This Week in Yamaha History:  Salt Lake City 2003

This Week in Yamaha History: Salt Lake City 2003

April 26, 2012 2:00pm
When the supercross series went into Salt Lake City in 2003, there were some unique things going on in the sport. Defending Champion Ricky Carmichael burst out of the gate with seven wins in the first ten races and built up a nice points lead over rookie sensation Chad Reed. RC was dominant on Honda in the beginning but Reed figured things out and started dominating in the second half of the year.

Going into that penultimate round in 2003, Reedy had won four straight races, but had not been able to make up much ground in the points race, as RC had secured second four straight times. These two were in a class by themselves and Reed needed some help if he was going to make a serious run at the title. And he couldn’t really look to anyone else under the Yamaha tent for that help, either.

Chad’s teammates were both on the injured list with David Vuillemin breaking his back at Daytona and Tim Ferry (who I was the mechanic for) contracting a virus. But the penultimate round was where Ferry was making his return. Coming back at the high-altitude SLC round seemed to me to be a stroke of genius. The front runners were all on two-strokes and we were on a thumper. The 250’s definitely felt the effects of being so high while the 450 burped and farted along, without much loss of anything (well, maybe some bolts that I forgot to tighten but that’s neither here nor there).

The tensions were high over at Team Honda, they did not like getting beaten the last four weeks and I had heard whispers that they thought Ferry was coming back to help out Chad. This was sort of ridiculous in the fact that there were two things going that made Ferry helping out Reed a non-issue. One was that Ferry wasn’t on the RC/Reed pace when he was healthy, so why would anyone think he could run in between them now after missing four weeks?

Reed making a nice block pass on RC.
Mario Barberio photo

The second issue was that Reed and Ferry were starting to drift apart as friends after a few different things happened during the year. Reed had come in as the pupil, Ferry the teacher and the Reeds had even moved to Florida by the Ferrys. In my Budds Creek 2003 story, I cover some things that happened between the two fast guys, but one thing that I left out that I can talk about here is that both guys shared a trainer named Jeff Spencer. Ferry’s agent, Bob Moore, had gotten Timmy hooked up with Jeff and things went well. So well that Reed came on-board later.

With the tensions between them growing, Jeff showed up at SLC with a custom Thor 22 hat which further exacerbated the feelings that Ferry had for Reed. He felt like he was getting pushed to the background with his new star teammate and now his trainer was doing the same. (Think about you writing some big checks to a guy to help you train and he shows up with your friend’s hat on? Jeff claimed that he was trying to "psych" RC out but I think Ricky had been in the game long enough to not let a trainers hat get him rattled. In the pantheon of "Things to not do when you're getting paid by a rider" wearing another rider’s hat would be in the top three I think.) Anyways, this situation made Timmy pretty pissed off on the morning of the race, let’s put it that way.

I remember that Ferry rode well all day considering he had been off for a while. The advantages of having a thumper at altitude were off-setting the lack of training/riding time and when we lined up for the main event, I was just going to be happy with twenty laps done at speed. And wouldn’t you just know it, despite him sucking at starts, despite him not being 100 percent and despite the two best riders in the world embroiled in a heated points race, number 15 comes around the first turn first.

Numbers 22 and 4 were close behind and those three broke away a little bit. Ferry did what any racer would do in that situation, he raced hard. There was zero chance that he was going to win the Salt Lake City Supercross but if he put in a few fast laps with the two speedsters, then he could gap the rest of the guys and try to bring it home with a top five. It was solid thinking, at least to me it was.

RC, Reed and Ferry going bar to bar.
Mario Barberio photo

I remember that at the far end of the stadium the riders went width-wise across the stadium and then made a left turn. Immediately out of the that turn, there was a triple followed by a rhythm section and around lap two, Ferry couldn’t hold off the two yahoos behind them and they went into that left hander and partially out of my view. The next thing I see is all three guys rolling the first jump! Something had happened in the turn that made them all not able to jump the triple.

So Reed was first and he singled and then doubled out, Timmy was next and he did the same. Only RC wasn’t settling for just doubling out. The red Honda launched from the second jump of the triple and flew by the third, it looked like he maybe wanted to double into that next section. There was only one problem with this “strategy”.

And that was the fact that Ferry was beneath him. RC came crashing down onto the back of Red Dog which pulled Ferry off the back of his bike, leading to a massive wheelie/crash down the straightaway. It was a little weird for sure and Ferry would later tell me it was like a massive bomb going off in his head. RC, as he always did, bounced up quickly and chased after the now checked-out Reed. Ferry’s bike, although an advantage in many ways that night, was now his arch-enemy. It would not fire, no matter what he did. He sat there kicking and kicking while the pack went by, finally firing it up as he was about to get lapped by the teammate that he was just battling with.

Rage filled Timmy’s head. His race was ruined, his teammate was winning yet again and he was in pain from a CR250 landing on him. The night was going from bad to worse.

Matthes and RC having words after the race.
Mario Barberio photo

So as the Reed flew by on his way to a fifth straight victory (after making contact with RC at some point and knocking him down, which didn't help in any way) Ferry decided that the best way to make himself feel better was to try and ruin the night of the guy who took him out. There was a section where the riders raced towards us in the mechanics area, and then hung a left before the signal area. There was two jumps there where the guys could go outside and double or stay tight and roll both jumps. As Carmichael doubled, Ferry rolled inside and, instead of just rolling the second one and continuing on the inside, he wicked up the 450 and launched off the second jump toward the outside.

Which was right where Carmichael was as he doubled the section and used the outside exit berm. As RC exited the berm, he had to have caught a glimpse of a blue missile aiming for him. Just to add to Ferry’s frustration this night, he failed in his t-bone effort as Ricky just squeaked by and Ferry had to brake quickly as to not go into the next lane.

So that was it, Reed went on to win the race, RC got second yet again and the Ferry brought it home to a fourteenth. It was a drama-filled race that was to get even more exciting afterwards.

As I walked off the track, the Carmichael roared up to me and let me know that he was not happy about the take-out attempt. The first thought I had was that if he was this mad about a half-ass take-out attempt, then I surely would have seen the first ever exploding head had Ferry actually been successful. RC let me know that it was bullshit, and that if I think this was going to stop him from winning this title then I’m sadly mistaken. There was a lot more swear words in there and I’m summarizing here.

The thing that got RC so mad was that he felt Ferry came back to get in the way and block for Reed. Never mind the fact that Ferry and Reed were hardly friends at this point, never mind that RC landed on Ferry first. I suppose that RC didn’t know things were crumbling back in Florida but still, did he really think that Ferry would just clean him out for no reason but to help Chad? When in the sports history did that ever happen? Having a ringer out there to try to take someone out and ruin their championship? Okay, we had Chisholm-gate on Reed in 2009 but no one had a time-machine in 2003. This had never happened before.

If you watch the ESPN coverage from the race you can see RC leaning in and talking to me, I wasn’t saying much. I was letting the guy vent as I knew that Red wasn’t trying to clean him out for Reed. RC and I weren’t friends but we were acquaintances. Ferry and I had spent a week down at Camp Carmichael when he was on 125’s (that’s another great story) and we also hung out at Chad Watts’ (Carmichael’s old mechanic) place one time.

He went passed that line between venting and actually scaring me when he told me that he was going to get his gun and “shoot you in the head.”

Another angle of the Matthes/RC showdown.
Mario Barberio photo

Ferry saw all this and when I got back to him, he asked me what he said. After I told him, Red Dog started filling up with rage once again. He stood on his pegs while I was holding the bike and flipped RC off with the double bird, then started waving RC over to him and all we were missing right now was Bobby “The Brain” Heenen to set this all up, WWE style. And maybe some folding chairs. Soon RC was over and telling him that he was also going to shoot Ferry in the head. It was surreal, Ferry and RC going at it and I can distinctly remember Timmy’s goggles fogging up to where there was no doubt he couldn’t see out of them anymore. I remember some of RC's people wanted to get in and start stuff, they would've just added to what was an already volatile situation.

The aftermath was Chuck Miller, then the head of Honda racing, apologizing profusely and asking us to not press charges (as there were some talk of that.) That was followed by Ricky himself apologizing to Ferry and I. Then it got a little heavy in the motorhome as Ferry and RC talked about their long-standing friendship and all the Loretta Lynn’s stuff (when RC was a kid he did a school project where he drew a bike and in crayons said he wanted to be a professional racer like Tim Ferry one day. When we stayed with him, his mom had it up on the wall. From wanting to be like him to wanting to shoot him. Good times!) Eventually I think RC realized that there was no master plan here at work to try and derail his title. It was simply, as we all know, RC never took losing very easily. I have to laugh at the people that say he was riding and protecting his points lead in ’03. Trust me, I was there and there was NO way he was laying up. Reed was just on it and RC was not liking those second-place finishes one bit. Reed went on to win the Vegas finale and end the season on a six-race streak, but Carmichael won the title.

In the end, it’s all good. Ricky signed a jersey for me when he was retiring and we may have even laughed about it at some point but that night in Salt Lake City, no one was laughing at anything.

That’s the way I remember it all anyways.