Racer X ReduX: San Francisco

February 2, 2010 2:47pm | by:
Before we get ahead of ourselves, we must remember that when James Stewart and Chad Reed dropped from Monster Energy Supercross this year, a rookie took over the standings. And rookies can make rookie mistakes.

But Ryan Dungey wasn’t riding like a rookie. He was on his way to another win, until he made one small error at the absolute worst time: approaching a triple. He sped out of control toward the face of the big jump, with impending disaster straight ahead.

Luckily Dungey managed to get his foot on the rear brake pedal, slow down, and simply double the big triple without crashing. That happened with two laps to go last weekend at Anaheim. He saved it, and he won. But he would not be as fortunate in San Francisco. While leading, a rut ripped his left foot off of the peg on the face of a triple. He went flying, and very nearly joined Stewart, Reed and Josh Grant on the sidelines.

That’s what makes this year’s title chase so different. From here on out, we’re dealing with kids swimming through uncharted waters. Future stars trying to become present stars, wrestling over a championship with more pressure, more races, and more prestige than any they have fought for before. Sure is exciting to think about.

With that, welcome to Racer X ReduX: San Francisco. Now with a sponsor: Renthal! Big thanks to these guys and gals for backing this. When the Racer X ad staff went out searching for a backer for this column, I told them it would be really cool to get sponsored by a bar (as always, I’m on the lookout for company discounts). The message kind of got crossed and I ended up with a handlebar company. But at least they’re one of the best. Thanks, Renthal, and man did Villopoto’s bars look good over the weekend.

  • No more 1 and 22, so these are the battles to watch now.
So, Supercross 2010: A New Generation. It started when Dungey challenged Stewart at Anaheim 1. It continued when Dungey, Ryan Villopoto and Josh Hill swept Phoenix, while Stewart and Reed had their worst collective night ever. The evolution was complete once Stewart’s Phoenix injuries persisted, and now someone is going to win this title for the first time.

(And how about all of those anti-Stewart fans who were calling him a drama queen two weeks ago? He finished two races with a broken wrist.)

The opportunity is making riders step up. A lot of people are comparing this season to the 2007 AMA MX Championship post Carmichael/Stewart, when Grant Langston won the crown in dramatic fashion. Dungey was the only one taking it to Stewart at round one, but we have several contenders now, starting, of course, with the race winner, Villopoto. Last week RV got out dueled by Justin Brayton for sixth. And then I wrote: You won’t find many years where a rider lost a battle for sixth and later won the supercross championship. Well, I may just end up treating myself to the Golden Corral all-you-can-eat buffet of my own words.

I guess the real test will come two weeks from now at A3, since Ryan’s two races away from Anaheim have resulted in a second and a first, and his two races in Anaheim have resulted in a fifth and a seventh. I have a feeling the San Fran RV will stick around though, because of some big changes made to his program. It might be too personal to go into all of this information here, but I can’t tell the SFSX story without it. Ryan called up his parents and told them to come to Frisco. The Villopotos had not been to the races in awhile, a natural ill that comes along at some point in racing for these riders. The parents make it happen for their kids, but at some point the rider becomes an adult and the relationship changes.

But mom and dad Villopoto were back this weekend, and so was the old RV. He also changed the fork settings on his bike, but I don’t know if that was responsible for the massive improvement. Again, this was a massive, massive, improvement. You could tell RV was out to win from the second he rolled onto the track, staying on top of the qualifying board for most of practice, before Kevin Windham stepped up. Kevin Windham was fastest! Clearly, Stewart’s absence has opened up opportunity.

And why not? A rookie is leading the standings, and even though Dungey has been riding superbly, the other riders believe they can beat him. Proof? James Stewart is the leader of Josh Hill’s San Manuel Yamaha team. Hill has ridden with Stewart before. If you put Hill up on a lie detector test, I don’t think he could pass while saying, “yes I can beat James Stewart for the supercross championship.”

But we talked to Hill on the Webcast after the race. Was he surprised to see Dungey crash? “No, I wasn’t surprised at all,” Hill said. “He always does that. Just look at ’08, he made mistakes like that every week.”

Ouch. Hill was hanging with J-Law back then, so he was front and center to Dungey’s errors, and even though he’s racing an entirely different Ryan Dungey now, he can still think back to those days to dig up some confidence. Put him on the lie detector and he’ll tell you straight that he thinks he can beat Dungey this year. Same for Villopoto. This is what makes this season so compelling. You have a lot of riders who truly believe they can win this title.

Can they? Well, let’s not forget that Dungey was one small mistake away from winning his third in a row. Despite a heat-race crash and the eleventh gate pick in the main, he pulled another clutch start. Despite that crazy wreck, he didn’t get hurt. And I can’t wait for the Nike AirMX boot folks to check out that crash. You think LeBron has ups? Maybe those boots have the Nike Shox built in. Let’s see the suspension guys start dialing those in.

Hill rode well again to take second, he didn't seem to have the same raw speed he had last week. He tried as hard as he could, though. Villopoto was going faster, but Hill fought for his position. Then late in the race, Hill kept digging and closed the gap back up. Yeah, the two old Pacific Northwest rivals were in a slow race that let Dungey get away, but that's what you're going to get when you have the "kids" battling it out. Plus, it was fun to watch.

  • Looks like Davi is just getting warmed up.
Two other riders looked to be rejuvenated by the Stewart/Reed absence. Andrew Short rode well at A2 and carried that confidence to San Fran. He needs better starts, though, so on Saturday morning, my broadcast partner Jim Holley made a bet with Andrew about getting the holeshot in the main. In typical Jim fashion, he had an angle. If Short got the start, he would have to buy Jim dinner. Yup, in Jim’s world you buy him dinner when you accomplish something!

Andrew indeed did get the start in the heat race and led Dungey until the last lap, when Dungey crashed over the same triple that would ruin his main event (Dungey crashed by landing on a tuff block. Apparently, Ricky Carmichael can’t teach how to land on a tuff block and not crash).

Short went on to win, and then the AMA/FIM sent over the lineups for the main event and Shorty had the first gate pick! All signs pointed to a Shorty holeshot, and Hollywood was already thumbing through the San Diego yellow pages looking for a steakhouse on Shorty’s tab. Alas, Andrew started outside the top five. Then he stalled his bike and went to mid pack. Once again Shorty came up, er, short, but he did do some bar banging with Ivan Tedesco (round 26,743 in a series of Short/Tedesco battles dating back to amateur days in Colorado). Shorty finished fifth.

Shorty has been putting together some awesome videos that cover his race weekend. This week’s is a must-see if you want to understand the life of a factory rider (complete with the emotions when a rider feels a win coming and doesn’t get it). Go here: http://andrewshort.com/video

Kevin Windham was also feeling the mojo early on based on that fast qualifying lap, his first pole position since St. Louis in 2008. But something was lost in the translation from day to night, and KW was mired in traffic during the races. The Mike LaRocco starts are not working here. Steve Cox chatted with KW this afternoon and Kevin basically said he didn’t ride well. Maybe he’ll turn it around this weekend.

Short and Windham didn’t deliver how they had hoped, another Honda rider did. Davi Millsaps! I’ll just be honest here; we ran down a list of possible contenders on the Webcast and I mentioned Davi’s name only because I like him and didn’t want to leave him out. After two ninths and an eighth at the first three rounds, I don’t know if many were counting on DM18 to suddenly run with the leaders. Oops!

Apparently Millsaps was pissed about getting arm pump, so he and his trainer John Louch studied every part of his diet until they discovered one of his supplements contained creatine, which you may remember as the holy grail of 1990’s bodybuilding. Creatine causes arm pump, apparently, and just dropping the supplement for a week turned Davi into a different rider. He chased Dungey early, fell over, and then charged all the way to the finish for third, only about six seconds behind Villopoto at the end. Furthermore, I don’t have to be nice to him anymore, because now that he’s off the creatine, he’s probably not as tough. Maybe I’ll find out after he reads this.

Nick Wey got the call to sub for Reed on the Monster Kawi, and he promptly pulled a great start in the main. Then his arms pumped and he went back a bit. Still finished eighth, though. Maybe he should cut out the Creatine, too.

I talked to Jason Lawrence’s new trainer, Randy Lawrence (let’s get Factory Phil Lawrence over as a riding coach and we can have the triple Lawrence word score). In Phoenix, I heard J-Law had mono, but R-Law says he had a different virus, not mono, and he’s feeling better now. Jason rode for six days straight leading to Anaheim 1 and just exhausted himself. Then all the So Cal rain kept him off the bike now that he’s recovered. He’s going to try riding this week and just may race San Diego.

  • Hansen shows rookies like Max Anstie that you don't pass on the outside in supercross. Check out the fender!
Oh yeah, rain. I heard the San Fran track was a mess on Thursday, but lo and behold it was perfect, again, by Saturday night. But if you read the blog I posted on Saturday morning, you might have noticed that I wrote this: But all of those ruts will make things tough for twenty laps, and as we’ve already learned, one little mistake can change everything.

Just sayin’.

This week’s heartbreak in the Supercross class is Michael Sleeter, who led most of the LCQ before getting into a battle with Manuel Rivas. Rivas made the pass, and then Sleeter tagged a tuff block and went down, ending his bid for the main. MotoConcept’s replacement, Kyle Chisholm, took over second and got the spot, and he deserved it, since he had been running in a transfer spot for most of his heat race until falling over a berm. Chizz chased Windham through most of the main and ended up twelfth, one position away from scoring huge double points for my fantasy team. Damn eleven riders with factory support racing in the main!

Also a rough night for Grant Langston, who was down off the start in the LCQ and never had a shot at the main. Grant said his goal is to make all the mains and do all the laps this year, so instead he rode it out in the LCQ, rallying back to ninth. No, Grant didn’t return to racing to get ninth in LCQs, but the point is that he keeps riding instead of pulling off.

Kyle Partridge only made one lap in the main before a fuel-pump problem ended his night. We report this so you all know we care about Kyle even if he isn’t involved in a Stewart incident.

In Lites, Trey Canard fought back into victory lane. I feel like Trey represents his team well—he works super hard, he’s fun to be around, and he does all the right things. But aside from his initial burst onto the SX scene in 2008, it always seems like an uphill battle. Think of it this way: in June 2009, Canard was the only 250 contender left with a shot at Dungey and Pourcel, everyone else was getting left in their dust. Canard was pushing to a possible breakthrough first national win at High Point when he went over the bars and broke his wrist. A few weeks later, Jake Weimer won the Colorado National and then took two more, then headed to the Motocross of Nations and helped Team USA to victory. Jake came into Anaheim carrying a lot of confidence, while Trey hadn’t raced at that level in six months. But if Trey hadn’t crashed at High Point, would he be the guy in Jake’s position right now?

Well, he’s got his win but he’s already sixteeen points down on Weimer, who isn’t going to do anything stupid.

  • Man thanks for many people, including girlfriends and dogs, on the podium.
And Star Yamaha’s Broc Tickle finally got a good start! And a podium! You just knew one was going to happen when the other did. Ping’s Troy Lee guys were fourth and fifth, you can pretty much count on them for that.

Poor Blake Wharton. Last week he was running third in a heat race when Gautier Paulin crashed in the whoops, Blake had nowhere to go and plowed into him. He returned to win the LCQ, but had a terrible start in the main due to the bad gate pick. This week he crashed in the heat again, won the LCQ again, and then crashed in the first turn. Josh Hansen ran off the track in the first turn and rode all the way around the outside of the track for two straightaways before getting back on, and yet Blake was still in dead last! Blake finished thirteenth. Two weeks ago he was leading laps in Phoenix.

Ryan Morias somehow, some way, didn’t break anything in his wreck at A2 and hopes to be back for A3 next weekend. And Tommy Searle is going to try riding this week, hoping to give it a go in San Diego.

As for Hanny, it looked like he got the holeshot, but the officials called for a booth review and discovered he had gone off the track before getting to the stripe. Yup, out of bounds. Gotta’ get those toes in if you want the holeshot check. Cole Seely took the Spike Holeshot $1000 although he basically never led (Hansen was ahead of him but off the track, and Canard then passed into the lead).

It’s unfortunate that Hanny has had such bad luck, because I was hoping to see his true speed this year. I know he’s trying hard. And for what it’s worth, he’s always been nice when I’ve had to talk to him. So I’m not bagging on the guy like some other internet observers. However, with Hanny I’m always hearing about his incredible speed and talent. Okay, cool, but I’ve never quite seen that level of speed and talent in the actual races. He’s won three races in his career, but one of them came when Stewart crashed out of practice in Indianapolis, and the other two came in 2005. There was Daytona, when Langston and Millsaps crashed early, and then Hanny and Josh Grant came together on the last lap, with Hanny emerging with the win. Then he won again in Pontiac, when Millsaps fell while leading and Langston was riding tight protecting a points lead. Hansen tied Langston for the title that year, which is impressive. Branden Jesseman is still known for his 2003 East Title, and Hanny actually tied for the same honor.

Winning three races and tying for a championship is good. All I’m saying is this: where is the race where Hanny just completely dominated everyone? We all say Robbie Reynard has crazy talent, but that was because once a year he would just go 1-1 at a national and kill everyone. Even RC. Straight up. Maybe Hanny’s skills are something you see at the test track during the week and not on Saturday night. I don’t know, I just thought for sure he would have one of those untouchable Reynard races this year. Maybe he will do that this weekend and I can eat my words for dessert, too.

And finally, I found a way to sneak Damon Bradshaw into this week’s column. There was a cool story on Dungey in the San Francisco Chronicle here about how he’s the youngest points leader ever. Well, Bradshaw led the 1990 series when he was 17. Dungey is 20. Bradshaw rules!

But then again Damon broke his ankle by the third round of that series. Dungey’s crash looked bad, but he survived. This is going to be one heck of a title chase.

Hit me up with your emails at jasonw@racerxonline.com or follow @jasonweigandt on Twitter, or find me on Facebook. Or just come stalk me at the grocery store tonight. I'm always open.