There will be big shoes to fill in 2017 for Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha, with Cooper Webb graduating to the 450 class and the Martin brothers moving to new teams (Jeremy to GEICO Honda and Alex to Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM). Now Star has taken another hit as one of the riders tabbed to step up this year, Colt Nichols, has gone down with a broken femur after a crash last week.
Nichols became a hot prospect last year with CycleTrader.com/Rock River Yamaha, coming through the pack weekly to record top-five finishes. He had a 2-5-4-4 stretch of finishes in the 250SX West Region last year, but even those results don’t show the whole story, as Nichols had bad starts in most of the races and showed the speed to come through. Then he was in contention to possibly win the super muddy Las Vegas finale until he crashed late in the race while running second.
The Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season wasn’t as strong for Nichols, but he was actually a rookie outdoors. His 2015 season was cut short due to a torn ACL, so 2016 was the first time Colt ever took to the outdoors in the U.S. as a pro. Plus, he had already done his job in supercross. There was a lot of buzz around Nichols in the stadiums, and it rewarded him with a nice upgrade from the factory-supported Rock River team to the full-factory Star Racing squad.
Nichols was once a Kawasaki Team Green prospect, and he bounced around looking for his spot. Three times he finished second in his class at Loretta Lynn’s. He did some Amsoil Arenacross racing, and tried to make the 2014 season his year to breakthrough at Loretta’s, but he ended up second to RJ Hampshire in Open Pro Sport. (Hampshire simply dominated Loretta’s that year, with six moto wins in six motos. Nichols went 3-2-2 to actually edge his now-Star Racing teammate, Aaron Plessinger, for second overall in the class, but it wasn’t enough to get a pro deal locked in for 2015.) Luckily, the Oklahoma rider got a good ride with the Oklahoma-based Crossland Honda team (now Ride365.com Honda) for ’15, and showed enough speed before the ACL tear to get some attention. Rock River came through late last year, and he was on his way.
The femur break is big, but Nichols has been down before only to come back stronger. In fact, that might be the most appealing part of his makeup. In a world where amateur riders are getting signed to deals earlier and earlier, the pro ranks are more often seeing the riders who didn’t dominate as amateurs becoming the real stars. If this were a scouting report, the rider you could most compare Nichols to is Cole Seely. The talent has been there, but now the puzzle pieces are coming together at the time when it matters most. Plus, supercross success is what earns the big checks in this sport. Nichols has shown a penchant for the stadiums. Like Seely, you use that to get on the map, and you go to work on the rest. You know who else got on the map with supercross success, but later figured out the Nationals and became a race winner outdoors? Andrew Short. Again, sometimes the riders just below the gold in the amateur ranks make for the best pros.
Now the growth is on hold though, and this injury puts the rebuilding Star team in a bigger hole. The rest of the squad consists of Plessinger, Dylan Ferrandis, and Mitchell Harrison. Meanwhile, one wonders if a replacement for Nichols could be coming. We’ve heard Tyler Bowers is rumored to be signing with the 51FIFTY Energy Drink Yamaha team, but the Bear on a Star bike could be a race-winning combination.
What’s the direction now for Star, and its latest project?