Racerhead #23

Racerhead #23

June 8, 2012 5:10pm

Welcome to Racerhead.

On a Saturday night back in 1998 I was on the floor of the Los Angeles Coliseum working as the pit reporter for TV. It was just before the start of the main event and I was told by the director through my headset to find a spot for a stand-up where I could talk about Jeremy McGrath and his brand new Yamaha deal. I was also listening to Art Eckman and David Bailey do a little pre-race bench-racing, and when they spoke, it was always entertaining and fun to listen to. Anyway, I wasn't paying attention to what else was going on and I walked across the track below the finish-line double. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something above me and I turned my head just in time to realize it was Jeremy McGrath, and he was coming down right on top of me from the big double—they had started the sighting lap!

Fortunately, Jeremy missed me. But to this day I shudder at the thought of what might have happened had he hit me, a journalist not paying attention to a hot race track, and injured himself at the start if the AMA Supercross Championship. I could just picture myself, lying there with a broken leg or something, all by myself, since everyone certainly would have run straight to McGrath to make sure he was okay... I would never have forgiven myself, and I doubt the fans would have forgiven me for making an absolutely stupid mistake. No journalist ever wants to become a part of the story, especially as a landing deck for one of the sport's greatest stars.

I know exactly what all happens at a SX/MX race. I know where to go and where not to go. I know how fast the bikes are and how incredibly skilled the athletes are, and I also know that when it all goes wrong, a crash can be ugly. Nonetheless, I made the mistake of not paying attention, and I almost become a very unfortunate part of the race I was supposed to be just covering.

A week after a hard crash caused James Stewart to pull out of Thunder Valley, he makes his return at High Point.
Simon Cudby photo

There's a photographer from South America who is probably having a very long week. He was the man who decided to cross the racetrack at Thunder Valley without looking. He never saw James Stewart coming, and while the series points leader did not hit the man, it was enough to distract Stewart and send him on the wrong line. He ended up in a sandy part of the racetrack that had been heavily watered, and his front end started to plow on him in the soft stuff. He crashed, injuring his wrist and knocking him out of at last one race—a 50-point swing in the championship to his title rival Ryan Dungey. It was a terrible turn of events for James, his sponsors, the fans, the photographer, and the series in general.

Whether or not he can go all out this weekend at High Point remains to be seen, though he did finally tweet something positive last night: “James Stewart ‏@js7 I’ll see you guys this weekend in Pa. Looking forward to racing in front of my fans!”

Regardless, it's a damn shame that this happened. After three years of taking his summers off, Stewart was back on track, looking happy and fast on his Yoshimura Suzuki. Now he's 36 points down, and he's a question mark for the rest of the season. I can't believe this turn of events, that one of the sport's superstars would make such a renewed commitment to outdoor motocross, only to be derailed by a freelance photographer who wasn't paying attention to the race at hand. I truly hope James is okay, and I appreciate the fact that he came back out to race in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship again. It was just really bad luck for everyone involved, as well as the fans at Thunder Valley, the ones watching on TV, and possibly the ones coming to High Point this weekend too.

Here's another look at James' crash, this time from Matt Wozney of MXPTV.com.

Speaking of High Point, Racerhead is coming to you from the announcer's tower out here at the track. I have been trying to help out all week, cutting grass, putting up signs and tents, and working on my Instagram photography skills. My screwed up knee prevented from doing harder work.... The weather has been beautiful all week long, and tomorrow is shaping up as a chamber-of-commerce day (one so good that it brings the people out in droves).

We have great TV times this week: The first two motos from High Point are live on Fuel TV beginning at 1 p.m., and then the second motos on a one-hour delay (5 p.m., 6 p.m.) on NBC Sports Network. And of course the first motos will stream live on www.allisports.com beginning at 1 p.m. We're expecting perfect weather and a great day of racing.

Since I wasn't at Thunder Valley for all of the drama, let me throw it here to the others guys. We will start with Steve Matthes....

As I sit here typing this out, I just finished building some X-Brand goggles (a side job I have to help pay the bills, which means a freelance journalist’s way to get to the races. Type in lookonmore for 40 percent off a pair on thexbrand.com by the way!) for Kyle Chisholm for this weekends race in High Point and it struck me as weird because I just built them all regular-like and didn’t prep them for mud. The weatherman says 0 percent chance of precipitation and that’s very, very weird for High Point!

It seems that almost every year rain has fallen at High Point since I’ve been going there starting in 1995. Even if it’s a perfect day, at some point clouds roll in and drop some rain on us. It’s uncanny for sure. But zero percent this weekend seems pretty nice. I’ll believe it when I see it.

There was talk years ago of the AMA ditching High Point and I don’t know how real that threat was but it must have been something because RC and Jeff Stanton unveiled a banner at one race with “Save High Point” on it. I myself think that there’s a whole bunch more tracks that could go before the venerable Mt Morris, PA facility.

High Point is in pristine condition heading into tomorrows action.
DC photo

Thanks to my buddy Tony Blazier I’ve been watching some old races from High Point and it’s remarkable how little the track has changed. It’s really cool to go through the years and watch the development of the track and racers.

The track is challenging, tricky, technical and tough. The three “T’s” that any track should be and the off-cambers just add to the drama. It seems that so many of my memories as a mechanic involve High Point that I just don’t ever want to see it go away. Some of the highlights:

In 1995 I worked for Jason McCormick for one race while he was riding a Kawasaki 125. It was my first ever “real” race as a mechanic and I was nervous as hell. Jason didn’t let me do much (he didn’t know me at all, our mutual friend Jason Frenette hooked the deal up). So I got to wash it, change air filters and pit board. A 14-14 score on the day made me realize that I wanted to be a mechanic no matter what.

Three years later I’m standing in a torrential downpour next to the uphill triple with a river running through the track trying to pit board my rider Ty Birdwell in a horrific mud race. Eventually the pit board became useless and my rider pulled off early into the race. I was already soaked and standing in water past my ankles when I saw that #10 on the Manchester Honda was hauling ass. Damon Bradshaw’s comeback to racing didn’t go that well but on this day, it sure did. I was standing right there when Damon blasted by leader Larry Ward and took the overall—his last one ever. The crowd (still strong) went bananas and myself, a huge Bradshaw fan, had goose bumps when he shot into the lead. No lie, I was there and it was moving.

Three years after that I’m a mechanic for factory KTM and somehow, amazingly, my rider Kelly Smith, went 1-4 for the overall win on the day. Smith was a great mud racer (he’s from Michigan) and dominated the first moto once Travis Pastrana DNF’d. I’ll never forget being in staging in front of all these great bikes and mechanics and having the AMA stager-guy yell “Forty-One” which meant we had first gate pick in the second moto. In the second moto, Smith got a fourth to secure the overall win and that was it, I was the winning mechanic on the day and even more cooler, it was KTM’s first ever win in AMA Motocross or Supercross. (But Kees Van der Ven did win the 1981 Unadilla 250cc USGP on a white KTM, but that was an FIM race.)

Can Dungey build upon his 36 point lead in the championship at High Point?
Simon Cudby photo

Three years after that at Factory Yamaha I’m working for Tim Ferry and he slams his way by Chad Reed late in the second moto to secure a third overall on the day. Great finish for him but back at the truck, there were some hard feelings by Reed towards Ferry’s move and it started a downward spiral in their friendship that cumulated after practice at Budds Creek where harsh words were exchanged and a team meeting was abruptly called.

Four years later and now a “media guy" I saw Ricky Carmichael and James Stewart push each other as fast as two guys could possibly do as they gapped the field by over a minute. It was an amazing display of riding by the veteran fighting to hold onto his crown and the new talented wonder kid of the sport. Great racing and this one was won by the vet as RC went 1-1 to Stewart’s 2-2.

And this all happened at High Point.

As you can see some of the best racing memories I have come from High Point and I wouldn’t change a thing. Well, wait, actually I would. Please DC, bring back the wall berm by the start. That thing was awesome and sort of like Fenway has the Green Monster, the plywood berm was part of High Point history. Mike Brown used to ram that thing so hard his teeth must have hurt! Other than that, I’m good with everything else. (Ed. Note: Suggestion registered, Matthes, but it's unlikely! - DC)

Did you hear about this “Rewind” race that went off this past weekend at Unadilla? Sounds like a cool event and champions like Jeff Stanton, Ron Lechien, Guy Cooper (who was the big winner), Brad Lackey, Mark Barnett and much more all grabbed some vintage bikes and had a couple of motos. From the videos and pics that I saw, it seemed like a pretty cool event to go to.

Check out some of the photos here.

If you have the Pulpmx App for your iPhone or Droid, you can get a bonus app-only podcast on there from Lechien talking about the weekend and how much fun it was. Lechein told me that the last time he was at Unadilla was for the 1984 250 U.S. Grand Prix (which he won as a 16-year old) but thanks to the Racer X Vault that I checked while we were talking, I informed Ronnie that he raced the 500 national there in 1991 where he went 7-10 for 9th overall. Upon learning that Lechien seemed surprised and said, “I was in a bit of a fog back then!”

Ken Roczen is still searching for his first Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship win.
Simon Cudby photo

Check out Pulpmx.com for more stuff but only after you read everything on Racer X and listened to the BTOSports.com Racer X Steve Lamson podcast.

The Pulpmx Show is going strong and we’re approaching our 100th show after Washougal. Big plans for that one... Well, not really, but we should probably get something figured out. Last week we had Jeff Ward, Michael Byrne, Paul Lindsey and Cole Thompson on and it was refreshing to listen to Thompson as he goes about it as a 450 privateer this summer.

The Canadian series is off and running with one round in the books. The Leading Edge Kawasaki team swept this past weekend in the mud with Matt Georke (450) and Teddy Maier (250) and this weekend round two is in Kamloops. Follow @directmx on Twitter on Saturday for updates (the CMRC is trying two races on Saturday and Kamloops is one of them) as well as directmotocross.com for all the gossip from the race.

Ok, the mini novel is done. Thank you and enjoy your weekend. Oh, and here's some High Point press day action from Matt Wozney of MXPTV Films...

Now over to Ping:

It was great to get back to a race again. As the opening ceremonies in Colorado were kicking off I realized I hadn’t watched a race in person since the San Diego SX. TV is cool and all but it just isn’t the same as seeing a race live. I won’t get into the weekend results too much since it’s been covered extensively on this site. And I certainly won’t berate the poor-sap photographer who decided to saunter across the course on the backside of a blind double as the leader came around. I just wouldn’t do that. But I will tell you that putting up an EZ-Up at the Colorado national is the equivalent of playing Russian roulette with Mother Nature. The wind picks up so fast and blows so violently there in the afternoons that unless you have your tent strapped down like you are preparing for a tornado it’s going bye-bye. Oh, and it’s probably going to scrape half the paint off your truck as it takes flight. After Saturday’s weather the pits and vendor row were littered with tent frames and debris. All it needed was an airborne cow and it would have been a scene from Twister. The JDR/JStar KTM guys lost their semi awning in the gusts over the weekend as well.

DC photo

Despite the weather the racing was great. The 250 class is going to be awesome to watch all summer. There is currently a four-man battle that is likely going to go down to the wire. And if James can nurse his wrist back to health and find the groove he was in, he is more than capable of closing those points back up. If you are headed to High Point you are in for a good time and great weather, though the latter is something that rarely happened for me. Out of the eight times I raced that event there were only two years where we didn’t get some kind of rain. Wish I could be there this weekend.

There is a cool event coming up on Fathers day weekend at the Del Mar Fairgrounds for anyone looking for something to do that weekend. The Del Moto Derby, presented by SPY Optic, is a hybrid event inside the Del Mar Arena. The event is invite only and will feature 15 riders in each class with five different classes competing. There is a $5000 pro purse and Jeremy McGrath is already confirmed to be there. Grant Langston has also committed to the event along with Chris Plouffe and many other very fast riders. Come out to the fairgrounds and check it out. Pick yourself up some chocolate covered bacon and then try to digest it while the racing is going on. For more information go to facebook.com/delmotoderby

You may or may not know that I am involved with a little energy bar company called Braaap Bar. Well, we had a very significant moment this week. Braaap signed an exclusive agreement with Dr. Loren Cordain, the founder of the Paleo Diet, to produce a Paleo Diet bar. The formula is already completed and it is amazing. The product should be ready to go next month and will likely debut at the Crossfit Games in Los Angeles. The bars will be available at all Whole Foods stores nationwide later in the summer. Braaap Bar has also been picked up by Kroger Grocery Stores, which is a huge step for distribution. Anyway, if you haven’t tried one go to www.braaapbar.com and check them out. You can order product online and it is the best tasting, healthiest and cleanest bar available.

Congrats to Bryce Vallee on his hard work during his recovery process.

Lastly, I just want to give Bryce Vallee an atta boy for his hard work this week. Bryce has made an incredible recovery from his crash this spring at Pala and he walked his first 100 feet earlier this week. He’s able to drive a car again and I’m sure he feels like he’s getting his life back bit-by-bit. I’m proud of you, bud, keep it up.

Have a great weekend.

Here's Aaron Hansel:

As a season unfolds, weird things happen. Typically, they tend to happen one by one, and unless you take a moment to really think about them, you may not realize how strange of a year we might be having. Well, with only three rounds of the 2012 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship in the books, several story lines have already emerged that would’ve had you laughing with disbelief if you had read them just a few weeks ago.

Who would have thought that Broc Tickle and Nico Izzi would be making bids to be the top Kawasaki and Yamaha 450 guys? Just a few weeks ago, Tickle didn’t even know what class he’d be racing, but he was the best finishing Kawasaki rider at Hangtown with his sixth, and at Thunder Valley he backed it up by taking a hard-earned third place in moto two! Sure, Jake Weimer is ahead in the points, and you can’t deny that he’s had some great rides as well, but you can’t help but wonder where Tickle would be if he hadn’t suffered mechanical DNFs at Freestone and Thunder Valley.

The Izzi situation is also a pleasant surprise, although I have to say, I had a sneaking suspicion he was going to turn some heads this summer. I think we can now officially say that Izzi is officially fast. His moto scores have been a little up and down, but his speed has been great at each round, and he’s finished in the top five in every moto in which he hasn’t crashed. With the results of Kyle Cunningham (sprained ankle), Ryan Sipes (cracked bone in hand) and Gareth Swanepoel (still working on his fitness after getting a staph infection) all feeling the effects of various injuries—and Bobby Kiniry racing in Canada—Izzi is pretty much holding it down right now for the Star Valli Yamaha Rockstar team. Good for him, and good for the team for giving him a chance to get his career back on track. Izzi has come a long way from not even having a ride lined up at the end of 2011! Comeback stories are always fun to follow, and this is one I plan on following all season long.

Can Tickle build off his first career 450 podium at Thunder Valley?
Simon Cudby photo

And how about Justin Brayton? If I’d have told you at the beginning of the season that his best overall after three rounds would be a seventh-place, you probably would have confiscated my laptop and cut my media credential in half. Yet, here we are.  Just a quarter into the season and we’ve seen some strange situations indeed.

And of course there's the Stewart situation: I wasn't there, and the other guys have discussed it already, but will say that I think it’s crazy that no matter what Stewart does, he’s sure to find himself in a polarizing situation. He had absolutely no control over what happened at Thunder Valley, yet he’s still at the center of the debate on whether or not the distraction caused him to crash.

Lastly, the official bench-racing place to be this weekend has got to be the Jeff Ward Racing pits. I heard somewhere that Ward hasn’t been back to High Point Raceway since the early 90s, and you just know that coming back is going to bring back all sorts of memories from the days of his battles here with Rick Johnson and Ron Lechien. If I’m lucky I’ll be able to figure out a way to become a fly on the wall over there. I’ll let you know how it goes in next week’s Racerhead.

DC photo

Now some random notes to close the week:

Here is something I don't recall ever happening: Mike Alessi starting almost dead last! Check out Simon Cudby's photo of the start of the first moto at Thunder Valley... That's Alessi, second from last on the far left! When I pointed it out to Tony Alessi, he explained,

"We had to start in 1st gear cus of elevation. Mke almost looped out on the start!" Alessi still came back to fourth on his MotoConcepts privateer Suzuki.

That's Mike Alessi, second from left and practically last!
Simon Cudby photo

The MXoN isn't exactly right around the corner yet, but you better start making plans if you'd like to watch it in person. September 30th will mark the 66th annual Motocross of Nations, which takes place in the deep sands of Lommel, Belgium. Trixter Travel, a company that has organized several Europe-to-America travel packages, has put together various travel packages to the 2012 MXoN specific to motocross enthusiasts. Some of the options they have put together even include riding and racing throughout the duration of the trip. Click HERE to check out the various packages Trixter Travel has put together for American moto-cationists. The rest of the site is in Dutch, but the Google Chrome browser offers a translation option if you'd like to check out the rest of their site in English.


Don't forget to stop by the Racer X booth to pick up the collectible High Point 2012 sticker

Wish you could spend the whole day in the pro pits at High Point? You can with the Racer X all-day pit pass! You will have access to the pits from 9-5, five hours longer than the regular pit pass, plus you'll get a one-year subscription to Racer X, for $40.

Need more than one pit pass? No problem! We can send a multiple year subscription to one address, or you can give it as a gift to a friend.

Don't miss out - only 300 all-day passes will be sold. Order here or visit the Racer X booth on vendor row.

If you already have a pit pass you can still subscribe to Racer X at High Point - for just $20 you get 13 issues of Racer X plus Racer X and High Point collectible pint glasses!


Here's a note from Bryan Stealey: Adopt Langston, Alessi, Millsaps, Windham or Reed! As long as you have a fenced-in back yard, that is. While doing her daily check on Great Pyrenees dogs on Pet Finder, my wife, Susan, stumbled onto these five little litter mates looking for homes.






She thought it was strange when she first saw little Windham, and by the time she got to Alessi, she knew there was a moto fan somewhere out there trying to find homes for these puppies. Pretty cool!

Are you heading to Budds Creek? Spend the day in the pro pits with the Racer X all-day pit pass, available now online, right here.

There are only 300 of these passes, and this is the only way for you to get into the pro pits past noon. Spend 5 more hours in the pits!

For $40 you get 12 issues of Racer X plus an all-day pit pass, good from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. You can get the subscription for yourself or send it as a gift when you fill out the subscription information on the order page. If you need to buy more than one pass you can get a multi-year subscription to the same address.

Finally, Happy Birthday, babe, to Rupert X. Pellett

That's it from High Point today. Thanks for reading Racerhead, see you at the races.