David Pingree (Ex Pro): I’ve seen plenty of great races in Anaheim but nothing compares to actually being on the floor. And winning twice at Anaheim, for me, was an incredible feeling. I won the season opener there in 2000 and again at round 3 during the 2002 season.
You can’t imagine how much effort goes into preparing for the start of the supercross series. From the end of September right up to the drop of the gate your whole life revolves around that opening race. Countless laps at the test track, hundreds of miles on the bicycle, afternoons at the gym and all the testing and details included in preparation for a series make A1 the crescendo of a long off-season. The opener sets the tone for the series and, sometimes, for your whole year.
In 2000, I was ready. My bikes were perfect and I was fit and confident that I could win races. I got a good start, somewhere inside the top five, and steadily made my way to the front. By the fourth or fifth lap I was in the lead and opened a comfortable cushion to the finish. I remember riding down the last straight before you turn and hit the finish jump. I had been focused on turning smooth, consistent laps and in that moment I looked back and didn’t see anybody close. I knew I had won the opening round and the feeling was pretty unreal. Best Anaheim ever.
Jason Weigandt (Talker): Anaheim 1 2005 is the most hyped supercross race ever. I won't even argue this. McGrath, Carmichael, Stewart, Reed and even Travis Pastrana were on the gate. Stewart was making his long awaited 250 debut, RC was returning after his first major injury year (and on a Suzuki), and Reed was defending his first title. You have to understand what the first ever Stewart v. Carmichael race really meant. The industry was mythically matching these two up for 10 years (since that classic Fox Terrafirma interview) waiting for the day they would finally race each other. And, of course, the universe just couldn't handle it, and heavy rain came to "It Never Rains In" Southern California. The track was a mess and Kevin Windham won. Just epic. This was also my first race ever as a supercross announcer, as I had taken over the play-by-play spot on the old Supercross Live! Webcast. All that hype and a crazy mud race made for an unforgettable night.
P.S. I'm only supposed to pick one here but I want to give Anaheim 1990 honorable mention. You had Stanton, Johnson and Jeff Ward on the line, and yet somehow the battle came down to three rookies to full-time 250 Supercross: Bradshaw, Matiasevich and Bayle. Bradshaw, at age 17, in just his second pro season, won. That's a shocker.
Heavy rain at Anaheim in 2005 had a major impact on the race.
Simon Cudby photo
Jeff Canfield (AMA Official): 2005 was one of my favorite Anaheim races, but it was also one of the most stressful. We had an incredible mud race on our hands, and with the track still under water and no relief from the rain in sight, we simply couldn't run qualifying races. The decision was made to hold a lottery down in the tunnel of Angel Stadium. We seeded a lot of the riders based on the 2004 SX results and the lottery filled out the remaining spots. Riders could receive a refund of their entry fee plus a small fund to help with some of the costs that were involved with getting to the races. Quite a few riders took advantage of this, but some weren't happy. Team managers were going around to the riders that had won the lottery to see if they could "buy" their spots so that they could get there riders out on the track. We held only one practice session for each class and it was about 10 minutes long. This would determine gate pick for the night program. Remember that in 2005 we still held afternoon pre-qualifying races and consolation races to help seed the night program. I guess this could have been the beginning of the timed qualifying system that is in place now.
Scott Wallenberg (Racer X Publisher and ex Pro): Anaheim 1978. The date was November 11. This was the first Anaheim I ever attended. The weird thing was it was held five months after the previous Supercross round held at the L.A. Coliseum in June. The stadium was holding Rams football games back then and I remember how huge it was.
Bob Hannah was the "King of Supercross" then, but Marty Tripes was giving him a real run in '78. He was just one point behind Hannah late in the season, but then went DNF-DNF with bike problems, giving Hannah who had a 23-point lead by the Anaheim race.
I remember the race for two things. First, it was won by the late Gaylon Mosier, and it was Gaylon's first (and only) Supercross win in his shortened career. He edged a charging Hannah, who had fallen earlier. Third went to Darrell Schultz on a Maico. Even Gaylon's competitors were happy to see him get his first win, and everyone congratulated this well-liked racer. But the pit party did not last long as the top ten riders in the standings were brought out to race a 10 lap dash-for-cash-style Mr. Pibb challenge race. It was very anti-climactic and I think Bob Hannah won that one easily.
Steve Matthes (Kind of a mechanic): Ah, Anaheim 1. Since I’ve been following the series, the opening round has been held at Orlando and the L.A. Coliseum but I don’t remember the same hype as when it starts out in Anaheim. Maybe it’s the history of the place, the ambiance. There's just something.
I'll break my favorite Anaheim into two parts, one as a fan and one as a mechanic. And I was only 13 when Anaheim 1986 happened, I didn’t hear about it until three months later thanks to the awesome Canadian postal service that never seemed to get me my Cycle News on time so don't get on me about that. So here are my favorites:
As a Fan: As a kid growing up in Canada, the only races ever on TV were the Carlsbad USGP and Canadian Supercrosses. (What? Who is this Ricky Johnson you speak of? He can’t possibly be faster than Ross Pederson who I see win SX after SX in Montreal and Toronto!) So Anaheim wasn't a big deal to us, except for 1989 when my brother Jason was down in California riding and got to go to the Anaheim opener. That was amazing. I was jacked for him and couldn’t wait to hear the results. He called afterwards to inform me that Johnny O’Mara led most of the way before his bike broke (the switch to Suzuki hadn’t worked out so well for the O’Show) which allowed Rick Johnson to take the win. And for the first time in my young life, I heard about the result RIGHT AFTER THE RACE. It was amazing! Suck it Cycle News and Canada Post. I knew everything there was to know about Anaheim 1989 before you guys did.
As a Mechanic: You can’t even comprehend the hours put in around the holidays by team people trying to finalize testing, get new parts, build race bikes, work on test and practice bikes and stock the semi. It’s insane and I’m sure the team guys who read this could vouch for me but they’re not reading this because, well, they’re working.
Anaheim 2004 sits atop the list for me. I was working for Yamaha at the time and our team riders Chad Reed, David Vuillemin and Tim Ferry, swept the top three. That hadn’t been done since the powerhouse Honda teams of years ago and it was pretty damn cool. The only bummer was I hadn’t received my clearance from the INS to legally work in America (I had just gotten married), so I could not be out there actually working for my rider Tim Ferry. Nope, the great Bob Oliver spun the wrenches that night and perhaps that’s why Ferry got third (Oliver could handle it much better than I could have). But even though I wasn’t the mechanic of record that night, I felt like I had a hand in that podium sweep.
McGrath on the cover of the 2001 Souvenir Yearbook.
Aaron Hansel (Contributor): I grew up a as a loyal follower of Jeremy McGrath. When I got a little older and started making the trek from my home in Northern California down to Anaheim for supercross, all I wanted was to see MC put down a win. A nac-nac, live and in person, was a close second.
I was immediately able to check the live nac-nac off my list when Showtime busted it out on the hot lap. One down, one to go. Only The King didn’t win the race that night, or at the next race I went to, or even the next. Something weird would always happen and McGrath couldn't get the win. Maybe I was a jinx. Heck, one year he even had to slow his pace substantially because they were experimenting with special engine mount bolts and they loosened up during the race. Ezra Lusk won that one.
Then, finally, on January 20, 2001, at A2, my moment came. While I would have been excited to see McGrath holeshot and make it a boring race, it turned into an all-out brawl between MC and Ricky Carmichael. McGrath had the lead, but Carmichael was right there, and I’m pretty sure not a single fan was sitting down for that entire race. I know I wasn’t! In the end, McGrath held on to take what would be the final supercross win of his career. The fact that it was his last win makes the memory bittersweet for me, but at that moment, I was over the top and screaming at the top of my lungs.
Chase Stallo (Content Manager): The James Stewart/Chad Reed rivalry was at its pinnacle when the 2009 season kicked off at Anaheim. Stewart, who had missed all but two supercross races in 2008 due to a torn ACL, was coming off a perfect outdoor season, while Reed was riding the momentum off his second 450SX title the year prior. Plus Stewart was riding for Reed's old San Manuel Yamaha team. Stewart burst out of the gate early at the opener, but was receiving unyielding pressure from Reed. Reed got around Stewart early, but Stewart fought back to retake the lead on lap 6. A lap later, Reed was pressing hard and Stewart bobbled as they entered the whoops. Both went down in a heap, and as Stewart was stumbling to his feet, he pushed his bike right into the line of Kevin Windham.
I was an associate editor at Vurbmoto at the time, and one of the first unwritten rules of journalism you learn is to never be a fan. Cover the race, but leave your foam finger at home. But on that night it was hard not to root for a bright-eyed rookie from Southern California. With three title contenders down, Josh Grant darted to the front on his JGR-backed Yamaha. He was looking for his first career 450SX win, but as the laps began to dwindle, Grant collected a tuff block cover in his rear wheel. A panic fell over the crowd at Angel Stadium and those watching at home. Grant, who moments ago seemed destined for the upset, was going to lose on a technicality. Somehow Grant managed to limp to the finish line, marking one of the biggest upsets in Anaheim 1 history.
As Grant hugged his father, the emotions of all the hard work and long hours put in took over. He began to weep as he embraced the man that had been by his side since day one. It was a heart-felt between a father and son. A moment that is hard not to root for.
Josh Grant after his first career 450SX win in 2009 at the season opener in Anaheim.
Simon Cudby photo
Davey Coombs (Editor-in-Chief): On the first lap of Anaheim 3, 2001, the third round of that year's EA Sports AMA Supercross tour, color analyst David Bailey said to host Art Eckman, "This might be a little bit of a peek into the future of this series." David and Art were focused on the duel they knew was coming between seven-time champion Jeremy McGrath and his fearless new challenger Ricky Carmichael. They focused the cameras on those two from the start, the #1 Yamaha of Jeremy and the #4 Kawasaki of Ricky lined up together on the gate. After the back-and-forth of Anaheim 2, where RC ran it in on the champ but finished second, and then Ricky's win at Phoenix, it was obvious that this series was going to be down to the two of them -- they even sent them out together for the opening ceremonies for a lap, and just as MC reached for the pyrotechnics button on his handlebar over a triple, Carmichael laid himself out beyond flat with a ridiculous whip caught by the French shooter Carlo Bagalini.
Fast forward to the start of the race, and McGrath taking the early lead, slowly pulling away while Carmichael struggled mid-pack.
But then something seemed to just change -- something for Ricky, something for Jeremy, something for the sport in general. Carmichael found a whole new level of speed, tracked the "King of Supercross" down and then blitzed passed him, shaking the sport at its very foundations. Jeremy tried to fight back, but the surge ahead by Carmichael was something that McGrath was unfamiliar with -- unless he was the one doing the surging!
I was lucky enough to be the pit reporter for ESPN2 that night, and when I interviewed Ricky after the race, I began by stating what seemed like the obvious, "I think something just changed..." But what no could have imagined except for Carmichael himself was that Jeremy McGrath's reign was over. Carmichael would not lose another SX main event that year, and McGrath would never win again. It was truly the changing of the guard in the reigns of these two all-time legends.
Nick McCabe (Contributor): The 1986 Anaheim Supercross is special. I wasn't at the race, but I read about it in Cycle News twelve days later, which was about as quick as it got back then.
Anaheim stadium was much bigger back then, and the near-capacity crowd of nearly 70,000 people were treated to one of the all-time greatest main event races.
Over the preceding fall and winter, the AMA had instigated one of the most controversial rule changes ever seen -- the production rule. The exotic, hand built $100,000 factory machines of the past would no longer be allowed. The rule was pointed directly at Team Honda, who would consistently out spend and out develop every other OEM. The AMA hoped the new rule would level the playing field.
In 1986, Supercross was not on TV. The internet was nowhere to be found, and unless you were actually at the race, it was hard to get the blow by blow as to what happened.
But after reading about the amazing race, I broke down and pre-ordered a Motovideo-produced VHS tape of Anaheim, 1986. It took nearly nine months for the tape to arrive in my mailbox, but when it did, I was not prepared for the awesomeness that I would see. Nine months after the race happened, I was finally able to watch my that main event, and watch it I did. Between the fall of 1986 and 1991, when my VHS machine finally got tired of Ricky and David and ate the tape, I must have watched that race 1000 times.
David Bailey and Ricky Johnson had the battle of a lifetime. Bailey was at the height of his career and was seeking revenge from the 1985 season. Johnson had just been hired by Team Honda and was eager to prove he was the man. Both riders were wearing the uber cool and colorful riding gear made by Fox and JT Racing. RJ even had that super stylish digital looking #5 on his '86 CR250, along with the mythical HRC decals. The race was crazy, and the track was nothing like a Supercross track of today.
Sometimes one of the top guys was able to muster up the speed to do the giant triple, and sometimes not. By today¹s standard the track was beyond sketchy. It seemed as though each rider nearly crashed at least once a lap. Or perhaps Bailey and Johnson were just on the ragged edge trying to stay ahead of each other.
Bailey and Johnson exchanged the lead fifteen times or more. It was amazing. Toward the end, Bailey got a small cushion and pulled ahead. Johnson was blocked by privateer rider Scott Burnworth, who was pissed because RJ had taken him out on the first lap.
Bailey did a one hander over the finish line for the win. O'Mara finished third and Honda went 1-2-3 for a season opening sweep. So much for the new rules and a level playing field.
That's Jason Thomas one year ago ... in the main event at the season opener. Today, he just pushes pen to paper.
Simon Cudby photo
Jason Thomas (Soon to be officially an ex pro): I have so many memories of Anaheim. My favorite was a recent one, Anaheim 1 of 2011. Coming into this race, I felt like no one gave me much hope of making the main event. I was 32, didn’t ride the previous outdoor series and felt written off by most of the industry. However, as any rider will tell you, speculation means nothing once that gate drops.
Having done thousands of laps in the off-season as well as racing numerous times in Europe leading up to Anaheim, I knew I was ready. Still, every rider on the starting gate still wonders what to expect when the new season comes. Did I do enough? Did I set my bike up right? Man, I wish I had practiced more starts! I really have to pee! With so many guys moving up to the 450 class, I knew I needed a good start and that’s what I got. I started fourth and methodically moved myself backwards until I found the bubble in 9th and then maintained that to qualify for the main. Hey, it’s a risky strategy, but energy conservation is key and I didn’t want to show that Villopoto guy my lines before the main event. The main event was fairly uneventful for me. I started near the rear and put in a solid 20 laps and came home in 15th. I was catching Mike Alessi the last few laps and was hoping to get him but his whoop speed held me at bay.
This Anaheim wasn’t my best result, nor my best ride. The stars didn’t align and I was not even on the same lap as the podium. It was my favorite though because I defied the odds and made people eat their words. When everyone says you can’t, it feels good to show them you can. Someone told me yesterday that I can’t dunk a basketball. Will they ever learn?