With the U.S. scene on idle for a few weeks, most of the action in motocross right now is either taking place at practice tracks in California and Florida, the Grand Prix circuit down in Brazil, or the offices and iPhones of agents and managers all over the world. The silly season has been upon us for a while, and farther down we’ll let you in on what we know. But the bigger question—is Ryan Villopoto really going to finish out his career racing in Europe?—now appears to be a matter of simply dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s with Monster Energy and Kawasaki Japan, then buying plane tickets to Qatar next February. Look for more definitive news next week, probably during the series-concluding Grand Prix of Mexico (no word on any U.S.-based riders venturing next door to race that one).
Once that’s settled, bench-racers on both sides of the Atlantic can really start trying to out-yell one another online. Can a healthy Ryan Villopoto beat soon-to-be-eight-time World Champion Tony Cairoli on foreign tracks? It will be fun to watch, just as it has been fun to watch the long line of world champions who have been coming to America since Jean-Michel Bayle first came calling twenty-five years ago. It’s European motocross fans’ turn to get a big fish to travel the other way across the ocean, and RV is definitely in need of a new challenge. We’ll miss him, but we’ll be rooting for him.
Meanwhile, the game of musical chairs (though some would call it a guessing game) continues all around the sport. It seems like every team in the paddock will have some kind of lineup changes. Red Bull KTM loses Ken Roczen but picks up Dean Wilson and Justin Hill, Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki picks up Grand Prix rider Arnaud Tonus and fast rookie Chris Alldredge to join Adam Cianciarulo, and the entire Troy Lee Designs/Lucas Oil team turns from red to orange. Cole Seely joins Team Honda and appears to be have a respectful inquiry about #14 to its longtime owner, Kevin Windham, which maybe means newly crowned 250 Motocross Champion Jeremy Martin may select #6 after all. Weege and Matthes will have more below.
There was also the puzzling news that AMA Pro Racing (DMG) was giving road racing back to the AMA in Ohio, who in turn were giving control of it to a new promotional entity called KRAVE (a partnership led by road racing icon Wayne Rainey), who are calling their new series MotoAmerica and co-sanctioning it with both the Ohio-based AMA and FIM North America. (According to Cycle News, the AMA, as the U.S. affiliate of the FIM, sanctions FIM-affiliated events in the United States. The AMA, along with the Canadian Motorcycle Association, administers FIM North America, which sanctions continental-level series and championship events in North America.) Like I said, it’s puzzling …
… and it’s just another part of what’s going to be a really silly season. Hey, at least we think we know who will be #22 on Chad Reed’s team, right? Just 130 days to go until Anaheim.
YOSHIMURA SUZUKI: FINALLY SOME NOISE (Jason Weigandt)
Ever since Yoshimura Suzuki's James Stewart pulled out of the second moto at Spring Creek in July, the team has been practically silent, save for a few "James still isn't ready to race" PRs. Since then we've heard nothing, and of course silence creates noise in the rumor mill. I've heard everything from the team expanding to the team shrinking, going away, or even switching to the GNCCs! I rang up team manager Mike Webb yesterday just to see how things are going.
First, there's zero chance Yoshimura Suzuki will stop racing, as Webb's team holds a two-year deal as Suzuki's factory racing team. They're completely locked in for 2015 and 2016.
But who will be racing for them? Stewart's ongoing WADA saga continues, and he'll have a hearing at some point during this off-season (maybe tomorrow, maybe November?) but Webb says he and Suzuki still 100 percent support James, and they haven't wavered from that.
If James is cleared to race Anaheim 1, he and the team will be ready. James is healthy again after his Millville ailment (Webb says he needed a few weeks off to feel 100 percent again) and will begin 2015 testing next week. You can also expect him to for sure race the Red Bull Straight Rhythm event, which isn't sanctioned by the FIM or AMA. All other races will have to be determined through this ongoing WADA/FIM process. Can he race the Monster Energy Cup? Even that is still unknown, due to the tangled web of his current provisional suspension. As we've said all along through this process, it's going to be a long process. For the most part, it's all in lawyers’ hands, so James isn't going to be talking about it.
On the other end, the team will have a second full-time 450 rider for 2015, so they're actually expanding. Who will that rider be? Suzuki wants to keep it secret until their dealer meeting in October, but the rumors are out there, and our guess is it's a big free agent/past champion out of the 250 Class, because most of the top 450 talent is locked up. Take a gander at our 250 Silly Season list here, go to the free agent list at the bottom, and take your guesses.
Switching Ships (Matthes)
Of course we know all about the different riders switching teams this time of the year—or even, as in the case of Troy Lee Designs, switching manufacturers—but there are other things going on behind the scenes with support staffs. Shane Drew, the head chassis guy at Honda, didn’t get his contract renewed with the Red Riders, which is a bit of a shock. He’d been there since 1997, when he was hired to be Jeremy McGrath’s wrench. Drew’s done a lot of good work at Honda over the years, and I’m sure he’ll be snatched up by someone else soon.
Tony Berluti, the circuit’s longest-tenured mechanic as far as I know (started in 1988 for Tommy Watts), has parted ways with the RCH team. Berluti lives in Las Vegas, always has, and the team just needed someone to be down in SoCal more. It was an amicable parting, and in speaking to Tony, he wants to keep wrenching.
Cole Seely was able to bring his longtime mechanic Rich Simmons over to factory Honda from the TLD team, which is a good thing. As a former mechanic, I don’t like to see some of these guys lose jobs, but it’s also cool when the team realizes a mechanic and rider have a bond and try to keep that together.
Justin Barcia’s wrench, Mike “Schnikey” Tomlin, will be leaving Honda also, but I’m not sure what he's going to do. He's a great guy and mechanic, and I'm sure he'll get a great job next year.
And just got a PR telling me that former factory Yamaha mechanic Craig Monty is now the team manager for the 51Fifty Energy Drink team. Craig’s also a good dude and will do a great job over there this year.
When the 2014 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship ended in Utah, Valli Motor Sports Yamaha's Christophe Pourcel was already packed up and on his way back to Florida. The Frenchman had collided with Jason Anderson in the first 250 moto and pulled out. The veteran ended up sixth in the final rankings, with a solid win at Unadilla—his first in four years, much of that time having been spent in the wilderness without a ride or a team. Now he may be just the guy to fill in or step up in the 450SX class for Monster Energy AMA Supercross, should seats remain open at, say, Kawasaki or Suzuki. Let's review: Pourcel is a great starter, hard to pass, makes few mistakes, and, given the shorter main events of stadium racing, should not have any problems with fatigue that are associated with his past injuries. He's also proven himself to be an exceptional SX rider, though that was some time ago.
If nothing comes through, here's hoping CP377 at least gets another summer in the nationals with Valli or some other team. He acquitted himself well, and while he's never been one to show his emotions, I’m sure his win at Unadilla was a huge personal moment for him, given all he's faced since 2010. He's back home in Florida right now, cleaning house and hoping to sell his farm soon in order to downsize a little. He's also been auctioning off riding gear for charity. Since he doesn't do any social media, here is where to find his latest item on sale a custom helmet.
JEFFREY HERLINGS' BIG DECISIONS (Andras Hegyi)
For the second time this year, Jeffrey Herlings will miss the Brazilian Grand Prix. Out with a broken femur and trying to both hold on to his points lead and not do further damage to the leg, Herlings will skip this weekend's second-to-last MX2 Grand Prix. (He was also absent from the Brazilian race in March.) Now the big question is whether he’ll be in for the last GP, in Mexico next weekend. As it stands, he has a 57-point lead on Jordi Tixier, his fellow KTM rider. With 50 points per win and an extremely thin field—check out the pre-entry list, with the scratched Herlings and Arnaud Tonus—Tixier stands a real chance of it down to a single moto's worth of points in Mexico. The ironic thing is that Tixier hasn't won a Grand Prix overall this season yet could still claim the 2014 MX2 World Championship.
Just a week ago we could read Herlings' name on the entry list for the GP of Brazil, and many were surprised, but the kid has a big heart and wants (and certainly deserves) this title. But then the team announced yesterday that he wasn't going to go after all.
“We’re very sorry that Jeffrey will not be able to race in Brazil this weekend, because he has rewarded us this year with a lot of exceptionally thrilling riding before his accident," said KTM boss Pit Beirer. "But Jeffrey understands that as a professional rider he needs to listen to expert medical advice. While it is certainly disappointing for both him and the Brazilian fans, it is very important that his leg heals properly,”
Will Herlings be ready to ride in Mexico? With such thin fields—double last-place finishes of 18-18 means six championship points in Brazil, according to the pre-entry list—he will score suddenly valuable points just lining up on the starting gate. We'll know more after the weekend. And what a surprise it would be if he showed up in Brazil at the last minute and gave it a go anyway!
PRO PERSPECTIVE (David Pingree and Jason Thomas)
Five-time 500cc World Champion, four-time Trans-AMA Champion, all-time-great team manager, and … well, The Man himself, Roger DeCoster, just celebrated his seventieth birthday. DeCoster is still going strong—his Red Bull KTM riders went 1-2 in this summer’s Lucas Oil 450 Pro Motocross Championship. We asked our resident pros for their memories of Roger D.
PING: I didn’t really get to know Roger until I rode for Suzuki’s 125 support program in 1999. Prior to that he was like a tall tale passed down from one riding generation to the next—when your nickname is “The Man,” it’s hard to decipher the exaggerated tales from the truth. The championships, the fitness, the global fame, the ferocity, and the success with the ladies could be just fishing stories or an oral history of the greatest rider who ever slung a leg over a bike. I didn’t catch a lot of GPs growing up in rural Montana, so I could only go by what I heard.
Roger is a quiet guy, and for a long time I didn’t think he liked me. Maybe he doesn’t. But I did get to work with him a little bit during the ‘99 and 2000 seasons, and when he does speak, you certainly listen. I was always amazed at how involved he was with the development of the bikes. As a former racer, I just didn’t figure engineering as one of his talents. But late into most evenings, even to this day, you can find him in the machine shop tinkering with a part or trying to design a better mousetrap.
One of the only times I made Roger DeCoster laugh was during my post-racing time at Troy Lee Designs as their team manager. It was my first year being up in the manager’s tower, and I wasn’t versed in the code of congeniality that all managers adhere to up there. During the main event in Phoenix, our rider Chris Blose was running near the front, and with the laps winding down it was looking like he would land on the podium. In the final few laps he went back and forth with another rider and I was absolutely losing it up in the tower. I was screaming like a lunatic, jumping up and down, waving my arms and wringing my hands as they circulated the track. At one point I looked over at Roger standing nearby and he was in tears laughing at me! It wasn’t a condescending laugh but more like a “you silly little rookie, you’re adorable” kind of laugh.
Anyway, happy birthday to The Man. Hope you had a great day, Roger. No laughing.
JT: Roger DeCoster is a living legend. When you begin to look at what he has accomplished both as a racer and as a team manager, it's hard to imagine what else he could aim for. For the youth of today, they only know him as a successful manager. Maybe they remember him with the recent RC days, but surely they don't remember his eighties’ Honda or nineties’ Suzuki days before that. Some don't even know about all of the championships that defined his racing career to everyone old enough to remember his legacy. He really is a man who has done it all in this sport.
My only real interaction with The Man has been with BTOSports.com KTM's last few years of association with his KTM effort. It really opened my eyes to just how knowledgeable he is and also the level of respect he shows for those he works with. That sentiment has been echoed throughout that team since its involvement with the factory.
It's tough to find many people who are never spoken badly about. This cynical world could find a way to attack even Mother Theresa's character, but Roger seems to be above that fray. Respect is earned, not given, and Roger has certainly earned mine. Happy birthday, Roger.
UNADILLA BOUND (Kayla Olliver)
Following a two-month break over the summer, the 2014 Amsoil Grand National Cross Country Series presented by Maxxis, an AMA National Championship, returns to action this weekend with the Can-Am Unadilla GNCC. Factory FMF KTM’s Kailub Russell heads into Round 10 with a commanding lead over the rest of the XC1 Pro class, while KTM Support rider Grant Baylor leads the way in XC2 Pro Lites. Live coverage from the 2014 Can-Am Unadilla GNCC will air online via RacerTV.com. Saturday ATV racing will begin at 1 p.m. ET and Sunday Bike racing will begin at 1 p.m. ET, so be sure to head over to RacerTV.com and check out the racing action.
Of course, Unadilla is home to one of the biggest pillars in American motocross, the Red Bull Unadilla National, and the Robinson family’s track has been a major stop for nationals, U.S. Grand Prix races, Trans-AMAs, Inter-Ams, and even a Motocross des Nations since 1970. But what may surprise you is that it’s also home to the biggest stop on the GNCC schedule, and possibly the biggest single AMA-sanctioned dirt bike race ever, with 1,971 participants in last year’s race. With great weather on tap for both Sunday’s bike race and Saturday’s ATVs, this one weekend race could go over the 2,000 mark for individual riders—you can only race one class in the GNCCs!
Here’s another really interesting bit: with a hefty points lead and his primary challenger Charlie Mullins injured and out, Kailub Russell has made a unique pledge in the hopes of helping out his injured fellow title contender Rory Mead, who suffered a terrible back injury in the spring, and also representing Team USA at the ISDE coming up in Argentina. Russell has a one-off KTM 150XC FMF KTM factory-prepped race bike waiting on him should he clinch the title early. Then he will park his 450 and pull out this sweet two-stroke for whatever rounds are left and race it in honor of Mead. And the whole time he and his team are conducting a raffle for the 150 and more that will see them split the proceeds between the ISDE and Rory’s recovery. It’s a great cause, a very cool bike and it will be interesting to see how he does on it in a GNCC. Get involved (and maybe get yourself a new KTM 150XC) right here.
DESPERATE PLEA FOR CLICKS (Matthes)
JT and I try to define who and what makes a privateer these days in his Hammerhead Designs column here.
Thomas takes the 450 class and writes about who’s going where in this column.
The 1997 Honda CR250 is now universally regarded as ahead of its time and also, not that good right? Well, not really as Blazier takes all the magazines 1997 250 shootouts and compares them here.
HEY, WATCH THIS!
An aspiring MX filmmaker named Mike Carpenter (Renegade Productions) spotted three friends out at the Lake Elsinore MX Park together—Nick Wey, Tyla Rattray, and Martin Davalos—and made a short film with a few questions for each. Wey is getting ready for the Monster Energy Cup, Rattray doing a little testing and training before heading back to Europe, and Davalos unfortunately is still not riding after last April’s terrible practice crash that ruined his East Region SX title run. Check it out right here.
Tune into NBC Sports Network on Sunday to watch the half hour broadcast of the Open Pro Sport motos from the AMA Rocky Mountain ATV/MC Amateur National Motocross Championship at Loretta Lynn's.
For news from Canada, check out DMX Frid'Eh Update #37.
That’s it for Racerhead—thanks for reading. See you at the football game tomor—er, I mean, at the races!