Welcome to Racerhead and another week in the very brief “off-season.” Well, it’s an off-season for some. The FIM World Championships still have two rounds to go (Mexico and Glen Helen) and then the Motocross of Nations in France, all taking place before the end of September. So for guys like Team USA’s Justin Barcia, Jeremy Martin, and Cooper Webb, they are still pinned—and Martin and Webb are signed up for the USGP, along with a few other Americans who won’t be doing the MXoN, including Jessy Nelson, Jason Anderson, Shane McElrath, and more.
After that comes a couple of races that aren’t to be taken quite as seriously, the Red Bull Straight Rhythm and the Monster Energy Cup. I think we’re all looking forward to these to finally catch a glimpse of James Stewart, who popped over into Feld Motor Sports Entertainment’s HQ in Florida to visit with Todd Jendro and Dave Prater last week and preview the track for the MEC in Las Vegas. Stewart was last seen riding at race speed in public in the summer of 2014, and from the few eyewitnesses who have seen him riding in Florida, I’m guessing he may show up for 2016 faster than ever.
I’ve been traveling this week, visiting old friends in New England and also returning from a great weekend in Michigan at the Edge of Summer MX at Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort. I will let A-Fred fill you in on that race later on. And as we start creeping up on the biggest off-season race of them all—the Motocross of Nations—we thought it would be fun to count down the 22 days left before the big race in Ernee, France, with Monster Energy’s 22-Day Countdown with Team USA’s winners, starting with 1981. Look for that later today, and then one each day as we ride through the years with everyone from Johnny O’Mara and Danny LaPorte to the Flyin’ Ryans, Villopoto and Dungey.
But let’s start the week with news from Europe, and a big day for French motocross (albeit in the Netherlands).
UNLIKELY WINNER (Chase Stallo)
Yamaha Factory Racing Yamalube’s Romain Febvre put the final touches on a magical season last weekend at the MXGP of the Netherlands in Assen on a short, sandy, rough sand track. With his second-place finish behind Shaun Simpson—the best sand rider in the world right now, with apologies to the injured Jeffrey Herlings and Tony Cairoli—Febvre became the first MXGP rookie since 2009 to capture a title. The unlikely journey from BMX to Supermoto to world champion is one nobody we know saw coming. In three MX2 seasons, Febvre won just once—the second to last MX2 round of 2014 in Brazil—before being forced into MXGP this season due to his age (23).
With Ryan Villopoto joining eight-time world champion Antonio Cairoli, along with veterans Clement Desalle, Gautier Paulin, and Jeremy Van Horebeek, Febvre was well off the radar entering the season. How much so? Well, errantly we didn’t even include him in our poll prior to the season asking who would win the MXGP title! Villopoto ran away with 68.2 percent of the vote (we all know what happened there), with Cairoli in second with 27.3 percent. Here’s the poll, and the results:
Who is the MXGP title favorite in 2015?
Antonio Cairoli (3132 votes/27.3%)
Clement Desalle (152 votes/1.3%)
Jeremy Van Horebeek (56 votes/0.5%)
Gautier Paulin (242 votes/2.1%)
Ryan Villopoto (7824 votes/68.2%)
Other (62 votes/0.5%)
Apparently we weren’t the only ones to misjudge the Frenchman, as earlier this week we asked “How surprising is the Romain Febvre title run?” and 60.1 percent of you answered “I had never even heard of him until recently.”
How surprising is the Romain Febvre title run?
I had him as a potential dark horse (264 votes/5.1%)
I didn't expect title as a rookie (1,789 votes/34.8%)
I had never even heard of him until recently (3,087 votes/60.1%)
Check back with Racer X Online next week as we look back at some other surprising early-season poll results. And congrats to Romain Febvre and his whole Yamaha team—he’s the first Frenchman since Mickael Pichon in 2002 to win the premier division in Grand Prix motocross.
EDGE OF SUMMER MX (Andrew Fredrickson)
The end of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross means the off-season, and as any moto-head would agree, the best way to get the off-season going is to head to another motocross race! That’s what we did when Chase Stallo, Jordan Roberts, DC, and myself sardined into the car and headed out on the eight-hour drive from Morgantown, West Virginia, to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, for the second annual Edge of Summer MX at Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort. The race itself is actually put on by the same folks who run RedBud (the Ritchie family), and the dirt seemed just as good there. There is amateur racing on Saturday and Sunday (ATVs Friday), and the big pro race is Saturday night.
With $12,000 on the line for first, $9K for second, and $7K for third, there’s no reason any privateer or journeyman racer wouldn’t show up, especially since it wasn’t far from the Ironman Raceway finale the week before. The racing was good, and Tickle holeshot the main and took off, Alessi held second the whole race, and arenacrosser Jacob Hayes grabbed the last spot on the box. We even got a glimpse of up-and-comer Austin Forkner—he was the only one doing a five-jump section that was really impressive.
But it’s not just the racing that made this event special. It was my first time there, and the casino and surrounding area were great. We even got in a game of golf at Pohlcat Golf Course just down the road. I’m not a gambling man by any means (okay, maybe a little), but the casino was a blast. You can race during the day, watch the pros at night, and head to the casino to try your luck after that. While Roberts and myself actually lost money and DC was wandering around shooting iPhone photos of neon signs, somehow Stallo ended up “building empires” with his chips while using his fingers to add at the blackjack table. See you next year, Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort.
You can check out Tickle, Alessi, and young Austin Forkner right here, with cameo appearances by Carey Hart and a still-crazy-fast Ricky Carmichael.
REAL HARD LIFE (DC)
The history of motocross is full of legends and heroes, great races and adventures, exotic bikes, and more. That’s the bright side. In the middle ground is where the vast majority of us riders/fans/industry people likely spent fond years of our youth racing, with Dad and Mom as our pit crew, trying to make it to the top. I like to think we mostly just enjoy our time in the sport and with our families, whether it’s for a summer or a decade or more, even if we didn’t make it all the way.
And then there’s the dark side—the hard life that follows those who went all-in and took their shots with everything they had, only to miss and be left with little going into the rest of their lives. This is a never-ending story, too, because you can go back to the early days of motocross and find guys who slipped through the cracks of life into deep, dark holes.
This is a story that’s been told well, too, be it in the magazines or in video series. Fran Kuhn’s epic tale of Damon Bradshaw on hiatus in 1993 was the high-water mark of the yearlong life of Inside Motocross.
Jody Weisel of Motocross Action fame voiced and helped produce the amazing tale of his friend Tony DiStefano that is full of success as well as heartbreak—it’s a must-watch.
Eric Johnson’s epic Brian Myerscough story from our Racing Paper days, “The Other Side of Midnight,” needs to be retold in its entirety in the magazine someday. Troy Adamitis and crew did some tough documentaries in their Great Outdoors series that told of families like the Grants, torn apart by success and money. And more lately the online Spectrum series has a very provocative episode about SoCal journeyman pro Sean Collier and his struggles growing up, as well as adapting to life after moto.
I bring all this up because last week Kenny Watson of the RCH Racing team sent me a link to his podcast interview with Brian Swink. Some of you may remember Swink as the guy who won a couple of 125cc East Region Supercross titles, or maybe the guy who dominated the 1991 High Point National, sweeping both motos on a white Peak Antifreeze/Pro Circuit Honda CR125. Or maybe his mid-nineties Honda of Troy days or his later, darker time with Moto XXX. I remember him as all of those things, not to mention one of the fastest minicycle racers of all time.
But when you listen to Kenny’s interview with Brian, you will hear someone else entirely. He’s got a real job, but he’s also got a sad tale of business mistakes, lost opportunities, and the double-barreled threat of regret and depression—a terrible opponent for even the strongest among us. Swink opens up about it all, and like his life over the last twenty years, it gradually goes downhill. It’s sad, it’s hard, and it’s ugly—and that’s just the listening part. Brian wasn’t really equipped to deal with the success he had, nor the failures to follow.
“My whole life is in shambles because I couldn’t win a supercross race,” admits the man who was vying with Jeremy McGrath to be the future of supercross in ’91-’92.
This podcast is worth the listen as a sad cautionary tale of someone who didn’t prepare for his future, didn’t realize how short his present would be, and can’t let go of the past. I hope the fact that Swink did this piece with Watson helps him get it turned around again, because he’s still got a lot of living left to go. Find it here (and be aware that there’s adult language and content).
PRO PERSPECTIVE (Jason Thomas and David Pingree)
Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey is on a well-deserved break, and he will sit out all the races in September, bowing out of Team USA after a record-sharing six consecutive appearances. (Jeff Emig is tied with Dungey in consecutive service, from 1992-’97.) We asked our resident ex-pros to tell us what they thought about Dungey’s decision to take a little time off.
PING: I hope Ryan Dungey is enjoying his break down in Jamaica right now. In fact, I hope he’s full of rum, suntanned, and has those little baby dreadlocks with beads like that Bo Derek poster. Maybe he’s wearing a gold bathing suit and running out of the water in slow motion; maybe not. Either way, he’s earned a break, and I hope he doesn’t feel guilty for relaxing. Ryan, and any other rider durable enough to make it through every round this year, just wrapped up a grueling schedule of travel and racing, not to mention the prep that goes on in between. The Monster Energy Cup is only a handful of weeks away, and testing for 2016 is literally right around the corner, which means if you aren’t taking some time off right now, you probably aren’t going to get any.
For riders who have missed part of the 2015 season with injury, the short lull in the action probably doesn’t even register. In fact, guys like Trey Canard are busy working to get back up to speed from the extended couch time. But for Jeremy Martin, Cooper Webb, Jessy Nelson, or any riders doing the GP at Glen Helen, they aren’t really getting an off-season this year.
Every rider is different, but I feel like that time off is important. The season comes at you fast and doesn’t give you much time to be with your family, reflect on goals, or just unwind. Enjoy that Caribbean sun, Ryan, because you’ll be back to grinding miles on the road bike and testing from sunup till sundown very soon.
JT: Having time to completely detach from the grind of riding, training, and traveling is crucial. The mandatory races stretch out over an eight- or nine-month period already, not counting the testing and preparation time for the new season. Add in a team change or major machine update and there is virtually zero time off. September is really the only possibility for most of the riders to take a step back and try to let their bodies recover. The problem comes when races like the USGP or Motocross of Nations arise. Those two races basically erase any chance for real rest.
To stay at a high level, riders for those races will have to stay somewhat on their routine. Once they clear customs and arrive back home on September 28, they basically have one weekend off before the back-to-back Red Bull Straight Rhythm and Monster Cup races arrive. Those two weeks will be full of supercross practice and a cram session to find their supercross speed again. So that leads them into the later stages of October, still without a real break in the routine. Those two weeks after the Monster Cup are really the only time that would be open to rest. November marks the beginning of boot camp for most riders—usually a six- to seven-week torture fest that will build the foundation for the coming year—and pretty much wipe out Christmas.
So as you can see, adding the USGP and the MXoN and then Red Bull Straight Rhythm and the Monster Energy Cup really complicates things, especially when trainers are planning on September basically being a recovery month. Ryan Dungey has somehow been able to keep up this endless cycle for six years straight and finally decided this year to pull the plug. I don’t blame him, and I honestly think it’s the best move in terms of the following season.
Selfishly, though, I wish he were going to return to France and lead Team USA against the rest of the world. I will be there watching as usual, and it's definitely a bummer to not have our best rider out there. When looking at the big picture, though, I really can understand why he won't be.
MECHANICS WANTED (Chase Stallo)
A year ago, Scotty Adkins—former mechanic to Ryan Sipes, Jeremy Martin, Christophe Pourcel, and Nick Wey, among others—returned home to Morgantown, West Virginia, to open Pro SX/MX Tech. The goal was to focus on getting students directly into teams, not shops. Following a successful first year, Adkins still has two spots open for 2015-’16.
Classes run through October 19 – June 13, and students will attend two Monster Energy Supercross and Lucas Oil Pro Motocross rounds. They’ll use modern equipment and receive one-on-one training. If you’re looking to work on a race team, this is a great spot to start. Find out more here or contact Scotty at 951-719-9392.
HELLO SLOVENIA (Andras Hegyi)
You may not know where Slovenia is, but Slovenian riders have become serious players in the FIM World Motocross Championship. Matevz Irt brought the first Slovenian successes. He got the first Slovenian GP win in 2009 in the MX3 class. In 2013, Klemen Gercar became the first (and so far only) Slovenian motocross world champion in the MX3 series. But this year Slovenia is really headed for the top in motocross because of a 19-year-old kid name Tim Gajser. The Honda rider has a very serious chance to be the MX2 World Champion.
Gajser reached four milestones at Assen, the Dutch GP. Among the Slovenian GP winners, he is the most successful, getting his fifth GP win, overtaking Klemen Gercar. He also took over the points lead for the very first time in his career, snatching the red plate from Pauls Jonass. Gajser caught up to the legendary French rider Jean-Michel Bayle as only the second Honda rider to get five GP wins in a 125/MX2 season. (When Bayle did it in 1988 he went on to become FIM World Champion.) And thanks to Gajser's win at Assen, they hold the red plate for the first time since 2009. That was the year Marvin Musquin started MX2 on a Honda but ended it on a KTM after a serious legal battle to get him out of his Honda deal. Marvin won the title anyway, both that year and the next, and has been riding KTM ever since.
Honda has huge confidence in Gajser, having signed him through 2020. His first goal is to win the MX2 World Championship, which he very may well do in the last two rounds in Mexico and here at Glen Helen. His next goal is to check out Monster Energy Supercross, so start looking for him at Anaheim as he dips a boot in the world of stadium motocross. After that, who knows?
The Motocross of Nations is no easy trip, nor is it cheap—especially when it's in Europe. As Team USA's Roger DeCoster and the AMA's Kevin Crowther know all too well, it's expensive to get a rider, his bike, his mechanic, and his wife/family/girlfriend abroad for the big race. Every team is given a travel allowance, but it's only about 2,040 euros per team (about $2,300), no matter where the three riders are from. In other words, they will give as much money to France's next-door neighbors Italy and Belgium for travel and associated costs as will for a team from Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Canada, or the USA. That's just how the system works. Fortunately, Team USA and its riders—Justin Barcia, Jeremy Martin, and Cooper Webb—have some other resources. Not everyone is quite so fortunate.
Team Puerto Rico, representing our down-south neighbor and a U.S. territory, fields its own team, but because they hold U.S. passports, any American can ride for them, whether they live in Puerto Rico or not. As a result, riders like Alex Martin, Phil Nicoletti, Jimmy Albertson, Zach Osborne, Kyle Regal, and Tommy Weeck have all gotten to ride in the event for Puerto Rico. This year's imported talent is California privateer Michael Leib, who once raced the GPs and nearly pulled of a win in Italy in the MX2 class. He's taking up the challenge of the event and a chance to show the world he can compete, and he's trying something new to fund the whole adventure: Leib set up a GoFundMe account and is asking friends and fans to help get him the money it will cost to participate, even on a shoestring budget. Check it out right here and see if you can help and "Beleib" in Michael Leib!
THINGS YOU COULDN’T GET AWAY WITH TODAY
HEY, WATCH IT!
Here’s the Monster Energy Cup animated track map—can’t wait to see Dungey and friends welcome James Stewart back to the starting gate!
And here’s Austin White’s Ironman ReMastered video, where you can see Aaron Plessinger’s first win, Jeremy Martin’s second title, and Ken Roczen’s last-moto win over the champion Dungey, setting the stage for next year.
HEADLINE OF THE WEEK
"Man living in closet attacked" - The Dominion Post
Women's professional motocross (WMX) is making a comeback, and that doesn't just mean on the track! WMX is stepping up its social-media efforts by creating a brand new Instagram account. Along with the new account, the previous Facebook and Twitter accounts will continue to be monitored and updated more frequently. Make sure to follow @RaceWMX and always use the official hashtag of #RaceWMX.
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid'Eh Update #35.
And finally, this from Steve Matthes: David Charlton (#924) of Alberta, was involved in a racing incident at Antler Lake back on August 8 during an international event that brought up riders from the States. He was passionate about the sport. He enjoyed writing and always seemed to find time to write about the races—he actually published a magazine that was pretty impressive. Charlton passed away at age 37 and left his wife, two little girls, and a son behind. A GoFundMe was set up to help his family. Godspeed, David.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races.