Racerhead #10

March 6, 2009 3:07pm | by:

Well, I tried. My quest to get the two-strokes in the 250 class over the last six months needed to be settled one way or the other, and this week it finally was—much to the dismay of two-stroke fans. With the state of the general economy, and the American motorcycle industry more specifically, it had become apparent than adding two-stroke 250s to the 250 class would be more problematic than I ever imagined. I really wanted to see it happen—the four-strokes have advanced so much over the past few years that it seemed like they were ready to compete head-to-head with their two-stroke counterparts, but it was difficult getting enough data to prove it during the middle of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross tour, which continues to place 250cc two-strokes up against 450cc four-strokes (even though that’s no longer a fair fight).

  • Malcolm Stewart turned a lot of heads on his KX250 last summer
A week ago, everyone was super pumped with all of the advancements we’d made with television—six races live on NBC and SPEED, six others on same-day Saturday night, and all 12 of the 250 races just three days later on SPEED, and the first motos at every round live (and free!) on the internet. Since the announcement, I’ve received a lot of letters for and some very ugly ones against the decision not to keep trying to change the AMA Pro Racing rulebook in the middle of the season. The “for” ones said they thought the idea was noble in thought but would be difficult in execution, as everyone would have to retool for the outdoors, and right now, 250cc two-strokes are still more powerful than 250cc four-strokes.

If you don’t believe that, check out the test Donn from Transworld did with Jason Lawrence at Perris last week, where he was a second and a half faster on the two-stroke than the four-stroke—on a 45-second track. After Jason rode the bike, Donn asked him for the bottom line: “My opinion right now is the 250 two-stroke kills it,” answered Lawrence, who was licking his chops at the prospect of using a smoker this summer.

Ricky Carmichael and Jeff Stanton recently told me the same thing: a two-stroke still has it in spades over a four-stroke of equal displacement. Ricky reminded me that in 2005, James Stewart was right there with him on a KX250 in the outdoor nationals, though he did not actually beat him.

  • Ricky’s last races on a two-stroke were in 2005
Needless to say, a lot of folks out there want the two-strokes back out on the track, and for a lot of reasons. The primary argument is cost, of course, and also the fact that it would give privateers a chance. Yes, it would help them—but only if that privateer was a Yamaha or KTM rider. The rest of the privateers on red, yellow, and green bikes would not only be at a disadvantage to the fully equipped pro teams, but also down on power to the privateers on orange and blue as well. How would the Butler Brothers MX Honda team or the Suzuki City team be able to do against even faster Pro Circuit Kawasakis, Factory Connection Hondas, and factory Suzukis, let alone J-Law on a YZ250? Or Star Racing’s Yamaha-backed guys, or even some of the Red Bull KTM factory guys that would have a choice between a factory four-stroke or two-stroke?

No one seems to realize that in helping some privateers by adding two-strokes, we would be penalizing others even more. These are the guys who ride for the shops that are being driven out of business by the lead law and its ban on kids’ products. The factory teams would have reacted with even more hop-ups and Unobtanium parts, which turns this thing into an arms race at a time when everyone is already on shoestring budgets; all extra resources for these teams are being diverted to keep dealerships afloat and fight the CPSIA nonsense we’ve been talking about since in went into effect—with immediate and awful consequences for the motorcycle industry.

Lawrence is here racing this weekend, finally making his debut after pulling out sick last weekend in Indianapolis, just like Ryan Villopoto. RV is in the points chase, so he gutted out a ninth. J-Law had little to gain by going out and riding less than fit, as he wants to make a big splash in his first 450 race. That will likely be tomorrow night.

  • Jason Lawrence would have likely been on a black two-stroke this summer
For what it’s worth, we are in talks with some sponsors to have some Two-Stroke Challenge races just like the very cool one they started at Glen Helen last year. Red Bud and Unadilla would be perfect tracks, as would a few others. And with the Lucas Oil backing, we’ll try to get them on TV with the Lucas Power Hour on SPEED. (We are also pulling together a TV package for the WMA that is going to be extremely beneficial to the girls racing moto.)

So how bad is it for dealers right now? Here’s a Wall Street Journal story on what a devastating effect it’s having on dealers like Chaparral—maybe the largest motorcycle dealer in the country.

So we tried, and I am sorry that it didn’t work out this time. I tried for six months to get the juice to make the switch, even while pulling the TV deal together (we had better luck there), but in the last month my mission to make this midseason change had been hijacked by the ban on minibikes. Until we get that sorted out, with an exemption or something that makes sense, the two-stroke issue has to stay on the back burner. And for that I am sorry, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now.

With a nod to Cycle News, where I saw it first, Jeremy McGrath was featured on KUSI News in San Diego this week. According to Jean Turner’s post, Andrea Beach from Coach2Ride.com and Fun Bike Center’s Gary Roundy set it all up.

  • Jeremy McGrath was interviewed about the minibike ban
That news report sums up the state of the country’s motorcycle dealerships, and why now is not the right time to try to make such a major change.

So we go to Daytona to begin the second half of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series. After last week’s stunning turn of events at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, James Stewart and Chad Reed are tied—a fan’s dream at this point in the season. The Lites East race tightened up a little too, with Austin Stroupe getting his first win of the year after throwing one away in the Georgia Dome last week. (And the two-week turnout of maybe 130,000 fans speaks volumes to what a great show supercross has become; here’s hoping Daytona’s move to Saturday night brings more kids and their families out to the speedway.)

We spoke to both James and Chad following last weekend’s absolutely epic battle in Indy, where Stewart got up off the mat twice and still almost had Reed, who showed some fight as well. Both live near Daytona; both want to win at Daytona badly!

You can watch the race always live this weekend from Daytona almost live on SPEED as there is a very short tape-delay. There will be no audio webcast for our friends overseas of the ones who do not get cable, but you can watch the laps count off on www.amasupercross.com.

We'll also be covering the road racing side of things, so if you're interested in that be sure to keep an eye on RoadRacerX.com.

The Motocross Files is getting two primetime slots on SPEED this Saturday with re-airs of the highly touted Ronnie Lechien and Joel Robert episodes. The shows will air back-to-back at 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. (Eastern Time) and 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on the West Coast. With the live lead-in of the Daytona Supercross by Honda, that’s HUGE!

  • The course for the Daytona SX
  • Daytona has been holding dirt bike races since 1971
Daytona is the longest-running round of the AMA Supercross tour, with a history that actually predates the series itself. Bill West helped get it started in 1970, and by ’72 it was part of Edison Dye’s Inter-Am series, with wins by Gary Jones (250) and Mark Blackwell (500).

If the track design looks familiar, it’s because co-designer Ricky Carmichael and crew are limited to where they can go by all of the water lines and sprinklers hidden in the infield grass.

Speaking of track design couple of weeks back, I interviewed Rich Winkler right after the end of the “California season” of Monster Energy Supercross. We talked about just finding a way to keep some of the water that pools on the plastic when the track is covered from washing off into the track when they pull the tarps off. Former pro rider Shawn Wynne caught there and sent along this:

I was thinking that when you think it might rain, make sub holes around the track to collect the rain, and then you can but a sump pump in the hole. They could pump out into water tanks, water trucks, fire hoses to storm drains, then hopefully most of the water would be gone. Hide some dirt in a dry spot, then fill the holes before the race. I did this at Dr. Huss’ track, my background in water science came in handy.

Sounds like an interesting and maybe even doable idea. By the way, the Mike LaRocco-co-designed track was almost universally liked, though the sand after the finish line, right before the whoops, didn’t get a lot of positive feedback.

  • Mike LaRocco was like a grand marshal last weekend in Indy
Also, the opening-ceremony video of LaRocco climbing around in the old debris of the RCA Dome was once again a very cool piece by the Feld Motor Sports video guys, and I was impressed that they were playing MGMT when they introduced Kevin Windham.

It’s been a big week for motocross in NASCAR. Clint Bowyer damn near won the Las Vegas race, and in the process he moved up to second in Sprint Cup Championship points. Next, Ricky Carmichael was added on to even more NASCAR truck races after showing KHI lots of potential in the Daytona race (which ended badly) and Fontana (a solid eighth). Kevin Harvick Inc. has added the #4 truck belonging to you-know-who to the fan site at Kevin Harvick’s Fan Central. Fans can stay updated on the 4 truck and get the latest news around the team by signing up and joining the #4 group. There are discussion forums, blogs, photos, videos and more…. Check it out.

Tyla Rattray may be here in America getting ready for the 2009 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championships, but he’s already earned himself a huge honor this year, though it was based on last year’s accomplishments: Rattray was named the is the 2008 Bridgestone/Guild of Motoring Journalists Motor Sportsman of the Year. Rattray, the third South African in 16 years to win a motocross world championship, is now warming up on the SoCal practice circuits as he preps for his debut on May 22 with the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team. As a result, the award was accepted on his behalf by his grandmother Sandra Mann.

Tommy Searle, the British rider who finished second behind Rattray in the MX2 world championships, is also here in the States preparing to join the circuit when the nationals kick off in May, though unlike Rattray, his preseason plans include using a GP or two as a warm-up race. The Red Bull KTM rider will race the opener in Faenza, Italy, at the end of this month, and maybe the next couple of rounds as well, according to one of the European sites.

And then there’s Justin Barcia, the rookie rider for the GEICO Powersports Honda team. He’s also stepping up to join the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross tour, and he’s racing next week in Texas at the Lake Whitney amateur classic that pretty much kicks off the spring season. We will be keeping an eye on Barcia and the rest of the prospects down there, through the lenses of Wes Williams and his Vurbmoto.com crew.

  • Tyla Rattray practicing here in the States
  • Justin Barcia is entering his last spring season as an amateur
Racer X reader Jospeh Hartson spotted this on his TV menu: ESPN Classic Network looks to be treating us again with some classics. On Saturday March 7, the ESPN Classic network will now be airing a six-hour mini marathon of the 250cc Nationals from that year—the Ricky Carmichael (on a 250 two-stroke) vs. Kevin Windham (on his 450) battles from Unadilla and Washougal were EPIC!

1PM est – 2003 250cc National from Budds Creek, MD
2PM est – 2003 250cc National from Buchanan, MI
3PM est – 2003 250cc National from Unadilla, NY
4PM est – 2003 250cc National from Washougal, WA
5PM est – 2003 250cc National from Millville, MN
6PM est – 2003 250cc National from Binghamton, NY
7PM est – 2003 250cc National from Delmont, PA

Let me turn it over to Bill Ursic right here, who’s road-tripping this week with his new manfriend Steve Matthes:

One thousand miles of pavement; 15 hours of driving; four stop at Starbucks; two Red Bulls; one Garmin…. Spending two days at the practice tracks of Chad Reed and James Stewart? Priceless.

A few months back, Steve Matthes and I conjured up this great idea to road trip to Florida for the Daytona Supercross. With the way the economy is and the price of flights, etc., we hashed out a pretty cheap travel plan that doesn't involve flights, hotels, or rental cars. Instead, we would drive straight from Morgantown, WV, to Tampa, Florida, to Team BBMX's Jason Thomas' pad.

Well, so far, so good. We made it down and spent the past two days hanging out with two of the fastest riders on earth: Reed and Stewart. You can read more about our visits in our blog.

Along the way we've also caught wind of some pretty hot rumors. Remember that Nathan Ramsey guy, who supposedly hung up his boots? Well, the hot rumor is that Nate Dawg isn't done and is actually in talks with the JGRMX Toyota Yamaha team to fill in for Cody Cooper for the remainder of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross tour. Cooper hasn't exactly been setting the world on fire indoors (CC hasn't qualified for one main event yet) and he has a bum knee, so depending on what he doctor says, they may be sitting Coops out till the nationals, which means they'll be looking for a replacement. That's where Ramsey comes in. Stay tuned for more.

Today we're headed to hang out with Tim Ferry (big surprise, eh?) and then tomorrow morning we're driving over to Daytona, watching the supercross, then heading back home to West Virginia. Matthes then flies home to Las Vegas on Monday morning (thank goodness).

Well, that's about it for today. Again, we'd like to thank both Chad and James for being so gracious and letting two privateer journalists hang out, as well as Jason Thomas, for letting us crash at his pad and drink his DNA Energy Drink.

Here's Weege with some GNCC news.

1287 versus 1291. That’s the verdict on the weekend’s Parts Unlimited River Ranch GNCC, round one of the 2009 Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series. Last year the series opener took place in Melbourne, Florida and drew the aforementioned 1291 riders, but as the race moved to the much more hospitable West Gate River Ranch in Lake Wales, Florida, this year, everyone was worried about the entries taking a hit due to the economy. For the industry, the next two weeks will tell a lot about the relative health of the market. Along with the Florida and Georgia GNCCs, you have all the Daytona shenanigans this week, and then two big amateur national motocross races in Lake Whitney and Oak Hill, Texas, a week later. By the time all these events are through, we’ll know where we stand, and if the 1287 riders at the Florida GNCC are an indicator, we might be okay. In this day and age, staying even with last year looks like a big leap forward.

  • Charlie Mullins is greeted by a big crowd at the finish of the Parts Unlimited River Ranch GNCC.
  • Shock Doctor KTM’s Kailub Russell put a hurting on the XC2 Lites field.
  • Kanney, Mullins and Whibley (L-R) on the Florida GNCC podium.
The GNCC had much to offer all 1287 riders, as the River Ranch is a really cool facility that holds corporate retreats and such throughout the year. The place has its own landing strip for corporate jets, and the GNCC racers lined all 5000 feet of it on both sides for pit stops. A pro rodeo tour stopped by the on-site arena on Saturday night, and 1200 people packed the place to watch it. GNCC ATV Champion Bill Ballance even participated in the barrel race on his Yamaha YFZ450R ATV and finished second overall, with Can-Am’s Chris Bithell not far behind on his DS450. The River Ranch also featured hotels and condos on property, a skeet shooting range, and a golf course. A few people were already buzzing about a GNCC golf tournament there next year. So, it’s safe to say the series has a new opening round home.

David Knight isn’t defending his title this year, as he is going back to the World Enduro Championships to ride for BMW. But he did show up to help his girlfriend, X Games Champion Tarah Gieger, pit. Yes, Knighter/Geiger is an item, thanks to the power of the Nitro Circus. And Gieger won the women’s class. Then, with Knight watching on, the new contenders for his title did battle. FMF Suzuki’s Charlie Mullins grabbed the $250 MotorcycleUSA.com Holeshot Award and left everyone in his dust, with about eight other riders going back and forth behind him. Each time someone made a run on Mullins, though, he found another gear and pulled back away. GEICO Monster Kawasaki’s Paul Whibley came from about seventh to second, and it looked like Mullins’ teammate Josh Strang would win the battle for third until his dry-break tank started leaking and he ran out of gas on the last lap. Shock Doctor KTM’s Nathan Kanney ended up third, but really, all this race did was reaffirm the depth of this year’s GNCC contender list. There was more battling then usual at Florida, because while normally is three-hour sand whoop race in one of survival, these guys are strong enough to push it. The only one who really lost in the race was Am-Pro Yamaha rookie Thad DuVall, who crashed a few laps in and broke his wrist. He hopes to be back for round three in North Carolina.

The series now heads to Georgia for the Maxxis General GNCC at Aonia Pass MX. ATVs race Saturday and bikes race on Sunday, and I’ll be driving all night after the Daytona Supercross to get to watch it. If you want more on the GNCCs, check out my weekly GNCC Quick Fill column.

Here’s Steve Cox, who is en route to Daytona today…

  • Daniel Blair: From sixth at Indy to a Factory Connection ride!
Daniel Blair has been a buddy of mine for quite a while. When he decided he was going to make a “comeback” to racing before last season, I thought it was cool. He said at the time that he felt like he left some opportunities on the table and he didn’t want to quit before he gave it a shot with his full effort. For 2009, he switched to Hondas and to the East Series, and he’s been doing well, aside from his horrible luck at Atlanta, so it’s awesome to see the Factory Connection Racing team give him a real shot on top-tier equipment, now that Brett Metcalfe’s out with a broken collarbone. Guys like Blair don’t get these opportunities very often, so when they do, it’s easy to root for them.

Along with adding Blair to the team starting in Daytona, the GEICO Powersports Honda team is also debuting black bikes at the speedway, mimicking the color scheme that adorned the machines for the nationwide GEICO Powersports commercial featuring the team, which will begin to air soon. It’s a bit of a preview at Daytona, but keep your eyes out for the commercial. I hear it’s pretty cool.

Team rider Kevin Windham had third place in the bag last weekend in Indianapolis, but his bike broke. No one is willing to say exactly what it was, but it wasn’t the chain, as some suggested. Windham has had some pretty tough luck this year, including getting taken out by Stewart as he pushed his bike in front of Windham in the whoops at Anaheim 1 (he would’ve been second, at least, in that race), and more. Plus, it was his birthday in Indianapolis (he turned 31, although if you ask him, he’ll say 26 or 28), so it makes it doubly crappy for him.

It came out in the Monday Conversation with Chad Reed after Indy that his wife, Ellie, is his trainer. Now, Reedy has pretty dry humor, so to be honest, I couldn’t tell how serious he was, but he seemed serious to me. That’s pretty cool.

He was also clear that the problems he had recently were all him, which is cool to hear from a racer. Sometimes, the ego of a racer won’t allow them to admit when something’s wrong with them, so they blame bikes or injuries or illness – anything but what’s in their heads. Reed and Stewart are both guys at this point who are the masters of their own destiny, and they know it. They’re not relying on any magical solutions or trying to artificially pump up their confidence. They both know they’re fast enough, they both know how to win, and they both have the equipment to pull it off. It’s just literally going to come down to who the better man in the championship is this year, as they’re tied with eight rounds to run. I can’t wait.

  • Kevin Windham should have been on the box at Indy
And now to Ping

Jake Moss headed up to the arenacross race in Reno last weekend to get some extra racing in during the West Coast break. The Troy Lee Honda rider swept every single main event in both classes on both nights. It was the first time that has happened in a long time and it was another big step forward in Moss’s recovery. After breaking his T7 vertebra last October, Jake has been on a mission to get back up to speed. It looks like he’s getting there. Brock Sellards brought home a couple of second-place finishes last weekend but Jeff Gibson still holds a comfortable lead in that series as it winds down.

Glen Helen announced today that the Two-Stroke Challenge is back for 2009. This year the event will be held during halftime between the first and second sets of motos. The event was a success last year but had a couple snafus. First, it was muddy. They should make sure it doesn’t rain so much this year. And secondly, they allowed any and all two-strokes in the same class. A handful of people, including Richie Owens, who finished third, were riding Service Honda 500s. It’s hard enough finding a two-stroke to ride in that race, let alone a bike that is fast enough to compete with bikes like that. Greg Albertyn showed up on one of RC’s old race bikes and dominated the race, and “Factory” Phil Lawrence rode one of KTM’s monster 250s to second place. Interested in racing? The race is invite only but you can talk to Lori at Glen Helen and give it a shot.

I got some heat a couple weeks ago for insinuating that the spokesmodels that parade around the pits and hold the 30-second card up might not be the brightest stars in the sky. It was in my weekly Ask Ping column, and I tend to get a little opinionated there anyway. But then the 30-second-board girl goes out and proves me right the following weekend. Apparently, the complex instructions that go along with holding up the 30-second card were too much for her to handle and she buckled under the pressure, dropping the card and walking off after only a few seconds. The result was that the start had to be reset and 20 Lites riders almost blew their bikes up waiting for the gate to drop. I was laughing pretty hard while watching that go down on TV.

  • Christophe Pourcel will race Daytona for the first time
How serious is the injury Christophe Pourcel sustained two years ago? Well, he’s still feeling the effects of it. Word out of the PC camp is that Pourcel didn’t take some of his medication at the proper time early last week and it was still hampering him on the weekend. He said he couldn’t get his breathing under control, and he didn’t start feeling good until the last lap of the main event, which happened to be his fastest lap of the night. Despite his problems, he has a healthy points lead over his teammate and is looking solid at every round. I think it’s safe to say that Mitch is going to add another plate to his door from the east coast series this year.

That’s it from Ping.

Okay, the hits just keep coming from our legislators. Here’s the latest from an Illinois General Assembly: a bill to ban anyone under the age of 16 from owning, operating, or even being a passenger on an ATV or off-highway vehicle.
The bill reads: “Provides that it is illegal to operate an all-terrain vehicle or off-highway motorcycle if the operator is under the age of 16, does not have a valid driver’s license, or is not wearing a properly fitted helmet secured to the person’s head.”

Here’s the direct link to the AMA to find your representatives in your area to contact and about the current bill, Illinois House Bill 3914, trying to get passed.

Now back to the first one: From the get-go, I’ve heard it said that motorcycles and dirt bikes were caught off guard because they are not supposed to be governed by the CPSC, as Paul Buckley pointed out to me with this link:
“The other day I was looking at the CPSC site and found this page that lists motorcycles as something the CPSC DOES NOT have jurisdiction over. I have no idea if the OEM lawyers have seen this page but maybe if they took a look at it the dealers could start selling 50 & 65cc motorcycles again.”

Rupert X. Pellett, the dashing, debonair journalist with the uncertain background, has been blogging on the AMA Supercross website. This week he spoke to Freestone MX National promoter Tony Miller about his roots in racing, changes to the track in Wortham, Texas, and the clown who tried to steal his big Texas flag.

  • That’s Steve McQueen, by Rob Kinsey
Artist Rob Kinsey has just completed his latest painting, a black-and-white study of legendary Steve McQueen on his Triumph T4 at the 1964 ISDT in Eastern Germany. “I’ve really enjoyed working in monotone paints these past two weeks,” said Kinsey. “Without the use of colour, it really makes you concentrate on achieving depth and composition using tones of warm and cool hues of grey.”

While painting this artwork, Rob wrote a blog on Facebook group “Motocross Art” and also posted it on Mototalk and VitalMX forums. He has been inundated with requests for prints and will be releasing a limited edition of 150 giclee art prints signed and numbered, complete with a certificate of authenticity. Prints will retail for $75 U.S. plus $15 airmail shipping. Please email robakinsey@hotmail.com to reserve one and they will soon be listed on his website, www.robkinsey.com.

Finally, a public-service announcement:

To all Sponsors, Riders and families,
As many of you may have heard Perris Raceway is in dire need of your support. The track itself is not in jeopardy. However, the hours that you can ride are! Due to a permit issue, there is a chance we could lose the right to ride or race after dusk. Perris Raceway track has been in operation for more than 50 years; 41 of them have had night time racing and riding! Many of you are generations of riders who have been coming here for a safe, family friendly atmosphere. If they take away the night time racing and riding it will affect the track and its riders for years to come. The City is trying to work with us, but they do want to hear all sides.

The following are the two city hall meetings. If you can attend please do!

March 4th (Planning Commission Meeting) and March 10th (City Council Meeting).

Meetings start at 6pm

City of Perris
101 N. D Street
Perris, CA92570
Phone: (951) 943-6100

Kids come in your gear, Come with your friends and family. Whether you ride or not, Please Just COME!
Thank you for your support!

Perris Raceway

And if you’ve made it this far, here's a weekend bonus: very old-school moto, including Evel Knievel.

That’s it from Daytona. Thanks for reading Racerhead.

Donnie Hansen

Too Cool for School