Observations: Steel City

September 9, 2009 3:30pm

Well, it was bound to happen one day. No, I’m not talking about someone green-lighting a movie about G.I. Joe, but the fact that the Lucas Oil AMA Motocross Championship would come to an end. And what a glorious end it was.

  • Everything was pink at Steel City in honor of donating to the fight against breast cancer. How in the hell did those cranes get to be pink? Anyway, Steel City is a cool track and did you know it was was JMB's favorite track? Now you do.
The final round took place at Steel City Raceway in Delmont, Pennsylvania, and upon driving to the track, the first thing that came to my mind was, Where in the hell did the VW bug on the pole go? And the second thing was how cool it was to have a massive billboard with Tim Ferry’s picture on it right at the track entrance. I was already in a good mood and had only been there for 0.7 seconds.

The 450 title was wrapped a while ago, but the 250s were still raging on. “Flyin” Ryan Dungey and Christophe “Kristofferso” Pourcel were battling for the title. After last week’s disastrous DNF, Dungey was in the driver’s seat, but you just never really know what can happen. Ask Grant Langston about that.

Okay, you can go ahead and ask him, but the answer won’t matter because Ryan Dungey is your 2009 250 AMA Motocross Champion! The Minnesota Mauler survived a season-long battle with Pourcel to emerge as the champion. Obviously, the Southwick race was a pivotal one in this battle, and even though Ryan won the plaque, money, chicks, and everything else that comes with a championship, I have a hard time deciding which rider was better. It came down to a mechanical, which was the only thing that could separate them.

Great for Ryan, and with him signing with Suzuki for a full-time 450 ride next year and Pourcel looking for a 450 as well, these two should be able to renew their rivalry for many years to come.

  • It was a Pro Circuit sandwich in the first moto but Dungey was not to be deterred. He still pulled great starts on that yellow bumblebee of his.
One thing that probably kept Dungey up at night this week was bad starts. You people realize that bad starts could do him in - it’s a fight back there in the pack and anything goes. It’s like the underground MMA fights that take place in Morgantown! But he started up front both times, despite the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team surrounding him in the first moto.

He not only started in the front, but he challenged Pourcel in the first moto. I’d have loved to read Roger DeCoster’s mind when Dungey was racing around at top speed with Pourcel. Rolling over and taking the points was not in Dungey’s game plan, and although he ended up second, it was surprising how much he got into the mix with his rival.

Pourcel said in the Speed TV interview that he was slowing down to maybe help get his teammates into the mix, but it was a flawed strategy. The two riders were still much faster than anyone else out there, and Pourcel went out with a 1-1 on the day. Congrats to him, and remember, two years ago he was in a wheelchair and unable to walk. His was a phenomenal comeback and he should be proud of his 2009 season.

The word of the 450 season is parity, and Steel City proved that once again. Tommy “The Opera” Hahn won the 450 class with a great ride in moto one to grab his first win in AMA Motocross. Hahn has been a real revelation this summer, as I had a hard time picturing him up front this summer but he really improved and figured things out. He’s a legit frontrunner and passed factory Honda riders Andrew “Swedish Chef” Short and Ivan “The Not So Terrible” Tedesco in the first moto to win. The second time out, Tommy was in third and got passed by Tedesco, but no worries, he told me after the race that he had the math all done in his head. He knew he still had the overall. Hahn becomes the seventh different winner this season, and that’s pretty cool.

Before the season, who did you think had Hahn covered this summer? Besides the obvious factory guys, I would go with Cooper, Albertson, and Brayton as all being better outdoor riders than Tommy.

I was asking Tommy what he had going on for next year and Kawi PR guy Tom “McSenate” McGovern was standing with us when Hahn said, “I’d like to go over to this guy’s team.” I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not, but Tommy should be high on many team managers’ lists. He mentioned that he was going to retire and go to school if he couldn’t get a ride, but I’m pretty sure he’ll be racing next year.

He also told me what his bonus was for winning, and it’s pretty high for a non-factory guy. Good for him - he probably just made more money on Saturday than his salary for the whole year!

Another thing to think about is the fact Tommy Hahn took his privateer Canidae/Motosport.com Kawasaki to the win. That’s right, there are zero works parts on Hahn’s bike, and even with the line blurring between factory and privateer, there can be no doubt that Tommy is a full privateer, circa 2009. To me, that makes the win even sweeter!

Another surprise this week was KTM’s Justin Brayton “Ohio,” as he holeshot the second moto and checked out for the win. JB led every single lap in his first AMA motocross win. Brayton has been a quiet, hardworking guy on the fringes of moto stardom for the last couple of years, and he showed what he can do with a start. His first moto didn’t go so well, as he experienced “technical difficulties” with his bike and could only muster an eleventh.

  • JB114 won the second moto and I say, good for him. What a day with him and Hahn winning. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. He asked for some love in this column so we hooked him up with a picture. Now, about that number...
Brayton was awesome in the second moto - Kawasaki’s Jake “Spanish” Moss was challenging him for the lead. It seemed the two of them would get close, and it looked like Jake would get him at any moment, but then Brayton would pull back out. I don’t want to toot my own horn here, but I’ve been saying that we should all keep an eye on this guy for a while.

I think Justin’s leaving KTM next year, and the popular rumor has him going to Joe Gibbs Racing, but in speaking to team manager Jeremy Albrecht, he’s very interested in JB next year. There has been no offer extended, and there are plenty of agents calling North Carolina to get that second spot next to Josh Grant.

J-Bone’s riders this week, Cody Cooper and Christian Craig, were hot and cold. Craig’s first moto was pretty strong as he came from fourteenth to eighth at the end. He was really good and looked fast once again. The second moto he was way back for some reason and the best he could do was twenty-first. Cody “DB” Cooper is just riding out the string, and his performance has slipped drastically since he figured out he wasn’t coming back to JGR. Coops didn’t do well in his farewell to America ride (he has a ride in Australia next season) - he went 20-15.

I have been talking to owner Coy “Fish” Gibbs the last few weeks quite a bit. It’s nothing about silly season or the riders, but I have been picking his brain on football matters. I want to figure out a few things, like if my Oakland Raiders have what it takes in the preseason (Coy didn’t know, but he did say the NFL preseason means absolutely nothing) and also, what certain plays mean because this will help me in my Madden ’10 season. Yep, I’m a dork.

  • Jake Moss is fast. He came back from a serious back injury to make a dent in supercross and he's got some serious talent. Look for him to be up front next year in the 250 sx series. He's got a handshake deal to go back to TLD next year but you know how these things work, he might've just ridden himself into a full-time 450 ride next year.
  • IT rode with a cracked rib this week from his gnarly Southwick crash. He could've easily won this weekend with a little luck. Where is he going next year?
Thanks to Allan Brown for this nugget: There is some sort of record over there in the JGR team. I can’t recall anyone else who’s still active who has worked with a father and a son. But we now have it in the pits. Dean “Rick” Baker, the ace engine guy over there was Mike “Stingray” Craig’s mechanic for many years at Honda of Troy, now builds Mike’s son Christian’s motors. The younger Craig could probably pick Baker’s brain for hours for Mike Craig stories. If someone sees Dean reading this, can you stop him from hanging himself?

Good race for Ivan Tedesco, who apparently was riding with some cracked ribs from his Southwick practice crash. Ivan challenged for the lead a few times and went 4-3 on the day. Normally it would just be a decent day for him, but I’m taking the ribs into account.

Andrew “Too” Short was just clicking off the days to the end of this season. He and I spoke on the phone this week, and he said he was healthy and feeling good, but I refuse to believe it. He just didn’t look like the Shorty we all know. He did finish second in the series to make the jump up from his usual third position, and it’s a real shame that out of seven new winners, Short wasn’t one of them.

He’s headed to Sweden for a supercross and a riding school over there next week. The traveling and racing thing probably isn’t what he really wants to do right now, but I’m sure the buckets of cash the promoter is offering him helped make up his mind.

Speaking of Sweden, the man who beat him over there last year, Broc Hepler, was in the house. The Iceman has been out this entire outdoor motocross season, and even though I knew that, I was still holding out hope that he would race Steel City. He is the man at this track, and he looked pretty good. I bet if he ran around the track, he could get in the top twenty.

The champ Chad Reed had difficult day, but luckily for him, he had already clinched the title a few weeks ago. After last week’s crash in the second moto at Southwick, Reed didn’t get the start he wanted in the first moto, but no worries - he always takes some time to get rolling, and he moved up into the battle for the lead. But then he fell and had to work back up, eventually settling into second. It was a sneaky good ride for the #1 (yes, he ran his new number with #22 on his jersey, and I was going to protest to move Ferry up one spot but thought better of it).

  • Shorty's off to Sweden this week to go race Hakan Carlqvist and Mats Nillson at a supercross somewhere. Hollywood's there as well so you know there will be a good time had. Shorty got second in the 450 standings but I bet he isn't happy.
On the line for the second moto I was talking to Reed, Ryan Villopoto, John Knowles, and Allan Brown when Reedy looked at me and said, “Thirty-five minutes” and smiled. I didn’t know what he meant right away but figured out that he was doing the countdown on his season. I told him I’d like to hang out with him this coming week, as I imagine there won’t be a lot of training going on and more than a few beverages consumed.

Turns out his season was only about twenty minutes away from being done. Reedy fell in the first lap and was definitely having trouble coming through the pack when he pulled off. Apparently, he was throwing up and not feeling well, so he packed it in. Oh well, it was a great and unexpected season for Reed. He’s now got the 450 AMA Motocross Championship to go with his two AMA Supercross titles.

I’m on a quest—a mission, if you will. Something needs to change in American motocross, and I won’t stop until a wrong is righted. No, I don’t think Rollerball should be made commissioner of the sport; rather, the number system needs an overhaul. What I’m talking about is a small change, but it would mean so much to the privateers out there. I’m proposing that if a rider does not want to run his assigned number, he loses that right and the next guy gets bumped up. There are at least ten guys (Reardon, Stroupe, Lawrence, the Alessis, Brayton, Davalos, Hansen, Bowers, and Laninovich) who chose to not run their assigned two-digit numbers. I say bump up the guys behind them. This will give some guys a national number they will run with pride. Getting a number is a significant achievement and means you’re fast. Who knows? Maybe with a two-digit number, some guy gets a little more sponsor money from a local dealership or something like that.

I sent an email to the powers that be and got a couple of favorable responses. I hope they do something and then next year, the guys who benefited from the change can hug and high-five me. Maybe we can even call it The Steve Matthes Number Rule for Those Guys Who Don’t Care About Numbers, or TSMNRTGWDCAN.

  • Yeah, that's right. Colton
After I get this number thing sorted out, my next crusade will be to get with MX Sports and try to come up with some sort of World Wide Web archive system for old results. Right now you can only go back as far as 2003. We need to keep these records!

Tim “Hi-Flyer” Ferry was out in effect and had a pretty good race, considering his poopy starts. Red Dog came through the pack both motos and seemed to be able to shake off his foot problems from last week. Funny moment in the second moto: he got by Davi Millsaps and then waved bye-bye to him in the air over the triple. When I asked him about it, he said he was pissed because Davi was done and moving over on him and cutting him off for a lap or two. He knew that once he got by him, there was no way Millsaps was going to get him back.

Not sure what Ferry is doing next year. If he doesn’t go back to Kawi or a top-level team, I don’t think you’ll see him come back. If so, his last professional moto was strong and nothing to be ashamed of.

What about Ivan Tedesco to JGR? That could happen. Maybe Ben Townley on a TLD Honda 450 for the outdoors only? Sources say it could happen, and when I tried to ask Ping, he didn’t call me back, so I’m running with it.

The end of an era happened at Steel City. Robbie “Barnyard” Reynard came out to a track he’s won at before and tried to score a point to keep his national #17. It didn’t work out for RR, and he pulled out of both motos. I have to wonder if we will see him back racing as well.

Canada had a couple of its finest show up to race. National 45 champion Colton “Chicken” Facciotti drove down from Ontario and, along with Jeremy “Jer-Bear” Medaglia in the 250 class, represented the maple leaf. Both had horrible days with consistent scores of DNF-DNF-DNF-DNF. I really thought Facciotti would be about top ten, and he was up front in the second moto before crashing out hard. It was still cool for the guys to come down and see what they had against the best. I admire them for spending out of their pockets and taking the ego hit of racing in America.

AMA technical inspector (I burst out laughing every time I’m forced to type that) Dave Dye told me to put this in my column: Les Smith, #908, is the next big thing. Consider it done, Dave.

  • This guy right here could run around Steel City and do  better than you on your bike. Hepler's the man. I'm no agent or anything like that (although I did stay in a Holiday Inn on the weekend) but if I were Broc, I'd move back down the 250's. He could win.
  • Why didn't this get more publicity? Carl Nunn showed up and rode pretty well, I don't know how old he is but I would bet he's over 60. Seriously, it seems like I've been reading about Carl Nunn for a LONG time.
In the amazing-that-nobody-actually-seemed-to-care department, ex-GP competitor and English moto legend Carl Nunn lined up in the 450 class. He went a respectable 16-16, and I was surprised that no one mentioned more about it. I looked around for him to grab an interview but couldn’t find his pit. Man, no one tell Lord Alfred Weigandt about this slight!

Scary moment for the kid Kyle Regal “Beagle.” While up front in the first moto, Regal went down hard and impaled himself on a metal rod that was holding up banners. It was definitely a freak thing, as it lacerated his kidney and he had to be rushed to the hospital. All reports are that he would have to stay in ICU for a couple of days but would be fine otherwise. I promise you MX Sports will be investigating new ways to banner the tracks in the off-season.

Good to see Ryan Morais finish in seventh in the first 250 moto. He’s never been known as a motocross guy, but after a long layoff and a heavy crash a few weeks ago, he proved he can run up there. Now he just has to find a ride for next season.

I’m kind of sad about the whole deal, really. I’ve been following this whole thing since January, and now there are no more races to watch. The supercross series was epic, a battle week-in and week-out between James “I Twitter” Stewart and Chad “What’s Twitter?” Reed (it was cool that Reed wore “SX Only?” on the back of his Thor pants in practice), and now this outdoor season was one of surprises and drama. Here are some things that I’m going to miss now that I’m stuck at home with my wife (hi, honey!) all fall.

- Eating at the Kawasaki truck.
- Watching Justin Barcia try to actually ride his bike upside down over every jump.

- Seeing Jason Lawrence out there, wondering if THIS is the week he races hard and if I should pick him for my fantasy league and thereby get 8 million points for his podium, then realizing that, nope, not going to happen. He got me at RedBud, and other than that, I stayed away from his forbidden fruit.

  • I don't even know what to say right here. This is a bizarre photo.
- Seeing who was going to be late to the staging area and get awarded the last gate pick. Inevitably, the rider and mechanic would freak out, but nothing happened; they had to just sit there and stew. Goerke was ten seconds late at Southwick and it worked out fine for him.

- Watching Nick Wey get a really crappy start and try to fight to the front in every moto. Wey’s first lap position in every one of his motos was 39-14-11-13-22-24-5-7-33-20-15-8-11-16-18-11-13-14-4-21-35-22-24-13. Wow, those are crappy! Keep in mind, he was farther back than the numbers listed - those are counting the dudes he passed.

- I’m not going to miss the work it took to pull all those numbers all up.

- Seeing the most underrated factory rider out there, Michael Byrne, ride and charge hard all moto and get little recognition. Byrner’s the only dude, the ONLY one, to score points in every moto in the 450 class.

- The totally underrated great outdoor season in the 250 class was Broc “Ruff” Tickle. Maybe everyone was too focused on his Monster girlfriend?

- I didn’t mean she’s a monster, I meant she works for Monster—and she can count!

- I’m not going to miss the Monster girl who couldn’t count and screwed up in the rain at Budds Creek.

- Watching someone go real fast once in a while and then at other times look like he wanted to be somewhere else. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the ninth wonder of the world, Davi Millsaps!

  • If I had to make an all-underrated team I'd go with Broc Tickle, this guy and Tim Ferry. 
Where's Byrner going to go next year? I bet that he stays right where he is as the second guy at Suzuki.
- I’m going to miss someone putting on such a riding clinic that not even Gary Bailey could find fault with it. That would be Ivan Tedesco’s Lakewood ride. Runner-up would be Josh Grant’s RedBud ride and Reedy at ’Dilla.

- I’m also never going to forget that first 250 moto at Lakewood. They just don’t make races like that anymore.

- I missed Unadilla, so therefore I missed my chance to see the most horrible experiment gone wrong since Gizmo got water poured on him in Gremlins. Otherwise known as Kevin Windham riding a 250F.

- I’m going to miss the goose bumps I got when I stood there in the rain and watched a 44-year-old man being cheered on to finish second in a moto at Southwick.

- I’m going to miss nicknames like “The MX Panda.”

- I’m going to miss that pizza stand at Washougal and the little drive-up coffee hut that I always go to.

Thanks for reading all season. We’ll have some different looks back, and there are some races coming up that I’m going to bring you in this space. Thanks again, and remember, without you guys reading this, I’m just some crackpot with an opinion. Email me at matthes@racerxonline.com and I’ll probably write back at some point.