Racer X ReduX: Atlanta

Racer X Redux Atlanta

March 2, 2011 10:15am
We report, you decide.

There is absolutely no way I’m going to win you over. You already think what you think of the Chad Reed and James Stewart last lap awesome/lame/aggressive/dumb/smart pass/crash/takeout. Arguing about dirty riding is like arguing about politics, and I realized a long time ago I’m not smart enough to do that. So I write about dirt bike racing instead.

But I do know this: You may hate what happened, or you may like it, but I find it hard to believe that anyone didn’t think it was exciting.

Reed and Stewart had 70,000-plus on their feet all night.
Photo: Andrew Fredrickson

Atlanta is a special place for supercross. Nowadays 100,000 people claim they watched the GOAT Atlanta SX in 1990 from the stands (and my guess is it was more like 20,000). It’s the race we all wish we would see every week. I’ve watched the tape of that 1990 race 100 times, and I’ll never know why on that night, eight guys were evenly matched and made passes all the way down to the last lap. It was the perfect mix of action and excitement, and I’d trade a winning lottery ticket to watch that kind of racing every weekend.

This one came close to reaching that rare air of 1990. It didn’t have the pure action—eight different dudes going for the lead is tough to top—but this one packed the nuclear bomb of supercross weapons: Chad Reed versus James Stewart.

This is the longest-running rivalry in the history of the sport. As Motley Cru once said, it’s been a decade of decadence. We’ve reached overtime now because six months ago it didn’t look like we’d ever see another one-on-one Stewart/Reed battle for a supercross win again.

But James is still fast and Chad has really stepped up over the last few weeks. In fact, you can argue that this is one of Chad’s best performances ever. Of his 39 career wins and 107 career podiums, how many of those included him matching Stewart’s speed and holding him behind him back for 19 laps? Most of Reed’s wins come from capitalizing on a Stewart crash, or in his absence. But he very nearly did it straight up this time. He looked aggressive and strong, and hit his marks with consistency. Early in the season, Reed was mistiming jumps in spots. Go watch this main event on your DVR again and you’ll see the Two Two nailing perfect backsides on every obstacle, lap after lap.

They even got away from Villopoto and Dungey. The parents fought back against the kids!

Stewart hasn't won since A2, could Daytona mark his return to the victory circle?
Photo: Matt Pavelek

Mind you this all just highlights the crazy double standard for Stewart. When someone merely matches or comes close to his speed, we get all pumped up. We heap praise on the other rider. We wonder if something is wrong with James or his bike. Even in a race where he’s in the darned lead on the last lap!

But, Stewart didn’t win this one. I’m not even going to make a judgment call on Reed’s last lap move—dirty or aggressive is like republican or democrat. But I do know that Stewart couldn’t have done anything to avoid it.

Did he “leave the door open?” Please. Saying Stewart should have shut the door is like saying he should have spun straw into gold. Sounds good but it can’t be done.

Reed had to slice off 90 percent of a turn to get underneath him. Stewart didn’t leave the door open, he just went to the berm because that was the fastest way to get around. He was a sitting duck. There was nothing he could do. There’s no way to effectively close the door in that situation. If he had jammed his bike into first gear and rolled around the inside to make sure Reed couldn’t get underneath, Reed would have passed him around the outside (and Stewart tried to do that in the final turn, and Reed rode right around him). If he had anticipated Reed cutting over to the exit of the corner, and tried entering on the outside so he could cut inside at the exit and miss him, then Reed would have gone straight and block passed him--like Stewart did to him a few moments earlier.

Heck, if Stewart had taken the exact same line Reed did, he would have gone so slow through the corner that Reed would have passed him. You’ll notice Reed had to basically stop in order to make that turn. That’s fine when you can stop in front of a dude and give him nowhere to go, but it doesn’t work when you’re in the lead.

The aftermath of the Reed-Stewart battle.
Photo: Matt Pavelek

So then, should he have “backed off?” Please. Just like in Houston, you can watch these crashes in slow motion, but they don’t ride at that speed. In real time, there was about .02 seconds between Stewart nailing the gas and nailing Reed. There was not enough time to see Reed get to the spot, get on the binders and come to a complete stop.

This is just like leading a road race on the last lap when there’s a draft. The guy in second is in control of the situation and you’re at his mercy. In 180 bowl berms, if the second place is that close and willing to go on a suicide mission, there’s not much you can do.

I don’t believe Reed purposely tried to knock Stewart down. It was a hail mary or a desperation three pointer at the buzzer. Throw it up there up hope for the best. But prepare for the worst.

It was dirty, but it was awesome. If you were in the building, or watching on TV, I guarantee you were going crazy. It was exciting. It was dramatic. It was much more fun than watching Stewart simply hold him off on the last lap. I’d rather bench-race over another crazy Stewart/Reed tangle then wonder what would have happened if Reed hadn’t screwed up while lapping Chris Blose. We have two guys who want to win bad, going for it, giving it their all and trying, scratching and clawing. Don’t you want to see your team go down swinging?

(And we can’t compare this to one team cheating to win, because we all know that no one calls foul or hands out penalties after moves like this. Not in this game. At least not right now. So technically, Reed didn’t cheat or break any rules. Even last year in Phoenix, Reed was temporarily penalized for striking James with his hand, not for crashing into him).

After all the chaos, it was RV who would stand atop the podium.
Photo: Andrew Fredrickson

You also had Ryan Villopoto winning the race, and Ryan Dungey taking second. And what if Trey Canard had not crashed while running third? My mind is blown right now! If any of these five guys win Daytona, it would not shock anyone. When was the last time we had five different riders who could realistically win a race?

Villo didn’t quite have the speed on this night like he did in, say, Los Angeles, but he’s got a 10-point cushion to work with. After the race, we had a good laugh in the Kawi truck about their supposed “strategy”, which I defined as “wait 19 laps, and then attack!” The real question is if RV can get the speed advantage back that he had in January. On the other side of it, though, remember back in Redux from A2, when I asked if Stewart’s dominance was a one-night-only deal or a sign of things to come? He hasn’t won a race since.

In summary, I don’t have a problem with James or Chad. Chad did what he had to do, and James couldn’t have backed off or shut the door. It was racing, it was dirty, and it was exciting and it’s just part of the deal. For Stewart and Reed, it has been for ten years, and I was pumped to see the rivalry renewed (a few weeks ago Stewart told Matthes that he guaranteed he and Reed would end up riding together during the week at one point. I don’t think that’s going to happen right now).

See, the problem for me back in 1990 was, I came home from school on Friday afternoon, and watched the Atlanta race on tape. It was awesome and that was it. I didn’t know a single other person who cared about dirt bike racing when I was a kid. I wanted to discuss that race so bad, but no one cared—the darned thing aired at 12:30 a.m. on Thursday night, three months after the race took place.

This one aired live, and fans dumped the clutch and exploded with opinions. Stewart went on Dave Despain’s Wind Tunnel (and Despain, by the way, was one of the TV announcers for that epic 1990 clash) to talk about the crash. We can analyze and criticize all we want, but that’s the whole point—it was exciting enough to keep us talking and salivating for the next weekend’s race. And we really don’t know who is going to win!

Wilson had a big night in the A-T-L.
Photo: Matt Pavelek

Meanwhile, yet again the track designers got off the hook with a simple layout that didn’t provide much passing. We’ve seen several great races this year on these types of tracks. It’s making me start to think—gasp! —that there’s a method to this madness.

Passing room sounds great, but what if Stewart knifed past Reed quickly and started getting all crazy in a jump section like he did at Anaheim 2? What if Houston’s first turn didn’t produce an epic crash? We would have left Houston and Atlanta saying, “at least the Lites race was pretty good” instead of ranting and raving about the SX class.

The action in the ATL main managed to overshadow a superb Lites race, in fact. Dean Wilson passed his way through the field (on a track you could not pass on) and notched Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s 200th win.

Dude really established himself with this win. In Houston, Justin Barcia won, and I thought Baggett looked the fastest. In Atlanta, I thought Ryan Sipes was finally in position to get one, especially after he won his heat race and got a good start in the main. Both of these riders were in front of Dean in the main, and he passed them all both en route to victory.

But what about Blake? Wharton’s season was on the verge of falling apart already. Sipes knocked him off the Houston podium, and he crashed twice in his Atlanta heat race. Sometimes, things go that wrong early on, confidence, enthusiasm and results waver. But then Blake went out and pulled a crazy holeshot from the outside! He caught a huge break with lapped traffic (Barcia and company had closed the gap and were about to attack him when Hawaii 5-0 Lipanovich got in the way and let Wharton pull back out). Wharton had this one. On this track, it would have been really tough for Wilson to make up that much time and make a pass in four laps.

Wharton had a tough night in Atlanta.
Photo: Andrew Fredrickson

But Wharton washed out. Such a bummer. Blake’s a cool, funny guy and he works hard. You want to see guys like that succeed.

Not sure if Blake has the pure speed to pull this off again—you could tell he had a little extra adrenaline boost after pulling the start from that gate. Maybe he will ratchet it back up this weekend, but right now I think Dean has established himself as the fave. Especially if Barcia’s wrist is jacked. He told me it wasn’t, but a wrist brace is a rare sight at this level.

Can’t believe Brett Metcalfe even got through this one. His heat race crash was a ugly, and he texted me yesterday saying, “I have not felt this bad from a crash in my life. Feels like I hit a brick wall. Kinda’ did, I guess.” Tenth place is impressive, considering. It sucks though because Metty made some major bike changes during the week and seemed full of confidence before the night began. And he was running right with Reed in the heat before the big get off.

A few weeks ago I saw Justin Brayton breaking away from the “B pack” and making a run at the big five. Now Andrew Short is trying to establish himself as the best of that bunch. And really, with Villopoto, Stewart, Dungey, Reed and Canard healthy, sixth is probably right where Shorty would be if he was on an orange bike or a red one, a 350 or a 450.

As for Brayton, he crashed in practice and didn’t quite have the mojo after that. JB has says he’s trying to push harder this year and trade consistency for a few more crashes, all in the name of going faster. So yes, he’s had a few rough rounds, but it’s only because he’s trying.

Can Short grab a podium spot before season's end?
Photo: Andrew Fredrickson

I expected a breakthrough night from Brayton’s teammate Davi Millsaps, but it didn’t happen.

In Lites, Hunter Hewitt logged the best supercross of his career with sixth in the main, and Sipes just got him for fifth in the end. He was also fourth in his heat. Hunter’s dad owns and manages the Rockstar Suzuki team, but Hunter didn’t make the cut this year with amateur champions Ian Trettel and Jason Anderson hitting the pros. On this night, Hunter got the better end of the deal. Trettel hurt his shoulder, and Anderson took ninth. But good things are still to come for Anderson. He logged the second-fastest lap of the main. He’s going to figure this out and I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens on the outdoor-like track in Daytona.

Atlanta usually holds several traditions for me. First, you have Friday night’s DMXS party, where people get DMXS tattoos, or ride minibikes naked through the bar. Always good times because that’s how DMXS rolls.

On Saturday night, our Webcast crew would always head to a place called Taco Mac in the Virginia Highlands neighborhood for wings and beer. Taco Mac doesn’t serve tacos or macaroni. Apparently, some people bought an old taco shop and turned it into a wing joint, but they didn’t have the money to change the sign. The place took off, and now Taco Macs are all over Atlanta, still serving wings and still not serving tacos.

But we don’t have the Webcast anymore. I had a whole lot of stories to cover in the pits (the race was controversial. Maybe you heard?) so the Taco Mac tradition died. Sad. At about 1 a.m., I was cruising to the hotel with Racer X photo editor Andrew “Fred” Fredrickson when we stumbled on what’s guaranteed to be a new must-do stop: the original, real-deal, first ever Chick-Fil-A!

Weege outside the original Chick-Fil-A.
Photo: Andrew Fredrickson

It’s called the Dwarf House. It’s magical. And I have no idea why it’s called the Dwarf house. It has a dwarf-sized front door. It features sit-down dining and a menu that includes burgers (the menu even jokes, “Don’t tell the cows!”) We were also there at 1 a.m., which means we were eating burgers at a Chick-Fil-A on a Sunday. It was superb, and when we walked inside, we were greeted by a pack of industry people. Yamaha honchos Keith McCarty and Jimmy Perry were holding court with a gang of Yamaha team personnel, and then Trey Canard and his gang came in with Tim Ferry in tow. Yup, we were eating burgers at 1 a.m. with Ferry, flanked by the team that powered him to victory in the first moto of Budds Creek 2003. You so missed out, Matthes!

If you folks have anything left in the Reed/Stewart tank, shoot me an email at jasonw@racerxonline.com. By the time you read this sentence my email box will be full.