Observations: Glen Helen

May 28, 2009 11:45am | by:

I think Tom Petty said it best when he opined, "Into the Great Wide Open/Under them skies of blue" Strap in and hang on as the 2009 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship got underway at the hills of The Helen, or more specifically, Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino, California. I was as excited to watch this race as I had been for a while. The Monster Energy SX Championship season was great for sure but I'm always ready for the outdoors to begin about three-quarters of the way through the indoor season.

  • The Jody Weisel designed Glen Helen track is not for the meek. The riders I spoke to had mixed reviews about it. They need to lay off the water hoses was the main complaint.
The track at Glen Helen is not one of those tracks where you get some middling opinions. The riders seem to either love it or hate it. It's very rough, very high speed and narrow in spots. The track is not for the timid but I thought this year was pretty good; no ridiculous jumps where you could get mangled if something bad happened and no chain link fences right alongside the track. I do like it in the other direction, however; I think it was easier to go fast the other way and seemed to offer more passing opportunity.

A new era of American motocross was beginning at Glen Helen as well. MX Sports (who, in the interest of full disclosure, own this website) is now the series promoter. Starting something like the AMA Nationals from the ground up isn't easy, as there is an infrastructure that is needed just to even begin racing. The teams and riders I spoke to all seemed to think there was a lot crammed into one day, and at certain points they fell behind schedule (a red flag, difficult track entry and exit – the start was before the finish, so every practice and start was held up – and long-ass laps were partly to blame) but the time was made up and everything started on time at the end of the day. It was the two-stroke race that paid the ultimate price, getting pushed to the back of the line.

All in all, you knew that the first round was going to see some bumps in the water but it was a pretty smooth day. I don't like the side panel changes as it makes it hard to tell who's who, but the teams like it, so who am I to bitch?

One thing that bugged me is that Glen Helen seems to sell every available good spot to watch. I saw that they were charging ten bucks for grandstand seating? Shouldn't your entry to the race get you a seat if you're lucky enough to get there early? As a journalist covering the entire series, I would like to be in a spot where I could watch as much of the race as possible but it seemed that I didn't have the right wrist band, wasn't a VIP, wasn't a Yamaha dealer, and didn't want to pay ten bucks to sit in the grandstands. Thank goodness it was on big TVs in the press room.

Also, from what I hear, the live coverage on www.allisports.com was really cool -- especially if you have a decent computer with a big screen. With David Bailey and Jason Weigandt and Erin "Um, Your Mic's On" Bates calling the shots, it was pretty darn cool. They will be showing the first motos live from every round this series, straight from the TV trucks, so don't miss it!

And yes, this week's Hangtown race will be live on Speed TV at 6 p.m. local time, and so they are flipping the schedule so the 250s go first (like the old days) and the 450s second to hit that live TV window.

Going into the race, if I was water-boarded, I would have leaned towards Ryan Dungey and Ryan Villopoto winning... Both classes seemed to have a number of people that could win and I thought it was going to be a battle royale. And it was. Kind of.

  • This guy was dominant. It was surprising to me, well maybe not. Get used to him up front people.
  • The Dunge played it smart and was a contrast in style to those around him. He was just relentless and fast.
Ryan Villopoto showed he was the man to beat this summer by a wide margin. If Mike Alessi can't hold a sixteen-second lead at The Helen, it could be a long summer for him coming up. RV2 went 1-1 in a great ride that seemed to answer the question, "Hey Ryan, can you ride a 450 the way you ride a 250?" Apparently, you can ride the berms, explode the throttle and hang on.

A surprising Josh Grant (JGR should just trademark "A Surprising Josh Grant," as that has been written so much there are sequoias that have died) led most of the first moto as Ryan stalked him but you never got the feeling Villopoto wasn't going to make the pass.  Great day for Ryan and maybe this series isn't as wide open as it seems.

Ryan Dungey "Cord" won Glen Helen with a 2-1 score and was a model of consistency when others around him weren't. The first 250 moto of the season saw a titanic battle that we all figured was going to happen. Rookie Justin "Crow" Barcia grabbed the lead from teammate Trey "The Duck" Canard on the first lap and led the first seven laps of his professional debut, Dungey dropped back to fourth at one point before getting Canard and a very tired Barcia to get second behind Christophe "JMB V-Deux" Pourcel. Second time out he again put himself in position when Barcia got tired and grabbed the win. Pourcel could only muster a seventh, Canard a sixth but Barcia did hang on for third, much to his credit, because he was hammered after the first moto.

This probably plays right into Dungey's thinking, it's a hell of a long season and the kids and newcomers are going to struggle to stay consistent. Dungey's worse day might be a 5-6 but those guys could DNF or crash their way to the back. Although Pourcel and Tyla Rattray have been around the block a time or two, and they have the world titles to show for it.

I had been getting conflicting reports on GEICO Honda's Justin Barcia. Some people told me he was just ok and his style wouldn't work on a pro level, others told me he's the next best thing to sliced cheese. It seems to be that the sliced cheese people had it right, Barcia was real good but to be honest, I wasn't that surprised. The kid won everything he could on the amateur circuit and we know from the last few years that the winner of the amateurs can run the pace of the top guys. He was lacking fitness but he's lucky in that's the easiest thing to make better, the talent is not.

  • The surprise of the day! Justin
  • The runner-up to surprise of the day, Chad Reed. I was impressed with Reed's riding but I haven't been impressed with his ducking a podcast with me.
After Barcia, I was most impressed with Chad Reed. After rounding the first lap of the first moto in twelfth, you had to think that Reedy was wondering what in the hell he was doing out there as he was getting pelted with rocks and roost up the hills. Again, I'm not sure why anyone would ever underestimate him but I think some people did.  Anyways, Reed got on the horse and tracked down the front runners. I was watching and said to myself, Well, he's not going to get Millsaps, and then he did. Then he tipped over and Davi sped away.

Reed caught the 18 and passed him again and I said, Well, he's not going to get Short. Sure enough, he did. I was very impressed with Reed's ride at GH and he's just going to get stronger from here.

The Euros are coming, the Euros are coming, run for the hills! Tyla Rattray and Tommy Searle will be linked this season no matter what happens. After all, they were teammates last year on KTM in the MX2 class (in Europe, but not both from Europe, as Rattray is from South Africa) and now they're fighting it out in America.  Last week I spoke with someone on the inside at both teams and came away with the fact that Rattray was the fastest PC guy and that Searle was just going to be okay. I'd say Tommy "Gun" going 4-4 on the day was damn impressive, and even more so was Rattray's 2nd in the 2nd moto. They were together most of the day and we're lucky to have these two over here — plus Pourcel, who might just be the fastest newcomer of them all.

Another two riders that are linked together (at least to me as I seem to be the only guy going on about it) are Brett Metcalfe and Jake Weimer. These two were essentially swapped for each other in the off season. Weimer poached first from GEICO to Pro Circuit and GEICO getting Metty late in the game. They were buddies all day at The Helen. Metcalfe kind of scared me when he said in the press conference beforehand that he wasn't 100% yet but his seventh overall bested Weimer by one. These two also look to be going at it all summer.

What's the big deal about a two-stroke challenge? I don't get it and don't care to watch old guys and young kids ride bikes that you can't buy anymore. I have seen 80 gajillion two-stroke races in my time and can remember them well... I don't need to see another two-stroke race, I wouldn't go to Talladega and watch Jimmie Johnson drive an Edsel around, and that's basically what this is. We've evolved to four-strokes not, good or bad, they're here to stay for the foreseeable future. 

I guess the internet wasn't around then but when RJ rode a Pro-Tec Yamaha and Dogger rode an Al Baker XR600 at the World Four Stroke championships, did people freak out and want thumpers back? I was, like, 10 and living in Canada but maybe some old-timer can email me and tell me about the frenzied "Bring thumpers back" campaigns that were all the rage in the mid 80's.

If you want me to watch, get Wardy, RJ, Dogger, O'Show and all those guys back on the bikes. THEN I will be first in line like I was at Jaws 4 premiere.

  • If you're a regular reader of MXA.com, you would know all about this REM regular. But most of us just know him as another kid that was in
Team Honda didn't have a very good day. Ivan Tedesco didn't score any points after a crash and a knock to the noggin, Andrew Short had a decent first moto then developed bike problems in the second (which is now two years in a row that Shorty had a mechanical in the second moto of the first race). But Davi Millsaps did save face with a fifth overall. He can be a factor this summer.

There was an impressive first race that almost never happened for a guy named Weston Peick. I don't know much about him but he should be cheered on by all the *ahem* bigger gentlemen out there. The stocky Peick finished ninth overall at his first-ever national. The part about not happening came because after Peick won the LCQ race to get into the show, he failed post race sound check. This led him to be docked one position but luckily, second was the final transfer spot. Close call but in the end, great ride.

It'll be interesting for Peick and some others if they can keep it up after they leave Southern California. There is no track that gets practiced on as much as GH and there is no track on the circuit that is like GH. It's like the old Southwick advantage (that doesn't seem to be there anymore) or going further back, Saddleback.

Scary moment in the first 250 moto when Michael Hall went down after the finish line tabletop. It was a totally blind spot and caused the race to be red-flagged, and rightfully so. On the jump before the finish line most everybody slowed down and rolled when they saw the new yellow/red flag. Everybody but Scott Champion, who for some reason, jumped the tabletop when everyone around him was rolling it. He landed right on Austin Stroupe and cleaned him out pretty bad. Stroupe was okay after a change of clothes before the restart. I'm guessing the AMA will be talking to Scott this week at Hangtown to explain the new flags again, as well as going over it in the riders meeting again.

Nobody's going to talk about him but I thought Nick Wey rode great. In the first moto he twisted his knee bad and on the second lap, was dead last. Without being able to put his foot down, he charged up to 20th. So he passed 19 guys and will probably be in the running for the RC Hard Charger Award. I saw him in between motos and he was limping bad on his way to get checked out. Second moto NYK finished tenth and when I checked in with him on Monday, he said "Knee hurts bad." In a true indicator of JGR's NASCAR roots, NYK is leasing motors from the boys over there for the summer.

  • T-Hahn was great, better than I thought he would do. Check out pulpmx.com for an interview with the Texas Tornado.
  • NYK was good, all things considered. His knee is hurting him but he'll be out there until they amputate it.
Tommy Hahn rode great also, getting a sixth overall in his first ever 450 national. The first national was a bright spot for the Canidae Kawasaki rider. He told me after practice that he hates the California tracks and was just hoping to get into the top ten. Great ride for Hahn "Solo."

I recently heard Skid Row's "I'll Remember You" song and it again reminded me that it might just be one of the most under-rated songs ever in the history of music.  Same with Poison's "Something to Believe in," if you don't get misty eyes, you have no soul and hate Vietnam vets.

This is me talking to RV before practice:

Me: "Ryan, we need to talk"

RV: "Ok, what about?"

Me: "What we need you to do, because we're racing for a championship here, is if you see the 15 behind you, we need you to pull over and not fight him. Let him by."

RV: "Ok, no problem."

Sadly, he didn't follow orders...

And he didn't need to as my BFF, Tim Ferry, broke his heel at the Daytona Supercross and it's a devastating injury to have. If he was a horse, he would've been put down but the guy just worked and worked and hoped to make it to Glen Helen. Well, he did make it. Red Dog pulled out of both motos when he realized that his speed just wasn't there yet and the fact that he took a rock to the finger and shredded it didn't help either. Ferry told me after the race that he "didn't even think about" his heel but just needs more time on the bike.

We're all cheering for you to get better and get back to where we all know you belong Red. What? I'm the only one cheering? Oh, and Red Dog switched his boots again... Nothing to see here...move along.

  • Mike Brown was back and he was back in a big way. Had to have made the KTM guys happy with his top ten finish. This guy is never going to hang it up.
What was hilarious and ironic for me was seeing Andrew "The Otter" Langston (Grant's uncle) pushing Mike Brown's bike through technical inspection on Friday. Y'see, when I was at KTM in 2001, Andrew wrenched for GL and he and Brown were engaged in a bitter championship fight. We hated Brown, PC hated us, and there were words exchanged on more than a few times (Brown's jack-hole mechanic at the time didn't help). Now here they are, years later, teammates and buddies.... Ahhhh, life's funny sometimes ain't it?

Oh, and as usual, Uncle Andrew did a great job and Brownie finished seventh overall and with his WORCS buddies, Ricky Dietrich and Timmy "X-Brand" Weigand also getting in the top twenty, which was three current WORCS guys that represented.

A surprising Josh Grant (see?) was fast and even more surprising; his fitness seemed to be right up there with anyone's. His long lost forgotten teammate, Cody "Guy" Cooper made his return to racing and I think he did pretty good with an eighth OA.  Both of these guys were surprises and I'm sure the JGR team is pleasantly pumped.

I spoke with Jeff "The Flying Freckle" Ward in the TLD pits and he was aware of the Racer X Podcast show (as a matter of fact he had already listened to part of Glovers, which came out that day) and we made a date for a podcast, look for that soon.

I also had some delicious carne and chicken tacos in the TLD pits, courtesy of Ping. The only problem was there were not enough shells to make tacos. We had to make little delicious salads, bet you're glad that you know this.

  • This summer is starting off a lot like last season for the Byrner. Coming in at less than 100% and getting stronger as the season goes on.
Another rider that wasn't 100% was Suzuki's Michael Byrne. Byrner's shoulder was jacked after the massive Daytona first turn pile-up and his outdoor season is beginning just like last year's. He's riding himself into shape and will probably start figuring in the results around round four or so. Byrner and Ferry were comparing injuries on Friday and remarking how the absolute worst track to come back at less than 100% was Glen Helen. Byrner got 12th OA.

As usual with Glen Helen, there were some heavy hitters that didn't make the cut. Gavin Gracyk, Troy Adams, Kyle Lewis, Tyler Wharton, Bobby Garrison and Jeff Dement (?!?) all didn't qualify for the 450's.

Team Yamaha needs a good showing in these outdoors like Nick Cage needs a decent movie. After having a lackluster stadium season, the motocross season didn't start off that great when Hepler once again got "California'd" and pulled out before he could start with an injury. Josh Hill "of Beans" raced hard in the first moto to a ninth but didn't finish the second moto.

I did find out that Hill is a huge fan of one of the funniest shows ever, "The Trailer Park Boys."Seems that Josh was introduced to Bubbles and the boys and went out and purchased all seven seasons and is watching them now. This led to a twenty-minute conversation about how awesome the Canadian TV show is.

Wanna know who's tough? Antonio Balbi is tough. In practice, the Brazilian Bomber crashed hard and broke the back of his helmet and cut the back of his head real good. Somebody I talked to said that he didn't seem normal and probably shouldn't have raced. But he did and he went 17-14. From now on, when someone does something gnarly, just say he "pulled a Balbi."

  • Hambone looked pretty good in the first moto and then weeded in the second and will be out for a long time. Heal up Sean and see you soon!
Sean Hamblin made his return to racing and unfortunately, it was a short one. Tuned by none other than Canadian national number 17, Ryan Lockhart, Hambone was looking pretty good on his Valli Motorsports Yamaha in the first moto but something happened and he broke almost every bone in his body in the second moto. Get well soon Sean!

And then there's Jason Lawrence, who is now even money to actually race at any given race he actually attends. This time it was his spleen, from a press day crash that had many thinking he wasn't going to race anyway... How the Racer X cover curse hit him after missing Stewie and then Dungey is anyone's guess.

That's all I have from the hills of The Helen, thanks for reading and please email me, we'll chat. Matthes@racerxonline.com and remember, with great power comes great responsibility.