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Observations: Thunder Valley

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  • The lights came out on Saturday night which I think is the title of a Journey song. It was better than last year, not perfect but better. The crowd also seems rowdier at this race, maybe a few more beverages are consumed?
Nothing like a night race to switch things up, and that’s what we had this past weekend when the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship came to Colorado. Last year we had racing under the lights for the first time (and on a Saturday to boot) and it was a mixed bag of nuts. The lighting was sparse in some spots and the riders were complaining more than praising, but for 2009, an extra set of giant Musco light stands were brought in, and everyone I asked said it was better (but still not perfect—but really, when was the last time a rider said a track was perfect? Only one out of forty riders—the winner!), but I think most telling was that in the press conference, no one said anything at all about the lights. That’s a good sign.

It was a contrast for me between countries. I was at a GP last week and saw how they just left the track alone, and this weekend in Colorado, only the second motos were a little rough. The practices and first motos were freeways out there and contributed to a little bit of snoozer motos. The second moto of the 250 class made up for that, as the somewhat rougher track conditions helped out what might have been the best moto I’ve ever seen. There were eight riders going at it back and forth, Christophe Pourcel coming from dead last and Ryan Dungey from a so-so start. What a freight train of riders, and again, just an awesome race. The first ones to get dropped were Tyla “Bowers” Rattray and Star Racing Yamaha’s Matt Lemoine and Broc “French” Tickle, and it was just an awesome race.

You know how when you’re a kid and you’re in the throes of a deep sleep, you sometimes just have these silly dreams? Like holeshoting both motos of a 450 national, leading every lap, never pulling a tear-off, and going 1-1? That’s the stuff of dreams for sure, but this weekend, Ivan “Bill and” Tedesco actually lived that dream. After leading Hangtown and Mount “Up” Morris for spells, Hot Sauce put it all together and had a dominant ride to win the 450 class at Thunder Valley. Man, it was a riding clinic out there, and good for the friendly New Mexican/Texan/Floridian. He’s in a contract year, and even though it’s a bad time to be ride shopping, this has to help.

  • Here's Ivan and his ace tuner Frankie. Great for both of these good guys to get a win and I remember when Frankie worked for Tyler Evans and Evans stuck a toothpick in his neck. Then Frankie had to go to the hospital. Also there was the time Evans made him sleep on the floor of a pickup with the transmission hump sticking him in the back. Frankie's happy to be at Honda now.
You can’t play this game, but man, what if he had gone 5-5 at the opening round at Glen Helen? He’d be one point back of the lead right now, not 35. What if Shorty hadn’t had bike problems at the opening round? What if I had gone off to clown college (which was my dream when I was a kid)? See? It’s a very intriguing game.

But then again, Tedesco skipped Glen Helen with a concussion, which is the same thing that happened to Broc Hepler at the Las Vegas SX, only he’s done for the season now. Never, ever fool around with a head injury. Or a knee injury. More on that later.

Again, I just cannot express enough how great #9 was on this day. I asked him where this ranked in his career at the press conference (figuring for sure he would say number one) but he said his first 250 win at the same track was still number one. Rumors abound that Honda Red Bull Racing doesn’t have the budget for four riders next year, and Ivan (BT101) might be the odd man out. Don’t you think Honda might be mixed right now between scratching off “Davi Millsaps” from next year’s contracts and replacing it with “Ivan Tedesco”? I am sure that thought is out there.

Two weeks ago at High Point, Jake Weimer “Republic” might’ve had one of his worst days in the last few years when he was up front in both motos but crashed his way to no points and was a less-than-stellar (for him) tenth in the points. This week in Colorado, Jake the Snake went 2-1 for the overall win (and along with Tedesco’s first 450 win, it was Jake’s first win, but he still stayed tenth in the points).

Check it out: So far this year, out of 10 overall winners, six of them have been first-timers in that class: RV (Glen Helen), Alessi and Pourcel (Hangtown), Reed (High Point) Tedesco, and Weimer (Lakewood). The AMA Nationals, where parity happens!

Jake becomes just the second Idahoan to win an AMA Motocross event (Danny “Matthes Worked For Me” Smith, 2002 Southwick) and he deserved this win fully and completely. In the first one, he stalked teammate Christophe“r” Pourcel for the whole race and ended up second by 3.5 seconds. Second time out he grabbed the lead from Justin “Over The” Barcia and was looking good when he tipped over in a turn. After getting up in third, he re-passed his way to the front and stayed away from the aluminum-swapping that was going on behind him to put his stamp that read “I AM THE BEST 250 RIDER HERE TONIGHT IN COLORADO” on the race. Usually getting a big head from winning is bad, but here’s hoping Jake does, because then he could fit into grown-up hats.

  • Jake
What happened to the points leaders? Well, in the first 250 moto, Pourcel rode his usual smart and fast moto for the win. In the second moto, his gate somehow bounced back up just enough and he hung himself up on his back tire, causing him to be dead last going up the start straight. I’ve watched the video a bunch and still can’t figure out what exactly happened—it was like the gate slapped down and just came right back up, just enough for him to hit it with the front wheel and bounce it again, only this time it came up under the bike. The gate next to him was Barcia’s, and it did the same thing, yet he got over it cleanly and nearly had the holeshot.

So the Frenchman put on quite a charge after being last (even passing 22 riders on the first lap!) and was coming up on his rival Ryan Dungey quickly. I actually was waiting for the soul-crushing move where he passes The Dunge coming from last. But full credit to Ryan though for picking it up as soon as he saw him, and those two emerged from the battle royale in fourth and sixth place (Pourcel was passed by Metcalfe with three corners to go) which is good considering they were 13th and 17th after the first lap.

The 450 points leader, Chad “Case” Reed, was coming off a dominant ride at High Point but had a bit of a hang-up this weekend. First time out, he had nothing for Ivan (I doubt Jesus would’ve had anything for “IT9” on this night) and hometown guy Andrew Short, but third is still respectable, as he hunted down a surprising Jake “Spanish” Moss and grabbed the last spot on the box with four laps left. That probably left him pretty pooped, as the second time out he wasn’t very good at all. A seventh is all he got as his yearlong stomach problem flared up. I spoke with him on Monday and he’s as frustrated as I’ve ever seen him - he’s been to five doctors already (with a sixth lined up this week) and can’t figure this thing out. He mentioned everything from pulling out because he can’t ride like he knows he can, to having the fans get on him for speaking his mind, to just telling me that he’s done. I’m serious, he’s really depressed, and I felt like Dr. Phil or something. Look for an angry Reed at Red Bud this weekend and, stomach allowing or not, he will be out for blood.

The old series points leader, Mike Alessi, tried to come back this week from his broken kneecap, and we all saw the disastrous results. Coming back was a shaky plan at best, and in the Alessi camp, if you were to list the WORST possible things to happen this weekend, “Getting taken out on the first lap and landing on the bad knee” would be just below, well, nothing. We all watched Mike almost pull the holeshot from the outside and then come together with Josh “Land” Grant, which resulted in a big crash and a DNF. It was back to the surgeon for Mikey, and I would love to have read the doctor’s mind when they told him what happened.

Mike getting the holeshot was actually a bad thing, as he was getting passed quickly (as his 28th practice time indicated he would). The better plan would be to stay away from the leaders and ride around in tenth or fifteenth.

  • Not a very good day for the 800. It's easy to sit here on my couch, eat another cheezie and second guess the decision to race but for reals, I thought it was a bad move. What did happen though, was beyond the worst possible thing that anyone could have imagined.
Now, about that Grant collision: Was it dirty? Was it on purpose? I’m not really sure (and who can be about these types of things?), but I do know there isn’t a lot of love among the other riders who raced amateurs with Team Alessi. This was right on the edge of, like, Christina Aguilera-dirty, for sure, but I find it hard to believe that Josh was thinking, “I’m going to come in hard in this turn, cut across the off-camber and take out Mike’s front wheel and he’ll cartwheel and have to pull out of the race because his knee is weaker than the bridge on Michael Jackson’s nose….” Wait, is it still too soon for that? No matter, it was more like, “Hey, look, he left the door open, I’m going to take my shot!” If it was an Andrew Short or Josh Hill, I say he checks up and goes inside.

I polled my rider friends about it and they all said it was right there on the edge as well and thought that, with the turn the way it was, Josh could’ve backed off and cut to the inside, but it was the first lap and everyone was going balls-out and sometimes, well, poop happens. I do know the Alessis thought it was bad, as little brother Jeff confronted Josh on the starting line and lots of words were exchanged. According to neutral witnesses, Jeff was the instigator and kind of looked a little foolish, but then again, he was probably distraught at seeing his brother in the state that he was in.

In my Mt. Morris column, I chastised Tedesco and Short for getting caught from behind by Grant and letting their lap times drop in an identical way, but this week they both showed they have what it takes to win the title. I said it in that column and I’ll say it again: Both these guys could win this thing, as Andrew Short made up some big points on Reedy and is only 14 back right now. He also had a very dominant ride on this night. He just had nothing for IT9 but a lot for everyone else. This title chase is getting good! If you said in January that Ivan Tedesco, Chad Reed, and Andrew Short would battle for the 450 motocross title, I’m sure you would’ve been laughed out of the Knothole Club at Angel Stadium. Still, it’s what we have now and its pretty effing cool, I’d say.

Thomas Hahn “Solo” is one of those guys a lot of us should cheer for. After being given a Honda factory ride that he probably wasn’t ready for, Tommy has had a few so-so years, but this year on a 450 he’s shown that he can be a player in the class. I’ve been watching him since he came on strong at A3 and am cheering for him to do well because he’s been fighting injuries and trying to make a name for yourself, week-in and week-out, when you aren’t healthy sucks. This summer, right from the gate drop at Glen Helen, he’s been running up front, and in Colorado he straight-up caught Shorty in the second moto for second before going off the track and letting Short get back by. He then dogged the 29 all the way to the finish before getting third. His 7-3 score was good for 3rd O/A, so congrats to T-Hahn for a great night.

Tommy Searle was really good at Colorado too. He was in that incredible freight train in the second moto and was charging hard toward the front. He was passed a few times by Brett Metcalfe but always retaliated quickly. The Englishman has been getting better and better in recent weeks and has now beaten his GP nemesis, Tyla Rattray, five motos in a row.

  • Tommy Searle is coming on strong at the last few races and has now beaten Rattray five motos in a row. Tea and crumpets anyone?
I was a bit surprised at Ratters, as he fell out of the second 250 peloton first and went on to an uninspiring 8-9 on the day. The bright side is that he’s third in the series, which is pretty damn impressive no matter what, but his buddy Searle is coming hard. He’s going to be tough in the hot races, I think.

Sean “Green Eggs And” Hamblin has quit the Valli Motorsports Yamaha team. He was due to come back at this race but didn’t like some of the things that were in his contract and has pulled the plug. That’s too bad for Hambone, but hopefully we’ll see him emerge somewhere soon. Somehow, instead of losing his job, his mechanic Ryan “Pop And” Lockhart got a promotion out the deal. Go figure.

His ex-teammate Jimmy “Fat” Albertson had his best race of the season, going 10-9 for eight OA. Jimmy will be getting better as the season goes on, because he’ll get used to the bike and try to recapture that magic from last year. He had Ferry on him in the first moto and admitted to me that he was a little worried I would start throwing rocks at him from the side of the track (I tried but don’t have much of an arm since I tore my rotator cuff years ago), but I’m a little worried because Jimmy’s buddy Trey Canard isn’t around to soothe and control him, but I’m sure he’ll survive.

Run for the hills, the WORCS guys are coming! To replace Hamblin, Valli Yamaha picked up WORCS rider Kyle “Suzanne” Summers to ride for them through at least Millville. Kyle, who gave Ferry fits last year (and we still make fun of Ferry for not knowing his name) had another good day at Lakewood as he swapped scores with Top Jimmy in finishing 9-10.

As we reported a week ago or so, Josh Summey has been let go from the Jagermeister KTM team. It really bugs me that a team shows up at a race without a top-30 rider with no explanation and, when I do some digging as to why the rider wasn’t there, I get the run-around. I was told he was “benched,” but he actually got let go, and I think we can all agree that’s a little different from benched. Hey, MDK KTM, a press release goes a long way and then you control the message.

Summey made the most of his demotion when he used his practice bike to enter the GNCC and place a creditable ninth. Josh loves GNCCs and woods riding, so maybe that will be where he’s going to go. But hopefully he’ll come back swinging in moto and be that top-ten guy that I know he can be.

  • This about sums up Brayton's night. He hit Ferry's bike when he washed out and Justin didn't have a very good day. He's looking forward to Red Bud for sure.
Weimer said that after High Point, he thought he was working himself into the ground and needed to step back and “do nothing,” which is what he told us he did the week prior to the national. Who knew that doing nothing is the way to win nationals? I would like to immediately install myself as a favorite for this week’s race at Red Bud, because I am the king of doing nothing.

My buddy Timmy “Ocean” Ferry made his long-awaited return to racing this weekend (we’re trying to forget that Glen Helen and Hangtown ever happened) and I think he did okay. He wasn’t really happy with his 12-22 finish, but you gotta start somewhere. In the second moto he was dead last after a crash (which took out Justin Brayton, which made Justin’s KTM tumble off a hill and almost into Simon Cudby) and rode around to get 22nd. When I asked him before the day what would be the bigger problem, speed or endurance, he paused and said, “Both.”

He’s also wearing Gaerne boots and, apparently, for good this time. He’s worse than Larry Ward in 1991 with this gear stuff. He’ll get better, and of course, I picked him in my fantasy league (and fantasies in general).

I know I have made fun of fantasy leagues before (League of Dorks, anyone?), but I joined a high-stakes industry one this year because I figured, hey, at least there’s money to be won, right? I’m sucking really bad because there are all these rules where you do not want to pick the actual riders who do well at the races, and I didn’t realize how much the underdogs were really worth. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. At least I’m beating Weege.

You know who won the league this week? Jason Thomas. That’s right, the rolling tank is in, and he picked himself at Mt. Morris because he was some sort of super handicap from sucking at GH and Hangtown so bad. You can’t pick a rider two weeks in a row, so look for JT’s results to fluctuate wildly every second week when he actually makes himself a handicap and then rides hard the next week.

  • HE'S BACK! And better than ever...kind of. For the last freaking time, I'm going to report on his boot situation. Red Dog will be wearing Gaerne's for the rest of the season. Or maybe it was just for the week?
I was up in the riders’ lounge with Ferry and Dietrich (bet Ricky didn’t realize he was also signing up to have me around all the time when he got his Kawi ride) watching the start of the first 250 moto, and they showed Barcia just riding in the opening laps like he had a sugar high, going around, inside, outside and through other riders. We were all quite entertained. Man, that kid has some serious skills, and it was good to see him get second in the second moto and hold it down for the whole thing. I don’t know, maybe he needs to calm down a bit to make it through twelve races.

Dietrich didn’t make any friends when he caught and passed Red Dog late in the first moto, but I’m a little torn on which guy to cheer for. Ferry for obvious reasons, but Ricky D is a Moose athlete, and he represents the antlers well. I’m also a Moose rider, and there are rumors that a feature on RD2 is coming in Racer X, which will make all of us Moose athletes (Dutchie, Rocket Rob, and myself) very happy. You should buy some Moose socks, because they are the best socks in the history of socks—I’m serious.

I’m kidding about which guy to cheer for. We all want Ferry to do well, as he’s only 186 points back with seven races left and anything can happen. Maybe Dietrich needs a little talking to about teammates and title chances?

All the Troy Lee Honda guys do is show up and do well. That’s it. They are probably the most non-talked-about team in the pits as far as the “buzz,” but they do great with what they have. The total budget for them is probably half of Honda’s food budget for the year, but they have been putting in great rides. Jake Moss ran third forever in the first moto before settling for fourth. Chris Blose finished eighth. We won’t talk about the second motos, but once again, Ping for Team Manager of the Year!

Ashley Fiolek won the women’s race once again, but it was not without a fight in the second moto from Marianna Balbi. The girls’ second moto was after the last 450 moto, and that was when the track was the roughest. Some of the girls looked to be struggling with the track, and understandably so.

  • Look at these two! Together again and friends forever, Jason Thomas chases Nick Wey. They briefly had a battle in the first moto and although no one will talk about it at all. Wey's last to eighteenth ride in the first moto was pretty good. He ate a lot of dirt and it was a gritty ride to get two points. JT did what he does, which is ride around and pick dudes off at the end of the race that are tired.
Fiolek is now 5-for-5 as the girls take a week off so that some nobodies can get out there on two-strokes this week at RedBud…. Just kidding. RedBud (whose second 450 moto airs live on NBC) will see a two-smoke showdown-for-fun between Ricky Carmichael, Jeff Stanton, Jeff Emig and more. That will be worth the price of missing lunch in the Kawasaki truck.

Thanks for reading, and next week should be a great race. Will Reed come out with all his might? Will Tedesco have another dream day on the Fourth of July? Will Dungey get a start and avoid any first-lap problems? Will Pourcel’s gate not bounce and then try to tackle him? It’s America’s birthday on Saturday and that’s another reason to make it out to RedBud, but let’s also not forget that Canada Day is today as well! You Americans can celebrate by watching Wayne’s World, eating some back bacon, and being really, really nice. You can email me at matthes@racerxonline.com and we can celebrate Canada’s independence from England together. Or watch Trailer Park Boys.

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