Observations: St. Louis

March 25, 2009 9:41pm | by:

Observations from St. Louis? Didn’t I announce last week that I would not be in attendance for this race? Ah, yes, but I simply could not resist the pull of Travis Pastrana, who was really and actually going to race in St. Louis. And not only did Travis make it, but so did the over-under bridge he designed into the track. I have waited years for this!!!

  • The Factory Bike Fairy brought Laninovich a present
Then, as if the return of the over-under wasn’t enough, I picked up a hot tip that Monster Kawasaki was bringing Timmy’s bike back out for this event!!! Ryan Villopoto’s illness seems to be getting worse not better, so Kawasaki parked him for the weekend. This left the team in desperate need for a rider, so out came the number 15 machine again!

But then, sadly, mechanic Dana Wiggins was seen doing something akin to leaving your country and joining up with someone else (and sadly, I’m a Canadian living in Las Vegas, so sadly, I understand this). Wiggins took the #15 plates off of the bikes and replaced them with #132s!


Turns out Timmy is still out with his broken heel, and Kawasaki has found a replacement with #132, Billy Laninovich. Hey, if Red Dog has to be out, Bad Billy is as good of a replacement choice as any. Monster Kawasaki hired Billy a few weeks ago to be their test rider. Weege used to think (incorrectly, however) that Kawasaki hired Red to be a test rider in the first place. By now, Billy is probably pretty comfortable on the bike. And I’ve never once doubted Billy’s desire; he just hasn’t had the right breaks over the years to show what he can really do. Billy should be able to do some serious damage, especially since he’s on a machine originally intended for the greatest rider to ever swing a leg over a bike!

Billy ended up 25th fastest in qualifying. Ouch. But here’s the thing about a veteran like Billy (and Timmy). When it’s race time, he (they) is (are) able to step up. He endured an epic fight with Pastrana in his heat to make the main event (and Billy, riding with the spirit of Timmy behind him, was getting huge cheers from the crowd the whole way. There were 55,500 people watching in St. Louis, but their cheers followed the Laninovich versus Pastrana battle more than anything else. They are obviously big Laninovich fans in St. Louis. Probably because they miss Timmy?)

Billy then scored 18th in the main. And everyone went about mispronouncing his last name just like old times.

For most of you, though, the real story at St. Louis wasn’t the absence of the beloved Red Dog but the appearance of Travis Pastrana. He brought the following things to the event:  an electric atmosphere, his buddies from the Nitro Circus, a crazy race track (including the over-under!) and what seemed like a billion fans or so.

  • Not sure if you've heard, but Pastrana raced St. Louis!
It’s amazing how popular this guy is. During opening ceremonies, Reedy and Stewie were clapping for the guy and just laughing when he back flipped over a berm. In fact, during the show opening, you weren’t even really thinking about the points race, or Reed versus Stewart. You just wanted to see what Travis did next! I really didn’t think he’d be able to back flip the finish line jump, because it was big. When he did it, the place went nuts.

There were a lot of big obstacles on this track. The supercross track walk is usually a low-key affair, especially after racing on 11 different tracks in 11 weeks. But this one had everyone buzzing, and then everyone gathered in one big line to check out the massive 96-foot triple Travis had set up. I saw odd combinations of teams and riders chatting with each other about how to do this obstacle. And in the end, everyone agreed—you can’t do it. The 96-foot triple remained a 50-foot double all day.

For some reason, the take-off ramp for that double had zero backside to it. It was shaped like a wall on one end, and that wall would also serve as a backstop if anyone got pushed outside of turn one. This didn’t sit well with the riders, so the backside was later shaped up a little so if you did get pushed over the tuff blox, you wouldn’t drive straight into a wall.

That wasn’t the only thing getting attention. They were supposed to have a bunch of jumps on the start straight, but I heard they couldn’t set up the Jagermeister freestyle course with the jumps out there, so they had to go away. The irony of Travis Pastrana’s supercross track hindering a freestyle show!

Each turn on the track featured a small berm on the inside and a big berm on the outside. Travis tried to give the riders options for passing. Also, the berms zig zagging along the start were not typical bowl turns. They were L-shaped masses, and when the riders got in one, they got an incredible drive through the turn. The problem was, those outsides were faster than the inside, so Dirt Wurx kept having to go back there and adjust the inside berms to try to make the inside a more viable option.

It just doesn’t work. Every time the riders build a track, they try to build in options, but the problem is that it’s almost impossible to make two completely different lines take the exact same amount of time. Once everyone figures out which line is faster, they all take it, and then they complain that the track is one-lined.

  • Talk about riding on a rail...
Travis’ track was even worse, because the track was deliberately designed to separate one line from the other. Once the riders figured out what line to use, they all had to stuff themselves into half the width of the track. It led to some good bumping and banging, but I doubt anyone left thinking, “all those options gave us plenty of room for passing!”

Here’s a quote I saw in the GEICO Honda team press release from Kevin Windham:

“Travis [Pastrana] built a track that had all these little, mini walls in there, so essentially, if you have a track that’s 20 feet wide, and you put a berm in the middle that’s two feet wide, you do the math and you’re not dealing with much of a track there. You’ve got seven or eight feet on the inside and seven or eight feet on the outside, so there was clearly one fast line, and we were all racing on a seven-foot-wide track, so I wasn’t very pumped. It was all right for riding, and it kept you on your toes and was exciting – Travis had some interesting ideas and thought outside the box a little bit – but I don’t think it was a good racetrack. A lot of the berms were waist-high and they were like little, mini walls, so you couldn’t enter them late, and you couldn’t exit them early, and you couldn’t put two bikes in one berm at one time.”

Now, before you criticize the riders, I must admit that everyone was open-minded about the track. People wanted it to work. I did a short survey after the first practice, and I got the same thing from almost everyone: “It’s a fun track to ride, it would be cool to have in your backyard. But I don’t think it’s good for racing.”

I got this from Reed, Windham, Millsaps Izzi and Wey, and then I came over to Andrew Short. Shorty’s grin was even bigger than usual this time, and I swear even his trademark blonde eyebrows were a few shades blonder. “I love it!” said Shorty. He’s probably the least likely rider to go do Nitro Circus-type stunts, but he likes the variety. “We all have to race the same thing, I think it’s cool to try new stuff like this!”

I wish I had bought stock in, “After the track walk you will see Travis, Feld’s Todd Jendro and a guy from Dirt Wurx heading back out to the track to discuss changes.” Because it happened, and then I saw Reedy and Windham staying out there a little later than usual just to see how it was all going to shape up. Even the track walk had an electric atmosphere.

  • Windham wasn't thrilled with the track, but he still looked pretty on it
So how did Travis do? First off, I’m glad I didn’t buy stock in “Travis won’t make it out of practice” because he indeed did. Also, I had expected the AMA to somehow slide him into the fast guy’s practice, but they didn’t.

I think we all know Travis is a bit fragile, and I was impressed to see that he rode conservatively for most of the night. I saw areas where he maybe could have jumped something bigger or charged into something harder, but he never pulled the trigger. In his heat, he even had to battle Stewart for two turns, and I was expecting him to bezerk it just to see what he could do, but he resisted. In the heat, it was obvious Travis was just trying make sure he made the main, and he would have if he hadn’t clipped a tuff block and tipped over. And even that crash looked like it was due to him getting tired, not from riding over his head (and it allowed Laninovich to sneak Timmy’s bike through to the main!).

Finally, in the LCQ, it was time to get desperate, and the old Travis came back. It’s funny how it all adds up over all of these years. Seven years ago we were all expecting TP to challenge RC for wins. Now, he’s battling just as hard, but he’s battling with Jake Marsack for second in the LCQ. Not to cut down on Marsack, who is a good privateer racer, but I think there were still people that expected Travis to come in and lead some laps in the main at some point (Cox).

Eventually, Travis was down to just a few bezerks here and there with some blocking thrown in, and it finally caught up to him when his radiator broke. The last time I can remember a rider breaking his radiator like that was…when Travis tried a GNCC in 2006!

So that was it. Travis was done for the night, and we all got to return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Where you buying stock in “Both James and Chad will be healthy and Chad will lead the points with five races to go?” I bet you weren’t. Weege, an awesome writer if there ever was one, summed that all up well in 450 Words this week. The guy just refuses to give up (Reed, not Weege). In the main, Stewie got a bad start because he crashed twice in his heat race and only finished ninth, giving him an outside pick on gate that clearly favored the inside. He put on a passing clinic for four laps, then rocketed through one of those L-berms in like 17th gear or something, and passed Chad. The amount of speed he carried out of that corner….Valentino should ask him for some Yamaha set-up tips.

  • Stewart was way out front when a surprise crash gave Reed the lead
Anyway, just like in New Orleans, Chad stayed on James’ wheel for a bit, but then he made a big mistake just past the halfway mark. The lead was up to nearly four-seconds at that point, and it appeared to be over.  And then, suddenly, James was upside down on the over-under bridge. I knew it would be a factor!

Turns out James hit neutral again, like he apparently did at Anaheim 1. Considering this happened heading up to a jump, he’s lucky that all he did was lose the lead. If Stewie wins out, he’ll still be the supercross champion, but now that Reed has won three out of four, that scenario doesn’t seem as likely as it did a few weeks ago.

Last week, I was impressed that Reed matched Stewart by doubling over the New Orleans dragon back. This time he did one better by doubling the twin dragon backs (look for a book with that title in the children’s section soon) lap after lap, while Stewart got it wrong one time in the heat and paid dearly. A few guys jumped it in practice, but it was hands off in the main for everyone except CR and JBS.

“The thing is, it was easy,” said Reed on the webcast after the show. “I don’t know why no one else was jumping it.” CR is in a good zone right now.

Let me tell you something dumb about that Weege guy. After Phoenix, he tells me “Josh Grant is flying now but this is a long season for rookies, will he still be around at round 12?” Well, guess what Mr. Webcast? St. Louis was round 12, and Josh grabbed the holeshot, led for a bit, and finished up on the podium!

Josh had a fourth at Indy, but Atlanta and Daytona were tough on him. He rested up and just got through the New Orleans race, then came back this weekend with Anaheim 1 aggression. JG even bent his shifter early in the race and had to stay in third gear the whole way, but he still managed to hold off Shorty and J-Law to grab the podium. Plus, with Villopoto out, he’s back up to fourth in points.

Even Coach Joe Gibbs was there to check Josh’s ride out. Why would Coach show up in St. Louis when his NASCAR team had a race to win in Tennessee? Because his NFL coaching career actually started with the St. Louis Cardinals back in 1973, so he wanted to see the old town. That’s the kind of info you get only from Observations!

And then Gibbs’ boys went 1-2 at the NASCAR race the next day at Bristol. That’s how you delegate.

  • Much less controversial this weekend, J-Law grabbed a strong 5th on the 450
Let’s move to the Lites class….wait a minute, did I write “J-Law” up there two paragraphs ago?

Indeed, the controversial one was back in action in St. Louis, after skipping New Orleans. He rode awesome again, passing Grant and mugging Mike Alessi to finish second in his heat race, and then taking a close fifth in the main. I’m sure Jason wanted to beat JG on this night, but he just couldn’t figure a way around either the #33 or the #29. Those options on the track just didn’t work.

I was amazed to see Jason actually moved over and let James Stewart pass him early in the main. That’s like the class bully saying, “dude, I don’t want that guy to pick on me.”

On to the Lites. By now you know the Monster/PC Kawi tandem of Pourcel and Stroupe got bumped around early on, leaving Blake Wharton and Izzi to fight for the win, and at the halfway point Wharton pulled away. But what you may not know is that Izzi had a huge crash over the twin dragon back double in practice, and he hurt his hand pretty bad. Ask for that drink next time you’re in Vegas, the Twin Dragon Back Double.

In the main, I noticed Nico stopped pushing hard into corners at just about the time Wharton started pulling away. Nico seems like he wants a win really bad these days, but he’s running out of time to get one.

Wharton! Wharton! Wharton! How about this kid? All last summer I was talking trash on Vurb Moto’s Wes Williams, who produces the Racer X Motocross Show and eats, sleeps and breathes amateur motocross. So then I get a text from Wes on Sunday saying "HOW ABOUT THOSE AMATUERS NOW. WINNING SX'S! GO WHARTON"

Good point. While I’m at it, I also want to mention I got texts from several other people this week, including Stewart, Reed, Short, Barack Obama, The Dali Lama, Wayne Gretzky and God.

  • Helmet hair
As for young Wharton, the “largest hair in the game today” has been pretty darned good since turning pro. He impressed at Millville, Southwick and Steel City last year, and besides getting landed on at Indy and missing the main, he’s been good in supercross. He’s also pretty funny and I believe GEICO Powersports Honda has a lock on “kids that will become media darlings when they’re 25” now that they have Wharton and Trey Canard on board. Hey, K-Dub isn’t going to be around forever, someone has to take the mantle from him.

Speaking of K-Dub, I really thought such a technical track would favor him, and it looked good when he won his heat (the one Bubba crashed in). Plus he had a strong fourth in New Orleans, I was expecting perhaps a podium from him here. But in the main he got a bad start and never moved forward.

Last week Broc Hepler did one better than Kevin and put his YZ450F on the podium. Racer X’s Billy “I grew up in Pennsylvania” Ursic was so pumped that he volunteered to write about all the Yamaha guys this week for Obs. See that, Yamaha? Keeping Broc on the team means more press for all of your guys!

Here’s Billy:

For this installment of OBS, I had to observe all the Yamahas. First of all, after the New Orleans supercross, I was on Cloud 9. Two of my favorite riders podiumed (Broc Hepler and Branden Jesseman), and Darryn Durham had fourth in the bag till a slight bobble put him back to sixth. Needless to say, it’s going to be tough to top that.

Let’s begin with Broc “Iceman”  Hepler. In St. Louis Hep was looking like his typical self, recording mediocre practice times. In fact, Pastrana had a faster timed practice time than The Hep! Hepler then got a terrible start in the main and was stuck mid-pack throughout the entire race, backing up his first career podium with a 14th. Not what I (or Broc) was hoping for. So I texted Broc, and he said, “just had a couple mistakes and was struggling with the track.” ‘Nuf said.

  • Durham challenged points leader Pourcel in their heat
  • Josh Grant made his way back to the podium
Next it was time to text Durham, the Division 7/Star Racing Yamaha rookie who again had a strong heat race (finishing second), but crashed in the first turn of the main event, clawing his way up to ninth. In fact, Durham got hooked up with Christophe Pourcel early in the main, and I was hoping that the 377 would tow the 159 to the front. “He got away from me pretty quick,” Durham replied, via text message. “I was kinda bummed.” I then asked him about the track, and like Hepler, and privateer Jake Saylor, who I talked to in the pits, Durham didn’t like the track. “It was fun, but I didn’t like the corners. It was too hard for passing.” I then texted Durham and told him to practice starts and to come out swinging in Toronto.

As far as the other Yamaha riders, St. Louis wasn’t too bad for them, as two of the three podium positions in the premier class were aboard blue. We all know that L&M/San Manuel’s James Stewart had the race in the bag before endoing up on to the over/under bridge, relegating him to second. JGRMX/Toyota Yamaha’s Josh Grant got his season back on track with a very solid third place finish, and Boost Mobile/ampm/Monster/Troy Yamaha’s Jason Lawrence put in an excellent ride in his first-ever 450cc main event under a roof. The other Factory Yamaha rider, Josh Hill, finished one spot behind Hepler, in fifteenth. Oh, and here’s a nod to the other L&M Racing rider, Kyle Chisholm, who soldiered on to a 13th place in the main event despite riding with a sore knee.

In the Lites class, the top Yamaha rider was Division 7/Star Racing’s Matt “Nitro Circus” Lemoine, who finally kept it on two wheels for the entire fifteen laps to finish sixth. The aforementioned Durham finished ninth, and Wonder Warthog Racing rider Jake “the Snake” Saylor finished fifteenth. I spoke with Saylor in the pits on Saturday, and he said he’s getting ready to head back to Germany after supercross to contest the entire Germans Master Series on a KX450F. Good luck over there, Jake.

Oh, and Brando didn’t even make the main this week. Bummer for everyone in PA.

Thanks for the help, Billy. I think we can all now see how effective text messaging is for true journalists like myself and Billy. And I hope you’re enjoying my web column so far, Denny Hartwig!

Well, we’re just about at 3,500 words, so it’s time to shut this edition of Observations down. I just want to recommend better quality cheese spread for the hot dogs next year at the Edward Jones Dome, I was very disappointed with my lunch.

I was also disappointed in the following: All the trainers, all the agents, all the team managers, the coffee at my hotel, everyone’s bikes and gear and graphics, and Josh Hansen, who didn’t show after all. And I want everyone to know that, although Nate Ramsey didn’t make the main this time, he had no troubles seeing Davi Millsaps win the LCQ because of his awesome X Brand Goggles.

Oh, and one other thing, you’ve all been Weeged. Sorry. This is Jason Weigandt. When Matthes told me he wasn’t going to St. Louis, I decided to write this in his name. Billy helped me out a bit (like he did with locking in Hepler’s holeshot device at Stewart’s house) and the rest was all me. So, if you’re pissed about anything, go talk to Steve in Toronto (he’ll be there, it’s Canada). If you like it, check out www.blogandt.com, which would be awesome if I didn’t waste 3,500 good words writing someone else’s column.

Weigandt out!