We are getting closer and closer to this weekend’s FIM Motocross of Nations, and we have been counting down the days with our Monster Energy Team USA Countdown. Today we reach 2007. If you missed any of the previous years, you can view them all here.
A lot can change in twenty years. Back in 1987, the Motocross des Nations left Europe for the first time and visited the United States at the famed Unadilla Valley Sports Center. In ’87, Team USA was in the middle of a win streak the world hadn’t seen coming, and the pressure and angst was starting to build. There was a still a real struggle over what the new world order looked like, and after awhile, it seemed like fans from outside the U.S. just wanted to see anything but an American win. You can read the stories from the peak of the streak, like Jeff Stanton’s rides in 1990 and 1991, to get an idea of how much friction was starting to build between teams.
By 2007, Team USA was back into a win streak of sorts, having taken the 2005 and 2006 events. When it was announced that the event would come to Mechanicsville, Maryland, for the 2007 event, the motocross world wasn’t nearly as turbulent. Team USA had misfired on the event quite a bit, missing it completely in 2004, for example, and when the team returned in ‘05 and ’06 the riders were treated not as the enemy but as celebrities. Fans flocked to the likes of Ricky Carmichael and James Stewart in the rare chance to see them race in Europe, to the point where Team USA had to start hiring bodyguards and security just to get through the pits. Twenty years of growth on this side of the pond, much of it through the explosion in popularity of supercross and its stars, had made American riders and racing quite popular. When the race came to Budds Creek, the fans came with it. The place was absolutely packed, both with Americans back on a high after the 2005 and 2006 victories, and Europeans who wanted a U.S. vacation (Budds Creek is only thirty minutes outside of Washington, D.C., so it’s a good place to take a trip).
In addition, the September 2007 date marked the highest point of the sport’s health before the U.S. economy began to teeter. In 2007, you never heard the word budget, as things just kept growing bigger and better with each step. It was a real high water mark for racing and much else.
The Team USA squad was expected to be similarly impressive. Carmichael, Stewart, and Ryan Villopoto promised to make an all-time lineup, and the race was even bigger because Carmichael announced it would be his last ever before going into retirement, just like Stefan Everts had done in grand fashion the previous year.
Then Stewart twisted his knee at the Washougal National, ending his season (Carmichael had missed the ’06 event with a shoulder injury, so the world never got to see a Carmichael/Stewart des Nations pairing). In Stewart’s place came his Kawasaki teammate Tm Ferry, who was on the 2003 squad, but injured his thumb and never had chance to help the team. Things would be much different this time.
We could give the blow-by-blow account of the 2007 event, but the details only cloud the big picture—Team USA dominated. The 2005 and 2006 wins were in doubt at some point, but it was obvious from Saturday’s qualifying races that racing on home soil would change things completely. Villopoto, Ferry, and Carmichael each won their heats that day, and Sunday’s main race would be similar.
Perhaps the only surprise, then, was the rider that did the most dominating. It wasn’t Carmichael in his swan song, or Ferry on his 450, but actually the young Villopoto, on his Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki KX250F. Villopoto was simply sensational on this day, winning the first and second motos outright against the 450s, the first time anyone had ever done that on the small bike. In the second moto, he pulled a huge lead on the very first lap! Up until this point, Villopoto was just the next big rider to come through America’s Lites class ranks. After this day, it was clear he was something even more special than that—he wasn’t just the hottest property at the time; he was going to be one of the greatest ever. And to think, this was merely his second season as a professional.
Carmichael wasn’t quite at his peak on this day; he hadn’t raced in a bit after slinking into partial retirement after the second half of the AMA Nationals. It would turn out that he was dealing with an illness that weekend, and then he fell in the first turn of the first moto. He gamely pulled through from nearly last to take third in moto one (behind Villopoto and the always-game Chad Reed, of Australia). Forever, bench racers will wonder what would have happened if Carmichael and Villopoto had gotten off the gate together in that moto.
In the second moto, Villopoto disappeared again, with Belgium’s Ken de Dycker and Brit Tommy Searle second and third. Ferry was also down early but rallied back to a strong fourth. By then, victory was nearly a foregone conclusion, but Carmichael and Ferry fittingly ended it with a 1-2 sweep in moto three. Carmichael, while not 100 percent physically, ended his career with a des Nations moto win and the MX1 class victory. It wasn’t quite a match for Everts’ double moto wins in 2006, but then again it didn’t really matter because Team USA won the event by a huge margin, and that’s about as good an ending as you’ll get.
The Budds Creek event was so popular that America wouldn’t have to wait twenty years to see the des Nations in person again. The 2010 event was scheduled for Thunder Valley outside of Denver, Colorado. But to carry the win streak to the next home race, Team USA would have to win in Europe again. More on that tomorrow.