“You know, the sport is going to grow through the popularity of RC and James, and Travis in the X Games, just like it did with MC. Then, once we have all of those new fans, the next generation of riders will arrive and offer up better racing than ever.”
With Stewart (and Chad Reed) at least temporarily off of the circuit, the next generation is here, and the racing is indeed unpredictable. Ryan Villopoto, left for dead a few weeks ago, won his second supercross in three weeks with a wire-to-wire triumph over the weekend in Anaheim. This follows up Davi Millsaps, who was also left for dead a few weeks ago, winning in San Diego. Where did this come from? It’s not like RV and Saps were just getting third over and over behind Stewart and Reed, and then those guys went out. They are riding like completely different human beings than they were a few weeks ago. And if we have procured anything from all the rider interviews we read, we know with 200 percent certainty that no rider gets in shape in one week, and no rider gets fast overnight. So, how does Villopoto card a lowly seventh at Anaheim 2 and then win Anaheim 3? And how does Ryan Dungey, who simply outclassed the field at Anaheim 2, only take fourth this time?
The answer is in that unpredictability that Andy “Cheerios” Bowyer spoke of. The new kids are fast, but they’re evenly matched. And they don’t have the consistency of Carmichael, Stewart, Reed and McGrath. At least not yet. So, for the first time since the last century, we really don’t know what’s going to happen every week.
Don’t just take my word for it. Or Bowyer’s. Chad Reed himself stopped by the Webcast on Saturday night and said it the same way. “What I’ve seen from these riders isn’t a lack of speed or skill, just seasoning,” said Reed. “Sometimes they go real fast and sometimes they have a bad night. I think with me and James, you pretty much always knew we were going to be up there.”
It’s hard to argue that. In Stewart and Reed’s entire existence in supercross, has either one ever had a night where they just couldn’t move beyond seventh, like RV did a few weeks ago? (Reed did at Seattle last year, but he was sick at the time.)
And this isn’t a knock on Villopoto. As human beings, aren’t we all subject to having bad days? Shouldn’t results and performances be subject to the general ups and downs of racing? Does it make any sense for McGrath to win 14 races in 15 rounds? Carmichael to go 24-0? Twice? Stewart to never have an off night where he simply wasn’t going that fast? Reed always ending up on the podium?
Those riders hold the top four spots on the all-time SX win list. They’re the exceptions, not the standards to which others are judged. They are inhuman standards, anyway, and now this series features mortals. Yes, the upper echelon of mortals – fast, skilled, determined – but they seem subject to the same inconsistencies all human beings are. Heck, didn’t a journeyman end up winning that Daytona 500 the other day?
That’s what we have seen for the last few weeks in supercross. But I’m not sure it will last. After all, we not only hear that you can’t get in shape or get fast overnight, but we also hear that confidence is king. If any of the 2010 contenders gets the ball rolling, they could end up as the lead dog every weekend. Right now, Villopoto seems closest to doing it. A few weeks ago, Dungey was on the verge.
Villopoto has maintained that starts have been his biggest problem this year. At the first few races, the Suzuki boys were crushing the starts via Dungey and Stroupe, while Villo and Reed were, um, not. Then Nick Wey came along and banged out two huge starts on his Kawi. This time it was Villo grabbing a huge start, and then it was up to everyone else to see if they could really match his speed.
They couldn’t. Josh Hill was back there in second the whole time. He kept Ryan honest, and at times you thought that either he, Windham, Dungey or Millsaps would make a charge. But RV2 had it under control the whole night.
Hill is at least avoiding the hot-and-cold plague, and it’s no accident. It’s one thing to get second or third because you’re the second- or third-fastest guy. It’s another to get second because you’re trying to be smart and not throw points away. Josh has quickly figured out how to score points, and that almost guarantees to keep him in the title hunt. He’s never really been a crasher, anyway, so he is well suited to this role. By the way, just three points separate first and third in this series right now. That’s crazy!
Speaking of hot and cold, we’ve all seen both sides of Kevin Windham, but he’s definitely hot right now. You can see his enthusiasm in heat races, practice, and the mains. He wants to push himself, wants to test himself, and he thinks he can beat these guys. In his heat race, he pressured Dungey most of the way, and in the main he stayed in the hunt most of the way. He lost a little ground to Hill at mid-race while battling Dungey, but then mounted one last charge on the last two laps to keep it close. Let’s have a show of hands from people who thought Kevin would win a race this year. I don’t see any, and that’s just not because I’m sitting alone in my office.
And what happened to that Millsaps guy? This time, he started behind the pack, instead of in front. He also seemed to lose the pace late in the race... but I’m not going to say anything about his fitness or work ethic. We went over all that guesswork last week. But obviously the whole “Aquarius will feel really good on February 13th” thing didn’t work.
Can you just picture Josh Grant watching the races on TV every week, asking if he can be excused from the room for a second, then going out back and screaming at the top of his lungs for a minute before coming back into the room? He’s missing the golden opportunity. Andrew Short would do the same, but the dude came on the Webcast still smiling as usual – despite walking with crutches and a big boot on his ankle. I shudder to think how evil things would have to be for Shorty to actually look mad.
Wait, have we really gotten nearly 1500 words into this ReduX without really talking about Ryan Dungey? Again? Dungey didn’t ride badly, unless you look at the high standard he set at the first few races. If, in your rookie 450 season, you have three bad nights, collect two fourths and a sixth, and maintain the points lead, you’re doing something right. But the problem is, Hill and Villopoto can now see a road map to this title, which will make things tougher on The Dunge. Only one rider in the history of supercross was able to make it look easy in his rookie season, and that was the greatest supercross rider ever, Jeremy McGrath, which should tell you something. Dungey is still great, but now Villo and Hill have the confidence to be, too.
Last night, NBC football analyst Chris Collinsworth analyzed how a single tenth of a second in a ski race can determine Olympic Gold Medal and no Olympic medal at all. I wonder if Justin Brayton watched that. There’s a void between the RV/Hill/KW/Dungey/Millsaps group and everyone else, and Brayton is the only one riding in that void. He’s not quite there with the leaders, but he’s faster than everyone else. He needs two tenths of a second, but instead, he’s getting 4-5-6 finishes and no one notices.
I talked to Grant Langston after the race. He was right there with Brayton and the lead pack early but then washed the front end out and went to the back. Grant said he’s finally starting to get back into the rhythm of racing, and he thinks he could be there with Brayton, just behind that lead pack, once he puts a solid race together. And Ivan Tedesco is already with the lead pack on speed, but he crashed on the first lap and spent the night racing from last.
After the real Tommy Hahn raced in San Diego, a sick Tommy Hahn showed up in Anaheim. He didn’t race, but I do think he’ll be back up there once he’s healthy again this weekend. Rockstar/Canidae Suzuki Team Manager Bill Keefe said Tommy had a great week of suspension testing leading up to the race, and he was carrying confidence after his strong San Diego ride. So, let’s put that on pause and see how he does this weekend.
In Lites, Jake Weimer rode smart and carries a big points lead into the break... Wait, what’s this? A mistake? Jake isn’t perfect, either, and when he crashed and couldn’t get his bike started, he went all the way back to 20th early. He rode steady to get back to eighth, but credit goes to Travis Baker and Phil Nicoletti. Weimer caught them late, but on the last two laps both picked up their pace by a good half second and held him off. It’s good to see guys fight for it and see where their limits are instead of just handing things over.
Trey Canard won, and it’s always good to see a nice guy who works hard win. With Weimer handing some points over, you would think Canard would be kicking himself about throwing points away last week. However, Trey keeps his chin up. Before the race, he explained how he really hadn’t ever experienced that many battles for the lead in supercross, as most of his wins were on the holeshot-and-check-out variety. That’s true, so he just chalks up San Diego’s crash to inexperience.
Here's a note: Don't let the name fool you. Broc Tickle is serious.
He’ll get more experience on the 450 starting this weekend. He tested for the last two days in California, and a text message to Cox today said, “Yeah, it was good. Didn’t change much on the bike. I’m ready to go race.” We’ve seen time on the 450 make Lites riders very dangerous when they return to the small bikes. Anyone remember Dungey in 2008?
And speaking of Jason Lawrence, he was back, baby! He was even fast, too, but he crashed in his heat and then got tangled in a bunch of downed riders off the start of the LCQ. Could this all be leading us up to him running strong at Daytona? I think we would all look bad if we start trying to predict the future of J-Law. Who da heck knows, man?
In practice, a Lites rider on #431 cased a triple harder than I’ve ever seen a triple cased before. Not casing, really, but facing, and his bike completely stopped dead in its tracks. Later, the rider got up and rode the next practice, and eventually made the main by winning the LCQ. Good job, Tanner Reidman.
Isn’t this a strange sport? We all want to believe in the Hollywood scripts where a dude gets all fired up and logs the race of his life, but in reality, getting fired up usually leads to arm pump and mistakes. That was the case with Wil Hahn. Super fast all year, fastest in qualifying in the afternoon, finally pulls a holeshot, and guess what? He tightened up under the pressure. You really saw the difference in Canard’s experience versus Hahn’s, as Trey now has six Lites wins in his career and calmly took off while Wilbur was learning. All day up until that main, Hahn had been just as fast.
Last year’s Anaheim 2 track was a little odd, and some people guessed it was originally supposed to be a retro track. This year’s Anaheim 3 track was retro-like in its design, too, with the classic over-under bridge and a wall jump. I sure hope the fans of the over-under jump didn’t miss the race to go to the Indy Tradeshow, because it was cool. In practice, Windham even jumped to the top and landed doing his classic stoppie—just Geoff Aaron-level skills there. The few fans who were in the building early to watch practice loved it. But Kevin didn’t pull it for opening ceremonies like I thought he would. Anyway, you had to be there, I guess.
The track was odd in that it didn’t offer many passing opportunities, but there were plenty of places to make up time. Canard was leaping over a double and landing right in the face of the Wall jump, making up lots of time with that. There was also a sand turn that I was 99 percent sure would turn one lined, but instead offered a few ways to go. Windham and Dungey were mixing it up there.
This race was dubbed the Pink Race for the Cure, with money being raised to benefit the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Foundation 3-Day Walk for the Cure. It was really cool to see how many people got involved, as just about everything and everyone had something pink, from riders running pink bootstraps all the way up to formerly blue Yamaha’s running white plastic and pink graphics. No, that doesn’t confuse announcers at all! There’s about to be a crazy amount of stuff auctioned off at http://www.supercrossonline.com/, so check it later this week. Also, the weekend gave plenty of desperate guys the once-in-a-lifetime chance to talk to girls about their boobs while not sounding desperate. And there’s no shortage of conversation points in the pits of a SoCal supercross! It’s always good to raise money just in case, but a lot of the boobs I noticed looked fine.
I might add that I stayed in California for the week between San Diego and Anaheim. When you live on the East, you only hear complaints about California: traffic, people, prices, hard pack, whatever. Well, here’s what I learned while out there for a week: Whatever your state has, California has more of it. You have a beach. They have a better beach. You have weather? They have better weather. You have mountains? They have better mountains. You have boobs? Well, you get the point.
At least Indy has good, soft, eastern dirt. Yeah, that’s great...