Racerhead #17

Racerhead #17

April 27, 2012 5:15pm

Welcome to Racerhead, coming to you from the frozen tundra of Park City, Utah. Fortunately, it's 20 degrees colder here an hour above Salt Lake City than it will be for tomorrow night's Salt Lake City Supercross, the penultimate round of the 2012 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series. Tomorrow night's race can be seen Sunday on CBS at 1 p.m. (ET) followed by the Lites SX class at 6 p.m. on SPEED.

Ryan Villopoto's injury was as quick as it was shocking. Get well soon, RV1.
Garth Milan photo

Obviously, there have been some very big developments in the sport over the last six days, including the unfortunate and downright rotten injury to #1 Ryan Villopoto. I say rotten because the man was at the top of his game. He had just clinched a second straight supercross title, was primed to lead the way in the upcoming outdoor nationals, then he buckles his knee and that's that for at least six months. There was also the battle between Dean Wilson and Eli Tomac that got downright nasty, and may or may not be continued tomorrow—how injured Wilson's shoulder is remains to be seen, though he was cleared by his physicians to race tomorrow. And then there was this morning's return to racing of a longtime and very successful sponsor—and that wasn’t even be the biggest news of the day! I will let the other guys get into all that below, but let me start with Andrew Short.

The Salt Lake City SX track was still under construction on Friday morning.
Jeff Canfield photo

First, it's amazing what one win will do for you! The news this morning was broken by Larry Brooks himself, in the simplest, quickest way: a photo of Andrew Short's Honda CRF450R, covered in Chaparral Racing livery. The struggling L&Mc Racing team, having failed to land a major sponsor up to this point, had finally found one with two races to go in Chaparral Racing, the massive San Bernardino, California-based motorcycle superstore with a huge mail-order business. Of course Brooks was talking to Dave Damron and Chaparral long before this week; it just finally came through on the heels of Shorty's shocking Seattle win. And after having taken it on the chin when the last big sponsor lead did not pan out—nor did fill-in Supercross.com—Brooks quietly put this news out himself. (The MXA guys called it "PERHAPS THE WORST PRESS INTRO IN THE HISTORY OF RACING – A TWEET")

But it's big news, and very good news, and a brilliant way to let the world know. Brooks is no dummy, and having been under fire for a couple of years since things starting going sideways with James Stewart (and a few years before that when things went sideways with Chad Reed), he's learned to lead with his strength—winning races—as compared to just talking a good game.

And on what started as a slow-news Friday, when the SX title was long ago clinched, the SX champion is out for the season, the 2012 Monster Energy AMA Supercross tour simply winding down, the conversation today is centered around that tweet. Two weeks ago Short and Brooks were working out of the back door (literally) of the Muscle Milk Honda rig when they couldn't get their own rig to New Orleans (maybe it was getting repainted). And then last week they pulled off that upset win that was in large part overshadowed not only by Villopoto's stunning crash and injury, but also the fierce battle between GEICO Honda's Eli Tomac and Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki's Dean Wilson for the Lites West title.... Do you even remember who won the race? (It was Valli/Star Racing's Ryan Sipes, having just come back from an injury himself.)

McGrath landed on the cover of Racer X a couple of times on his Chaparral Yamaha, winning three titles along the way.

What does it all mean? It means that after four months on the brink, (a much worse press intro when they were stuck explaining why their title sponsor was, well, the media), and a decade after Chaparral left on top, Brooks and McGrath and Dave Damron's big store are back under one tent. Will they be signing more riders? How will they do outdoors? Will there be a big-headed Andrew Short mascot wandering the pits like the MC bobblehead of yesteryear? Stay tuned.

Those were the days!

Coincidentally (or maybe not), we spoke to Brooks earlier in the week for our Between the Motos feature. If you missed it, check it out—in hindsight of what's happened in the 48 hours since.

And then there was another tweet, this one from Haines City, Florida. With that I will turn it over to the man who's been on this story for weeks, Steve Matthes (and no, he's not from Des Moines).

James Stewart@js7: I look forward to seeing my fans at hangtown behind the starting gate. More news to come soon. Here we go folks!

James Stewart’s status as a member of the JGR Yamaha team remains a mystery, but his plans for the summer do not. For the first time since 2008, when he went 24-0 in outdoor motocross, Number Seven will line up as a full-time outdoor rider at the May 19 Hangtown Classic, which starts the 2012 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. We knew it might be coming, but we also knew not to hold our breath—James has played some games in the past, hinting this way, going that way. He's been trying to sort out where and what he's going to do moving forward with the JGR squad. It’s gotten so “out there,” and there is so much speculation, that the MotoConcepts team even had some graphics mocked up with Stewart’s #7 on them and put them on a bike they had in the pits at Seattle.

That didn’t go over well with the JGR guys, but the simple matter is that yes, James Stewart is probably leaving the JGR team. There is nothing done yet (I really thought it was coming Tuesday, but now I hear it won’t be officially announced until after the Las Vegas SX), and in talking to Jeremy Albrecht (team manager) and Coy Gibbs (owner) of JGR, I get the sense that they’ve accepted this change of fate.

The union hasn’t worked for either side. James was not getting the results he thought he was going to and JGR hasn’t gotten the results they thought they were paying for. Stewart and the Yamaha YZ450F haven’t gelled at all, and the real reasons James is struggling don’t really matter—it’s in his head, and that’s what counts.

Before James can really start talking to anyone officially, he has to be released from his contract. That means lawyers for both sides agreeing to terminate the deal. I get the sense that although JGR could hold him to the deal and try to dig up something that says Stewart’s been talking to other people to try and recoup some money, they won’t do that. It’s best to just acknowledge that this thing didn’t work, wish each other well, and move on.

James Stewart has not meshed well with the Yamaha, and vice-versa.
Andrew Fredrickson photo

From there, Stewart’s got to get on another team. And seeing how he came close to racing for Suzuki before signing with JGR, I’d bet heavy money he’ll be on a Suzuki as soon as he’s officially released. If we see this happen, I have to admire Stewart for giving up millions of dollars at JGR Yamaha to ride for a team I guarantee you isn’t paying him anywhere near the same rate. He also could have hung out all summer, collected his cash, and not put the time and work in to race the nationals; he didn’t have to race, per the terms of his JGR contract. Instead, he’s so frustrated by not being able to win that he’s just going to walk away. That, my friends, takes balls.

You could ask why he’d sign the JGR deal in the first place, and that would be a fair question. He thought it could work, and judging by all the trick stuff JGR’s done to the bike since James has been there, everyone’s been working hard to try to get the Yamaha working to Stewart’s satisfaction. It just hasn’t been enough. The JGR guys are good people. James is a good guy. Sometimes things just don’t work out. As Davey Coombs once told me, all things end badly—that’s why they end.

And now over to The Weege:

People often like to wax poetic about (that is, to say great things about) the domination Team Honda once held in this sport, but Kawasaki’s record over the last twenty years or so has been pretty darned impressive too. When you think of all the wins and titles piled up by the likes of Mike Kiedrowski, Mike LaRocco, Jeff Emig, Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart, and Ryan Villopoto—not to mention the green and golden touch of Mitch Payton’s Pro Circuit squad—you have a lot of days and nights with green bikes on top.

What strikes me most is how often Kawasaki would clean up in both classes outdoors on the same day—like RC and Emig were ruling the roost in 1997, or Carmichael and Mike Brown taking two titles in 2001, Stewart and Villopoto winning nearly every race in 2008, and Dean Wilson and Villopoto taking both National Motocross Championships just last year.

The Wilson/Tomac championship battle moves to Salt Lake City.
Garth Milan photo

So for Kawasaki, the good news seems to come in twos, which makes last weekend’s Seattle race stand out, because this time it was the bad news that came in twos: Villo’s knee injury ends his 450 MX title defense before it started, and Wilson spent post-race time sporting a sling and a bag of ice for his shoulder. Since Villopoto already did his job in supercross, he has no need to tough his injury out. But Wilson is still in the thick of the Lites West fight, so he has reason to try to solider on through the pain for two more weekends. Anything can happen, so if there’s any chance at all that Dean can race, he will.

But heading outdoors is a different story, because it’s a long, tough grind, and we all know that no matter how hard you work and how much pain you deal with, sometimes it doesn’t work out anyway. I think back to 2001 when Grant Langston lost the 125 national title due to a broken wheel in the last moto of the season. That heartbreak lives on forever in motocross lore, but what is mostly forgotten is that Langston busted his shoulder at Southwick, rode through the pain that day, then skipped a race and came back at the next. He was literally healing his shoulder throughout the summer, dealing with the pain, and then, just as all of that effort was about to pay off, it slipped away. In other words, doing two races when you already are in the title hunt is one thing; doing twenty-four (motos) when everyone starts the year tied in points is another story. We’ll see if this Seattle injury looms large for the rest of Dean’s season.

And if it does, what ramifications will it have for his team? While rumors suggest one of the Pro Circuit riders like Tyla Rattray or Broc Tickle will take over Villopoto’s 450 under the factory Monster Energy tent, it gets riskier to remove proven 250 talent from Pro Circuit if their defending champ isn’t 100 percent. We will see how it turns out.

Coming off his first win of 2012 in Seattle, Sipes is riding the wave of momentum into Salt Lake.
Garth Milan photo

Meanwhile, I just wanted to follow up to my story in last week’s Racerhead on the building process of the Jeff Ward Racing Kawasaki team, and L&Mc racing with Larry Brooks and Jeremy McGrath. JWR (which is actually the old L&M team, which Brooks managed) grabbed their first podium in their new incarnation in New Orleans, and now Brooks' new team has gotten a win and a new title sponsor all within a week. So, now, both teams appear to be up on their feet after spending some time learning to crawl (or with Brooks’ team, getting knocked down a few times). It’s always good to see new, solid teams in the pits, as those are signs of real growth in the sport. I think the last two weekends have gone a long way to helping boost both of these squads for the future.

Thanks, Weege, now back to Steve Matthes with more on what happened in Seattle:

Annnnndddd.... There goes another one! Yesterday was Villopoto's surgery and hopefully we see the champ back on track and going as fast as ever at Anaheim 2013.

So yeah, the field is as depleted as much as any in recent memory but all these injuries got me thinking about another year where I remember sitting in the stands thinking, Who’s actually not hurt? The year was 1998 and we were at Sam Boyd Stadium then for the final round of supercross, and just like 2012, that year saw a lot of guys go out with injury. At the first round that year at the LA Coliseum, there were eleven factory riders (or supported riders) and below, the results from Vegas that show four guys (McGrath, Pichon, Henry and Lamson) with ties to a factory team.

1 Jeremy Mcgrath Sun City, CA Yamaha

2 Mickael Pichon France Suzuki

3 Doug Henry Torrington, CT Yamaha

4 Michael Craig El Cajon, CA _Honda

5 Jimmy Button Phoenix, AZ Yamaha- Nope, on MC’s team but no factory support this year.

6 Larry Ward Woodinville, WA Suzuki

7 Pedro Gonzales Mexico – Yeah, Mexico!

8 Mike LaRocco La Porte, IN Honda (I didn’t count Mike because in ’98, he wasn’t getting factory help yet)

9 Jean Sebastien Roy Acton Vale, Canada – Yeah, Canada!

10 Shaun Kalos Litchfield Park, AZ Yamaha

11 Buddy Antunez Ontario, CA Suzuki

12 Cliff Palmer Del City, OK Kawasaki

13 Jeff Dement Spring, TX Yamaha

14 Heath Voss Prior Lake, MN Honda

15 Mike Jones Garland, TX Kawasaki

16 Jason Thomas Melrose, FL – Yeah, JT$!

17 Grayson Goodman Plano, TX Kawasaki

18 Michael Brown Saugus, CA Honda

19 Steve Lamson Orangevale, CA Honda

20 Jeff Matiasevich La Habra Heights, CA- Privateer at this point for those wondering.

Outdoor testing has begun!
Simon Cudby photo

It’s a privateer's dream! Sixteen guys made the main and raked in the privateer bonus fund as well in ’98. So yeah, the basic premise of this whole thing is that sometimes crap happens and it doesn’t have anything to do with four-strokes, track designs, or the moon-and-star alignment. Now if this keeps happening, let’s start to take a long hard look at our sport.

By the way, the above results were courtesy of Racer X’s The Vault, which is an incredibly awesome resource of race finishes from motocross and supercross through the years. I can’t thank the guys behind this enough and on Friday night before Seattle when I was supposed to meet my wife for dinner, I was immersed in this just surfing names and years. Great stuff. Check it out at vault.racerxonline.com.

Make sure you check out Pulpmx.com for more info about, er, stuff. And listen to the Pulpmx Show on Monday nights with some of the best riders and industry people in the sport. This coming week, before Vegas, we’re having our annual Vegas SX show on Friday night so check that out.

Okay, here's Aaron Hansel, with more on guys actually racing right now...

Earlier this season I found myself sitting in the press box with some of my Racer X colleagues watching the Lites practice unfold. Our eyes were on Tomac, who was in the process of laying down a heater of a lap, and we started talking about how well he had been doing (this was in the middle of the winning streak he had put together in the first leg of the series) and how great it is when the good guys of the sport are able to start coming up with wins. As a member of the media, it’s fun to cover, and for the most part, the fans love hearing about it. Well, Seattle presented us with not one but two of these feel-good stories when both Andrew Short and Ryan Sipes came away with wins.

You just can’t help being happy for both of these guys, as both were fighting some pretty serious adversity. Short, who started the season in a big rig before doing time in a sprinter van when his team lost its primary sponsor, didn’t even know if his team was going to have the funding to continue racing. He was also coming back from a shoulder injury sustained after getting run over in San Diego. Any way you looked at it, a win like Seattle just didn’t seem very likely.

DC photo

A guy like Short doesn’t look at it that way, however. A few days after New Orleans, where Short had taken fifth place in just his first race back, I found myself talking to Short on the phone for project we’re currently working on. Near the end of the conversation I brought up New Orleans and congratulated him on his race. He politely thanked me but said he was bummed about how he did in the main. It was a reminder of just how badly these guys want to win, and I hung up the phone thinking how awesome it would be if Short were to finally get that W before the season was out. Then, boom! Less than a week later, it happened. I can’t even imagine what kind of a night it was for Short’s #1 fan, Moser, but I bet Mrs. Moser had some serious cleaning up to do the next morning.

And how about Ryan Sipes coming away with his second career victory in the Lites class? I certainly didn’t see this one coming either. Not that Sipes isn’t capable of winning—he won two races last year—but he hadn’t exactly been having a stellar year up to this point, and Seattle would mark his first race back since breaking his hand and separating his shoulder in February. Sipes is fast, but a win in Seattle didn’t seem likely. Well, while everyone was focused on the knock-down (literally) drag-out fight going on behind him, Sipes just motored away to take the W.

Not only was the win a great way for Sipes to regain his confidence and put the first part of the season behind him, it was great for the whole Star Racing/Valli Yamaha team, who like many other teams this year, have been hit hard by injuries. Congratulations to Short and Sipes. It’s great to see two of the sport’s nicest guys get rewarded for all of their hard work. How cool would it be if they kept it going tomorrow night in Salt Lake City?

Short celebrates his first career SX victory.
Garth Milan photo

In other news, if you live in Northern California, you should know that Riverfront Park in Marysville is once again open for practice. The track has gone through several operators in the last few years and as a result has experienced a few long periods of vacancy and neglect. Thankfully, some new operators have reopened the gates and are making a go of it. I rode there on Tuesday and had a great time. They still have a couple things to work on, but as long as they keep getting riders, they’ll be able to keep improving. If you live in the area, give it a spin—it’s worth checking out.

Okay, let's wrap it up here with some other notes on the week....

I got an email from my friend John Tillman. He spotted this week's The Moment, in which Jason Weigandt referenced the fact that Ryan Villopoto and Dean Wilson, the two defending Lucas Oil AMA Motocross Champions, were injured at Saturday night's Seattle race and may have some problems (and in RV's case, it was spot-on—still waiting to hear how Deano is).

John's note suggested that we maybe do another version of The Moment:

“The Moment Part 2 has very little to do with what went on during the race itself. It's what happened after the race. 50 yards from the finish. Just after the checkered flag. Two guys who were both racing for their first win EVER in the Supercross Class stopped, high-fived each other and then shared a 'moto-hug' congratulating each other on a great race and clean riding. Ken Roczen and Andrew Short should both be commended. For in that moment they demonstrated what is RIGHT with this sport. The only fingers exchanged were high fives. No one roosted the Doc, no one got run off the track and there were no 10-page threads on the message boards about it. Thanks to Andrew and Ken for demonstrating what the sport is really about. How cool was that? Pretty cool if you ask me.”

Short (center) and Roczen (right) shared the podium in Seattle.
Garth Milan photo

And speaking of K-Roc, he's not racing this weekend; he's hoping to be ready for not only the Las Vegas showdown but also the outdoor nationals, which start in just twenty-two days! Simon Cudby caught up with the Red Bull KTM rider as he and the team tested parts and suspension at Comp Edge earlier this week. Check it out.

Also, check out this little preview film that our friend Matt Wozney of MXPTV made to get everyone primed for Hangtown.

Have you been following Ricky Carmichael's exploits since April 1? That's when the GOAT showed up at Aonia Pass in Georgia to enter a Loretta Lynn's Area Qualifier. While some thought it was an April Fool's joke thought up by some hack with a penchant for that kind of stuff, Carmichael was serious: He wants to go back and race Loretta Lynn's and enjoy a week at the ranch with his family, something he's never been able to do—even when he was racing! Fox Racing will be following Ricky's progress and then released this very entertaining film this week, part one of three. Speaking of RC, make sure to check out this video of him talking about the upcoming Monster Energy Cup.

Our own Simon Cudby was out at Comp Edge MX earlier this week doing double duty with the photos and video. The list of riders out testing on Tuesday is long: Shorty, the Hahn Brothers, Roczen, Sipes, Nico Izzi, Justin Bogle, Blake Baggett, Darryn Durham, Broc Tickle, Blake Wharton, Hunter Hewitt, Justin Brayton, Malcolm Stewart.... Speaking of Malcolm Stewart, word is that Mookie had a big get off and tweaked his elbow, then headed back to Florida. Here are some pics, and here is the video.

This Ken Roczen shot by Simon was also a big hit on Facebook.
Simon Cudby photo

Travis Pastrana will make his highly anticipated Nationwide NASCAR debut tonight at Richmond. You can catch Pastrana in action on ESPN 2 beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern. And check out this funny SportsCenter commercial with Travis.

David Bailey's good friend Mark Edwards might have the coolest surfboard in history, at least if you're a motocross fan! It's designed by Bailey himself and was shaped by David's dad.

Surfing with this board would automatically make your form and technique better!

Over in Europe they’re in Italy for Round 3 of the FIM World Championships, which will take place at Fermo on the Adriatic coast. Michael Leib is over there racing on the Monster Energy Yamaha team in place of the injured Zach Osborne, and he's been keeping a log of his travels online. Here is the latest blog from Michael. It’s a good read about the first GP in Bulgaria, where he had two good motos despite almost no time on the bike.

So far they’ve had four winners in two races—the favorites Tony Cairoli and Jeffrey Herlings at the opener, and then the challengers Gautier Paulin and Tommy Searle in Bulgaria. You can watch the races early Sunday morning here in the states on www.mx-life.tv on a pay-per-view basis.

And there there was this bit from Motocrossplanet:

“There are going rumors over the internet that Max Anstie's dad, Mervyn Anstie, had a fight with a few Joel Roelants fans at the Grand Prix in Bulgaria. Both riders had an aggressive fight in the second moto but shook hands after the race. On the Internet there are rumors that his dad got arrested but the most funny thing about this story is that his dad wasn't even on the track in Bulgaria and is at his farm in the USA. There was also a rumor that Max got fired from the Gariboldi Honda Team. All rumors are untrue and Max and the team are really happy together. We asked Max to give a comment on this situation.”

Here's a video clip of Max on the rumors.

Congratulations to Rekluse Motor Sports, manufacturer of the Rekluse automatic clutch, for receiving the U.S. Small Business Administration’s top national award for a small-business exporter.They will be honored in a ceremony in Washington, D.C. next month. Read more here.

Finally, a reminder to our professional racers who also read Racerhead: Racer X and MX Sports will take over Lake Elsinore Motorsports Park's outdoor national track on Friday, May 11, for a complimentary professional practice/testing afternoon. That means no amateurs or minicycles or quads or whatever on the big track. Just pro racers, factory and privateer alike, who are competing in the 2012 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships. This wil give you guys a clear track to test your bikes, work on your speed, and just prepare for the Hangtown opener, which is eight days later. The vet track and youth track will remain open to everyone else, but the big track is yours and yours alone on Friday afternoon. Look for a Competition Bulletin from MX Sports early next week, and plan on being there around lunchtime. The track is yours until 5 p.m., courtesy of Racer X and Lake Elsinore Motorsports Park, which will host the series finale on May 8.

And finally, a sad industry note, from our friend Mike Koger  from Smooth Industries:

An orthodontist whose skiing passion helped turn him into a pioneer of goggle and sunglasses has died of complications related to heart surgery. Robert Earl "Bob" Smith was 78. 

Smith's family confirmed that he died on April 18 in California. 

Smith in the 1960s channeled his frustration with fogged goggles while skiing in Utah, using his knowledge of dental tools and foam to create a double-lensed ski goggle with inner lens that could be protected from the cold. He patented his invention, now considered the industry standard. 

Smith built the Smith Sport Optics headquarters in Ketchum in the 1970s, then sold the company in 1991. Smith Sport Optics says it holds a 45 percent share of the snow-goggle market in North America, making it the top manufacturer.

That's it from this week in motocross. Thanks for reading Racerhead, see you at the races!