The aptly named East/West Shootout didn’t mark the beginning of these showdowns (the final round of the season had hosted East vs. West races before, but there has been a much larger focus put on it in the Vegas Shootout era) but it has become a cornerstone of the series. But the race lost some luster last year.
Last year marked the first time in history that the West and East Region Lites Championship finales would also take place in Vegas, before the shootout. With championships hanging in the balance on both coasts, the typical exuberance reserved for the Shootout had become fixated on the run for the championship.
Tickle captured the West Region Lites title in Vegas last season, but it didn't come without controversy.
Simon Cudby photo
In the West, Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasakis Broc Tickle held a slim two-point lead over GEICO Hondas rookie phoneme Eli Tomac. While on the right coast Tomac’s GEICO Honda teammate Justin Barcia held a sizeable lead over Tickle’s Pro Circuit counterpart Dean Wilson, but still needed to finish 15th or better to reap the benefits of his first Lites East title.
In Vegas, the hottest shows on the strip are usually reserved for the likes of Sinatra, Davis Jr. and Seinfeld, not Tickle, Tomac, Barcia and Wilson. But on an early May night in 2011 Monster Energy Supercross stole the show. Tickle and Tomac had, to this day, one the most hotly contested, highly controversial showdowns in supercross history. The early advantage belonged to Tomac, but he would run into a roadblock in the form of Tickle’s west coast teammate Josh Hansen—and later Cole Seely and Kyle Cunningham— allowing Tickle to slide by and grab the title. Before the pyrotechnics could go off the message boards were exploding.
Not to be left out, the East Region provided fireworks of its own. Justin Barcia would let what seemed to be a routine win almost turn catastrophic, when the points leader washed out in a corner putting the entire GEICO team on life support. Barcia would quickly recover and win the championship convincingly with a third place finish. But it didn’t come without drama.
Ryan Sipes' 2011 East/West Shootout win was overshadowed by the title chases.
Simon Cudby photo
There is no denying that the championship hunt took its toll on a number of riders once the Shootout took place. The fiery Barcia was out front early but would lose the front end giving way to Ryan Sipes—the eventual winner—while Tomac and Tickle, exhausted from their championship battle, simply cruised to sixth and tenth place finishes, respectfully. Sipes’ win marked the eighth time in history that a reigning Lites Champion didn’t win the Las Vegas finale—but his victory was so overlooked in the midst of Tickle and Barcia’s Championship runs, that, to this day, a lot of people don’t even remember that Sipes won the race at all! (And even further overlooked were the East and West final round wins by Blake Baggett and Ken Roczen).
Fast forward a year and order has been restored. GECIO Honda’s Tomac and Barcia have wrapped up the championship on their respective coasts. Title drama is gone. The Shootout has taken back the spotlight. No longer straddled with a championship hanging in the balance the top contenders will come out with guns a blazing in Sin City.
With a full arsenal of contenders ready to take center stage on the Vegas strip the Shootout has regained its position as the top show in town. For the first time in 2012 we will see the likes of Justin Barcia, Eli Tomac, Dean Wilson, Blake Baggett, Ken Roczen, Blake Wharton, Ryan Sipes, Justin Bogle, Malcolm Stewart, Darryn Durham, Jake Canada, Marvin Musquin, Jason Anderson, Martin Davalos, Kyle Cunningham, Matt Lemoine, Alex Martin… the list goes on, lining the gate. Get your popcorn ready, its Showtime!
Tomac and the rest of the west coast boys are ready to challange the east in Vegas.
Simon Cudby photo