Redemption and the Rookie

Redemption and the Rookie

February 12, 2014 12:35pm

Monster Energy’s Eric Johnson has been patrolling the pits and working the phones to cure 250 SX East fever. He chatted up Blake Baggett this week, and also logged an Adam Cianciarulo interview a few weeks ago. How are the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki boys feeling? Here’s a progress report.

Blake Baggett:

It would be easy to write off 2012 250 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Champion Blake Baggett as an outdoor motocross specialist. Baggett is feared on the national tracks for both his “everything must go” come-from-behind charges and on-track ferocity. But when things go right, Blake Baggett can also be a damn fine supercross rider. Bad luck, crashes, first-turn pileups and, gasp, one injury after another have all conspired to wreak havoc on the Californian’s stadium motocross career. But Baggett has won three supercross main events in his career, and was in the title hunt in 2011. Unfortunately, his 2013 SX season never really started due to an Anaheim 1 first-turn yard sale that left him injured for the rest of the season.  

The bad luck continued when Baggett broke his foot during 2014 pre-season prep (Baggett: “Out of four bones I broke in my foot I had nine breaks. I also busted my heel all the way through. It was one of those freak things. It bummed me out, but we were able to regroup and look to Dallas.”) He didn’t give up, and after seeing a few doctors and doing his best to stay in shape, the calendar gods bought him enough time to get back on the bike. Tomorrow he’ll board a jumbo jet to which will deliver him to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, site of the opening round of the East Region. Yesterday, we spoke with Baggett.

Racer X: Blake, the East Region opener is but four days away. Were you able to ride today?
Blake Baggett: Yeah, I did little bit of riding today to just get back in the swing of things, basically. With my injury I got released to ride two weeks ago so I’ve got a total of maybe seven days on the bike. I’m just trying to get up to speed and trying to be as prepared as possible.

How is your fitness?
My fitness feels pretty good. I tried to stay in as best shape as I could, but it was pretty tough considering you can’t do much walking. I started walking on it around five weeks ago and I rode at week six. I’m cutting it a little bit short but I’m definitely feeling good. I’m just trying to get lots of laps logged. Maybe they’re not the fastest laps, but I’m just trying to get laps logged so I can get a little more comfortable. As you ride things seem to start slowing down and you get in your groove and start pushing the limits a little bit.

Blake Baggett is returning from an off-season foot injury. 
Blake Baggett is returning from an off-season foot injury.  Photo: Monster Energy

I’m going to be presumptuous here and assume the broken foot really bummed you out. I mean, you’ve really been pegged with injuries during the past years. But on the optimistic side of things, at least you were still able to get ready for Dallas and the opening round of the East Region series.
Yeah, yeah. Exactly. It was one of those things where I was just starting to get back on the bike. I took quite a bit of time off after the outdoors to let my wrist heal up a little bit because it was just so sore after abusing it through all 12 outdoor races. I took some time off, and then I was getting into the supercross groove and I had one of those freak accidents. It bummed me out, but it was like, “Okay, we’ll still have enough time. If I can still get on the bike in six weeks, we’ll have a little bit of time on the bike and we’ll go to Dallas.” So that’s basically the plan that we’re running with.

I spoke with Mitch Payton and Zach White and the rest of the Pro Circuit crew at last Saturday’s San Diego race and they were saying that despite the lack of serious seat time, you really looked loose, smooth and confident on the bike. In fact, Zach said he’s never seen you ride supercross better.
I was feeling pretty good on the bike and running right with those guys before I broke my foot. I regrouped and, yeah, I would have to say that I probably feel the best I ever have on the supercross track, even with only seven days on the bike. I’m excited to go racing. I wish I could have had a little bit more time on the bike, but I’m really happy with where we are at with the bike and how I feel. I fly out on Wednesday and we’ll have a little press day on Thursday and we’ll see what we’ve got on Saturday.

Dallas has been good to you. You won your first professional race there in 2010, right?
Yeah, in 2010 I won my first race there. I had a pretty rough night. [Laughs] I had to go to the LCQ and stuff, but I ended up pulling it out. I got my first win there and then I was just kind of on a high from there. I ended up going to the next race at Houston and got second. It’s definitely time to go back to Dallas where we can expect a big set of whoops and the track to be hard packed for the main. It’s a great venue and I like going there.

Can this year be your year in SX?
Quite a few people have written me off on the supercross side of things. It’s just the way things go. It’s just the way my cards were dealt, you know? I definitely need to turn in a solid supercross season to try and turn things around in some people’s eyes. But you know riding a motorcycle is riding a motorcycle. If I can do it outdoors, I can do it indoors. It’s still riding on dirt. I’ve done it before so there’s no reason why I can’t do it again. I just need to get through the first few rounds and just stay out of chaos. In 2013 and 2012 I was in first turn pileups and pretty much DNF’d both of those races. Things just didn’t start off too good the past two years. So the plan is to get through the first few rounds and just try to be on the podium because everybody gets a little gung-ho on things and gets a little crazy and I tend to be the bottom of it.

You’re a former National Champion. You’ve won supercross main events. Knowing how to win has to make a huge difference….
Yeah, exactly. And that’s kind of the thought I put into my own head: I’ve done it before; I know how to win; I know how to get it done even on the bad days. If stuff isn’t going right, I’ve been able to get it done. It’s basically a mindset and I’m just trying to put it together again. Once you get the ball rolling, it’s pretty easy to get the momentum going.

Baggett is seeking his first career 250 SX title.
Baggett is seeking his first career 250 SX title. Photo: Monster Energy

In the Nationals, you quite often start at the back of the pack. You seem to get faster with each given lap—a rarity in MX. Does this approach work for you in supercross?
Supercross is just, well, it’s supercross. It’s kind of hard to explain it. You have a much shorter period of time to work with. Supercross tracks have less lines and that doesn’t separate the riders as much. In the outdoors there might be 15 deep ruts in a turn. In supercross, you go to the inside or the outside. You might have to ruts in a bowl turn, but that’s about it. What I can do in the outdoors, I don’t know if it can be done in supercross. In supercross I just want to get out there and try and get a holeshot and run right off the start. That’s my goal in supercross: To get out and just hammer away right off the bat.

Can you win this thing?
Yeah, I think I can win it. I definitely believe in myself. I’ve got the talent and the skill and I’ve got the determination and the heart to dig deep into it. Now it’s just about putting all my little pieces together. And you always need a little bit of luck—well, I don’t like to say luck, but it’s nice when things go right

 Would winning a supercross title be as important to you as winning a National Championship?
Yeah, I definitely think it would. It would definitely be as important, and if I look at it right now, it would probably be more important, just because a lot of people set their sights on supercross. I’m trying to get a supercross win this year and then we’ll go from there.

Adam Cianciarulo:

A few weeks ago at Anaheim 2, we found Adam Cianciarulo in the pit area of the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki outfit. There to observe and follow teammates Dean Wilson, Darryn Durham and Justin Hill, the 17-year-old Floridian took a break from his exploratory mission, pulled up a black and green collapsible chair, and above the din created by clanking wrenches, idling race bikes and hissing air compressor hoses, got us up to speed on what to expect in Texas and what it means, to him, to just plain be a fan of supercross.

Racer X: Adam, we’re in Anaheimand you’re here hanging out in the pits. What are you doing here?
Adam Cianciarulo: Honestly, I don’t really have really anything going today. I woke up this morning and went for a road bike ride and I just kind of cruised over here. I don’t really have a plan on these days. I just kind of get my stuff done in the morning and just cruise out here and check out practice. I always try to get here for the first timed practice and get a feel for where the speed is. I also want to see the intensity and how the tracks break down and stuff like that.

You’ve been riding together with Ken Roczen and Ryan Villopoto in Florida for most of the winter, but how long have you been out here in California?
I’ve been here since, I believe, the day after Christmas. I’ll be here until Dallas starts. While here I like to ride with my teammates as much as possible. The good thing about California is that I have four different tracks I can ride every day. I think that makes it good to switch it all out because every SX I will go to this year is going to be completely different. And riding with the teammates is always good for intensity because nobody wants to be the slowest guy there.

Cianciarulo will make his pro SX debut in Dallas.
Cianciarulo will make his pro SX debut in Dallas. Photo: Monster Energy

During the last couple of years I’ve had young racers, especially rookie racers, mention to me that getting used to the rhythm of a professional race day can be equal parts chaotic and intimidating. Does that make any sense?
Oh yeah. Definitely. Even coming into [his first pro MX National] Budds Creek, it was weird for me. The time between your first practice and your first moto seems like an hour. Everything is so short and you kind of have to process everything super-fast. You have to get your lines down and your speed down right away. I think that part of it is still pretty close to the same as supercross, too. Back in amateur motocross, with however many classes you raced, you got that same amount of practice so that’s usually about triple the amount of practice that you get on these pro tracks, and these tracks are so much harder. You can imagine how much more difficult that is coming from the amateurs! It’s something that I’m definitely more used to now. I’ve been watching the guys here in supercross. I watch where they come off, where they watch, who they watch; I watch what they do after the heat race and stuff like that. In the race shop the other day I actually grabbed a stack of tapes of all of last year’s practices, so I’ve been studying those. I think when the time comes I’ll be ready and I’ll know what to do.

This afternoon we’ve seen your teammates fire their bikes up and go down the tunnel for practice. While watching, are you like, “Man, I’m ready to get this supercross series started.”
Yeah, definitely. You get that itching feeling in your stomach, like you’re about to go up, you know? It’s kind of like that every time you hear a bike start. You get that antsy feeling like you want to be out there. Basically, I’m trying to learn as much as I can while I’m here, but it’s also entertainment for me because I’m having fun. I’m such a fan of the sport. I mean I would watch racing just for entertainment, too. I have to put my mind into two separate modes: I have to learn and I want to be entertained.

Your first supercross races are coming up fast. Are you pinned? Are you ready on every front? Are both your base fitness and riding where you want them to be?
I definitely feel that my fitness is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was last summer. Everything in that area is going great. With the team and testing, it’s going really good in that area, too. I feel really good on the bike and feel really confident in my program. I’m ready to get started, for sure. At this point, speed-wise there’s not much more you can do, but I’m definitely confident in the work I’ve done this off-season.

Back in November you mentioned that you didn’t have a preference when it came to riding either the East or West Region. However, now that the season has started up, have you been able to glean additional information by watching the races?
I think in the way you mention it, I think it’s good for me to see how things have gone. I’ve been riding with Dean and Justin and I’ve seen where they’re at. Obviously you never know because there are different guys on the East Coast, but you do get an idea of where you are at. I think that’s good, but honestly, I don’t think it really mattered. I try my best every day so I think, yes, it’s good to have that certainty of where you’re at, but at the same time it’s not like I’m going to go out and not practice hard anyway.

Can Cianciarulo challenge for a title in his rookie season?
Can Cianciarulo challenge for a title in his rookie season? Photo: Monster Energy

Who do you see as competition in the East Region?
I think Jeremy Martin is going to be really strong. We don’t see much of him out here in California. He’s like me in that he trains back East. He’s on the Carmichael Farm and we know work is going down there. I think he’s going to be really strong. I think Blake Wharton is going to be really strong getting that GEICO ride again. Matt Bisceglia, he’ll be strong. Both of my teammates, Martin Davalos and Blake Baggett, will be very strong. It’s going to be a war. It’s not going to be a walk in the park.

When you go to Dallas, are you going there to win the main event?
To be honest, my goal is to win the race. That is my goal 100 percent. If I don’t win and I’m in the top five or on the podium, I’m not going to be bummed, but I’m not going to be satisfied until I’m winning. I don’t want that to come off cocky at all, but I believe that I have the program and that I have the ability to be on top of the box. Last summer I had my fair share of losing and I’m over it. I want to win.