Not everyone can win every race, and when the race in question is Anaheim 1, you’re going to see a lot of disappointing results at the end of the night. When the season begins, everyone is a potential contender, and the separation begins when the gate drops for night one.
But be careful not to write off riders based just on one race. The hype of Anaheim 1 brings nerves unlike any other event, and sometimes you don’t see what the riders really have until round two.
It’s happened before. Back in 2001, fans were anticipating a challenge for the constant champion, Jeremy McGrath. Ricky Carmichael had hooked up with a trainer named Aldon Baker and had lost a bunch of weight, and he was ready to go after it.
Then MC went out and killed the comp at Anaheim 1. Carmichael finished third, and the hype was over.
Until the very next weekend, when Carmichael rebounded big time and took it to McGrath straight up in San Diego. RC simply had arm pump at the first race of the year, and once that was gone, he set sail on a dominant course. McGrath won one more race, and Carmichael won 13 in a row to end the season.
“Before we went out there, I said to myself, ‘Any chance I get, I’m going to take it.’ Because I believe last weekend I didn’t take the chances I needed to pass people,” said Carmichael to Cycle News reporter Chris Jonnum after winning San Diego.
In 2003, rumors spread that veteran Ezra Lusk was working harder than ever and ready to get back to the front of the pack. But then he barely even made the Anaheim 1 main event. The very next weekend, though, he turned it all around and won in Phoenix, beating Chad Reed in a 20-lap duel.
In 2004, Carmichael was out of the series due to an injured knee, and Chad Reed was expected to dominate. And he did, winning Anaheim 1 with ease. Many counted on Kevin Windham to provide a challenge, but he struggled to seventh at Anaheim. The critics came next: “Once Kevin is expected to do well, he can’t handle the pressure.”
Maybe he just needed to get through round one. Windham went out and won Phoenix the next weekend and was strong all season long.
McGrath came out of retirement to race in 2005 and 2006. In ’06, he was one of the last holdouts on a 250 two-stroke, and he struggled to 11th at Anaheim 1. By Phoenix, rumor had it that he was asking Honda for a 450 in fear of getting waxed again on the 250. But in the Phoenix main, he grabbed the holeshot and finished fourth after basically letting title contenders Reed, Carmichael and Stewart by him. He followed it up with a few more good rides before retiring for the last time.
And in the ultimate anomaly, Carmichael himself, winner of more AMA races than anyone ever, never won Anaheim 1. You simply can’t base a whole season on the nerve-wracking opener.