Racer X ReduX:  Loretta Lynn's Part I

Racer X Redux Loretta Lynn's Part I

August 9, 2011 4:50pm

I just got back from a whirlwind 18-day trip from Washougal, to the X Games, to Loretta’s, and it’s telling that all anyone wants to talk about is the amateur moto stuff. Washougal is way back in the rearview now, and if you want to know more about the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, well, you can just watch this weekend’s race from Unadilla. And X Games? It’s become pretty irrelevant to the motocross set, and those events have the same shelf life as high-quality produce. After about three days, the X Games isn’t fresh anymore, and everyone moves on.

But everyone wants to know about Loretta’s. It’s the ultimate cheat-sheet to the future of motocross. The five-day span of racing from Tuesday to Saturday feels like it takes forever, but in reality, it’s amazing that we can break down entire careers and potential in such a short time. It’s probably not fair, and it’s probably not right, but that doesn’t stop everyone from asking,“You saw ___ at Loretta’s. Is he the real deal?”

AC took home both Supermini titles at Loretta's.
Photo: Vurbmoto

Last year in this column, I tried to explain the event with a little background on each class. Some titles mean more than others—winning a 50cc title doesn’t guarantee success, but the list of past 85 (12-13) Champions reads like an all-star roster. So I’ll once again present that same explanation of each class, and then break down this year’s champions.

50 Classes: If you’re a factory team manager, it’s tempting to just sign each year’s 51cc Stock Shaft Drive Champion to a 15-year contract. Be careful, though, because 50cc Championships don’t always result in more titles later in a rider’s career. The odds are pretty much 50/50 that he will ever win again. Yes, James Stewart won the 1993 50 (7-8) Stock title, but what about Tyler Stewart, who won the 51 (7-8) AMA class ten years later? Mike Alessi won it in 1995, and Davi Millsaps won in 1996. But Brandon Large won in 1997, and Forest Lane in 1998. What happened to the careers of 1986 50cc champ Patrick McPherson or 1987 champ Tommy Schueler? Check out Tyler McSwain, son of former GNCC standout Steve McSwain. Tyler won 50cc titles in ’01, '02 and '04 but has no crowns since (although he’s still young enough to get back up there). This is not a condemnation on the riders who didn’t pan out. It’s just proof that winning on a single-speed 50 doesn’t always result in wins on bigger bikes later on.

But every year some kids goes out and rails on his 50, and everyone remarks, “Dude, he’s already up on the pegs! He’s got a real riding style already! I haven’t seen anything like this since James Stewart!”

Today’s 50cc classes cover three different groups of riders. The smallest kids start with the 51 (4-6) Stock Shaft Drive (Yamaha PW) and the new 51 (4-6) Stock Multi Speed (Honda XR50) classes, won this year by Ryan Pruett and Edgar Lewis, respectively. The faster young kids can race 51 (4-6) AMA 1 Stock, which primarily features Cobras, which are way faster than PWs or XRs. This year’s event featured some history: Ryder Difrancesco, all of five-years-old, won the title with 2-1-1 scores. He’s five and he beat the six-year-olds! I heard some stories about his dad trying to gauge where Ryder is compared to where Adam Cianciarullo was on 50s, and the thing is, there’s really no reason to because even beating six-year-olds as a five-year-old is not a gaurantee of success later. But I’ll admit, Ryder has to be the smallest kid I’ve ever seen go so fast. His legs are so short, he could barely even stand up! Stay tuned to this name for the next 15 years.

Ryan Pruett took home the  51 (4-6) Stk Shaft Drive championship.
Photo: Ryne Swanberg / Vurbmoto

As the 50 riders get older, they can race 51 (7-8) AMA 2 Stock, which is also dominated by Cobras. Stylez (with a Z) Robertson is already the man in this boys class. He won the (4-6) title in 2009, and looked headed to the (7-8) title last year until he crashed in the last moto and ended up going 1-2-11 scores. He returned with fire in his eyes, vengeance in his heart, and probably some fun new toys to play with at the creek. He went 1-1-1 this year. By the way, this means Stylez and Ryder are names to watch in the future. So much cooler than two dudes named Ryan who are up front this year.

65s: The 65s have real transmissions and clutches, and the fastest riders can jump most of the bigger jumps, while the 50s are rolling everything. So this class is a better indicator—Ricky Carmichael didn’t win a 50 title, but he won the 1990 65 Stock (7-11) class. There are two age divisions here, (7-9) and (10-11). In 65 (7-9) Stock, Garrett Marchbanks and Lance Kobusch battled as hard as in any other race you’ll see. They were tied up 1-2 and 2-1 heading into the third and final moto showdown. Marchbanks held the early lead and inched away—they both pushed as hard as they could, and Kobusch was super-bummed at the end when he took a close second. I’m not joking when I say they rode harder and probably poured more emotion into their results than anyone at Unadilla will this weekend—and they’re nine.

Then you have 65 (10-11) Stock and Modified. Note that at Loretta’s, everyone is racing stock bikes until the (10-11) division. But on stock or mods, Gabriel Jairala (it’s pronounced “Hi-rala” because he speaks Spanish) was the man. He won both titles. Also fast was a kid from Brazil named Enzo Lopes. The dominators of the 65 classes this year do not speak English as a first language, which says something, but I’m not sure what (or in what language).

But also of note, Marchbanks took second in the (7-11) mod group, and he went 1-10-1. This kid is for real. And Jordan Bailey, who won the 65 (7-9) Stock class last year, was out with, I believe, an injury. I am very impressed with the 65 and 85 class talent in the ranks right now.

Stilez Robertson took home the 51 (7-8) AMA 2 Stk. championship at Loretta's.
Photo: Ryne Swanberg / Vurbmoto

85s: Somewhere along the way the 80 class became the 85 class. And oddly most riders still call them 80s. And the bikes have always clocked in at around 83cc anyway. There are two age divisions here, (9-11) and (12-14). You’ll see some 65cc riders dabble in 85s, but a year of age is a massive difference, so a 10-year-old who smokes the 65 comp may just be fighting for a top ten against 11-year-olds on an 85. Lopes, for example, took seventh in 85 (9-11) Mod after getting second in his 65cc class.

The 85cc star of the moment is Austin Forkner, who won both 85 (9-11) Stock and Mod titles last year, then won 85 (12-14) mod this year at just 12 years old. This is a big deal. But these 85cc classes are stacked well beyond him. Chase Sexton won (9-11) Stock, Sean Cantrell won (9-11) Modified, and Blake Green won (12-14) Stock. They’re all really good, and they aren’t the only really, really fast kids. Michael Mosiman, Tanner Stack, Carter Halpain, Darian Sanayei and others are just flying. I saw Mosiman and Stack put in one of the best battles of the week for the moto win in one class. We made the joke all week that the (9-11) divisions were not just stacked, but also Stack’s.

Anyway, bottom line is that the 65cc and 85cc divisions are crazy deep. And they always are. The (12-14) division used to be the (12-13) class until they bumped the age up to allow Honda CRF150s in there. When you’re young, you may be small and ride a 65cc bike up to age 11. If you’re a big kid, you may leave 85cc bike behind early. But almost anyone who is anyone fits an 85 in that 12-13 sweet spot, and that’s why past champions here include Bradshaw, Button, Reynard, Windham, Carmichael, Alessi, Stewart, Millsaps, Hill, Barcia and Tomac. What a list! Unlike the 50s, you almost never see a rider win at this age and fade into oblivion. That’s good news for riders like Forkner and Green.

Unfortunately, the age limit change from (12-13) to (12-14) may have changed the dynamic of this class slightly. While most 13-year-olds race 85s, a good number of 14-year-olds are big enough to go Supermini or Schoolboy, so you can’t guarantee the best of the best racing against each other on 85s anymore.

Jordon Smith kept AC honest all week in the Supermini classes.
Photo: Garth Milan

Supermini: This is the class between minis and big bikes, with larger wheels on 85-size frames. You already know this. Back in the day, you would have one Supermini (12-15) class and one 85cc (14-15) class, but now there’s room for a 16-year-old kid on a Honda 150 by having Supermini 1 (12-15) and Supermini 2 (13-16).

Adam Cianciarullo is everyone’s “it” rider, and he delivered this year with both Supermini titles. I’ve also heard he’s already signed a four-year deal with Pro Circuit that will see him through two more years in the amateurs and then his first two years as a pro. He’s on the pro circuit. Get it?

Anyway, AC is the total package. He obviously has talent and speed. He looks smooth while doing it, but hyper aggressive when needed. He trains, he speaks well, and holy crap is he competitive. Mitch better get those 250F rev-limiters ready, because when AC doesn’t win, he revs his bike to the moon at the finish in frustration. I don’t think I’ve heard of someone taking losing so harshly since we heard about the Ricky Carmichael “swear jar” years ago.

I’m often asked if AC is the real deal. I think he is, and the only reason there is even a question about this is because his competition is good as well, so if he messes something up, they can capitalize. Sadly, we have lost one of his main on-track rivals in the late Jesse Masterpool, but Cooper Webb is also a star. This year I was mightily impressed with Jordon Smith, who kept AC honest at times. I’ve heard people saying Smith may really excel when these boys graduate to big bikes. Riders like Nick Gaines and Daniel Baker are always fast, too. So many fast kids in the ranks right now—when people ask me who is the one to watch coming out of Loretta’s, this year, I’d say the real super group to watch is 2-4 years out. Of course, these riders will have to make the transition to big bikes, and that often weeds out some stars, and creates others.

I’ll cover those classes—Schoolboy, Collegeboy, and the A, B and C divisions tomorrow.