Observations: Houston Observations Houston

April 15, 2015 2:40pm

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We’re back! After a week off, Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (!!!), picked back up in Houston with high-stakes drama and excitement. Well, maybe not the drama, but there was some actual real excitement, a couple of champions crowned, and much more to talk about than I expected. Let’s get right into it.

I’m all about changes. Anyone who reads this column knows that, and I applaud the track designers for trying something different in running a complete rhythm lane both ways in an effort to spice things up. I also thought this might lengthen the track a bit, but I’m not sure, because the first set of practices were around forty-five seconds, which is way too short for a supercross. The dirt was not typical for Houston—it had a lot of sand in it, and I think it helped the racing out. The riders were able to make their turns wherever they needed to, and although the races out front weren’t very exciting, there was some tremendous racing back in the pack. I think the track being easy (and small jumps—I don’t think the regular amount of dirt was used for this track) and the sandier surface made Houston pretty entertaining. 

As far as the experiment with the start taking you the “wrong” direction down a lane, well, I’m not sure it worked. The track guys went in after the second practice and added a wall and steepened up a couple of jumps to make the third practices a couple seconds slower than the previous practice. I’ve written this over and over, but it’s amazing to me that this happens. You can’t alter the track so much in qualifying that it makes one session completely irrelevant! What professional racing organization other than supercross decides this is perfectly fine? It blows my mind, but it happens more than you think. If you have to make a track change, make it after the first practice, which doesn’t count for your qualifying order. After that, you have to leave it.

So, to recap: We’re undecided on the rhythm lanes running both ways, we like the sandier surface, and we do not like changing the track to make one session completely worthless.

Cole Seely led the main from beginning to end. 
Cole Seely led the main from beginning to end.  Photo: Cudby

We saw Ryan Dungey clinching the 450SX Championship a long time ago, so although it was awesome for him to do it, and KTM just got their last missing crown jewel of off-road motorcycling, let’s start with the winner of the Houston race because that was pretty cool. 

Team Honda HRC’s Cole Seely came into the season lumped in with the other rookies like Jason Anderson, Blake Baggett, and Dean Wilson. We debated which of these kids would prove to be the quickest learner, and I remember a lot of us “experts” thought that Wilson or Anderson might have the better one-race result, but by the end of a seventeen-race season, it was going to be Seely sitting with more points than anyone else.

Well, we were half right. Seely is going to finish with more points than any other rookie, and unless disaster strikes, he’ll be third overall. That’s great. With three podiums, he’s got more than any other rookie. And, guess what? He’s got a win now too, which makes him both the rookie with the best finish and the highest spot in points! Houston was Seely’s race, start to finish, as Dungey and Eli Tomac were buried off the start and Cole was able to get out to a big lead. It was an impressive performance by the #14, and with his riding in the last month or so, you’ve got to think of him as a title threat for next year.

He’s sound technically and he appears to be in great shape, but he’s been knocked over the years for not being able to hang it out. Cole’s not comfortable getting out of his lane and he can be intimidated. But look at Daytona this year; on a track that was rough and sketchy (although, if you’re technical it’s good for you because you can make jumps out of the bumps), and takes a man’s man to win, he was phenomenal. 

If you’re Dan Betley over at Honda, you’ve gone through some major changes by letting your long-time suspension man Shane Drew go, as well as the motor guy. The Japanese engineers were going to come back and have more influence on the racing program, and Dan himself had to look long and hard in the mirror at what was going on and why Honda hadn’t won anything since Ricky Carmichael was there. The change from Showa to KYB suspension made a huge difference in Trey Canard’s results as well and made Eli Tomac much more comfortable. And Seely, well, he decided to stick with the trusty Showa components that many in the pits were now crapping on after praising them a few years ago when Monster Energy Kawasaki went from KYB to Showa air forks.

And now Honda has won 450SX races with all three riders this season—and on two different brands of suspension at that. A Honda has won six out of the fourteen races this year, which, with even me being bad at math, is almost half the races. Know how many races they won last year? Zero. The year before that? Two. The year before that? One. So, yeah, let’s call it like it is: Honda’s back, bitches.

This championship is a big one for KTM. 
This championship is a big one for KTM.  Photo: Cudby

KTM has all the world titles they could ever need, and they’ve got 250SX titles with a few riders. They’ve got a 250MX title with Grant Langston and 450MX titles with Dungey and Ken Roczen. What they’ve never had is a 450SX championship. From Mike Fisher and Cliff Palmer being the frisky white KTM guys putting it into the top ten in a few mains, to Nick Wey on the MDK KTM finishing ninth in the points in 2008 for the OEM’s highest-placing point standing ever, the big class in supercross has always been tough for the brand. Then, Roger DeCoster came over (good job on letting him go Suzuki—that’s worked out well, huh?), Ryan Dungey followed, and a new bike sprang up.

Three years later, another new bike came out and Dungey’s the clear-cut 450SX champion. He also set a supercross record with the longest time in between titles at four years. A supercross career usually looks like the dyno chart of a 125, not a 450. Once on top, it’s tough to stay there, and the drop off is steep, bro. Great job by Ryan and KTM, as well, for staying in contention every year and just pushing and pushing until the title was finally theirs. They’ve got every major AMA SX, MX, and off-road title on the mantle, and it doesn’t look like there’s much stopping them going forward from here.

Allow me to rank KTM’s greatest achievements in American motocross/supercross

1. Ryan Dungey winning the 450SX title in 2015. (Duh.)

2. Mike Fisher finishing fourth in three 450SX races in 1991 on a bike that had a puke-green seat cover and wasn’t very good. This was the time of JMB, Jeff Stanton, Jeff Ward, and Damon Bradshaw, people! 

3. Somehow getting Roger DeCoster to come over and manage a brand that had been in and out of the sport with different teams.

4. Taking the linkage off. The PDS no-link suspension allowed them to have a very fast 125, but they also narrowly avoided having any riders die in supercross whoops as the bike went side to side every lap. 

5. I love the caged motor mount nuts that come on KTM. Brilliant idea, and hey, everyone else, wake up and do this.

6. Kelly Smith winning the very muddy 2000 High Point 125 National with yours truly as a mechanic. Not sure what was more impressive: Kelly’s win or the bike staying together.

Cooper Webb: the West Region's fastest rider. 
Cooper Webb: the West Region's fastest rider.  Photo: Cudby

Along with Dungey’s title, there was also the 250SX West Championship given out to Cooper Webb, who once again left no doubt that he was the best rider in the smaller class with a dominating win. Mini-Coop was, week in and week out, hella-fast no matter where he started. In Houston, Webb reeled in early leader Shane McElrath and then just checked out for the final stamp on his title. One race early, at that! He won five out of the seven races, finished second in another, and came from last to seventh at A1. Yep, he was pretty good.

If you want to start a brawl, ask someone in the pits who they would hire if they had to choose between Webb or his teammate Jeremy Martin. Webb seems to be better indoors, but perhaps you saw last summer that Martin was the man?

Let’s take a look at the results, shall we?

250SX Results

1. 17 Cooper Webb; Newport, NC; Yamaha YZ250F – Webb pulled off early in the second practice with the top time. When he was asked why on the mic, he said, “That time won’t be touched,” which is bold. You know what? He was right.

2. 40 Shane McElrath; Canton, NC; KTM 250 SX-F – McElrath was all by himself in the lead in the heat when he went down and was forced to make the main via the LCQ. He lined up on the far inside in the LCQ, and it was either boom or bust for him off the start. The odds were not good that he would be able to do anything on this night. But “Sugar” Shane actually yanked a start and led laps before Webb got him. Two straight podiums for him now (with a two-month break in between), and next year, he’s going to be “that guy” people want to get to know.   

3. 34 Malcolm Stewart; Haines City, FL; Honda CRF250R – Mookie had a rough day. He had a bunch of crashes that probably would’ve killed some other dudes. He got up each time and tried his best to make it work. In the main, he came from way back to get an impressive third. It was a really good ride that showed a ton of heart. 

4. 157 Aaron Plessinger; Hamilton, OH; Yamaha YZ250F – Nice ride by the woods kid.   

5. 31 Alex Martin; Millville, MN; Yamaha YZ250F – Troll is the unique rider out there, because after years of racing, he has seemingly stepped up and gotten much better. Of course, his older teams didn’t exactly do him any favors, and the River Yamaha squad has been a nice fit for him. Please go check out his practice crash

6. 32 Justin Hill; Yoncalla, OR; KTM 250 SX-F – I’m like Sonic the Hedgehog tapping my foot all year long just waiting for a Justin Hill breakout. He’s got the speed and the break was supposed to help him. He’s capable of a much better finish. I guess if you’re DeCoster, you’re thinking that he didn’t do that great in his first year at Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki before breaking out in year two.   

7. 16 Zach Osborne; Chesterfield, SC; Husqvarna FC250 – Osborne’s Houston could’ve been so great. He was flying in practice. He holeshot and was leading his heat before turning right and nailing Mookie’s bike in the other lane. I suppose Mookie’s bike was there because of Zach unintentionally taking Mookie out, so maybe the moto gods were punishing Zacko. I don’t know, but it just went downhill from there. But, at times, he looked great. Even through all of these ups and downs he still has a great chance at getting second in the series. 

8. 38 Matthew Bisceglia; Weatherford, TX; Honda CRF250R

9. 66 Chris Alldredge; Powell Butte, OR; Kawasaki KX 250F – A quiet night for Alldredge. I never really noticed him all that much, but for Chris, that’s a good thing. A very respectable ninth is fine; keeping the rubber side down has been a challenge for the rookie.  

10. 130 Thomas Hahn; Decatur, TX; Honda CRF250R

11. 100 Joshua Hansen; Elbert, CO; Kawasaki KX 250F – Hanny, wearing some Fox boots that the International Space Station astronauts could see, had a rough Houston. He looked fast but couldn’t stay off the ground in his heat (thanks, Hill!), and then had a crappy gate pick for the main. Unlike McElrath, he didn’t pull the start of the century, and floundered from there. In practice he came out on the first or second lap and tried a triple that I only saw 450s try all day (it was slower), cased it, and almost died. It was an eventful way to start his day. Before the day began, he told me that he had not been lurking in ‘Newps during the break and there’s been more Inland Empire riding, which is a good thing for Hansen.   

12. 57 Jackson Richardson; Wildomar, CA; Honda CRF250R

13. 71 Cole Martinez; Rimrock, AZ; Yamaha YZ250F – This guy was solid during the West Region in the beginning of the year, and he stayed solid in Houston. He’s going up to Canada to race for Leading Edge Kawasaki this summer.

14. 65 Scott Champion; Wildomar, CA; Yamaha YZ250F

15. 148 Trevor Reis; Alpine, CA; Yamaha YZ250F

16. 217 Ryan Breece; Athol, ID; Yamaha YZ250F

17. 275 Johnny Jelderda; Menifee, CA; Honda CRF250R 

18. 360 Aaron Siminoe; Reno, NV; Kawasaki KX 250F 

19. 727 Rhett Urseth; Casa Grande, AZ; Kawasaki KX 250F

20. 91 Chris Howell; Spokane Valley, WA; Yamaha YZ250F – Howell hasn’t had as good of a year as he did last year, but it was nice to see him get into the main—his first—through the heat race. With Osborne, McElrath, Hansen, and Mookie in the 250 LCQ, I didn’t like his chances there.

21. 911 Tyler Bowers; Corona, CA; Kawasaki KX 250F – I’d heard that Bowers was struggling with a back injury, but I didn’t know it was that bad. He pulled off early into the main event and is set to undergo surgery. We won’t see him until 2016, and that’s too bad because any rider that calls himself “the bear” and then proceeds to talk trash in the media and push dudes around on the track is always welcome to me.  

22. 981 Austin Politelli; Menifee, CA; Yamaha YZ250F – Great to see Politelli win a heat race (he had a bit of luck, but hey, they all count), and he was doing okay in the main until he hit neutral or something in the air over the finish line and just had an ugly endo into the landing.

Yeah, Hansen's gear was bright. 
Yeah, Hansen's gear was bright.  Photo: Cudby

450SX Results 

1. 14 Cole Seely; Laguna Beach, CA; Honda CRF450R – I didn’t like Seely’s Troy Lee Designs gear this weekend. Nope, just didn’t like it one bit.  

2. 5 Ryan Dungey; Tallahassee, FL; KTM 450 SX-F – Also announced at Houston was a two-year contract extension for Dungey to stay at KTM until the end of 2017. I imagine at that time he’ll walk away with at least a couple of more titles and millions more dollars in the bank. Not too bad for a kid from Minnesota.  

3. 3 Eli Tomac; Cortez, CO; Honda CRF450R – A long time ago, Eli went on social media and said that his starts weren’t a problem like the media was making them out to be. It was more his opening laps than anything else. Well, that was then and this is now. His starts need work before he can start winning week in and week out. Yeah, I said it. 

4. 33 Joshua Grant; Wildomar, CA; Kawasaki KX 450F – Hey, check this out! Grant passed Andrew Short with a lap or two to go to end up with his best finish of the year. Grant’s been very solid lately and justifying Chad Reed’s selection of him for a teammate over some other guys that seemed to be better choices. It just took some time.   

5. 22 Chad Reed; Dade City, FL; Kawasaki KX 450F – I cannot imagine Chad was very happy with Jason Anderson ramming into the side of him and knocking both guys down on the inside of a turn. Probably took away a podium for the #22, and I’m sure Reed won’t be forgetting the move anytime soon. 

6. 29 Andrew Short; Smithville, TX; KTM 450 SX-F – Short holeshot the heat and main yet again. The guy can’t be stopped on starts. From there he rode in a podium position for most of the race until Dungey passed him and seemingly rattled him a bit, when he lost a lot of time. Too bad—he had a very good race and could’ve made the box.

7. 18 David Millsaps; Murrieta, CA; Kawasaki KX 450F 

8. 20 Broc Tickle; Holly, MI; Suzuki RM-Z450 – As the heat, semi, and main event went on, Tickle got better and better. He just started too slow to do much of anything. At times, he was looking great and moving forward, but he’s got to do that from lap one.

9. 51 Justin Barcia; Greenville, FL; Yamaha YZ450F – Barcia came back after being off for a long time. He did about what was expected after so much time off, and he didn’t look like he lost any of his aggression out there as Dungey can attest to. 

10. 10 Justin Brayton; Murrieta, CA; KTM 450 SX-F – Brayton’s getting back into the swing of things here, and although his heat race wasn’t very good, he rebounded with a nice semi ride. In the main, he started seventh and ended up here.   

11. 4 Blake Baggett; Grand Terrace, CA; Suzuki RM-Z450 – Quiet night for Blake, who got bumped by Davi Millsaps on one of the wall jumps and went down. I was looking forward to the Mad Max-type of battle with his buddy Anderson in the semi race. Unfortunately nothing really happened.  

12. 11 Kyle Chisholm; Valrico, FL; Kawasaki KX 450F – Chizz told me his goal is to win a semi this year. He’s been much better lately and has three races left to make it happen. I think he can do it. He told me he’s not exactly sure if he’s doing the outdoors or not, which is kind of sad, really. He’s definitely fast enough to warrant some help, but these are the times we live in.   

13. 27 Nicholas Wey; Dewitt, MI; Kawasaki KX 450F – Three more races for Wey in his long and glorious career racing motorcycles for money. And, you know what? He’s still grinding, but not happy about his rides.

14. 52 Mitchell Oldenburg; Alvord, TX; Yamaha YZ250F – Along with AJ Catanzaro and Gannon Audette, Oldenburg lined up on his 250 to race the 450 class, so this fourteenth is awesome for him. This kid has got some skills and he tries hard. He told me after the race that he hasn’t been able to practice for a long time because of a wrist injury—could’ve fooled me!

15. 42 Ben LaMay; Austin, TX; Husqvarna FC450 – LaMay looked frisky at Houston. You know, getting dropped by River Yamaha might be a good thing for him (although I’m sure his bank account doesn’t agree) because he’s got to really fight for everything out there now. He looks more aggressive and faster since he went to the privateer Husky. Maybe I’m drunk, but that’s what I’m seeing.

16. 21 Jason Anderson; Edgewood, NM; Husqvarna FC450 – Anderson had an eventful Houston. After his second podium of his year in St. Louis, Anderson was very fast in the main event and probably would’ve gotten another podium if he’d just cooled his jets. The ramming of Reed wasn’t a smart move, and Peick, although I didn’t see anything wrong with Anderson’s move, isn’t happy with him either. And, of course, we all know that Baggett isn’t a fan either. There’s also a 450 main event guy that isn’t as quick as Anderson that told me if he gets the chance, he’s going to clean him out. So that’s four guys who are going to try and make Jason’s life much harder—probably starting this weekend in practice at Santa Clara. Hey, what we really need to spice up this series is for Barcia and Anderson to be angry at each other so we can watch Yamaha and Husky parts just start flying. 

17. 199 Kyle Partridge; Lake Elsinore, CA; Honda CRF450R

18. 211 Tevin Tapia; Menifee, CA; Suzuki RM-Z450 – Tapia made the A1 main event, and now, at round fourteen, he made his second of the year.  

19. 181 Dustin Pipes; Madera, CA; Suzuki RM-Z450 – Yeah, Pipes! The privateer made another main, and it’s good to see. Good dude. Go read this interview to learn more about him.

20. 58 Killian Rusk; Temecula, CA; Yamaha YZ450F – A couple weeks back we wrote a little thing on Racer X about who we think is taking advantage of these injuries and getting better rides. I was the only guy to mention Rusk. He won the LCQ in Houston and has made five straight main events.   

21. 70 Nicholas Schmidt; Riverside, CA; Suzuki RM-Z450

22. 23 Weston Peick; Menifee, CA; Yamaha YZ450F – Peick had an eventful main event. I didn’t think the Anderson pass on him was that bad, but then again, I didn’t end up on the ground afterwards. Then he was riding very, very angry and ate poop in the sand whoops. It took him a while to get up, so you know that it was a good one. No one looks like he tries harder out there than Peick.

Tapia made his second main of the year in Houston. 
Tapia made his second main of the year in Houston.  Photo: Cudby

Some News and Notes 

-In talking to a lot of different people that would know in the pits it seems that they’re all hearing the Eli Tomac to Kawasaki in 2016 and beyond is basically a done deal. Other people that wear red like to say that nothing is done yet. One thing is for sure:, GEICO Honda won’t be having any 450 riders, so if #3 stays red next year, it will be on the factory team. 

-Adam Enticknap battled with his buddy Dusty Pipes to get into the main event, and had a chance in one of the last turns to park Pipes but chose not to. Jim Holley, who’s raced a few supercrosses in his time, asked me why Adam was being so nice. I said that I didn’t know and asked him what he would have done if that were him. “Over the berm,” Holley said. Ah, 1980s supercross—catch the fever!

-Before the track was changed for the third practice, there were nine riders in the same second, and in the second practice, five riders had pole position at different points. Talk about close! 

-There was one quad out there at the end of the rhythm lane that most of the top guys did and a few 250 guys as well. I was talking to Andrew Short before the night show, and he told me that he hadn’t done it yet and that “I don’t do quads.” Shorty’s hilarious; he’s always telling me how supercross scares him. Anyway, in his heat race he got the holeshot (naturally) and busted out the quad on the first lap. I texted him after the heat to ask him if that was the first time he’d done it, and he replied that he had done it one other time in practice. The old man can still reach down and pull something out when he needs to. 

Thanks for reading. I’m back at the races, and like Loverboy, I’m loving every minute of it. Email me if you want to chat about this or anything else.