Observations: Millville

July 23, 2009 11:50am
By Denny Stephenson

Millville, Minnesota, and the Spring Creek MX Park. This place has always held a special place in my heart for many reasons. For one, it has always been the closest thing to a local national for me. Despite being almost six hours away from Omaha, Nebraska, this was the race all my friends and family would make it out to watch. It was my first AMA National in ’87 when I was 16, and it’s the last national track I’ve ridden when my buddies and I raced the ’06 and ’07 Racer X “Old Man Madness” Vet Series.

  • Denny Stephenson swears he isn't going to make too big of a deal over Josh Grant, but fails.
So when I got a text from Mr. Observations himself, Steve “OMF” Matthes (the Original Man-Friend) saying he wasn’t going to be making it this year, I jumped at the chance to do some observing myself. Steve suggested it was a hefty task at 2,500 words, and I wasn’t allowed to dedicate it all to my favorite three riders, Josh Grant, Trey Canard, and Jimmy Albertson. My answer to him? “I dropped 2,500 words on the way to the mailbox this morning, and don’t tell me who or what to write about, eh, hoser?”

First of all, I know this is a day late, so if you don’t recall how Millville looked and sounded, here’s the short recap video.

My first question of the weekend: What the heck was with the weather? On my drive up on Friday, I stopped in Clear Lake, Iowa, and jumped out in a tee, shorts, and flip-flops, only to realize the temp had dropped about 20 degrees from the time I left Omaha. It was downright chilly. What happened to the extreme heat that used to beat me into submission year after year? Global warming, Mr. Gore? An inconvenient truth my ass!

Saturday morning pulling into the track, the weather wasn’t much warmer. Then again, if I was racing, I woulda been smiling ear to ear. I mean, honestly, who can’t ride 35 minutes wide open when it’s 70 degrees out? Like the kids in high school used to tell me, “What’s so hard about riding a dirt bike? You just turn the throttle and the bike does all the work!” But those are my own personal demons.

By the way, anyone else take the back way into the track, or am I the only one who played Travis Pastrana down the gravel road in my rented Dodge Caliber? Let me just say, rear-wheel drive is sketchy on gravel.

Walking into the track, I realized I had one goal: I was going to have to eat as much food over the course of the next 10 hours as I possibly could. This would be my only chance of making this “Observations” as fulfilling as Steve makes it. So I bee-lined it straight to the JGR rig, grabbed a glazed donut and a bacon-cheese Hot Pocket, and kicked off my day. I also made sure to let Tim “Big” Dixon, the JGR resident chef and truck driver, know that he was going to be going head to head this weekend with Steve’s fave cook and driver, Kawasaki’s Big B., and that I would expect a four-course lunch.

  • Davi Millsaps returned to action at Millville and he was fast right away.
My next stop was the riders’ meeting. While I was there, I attempted to inform as many people as I could that I would be taking over Steve’s job and be the weekly observer for Racer X Online. Funny thing is, no one knew what the hell I was talking about. Erik “Latch” Kehoe looked at me like I was from a different planet. Nick Wey said, “Steve who?” And J-Law only said, “That guy’s a tool.”

Next up was practice, and the first thing I noticed was, man, these guys sure are staying clean out there. Meaning, opening practice at Millville is usually a little sloppy. I’m used to seeing the riders come off the track with their front plates, helmets, and jerseys splattered with mud. But this time around the track looked in absolute pristine condition. It wasn’t torn up as deep as in years past, which kept the track relatively rut-free and pretty smooth.

My old friend Shane Schaeffer of Schaeffer Tracks did the track work, so I decided to give him a call and see what was up with the smooth version of Millville. “Basically, with the chance of rain, we decided not to rip it as deep as in the past,” Shane explained. “As for the two lines we made in all the corners, we were told that they wanted two distinct lines for the opening lap of racing, and in the process it killed all the braking and accelerating bumps. If it was up to me, I would’ve preferred to leave the ruts and bumps, but they wanted to try something different in the corners, and it made for a pretty smooth track and some fast racing.”

  • Grant got up from this first-turn pileup and flew back through the pack. It may have cost him a shot at the overall.
So there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. In the end, I thought it was a speedway; I think the track was rougher when I raced the Vet race two years ago than it was for the fastest, strongest riders in the world. I know this is a subject that’s being tossed around by the riders, the track owners, AMA Pro Racing, MX Sports, the fans—you name it, everyone has an opinion on whether or not to groom or not to groom.

As we saw this week on Racer X, if you’re Davi Millsaps, you like it smooth; if you’re Chad Reed, you like it rough. Okay, that didn’t sound right. But as Chad said, “I’ve always liked them rough and gnarly, with the hot days…. I love Davi to death, but he’s never been a guy that prided himself on his fitness, so it doesn’t surprise me to hear that at all.”

Personally, I didn’t exactly pride myself on fitness either, but I definitely felt I was a better, more technical rider, rather than the balls-to-the-wall, wide-open guy, and the rougher the track, the better. But that’s just me, and I wasn’t trying to hold onto a 60-horsepower factory 450, so I respect both views. No doubt, this debate will rage on for the rest of the year - at least. But I do really feel there’s a distinct middle ground on leaving the track too rough and way too smooth. Hopefully, they find that sweet spot at the last five rounds.

Since we’re talking about Mr. Millsaps, the #18 made his return to racing after a pretty serious get-off and injury at Hangtown. Let’s be honest: I don’t think I was the only one surprised by his speed. The track was obviously smooth and fast, but Davi was flat-out putting a beatdown on his teammates until his bike broke in moto one, and then he rode to a solid third in moto two. It’s never easy to come back from an injury and jump right into the mix, but he did just that. Good to have the third Red Rider back on the track and on the box so quickly.

  • Stephenson wants to take credit for Chad Reed racing the outdoors.
  • Reed got his second win of the season and picked up ground in the title chase.
If we’re going to stop beating around the bush, how about Josh Grant? Yeah, I’m biased, but so what? He is absolutely coming into his own this season, and I couldn’t be more excited to be able to witness it firsthand. Last year following Millville, Josh and I flew down to Charlotte and JGR, not knowing what to expect. Well, needless to say, before we left NC, the contract was signed and the rest is history. The 450-class rookie has arrived.

In moto one, JG blew past Tedesco and snuck inside of Reed over the finish-line double at the end of the first lap. If anyone questioned getting rid of the old tight chicane finish, they had to be convinced that the new double was waaay cooler when the #33 scrubbed to inside of #22 and made the pass. And the way Reed quickly stood it up, you know he said, “WTF did he just come from?”

From there, these two put on a riding clinic. Reed never let Josh get too far away and, in the process, put an astounding 52 seconds on Michael “Rug” Byrne in third and a minute on Tedesco and Short. That’s an average of over three seconds a lap. So all of those who think the ’09 450 Motocross Champ should have an asterisk next to his name because RV and Alessi are out, think again. You don’t gap the pack by a minute unless you’re hauling serious ass.

Moto two saw Grant enter the first turn about eighth and then it was “Oops, pardon me, look out, excuse me, I think I’m falling, watch it, sorry, maybe I can save it, oh no, damn, I’m last….” Then it was “Please start. Are you serious? Its still not starting, c’mon, one more try, damn, my legs getting tired, ok, here we go, wow, I’m dead last!”

Okay, I now feel like the Canadian Bacon rambling on about Tim “BFF” Ferry. Last thing I will say about #33: Did anyone see how fast he hit the screw-you on lap one? I’m just saying, it was dirrrrty!

  • Michael Byrne and his wrench Tony Berluti landed on the podium for the first time this year.
Next up, Chad “The Rougher” Reed. I am really happy to see him out there this summer. A couple years ago at the Parts Unlimited NVP show in Wisconsin, we all had a few beers in us and were sitting in the lobby bench-racing after the bars closed. For one reason or another, I decided to let him know what I thought of him skipping the nationals and going supercross-only so soon. I told him he had the rest of his life to sit around and hang out away from racing, and that if he doesn’t give it a try again before he retires, he would eventually kick himself in the ass. I basically said he was too fast and talented to be sitting around. He was and is a racer, so go race.

Now, needless to say, I’m sure Speedy doesn’t even remember this conversation, and I know I had nothing to do with his return to MX, but hey, either way, it’s just great to have him back. (And if he wins this title, I only want 10 percent.)

Heading into Washougal, I would say Reed is back and healthy. Although I think we said the same thing after Mt. Morris and he proceeded to go 3-7 the next weekend in Colorado. So who the hell knows what we’ll get in Washington on Saturday. I guess that’s why they don’t mail this stuff in and actually race on the weekends!

Congratulations to Michael Byrne and his mechanic Tony “Fruity” Berluti. Just imagine the fun we’d all have if we had the opportunity to watch Byrner race an entire outdoor season healthy! Like last season, #26 once again came into the ’09 campaign hurt and has had to basically race himself into shape since Glen Helen. Well, Mikey B. is back, boys and girls, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say Mikey likey Millville. Remember, he went 6-2 for third overall in ’08.

  • Kyle Regal put on a heck of a show at Millville. Imagine if all rookies like him just went ahead and moved up!
As for Berluti, well, he’s been a mechanic since my dad was working on my bike at the races, and he used to work with my boy Budman back in the day. So way to go big, Tony. Plus, he’s the only guy I know who can possibly live in Las Vegas and not spend every night at the Spearmint Rhino. (Don’t say a word, Matthes - we all know where you go on Wednesday nights after your Dungeons & Dragons chapter meetings.)

I know I already used the segue way “how about,” but how about Kyle Regal? Man oh man, we’ve been looking for a breakout rookie this year not named Barcia, and I think he has arrived. Well, at least in one moto. I personally do not know Kyle at all, but I know a few of his supporters, and right now they all look like geniuses. He has only raced, what, three nationals up to this point? And he actually started on the 250 before moving up to the 450 class for RedBud and Millville.

From what I understand, Kyle decided to forgo his last season of amateur racing because of the crappy economy and lack of decent support. In the seven motos prior to his breakout sixth-place moto at Millville, we saw some flashes of brilliance, but in moto two, we saw a full-fledged lightning storm. Was anyone paying attention when he passed Cody Cooper coming down into the Screw-U? According to the lap charts, it was on lap 15 of 17. In the process, he split Coops and a lapper as he jumped down the hill and then banzai’d into the inside burn so damn fast, I don’t think he touched the brakes on that ’08 CRF450R. Yes, I said ’08. New bikes are for chumps. Wait, that could be a bumper sticker and a T-shirt line! Don’t anyone steal it.

  • Jimmy Albertson finally started up front, but then threw it away at the end of the sand whoops, breaking off his front fender. Still, he rode strong otherwise.
If you want to know more about Kyle, check out this week’s Between the Motos with #475 right here.

The last rider I’m going to talk about on the 450 is never-say-die Jimmy Albertson. The VMS Yamaha rider managed to talk with Erin “De” Bates on the start of moto one, and if that wasn’t exciting enough, on the final lap while running tenth, Jimmy scrubbed his way off the Lucas downhill, only to plant himself into the ground at the bottom. While he was cartwheeling across his bike, one of the levers tried to bury itself into his upper thigh. Or, as he said, “A little higher up and it might’ve gotten the berries, Denny.” Ouch.

Moto two, Jimmy tried to do a one-hander underhand re-grip while blitzing his way thru the sand whoops. He quickly recovered and caught back up for a twelfth, and without a front fender! Have you ever tried riding without a front fender? I made two laps on an SX track and pulled off. Jimmy is truly an iron man, and let’s all be happy he didn’t get the berries.

  • Justin Barcia continues to impress in his rookie season. He was a consistent 3-3 on the day in a year where he hasn't been known as consistent.
Okay, enough of the big bikes, its time for those crazy 250 kids. As Skid Row once sang, it’s the “Youth Gone Wild” in this class. Although I have to admit, the 250 racing didn’t quite have the same chaos as Lakewood and RedBud. I mean, how do you go from Jake Weimer winning with a 2-4 to both motos being almost a carbon copy of each other? Moto scores of 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4 … zzzzzzzzzz. Shake it up, kiddos. Where’s the drama?

Wait. Hold that thought. We almost had a bucketload of drama when rookie wild child Barcia flew around the outside of his teammate Metcalfe before the big tabletop coming out of the back section and both decided to whip it in opposite directions. As most of you saw, their rear wheels missed by inches – otherwise, I can only imagine how those bikes would have reacted had those wide-open spinning rear wheels actually touched.

How many of you out there think Metcalfe would make a great 450 rider? Sometimes a rider has run his course on the 250 and it’s time for him to make a change. It’s no doubt worked for Grant, and I seriously think it’s time for someone to take a chance on Metty. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly the year to be looking for a 450 ride. So we’ll see what’s in store for the hardworking Australian.

What can I say about Ryan “Well” Dungey? Wow, the local boy done good put on show for his fans by pretty much destroying Pourcel in each moto. I know it’s only one race and the Crafty Frenchman still has the points lead by three, but talk about a momentum changer - #377 may have crashed while chasing #10 in moto two, but I’d say it wouldn’t have mattered.

Now the series heads to Washougal, where we saw Dungey put Villopoto straight-up last season. RV chased him the entire moto and couldn’t break him. There’s still ten motos to go, but I’d have to give the advantage to Dungey at this point. Then again, like I just said, there’s still ten motos to go.

  • Barcia's teammate for the day, Alex Martin, killed it in his one-off GEICO ride.
Since we’re talking about local heroes (and it doesn’t get much more local when your dad owns the track), Alex “Trebek” Martin took advantage of a huge opportunity with GEICO Honda and delivered with two solid motos. Martin chased down Tommy “The” Searle “Life” in moto one for an eight and placed twelfth in moto two for eleventh overall. The bummer is that he just missed out on the top ten but was ironically beat out by none other than Searle. No doubt seeking his revenge. Those pesky Brits never give up! I have no idea what that means. Very cool that GEICO Honda gave him a one-race tryout, and even cooler that Alex had a career day.

You know what the coolest thing is about having a national in your backyard? It’s got to be all the fans hooting and hollering at you and all the cool signs they make and hang over the fences and hold up as you race by. As I mentioned, Millville was the closest thing to a home race for me, but at almost six hours from Omaha, the hooting and hollering and the “Go Denny!” signage was at a minimum. This obviously wasn’t the case for Dungey at Millville. Every lap he raced by, the fans screamed and the signs were waved. As I walked up the hillside to watch the second 250 moto, I noticed a particular sign off in the distance. At first I really didn’t think much of it, but as I continued to walk, I asked the person I was watching with, “Hey, did you see that sign back there for Dungey? Did it say what I thought it said?”

  • No, it didn't say
My buddy asked, “What did you think it said?”

“I swear it said ‘Men Love Dungey!’”

Once he got done choking on his infield caveman turkey-leg lunch, he corrected me: “No, you idiot, it says ‘MN Loves Dungey.’ As in Minnesota.”

So there ya go. Minnesota loves Dungey. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Oh yeah, my food count for the day, not including breakfast: a bag of beef jerky, three powdered-sugar blueberry donut holes, a plate of chicken fettuccini alfredo with garlic bread, chips and salsa, three cheese kernels, two Slim Jims, a Snickers frozen treat, and six Tums. Eat your heart out, Steve “Back Next Week” Matthes!

Thanks for reading, don’t forget to tip your waitress!