Observations: Southwick

September 2, 2009 2:25pm | by:
  • The Weege is happy because years ago, he coined the term Matt
Like sands through the hourglass, this is the Southwick of our lives. MX338 hosted this week’s round of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, and coming off last week’s Jet-Ski race, we were hoping to stay dry and warm. That didn’t happen, though, as the area was deluged with rainstorms. If the track weren’t sandy, it would’ve been a real mudder. It basically rained all day. I guess the good part of it was that it wasn’t the driving hurricane-inspired rain of last week, just a nice sprinkle. “Hurricane” Danny was no Hurricane Hannah!

I always like Southwick. I raced amateur day there in, like, ‘99 or something and thought the track was so cool. I do think running it the other way is better, though - it seems to me to produce higher speeds and more flow, but what do I know? Well, I do know that when they originally reversed it a few years back, nobody seemed to like it, but now I don’t hear much bitching about it. Also, I loved the “Frog Pond” section and wish that was back. The new additions are pretty good, though, and offer a lot of racing lines.

There were things we knew to be true going into the ‘Wick. One was that Chad “Iron” Reed was separating himself from the field and, like the survivor he is, was going to be the last man standing in the 450 class. The title is rightfully his. Second was that Ryan Dungey “Cord” and Christophe Pourcel were going to fight tooth and nail, but C “3PO” 377 had beaten the American in the last five motos and RD10 really had to do something about it. And quick.

But as with many other races that have taken place at the ‘Wick, unpredictability and surprises ruled the day.

When Josh “Knotting” Hill went out with a back injury a little while ago, Team Yamaha did what so many others now do—they reached out for a replacement rider, and they found Florida’s Matt Georke. What’s interesting is that teams like Monster Kawasaki, Honda Red Bull Racing, and Rockstar/Makita Suzuki have to field a certain number of riders to give their outside sponsors the exposure that they promised. Those teams are forced to replace the injured guys, but in the case of Yamaha, they do not have an outside sponsor to satisfy. With Broc Hepler getting hurt and now Hill, they could’ve sent the truck home and let it sit there. In fact, they’ve done that more than a few times over the years. When I worked there, I championed giving a privateer a bike for the weekend and seeing what they could do, because it’s a win-win thing: no matter the results, the good PR is a great thing for everyone involved. As with many things, like mixing chicken wings with Doritos and combining a fork and spoon together to make a spork, it seems that I was ahead of my time…

  • Yep, it was another wet one at the 'Wick and reminded me of that day in, I think, 1998 when RC and half the PC team blew up motors. It was similar to that in more ways than one.
Factory Yamaha replacement rider Matt Goerke “Park” won the first race for the factory squad in a long time at Southwick. It was also his first national win ever and might be the most improbable win since Kenny Keylon’s shocking 1982 win as a Honda replacement rider. I really don’t think #34 was anyone’s pick to win a race.

Goerke was fast all day, even overcoming a huge crash in the first moto that cost him a half-dozen spots. I remember last year he was fast on his KTM before it blew up, so maybe it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. He’s also from Florida, and the FLA guys are good in the sand. In the second moto, he missed the cutoff to be in the staging area by ten seconds and was forced to have the last gate pick (happened to Windham twice in two races, by the way), so he ended up way, way outside. In some ways it wasn’t that bad because on the outside there was some dry sand and was nicer than the slop in the middle. (Davi Millsaps started out there all day and got decent starts so Matt’s gate pick wasn’t that bad.) He rode a smart, steady, fast race to come away with the win and become the sixth first-time winner this year in the 450s.

Love the unpredictability in the class! I think that’s awesome when a guy wins a national going 6-1, how about you?

To be fair, there wouldn’t be too many people talking about Goerke’s win if it wasn’t for “Bad” Chad Reed and his fairly horrific crash. In the first moto, Reed checked out and won pretty easily. It was a great performance, and when he took off in the second moto, there wasn’t much doubt that he would run away with the race and finish 1-1 on the day. But that’s why they hold the races, as they say. Over the finish line, Reed got horribly cross-rutted and suffered a big crash. The RM-Z450 flipped end-over-end and almost landed on Chad’s head. He was woozy and out for the count.

  • Sugarbear2 won his first moto and overall of his young career. Good for him and good for GEICO Honda. He's been a real surprise this year and an exciting rider to watch ride.
So Reed gave this one away, but to me it was cool that he was still trying hard and pushing it out there. He could’ve slacked off and chilled, but I’m sure the bonuses are nice, and the fact that you can go 1-1 and dominate everyone is probably a nice feeling (I have had more than a few dominating 1-1 performances in the rough and tumble Manitoba circuit, and Chad and I are basically the same style of athlete).

His crash also reminds me that motocross is a dangerous sport where a fall can happen at any time. When a guy goes 1-1 and makes it look easy, just remember that it’s not.

About the only way Christophe Pourcel’s day could have been any worse was if France called and told him Bastille Day was canceled. It was a horrible day for the 377 and most likely will cost him the 2009 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross 250 class title.

I’ve also noticed that the terms “crafty” and “sneaky” Frenchman that I like to think I coined way back in supercross to describe CP have made their way into other publications, and I think I should get some royalties.

Anyway, in the first moto, Pourcel didn’t get the start he needed and had to come from the back, but it wasn’t his usual awesome charge that we’ve seen most of this year. The track at Southwick is not easy to pass on, and visibility wasn’t the greatest. If a guy is forced to go off the main line to make something happen, oftentimes it’s a slower way around the track. Christophe made it up to fifth before the motor in his Pro Circuit KX250F let go. I believe it was a head gasket or something that allowed the engine to lose coolant, as many people reported seeing the bike puking that substance all race. There were only three laps to go in the moto.

Many times this year when Christophe has had a bad moto, he rebounds and dominates the next one, and at this point he needed that more than Eddie Murphy needs a good movie. But he couldn’t deliver, as he went down in the first turn and could only muster an eleventh. It was a really, really bad day for the sneaky, crafty Frenchman. He went from the highs of Budds Creek and being 13 points up in the chase to now, with two motos left, being 17 points down. It’s going to be really tough for Chris to overcome this deficit and it just may convince him to stay down in the 250 class next year.

  • This guy went 3-3 for a tie for 1st overall. He says he sucks in the sand but don't believe him. Byrner rode like a rockstar this weekend...get it?
Who would’ve thought a crazy, high-revving guy like Barcia would not have any engine problems in the deep and wet sand and the dude who rides a gear higher and lugs the motor (Pourcel) would? I got an email from a reader on Saturday night about this and he made this great point.

And it was not all smooth sailing for the #10 Suzuki of Ryan Dungey either. Ryan is now in the driver’s seat and did pretty well at Southwick, but he easily could’ve been standing on the podium in second overall instead of finishing fourth on the day. In the first moto he led the race for a long time before Justin “Case” Barcia got by. It was surprising to me that Ryan couldn’t hold the lead, but I suppose the 151 has a fair amount of time and laps on the sandy circuit and, truthfully, probably deserves a moto win with his riding this year.

So the first moto went to Barcia, and good for the Sugarbear II. He’s been the surprise of the series and I think in recent weeks his riding has been more in control and a little less… looking for the word… ummmmm… nutso? If the long grind of the national series got to the kid, you can’t blame him, but for this race, among his regional fans and his team’s hometown race, he rose to the occasion and grabbed the win. It was cool, but me being the cynical old guy I am, I immediately wondered if he could do it again.

  • The old man got out of the rocking chair, threw his walker to the side and kicked ass on the roughest track on the circuit. JYD is a cool guy and it was awesome to see him and his old wrench, Brian Berry reunited for this race. Reminded me of when DLR got back with Halen last year. Only this didn't suck like that. I even heard them arguing like the old days.
But back to Dungey for a second. In the second moto there was drama galore, and Barcia, Dungey, and Pourcel were all involved in it. First Barcia hit the gate (probably a reaction from the dude next to him, Broc Tickle, jumping and getting caught in the gate, and likely bending his gate against Barcia’s, which would cause it to fall slower), then Dungey and Pourcel both went down in the first turn. It was a crazy start to what has been a crazy series. Pourcel took a little while longer to start his bike than Dungey, which also compounded his problems. Dungey and Barcia crossed the stripe after lap one in fourteenth and seventeenth respectively, which was actually pretty good considering where they were.

The two freight-trained through the pack, and eventually Justin got by Ryan late in the moto and, with it, got the overall via 1-3 finishes. Dungey showed a lot of heart and determination in cutting through the slop and sand to come from the back and finish 2-4 for fourth overall. The 250 class has been so, so exciting this year and Southwick was just another example of the wackiness.

But the real story of the day (besides the 30-point swing in the 250 standings and Goerke winning the overall) was the riding of John Dowd. Yep, I haven’t punched those letters in my keyboard for a while, but the old man of moto came out and laid the smack down on a good majority of the field. Forty-four years old and still hanging it out. Dowd had a so-so first moto and finished about where I would think he could in a very respectable tenth. but Dowdy must’ve jumped in that pool from Cocoon during intermission, because he came out on fire. From eighth on the first lap to blowing by dudes and into second! He was twelve seconds behind Goerke when he got into second, and soon the gap was five. The MX338 faithful were in full effect and waving him on around the track and truly, seriously, I got chills watching him out there.

He wasn’t able to close the deal on Goerke, but his second in the moto was enough to secure third overall on the day. Nobody knows Southwick the way the Junkyard Dog does, and you could see him crisscrossing the track and riding the edges to make it happen out there.

I hear industry people and forum posters saying all the riders who got beat by a 44-year-old semi-retired racer should be ashamed of themselves, and I’m here to tell you that we should be celebrating JYD’s ride, not bagging on the regular dudes. There is no other track on the circuit where this 44-year-old could come out and get a third overall. But at Southwick, Dowd is more at home than he probably is at his real home; MX338 has always favored the locals, and that’s what makes it so good. From Pat Barton to Tony Lorusso to Mike Treadwell and Keith Johnson, the MX338 locals have always been able to be competitive against the factory guys.

  • There is a long line of local NESC riders that have come out and ran with the big factory guys. Add Robby Marshall to the list. His fifth OA was cool and I still can't believe he went two seconds a lap faster than anyone in the first moto.
As some of you know, I rely on Moose equipment to protect me when I ride, and I use and endorse their gear. In short, I’m a Moose “athlete,” and because of that, I couldn’t be happier for the little gear company that could, as they took the top two spots with Goerke and Dowd in that second moto. Next time you’re at a national and want to find the podium, just follow the Moose tracks. (I would like to thank fellow Moose athlete “Rocket” Rob Buydos for that last line.)

As happy as I was for Dowd, Goerke, and Barcia, I was bummed that Michael Byrne lost out on his first AMA win. Byrner has been a consistent rider in this year’s nationals and this weekend went 3-3 to tie Goerke. It’s funny because Byrner goes on and on about how much he hates the sand, but back in the 125 days, he won a moto at Southwick and this year did well. He told me he made a ton of changes to his bike after a horrible practice and everything worked for the better. Byrner is one of the good guys in the sport.

It was an “Oi, Oi, Oi!” kind of day after the first 450 moto when Reed won, Jake “Peat” Moss finished second, and Byrner got third. The Aussies swept the podium and, as Byrner reminded me, if Reed hadn’t of crashed out in the second moto and Moss would’ve finished where he was at one point, the Aussie’s would’ve swept the overall too.

What happened to Moss was that he was in seventh in the second moto and his clutch was getting some free play in it. So he did what a lot of riders do and adjusted his free-play with the wheel, which is a good thing to do, but not when you adjust it so tight that you burn up the clutch. Too bad, but as I said last week, this guy has serious speed and showed it in the first moto. I’d say that between Ricky Dietrich and Jake Moss, the fill-in thing has worked well for Monster Kawasaki.

  • The day couldn't have gone any better for The Dunge than if he had woke up, rescued a cat out of a tree, got a key to the town of Southwick and found out I was his mechanic. It's been a crazy year in the two-fittys and Southwick just reinforced that to me.
As I was saying, the locals have always done well at Southwick, but in the last few years, besides Dowd, the regular national riders haven’t had too many “Who’s that dude?” moments. Well, 2009 we had a “Who’s that dude?” moment and it involved a Suzuki rider from Stow, Massachusetts, named Robby “We Are” Marshall. Marshall was on FIRE the first moto and quickly moved up into third. His fastest lap in the first moto (on the first lap) was … are you ready for this? … 2:11.5. The next-fastest time recorded all moto was Chad Reed’s 2:13.6 (also on the first lap). So Robby Marshall went out and recorded a lap time over TWO SECONDS faster than Reed. Wow!

Unfortunately for Marshall, he went down on the last lap while in third and ended up fifth. The second time out, he was a bit more tame and rode a steady race for seventh to end up fifth overall. Not bad at all.

The winner of my Pro Circuit Privateer Power contest, Ozzy “Bark at the Moon” Barbaree, showed up at the ‘Wick to take on the big guys. Barbaree, from Arkansas, is a full-time student who tries to race professionally at the same time and pays for most everything he gets. Well, this weekend I paid his whole way to the race, his hotel, his entry fee, and got him a free Pro Circuit Ti exhaust system for the Suzuki RMZ250. He was set, and the other cool part of the deal is that I wrenched for him as well.

That should’ve been the tip-off that it wasn’t going to go well. The Ozz-man did not cometh, as Barbaree failed to get into the motos. There was only one set of practices; he was in the practice where the track wasn’t as good, and excuses are excuses are excuses. Once again, as with Ping a few weeks back in Canada, I failed my rider.

I would like to thank Pro Circuit, Racer X, Answer, Scott, Bridgestone, and One Industries for helping me make Ozzy’s day, and it was cool to see everyone jump on board our crazy train to help us out. I loved the fact that Ozzy gave me a plastic shopping bag to take the stuff in to the mechanics’ area. That was classic.

Last week I wrote that I would like my money back for all the hype I bought into regarding to Christian Craig. He hadn’t done much since being rewarded with a JGR Yamaha ride, and I spoke to team manager Jeremy Albrecht about how that deal came together. Shortly after he told me about it, the start of the first 450 moto went off and in the first turn, picking up his bike, was Craig. Christian sliced through the pack and made it all the way up to twelfth before suffering the same problem as Moss. He had adjusted his clutch too tight and burned it up. A DNF was all he would get for the work he put in. Second moto out, he finished a creditable eighth. I just thought that after I said that last week, I should put something in here when he rides well. And that he did at Southwick.

  • Kyle Regal, the Vunder-kid of the 2009 450 nationals doesn't have a cell phone. I suggest half the field call their cell-phone provider and cancel their plans as well. It seems to be working out for Regal.
Silly season is getting close to being in high gear. The Dungey-to-stay-at-Suzuki deal is almost done, just waiting on signatures. Suzuki is looking at having two 450s and a 250 guy, and I hear the 250 guy is looking to be Canard. The yellow crew offered Reed a deal, and it wasn’t near the money he was looking for, so he is probably splitting for … I don’t know where. Most likely Honda, as there are strong rumors of a NASCAR team coming in and riding Hondas. Then I hear some Monster Kawi rumors as I type this, so I’m not sure anymore. It’s going to heat up for sure. I do think mechanic Mike Gosselaar will go with Chad no matter where he is.

How about Mike Alessi on an MDK KTM 450? Yep, one agent I spoke to says it’s done. Mike didn’t leave KTM on good terms, but with the MDK people there, it’s a whole new crew. Josh Hill to L&M Yamaha seems ready to happen, though DC got an email from Larry Brooks after Racerhead went up last Friday saying they had not signed anyone for 2010 as their second rider (sorry, LB). Also, in a shocking development, Jason Thomas will be staying with the DNA Energy Drink/BTOSports.com/BBMX team. I know, simply shocking.

Speaking of JT$, he didn’t qualify for the ‘Wick and he was actually okay with it somewhat. The conditions were sketchy and Thomas didn’t feel comfortable out there. No matter, he has vowed revenge this weekend at Steel City, as he told me, “We will see what’s what at Steel City.”

Another rider I checked in with was “Top” Jimmy Albertson of the Valli Motor Sports Yamaha team. Jimmy had a frustrating day, as he was up front on the first lap of the first moto before crashing. Then Jimmy picked up his bike and crashed some more. Then he crashed again. He told me he hadn’t crashed so much in a long, long time but promised that this weekend “Steel City is going to be my bitch.”

So apparently, Steel City should be ready for the wrath of JT and Top Jimmy this weekend.

Albertson’s teammate, Kyle Regal “Beagle” continues to impress and this weekend ran up front before crashing in the second moto, but his score of 4-10 was great. Did you know Kyle does not have a cell phone, MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter account? By all accounts, he doesn’t even know what these things are. No wonder why he’s so impressive: no distractions!

  • Jake Moss made history when he was part of the first ever Aussie sweep on an AMA national. At least we think so as I can't remember Leisk, Dack and Gall ever sweeping back in the day. I could be wrong.
I’m running out of words and time here to get this thing done, so I’ll put in some quick hits:

- Taylor Futrell was great this weekend, and although he got tired (and that’s pretty much expected), his fifth overall was cool to see. Between Futrell, Marshall, Blake Baggett, and Ricky Renner, we had some unfamiliar names in the top ten.

- Speaking of which, great to see Ricky Renner come out and do well (tenth overall). When RR rode for Team Solitaire a few years back in supercross, I thought he had some talent. Like Ryan Abrigo (who I also thought was pretty talented), Ricky never got a great shot at things.

- Baggett was again very good and showed that he has a bright future. He seems to charge all moto, and I don’t care what the Vurb guys say, he’s a keeper.

- Ryan Morais was there. That’s about the highlight of his day, as the motor seized on his bike about one lap into practice. This gave him the far outside for the LCQ and then, after battling to get into the final qualifying spot, he crashed and DNQ’d. Poor Morais, I like him.

- Alan Cianciarulo read what I wrote last week about maybe jumping the gun on his son Adam’s promising motocross career and wasn’t that pumped with it. He texted me and we spoke on the phone about it. Alan basically wanted to stress that the GP talk was a casual conversation that he had no idea was going to blow up on the internet that big. He said he’s been approached by some of his son’s sponsors about a long-term plan that included GPs, and he’s put that hold for now. He wanted to stress that Adam is tested regularly to make sure the homeschooling is being done and that in no way, shape, or form is he counting on Adam making it huge and providing for the family. He seemed like a good guy and we had a good chat. Observations, the column the amateurs read! I know the raising-the-age thing is going to be an issue for some people moving forward, as it’s going to change their plans by one or two years, depending on what their plan is. More on that to come.

- If you haven’t seen HBO’s Eastbound and Down, I highly recommend you go out and purchase the first season on DVD. Some of the funniest stuff I’ve ever seen. Kenny Powers is the man!

Thanks for reading this and sticking it out. It was long, it was hard, but in the end, I think we both learned stuff. Next week, the finale at Steel City! DC and crew have been up there working for two weeks now, and Marc Peters is there tracking in his magic on some new obstacles. Wow, since I’m in Morgantown all week, I should drive up there and help out with all that manual labor those guys do that no one else seems to realize or appreciate - you know, the heavy lifting of transforming American motocross….


Email me at matthes@racerxonline.com if you want.