This has to be the most dynamic off-weekend we’ve ever seen. That leaves us plenty to talk about, so we gathered three staffers before they headed off to Muddy Creek for the weekend and asked them some questions. Weigh in with your thoughts below.
1. Who will benefit most from the weekend off?
Jason Thomas: I am going to say Reed has to be high on this list. He showed a lot of improvement in the first moto at Mt. Morris but struggled in the second moto. He has been in the trenches pounding out motos for the last two weeks and should be much closer to race form after some consistent training weeks. I know he struggled with the Muddy Creek track last year but I look for more in the endurance department come Saturday.
Chase Stallo: I’ll see your Chad Reed, and raise you a Marvin Musquin. I don’t think anyone benefited more from the break than the former World Champion. A shoulder injury at the opener impeded his recovery from off-season knee surgery … that he still wasn’t completely healed from. Although he’s steadily improved throughout the season, we have yet to see Musquin at 100 percent. Going forward, I think we’ll slowly start to see Musquin creep into the mix for an overall. Adding another contender to an already loaded class.
Jason Weigandt: I like both answers but I’ll shade toward Reed. Musquin and some others will be stronger but most riders also have to rebuild their confidence after injury, and simply getting back to 100 percent physically doesn’t always do that. It’s hard to predict when it will come around. Reed, on the other hand, has proven approximately 1000 times that if he feels right, he goes directly to the front. He never struggles on the mental side. I think Reed gains the most from getting in a hard week without having to worry about exhausting himself for a Saturday race. As long as he feels fit, he will have the full head of confidence. For now, we’re all thinking the 450 Class has a “Big Four,” but maybe Chad can make it five?
2. Providing Stewart does race this weekend, do you think all the distractions over the last two weeks will have messed with his practice/testing/training schedule at home? Can he push it aside on race day?
Thomas: I think it will have an effect but not so much on his training and riding. I think it has to have been a huge drain mentally, though. This whole ordeal must be very stressful on James as his racing career and livelihood depends on decisions beyond his control. Having mental clarity is a huge part of the racing game and it will be interesting to see how he responds when the gate drops.
Stallo: It all depends on how much they learned at High Point. Slice it anyway you want, but Suzuki and James struggled to find the right set-up early in the year. They hit it on the head at High Point (Stewart went 1-1), and if they can continue down that path, he’ll be okay this weekend. While giving the competition a two-week head start could be detrimental, he’s overcome off-track discrepancies before and performed. I don’t see that changing this weekend.
Weigandt: Yeah, they dodged a bullet by getting the bike right by High Point—I don’t think they could have maintained a hard core testing schedule during these last two weeks, but they didn’t need that, anyway. I don’t think he’ll lose fitness or speed if he missed a few hours or riding or training here and there, either. It really comes down to the hornet’s nest on race day, but James has been pretty good about sealing himself off from that noise when needed.
3. Muddy Creek's debut in 2013 was well-received by fans, but some riders thought the track could use a few touches. Also, the weather is expected to hit 90 degrees with legit humidity this weekend. What are your thoughts on the place?
Thomas: I think there were a lot of things learned and absorbed from the first national last year. The water truck lanes make it difficult to widen the track and the texture of the dirt wasn’t typical for Muddy Creek with the preceding weather they experienced last year. I have raced this track many times in my amateur days and was always very happy with the venue. If the weather holds out for the weekend (which it could very likely rain), I expect a much better race track in 2014.
Stallo: Let’s go to Ollie Williams with the forecast … IT’S GONNA BE HOT. Like 90-plus degrees with high humidity hot. Muddy Creek will provide the first “real” test for riders in regards to heat. The humidity down South is suffocating. It dehydrates you. It drains you—physically and mentally. It’s not fun. We will know early in moto two who has really prepared for the summer.
Now, let’s talk about the track. In its second run with a National, Muddy Creek has hauled in more than 1,200 tons of dirt. “We really hadn’t done anything like this in probably 10 years—and it’s never been this intense,” said longtime owner Sam Gammon in a PR recently. A year ago, most of the work revolved around making a flatter parking lot. This year, the work has gone into the track. Opinions were mixed a year ago, with many riders complaining about the tightness of the track. “It was definitely tighter than most outdoor National tracks,” claimed Justin Barcia. “Just a little tight,” added Ryan Villopoto. The layout will not change, but Gammon says the texture will: “The texture of the track will be much better than it was, which I know the riders will appreciate.”
Weigandt: Everyone likes Muddy Creek in general. Plenty of riders, fans and families raced there growing up so it’s credible ground. The problem with Muddy Creek, as I heard from riders last year, is that it’s tight and narrow in spots—maybe that wasn’t noticeable at big amateur events, but it definitely was for the pro riders. I don’t see anyway to really fix that part. Many of the sections are built on ledges that you can’t widen. The dirt will be good but I expect some riders to complain about the narrowness. We might just have to use the, “Hey, they all race the same track” cliché and just live with it.