Observations: Jacksonville

April 8, 2009 3:30pm | by:

I love going to new cities and so when I saw the ‘09 supercross schedule that had Jacksonville listed I was pumped. And that’s exactly where I was on Saturday night; sitting in a new stadium I had never been before and watching an epic main event.  The series was getting down to the nitty-gritty with only three rounds left after this visit and emotions were on edge, people were tense and the slightest thing said or done wrong would make everything blow up. And that was just in the Kawi truck when I was waiting for the food.

Thank you, thank you very much, I'll be here all week. Tip your waiter.

  • New stadiums and cities are always cool to go to. So is Outback Steakhouse.
I’m not sure why Jacksonville was chosen to be a brand new city on the tour. I heard the Monster Jam sells out, but then again, for whatever reason, Florida has always has attendance problems for supercross. How did this one go? Just like Tampa and Orlando, I’m afraid. Jax is a big stadium, and a lot of people came dressed as empty seats. The stadium holds 80,000, so it does look empty with 30,000 in it. Nearby Atlanta, GA has been the second hottest market for supercross (just behind California), so let’s just give the Jacksonville fans a couple years to catch on.

The track was pretty good. I was hearing reports all week from people that were hurricane warnings and the rain was coming down but when I showed up, the track was perfect condition. The dirt was really good; lots of traction and it kind of reminded me of a better version of California dirt. The small stadium floor helped in covering the track during the rain because Dirt Wurx was able to cover the starting line. I knew the racing would be close because there really wasn’t anything too tough on the track to separate the guys. A few turns were prime for stuffing (more on that later). I find that lots of times, over/under bridges help out tracks. I’m just sayin’.

What a main event the lucky in attendance got to see! Chad Reed grabbed the start (and when I say that, it means that he was the first guy not named Mike Alessi to cross the white line. Let’s all assume Mike has the start, okay?) while James Stewart got into second quickly and the games began! Reed was faster in the whoops and James made up his time around the first turn. Eventually Stewart crept up to Reed and showed him a wheel a few times, and then the two combatants seemed to be more concerned with each other and where they were going than looking ahead and racing. They passed each other a few times in what was the best battle of the year between The Seven and The One.

I don’t know man, maybe I’m crazy but it seemed to me that James was playing some cat-and-mouse with Reedy out there. He would pass Chad and then seem to slow down and practically let him back by. It was a lot like the Unadilla ’02 race, at least to me anyways. It was exciting and puzzling to me at the same time because I can’t believe that James would do that with so much at stake and so little room for error. Stranger things have happened though.

The reason why I thought James might be doing that to Reed was because they got into it in practice when Reed took Stewie high in a turn when James was trying to lay down a fast lap. I didn’t see Reedy’s transgression, but I did see them jaw at each other and then Stewie move over on Chad the next straightaway. James motioned to Chad to come get him but Reedy saved the fight for later on that night. All I know is that just like last year between Reed and Windham, things are getting tense near the end.

  • This is about how close these two were for 3/4 of the main event. Great racing and in watching it, I honestly never felt like anyone did anything dirty or weird.
People, there is lots of money (and chicks for free) at stake here. As a guy that has to write about the series, I love it and look forward to a ring being set up where Reedy can come off the top rope and put Stewie into a “tombstone pile-driver” and James can bring a set of handlebars into the ring and clobber Chad when he’s not looking.

So Stewie eventually pulled out a lead and did what he had to do. Chad did what he had to do and we’re going into the only weekend off of the whole season for the guys to get ready for the homestretch of the last three. Pretty much every team will be outdoor testing this week and next, except for these two guys, as they’re not racing outdoors (though Stewart has apparently committed to at least three). No distractions for them.

After the race, tempers were still flaring between the two, and Larry “Who Let the Dog Out?” Brooks wrote about it on his MXA blog. Apparently, while they were at a commercial break and came back to the shot of Reed with his hand on Stewie’s back as they talked on a jump, Reed’s gesture was less of a slap on the back than a squeeze of the neck. Whatever happened, it now has the full attention of the AMA and FIM, not to mention the www. 

Kevin Windham got third and it was easy to see from the first practice that KW was on it. Why? Because usually he sucks in the first go around and takes it easy, then turns it on for the second practice. When I was a mechanic for Ferry (sigh) I was always thinking we had KW covered, then I learned how he did it. However, this weekend he was on it during the first session and was fifth fastest. Good return to the podium for Kevin as he basically rode by himself in the main, some 28 (!?) seconds behind the top two yahoos.

Remember what I was saying about nothing tough on the track to separate the guys? In the second practice there were seven guys in the 54’s and only two seconds between first (Stewie) and twelfth (Tedesco). That’s parity folks!

Christophe Pour“some sugar on me”cel put a capper on his first SX season by winning the last 250 East race and his fifth of the season. His results this year were a 1-1-2-1-4-5-1-1 and that = champion! He passed a very game Wil “Relax, Mister” Hahn on the tenth lap and checked out for the win. He’s a smart rider as many people have said before and you could tell he would’ve settled for second had Hahn been able to go the same speed all race. Pourcel just maintained his lap speed and let the race come to him.

Cool thing: Pourcel apparently spent the whole week between Toronto and Jacksonville at Disney World, which is exactly where JMB went in between his infamous Gatorback National win in ’89 and the following week’s Daytona Supercross.

Hahn has to be one of the favorites next year in whatever series he does. He’s been strong all year, like a top-five guy, and then in the last two he’s been at the front. He just made some small mistakes while in the lead in Jacksonville and then probably realized he was leading and got more nervous. His finishes were 6-6-15-5-5-DNQ-6-2. Take away that DNQ and he probably finishes third in the series.

I happened to be in the staging area before practice when I noticed Ryan Sipes’ KTM has a spring-loaded collar at the top of his shock. It’s similar to what quads have and controls the initial response of the shock. You can tune the springs stiffer and whatnot to affect the bike on acceleration mostly. Not sure if they still have the mountain bike-like lock out on the bottom of the shock like they used to have but some cool stuff on the orange bikes.

We saw this weekend the things that Jason Lawrence has to grapple with in his mind on a daily basis. First the good: Upon seeing privateer Tyler “Prison” Wharton blow up his CRF250 motor into little itty-bitty pieces, Lawrence volunteered his vacant Yamaha 250F for the kid to use. After some tech inspection details were worked out (and for the people that asked and emailed me, there was nothing wrong with what the AMA did because it wasn’t open qualifying yet; it was still in the free practice part of the first session) Wharton jumped on a bike he had never ridden before and promptly over-jumped the triple by ten feet!  Amazingly, Tyler made the main but crashed out early on. Nice of Jason to do that for Tyler, but I am in shock that a rider with a national number and a brother of a factory rider does not have a spare motor. I mean c’mon, this is professional racing!

  • This was the move Lawrence pulled on Hepler. Neither guy made it through this.
  • The good thing is here is Lawrence's bike in action. Piloted by Tyler Wharton and I must say, nice move by Jason. He's a giver!
Although he did give something to Hepler that maybe he didn't want so much.
Then there is the bad: During the first lap of the main, while in fifth, Lawrence was passed by Broc Hepler in a textbook cut-under-the-guy supercross pass. On the very next lap, in the same section, Lawrence hit Hepler so hard it knocked them both down and ruined their nights. There was no way Lawrence was even thinking about trying to make the turn and it was dirty. I’m talking like Christina Aguilera dirrrty.  Lawrence hit Hepler so hard his bike flew off the track and landed on a flagger!

But wait, it gets better. After both guys got up near the back, Lawrence proceeded to jack with the DEHAD Broc (Doesn’t Even Have a Dog) some more by flipping him off down the start straight. Then, in case he hadn’t been a big enough a-hole already, he rides Broc to the outside of the turn and stops. Like a slow speed F-U.

After that Lawrence rode off the track and quit. The guy rode like an ass and then instead of putting his head down and trying to compete, he quit. After the race Yamaha showed the footage to the FIM and we’ll see what happens but I have to say, it was pretty pathetic.

Josh Hill “Billy” had another great race, finishing fourth after having to go to the LCQ once again. No doubt due to his bad gate pick, he came around the first lap in twelfth and just started picking off riders. Although helped by a massive crash by some guys ahead of him, Hill rode strong and diced with Andrew “Canadian healthcare” Short the last half of the main for the fourth spot. In practice Hill was third best and in the same second as Reed and Stewie. Confidence is a scary thing, and so is riding Stewart’s outdoor track.

What about Short’s tricep tear? He’s decided he’s going to ride through the pain.

The massive crash involved Josh Grant, Ivan Tedesco, Broc Hepler and I think Matt Boni. All the riders got KO’d pretty good with Boni DNF’ing from a blow to the head and broken finger, and Grant, because of a stinger to his shoulder.  Hepler and Tedesco picked their bikes up and kept going. All in all, five riders DNF’d the main event this week when you count Paul Carpenter crashing and Davi Millsaps being deathly sick all weekend and not being able to finish.

  • Here's Nicco getting carted off. We won't see him back in action for a little while. It's the year of the heels people!
Poor Nico Izzi. He had third in the bag and on the last lap he did something up the face up the triple and had to step off and roll the windows up. This resulted in an ugly crash, and I hear he split his heel open and maybe broke it (just like Tim Ferry. Have you heard about that one?) That’s too bad for the #20 and I hope he heals up soon!

Jason “Doubting” Thomas got another twelfth in the 250 class and that’s three twelfths in a row for the pint-sized warrior. This after two first lap DNFs in his return to the 250 class.  He’s nothing if not consistent, for sure. I don’t know how he got a twelfth because they were dragging the mechanic’s area tuff blocks onto the track by the time he got out of the gate.

Heartbreak for Vince “Deep” Friese as he was running second in the opening laps of the 250 main when his bike expired (or “blowed up real good” for you Larry the Cable Guy fans). The only good thing is that he was right by the mechanics area when it happened and didn’t have a far walk.

Got this email headline on Saturday: “Exciting qualifying heats give poles to De Dycker and Musquin.” Any email title with “poles,” “Dycker” and “Musquin” seems like it should land in my SPAM folder.

Since Kawasaki decided to put Billy Laninovich on Ferry’s bike, I haven’t been over there because I didn’t go to St. Louis and the Toronto pit set-up wasn’t conducive to hanging out. But this weekend I did go over and got an earful. Y’see, I’ve written criticism of Billy in this very column, and he told the Kawi guys that he really didn’t like me.  The green team wanted to get us together and find out what the deal was so the showdown was set. Everyone gathered around and I explained that if you were to talk to other riders over the years they would all tell you that Billy Laninovich is one very talented rider (who is also the whip king) and they would also tell you that he’s had some good rides (FC, KTM) over the years and not done very much with them. I also feel that Billy hasn’t taken advantage of these rides and his talent and expressed it like I tend to do. So with that explained I congratulated BL on his ride and told him I hope he does well. A reader named Chris from Ontario pointed out that Laninovich’s number is 132, which breaks down to 13+2=15, and that with Ferry’s steed under him, the sky’s the limit.

  • Billy rode good. Billy likey the Kawi. Billy no likey Steve.
I don’t think I’m on his Christmas card list or anything, but I stand by what I wrote and maybe we can move on. I will write about when he does good, and this weekend he was a strong tenth. With only three weeks on the bike he rode great and his lap times stayed strong except for one mistake.

Three interesting things about the BL132/Kawi deal is that he uses the same bars, grips, engine settings and chassis as Ferry, he used to ride for NCY Yamaha as an amateur, and his mechanic Mike Williamson used to wrench there. Kawi suspension guru Kaipo Chung was a highly-touted 125 novice for NCY, and Ferry’s mechanic Dana Wiggins rode for the pro NCY team back in the day. So basically, Kawi is team NCY part deux. Also, I ate a delicious rib-eye/pasta dinner there this weekend.

No Terry “Tear Off” Boyd this weekend but no worries as “Rocket” Rob Buydos filled in admirably and worked well with Irv this weekend.

One of the teams told me this weekend that it costs them $60,000 to just show up at a race. That includes all the fuel, airline tickets, hotels, rental cars, passes, parking fees, and everything else needed to get a big rig set up, staffed and supplied. That’s a lot of coin and you learn something new every day.

Something I’ve always wondered about it why when they have seats in an almost empty section, some people just sit in their assigned seats. Like, why wouldn’t you move down? You don’t have anyone around you for twenty rows, wouldn’t you want to get closer to the track/stage whatever? I don’t get it.

Also, this mechanic thing is getting out of control. I started seeing pit boards in the mechanics area during practice last year. This goes along with the backpacks with what looks like spare motors in them and the low cut street bike boots to help with the packing of the gate. When is the madness going to stop? I would tell my rider that if wants to know where he is in practice, look at the board showing the top five. If you’re not in it, go faster! You don’t need a pit board for that.

  • Mike's out front again. Shocker. The guy could holeshot on a donkey.
Don’t even get me started on the boots. Mike “Always” Alessi could have a bunch of beavers in his rut chewing on logs and building a dam and he’d still get the start. Consequently, you could have A-1 Construction company steam-roll out Mike LaRocco’s rut and he’d still mess it up. Stop thinking so much!

As usual Nate “Battering” Ramsey’s X-Brand goggles were built by me with the precision of a Swiss watch maker, but I have to admit I panicked. I heard the weather reports and loaded up the roll-offs and tear-offs with everything I had – and the track turned out to be perfect. I was also getting crap from the JGR guys about bringing them in zip-lock bags as I guess that’s old-school and the companies now all have nice bags. So I brought a bunch of nice bags that you get in every box so Nathan now has enough bags to sew a tent. I swear if the JGR guys don’t stop cracking on me, I’m going to break down in tears one of these times.

Nathan didn’t make the main this week, and neither did his one-time pupil, Nick “Free” Wey. Wey sounded extremely depressed on the podium as he’s been fighting it all year. As his former mechanic, I feel for him as I know he’s trying his hardest and isn’t slacking. It’s just not working for the guy this year. I know he has to get better starts and ride the first half of the race like the last half (when he sees he’s not in a qualifying spot)  but oftentimes, starts are a byproduct of confidence (see above).

Remember that RXI story I did last year where I went to Canada with Wey and his practice mechanic Big Nasty? Well, Big Nasty was back this weekend helping out Dave Ginolfi in the 450 class, and being the entrepreneur that he is, is co-owner of Mandingo’s Pickles. Check them out here and look at Ginolfi holding a jar of pickles like an energy drink can on the podium – Ha! As Big Nasty told me, they attribute their success in the pickle business to their background in motocross. Support Mandingo!

  • Good ride for Wilbur. He pulled a funny text prank on a bunch of people this week. Ask him about it.
  • T-Hahn rode great and had his best finish of the year. He's an overlooked rider that is pretty good methinks.
Good night for the Hahn “Solo” brothers as Tommy got a seventh in the 450s to go along with Wil’s second. Tommy did some stuff for press day and now has a new fan in Feld PR guy Denny Hartwig. I guess the working-on-the-farm stories that Tommy told Denny were pretty gnarly. Good ride for the talented (and not talked about much) Hahn.

Larry “Big Bird” Ward was back in the house! No doubt hunting season is over so Larry thought he’d see what was up. He also said he’d do a podcast with me sometime so look for that. I heard a funny story about him riding a numberless YZ in Texas and getting into a stuffing match with Wil Hahn, who didn’t know who this dude was, and then finding out it was The Larry Ward.

Good to see Ricky Renner back at the races. I always thought he was pretty good, and in that same vein, AX legend Kevin Johnson has come back to supercross and I haven’t talked about him despite him making one main already. Nice guy, that KJ Jr.

Jim “Bones” Bacon of Pro Circuit told me the Canadians were crazy last week. They were celebrating Pourcel’s title and walking into the truck and yelling. Those crazy Canadians, all hopped up on Tim Horton’s.

Ricky Carmichael was there to do a parade lap as it just seems we can’t let go of him and his greatness. At one point Tedesco had just been passed by Lawrence in the heat race and Irv asked him what IT was thinking right now and RC said that he “was probably thinking he’d like to smash the guy in front of him.”

  • Here's RC in a familiar position, going over the finish line with no one around him.
Johnny and Foxy O’Hannah were there and just like last week, came bearing gifts. I got a sweet JT hat last week and Weege got a Scott USA hat to go with Holley’s old-school O’Neal hat. That Johnny, he’s a giver!

That’s all I got this week from J-Ville! The whole sport is off this weekend to look for Easter eggs and we’ll be back from Seattle in two weeks. Thanks for reading. Buy some Mandingo Pickles, go to PulpMX.com and contact me at matthes@racerxonline.com for questions and rants.