Racerhead #31

Racerhead #31

July 31, 2015 9:00pm

Racerhead is the one thing running late this week. Coming to you from a variety of airports that tie together Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, and the mothership in Morgantown, West Virginia, I am traveling home on the second-to-last day of the 34th Annual AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship at Loretta Lynn Ranch. It’s a big, big deal for youth, amateur, and vet class riders—so much so that I was blown away by all of the emails and comments I got about everything from class structure to the legality of electric bikes in future classes. Loretta Lynn’s is not for everyone, but if you’ve ever been, you know how much it matters to riders young and old, to the motorcycle industry and sponsors, and to the families that support this awesome, sometimes crazy sport.

More than one hundred motos will have gone off over the course of this week, beginning on Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. (and every day to follow) through tomorrow’s final checkered flag. We’ve had brutal heat, intense rain, seemingly non-stop racing, and a glimpse at both the future, present, and past of amateur motocross in America. And if the alumni and graduates returning can be a measuring stick, I saw Jeremy McGrath, Ricky Carmichael, Malcolm Stewart, Wil Hahn, Christian Craig, Aaron Plessinger, and Tyler Bowers there to spectate; Brian Deegan, Tyson and Tallon Vohland, and Tim Ferry there to watch their kids race; and former pros Sebastien Tortelli, Robbie Reynard, Scott Sheak, and Barry Carsten to actually compete. 

Of course, some of those names elicit boos and hisses from the folks who like to think that “amateur” means someone who never turned pro, but Loretta Lynn’s has always allowed former pros to compete, going back to day one when Barry Higgins—the original American motocross factory star—signed up in 1982 for the Vet +30 class. Tony DiStefano, Marty Smith, Mark Barnett, Jeff Emig, Ricky Carmichael—they all came and raced too. But now I’m getting slammed because the AMA and MX Sports allow for allowing the likes of Tortelli and Reynard, former pros, to race specific vet classes. Not sure where else they are supposed to compete, but I am glad they come to Loretta Lynn’s, and I think a lot of other people are too. 

Ryder Difrancesco took home his third title today.
Ryder Difrancesco took home his third title today. photo: Chase Stallo

We also saw an entire platoon of fast, young kids that are rapidly rising through the ranks, from soon-to-be pros like Tristan Charboneau, Austin Forkner, and Chase Sexton, to future stars like Lance Kobusch, Garrett Marchbanks, Ryder Difrancesco, Stilez Roberston, Max Vohland, Haiden Deegan, Nick Romano, and many, many more. Not to mention the 1,400 other riders and their families that are there competing, having fun, and enjoying their week at the Ranch/graduation/homecoming/reunion/summer vacation, etc. It’s an amazing and awesome week, and if you’ve ever been you know what I mean!

We’ve been streaming the races live all week long, and I have been on he infield pretty much every day for the last two weeks. I barely saw Washougal, and I have no idea what else is going on in the motocross world (other than Forkner to Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki and Chase Sexton to GEICO Honda), and couldn’t even venture a guess on who’s going to ride for Team USA at the Motocross of Nations, or even what the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross schedule looks like, though I will know a little more now that I am headed back home. 

So let me turn it over to the other guys here as I work my way back home from the world’s greatest motocross vacation (and the truly busiest week in the lives of those who work in this sport).

FACTORY SUPPORT FOR THE AMATEURS (Jason Weigandt) 

The center of Loretta Lynn’s Ranch never changes, but the world around it does. The event has always produced pro factory rides for amateur stars, but things have gone next level in the last few years.

At one time, we’d merely see a phenomenon pick up a deal every few years, and it was often only one rider from one brand. Maybe one year it’s Josh Hill on factory Yamaha, or Broc Hepler and Davi Millsaps on Team Suzuki—and that was considered huge for Suzuki to place two pros in the same year. These days, this is par for the course, with entire 250 squads from each team filled in from the ranch each year.

This summer’s Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship featured seven new pros with some level of factory support—RJ Hampshire, Jordon Smith, Aaron Plessinger, Chris Alldredge, Luke Renzland, Daniel Baker, and Alex Frye. That’s a lot of talent getting a lot of looks from pro teams, and there’s another wave coming soon.

From my vantage point, it all changed with GEICO Honda’s amateur program, which signed Trey Canard at the end of the 2006 season. After Canard came Justin Barcia, Eli Tomac, Blake Wharton, Justin Bogle…the list goes on. And soon every other brand was locked out of quality talent. Now Yamaha has responded with the Blu Crew, guiding amateurs with the help of Bobby Reagan and the Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha team. With Jeremy Martin, Cooper Webb, and Plessinger in the ranks, this team is now stocked the way GEICO Honda was. So the level keeps rising, and the gauntlet is thrown down. Which team locks up the next Canard/Barcia/Tomac gang? The next J-Mart/C-Webb duo?

Work is underway right now. Last year’s Super Mini ranks were loaded and a lot of those riders already have deals. Some of those riders are in the B class this year, with Austin Forkner heading for titles and Chase Sexton showing great speed. Everything is in the rumor stage right now, but I hear Forkner will end up staying with Kawasaki, and Sexton, a Yamaha rider today, could end up with GEICO Honda. By the time they’re in the A class, their pro deals will be done, just like it was for Canard, Tomac, Barcia, and Webb. The same pressure to perform and get a deal in the A class has now shifted into the Super Mini, Schoolboy, and B ranks, as teams try to swoop in first.

I’m not sure what that all means. On one hand, the riders enter the pros more prepared than ever, and we’ve seen a lot of quality talent produced through such programs. The riders get good guidance from the start and are ready to win races earlier. On the other end, it could make it harder for a late bloomer to find a slot, since many of the good deals are already taken. That said, guys like Weston Peick and Cole Seely, who weren’t on the must-have list out of Loretta’s, have found their way, too, so it’s not hopeless for such. It will be interesting to see how things look in the pro ranks five years from now.

My favorite part of this week came Tuesday night, when Team Green hosted a round-table discussion for riders and parents led by Jeremy McGrath, Tyler Bowers, Wil Hahn, and Mitch Payton. Riders and parents asked real questions about agents, trainers, diets, schooling, and equipment, and the answers were as deep and thoughtful as you’d expect from that panel.

In general, they all encouraged moderation. Mitch Payton said he’d rather see kids just ride instead of train, saying, “I’d rather see you get a start and show speed for three laps and then fade back. We can work on the fitness.” On the agent thing, McGrath stopped everyone in their tracks when he said, “I never had an agent. I didn’t want anyone speaking for me.”

Lately, we’ve seen riders like Ryan Villopoto, Ryan Dungey, and Jeremy Martin succeed as pros without huge piles of titles from Loretta’s. They all had rides leaving here, though, so someone saw something in each of them. Like any other sport, there’s no easy way to scout and predict the future. Like any other year, teams are trying to find that next guy down here. It’s more important to get it right than ever.

Austin Forkner, still in the B class, already has a plan for a pro career.
Austin Forkner, still in the B class, already has a plan for a pro career. photo: Chase Stallo

PRO PERSPECTIVE (Jason Thomas) 

I just returned from a few days at everyone's favorite amateur national, Loretta Lynn Ranch in Tennessee. Most of the motocross world spent their youth at that same horse ranch, all vying for sponsorship, glory, and national championships. Most of my yearly goals as a kid were based around that one week in late summer, so much emphasis placed on those three motos in each class. I can remember the kids just older than I was ripping around the Ranch.

Legends like Kevin Windham, Tim Ferry, and Robbie Reynard were older than I was but still just kids with a dream. My age group was a modest group of riders like Ricky Carmichael, Brock Sellards, and Nick Wey. That was so many years ago, yet when I walk around those same roads and swim in that same creek, it feels like it was just yesterday that I was lining up for my shot at infamy.

Those days have come and gone, but the crop of talent keeps on coming. The Carmichaels and Windhams are now the Mark Worths, Austin Forkners, Chase Sextons and Jett Reynolds. The legends of tomorrow are busy forging their own path towards greatness, and from what I saw this week, they will fulfill every bit of that expectation. The sport keeps evolving, and with that, the skill level continues to rise. With all of the craziness in the pro motocross world, I sometimes lose touch with the amateur pulse, but flying home today, I can honestly say that the kids are indeed all right. 

Once the competitor, Tim Ferry is at Loretta's this week as a parent.
Once the competitor, Tim Ferry is at Loretta's this week as a parent. Chase Stallo

THE NUMBER: 7 (Andras Hegyi)

Besides Ricky Carmichael, Ryan Dungey is only the second rider who was able to get seven wins on a track in AMA Pro Motocross. At Washougal, Red Bull KTM’s Dungey became the winningest rider ever at the track, overtaking Carmichael and Jeff Ward. Both Carmichael and Ward got six wins at Washougal. RC won there in 1997, ‘98, 2000, ‘02, ’04, and ‘05, while Ward did it in ‘82, ‘84, ‘86, ‘88, ’89, and ‘91. But now Dungey has his seventh win. Ryan won in ‘08, ‘09, ‘10, ‘11, ‘12 and ‘14. This is the first time in his career that Dungey was able to get seven wins on one track. And besides Carmichael, of course, Dungey is only the second rider who was able to get seven wins at one facility.

But here’s the crazy part: Ricky Carmichael was able to get at least seven wins on ten different tracks! Carmichael got ten wins on three different tracks: Budds Creek, Spring Creek, and Southwick. He got nine wins at Broome Tioga and RedBud. He got eight wins at Glen Helen, High Point, Unadilla, and Steel City. And he got seven wins at Hangtown.

Dungey is on his way to a third 450MX title.
Dungey is on his way to a third 450MX title. photo: Cudby

VEXED VETS (Steve Matthes)

Earlier this week I reposted a Racer X Instagram photo of former World Champion and all around fast guy Sebastian Tortelli racing, and was met with some, to me, surprising comments. There’s some push back from other vet racers about having to line up against guys like Tortelli, Robbie Reynard, and, in the past, the likes of Jeff Emig, Ricky Carmichael, etc. And frankly, I don’t get it. I know the folks at MX Sports have also caught heat for this in the past and have made some changes to try and accommodate people who don’t want to race against these types of racers, but some people are still not happy.

Here’s the thing though—it would be indeed awesome if there were forty guys who had national numbers that were over 30 and wanted to race. They could have their own class and everyone would love to see it, but unfortunately, that’s not reality. So if you’re a Reynard or Tortelli, you no longer race professionally, and love to race your dirt bike, should you just be told to stay home? I think it’s awesome that these guys have a place to go and have some fun and race their dirt bikes.

I don’t understand the anger from some vets who are upset that they don’t have a chance to beat these guys. Who cares? There’s no factory ride coming for anyone in this class no matter how you do. If you get beat by three or four (max) riders that used to be stars of the sport, just tell your buddies you placed three or four spots higher and we’ll all let it go. Loretta Lynn’s has always been, and will always be, a race you make on merit. Former stars of the sport went through all the work to get to the Ranch and made it by their speed. If you’re unhappy with that, I suggest you either let the dream of a factory ride die or go beat them. It’s that simple.

Tortelli's still a strong competitor.
Tortelli's still a strong competitor. photo: Chase Stallo

WEBB’S DOUBLE (Andras Hegyi)

Cooper Webb is the eighth Yamaha rider in small-bore category to get two consecutive wins. In the last three rounds, he got three successive podiums. He put an end to Yamaha's winless drought at Washougal after twenty-two years. Prior to Webb's victory, the last Yamaha winner was Jeff Emig in 1993 in this class.

So far there have been eighteen Yamaha winners in 125/250 AMA Motocross. But only eight of them were able to get at least two consecutive wins. Before Webb, there was Bob Hannah, Broc Glover, Ron Lechien, Jeff Emig, Kevin Windham, Stephane Roncada, and Jeremy Martin. The longest Yamaha winning streak was made by Golden Boy himself, Broc Glover, who won four consecutive rounds in 1979. 

ROMAIN FEBVRE (Andras Hegyi)

The French sensation Romain Febvre has put an end to an era. Between 2008 and 2014, only Tony Cairoli was able to win at least five rounds in a premier-class season. But at the Czech GP at Loket, the Yamaha rider got his fifth win this year (and in just the last six rounds). Prior to Cairoli's domination, the last rider to get five wins in a season was the New Zealander Joshua Coppins in 2007.

Febvre is also the twelfth Yamaha rider to get at least five wins in a season in any categories. The rookie now has a very good chance to be world champion in MXGP this season.

Yamaha riders with at least five GP wins in a season:

125/MX2

  • Bob Moore USA, 1994, (125) six wins and world championship
  • Alessio Chiodi, Italy, 1997, (125) five wins and world championship
  • Stefan Everts, Belgium, 2003, (125) eight wins
  • Tony Cairoli, Italy, 2005, (MX2) six wins and world championship
  • Tony Cairoli, 2007, (MX2) ten wins and world championship 

250/Motocross GP/MX1/MXGP

  • Hakan Andersson, Sweden, 1973, (250) five wins and world championship
  • Jacky Vimond, France, 1986, (250) seven wins and world championship
  • Stefan Everts, Belgium, 2003, (MotocrossGP) nine wins and world championship
  • Stefan Everts, 2004, (MX1) seven wins and world championship
  • Stefan Everts, 2005, (MX1) four wins – world championship
  • Stefan Everts, 2006, (MX1) fourteen wins – world championship
  • Joshua Coppins, New Zealand, 2007 (MX1) five wins
  • Romain Febvre, France, 2015 (MXGP) so far five wins

500/MX3

  • Heikki Mikkola, Finland, 1977, (500) eight wins and world championship
  • Heikki Mikkola, 1978, (500) eight wins and world championship
  • Hakan Carlqvist, Sweden, 1983, (500) seven wins and world championship
  • Stefan Everts, Belgium, 2001, (500) seven wins and world championship
  • Yves Demaria, France, 2007, (MX3) six wins and world championship
  • Carlos Campano, Spain, 2010; (MX3) seven wins and world championship 
Febvre has been the unlikely standout this season.
Febvre has been the unlikely standout this season. photo: MXGP

TAKE OFF, EH? (Matthes)

There are only three rounds left in the Canadian national series, and things looked settled in one class, while the other is still up in the air. KTM’s Kaven Benoit, on his KTM 250SX two-stroke, has opened up a nice lead over MX 101 Yamaha’s Jimmy Decotis and looks primed to repeat as champion in MX2, especially with another race in Quebec, where the hometown kid is so good. It’s got to be frustrating for Decotis, because Benoit seems to pulling every single holeshot on the smoker, while Decotis has had some issues here and there.

In MX1, it’s Rockstar Yamaha’s Matt Georke with a 22-point lead over Monster Kawasaki’s Brett Metcalfe. Georke has been great this year and seems to be able to come from the back to limit the damage when he doesn’t get the start. Metcalfe had an early season DNF, so while he’s been as fast as Matt many times, those early season points may come back to haunt him.

Follow directmotocross.com or Guaranteedmx.com for some racing action this weekend out in Moncton.

MALCOLM: THE BOOK (DC)

Mitch Boehm, our longtime friend and writer, just completed his long-awaited autobiography on Malcolm Smith, the American motorcycling legend. It’s four hundred pages, 100,000 words, hardbound, and filled with a lot of photos no one outside Malcolm’s family has ever seen. Bruce Brown of On Any Sunday did the foreword. This a must have book for any student of the sport or industry. Find out more right here.

RANDOM NOTES

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Lissimore’s Canadian National photo report from Quebec is HERE.

Swizcore says anyone who’s unhappy with Cooper Webb and his podium speeches doesn’t get it HERE.

One of our readers won a weekend with Jeremy McGrath out at his ranch, took some photos, and wrote about it HERE.

Thanks for reading. See you at the races.