BTOSports.com Observations: Glen Helen

BTOSports.com Observations Glen Helen

May 27, 2015 2:15pm

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Glen Helen! Round two of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship took place at the hallowed grounds of Glen Helen, where most of the riders racing had previously spun a lot of laps. In fact, when you’re thinking about guys like Blake Baggett and Josh Grant, who love Glen Helen and have done well there due to it being a hometown track, you start thinking about all the dudes that ride there all the time and realize that a lot of riders are good there. So, just throw your dumb theories out the window. Heck, even District 23 brothers Jeremy and Alex Martin have spent a lot of time in California and have ridden Helen a ton. 

There’s nothing like Glen Helen on the circuit. It’s unique with its hills, sand-ish dirt, and hard base. The tire choice for most of the riders was the same as Hangtown, but the tire choice for most of the riders are the same everywhere. Still, a few riders thought they had flat tires in the motos, guys were unsure of themselves on the hard pack, and of course, the massive hills tax a machine to its limits. Another hill was added to the track along with some more man-made jumps and a lot of split-lane sections. And the split-lane sections actually kind of worked.

The weather was weird, man. It was pretty cold, so we didn’t hear the usual “Glen Helen worked me, man” after the races wasn’t there. Between the dirt, the weather, the track itself, and the hills, well, Glen Helen was once again a very unique national. 

I remember when I was a mechanic for Kelly Smith at KTM in the early 2000s. We were on the starting line at Hangtown (concrete pad at the old starting location, by the way), and Travis Pastrana’s dad was there sweeping the pads with his team Suzuki shirt open. He was standing in front of the then-dominant Stephane Roncada of the Yamaha of Troy team yelling, “Who’s going to stop this guy?” while pointing at poor Ron-Ron. It was weird and bizarre to say the least, and probably the only time in Roncada’s career that he was considered a juggernaut in the sport. My point is that I might actually be Pastrana’s weirdo dad this weekend in Lakewood and do the same thing to Eli Tomac.

There were plenty of obstacles to challenge riders. 
There were plenty of obstacles to challenge riders.  Photo: Cudby

Can anyone stop Eli Tomac? The #3 GEICO Honda rider is on a roll right now going four for four to start the season, and it wasn’t even close. Well, in the first moto at Glen Helen he didn’t grab the lead until seven laps in (Ryan Dungey’s bike malfunction helped Eli get into the lead, but still.) He’s been so good out there. He’s doing the two things that amazing riders always do. He barely sits down, and he rarely takes his feet off the pegs. The guy’s in amazing shape to be able to do these two things, and like he did on the 250, he’s able to just put the front end where he needs to. I was talking to GEICO Honda manager Mike LaRocco about Tomac, and although he doesn’t work with him that much anymore with Tomac being under the factory Honda tent, he knows Eli well and also knows about being the man, as he’s got a few national titles under his belt. This is what he had to say: 

“He’s in the groove right now. He’s riding very well. He looks great. Once you have the week that he did last week, you have this inner confidence, you know you have what it takes and doesn’t matter where you are, you know you have time to get to the front.” 

Yep, that about covers it.

Look, Marvin Musquin won both motos at Glen Helen with a couple of textbook, methodical rides. Yay for him and his team (KTM went 1-2-3, bro). Musquin has now won three out of the four motos to start the year. He’s on fire… BUT (and you knew there would be a “but”, right?) Glen Helen was about Jeremy Martin. The defending champ’s bike wouldn’t start for moto one, and he missed the gate drop (no word on whether Weigandt also missed the gate drop, which he has done before, because my TV carrier Dish Network is fighting with MAVTV right now, so I’m not seeing the first motos), and although this wasn’t Ryan Dungey at Southwick-type of thing, he got going dead last and was about 7–8 seconds behind everyone.

From there Martin put on a show ripping through the pack to get a fifth. It was seriously impressive. Second moto he crashed on the first lap and was once again forced to come from about last to get sixth. He was really fast and salvaged points from what could have been an absolutely disastrous day. He lost 19 points to Marvin, which wasn’t that bad considering his issues. He was great, and it’s looking like a Musquin and Martin battle forming here.

This year has been the best in Alex Martin's career. 
This year has been the best in Alex Martin's career.  Photo: Cudby

We’ve talked a lot about Alex Martin, Jeremy’s brother, this year after his first two supercross podiums and his strong start last weekend. But, guess what? He was even better this weekend, scoring a career-best second in the second moto. He just rode away from everyone not named Marvin. There was no battle for second—Alex Martin was just better than thirty-eight other riders. 

I was talking to Jeremy Martin and his trainer Johnny O’Mara before the day started, and they were both cracking on Alex for trying to tag along with O’Mara and Jeremy. It seems he was about three weeks late to the program once Martin got with O’Mara, and he really struggled in the beginning to keep up on the rides. I made a joke about how Alex is getting amazing training for free because of Jeremy paying for Johnny’s services, and O’Mara said that it’s fine because the brothers are really pushing each other and are in sync now. I’d say that’s true, as they’re second and third in the points after two races. 

Justin Hill had a terrible supercross season. I don’t care that the points say he was okay; he benefited from injuries to some of the top riders. Don’t get me wrong, Hill was very fast indoors—he won heat races and set fast times—but his results weren’t great. And I know the team was wondering what was up. He suffered a concussion coming into the year, but after a few weeks the mystery results kept coming. Last week he crashed in the opening laps and was out of the points. In the second moto he was seventh, which was fine but just eeeeeh.

This week he was great. All the orange bikes got great starts down the wide-open GH start straight, and from there Hill put himself in good positions by moving forward both motos. Finishing second in the first moto was a nice result, and his fourteenth-to-fifth ride in the second moto might have been better. Second overall for a dude that many consider an “SX guy” is great. At least now team manager Roger DeCoster probably talks to him. 

Justin Barcia had decent results in one moto at Hangtown, but still got a bit tired and was caught from behind by Weston Peick. Despite this, his fourth was still pretty good. That’s what you say if you’re a Barcia fan. If you’re with Yamaha or someone paying him, you’re thinking that he’s paid to win. After all, he was my pick to be the number-one challenger to Ryan Villopoto in the 2014 450SX season. And right now, he’s not close to winning.

Can Justin Barcia follow up with more good results?
Can Justin Barcia follow up with more good results? Photo: Cudby

But (and there’s always a but) Barcia was very good at Glen Helen. He got great starts and rode hard to a second overall on the day. It’s the mystery wrapped in a riddle that has been Justin this year. When he came back from injury in supercross he wasn’t his usual Friday’s-restaurant-waitress-with-flair self that we expect, and I have written that I thought this outdoor season was a very important one for Barcia. And so far he’s been good. He’s got some work to do to get onto Tomac’s and Dungey’s levels, but he’s in the mix for thirds with a bunch of other guys, including all his teammates.

And can we talk about the JGR team? Coy Gibbs, bro…innovator of the year the last two years for convincing “Filthy” Phil Nicoletti to stay on his team as a “Phil-in” (get it?). And his year they made Filthy’s deal a twelve-race outdoor deal instead of just being a fill-in. And Nicoletti scored a third in the first moto! Can you believe it? Last week Barcia and Peick were third and fourth in the second moto, this week Barcia and Nicoletti were second and third in the first moto, and overall Barcia was second and Peick fifth. Everywhere you looked in the 450 Class, there was a JGR Yamaha, and all three guys look great. Peick’s out in California riding, and Nicoletti and Barcia have been riding together at Club MX in South Carolina. Whatever they’ve been doing early this outdoor season, they should keep doing it. 

250 Class Results

1. 25 Marvin Musquin; France KTM 250 SX-F; 1-1 – After the race Marvin was talking to Christophe Pourcel in the pits for a long time, and I thought about how Pourcel could easily have Marvin’s career here in the USA if it wasn’t for some strange decisions on his part.  

2. 32 Justin Hill; Yoncalla, OR; KTM 250 SX-F; 2-5 – The KTMs were fast at Helen, no doubt about it.   

3. 28 Jessy Nelson; Paso Robles, CA; KTM 250 SX-F 4-4 – Nelson was way better this week than last, which was kind of his hometown race. Yeah, he got passed in both motos late, but he’s still a bit underprepared after crashing hard during the SX break. No matter, 4-4 for third overall is solid and he’ll take it. 

4. 37 Joseph Savatgy; Thomasville, GA; Kawasaki KX 250F; 3-7 – I talked to some people that aren’t that impressed by Savatgy’s finishes this season. It’s not that they think he’s doing poorly; it’s just that they don’t think there’s anything special. I don’t know, man—to me he’s doing great.

5. 31 Alex Martin; Millville, MN; Yamaha YZ250F; 11-2 – After the first moto, everyone was still buzzing about Jeremy Martin’s ride, so I made sure some of the people I spoke to knew that Alex was also amazing for coming from pretty much last to eleventh. Second moto, they knew what I was talking about. 

6. 40 Shane McElrath; Canton, NC; KTM 250 SX-F; 9-3 – I predicted before the season that this guy would be a surprise, and although his Hangtown sucked, Glen Helen was much better, including his first-ever national moto podium after passing Nelson late in moto two. Watch this dude. 

7. 1 Jeremy Martin; Millville, MN; Yamaha YZ250F; 5-6 – Martin passed sixty riders passed in two motos. He’s a lock for the RC Hard Charger award, right?

8. 38 Matthew Bisceglia; Tualatin, OR; Honda CRF250R; 6-11 – Matt’s getting some good starts. Last year in eighteen motos raced, he scored just two top-ten finishes. In four motos this year, he’s gotten two already.   

9. 55 Kyle Peters; Greensboro, NC; Honda CRF250R; 7-12 – Peters got a new mechanic this weekend in Gregg Albertson, which was the magic touch Kyle needed. He logged a very impressive seventh in the first moto. Second moto, he was also very good. Nice job by a guy that doesn’t talk much. 

10. 50 Adam Cianciarulo; Port Orange, FL; Kawasaki KX 250F; 12-10 – The kid (he’s not really a kid anymore; he’s grown up to be a monster) crashed in both motos, and his fitness still isn’t where he needs it to be. Without crashes, though, he’s probably a 5-5 guy at Glen Helen. That and five bucks gets you a coffee at Starbucks. 

11. 80 RJ Hampshire; Hudson, FL; Honda CRF250R; 16-9 – I haven’t been able to find RJ after the motos to ask him how it’s going. He’s probably avoiding me because he knows all I want to do is ask how Tim Ferry is doing. 

12. 52 Mitchell Oldenburg; Alvord, TX; KTM 250 SX-F; 10-15 – I didn’t know this when it was announced, but Oldenburg’s Lucas Oil/Troy Lee Designs KTM deal is only guaranteed for five races. It gets picked up if he gets three top-twelve overall finishes in the five races, and if he doesn’t, he may still stay on, but it’s at TLD’s discretion. In short, Freckle has got to get busy.

13. 126 Jordon Smith; Belmont, NC; Honda CRF250R; 14-14 – A decent day, but in the first moto Jordon went backward pretty far pretty fast. His team manager, Mike LaRocco, wasn’t very happy with any of his riders after the race, but mentioned that Jordon was dealing with arm pump.  

14. 66 Christopher Alldredge; Powell Butte, OR; Kawasaki KX 250F; 21-8 – Chris didn’t back up his surprising podium at Hangtown, but he was still good. He crashed down a hill in the first moto while up front. An eighth in the second moto is fine because his supercross season was a disaster. So, to me, this is fine.

15. 157 Aaron Plessinger; Hamilton, OH; Yamaha YZ250F; 8-23

16. 343 Luke Renzland; Hewitt, NJ; Yamaha YZ250F; 17-13 – I’ve been telling you people that this Jersey kid is under the radar this year, and he once again logged some good scores. They’re not “OMG, look at Renzland” rides, but they’re “Hey, good job kid” rides.  

17. 16 Zachary Osborne; Abingdon, VA; Husqvarna TC250; 13-33 – Osborne’s season hasn’t been that stellar outside of a very good second Hangtown moto. Not sure what’s up, but he’s okay after crashing out of the second moto at Glen Helen.

18. 450 Hayden Mellross; Australia; Honda CRF250R; 19-16 – Don’t know much about this dude other than he’s from Australia and the great Timmy Ferry works with him. Hey, teams out there, you could have this dude ride for you for basically expenses—do it!

19. 434 Daniel Baker; Crittenden, KY; KTM 250 SX-F; 15-25 – The rookie has shown nice speed and finishes in the first motos so far, but the second motos have been giving him problems. I bet he figures it out soon though. 

20. 211 Tevin Tapia; Bonney Lake, WA; Yamaha YZ250F; 26-17  – Tapia is the top SEVEN gear rider out there right now. #flyingtheflag

McElrath left Glen Helen with his first moto podium. 
McElrath left Glen Helen with his first moto podium.  Photo: Cudby

450 Class Results

1. 3 Eli Tomac; Cortez, CO; Honda CRF450R; 1-1 – Might be a mudder this weekend in Colorado, which could, I repeat, could, slow Eli down. 

2. 51 Justin Barcia; Monroe, NY; Yamaha YZ450F; 2-4 – I can’t believe Barcia’s going to make it all twelve rounds with that hair he’s got going on right now. No way, bro, he’s going to have to cut it at some point. 

3. 5 Ryan Dungey; Waconia, MN; KTM 450 SX-F FE; 6-2 – Dungey had a bike malfunction in the first moto that cost him an easy second. And in the second moto he rode to an easy second place some twenty-three seconds back of Tomac. Like I said last week, as bad as he got beat it’s just 6 points and not that big of a deal, but his sixth place in the first moto hurts bad. 

4. 1 Ken Roczen; Germany; Suzuki RMZ-450; 8-3 – A lot of defending champions who’ve been having injury problems, have had crashes, and have been forced to ride around at 75 percent speed (or worse) would choose not to answer texts about coming on an Internet radio show or stick around for interviews after the races, but Roczen’s not one of those guys, and I’m thankful for that. He was open to talking this week, and some riders in his position wouldn’t be. As far as the riding, he’ll get there, but it’s just a matter of what kind of points lead Tomac has when Roczen gets there. 

5. 23 Weston Peick; Wildomar, CA; Yamaha YZ450F; 5-6 – We’ve all seen Peick’s massive save down the hill, and it’s probably no coincidence that he went backwards after almost dying. It takes a lot of energy to save something like that, and it wears you out. Through four motos, Peick’s gone 8-3-5-6, which puts him third in the points. Not too shabby. 

6. 22 Chad Reed; Australia; Kawasaki KX 450F; 4-8 – Reed’s performances were massively better than last week’s. I think he had some goggle issues that caused him to drop back in the second moto, but Reedy was fine. If he can run top five in the motos, I think that’s pretty decent coming off two horrible outdoor seasons. 

7. 4 Blake Baggett; Grand Terrace, CA; Suzuki RMZ-450; 7-7 – Baggett was better than 7-7. Seriously, he was. His starts weren’t great (twelfth and tenth after lap one in each moto), and he took too long to get going, but there were a few laps where he was the second- or third- fastest rider on the track. Yeah, yeah, he got seventh, but it was a strong seventh.

8. 377 Christophe Pourcel; Groveland, FL; Husqvarna FC450; 9-10 – Solid steady motos for Pourcel at Glen Helen. Think about how many riders out there would like to come into the season not 100 percent ready and be able to manage three top-tens in four motos? 

9. 46 Phillip Nicoletti; Cohocton, NY; Yamaha YZ450F; 3-21 – Filthy made a 450MX podium. Can someone check and see if this is Moose Racing’s first-ever premier-class podium while you’re at it? 

10. 14 Cole Seely; Laguna Beach, CA; Honda CRF450R; 14-9 – Seely again qualified well but crashed early in the first moto and was way back. Second moto wasn’t what he wanted, but it’s still early.

11. 21 Jason Anderson; Rio Rancho, NM; Husqvarna FC450; 38-5 – I was way impressed with Anderson’s second moto. He charged hard from behind to catch and pass some good dudes. Late in the race he was still on it, which was weird because last week at Hangtown in the second moto he looked visibly tired. 

12. 39 Fredrik Noren; Sweden; Honda CRF450R; 13-13 – Fast Freddie wasn’t as fast as he was in Hangtown, but still was pretty respectable. Starting in Colorado, he’s going to fill in on Honda HRC, and it should be interesting to see how he does.  

13. 20 Broc Tickle; Holly, MI; Suzuki RMZ-450; 12-15 – Tickle pulled into the pits in the first moto thinking he had a front flat, but he actually didn’t. His tire was flexing over that much. Funny thing is, he wasn’t the only guy feeling that out there.  

14. 130 Thomas Hahn; Great Bend, KS; Honda CRF450R; 15-14

15. 48 William Hahn; Decatur, TX; Kawasaki KX 450F; 11-18 – Wilbur got caught in practice crashing on a hill, and it was straight comedy from there watching him try to get up and get straightened out. Listen to him try to explain to me what happened. Anyway, as far as the motos are concerned, his eleventh in the first moto was much, much better than last week.

16. 10 Justin Brayton; Fort Dodge, IA; KTM 450 SX-F FE; 10-22 – Very respectable finish for Justin in the first moto, and in the second moto he crashed early on and was, like Nicoletti, way, way back. To eat dirt and rocks for thirty-five minutes and be so close to earning a point at the end but yet still not get one would really suck.

17. 24 Brett Metcalfe; Australia; Kawasaki KX 450F; 40-11 – Not the day Metty wanted. In the second moto he was slowly catching Pourcel the whole moto and finally got by him. It was a battle within the battle and one that you could tell Metty wasn’t going to let go. As soon as he got by him, he effed up and the #377 rode on by, which had to be really frustrating. In the first moto he broke a front wheel, which makes him probably the 6000th rider to break a wheel at Glen Helen in the last twenty years. Anyway, he’s off to Canada for the rest of the summer.

18. 33 Joshua Grant; Riverside, CA; Kawasaki KX 450F; 27-12 – Grant’s first national was going okay until he pulled into the mechanic’s area while in tenth with some broken spokes in his front wheel. The team thought he said “flat,” so they checked it and sent him back out for a lap. He was forced to come back in again and get the wheel changed the next time around.  

19. 35 Kyle Cunningham; Willow Park, TX; Kawasaki KX 450F; 16-17 – It’s interesting, to me anyway, watching Matt Lemoine and Kyle Cunningham, two long-time 250 riders, jump up into the 450 Class on privateer Kawasakis, and duke it out. They’ve both been close to each other through four motos, they both have one DNF, and Cunningham is 3 points up on Lemoine with twenty motos to go—catch the fever! 

20. 11 Kyle Chisholm; Valrico, FL; Kawasaki KX 450F; 19-16 – The Chiz was looking forward to Helen with his new motors and suspension settings, but wasn’t able to take advantage of it because of a stomach flu of some sort.

Every week brings a chance for Ken Roczen to improve. 
Every week brings a chance for Ken Roczen to improve.  Photo: Ken Roczen

Some news and notes from the Helen:

Props to privateer Nick Schmidt for loaning fellow privateer Cade Clason his spare Suzuki to race the motos after Cade qualified thirtieth. Y’see, Cade or Cade’s former sponsor (AG Motorsports) owed Rocket Exhaust’s Don Leib some money for services, and Don hadn’t been paid. This made him understandably upset. What isn’t understandable at all is that Leib apparently sent Josh Pitts over to Cade’s pit area after qualifying, and while seemingly trying to help the bike perform better, he instead remapped and disabled the Honda for competition. Clason’s day was apparently finished. Kind of a dirty move, right? And also not a way to actually get your money because, if I’m Cade, I’m definitely not going to pay you or get my sponsors (or whomever) to pay you after that sneaky move. Leib then came back with a local sheriff to explain his actions, resulting in quite the commotion right before the motos. Then he and Pitts left the track altogether, without the bike or the money.

Schmidt, who was parked nearby, saw this all go down and lent Clason his back-up bike (which is a Suzuki). Cade normally races a Honda, so I’m sure this was super weird for him out there). Fortunately, the AMA let Clason race the bike (you can’t switch bikes, let alone brands, after qualifying, but an exception was made here due to the bizarre circumstances). I haven’t heard of the penalties to Leib and Pitts as of this column, but I imagine they are coming soon. I know all of the above seems like it’s straight out of a B-movie about supercross, but it really happened at a race. Privateer: The Movie! By the way, Clason finished thirty-first overall. 

Thanks for reading this week—I appreciate it. You can email me at matthes@racerxonline.com if you want to chat about this or anything else.