BTOSports.com Observations: Spring Creek

BTOSports.com Observations Spring Creek

July 22, 2015 2:05pm

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Yeah, Millville! Round eight of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship was held in Minnesota, and it was probably the toughest national of the year so far. The track was rough, it was hot and humid, and plenty of racers looked to be spent late in the motos. Heck, I was spent just watching these riders get spent. Then, later on, I spent some money and Weege was mad. 

I’ve been going to the Nationals since 1996 and have seen plenty of different venues and what they can offer. There have been some epic tracks over the years, but I really think Millville might be the best track on the circuit. Then again, I am biased a bit because I’ve been racing and watching nationals there since 1988. It’s not the best overall national in my opinion—that would be Lakewood or RedBud—as it’s too far from a major city, you stay too far away from the track in the morning, it’s hard to find a Starbucks in the morning [Ed note: There is a Caribou Coffee right across from the hotel in Rochester. Matthes is a coffee diva. – Chase], and you can’t see all that much of the track (but again, this stuff is all my opinion, and you could have a different one, which is cool), but it’s the best track.

Millville has it all—great dirt, ability to handle water, massive elevation (with the addition of Mt. Martin a couple of years ago), and the famous sand whoops by the creek. It’s just got a bit of everything and is a real test for the racers. 

Oh, and the mini-donut stand alongside the start straight is awesome as well. 

Dungey took away a little bit of Barcia's momentum by winning both motos.
Dungey took away a little bit of Barcia's momentum by winning both motos. photo: Cudby

Ryan Dungey went 1-1 this weekend with a couple of great rides. It was his first 1-1 on the year (something he mentioned that he had been seeking), and he deserved full marks for that. One of my favorite riders of all-time, Ross “Rollerball” Pederson, told me one time that you can let your main competition beat you once, maybe twice, but you’ve got to smack their nose and let them know their place on that third race. As we’ve seen with Justin Barcia the last couple of races, confidence is everything. And Barcia holeshotting both motos and leading the opening laps was an omen for Dungey. I would bet that Dungey was thinking that he could not, would not, let this scraggly bearded boy win again. 

And he didn’t. Dungey stopped Barcia’s win streak at two with a couple of great rides. His speed down the hills was great, his bike looked awesome (KTM folks tell me they’ve never seen Ryan change less on his bike than this year), and I’m sure in his mind, he put Barcia back where he belongs. Fantastic day for Ryan Dungey in front of his hometown fans—a riding clinic if you will.

As far as Barcia, he also rode great. He had a huge lead over third in both motos, and I think he’ll be Ryan’s stiffest competition from here on out. You could see Barcia, whose heart is attached to his throttle hand, start freaking out a bit when Dungey got by him in both motos. I thought we might see some silliness from Justin, as he sometimes turns from Justin Barcia to BAM-BAM after he gets passed (think Incredible Hulk), but he held it together and took a second. 

What’s going on with Kenny Roczen right now? After starting the year injured, you would think he would be getting better as the series rolls on, but it’s kind of going the other way. Roczen appeared to be very tired in the second moto, and he lost more than twenty seconds to Blake Baggett, who snatched third place away from Kenny. He never jumped the uphill triple (that I saw anyway) in the second moto when riders all around him were doing it. His last four motos have been 3-3-3-4, which isn’t bad on paper, but he’s miles away from challenging for wins. I don’t think it’s a disaster for Roczen to lose to Dungey or Barcia here or there, but as I said, he hasn’t been close, and for one of the most talented riders in the world (and the defending 450 champion) like Roczen, that’s weird.

If you talk to some guys on the team, they’re a little bummed that Roczen appears to be getting a bit tired. If you talk to guys in Roczen’s camp, he’s not happy with the bike setup. The situation I just described is as old as dirt in the motocross industry. It’s the age-old argument. What comes first—the rider being out of shape or the bike set-up making the rider tired? I think you readers know what side of the argument I stand on.

There are many questions to be answered surrounding Ken Roczen.
There are many questions to be answered surrounding Ken Roczen. photo: Cudby

I find it strange that team manager Mark Johnson hasn’t been at most of the outdoor races, and neither has team owner Ricky Carmichael, the best motocrosser of all-time. Roczen’s whole deal is worth millions of dollars to him and to the team in terms of sponsors and salaries. In a “real” sport, when a player is struggling you look to the coach or general manager or whatever to try and figure things out. With some very capable, experience people at the helm of this team, that’s who I’d be looking to here. 

Kyle Bentley, the acting manager at the races, is a great guy and is working hard, but he doesn’t have the experience that Johnson or Carmichael have in working with a rider like Roczen. And to top it all off, Roczen’s mechanic, Kelly Lumgair, announced that he’s leaving at the end of the year to go back to KTM in 2016. 

In the end, I think Kenny should get a mulligan for 2015 because of the injuries, but 2016 is a huge year for him and the RCH squad. Both sides have, in my opinion, one eyebrow raised at each other wondering what’s going on with the other side. 

Cooper Webb won the overall in the 250 Class and was the first guy not named Musquin or Martin to win a overall this year. Sure, he got some help in the first moto from Martin’s bike issue, but he was flying and passed Martin straight up in the early laps. If Martin didn’t have issues, he probably goes 2-1 to edge Cooper for the overall, but Webb was great. He rides with so much aggression out there. It does remind me a bit of Justin Barcia or Damon Bradshaw. 

If he loses this 250MX title, Marvin Musquin is going to lie awake at night thinking about the Millville first moto. In front of Jeremy Martin’s friends and family, Moving Marv grabbed the lead in the first moto and was checking out for a lap and a half. With Martin unable to use the clutch, one would think that Musquin’s worst result would’ve been a second behind Webb, but he was probably headed for a win. But then he drifted wide, hit some mud, and went down. Oh, no, Marvin!

Martin now has a 19-point lead over Marvin Musquin.
Martin now has a 19-point lead over Marvin Musquin. photo: Cudby

He got up in tenth, moved to sixth, and crashed again back to tenth, eventually finishing eighth. In the second moto, he finished a respectable third for fourth overall on the day, but he very easily could’ve gone 1-3 or 2-3 on the day. He could have evened Martin’s score at Martin’s home race, but instead he lost precious few points to Jeremy. It was there for Marvin, and then in an instant, the mud snatched it all away. 

In the 450 Class, if you weren’t on a Yamaha, KTM, or Husky (which is a KTM), you were basically effed off the start. In the first moto, Barcia, Dungey, Andrew Short, Justin Brayton, Phil Nicoletti, and Weston Peick were up front. It was ridiculous. In the second moto, Barcia, Dungey, Peick, Pourcel, Nicoletti (from the outside), and Jason Anderson (from the inside) got out front. Seriously, go back and watch. There were two bikes that had a clear horsepower edge on the long start straight.

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

250MX Results

1. 17 Cooper Webb; Newport, NC; Yamaha YZ250F; 1-2 – In 1988, Guy Cooper missed the first two nationals from a broken leg suffered in the previous fall. His title hopes dashed, the Honda rider still went 1-2-1-3-1-1-3-2-3-2 at the next ten rounds to finish third in the series. Webb’s basically missed five races and has gone 8-2-1, and who wants to bet he gets a few more wins from here on out? The “Coopers” have something in common, bro.

2. 1 Jeremy Martin; Millville, MN; Yamaha YZ250F; 3-1 – Martin made up a bunch of points on Musquin, but afterward he was still pissed about his clutch bolt backing out and costing him at least 2 points, maybe more in the first moto. And, oh, yeah, the win as well. He crushed everyone in the second moto.

3. 37 Joseph Savatgy; Thomasville, GA; Kawasaki KX250F; 2-4 – Joey’s hard to figure out. He’s definitely up and down, but there are these types of rides where you think he’s finally figured it out. Joe-Dog said that “they” (I don’t know who “they” are—maybe aliens?) found something out with him, and he expects to be this good the rest of the way.

4. 25 Marvin Musquin; France KTM 250 SX-F; 8-3

5. 16 Zachary Osborne; Abingdon, VA; Husqvarna TC250; 7-7 – Osborne was pretty fortunate to go 7-7 and end up fifth overall, right? The highlight of my weekend was getting upgraded to first class and having to watch Zach trudge his way back to 38B on the flight from Minneapolis to Denver. I’m sure he was pumped to see me up front after his day at the races.

6. 157 Aaron Plessinger; Hamilton, OH; Yamaha YZ250F; 6-9 – Nice job by Plessinger. Did you know he’s the top rookie in the points right now? You might be thinking Jordon Smith or RJ Hampshire, but it’s this kid. Star Racing now boasts one of the most talented and deepest lineups in the 250 Class. Go back to 2005 and think about that one for a while.

7. 126 Jordon Smith; Belmont, NC; Honda CRF250R; 12-5 – Nice second moto by Smith—he was fast. And again, it was hot, it’s the second moto, and he was strong. But, uhhhh, about that first moto and about these inconsistencies…

8. 40 Shane McElrath; Canton, NC; KTM 250 SX-F; 11-6 – Nice job by McElrath, who told me at RedBud he’d be better from here on out because he felt more comfortable on tracks he’d been to. Well, he was right. Nice rides at Millville for The Mac.

9. 80 RJ Hampshire; Hudson, FL; Honda CRF250R; 5-12 – Hampshire and Smith are best buddies, and they’re also best buddies in terms of being inconsistent. If you’re GEICO or Mike LaRocco, you’re probably thinking, Hey, these jerkies are rookies and they’ll figure it out. At least they have the raw speed.

10. 31 Alex Martin; Millville, MN; Yamaha YZ250F; 4-14 – Oh, man, A-Mart had a strong first moto (after crashing early) and then crashed in the opening lap of the second moto and was dead last. And I think he might’ve crashed again somewhere along the line at that. He nipped his teammate Luke Renzland on the last lap for fourteenth and created a four-way tie for seventh overall; he got the last spot based on the second moto.

11. 38 Matthew Bisceglia; Tualatin, OR; Honda CRF450R; 10-11

12. 28 Jessy Nelson; Paso Robles, CA; KTM 250 SX-F; 15-10 – What’s going on here? Poor starts didn’t help Nelson’s cause, but there’s no doubt he needs to get back to his beginning-of-season form ASAP.

13. 55 Kyle Peters; Greensboro, NC; Honda CRF250R; 9-17 – Guy Cooper, MotoSport.com/GPI Honda’s team manager, told me the team improved Peters’ motor, and I believe it after watching Peters rip two great starts. Now, after that it didn’t go that well, but hey, the start is half the battle.

14. 52 Mitchell Oldenburg; Alvord, TX; KTM 250 SX-F; 14-13

15. 343 Luke Renzland; Hewitt, NJ; Yamaha YZ250F; 13-15 – Luke finally used the force or something to get a good start. He ran tenth in the first moto for a while before ending up with a season-best finish. He’s a rookie and a bit below the level of Smith, Plessinger, and the likes, but he’s been solid.

16. 66 Christopher Alldredge; Powell Butte, OR; Kawasaki KX250F; 22-8

17. 32 Justin Hill; Yoncalla, OR; KTM 250 SX-F; 17-16 – Hill’s second race back didn’t go great, and afterward he told Weigandt that the heat got to him.

18. 79 Jace Owen; Mattoon, IL; Honda CRF250R; 16-18

19. 74 Zack Williams; Elko, MN; Honda CRF250R; 18-19 – Yep, another Minnesota kid. With Dungey, the Martins, Mitch Oldenburg, Williams, Jesse Wentland, and transplant Christian Craig, you could really make a case of Minnesota being the fastest state in America. Yes, I just said that. Think about it, though.

20. 434 Daniel Baker; Crittenden, KY; KTM 250 SX-F; 19-21

Plessinger is leading the rest of the rookies.
Plessinger is leading the rest of the rookies. photo: Cudby

450MX Results 

1. 5 Ryan Dungey; Waconia, MN; KTM 450 SX-F FE; 1-1 –Something Ryan said at the press conference caught my ear: “At this point riders are getting separated mentally” which basically means he feels a lot of guys have packed this in in terms of fighting him. No one will really talk about it much but Dungey got shuffled back to about fifth in the opening laps of the second moto. Nice comeback for The Dunge.

2. 51 Justin Barcia; Madison, FL; Yamaha YZ450F; 2-2

3. 4 Blake Baggett; Grand Terrace, CA; Suzuki RMZ-450; 4-3 – An awesome race for Baggett. It’s got to give him a ton of confidence to run Roczen down like that. Yeah, I think Baggett was able to pass Roczen because Roczen has issues, but riders don’t work like that (outside of Nicoletti, anyway, who can never find the positive in anything). Baggett’s going to use this confidence to get better.

4. 1 Ken Roczen; Germany; Suzuki RMZ-450; 3-4

5. 21 Jason Anderson; Rio Rancho, NM; Husqvarna FC450; 6-6 – Anderson’s been plagued by flat tires lately, so he switched to Mousse inserts, which is very surprising to me. When I was a mechanic, the tire guys would never even let the riders use rear tubes in the outdoors—it’s way too risky. Maybe things have changed, but color me surprised. Good day for Anderson. He came from outside the top twenty in the first moto to sixth, and he looked a bit tired in the second moto, but you would be too after all that work in the first moto.

6. 20 Broc Tickle; Holly, MI; Suzuki RMZ-450; 5-7 – Tickle was again solid. He wasn’t pumped on his second moto, and truly wants to get better, but he’s fast, he gets good starts, and he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. There aren’t a lot of “OH MY GOD, DID YOU SEE TICKLE” moments in a race, but that’s okay—he’s more solid now than ever before. Tickle’s in talks to stay with RCH for next year, and the team definitely wants him back, but they need to agree on Broc’s raise for next year and beyond, because they got him cheap this year.

7. 39 Fredrik Noren; Sweden; Honda CRF450R; 8-5 – Career-best finish for Noren in what might be his last ride with factory Honda, as Canard is coming back this weekend. Then again, Cole Seely came back from injury this weekend and promptly hurt himself in practice, so Noren could end up just staying put with Seely’s mechanic Rich instead of Trey’s mechanic Brent. Stay tuned. Oh, and Noren shreds at Washougal, so look for more great things from him.

8. 377 Christophe Pourcel; Groveland, FL; Husqvarna FC450; 9-8 – A so-so day for the #377. It was hot, humid, and rough, which is never a good combination for the Frenchman. He sort of stayed where he started. The BTOSports.com KTM guys weren’t very pumped on the #377, as they said he took Justin Brayton out, broke his front wheel, and caused him to miss both motos. I didn’t see it, so I can’t say for sure.

9. 46 Phillip Nicoletti; Cohocton, NY; Yamaha YZ450F; 7-10 – Filthy started up front both motos and ended up with a decent day. He said that running up front with the big dogs is a lot of work and tires him out some, so that’s not ideal. But getting out with the top guys is the best, and really the only, way to learn and get better.

10. 33 Joshua Grant; Riverside, CA; Kawasaki KX450F; 10-9 – Grant comes off the couch to log some decent finishes in his debut for Monster Energy Kawasaki. JG admitted that he hadn’t done much since TwoTwo Motorsports folded. You could see he was a bit winded, but hey, nothing wrong with a top-ten the first time out. And, yeah, it didn’t count for too much, but JG was just being JG when he set the fastest time in the very first, very muddy practice.

11. 11 Kyle Chisholm; Valrico, FL; Kawasaki KX450F; 11-11 – Team Chiz is limping to the finish of the Nationals with a motorhome that keeps breaking and more and more obstacles each week. At Millville, he put in nice rides each moto (kind of by himself at that), and that included getting hit with a huge rock in the second moto, which blew his goggle lens off and created a massive bleeding welt on his forehead. Look for Chiz to be with Traders Racing Kawasaki for Washougal and then back in his rig for the rest of the races.

12. 84 Jesse Wentland; Elk River, MN; Honda CRF450R; 12-12 – Wentland’s yet another fast, homegrown Minnesotan. He put in his best ride of the year at his favorite track. Very quietly, this privateer is getting noticed for his rides this summer.

13. 348 Jason Brooks; Niantic, CT; Yamaha YZ450F; 14-14 – Nice job by this guy on the 3-D Yamaha bike. Somewhere out there, Scotty Carter and Keith Johnson are beaming with pride.

14. 29 Andrew Short; Colorado Springs, CO; KTM 450 SX-F FE; 16-15 – Hey, look who’s back! Shorty races for the first time since the New Jersey Supercross, and admittedly he wasn’t 100 percent prepared, but you have to come back sometime, right? He started right up front in the first moto and slowly worked his way back. Being honest, I’m surprised he was this bad (hey, man, he’s Andrew Short, bro!) and I know it doesn’t need to be said, but he’ll be a lot better by Unadilla.

15. 35 Kyle Cunningham; Willow Park, TX; Suzuki RMZ-450; 13-18 – Cunningham was dead, dead last in the second moto, and spent pretty much thirty minutes outside of the top twenty before getting into point position near the end of the moto.

16. 73 Gannon Audette; Tallahassee, FL; Kawasaki KX450F; 20-13 – Audette is a nice guy and he’s very solid. There’s absolutely nothing flashy about the dude, but he’s in shape and he can pound out the laps at one speed. And sometimes, he ends up in thirteenth by the end of the moto.

17. 131 Noah McConahy; Spokane, WA; Honda CRF450R; 19-17 – I think McConahay should get a Smartop ride. Team owner Mike Genova can help the hometown hero get to the top.

18. 42 Ben LaMay; Wasilla, AK; Husqvarna FC450; 15-38 – LaMay was up around the same spot in the second moto when his bike broke, which is a shame for him. LaMay’s going to his hometown race this weekend. As in, it’s the closest race for him to Alaska.

19. 253 John Short; Pilot Point, TX; Yamaha YZ450F; 25-16 – We’ve got a couple of Shorts out there, and they both live in Texas. Weird, right?

20. 224 Heath Harrison; Silverhill, AL; Kawasaki KX450F; 17-20 – Dear Heath Harrison, I’m not bitter at all that for multiple weeks I picked you for my fantasy team and you didn’t do crap, and now, after I gave up on you, you’ve hit the top twenty in four straight motos. Nope, not bitter at all. Your teammate, Steve Matthes.

The privateer put in a top-fifteen performance on his home track.
The privateer put in a top-fifteen performance on his home track. photo: Cudby

Some other news and notes 

- I spoke with Roger DeCoster a bit about the upcoming Motocross of Nations in France. He indicated that Dungey’s on the fence about going, and he may have to go another route from the Dungey/Barcia/J-Mart team we all assumed it would be. Dungey almost bowed out last year before deciding to head on over for the sixth consecutive year. He’s got the USGP, MXoN, Red Bull Straight Rhythm, and Monster Energy Cup after the last race of the year, and I suppose he wants to relax a bit. So, anyway, Roger mentioned Jason Anderson as the MX3 rider, or maybe Cooper Webb on the 450. If it’s me, I’m also waiting to see how Trey Canard does this weekend and beyond. I’ve heard from some friends in Europe that they’re hearing Team USA isn’t going, but RD never indicated that to me.

- As I’ve stated before, because Team USA has lost three straight years, I think DeCoster should think outside the box and put Webb on the 450 (as he mentioned), or maybe, and this really only applies if Dungey is racing, put a 450 dude on a 250. We’ve seen other countries do it with some success, and USA needs to think about these things. Also, Roger isn’t a James Stewart fan, and I get it, but maybe one of these years he should think about JS7 (not this year though), as James is 2-0 at this race. 

- GEICO Honda’s Christian Craig, who moved to Minnesota and got a real job—before discovering it sucked—and went back to racing, was looking forward to racing in front of his adopted hometown fans. Well, it didn’t quite happen, as he went down on the first lap of the first moto and dislocated his shoulder. He tried to race the second moto, but that was a no go, but it appears that it’s not that serious and he said on Twitter he expects to race Washougal. 

Thanks for reading. This column’s always fun to produce. Observations from the races, going strong for six years now! Who knew? Email me at matthes@racerxonline.com if you want to chat.