As the sun began to set over the picturesque valley the Friday evening before the Budds Creek National, most of the top racers were long gone...either holed up in motor homes or headed to hotels.
There was one anomaly: Chad Reed, his wife Ellie, mechanic Lars Lindstrom, and much of the rest of his 22 crew stood at the Budds starting line as overcast skies turned to amber, discussing gate selection, track conditions, and the outlook for Saturday's race.
Nearly 24 hours later the paddock area was again nearly empty – with most team transporters departed along with the riders. Aside from countryman Brett Metcalfe sitting at the steps of the Team Suzuki semi, the notable exception was once again Reed, who stood smiling broadly with son Tate on his shoulders and Ellie by his side.
Reed won his third overall on the season at Budds Creek.
Photo: Simon Cudby
In the interim, Reed had overcome a difficult first moto – Chad's difficult still being good for third place, despite riding the second half of the moto with no goggles – to convincingly post his fourth second moto and third overall win of the now one-third complete outdoor season.
The "book" on Chad Reed is that he can manufacture speed when necessary. In the second moto of the hot, humid day at Budds Creek – as he has in every second moto thus far – Reedy underlined that he surely can.
Ryan Dungey's post-race comments involved the statement that "motocross is a man's game" and his demeanor left little doubt that he is growing increasingly frustrated at not being the man on a given weekend. Dungey scored a 2-2 on the day, and wound up third – a rarity, with an overall victory a more likely reward for consistent top scores. It was not to be.
Dungey passed Reed with relative ease in the first moto, but was unable to recreate that feat in the second despite spending most of the race right on the points leader's rear fender.
Between motos, Mike Gosselaar was spotted with a head gasket in one hand and a cylinder head in the other. Normal between motos maintenance?
It was a fourth successive disappointing outing for Dungey on the heels of his non-successful supercross title campaign. Similarly, the defense of his outdoor crown is now again 28 points in arrears. RD gained one point last week at Mt. Morris only to lose it right back at Budds. That whole Freestone hole looms large in the standings right now.
Dungey is in need of an overall to keep pace with Reed.
Photo: Simon Cudby
For spectators standing between Henry Highway and the preceding uphill triple, outdoor motocross comes alive in the form of thundering exhaust, shaking ground, and a clear view of the speed and outright bravery of top racers. And sometimes, it comes alive in the form of showering roost right into the makeshift lawn-chair grandstands. The braking bumps look bigger from ground level, the ruts look deeper, and the dirt is all the more real when it lands in your lap.
The fraught with peril fast pace is both tangible and obvious viewed from between the track lanes – a visual and audible cacophony from all sides of the cloverleaf circuit.
One of the best parts of any outdoor national comes early, as practice begins. The first sessions of the day give a feel for who will do what later in the afternoon.
Most passionate, perhaps, is the fast 40 – with the fight for the first gate pick less substantial than the fight for the last pick. At the top of the timing sheets, the difference is smaller, because in the middle of the page are the riders who just make – or just miss – the cut to compete in the big show. For these guys, the racing starts early against the clock, and grows more cut-throat as the minutes tick away.
Villopoto’s streak ended – no pun intended – at Budds Creek when he finally lost a moto there, the second. Villo was the first to get around fast-starter Alessi in the first moto after both passed Reed in the first lap. Shades of his first moto last week – and previous Budds Creek motos – Villopoto stretched his lead early and often. A late moto stall allowed Dungey to close up, but Poto’s win was never in doubt. However, it took the 2 much longer to make the same passes in the second moto: By the time RV worked his way around Alessi and moved into third, Reed and the closely pursuing Dungy were long gone.
A bid farewell...at least for now anyways.
Photo: Simon Cudby
Budds Creek was Kevin Windham’s swan song (or is it?) for the 2011 outdoor season, and a sweet one it was – if it was. Windham rode at the front of the pack throughout the day, posted a 4-4 for fourth, and maybe, just maybe, had enough fun to keep coming back outdoors to play. Rumor had it that Windham might not be done after all in the post-race paddock. Those same whispers have since grown louder, and more credible. Stay tuned to the Racer X website for further developments.
Mike Alessi took control of both 450 motos early, jetting past Reed’s holeshot on the second straightaway of the first moto and securing his own in the second. Alessi rode hard at the front of the pack, and his pace was almost – if not quite – the equal of the top three. Given that the 800’s season has only been half as long as the front-runners, Alessi’s return to form continues to mark him a possible winner before the season is through. In other news, that KTM four-fiddy is fast. One place Alessi wasn’t losing time? Going uphill.
With Alessi’s holeshots – and early leads in each of the four motos he’s run this season – compared to the thus far frustrating results of teammate Andrew Short (also a proven excellent starter) the 350 experiment isn’t looking good.
Behind Reed’s 3-1, Villopoto’s 1-3, Dungey’s 2-2, Windham’s 4-4, and Alessi’s 5-5 came another ten riders with near identical finishes. Apparently, what place you were supposed to get at Budds Creek was what place you were supposed to get. In the top 15 overall finishes, six riders posted identical scores, five placed two places offset, three came in one position off, and Jake Weimer had the most disparate finish with a 10-7 for eighth overall. Consistency would later prove elusive for the 250 riders, but was the order of the day in the big bike class.
Davi Millsaps, who ran so strong at the front of the pack in recent rounds, finished seventh overall behind Brett Metcalfe’s 6-6 for, you guessed it, sixth.
Grant took home 10th overall in his first race back.
Photo: Simon Cudby
Josh Grant’s return to action after a long layoff: Ninth fastest in practice, 8-10 for 10th overall in the race. A strong ride for coming right off the bench.
Also worth noting is Ricky Dietrich’s 11-11 (for 11th, surprise!) edging out Mike Brown’s 12-13 in the battle of the off-road racers. Just think if either rider ever fully devoted his energies to motocross… oh… wait….
Missing out on a top finish was hard-luck Tommy Hahn, who was absolutely flying in the first moto before taking a handlebar to the ribs in an incongruously low-speed fall over. Hahn went from fifth and pulling up on Alessi to pulling off the track and heading for the pits. Hurting, Hahn did not return for the second race.
Track conditions at Budds Creek proved that you don't have to dump a few thousand gallons of water or a few too many truckloads of sand to have an excellently prepared race track.
Midway through the day’s second 250A practice session, Martin Davalos demonstrated the considerable traction the track’s first big downhill offered when he looped his bike over – and not just over backwards, but over a distance of about 50 feet.
Feet flying in the air at full sprint, it looked like something from a Warner Bros cartoon – Davalos lunging after his own bike like a coyote chasing an anvil disguised as road runner down a cliff.
Dungey and Alessi’s early session flyers held up as their best practice times, with the number one bike on the pole and the 800 third fastest. The remainder of the top ten qualifying times came from the second session. Metcalfe’s fourth fastest qualifying spot was another indication that the second fastest Australian in the world could still wind up in a similar finishing spot at the end of the season.
Dietrich just edged out Mike Brown in the battle of off-road racers.
Photo: Simon Cudby
For the fourth week in a row, Pro Circuit kept the points leader's red plate in house. For the second week in a row, the plate was Tyla Rattray's – which was two firsts for the outdoor season. This is the South African's first successive week at the top of the 250 points standings, and the first time any rider has held the series lead for two races in row.
Rattray finished just behind teammate Dean Wilson in the first moto and then came back to lead from flag to flag in the second to edge out Wilson. Joining Rattray and Wilson on the podium in the first moto was the only Pro Circuit rider who hasn’t worn the red plate outdoors, Broc Tickle. The 20 bike didn’t gate as well in the second moto and had to settle for a ninth place finish and fifth place overall. It was the second successive fifth place finish for Tickle.
Meanwhile, Blake Baggett’s up and down season took another turn for the worse. Baggett’s self-described strategy – waiting for mid-race to move to the front – didn’t quite pan out in the first moto, with last week’s winner triple jumping right off the course midway through. Baggett took a different tact in the second race and gated near the front. This plan also went awry when a kicker at the bottom of the track sent BB over the bars and to the very back of the pack. Denied another win, Baggett would not be denied a consistent finish – somehow managing to post identical seventh place scores in both motos from entirely different circumstances.
Saving the podium from being an all-foreign affair (in the shadows of the nation's capital, no less) was one allegedly sick and weakened Justin Barcia.
And if this is how Bam-Bam rides with mono... maybe he needs to kiss a few more chicks!
Can Tomac break up the Pro Circuit podium party?
Photo: Simon Cudby
Barcia hounded Rattray in the second moto, exhibiting all his signature wild-child abandon with little outward hint of illness or weakness. While the ever-steady Rattray kept his wheels in line and close to the ground – the 28 bike never once took the high road over the track's first uphill triple and Rattray stuck to high and tight inside entries on the track's numerous off-camber corners – Barcia flew from one side of the track to the other, usually sideways, either whipped out over the jumps or with the tail wagging out of broad-sliding exits from each turn. Barcia probably rode a half-mile further than Rattray only to wind up just seconds back at race's end.
A tick back from Barcia's relatively inconsistent 6-2 was his Geico teammate Eli Tomac's steady 5-5 finish for fourth.
Tucked into the very back corner of the pro pits, as far away as either fences or analogies allowed, was the flat black box van of Eleven-10 Mods and the racebikes of Darryn Durham and Alex Martin. Far from the 18-wheeled transports at the front side of the paddock, the pace of preparation was no less frenetic for Chad Sanner's upstart effort.
A week ago, in yet another breakout ride for the 37 bike, the Pro Circuit juggernaut had been hunting down Durham. At Budds Creek the scenario was reversed: Durham was chasing down the PC team. That it all went wrong in the waning stages of the first moto – double-D crashing so violently on the backside of the track that he ripped the front brake caliper right off his fork lug – didn't negate the impression Durham left with those who witnessed the day. For the third time this season, no one could have come away thinking DD let alone his Eleven-10 Mods bike aren't the real deal.
Double D was strong again at Budds Creek.
Photo: Simon Cudby
Malcolm Stewart went 16-6 for 11th – one week after going 10-9 for 11th. Doh!
But while Mookie may have just missed out on a top ten finish for the second successive week, Stewart's ascension has went from out of the top 20 (week one) to into the top 20 (week two) to inside the top ten – almost – in his third and fourth outdoor outings as a professional. That’s a credible and even auspicious debut for a rider most expect to be running out of his big brother’s bigger truck next year.
On a rare personal note, after a hot and humid full day of traipsing up and down steep Budds hills while wearing de rigueur loose fitting shorts, my inner thighs were chafed like a fat lady shopping at Sam's Club.
And in other news, my brother’s ice-filled and well-stocked shoulder sling might be one of the best outdoor motocross innovations of the past 20 years.