Saturday night, in the immediate aftermath of the AMA Supercross Series finale at Las Vegas, Chad Reed tried to balance the disappointment from narrowly losing his bid for a second straight title by saying that he and his Suzuki team had "achieved big things" in their first season together. They weren't empty words.
In a season that will be remembered for intense racing and almost constant controversy, the Thor/Parts Unlimited team leader quickly forged a terrific relationship with team manager Roger de Coster, mastered the fuel-injected Suzuki quickly enough to make himself a fixture on the podium each race night and, no doubt with some advice from de Coster, earned even more respect from teammates and rivals for the way he dealt with the various issues during the 17-race season.
When it was over, Reed had three wins and 12 runner-up finishes and had failed to stand on the podium just once, at Seattle. He lost his bid for a third series championship to James Stewart by 4 points, but left no doubt that he'll be one of the riders to beat for some time to come.
Battle Lines are Drawn Early
The anticipated battle between Reed and Stewart began in the season-opener at Anaheim with an incident that laid the groundwork for later controversy. Six laps into the 20-lap main the two collided when Stewart bobbled exiting a turn. Reed, who had been leading, was able to remount and continue. His rival was not. But the collision had left Reed with no front brakes and it took all of his considerable skill to achieve a third-place finish. Afterward, Reed said he considered the collision simply a racing incident and added: "I love the rivalry that we have going on, and there's a lot of fuel in the fire."
The next week, at Phoenix, Reed posted the first of seven consecutive runner-up finishes, and after the race at Atlanta Feb. 21 he was 3 points out the lead.
Winning at Indy
Reed made his first visit to the top step of the podium when the series moved to the new Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Feb. 28. The Tampa, Fla., resident took the lead at the start, relinquished it to Stewart on lap 14, and regained it on lap 16. The 2.1-second victory left the rivals deadlocked in the standings with eight rounds to go, and the interest the competition was creating was reflected in the crowd of 61,000 at Indianapolis.
Another Reed win the next week at Daytona Beach, Fla., followed by a second at New Orleans and his third win in four weeks at St. Louis March 21 and a second in Toronto March 28 left Reed 8 points ahead heading into the final four races.
Hot Tempers and a Bad Stomach
A rivalry that had been fairly low-key flared in Jacksonville, where Reed finished second to Stewart after a confrontation between the two in practice and what Reed considered a dangerous mid-air pass by Stewart over a triple jump.
That left Reed leading by 5 points with three races to go. But the Australian star was also battling an undisclosed illness that de Coster said was a major factor in Reed's 7th place finish and fall to second in the standings at Seattle after being accidentally hit and knocked down by another rider on the opening lap.
De Coster said Reed had had "some stomach flu or something" and had been unable to keep food down, and before the race at Las Vegas, Reed said he had lost 15 pounds in the past month.
Unfortunately, by then Reed also had lost even more valuable ground in the championship because of an unexpected intervention by Stewart's teammate in the next-to-last event, at Salt Lake City April 25.
Out of His Hands
The series first race at Salt Lake City after a four-year absence turned into another Reed-Stewart duel for the lead, with the duo trading the top spot repeatedly in what some have called the best race in series history. But on lap 12, as the two were lapping Kyle Chisholm, Stewart's teammate failed to give race leader Reed room to pass and then ran into his rear wheel.
Reed was able to continue, but by then Stewart had taken a 3-second lead that the Suzuki star was unable to overcome. Chisholm was disqualified from that race, suspended for the Las Vegas finale and fined, but that was little consolation for Reed and his team. A win at Salt Lake City would have left the leaders tied in points going into the final Saturday. Instead, Reed trailed by six and knew that in all likelihood his hopes depended on winning the race and having Stewart finish no better than fourth.
The two-time champion gave it his best before a standing room only crowd at Sam Boyd Stadium. Thor teammate Ryan Villopoto took the lead for good on lap 3, with Stewart second and Reed third. Reed took second on lap 14 with an aggressive pass that reflected his frustration over recent events, but finished 8 seconds behind Villopoto. Stewart was third, another 19 seconds behind, but that gave him the title by 4 points.
"I gave it everything I had. I can walk away knowing I did that," Reed said later. "I want to come back even harder and get it back next year."
Another Contender Surfaces
Villopoto struggled with illness and inconsistency during his rookie season, but finished extremely well to insure himself of contender status in the future. After back-to-back third-place finishes at Houston and San Francisco he failed to make the main event for Round 6 at Anaheim, and then missed Rounds 12 through 14 due to illness.
The Poulsbo, Wash., resident made his return with one of those storybook moments, getting his first main event win before a hometown crowd at Seattle. He followed that with a fourth at Salt Lake City and a dominating win at Las Vegas that left him sixth in the standings, just 4 points out of fourth, despite missing four races.
Pourcel Puts Pro Circuit Back on Top
Pro Circuit continued its long run atop the Lites division with its one-two finish in the East Region and second and third places in the West.
Christophe Pourcel of France set the standard for the team in his first full season of competition in the U.S. He won three of the first four East races and clinched the title with one event remaining by winning at Toronto, and then won the finale at Jacksonville, Fla., for good measure.
Pourcel had five wins and never finished out of the top five in eight starts to win the title by 33 points over Pro Circuit mate Austin Stroupe, who had two wins and four straight top 3 finishes to close the season.
Jake Weimer came up 5 points shy of the West title, but had three wins and was in the top five in all eight races while Ryan Morais had five runner-up finishes to take third.
Pourcel's championship was the ninth in the past seven seasons for Pro Circuit's Kawasaki powerhouse, which had been without a title in 2008. And just for good measure Pourcel won the season-ending Dave Combs Sr. Shootout at Las Vegas.
A Tough Season
Josh Hill experienced a breakout rookie season in 2008 winning his first career main event at Minneapolis.
This year, he was looking for more of the same in his sophomore effort. However, an injury in preparation for 2009 set him back and caused the Yoncalla, Ore., native to race the majority of the season at less than 100 percent. A podium finish in Toronto and a strong fourth-place run in Jacksonville brought late-season promise, but a practice crash just before Seattle forced him to sit out the final three races.
About Parts Unlimited
Parts Unlimited is the world's largest distributor of aftermarket accessories in the powersports industry and is owned by LeMans Corporation headquartered in Janesville, Wisconsin. Parts Unlimited sells to over 12,000 dealerships world wide and continues to expand its market penetration with its sister companies, Parts Canada, Parts Europe and Drag Specialties.
Parts Unlimited continues to promote racing through its campaign WE SUPPORT THE SPORT®, helping to drive consumers to dealerships, while entertaining its dealers through hospitalities at the events it sponsors.
About Thor Motocross
Thor is one of the originators of motocross apparel. When Torsten Hallman made his first U.S trip to race and promote motocross in 1966, he inadvertently started to develop Thor riding gear. Thor is a hardcore, grass roots company that understands what it takes to reach the top and more importantly, how to stay there. It is one of a few companies with over 40 years experience in the motocross marketplace.
Thor, a house brand company for Parts Unlimited, combines design and marketing with superior distribution to reach it's thousands of dealers and consumers priding ourselves on key selling features like quality, strength and performance. Thor is more than a brand. It is a lifestyle.