that will favor James; if they end up growing, that’s going to favor Reed.

  • Chad Reed is still the points leader, but only by nine
  • The West Region Lites leader is now one of the Tallahassee team now
Ryan Villopoto seemed to turn a corner with his first podium ride. He looked sharp on the #2 Kawasaki KX450F, and if not for an all-alone crash in the corner before the finish, he might have earned second rather than third. He knew it too, as he explained to Steve Cox in their Monday Conversation.

I mentioned above that I rarely watch practice. Well, I rarely watch the halftime show either, but this week I was up in the Toyota suite (thank you, Rick Humphreys and crew) and decided to check out the Jagermeister Freestyle Show. Holy smokes, it was pretty cool. Kenny Bartram was leading a quarter of jumpers, all wearing Moose, all riding KTMs, all doing backflips. On the last time through, I think the three guys behind Bartram were all in the air at once, flipping their pumpkins nose to wheel, wheel to nose. It was downright spectacular. Forget what I said in my last magazine column: The SMP Jumping Team was nowhere close to what these guys have become!

But I do still miss the KTM kids, and so did the little girl sitting on her dad’s lap in the suite next to us. She kept asking when the kids were coming out, and I had to break the news that they weren’t. I understand these are very tough times for everyone, but if the chance ever comes around to bring the kids back, I hope they find some room in the show for it, even if it’s on a much smaller scale.

As I mentioned in the 250 Words I wrote on Houston, most American fans have no idea what Christophe Pourcel went through to even get to the starting gate, let alone win the East Region opener. His comeback from a devastating hip injury that almost left him wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life is the most remarkable rebound our sport has seen since Doug Henry’s comeback from his back-crunching crash at Budds Creek in 1995. He was set to come to America before his crash in late summer 2007, only to spend most of the next year in a hospital bed. Meanwhile, a Pro Circuit ride in America is waiting for him, and his older brother Sebastien ends up winning the final moto at the 2008 Motocross of Nations. When he finally comes back, he puts in 15 solid laps and wins. That must have been a special night for the Frenchman and his family.

  • Pourcel made the cover page of the February issue of MX Magazine before he won Houston.
And by the way, how cool is it that Mitch Payton honored his contract, even after a year off the bike? The man knows what he’s doing.

One thing that surprises me: The voters on the Toyota/Racer X Power Rankings only have Pourcel at 13th, which is behind no less than FOUR of the West Region Lites guys—including the so-far-so-inconsistent Jason Lawrence. That’s way too low in my book, but then again I forgot to vote.… Anyway, here’s this week’s Power Rankings, which are based on how the riders have done so far, how our voters feel they stack up against one another (regardless of coast or class), as well as their potential in the next race.

Which coast do you think is the fastest this season? That’s this week’s Racer X Poll Question. If you haven’t voted, you can do so on our main page.

Of course the East Region is by no means over—one good race does not decide the championship. In his debut for GEICO Powersports Honda, Brett Metcalfe looked really good (here’s hoping he finally wins one this year) and Rockstar/Makita Suzuki’s Nico Izzi also looked fast, though like fourth-place Austin Stroupe, not starting with Pourcel really hurt on this difficult-to-pass track. And the pure SX rookie Blake Wharton looked good too in finishing fifth in his one and only chance this year to become the first Texan ever to win a Lites or 125cc main in the history of AMA Supercross.

The other fast Texas on the weekend was Star Racing’s Matt Lemoine, who looked fantastic in his heat race as he chased Stroupe, only to crash a handful of times in the main. His teammate Darryn Durham, who was actually making not only his Star Racing debut, but his first pro start, went from 21st to eighth after tangling with Stroupe on the first lap. Durham, who spent almost his whole life on Suzukis, could surprise a lot of people this summer. We spoke to him about his first night in the big leagues.

  • Sean Hamblin hopes to be back in a month
  • Austin Stroupe was fast but he could only manage fourth in the main
Yamaha factory rider Sean Hamblin had to undergo knee surgery this week—a story he broke himself with his always entertaining and informative posts on the VitalMX message board. (No offense to Alessi Weekly, but out of all of today’s riders, Sean does the best job of updating his fans.) He updated everyone yesterday:

I had some floating fragments in my knee that came from my femur when I had my moment in Houston. Doc removed all three pieces and also took nealry 15% of my meniscus that was damaged. At first thought he told me I could be out up to as long as 4 months!! Talk about getting kicked in the nuts and punched in the eye at the same time!! Well thank God it will not be that long, it is going to be about 4-6 weeks instead and I am going to make a full recovery. By Monday I can start spinning on my spin bike then therapy soon to follow. As many times as I have been down and out without an injury and doubted my return to racing, this time I am too driven and confident that I will come back stronger and better on and off the bike. This time off will give me more time to reflect on the good and bad so that things are right come outdoors. Thanks to Doctor Reiman and staff for making sure this was addressed immediately so that I could get healthy and strong quicker and safer, and as always to my Family, Friends and you Fans.

Hamblin added that he will be at Anaheim 3 and San Diego as a spectator. Good luck and get well soon, #105.

If you’ve been following Starting Blockgate, then you know that it’s all over now—the AMA already made a change to allow shorter riders like Alex Martin to pile up dirt as small platforms to balance themselves on the starting gate. But I did get a note this week offering another suggestion from Terry Beal, one of the main men at Dubach Racing:

  • Andrew Short is quietly being fast—again!
  • Josh Hill continues to struggle with injuries and, consequently, results
Doug Dubach, like Martin, was also height challenged and after Ana #2 came and spoke with me about whether he should voice his concerns to the AMA even though he obviously no longer races supercross. DRD does sponsor Alex though and Doug was really confused as to why this rule would be in place. We talked about approaching the AMA and having universal blocks that could be kept in a small box behind the starting gate that anyone could use. They would be flat and offer no advantage to a particular rider; conversely, they would help to even the playing field for shorter riders. Dubach mentioned that he/DRD would be willing to build 10 or so blocks (more if need be) and just give to the AMA that they could use all year. Do you think this is a good idea?” Personally, I actually think this is an even better idea, and something the AMA guys should look into. Thanks T!

Dubach himself added, "I wouldn't want to be the racer lined up next to a rider who is leaning over, balancing on one toe. The starting blocks are not an advantage, they just eliminate a disadvantage." He would know: He may be the best starter in the history of motocross (though Mike Alessi gets my vote by a knobby length).

Here’s a few things from Steve Cox, who is on his way up Interstate 5 to San Francisco right now with his fellow race reporter Steve “GuyB” Giberson….

Has anyone noticed that no one has noticed Andrew Short? It sounds like a contradiction, but the guy is fourth in points, just a couple of points behind Stewart and Grant, and he got second place at the first round, yet it seems no one even saw him standing there holding up the plaque. I’ve brought this up to Shorty a couple times at the races, and he just shrugs his shoulders and says, “The checks don’t care how many people notice.” That’s a good attitude, but it’s still pretty sad.

San Francisco marked Jason Lawrence’s first win of the season last year. At the time, he sat 34 points behind Ryan Dungey in the championship chase. We all know how that ended. Well, right now, Lawrence is 36 points behind Dungey. Unfortunately for Lawrence, it doesn’t look like mud this weekend.

We should also see the return of Trey Canard this weekend, after missing the Phoenix main with a crash, and the Anaheim 2 weekend with a concussion from the Phoenix crash. Canard riding like he has nothing to lose could mean trouble for everyone else. Can anyone say “Wild Card”?

Josh Hill’s bad luck continues. We talked to the Yamaha factory rider last week before the Houston Supercross, and soon thereafter Hill crashed hard on his shoulder he injured last Fall and suffered an AC separation. He still went to Houston and raced, scoring an 11th-place finish. “Yeah, I was hurting,” Hill told us. “I don’t need surgery, so I’m gonna race on the weekends and rehab it during the week.”

And now here’s some words from Steve “Do The” Matthes….

If you happened to be in Dade City, Florida, this week and heard what to you sounded like a 450 main event, well, you wouldn’t be far off. Chad Reed, Tim Ferry and two riders fighting back from injury—Jason Thomas and Michael Byrne—all practiced together this week. One day at Ferry’s and one day at Reed’s, the four riders went at it tooth and nail. Look for JT to just ride practice this week in San Fran and then pick up next week. Burner will be at San Diego most likely but is probably out of the title hunt.

To all you Americans reading this, have you ever thought to yourself “I wonder who the fastest riders are to ever come from Matthes’s home province of Manitoba?” Well you’re in luck because I’ve compiled a list right here. Check it out!

Chris Pourcel of the Pro Circuit team sure rode great this weekend in Houston. He was very fast from the start and reaffirmed what some Kawi people told me the week before the race-that Pourcel was hauling ass. ChrisP went back to France after his win and was last seen hanging over there with a former SX and MX winner who kind of looks like a praying mantis on a bike who goes by the nickname DV12. Interesting that the East boys have a three-week break between races, as that’s lots of time for the guys who didn’t win to work on what they need to and come back out at Atlanta swinging. I’m going to be very interested on who did and didn’t do their homework in three weeks.

Did you listen to the James Stewart podcast I did this week? No? Well, you need to, as The Seven is really great on these things and doesn’t duck any questions on his early season bike struggles.

  • Mike Alessi grabbed the holeshot in Houston, to no one’s surprise
Mike Alessi was really good this past week in Texas, and he’s getting better and better. My Power Ranking comments rankled some in the Alessi camp last week but it looks like he’s getting close to 100%. Tony and I spoke this week and he told me that Mike is a second faster on his practice track this week from last. So look out for the 800 this weekend, you know he’s going to pull the start!

That’s it from both Steves. Now this from Ping:

If you didn’t catch the video Simon Cudby shot this week of the entire Troy Lee Designs Honda team, you can check it out right here. Chris Blose was hired to fill in for Jake Moss, who broke his back during a practice crash in Australia in November. Needless to say, Chris has done an amazing job for the team and has established himself as a legitimate contender for the podium each weekend. But early last week, Moss informed us that he was healthy and wanted to start riding again. He provided a doctor’s release and after a few days on an outdoor bike he insisted that we take him to the supercross test track. We were certainly hesitant; after all, the guy broke his back just three months ago and was immobilized on a spine board for over a month! Well, he did ride this week, and to our surprise, the guy looked pretty dang good. By Thursday he was telling us he wanted to go to San Francisco and race. We pumped the brakes for this weekend, but you will definitely see him back on the track by next week’s race at Anaheim. And I have a feeling he’s going to surprise a lot of people. Like I said in the video, these Aussies are nuts!

Good news for Supermoto fans this week: the 2009 schedule is set to be announced this weekend in San Francisco. The series has been pared down to five rounds with the X Games right in the middle of the schedule. Probably the most exciting part of the schedule is the addition of Mammoth Mountain to the series. The folks up there do an incredible job with the motocross race every summer, and now they will add Supermoto to the list of great events they promote. The Mammoth round will be the series finale in September and it should be epic. Come by our team transporter this weekend to pick up a 2009 schedule. There is also a round scheduled for Infineon Raceway, which is just right outside of San Francisco.

For those knuckleheads who were giving Trey Canard a hard time for not returning to action sooner after his Phoenix SX crash, well, you can shut you pie holes. I spoke with Trey this week and he visited a concussion specialist in L.A. and they determined that he was pretty far off up until this week. In fact, he has been having headaches since the crash, which indicate a significant injury to the brain. He hit his head hard, folks, and I’m glad that the kid is smart enough to take his time before getting back out on the track. That is more than can be said for most racers.

I also heard that we might see a different Davi Millsaps this weekend. Which is great because the Davi that has been showing up lately has been riding like crap. He has been having some bike setup issues and according to a friend that has access to the Millsaps circle of trust, they made huge strides this week. I heard he cut as much as three seconds off his lap times. Keep an eye on the #18 this weekend.

I’m going to catch a crapload of flak for this but, since I did live in Arizona for almost a decade, I’m pulling for the Cards this Sunday. (DC’s head just exploded and Bevo will never invite me into his bus again for gourmet food.) Really, the biggest reason is because I think Kurt Warner is amazing. And the Cardinals have sucked so hard, for so long, that it would really be terrific if they had some success. There, I said it.

Thanks, Ping.

The Nitro Circus Show on MTV is about to blast off beginning February 8. Believe me when I say this is a show you’re going to want to watch and TiVo/DVR on your system. For a look at the trailer of Travis Pastrana and his crazy friends, check here.

  • Travis Pastrana and all his crazy friends, but not his crazy dad.
Also, the Nitro Circus will be airing a sneak peak this Sunday evening, February 1, just after the Super Bowl at 10 p.m. EST , on the MTV network.

Privateer Devin Watson signed up for the Travis Pastrana MX Challenge that took place in Puerto Rico last weekend, so we asked him to send us a report of what went down:

Travis won the war, but an up-and-coming rookie won the final battle!

The Travis Pastrana SX Challange in Vega Baja Puerto Rico took place this past weekend January 23-24. This was the first year of this event but it was a very big success. The overall was decided by the finishes in each night’s main events. Friday night’s main event saw Travis Pastrana jump out to an early lead while being chased down my Las Vegas’ Kyle Partridge. Kyle charged hard through the entire 20-lap main event but could not get an edge on Pastrana anywhere on the track. Both riders were tripling into a rhythm section that no one else was doing and this allowed them to gain a fairly good lead by lap 10. In the end it was Pastrana, Partridge, and Ryan Smith standing on the podium.

Saturday started off with a good track once again. Partridge, Smith, and Pastrana were once again setting the fast laps in afternoon practice. As the sun set on Saturday it got incredibly humid, bringing some moisture up from Thursday’s heavy rains. The track was incredibly slick in the main but was still good for racing. Off the line in Saturday’s main it was Matt (last name unknown, sorry) with the holeshot followed by Devin Watson and Travis Pastrana. Coming out of turn one Matt went down taking Watson with him and allowing Pastrana and Ryan Smith to sneak by into the early lead. Kyle Partridge was buried in the pack after the first-turn pile up. With Partride trying to work his way through the pack, this allowed TP and Smith to pull a great lead while battling bar to bar. Pastrana put several aggressive passes on Smith but Smith was on a roll and past him back every time. Further back in the pack Ohio’s Carl Schacht (#384) was putting on an excellent ride as well as Kenny Day and some of Puerto Rico’s riders. Day had a huge get off mid way through the race that caused him to end his night on a not so good note. As the laps wound down on the final night of racing it was Travis Pastrana with the overall.

Overall Top 3

1. Travis Pastrana (1-2)
2. Ryan Smith (3-1)
3. Kyle Partridge (2-3)

Other American riders were up there but I don’t remember everyone’s names, and I never got to see the final official results. I know Carl Schlacht was in the top five. Shawn Bailey finished great as well as Scott Darling. I finished Saturday night with a ninth as well as Taylor (last name unkown) and several other Americans in the top 10. Great job to all that raced!

The recipient of the Houston Racer X Gas Card was Alaska’s Ben Lamay. And here’s a shout-out to Roger Bradford and Dean Bauer, the sponsors of this weekend’s Racer X Gas Card in San Francisco.

After competing in only a handful of rally events, BMX legend Dave Mirra has won his first rally race, the 2009 Team O’Neil Rally, in New Hampshire, winning by over fifty seconds. Mirra’s rally program will expand in 2009 with increased support from Subaru of America, Inc. and Monster Energy that will see him join Subaru Rally Team USA drivers Ken Block and Travis Pastrana at all nine rounds of the 2009 Rally America National Championship as well as X Games 15.

Speaking of Pastrana, he definitely has some high regards for Ryan Smith, who joined Travis down at his race in Puerto Rico last weekend:

“Ryan rode the entire 20 lap main event without making a mistake which really surprised me because we were jumping through lappers by lap 3 and the track was super slick. Even though it was 1 lined he found a way to get back around in the next turn every time I passed him. He had way to much trust in me though :) I was elbows down, tired and swapping everywhere the last five laps and he never hesitated to be less than an inch away and on the outside going into a turn. It’s great to see riders with confidence. He seemed to think his way through the race, even when everyone came flying into the first turn and piled up on the outside, but he gave up the holeshot to tuck behind the masses and stick to the inside. He had the lead by turn two. He enjoyed the race when he got third and enjoyed the race he won. Maybe not your typical “winning is everything” rider outlook, but someone who seems to love the sport and who signed autographs every chance he got so he would be invited back. He gives it everything he’s got to continue make a living doing what he loves.”

  • Welcome to the world, Allie Derry
Every year that I go to the Bercy Supercross in Paris, I run into the famous Sacchi Brothers, a pair of bona fide motocross fanatics who love to stake out the Novotel lobby and greet the incoming riders with photos and friendship. They are a French motocross institution! They are now celebrating their 20th anniversary in the sport with a photo review of some of their favorite riders and moments, including rare pics of Damon Bradshaw, Ricky Carmichael and even a hilarious Jeremy McGrath/Jimmy Button moment from yesteryear. Check it out.

There was a terrible accident and fatality at the Marysville, CA, track that has ended up in an all-too-familiar lawsuit against track operator E-Street MX and the ambulance company that was on the scene. Here are the sad details.

And finally, best wishes to our longtime reader Dayna (Trask) Derry on the birth of her first baby girl. Her name is Allie and she was born January 7, four weeks early. Allie only weighed 5 lbs., 8 oz., but she is healthy and wonderful.

That’s it for Racerhead. Thanks for reading, see you at the races. Here we go Steelers, here we go!