Racerhead #41

Racerhead #41

October 14, 2011 5:00pm

Welcome to Racerhead, coming to you from the lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel here in Las Vegas. It's a very big weekend here: The first Monster Energy Cup will go off tomorrow night, live on SPEED, with a million dollars on the line. There's also a Dew Action Sports Tour event that will bring out some freestylers tonight here at the Hard Rock, and there's a Camping World Truck Race out at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with Ricky Carmichael going after his first win, and even an IndyCar race!

Ryan Dungey created quite a buzz when he decided to enter the Monster Energy Cup after all.
Photo: Simon Cudby

The race has slowly been creating a good buzz ever since everyone got home from the Motocross of Nations, but it really hit the hype meter when Ryan Dungey announced he was signing up for the event after all on his brand new KTM to challenge the likes of Monster Energy Kawasaki's Ryan Villopoto and GEICO Honda's Kevin Windham for some wins and cash. As I wrote in Racerhead last week, when we all thought Dungey wasn't riding, it might be a good idea to enter and give the new team some racing experience together before Anaheim 1 in 2012. Well, after a lot of testing and obviously finding himself comfortable on the bike, Ryan is in!

Villopoto is also in, and he's pretty much everyone's favorite at this point. He also earned himself a new Racer X cover for leading Team USA to a seventh straight win at the MXoN last month.


This will not only be Ryan's first race as a married man (congratulations again to him and Kristen) but also the first race since Kawasaki terminated team manager Mike Fisher. There's been a lot of speculation about the hows and whys of this turnover, but we hadn’t heard directly from Ryan until Steve Matthes spoke to him this week about what went down for an upcoming Racer X Illustrated feature:

“That was a sudden thing,” said Villopoto, the AMA SX and MX #1 now. “I don’t know much about it at all, to be honest. I know he’s not there anymore and I think everyone on the team is shocked and bummed out. Mike did a really good job with the team and just doing his job very well. What can you say? We won supercross and motocross and there isn’t much more you can ask for. It caught us all off-guard and I can’t sit here and tell you why it happened. I saw his release where he said that he wasn’t that surprised by it, but I was still surprised. I think there was some smoke there in the background but no one really knew it was going to happen... Well, I guess Fish must have, though.”

And no, we still haven't heard directly from Mike either. David Pingree will have more on a possible replacement farther down in Racerhead.

Kevin Windham is in town and he brought his whips.
Photo: Simon Cudby

One rider who is not coming is James Stewart, who is still trying to sort out where and exactly what he will be riding next year. He's been tweeting hints, and he's been spotted riding both Yamahas and Suzukis. And Chad Reed decided to pass on the event so he could focus on recharging his batteries after a very busy and successful 2011 season as a team owner. I wish both guys were here—I’m sure every fan does—but racing is business to them, and they need to be ready and comfortable before they race again. There's still a lot of time between now and Anaheim, so stay tuned on both fronts.

I spotted this bike at the ARMA party last night but no rider. But I did try to start it for Christian Craig and Nick Paluzzi!
Photo: DC

Okay, today's a busy day and I’m headed out to RC's truck practice, then back for the Dew Tour, and then Simon Cudby and I are headed to the club with 50 Cent... Seriously, we are! So here is Jason Weigandt's take on the new Monster Energy Cup:

I think the idea behind the Monster Energy Cup is awesome—they’re trying something different. After every supercross we see a great debate somewhere online about track design, for example. Well, here’s our chance to see if a different style of track leads to different racing. Here’s our chance to see if a bigger purse adds some intensity. And I really like the three-race format. At a normal supercross, if the fast guys don’t start together, the battle may be over. Now, we have three chances to get what we want. We also get some new talent in the ranks thanks to the open class format—who really knows how Josh Hansen will stack up against the established 450 stars?

I’ve been a big fan of this concept since they announced it back in May. I know the supercross people at Feld Motor Sports work very, very hard to create a good show for the fans every weekend, but in an actual championship racing series, hands are tied. When points and careers are on the line, you can’t think too far outside the box. At this race, they get to try the fun stuff.

Unfortunately for this event, the regular 2011 AMA Supercross and AMA Pro Motocross tours were so good that it seemed overshadowed. It’s hard for anyone to think about the Monster Energy Cup in October when you’re watching two epic title battles at RedBud in July, for example. And once the MX season ended, everyone was pretty much exhausted.

Finally, the hype began to build this week. It helps that Ryan Dungey announced that he’s in (and now you have three ten-lap mains to help insure we get at least one good Ryan-versus-Ryan battle). But now that we all know exactly what the event is, you start building other scenarios....

The Monster Cup is tailor-made for a fast and flashy rider like Josh Hansen.
Photo: Simon Cudby

Let’s start with Hansen. The book on Josh has always been that “He has the speed to run with anyone.” Well, this weekend we’ll see if it’s true. I’m sure his Monster Pro Circuit Kawasaki is up to the task, and 10-lap races mean Hanny won’t suffer, fitness-wise, even though he didn’t race outdoors. A wild card, one-off style event in Las Vegas? Seems like Hanny’s type of race.

Justin Brayton may seem a 180 personality-wise compared to Hansen, but he shares some similar qualities for this event. Brayton does really well in one-off races—he has a fantastic record at Paris-Bercy, the X Games, and races in Australia and Europe (kind of like Hansen does). Brayton grew up racing indoor tracks during Iowa’s cold winters, and he has told me that when you grow up like that, you learn to pick up different tracks very quickly. You may not believe it, but Brayton’s #10 is usually one of the first to hit the top of the scoring tower in supercross practice—you’d think someone like James Stewart would be known for logging fast laps right off the bat, but Brayton is usually one of the first to pick everything up. Like Hanny, Brayton is on capable equipment this weekend. It’s his type of race.

Justin Brayton will debut his #10 Honda this weekend.
Photo: Simon Cudby

Then there’s Mike Alessi. Anyone around in the 1990s can remember Larry Ward going from podium threat to King/GOAT level during European supercross races in the winter. That’s because Big Bird would come into those races 100 percent focused on winning races and making money, while some riders would treat the off-season as time to rest and rebuild their training programs. I think Mike Alessi is motivated right now—he wants this one badly, and he’s just as focused here as he would be for Anaheim 1 or Hangtown.

Check out Simon Cudby's Racer X Film of Mike Alessi.

Meanwhile, you know what you’re going to get from guys like Kevin Windham, Brett Metcalfe, and Jake Weimer. They’re solid. On the other hand, we don’t know what to expect from Eli Tomac and Broc Tickle, but it’s cool that they get to race each other again in Sam Boyd, but now they’re on 450s. Just a lot of different elements at work here, which should make for a fantastic event. Really, no one has a clue how this will turn out.

And to add to the changes, we get to watch SuperMini and Amateur All-Star races. We posted the rider lineups for those today. And I’m also excited about the Best Trick competition—will Kyle Loza really pull off the bike flip? (In this trick, he spins the bike around him, while he stays stationary. Crazy!)

Ben Townley is back on a supercross track for the weekend, and still looking for a good ride here in the States for 2012.
Photo: Simon Cudby

As an interesting side note, this event is part of a jam-packed racing weekend in Las Vegas, which includes NASCAR Camping World Truck Series racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon, and the final round of the 2011 Izod Indycar Series at LVMS on Sunday. You may not personally care about those races (although Ricky Carmichael is racing the truck race), but the big racing weekend may lead some NASCAR and Indycar fans (and sponsors) over to Sam Boyd to check out the dirt bikes. And if this event goes well, maybe they’ll get interested—Carmichael himself said that the $1 million prize is going to attract a lot of outside attention. And that’s always a good thing.

Las Vegas is also where Steve Matthes lives, so let's turn it over to him right here:

Well, the big news is this little race that’s going on this weekend here in Las Vegas, the Monster Energy Cup. Press day was yesterday where the riders got to shake the track down for the first time. Watching the guys ride yesterday was interesting, as the hybrid track is definitely more supercross-ish than I thought it would be and it seemed to be a bit narrow in places as well.

Here's a shot of what the riders will be facing tomorrow night.
Photo: Simon Cudby

Still, the long sand whoop section coming back into the stadium was cool, going up into the stands is a neat addition (although I’m not sure how much passing is going to go on there, just as it was back in the day at the Pontiac Silverdome), and the over/under bridge is always a good thing. It will be interesting to walk the part that goes outside the stadium and see how that will develop. No matter what, as I tweeted the other day, I applaud Feld for doing something different, trying something new, and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

I’ve long told Dave Prater, the director of supercross, that they need to try some different main-event formats in supercross. Switch it up here and there, maybe make a “chase” style format for the title, run some different rules at a few events, and see what works. Look at NASCAR, IndyCar, the NFL, the NHL—whatever sport you want—and you can see the evolving of a sport. Yet we have had the gate picks for the top finishers in the heats, twenty-lap main event for a long time. In 1985 there were two twelve-lap main events and since ’86, we’ve had the same basic format save for the elimination of semi races a few years back. Time to switch things up and add some excitement back into the program in my opinion.

And this Monster Energy Cup, to me, is the perfect time to try these things out.

You know who I think will surprise this weekend? I’m not calling him to win or anything like that, but I think he can podium: #800 Mike Alessi. I just think he’s been on the new Suzuki for a little while, he likes the bike, and he’s good on this kind of dirt. He’s not that good in whoops, but there are none this weekend.

I’m looking forward to seeing Justin Brayton on the new Honda as well. He looked weird in the new Muscle Milk Honda shirt, but I like what Weigandt pointed out yesterday on Twitter. This will be the fourth year and third bike brand that JB will have been sponsored by Muscle Milk. So clearly milk is good for his muscles!

I applaud Dungey for signing up for the race—there’s nothing like racing to figure out where you’re at on the bike, and this should be a big learning weekend for him and the team. And who knows? Maybe he’ll win!

Mike Alessi will be back on Suzuki for the Monster Energy Cup.
Photo: Simon Cudby

I think right now if you were to pick a favorite and a co-favorite it would be Ryan Villopoto and Kevin Windham. I know, groundbreaking stuff there.

Awhile back on the Pulpmx Show we asked for listeners to submit an essay as to why they deserve a trip to Vegas to sit in on the show. We picked the five best essays and had them all call in to the show. A guy named Nate Davis won, and he chose this weekend to come out, check out the race, and then on Monday sit in on the show. So tune in this weekend and hear Nate tell us all about his experience.

And the four guys who lost the contest? Well, the folks at Kawasaki who listen to the show felt some sympathy for the guys who didn’t make the cut and decided to fly them out to Vegas for the ME Cup, put them up in a hotel, and get them all-access tickets to the race. So we’ll have a whole bunch of Pulpmx Show fans who thanks to Kawasaki are going to have a blast. Thanks to Kawasaki, Jan Plessner, and Monster Tom for all their help in making these guys’ and girls’ dreams happen!

Sitting on my couch right now as I type this out is none other than the privateer hero Jason Thomas, who will be #47 on his BTOSports.com/BBMX Suzuki. I asked him to chime in for this Racerhead. He might be the first rider to actually ever type in an update. Let’s hear from the guy on this weekend and his off-season plans, Jason Thomas:

Thanks, Matthes. After a year hiatus, we are back in Vegas in October. I was always a big fan of the U.S. Open. It had a cool vibe being in the MGM. I always put my gear on in my hotel room and would wear it walking through the casino before the night show. Will this Monster Cup be as cool? I guess we will see. Either way, it’s nice to have an off-season event again and I hope it’s here to stay.

RC's truck for the weekend.

So after I collect my million (cough) on Saturday night, I will head to Finland for the Lahti SX next weekend. Finland is one of the few European countries I haven’t visited, and I am looking forward to it. Every trip across the pond I hate myself mid-flight, and I am sure I will be miserable halfway to Helsinki this time as well. There is just something unappealing about sitting upright for ten hours straight. I always end up glad I went, and this surely will be no different.

The following weekend I am doing the Race Around the Lake in Castaic Lake, California. BTO Sports is the title sponsor for this grand prix-type race, and I am looking forward to checking that out. I watched the video from last year and it looks like an awesome event. If you’re in the Los Angeles area and like cheering for short people, come on out!

Then I go to Holland the next weekend and then will stay in Germany until Stuttgart for the German SX series opener. This is where my Euro adventures hit their stride, and I take these races seriously. After winning the championship in 2009 (by the way, Chad Reed never was able to win this series, just sayin'...) last year was a letdown. I’m excited for another crack at it. That series is off and on into January, so if you need me, check the autobahn. And yes, I’m aware that Chad has something like 800 race wins and a few dozen titles to my one, thanks.

That sums up my next few months, and after a long summer of therapy and soul-searching, I am ready to get back to it. It’s funny how when you’re lying in a hospital bed you think you’ll never get back to where you were, racing the best guys in the world. I get to do just that tomorrow on live television thanks to SPEED TV. I think everyone takes it for granted at some point and I am definitely guilty of this after fifteen years of SX/MX. It’s fun to be in the moment, here and now, and realize how lucky I am to do this. See you guys at the races.

Okay, here's Ping:

Ryan Dungey to KTM was all over the place early this week. DC had a good talk with Ryan and his new team for Racer X Films, and it seems like they are ahead of schedule with testing. That was confirmed when he announced that he will indeed race this weekend in Las Vegas.

Have you ever wondered if Ryan is really as nice and “aw, shucks” as he appears to be on camera? I have. But the more I talk with him, the more I believe he really is that nice of a guy. If you can disarm him and get him talking like there isn’t a camera there, he’s as laid-back and friendly as anyone.

Ryan Dungey will make his race debut on the KTM tomorrow night.
Photo: Simon Cudby

After our camera stopped rolling, he added that he’s actually ridden a KTM before: He rode the KJSC in Minneapolis in 1997. He said he finished third that night, and on the podium when they asked who his favorite rider was he said “Me.” I never found out if he took a hand shake from Jeremy McGrath or a kiss from Miss Supercross, though. Those kids never chose right.

For as long as the GEICO Honda team has been racing, they have been relying on Pro Circuit for their exhaust systems and head porting services. In recent years it has become somewhat awkward since the two teams have gone head-to-head for championships on the racetrack. In case you missed the PR, the GEICO Honda team has switched to Yoshimura for their exhaust systems. In fact, Bogle has been riding and racing with them for a couple of weeks now. I don’t know how everything went down, but it seems as though the competitiveness between the two teams may have had a hand in it. Hopefully, the parting of ways was amicable, because the one thing you don’t want to do is make Mitch Payton mad, especially if you have to race against him.

On a completely unrelated note, you already know Mike Fisher is no longer managing the Kawasaki race team. I haven’t heard anything about where Fish might go, but there are a couple teams in need of a good manager. I also haven’t heard anything about who might fill Mike’s shoes at Kawasaki. That is a tough position, because Kawasaki is a very structured corporation. You have to be just as comfortable in a suit and tie speaking to board members as you are in shorts and a team shirt at the test track. One guy who I think would be great for the job is Ron Heben. “Slicer” was the old Team Green manager back when I rode Kawasaki, and he has had stints as manager for Red Bull KTM and Honda’s factory road race effort before they pulled out of road racing. Anyway, it will be interesting to see who takes the helm, because they immediately assume control of a very successful program.

Will Ryan Villopoto add the Monster Cup to a clean sweep of 2011?
Photo: Simon Cudby

Speaking of that program, what an amazing season it has been for Ryan Villopoto. He won his first 450 supercross title, his first 450 motocross title, the Motocross of Nations, and got married in the past ten months. That’s a good year by anyone’s standards. I was thinking about the first time I really got to meet Ryan, and it was at a Racer X bike test for the new Kawasaki 450 when he first turned pro in the summer of 2005. He had never ridden a 450 before that day. I remember thinking, 'Hey, this little guy can ride a 450 pretty well. He might add up to something someday!' Well, he sure did. If he can top off his year with a cool million bucks this weekend, it would be a pretty fitting end to his 2011 season. Good luck, Ryan, and congrats on an amazing year.

The Racer X staff conducted our 2012 250F shootout this week at Perris Raceway. David Langran, Garth Milan, Pete Martini, Matt Francis, and I got to go back-to-back with all the bikes and give our feedback and opinions to anyone who wishes they had the opportunity to do just that. You don’t need to wait for it to come out in print—you can read all the results right here at Racer X Online! Stay tuned next week for the full results.
Thank you to all the manufacturers and staff members who came out this week.

Big news broke yesterday about Jeff Ward combining forces with Mike Kranyak (The “M” from L&M Racing). Wardy has been waiting for the right thing to come along, and I know he’s really excited about this. It wouldn’t shock me to see these guys end up on Kawasakis in the next few weeks. They’ve been talking with several different riders, including Ben Townley, who is looking for an outdoor-only deal in 2012. The entire team, aside from Larry Brooks and James Stewart, are still working and ready to go racing, so the team just needs some riders. This is great news, because some thought if James went to another team that these guys might close up shop. With good riders like Josh Grant, Austin Stroupe, Townley, Jimmy Albertson, etc. all still looking for a place to go, this could be a great option.

Grant Langston is coming back to the races as a team manager.
Photo: Simon Cudby

Another big piece of news this week is that Grant Langston is going to be a team manager. Last year, Ohlins quietly supported a small team, and they are looking to expand with the help of some qualified people. Grant has agreed to come on as manager and help get things going in the right direction. Les Smith, AJ Catanzaro, and Taylor Futrell are a few of the names on their list, though I’m not sure if contracts have been signed. It will be good to see GL back at the races and great to have another quality team giving young riders an opportunity to showcase their talent.

That's all from Ping—here are some random notes from this week:


Kenny Alexander is the producer of the Red Bull Day in the Dirt GP, and he sent us a reminder that this will be the fourteenth year for this very cool event. It takes place Thanksgiving weekend at Pala Raceway and sponsored by Troy Lee Designs and Fasthouse and hosted by the Hollywood Stunt and Film Community.

Looking for a Ricky Carmichael autographed jersey for a special someone for Christmas? How about a Traxxas Slash 4x4 Kawasaki remote-controlled truck? Or four VIP tickets to an AMA Supercross event? You can find those and more in an eBay auction organized by the AMA to help cover the expenses of the victorious American team that won the team championship at the FIM Junior Motocross World Championships in Cingoli, Italy.

Just search "jrworldmx" on eBay or click here.

Unnecessary photo of super hot girl holding a trophy from Pole Position!

Those of you heading to Las Vegas for this weekend's Monster Energy Cup can save $5 on any standard race. Pole Position Raceway is America's #1 Chain of Indoor Kart tracks and was founded by a group of dedicated motorcycle enthusiasts. Those involved with the company include Jeremy McGrath, Chad Reed, Grant Langston, Greg Albertyn, Mike Metzger, Randy Hawkins, Barry Hawk, Dick Burleson, Kerry Peterson, and more. The multi-million-dollar facility also includes a wide range of authentic racing memorabilia on display and there's always a good chance that you will run into celebrities. And with both the NASCAR Truck and IndyCar Series in town, the kart track should be the coolest place in town to hang out before and after the Supercross. Pole Position Raceway is sponsored by Monster Energy, Racer X, DC Shoes, Kicker, Spy, ZLT, Race Tech, Impact Video, Bell Helmets, Corona Motor Sports, and Medieval Times. For more information check out www.PolePositionRaceway.com.

Remember the photo last week of the guy jumping the bridge? A reader from England immediately recognized the shot:

Turns out that's Eddie Kidd from the film “Riding High”

I'm a 33 year old Englishman and have been racing and a fan of motocross for 27 years and read Racer X Online on a daily basis. I got quite excited when I recognised the shot from a film that my brother and I watched numerous times back in the day. The photo is of English stunt rider Eddie Kidd and was performed for the film Riding High (1981) in which he starred. If you Google "Eddie Kidd Riding High" it will give you all the info and there is some incredible YouTube footage of the stunt.

Gavin Chapman

Northamptonshire, England

And here's the film:

Last weekend was a pretty big one for former motocross riders. Jimmie Johnson won the NASCAR race at Kansas Speedway, surging back into title contention—this would mark six in a row for the former Suzuki minicycle support rider from El Cajon, California. And Rickie Fowler, the motocross-loving golf prodigy, won his first professional tournament at the OneAsian Tour in South Korea.

That's former minicycle racer-turned-NASCAR hero Jimmy Johnson on the cover of the new SI.

It's never too early to start thinking about the Motocross of Nations, and since its in Lommel, Belgium, next September—possibly the roughest sand track in the world—here's a suggestion for Team USA's Roger DeCoster: How about a mandatory sand-riding clinic for Team USA sometime late next summer? And here's a great candidate for the camp: the Wildwood Beach Race track in New Jersey, from the helmet cam of privateer Dakota Kessler, from Matt Wozney:

Here’s a letter from a reader:

Dear Racer X,

Never have I ever seen a photo that captures the heart of GNCC Racing like this human chain in the mud.We’re all like the human chain in the picture, every one of us! It takes us all, linked together, holding each other up, to race GNCCs: the racers, mechanics, people in the pits, people around the track, the fans, the officials, the sign up crew, the gate workers, sponsors, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents, and the locals who stop by to support and encourage....And the list goes on and on. BTW, that's Sammy Evans being helped out, and the kid hung it out to finish 4th in 250A!

"Heart of GNCC"
Angie Stumbo and Kelly Jo Evans

Here's an update from former Tennessee pro Jacob Saylor:

I would like to offer an update about my Jacob Saylor MX Schools. I just moved to the North Georgia area in preparation for my baby boy coming in January and have been building my momentum and student base up here. It's been going great since Pingree's story in the October issue mentioned my name alongside good company. Visit www.jacobsaylor.com for racing updates and www.jsmxschool.com for more information on his schools.

Also, Freegun Underwear is glad to welcome Mike Alessi to the team. His #800 limited edition underwear will be available in January.

Here's some reader feedback on this week's The List, which covered ten off-season moves from the past that did not work out very well:

Racer X,

There have been some doozies, and you covered most of them. But there's a couple that should get honorable mention:

A.) Danny Storbeck to Team Yamaha. Danny Storbeck came out of nowhere to suddenly start scoring some consistent top-5s in the 250 Nationals. Yamaha signs him to a deal, and I don't think he even made a top 10 after that. Although, I guess in taking down RJ, he gave the rest of the Yamaha team a better shot.

B.) DV12 to Holigan/Bookoo Honda. Big money, horrible results. DV bails mid-season. I think I remember him flying back to France before he even officially quit the team.

C.) In a related flaky-frenchman-with-potential-going-awol, you HAVE to include Christophe Pourcel to MotoConcepts Yamaha in this. One of the craziest meltdown-disappearances ever in the sport. You work your way up to 2nd place in a national, then pull off because you, "Don't like your setup?"  Then disappear? Only fitting that DV was his team manager

D.) Brock Hepler to Yamaha. Didn't he ride a total of five races for them? Although I think one of those races was a 450 SX podium. Great guy, great rider. Horrible concussions.

Rob LaBo

That Guy In Dallas

Racer X:

#4 WRONG! The Russian riders went back to CZ in 1980 that that is Czechoslovakia, not Sweden. You guys know better than that!

I say Ake Johnson Maico to Yamaha in '73.

Reese L Dengler

Good call, Reese, my bad on the Swedish bike.

Finally, I would like to dedicate this week's Racerhead to Art Rigdon, the father of my longtime friend Michael Rigdon, who passed away earlier this week. Godspeed, Mr. Rigdon.

Thanks for stopping by Racer X Online, and thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!