Observations: Daytona

March 11, 2009 3:52pm | by:

This week the AMA Supercross Series was in beautiful Daytona Beach for its annual stop at one of the most unique and challenging tracks the riders face all year. Last year you may remember the monsoon that came in and turned it into the most muddy supercross ever (at least the wettest) and I was looking forward to this race after seeing the weather forecast: clear skies! Also, a great track made this race one of the most exciting ones to watch and short of something emotionally crushing happening (like Tim Ferry crashing and breaking his heel), this was going to be a great race for me.

  • Daytona is always cool and RC's track design this year was great. A blend of old and new although wouldn't it be cool if it went over the concrete again?
Ricky Carmichael, a five-time Daytona SX winner, had a hand in the track design and it was really, really good in my opinion. We all know that RC was a gnarly rider so the thought that he would totally bring back the old-school track was something that crossed my mind, which I hoped he wouldn’t do, as those tracks were often dangerous and silly. Nor did I want him to take anymore of the soul away from what is Daytona, long runs across the pavement, 30-man mains, and gator pits!

As it turned out RC’s blend of old school and new school was perfect. It was rough and challenging, with great transitions and sensible jumps. Almost every track this year that was designed by a rider has been met with great enthusiasm, so keep ‘em coming.

Let me talk about the race and in one word: WOW! And WOW again. That’s two words but they are the same and it’s the only word that comes to mind when trying to encapsulate this crazy night. James Stewart and Chad Reed came in tied and, like those old cage matches, two men would enter and only one man would leave (with the points lead)! And that man was Chad Reed, who really dug down and passed Jason Lawrence (?!?) with a few laps to go to grab his third prestigious Daytona victory in the premier class (and once back in ’02 in the Lites class). Like a veteran pitcher that doesn’t have his best stuff but uses his smarts to get through, Reedy showed everybody that he can gut it out and win. His fitness and his steadiness when things weren’t happening for him won him this race.

In practice Chad’s times weren’t what we are used to seeing and he lost his heat to an ailing Josh Hill. I mean, c’mon, nothing against Hill but he’s riding with two bad shoulders on a gnarly rough track and he goes out and beats Chad Reed? That told me all I needed to know about the Rockstar/Makita Suzuki star and the fact he didn’t have his best. Regardless, good for Josh Hill.  Turns out Chad was saving his best stuff he had for the main.

Now Reed’s got eleven points on Stewie because James lost his front end charging into the grassy first turn and caused an ugly chain of events that left a ton of guys on the ground. The combined rider salaries on the ground was enough to buy all the back bacon in Canada! James was really knocked kooky as he tried to grab Hill’s bike before being shooed away (along with his team manager Larry Brooks, who must have been shouting “Just pick up a Yamaha and go!”) Then with tweety birds circling his head and a bent up front end, two digits in one finger of his glove, James went out and just about had the best lap time of the night on the THIRD lap. It really was a great ride for Stewie and showed everyone that he’s as tough as they come.

  • Here's Stewie in the main event. You can see his wheel is bent in relation to his handlebars. Not to mention the front fender is jacked. At this point he probably just wants the ringing in his ears to stop.
That said, his margin of error for the rest of the series just went out the window….

What a series this is has turned out to be! With seven rounds left, James has the raw speed over Chad but you have to stay up and the last two weeks, he hasn’t been able to do that. I’m excited for both these guys and can’t wait to see what happens from here on out. If there is a supercross in your area, go buy tickets. And tell Todd Jendro I sent you!

Todd and his crew at Feld Motorsports, by the way, should have been given a trophy on Saturday too, because it’s obvious that Daytona—the only race in the series they don’t promote—has stepped up its production to keep pace. And now he’s got a full-on battle to the finish shaping up between Chad and James, plus a whole new storyline in that J-Law guy… 

We finally saw what Jason Lawrence has for the guys in the 450 class. And, um, he has A LOT. Lawrence led for fourteen laps and would’ve won the whole shebang if he had a little more fitness.  Think about that, Jason Lawrence would’ve won his first-ever AMA Supercross (450 class) and it would’ve been at Daytona! That, my friends is simply amazing. The only thing remotely close to that is Mark Barnett winning his first-ever SX back in 1979 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, when that was the most important race on the calendar.

You can’t blame Jason for his fitness being down; he’s been off for a while, he was sick in Indy, it was his first 450 race and it was Daytona at that! Great main event but I might have been the most impressed with him being the fastest qualifier of the day. He was half a second faster than Stewie, in a later practice, and then backed it up with that up with another great time. Sure, he got some help in the main with the massive crash but his practice time showed us he was for real. You just don’t go faster than James Stewart – you just don’t!

  • There is no truth that the speedway is going to change the name to
I really questioned Jason’s gate pick as his far inside choice left him no room for error and it certainly looked like he got screwed when he was pinched out ten feet out of the gate. He was forced to cut off some of the track out to get around the mess but it was a smart thing to do and nobody should be upset at it. Ferry followed him but didn’t make it so obvious and tried to enter two bales earlier than Lawrence. Typical of Ferry’s year, he then got a bale cover caught in his front wheel. Then even more typical he crashed and broke his heel and we probably won’t see him until the outdoors. Forget his pain, you can send cards and letters to matthes@racerxonline.com to help me get through the grieving process.

I’m sure the topper for the Dog was him not being able to go to the Brittney Spears concert the next day with the winner of the race and the wives. When it rains, it pours I guess. I told him that he should’ve stuck with Lawrence and he would’ve been third and he said that he was right behind him. Clearly, the pain meds were kicking in when he told me that.

Back to Lawrence and despite him wanting to set me on fire if he gets the chance, I’m happy for him and hope he keeps it up (and keeps the shenanigans far away from the track). I’ve always said, we need his character (and now speed) in the sport but the guy I’m really happy for is team manager Chris McAvoy (himself not a member of the Mickey Matthes Fan Club either) because he’s been working hard and had to deal with a lot the last couple years.

Christophe Pourcel won the 250 main after a steady fast ride, he put himself in position to catch a fading Martin “ee” Davalos and grab a real hold on the title. He was a steady force all night and again, his back story is the stuff Hallmark movies are made of.

Marteen “don’t call me Martin” Davalos should’ve won the Daytona race. He had a good sized lead and gave it up due to a lack of fitness. He didn’t need to pick up his pace; he just needed to maintain his good speed from early on! His best to worst lap time was almost a four-second difference. For example, Pourcel’s difference was two (discounting his last lap cruise), third-place finisher Nico Izzi’s was one and a half.

What blew me away even more was Martin’s demeanor on the podium: he seemed happy even though that he let the Daytona SX slip away. I have little doubt he would’ve been passed by Izzi if there was one more lap. He also mentioned that he’s still learning. Martin, you are a fourth-year factory 250 rider, with multiple podiums even, and you’re still learning? I would’ve thought he’d been pissed and should have won a race by now but what do I know?

  • Davi was really good. We know he's in shape also as his ninteenth lap was his second fastest. Putting the 800 jersey in front of him was probably akin to a red cape and a bull.
Mike Alessi led two laps at the race that he’s been talking about for a while. Coming off his best finish last weekend, you would’ve thought that Mike could hold on for a podium at least but he was bumped pretty hard by Davi Millsaps on the last lap and fell down. Still a good ride but I wanted to head butt the TV when Mike just simply refused to change his line in the whoops despite being passed there three times and losing a ton of time to Davi. Ferry told me that the dad was really freaking out trying to get Mike to select the right gate for the start…. Whoever ended up making the pick, he chose well.

I can’t figure Millsaps out. He’s like the hot chick in school that everybody wants and you finally manage to score with her. Both of you fall in love and things look great. You’re amazed that she’s with you because she’s out of your league and then, at a drunken frat party, she goes and hooks up with the whole offensive line of your school’s football team. You write her off and buy a voodoo doll, only she comes back to you crying and sobbing, saying she didn’t mean it and you go back out with her anyway, even if can’t bring yourself to attend any more school football games…

I say this because Davi’s great to look at on a bike but yet seems to be in a lot of LCQs. And just when you write him off and assume he’ll never take that next step, he goes out and puts in an inspiring ride to grab the third spot on the podium. He was stuck in the same pileup as Reed and held thirteenth at the end of lap one, people! That’s awesome and that covers the part about him being like a super hot chick; the part with the offensive lineman is his heat race that put him in the LCQ. He falls in the first turn, blows by Ferry and all the other dudes into the ninth spot but then looks disinterested and tired and gives it back to Ferry with absolutely no fight. I just can’t figure him out….

It was cool to see a little tribute to Barry Carsten by one of the announcers, just letting everyone know that Bar-dog is, like, 50 years old and still out there putting it on the line with the kids. Why this wasn’t done by Weege is beyond me; he’s the foremost expert on all things Carsten. (And it was good to hear Paul Page and Larry Naston calling the live action along with JW and Ben Cheatwood.)

Josh Grant is having a rough time of it lately. He’s had some hard crashes at the races and this week weeded himself pretty good out at Langston’s place. At Daytona he suffered the indignity of going to the LCQ and then, while charging as hard as ever, went down hard and got carted off. He probably feels like a train has run him over the last month or so. He’s beat up from the feet up.

  • Grant probably wishes he was at Seaworld right now. I suppose the towel might make it seem that he's in the penguin exhibit. Look at Alex his mechanic just sitting there thinking of how many parts he has to change on the 33.
Look for the Nathan Ramsey-to-JGR thing to happen this week. He’ll fill in for an injured Cody Cooper for the rest of Supercross. It will be good to see Nate Dog back.

Speaking of JGR, it was cool to wander over there and get fed some catered Chick-fil-a burgers by the guys. They had the little baskets with a slice of cake, some chips and a chicken burger. It was real good and I even got some buy-one-get-one-free coupons as well. Eat the food and get free stuff?! Good times.

Scary incident prior to the 250 main event when on the parade lap Blake Wharton made a rookie mistake and collided with Will Hahn after Blake crossed the start straight section. They hit hard and Hahn was the one that was left with a charley horse and a broken bike. …

But it was also an official’s mistake, as no one from the AMA or the course marshalling crew was there to stop the riders from rolling back across the start line before everyone had left the gate and passed where the track doubles back right away. Scary thing is, Hahn wasn’t even the last guy on the gate! There should have been three flag standing there holding everyone up. In the 450 main, there was a blue-shirted army there to make sure it didn’t happen again.

Fortunately for Wilbur, the AMA gave KTM time to fix the bike and, in a great ride, Hahn somehow finished fifth in the main.

There were a couple of rider changes made this week also. Matt Boni left the BBMX team for the Hart & Huntington Honda, vacated by Josh Hansen. Why Matt did this is strange as it looks to be a sideways one to someone on the outside like myself. Boni has been riding really well this year and you would think a guy would not want to change a thing. He finished 18th this week but still looked pretty fast for a while.

GEICO Honda also rewarded Daniel Blair with a ride while team rider Brett Metcalfe heals up. Good to see GEICO giving a privateer a shot and I’m glad that Blair acquitted himself well by riding up front in his heat race and then scoring an 11th in the main.

  • Nice to see GEICO Honda reward a guy and give him a bike. I like the whole motif here also.
As many of you reading this know, a bunch of us got to go to Reed’s house and Stewie’s house this past week to watch the guys practice. It was way cool but I think some of Stewie’s guys weren’t too pumped that we had been to Chad’s the day before. They had to read it on Racer X Online and the first thing James said to me was “How was Chad’s?” when I walked up to him. These guys are funny like that because I heard that Chad also made a comment to the guys at his house when he asked where we were the next day. Can’t we all just be buddies? No? I don’t wanna pick a guy; I want to be buddies with everyone. I am an equal-opportunity pit pundit!

Anyway, the travelling group at both houses was me, Billy Ursic, Weege and Matt Ware. We all thought it was cool that these two guys let us into their private world and realize how lucky we were. Stewie’s compound was mind-boggling to say the least. But after seeing Hepler and Hill have bad main events, Ferry break his heel, Jason Thomas DNF, Byrne separate his shoulder and Stewie get knocked silly, it’s really clear to me what the guys should do from now on – never, ever invite Weege over ever again. Only Reed beat the Racer X road crew curse!

The order of the guys who impressed me was Lawrence, Millsaps, Reed and then Ryan Villopoto. RV was on it and would’ve for sure had the third spot on the podium but stalled his Kawasaki just as he moved passed Kevin Windham and Mike Alessi. He came from a ways back as well and was really riding good and you could see (at least I could) why he’s going to be so good this summer. He was railing the berms harder than almost anyone and just pinning it everywhere.

Millsaps went from the end of the pack to third, and Stewie went 17th to 7th, Short went 15th to 8th and Hill went 16th to 11th. The winner Reed was also held up by the pile-up, and he went to the winner’s circle from 8th at the end of the first lap. All great rides for these guys and again, especially Millsaps.

Thanks to TWMX’s website, I now feel somewhat vindicated…. At Reedy’s house we were talking about the proposed 250cc two-strokes against the 250cc four-strokes class change, but that fell through with the economy and lead law. Anyway, the riders were all saying that the 250Fs would have the advantage…. All the guys but me, that is. I maintained that the HP, the weight and the handling would be better on the mostly-prepped-perfectly national tracks but the best riders in the world said I was crazy.I believe that the only place where the thumpers would rule would be where there was no traction (and long whoop sections, which there are none outdoors). And the vindication I speak of was TWMX’s test with Lawrence where he was significantly faster on the two-stroke—like almost two seconds per lap on a 45-second track. Silly riders, arguing with a mechanic…

The guys all thought Tommy “Gun” Searle and Tyler “Go the” Rattray would do very well this summer (except for Ferry, who just found out that Searle is racing here this summer and didn’t have time to digest it all) because they’ve had a lot of time to practice outdoors. My sleeper pick is Brett Metcalfe but the consensus was Ryan Dungey will be hard to beat. 

  • YES!!! My Rollerball jersey, I don't get it though, Ross was a big man (aren't all Gods?) and this jersey is an XL but I swear it wouldn't fit Lawrence.
  • All it took was some guy named Stewart's jersey. What has he ever done in the sport? I bet he doesn't have FORTY TWO PRO TITLES like Roller. Yes, I said FORTY TWO.
A while back a reader named Cal Nowicki emailed me with some sweet pictures of his Ross “Rollerball” Pederson jersey and was basically taunting me that he had the greatest rider of all time’s personal jersey. He mentioned something about a trade for an autographed Stewie jersey and thanks to Roger “MX Culture” Larsen, I made that happen and we did the exchange. Thanks to Cal and mostly, thanks to Roger for getting me Stewie’s jersey and I now have a Rollerball jersey. Man, I ripped Cal off…

Nico Izzi was pretty good and getting oh-so-close to winning one of these races. He’s back with Ron “Should’ve won ‘89 Miami SX” Tichenor and that’s a good thing because Ronnie has been there for Nico since he was five and knows him well. I don’t know what happened last summer to cause the break up but I’m glad they’re back together.

Tommy Hahn rode pretty good, as did Ryan Sipes, and they were both beneficiaries of the pile-up in the first turn, staying up front pretty much the whole race. This was Hahn’s second-best 450 finish in his career and Sipes’s career best.

Matt Lemoine finally had a good finish to go along with his speed that he’s shown all of us and Blake Wharton came from the back to get a tenth. Good rides for both of them.

The GEICO Honda team switched to all black Hondas and I’m not sure if that’s a permanent move or not but it looks pretty sweet—especially with Wharton and Blair’s black and yellow Fox gear and K-Dub’s sweet MSR threads. Click here to watch their new TV commercial.

Check out pulpmx.com if you want. If not, no big deal.

That’s all I observed at Daytona and thanks for reading, send me an email at matthes@racerxonline.com if you want. I might even write back and everything. See you next week from the Big Easy!