BTOSports.com Observations: Sofia Supercross

BTOSports.com Observations Sofia Supercross

November 4, 2015 4:45pm

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This past weekend I headed over to Sofia, Bulgaria, for the first supercross held in the capital city. When you look on a map and find Bulgaria, it’s hard to imagine a guy like me, who was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, ever heading over there, but guess what? Three flights and eighteen hours later, I was there! And it was pretty cool.

Sofia itself is a big city—about two million, I was told—and it reminds me of other places I’ve been to in eastern Europe, like Berlin or something like that, which means it’s a little older, a little more run down, and maybe a tad depressing. If you take somewhere like San Diego and picture the exact opposite, you have Sofia, Bulgaria. It’s not an insult; it’s just an old city that’s seen some serious stuff go on over the years inside and outside of its borders. Fantastic cheesecake at Restaurant Victoria though!

The arena was nice, as was the hotel (although it was also older). The track was a bit smaller than we’re used to seeing for an off-season supercross, with lap times in the twenty-two-second range.

Yes, you read that right.

The track builders (Shane Schaefer of Schaefer Tracks) didn’t have enough dirt to make use of the whole floor, which wasn’t ideal. And then, on top of that, with a race in Holland that weekend taking some riders away and the location of Bulgaria itself, the riders that made up the rest of the field weren’t, shall we say, supercross specialists. In fact, some of the riders from Germany and Belgium had jobs and were going to school!

So Shane had to tame the track down considerably from the initial layout to make sure everyone stayed safe. The finish-line jump was initially planned for fifty feet, but was shortened to thirty-four, and the triple had the second and third jumps just pushed together. Add in the short track length and the American riders there had it figured out in about two laps.

The promoters in Bulgaria did the right thing by using Eric Peronnard as their organizer. Eric is a behind-the-scenes guy in the sport, but a real mover and shaker. He’s also the inventor of the U.S. Open, EnduroCross series, and MiniMoto SX. He also works for ESPN at the X Games and for Fox Europe. He’s a Frenchman who’s lived in America for thirty years and at one point traveled the world with his family. 

So he’s the one who gets the riders, negotiates the start money, designs the track, works with the promoters, etc. In a word, he’s awesome. The riders who do the off-season races that Eric doesn’t organize usually complain about one thing or another. You rarely hear complaints at his races. He’s the man for these racers, and a friendly face for them to interact with. And he takes care of everything for the foreigners. He’s a great guy and someone I’m pumped to call a friend.

Justin Brayton won the overall King of Sofia title with 3-1 main-event finishes, which weren’t quite as good as Weston Peick’s 1-2, but the promoters added in the results of the bracket-racing contest to the overall. Brayton won both of those contests both nights. Really, Brayton and Peick were the two best riders there. In the first night, Brayton was pressuring Peick when he clipped a Tuff Block out in the middle of the track and went down. Not sure if he would’ve passed Peick, but he was right there. 

Brayton edged Peick out for the overall victory.
Brayton edged Peick out for the overall victory. photo: Boris Splatkov

The second night, Peick got into second right away and put some serious heat on Brayton for four or five laps before lappers separated them. Like, serious heat. Peick was about three inches behind Brayton’s rear wheel that whole time, and I was impressed with Brayton’s composure, because it’s way easier being the chaser than the chased in this case. One mistake and Peick would’ve either gotten by or plowed into Justin, and, in that case, I still like Peick’s ability to withstand a collision and pick up his bike first. 

European off-season races and Justin Brayton go together like Hall and Oates (I can’t go for that, noooooo), as he’s able to chase away the sleep deprivation, the strange food, and the communication issues to haul ass. When I go to these races—and I’ve been to a lot of them—Brayton rides with confidence, a swagger if you will. Let’s face it—even looking at his year through Weege-colored glasses, it was crappy. So this could be what he needs to get off to a good start on the KTM for 2016.

As far as Peick, I know that only a few years ago he was getting nothing but expenses paid to go overseas and race. I think a guy told me at one of the races in Finland that he got $2,000 start money. 

That was the old Weston Peick.

The new Weston Peick probably pocketed $25-30,000 for the Bulgarian supercross, and he’ll be at Lille in a couple of weeks also. He must look back on those privateer days and just laugh. 

Oh, and the running count of inappropriate things Weston said and did in the two days I hung out with him was probably equal to his start money.

Malcolm Stewart was on a 250F while the other guys were on 450s, but on this track, riding that bike probably had its pluses. Sometimes, at the end of the whoops, I noticed that he would run out, but then the section ended right away, so I don’t think that affected him that much. And, hey, he holeshot the second night’s main event! Mookie was Mookie, man. He looked fast and stylish the whole time, and with the track being pretty basic, he couldn’t really pull out any moves. He was off the pace of the top two guys, but was close, and, hey, he was on a 250F!

Malcolm isn’t in the middle, but he will be making trips to the bank after his off-season is over. Stewart’s doing Sofia, Genova, Lille, and Geneva, which is a lot of racing, but Mookie seems to get it that you can’t turn this money down. I would bet that Malcolm is going to pocket an excess of $100,000 for these four races, and also have some good gate drops under his belt come Anaheim 1.

It's Phil
It's Phil "Eeyoletti."

"Filthy" Phil Nicoletti is just awesome to be around. The JGR Yamaha rider’s unique perspective on life reminds me of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. As in, everything is “woe is me” no matter what. He’s a rider who hasn’t had a golden spoon in any way, shape, or form. He’s on JGR now because he’s earned it through hard work and speed, and hasn’t forgotten his New York roots. Phil hasn’t done too many overseas races, but he was his usual self all weekend long. Let’s count the good things that happened to him followed by the bad.

  1. The good: Nicoletti gets some serious money just to line up for a supercross.
    The bad: He has to fly all the way to Bulgaria to get the respect he finally deserves.
  2. The good: He tries to help and mentions to the track crew that a rider on the inside is able to see the starter pull the lever to drop the gate.
    The bad: It doesn’t get fixed, and Mike Brown takes advantage in this first heat race of the weekend and holeshots Phil badly with no start hook on a stock bike.
  3. The good: Phil is a fan of the sport and appreciates the history. There’s no doubt that Brown would be a role model/hero to Phil, as he’s earned all his results through hard work.
    The bad: Phil yells at the legendary Brown after the heat and storms off to confront the track crew on this starting line fiasco. Peick’s mechanic, Pat Barker, reports that Brown is mystified as to why Phil is upset at him. Good job, Phil, for yelling at Mike Brown.
  4. The good: He holeshots the first night’s main event!
    The bad: Two laps in, his foot comes off in a turn, he hits neutral, and he almost dies on a triple before saving it, whereupon he almost dies again on the next double. He pulls off with a bad ankle that causes him to limp all weekend.
  5. The good: Despite his almost crash, Phil wins a nice watch for pulling the holie in the main.
    The bad: After Sunday’s main he goes to put it on and the watchband breaks off.
  6. The good: Phil pulls another great start in Sunday’s main; it looks like he could get another holeshot!
    The bad: Justin Brayton comes in hot on the inside, jumps over a little mound of dirt, and nails Phil, which causes him to come to a complete stop, and he ends up pretty much last. Afterward, Phil yells at Justin about his move, which brings the count of people that Phil went off on this weekend to sixty-two.
  7. The good: After a bunch of Jagermeister shots at the after party, Phil decides that he can’t do anymore and has to call it a night.
    The bad: Phil has to trade some JGR swag to a German who vows to do all the shots that were meant for Phil.

Just another weekend in the life of Phil Nicoletti….

Josh Hansen was there but was feeling a bit under the weather for Saturday’s race from a ham sandwich that he got from a Shell station on the corner.

Yes, I’m serious.

Hanny also didn’t know that your lap in the fast lap competition counted toward your gate pick in the main. So he goon-rode it, whipped it, looked at the crowd, and ended up on the far outside for both main events. Anyway, he wasn’t out there charging hard, but he was there for the fans. 

After Brayton won on Sunday, he was riding around celebrating with the crowd. At the same time, Hanny did a burnout on the concrete, which was also very cool for the Bulgarians. 

In case you were wondering, Brayton used a stock KTM and put in a motor and suspension. Peick and teammate Nicoletti shipped their full JGR Yamaha race bikes. Stewart had his full GEICO Honda CRF250R bike. Hansen bolted on parts to a stock Kawasaki 450. And Mike Brown, well, his parts never made it to the track thanks to his airline, so he rode a stock Husky 450. Like, bone stock. Like, nothing done to it.

Malcolm nabbed third overall on a 250.
Malcolm nabbed third overall on a 250. photo: Boris Splatkov

I think Husqvarna should use this in an ad. Brown even holeshot a heat race even though he had no holeshot device (with his veteran "move"), so this would make a great Husky ad in Cycle News. Just have Mike there and something like "Stocked Up in Sofia!" with the tagline "Mike Brown holeshot factory bikes and raced to a top-five on a stock Husqvarna…. Get ’em now!"

Brown didn’t even have numbers; that’s where I stepped in. No one else there could think about what to do, so I took Nicoletti’s #6s (which were pretty tiny), turned them upside-down, and made some #3s out of them, which were, in my biased opinion, pretty sick. They looked a whole lot better from further out than up close, but I was proud of my work. Sometimes, heroes like me do their best work when the pressure gets the highest. Apparently I put one of the #3s on backward, which turned it into the letter "E," but I never saw it and can’t say that it wasn’t just Filthy messing with me….

Anyway, Brown doesn’t do much supercross these days, but with this track, he can handle it fine. Brownie got less-than-stellar starts, rode around, and stayed safe. He was battling with Hanny a bit on Sunday after his bad start. His speed through the whoops—which were decent size—with stock suspension was pretty impressive. Is there anything Mike Brown can’t do? 

And to top it all off, Brown was bored on Sunday after the races, so he jumped in a Bobcat and helped Shane and his guys tear out the track! No, I’m not making this up. 

Mike Brown, folks—he’s an American motocross hero.

Motocross hero...and Bobcat operator?
Motocross hero...and Bobcat operator?

The star of the "other" riders was Rockstar Energy Suzuki kid Brian Hsu (pronounced Sue), who’s already been tabbed by many as being the next great GP rider at age 17. His father is German, his mother is Taiwanese, he’s a world-class violin player, and the family lives in Italy. He’s got some real skill, although he’s really small. Hsu won the 85cc and 125cc European MX championships, so you know he’s legit. Look for this kid to be on Stefan Everts’ Rockstar Energy Suzuki team in the near future in the MX2 class, and I’m sure with his skills, he’ll try some supercrosses as well. Or maybe this violin thing takes off and he makes his money that way, which is a lot easier on his body. 

Stoyan Rashkov is a Bulgarian rider (duh) who has moved to the U.S. and lives out at the JGR facility in North Carolina. His father put on this race. Stoyan is trying to become the fastest racer ever from Bulgaria (I think he’s already made it). Stoyan didn’t make the A main either night, but he’s got some skills, and living out in North Carolina won’t hurt him either as he goes on to try and learn. He was a big deal at this race, and the crowd pulled for him every lap around the track. He was introduced for the opening ceremonies as the first guy out, and he came out with the country’s flag on his shoulders. It was like Rocky or something! Stoyan’s brother was the main guy on the scene all weekend and bought all of us a super-nice dinner after Saturday’s main event. They all really took care of us strangers, and it was appreciated.

Saturday Results:

  1. Weston Peick (Yam)
  2. Malcolm Stewart (Hon)
  3. Justin Brayton (KTM)
  4. Josh Hansen (Kaw)
  5. Brian Hsu (Suz)
  6. Mike Brown (Hus)
  7. Alexander Heu (KTM)
  8. Jurgen Wybo (Hus)
  9. Maik Schaller (KTM)
  10. Michael Kartenberg (KTM)

Sunday Results:

  1. Justin Brayton (KTM)
  2. Weston Peick (Yam)
  3. Malcolm Stewart (Hon)
  4. Phil Nicoletti (Yam)
  5. Josh Hansen (Kaw)
  6. Mike Brown (Hus)
  7. Brian Hsu (Suz)
  8. Jurgen Wybo (Hus)
  9. Philip Egger (Yam) – The best part of the whole weekend was Philip making fun of Filthy Phil for not doing shots with him and yelling that he was now the real "Filthy" Phil and Nicoletti was "P***y" Phil. Then he and all his buddies started chanting "P***y Phil" over and over while downing shots. Poor, Phil!
  10. Michael Kartenberg (KTM)

Thanks for reading. Email me at matthes@racerxonline.com if you want to chat about this race or anything else.