Welcome to Racerhead, coming to you from not-so-sunny Southern California, where the whole supercross world seems to be in full lockdown mode as they make final preparations before the holidays on their 2017 plans. Anaheim is coming up rapidly, and everyone got something of a surprise this week when Feld Motor Sports announced a change in the race format that would see main events for 450s go a minimum of 20 minutes plus one lap and 250s to 15 minutes plus one lap. It's something a lot of fans have been asking for, especially at venues where the lap times are really short—well below the one-minute mark. But the new format also includes Daytona and Las Vegas, which have had notoriously longer lap times, so those main events will likely be shorter than in years past. Personally, I like a longer race, and I hope that this change works out for both live viewers and the TV audiences.
And speaking of TV, Feld Motor Sports also released their TV package for 2017 with more live races and a pay-per-view system for overseas and online viewers who want to watch Monster Energy AMA Supercross live. This is a system similar to what Youthstream has with the FIM World Motocross Championships (and something international fans may be seeing this summer with Lucas Oil Pro Motocross).
Feld also released all of the track diagrams for 2017 (with the exception of Daytona, which will be designed by Ricky Carmichael and built by Mark Barnett and Don Flanner), and you can get an idea of all the stuff we will be seeing right here.
And finally, the announcement of their new Atlanta Moto-Fest, which will see them pack four different events into one weekend at the Georgia Dome: a Friday night Amsoil Arenacross carved out of sections of the SX track, Saturday's Atlanta Supercross, amateur supercross racing on Sunday, and finally the Ricky Carmichael University on Monday for aspiring young racers to sign up and learn from the GOAT himself. Add in the 15-Anniversay Celebration Bacchanal that DMXS Radio will no doubt be having in conjunction with the event and you have quite a busy weekend!
Those were all positive developments this week. Not-so-positive were the developments we didn't hear about, because there weren't any. I'm talking about the lingering fate of James Stewart and Malcolm Stewart, as well as Dean Wilson and Jake Weimer, none of whom have found a seat for 2017. It's a sign of the times—shrinking 450 teams, escalating costs to have elite riders on elite equipment, and the general economy of motorsports right now. It's getting a little late for all of them, though Wilson does have a Yamaha and would make an easy fill-in should one of the Yamaha factory guys (Cooper Webb and Chad Reed) need some time off. I hope that all of these guys get better news, and soon, but time is running out on Anaheim.
Finally, I wanted to send my regards and deepest sympathies to the family of Mike McDonald, the longtime District 5 racer from the Pittsburgh area. McDonald passed away earlier this week in Arizona for reasons yet to be determined. He and his family were staples at the racetrack in 1980s and ‘90s, and he was one of the faster riders to come out of an era that included very fast locals like Mike Jones, Jeff Glass, my big brother Tim Coombs, Emery Anden, Rodney Phillips, Mark Neiderhiser, and many more. McDonald's passing marks the second really fast guy my neighborhood has lost this year, as Lynn Kirkland passed earlier in the year due to a heart attack while out cycling. Godspeed, Mike McDonald. He was 45 years old.
THE DUKE OF ROCKY MOUNTAIN (Steve Matthes)
I'm not really sure whether Davi Millsaps likes me or not. I mean, we talk at the races, but he's never shy about telling me how full of crap I am. And I know he 100 percent hated me back when he rode for Honda. I've had some "hot takes" about the #18 and his desire to put in the effort to match his talent over the years, and these takes came from talking to people on his team, his competition, his friends, and many times, over and over, they would tell me just how damn good Davi is at riding a motorcycle. I understand Millsaps not liking me back then, and so now, when it seems to be a better relationship, I still understand him bagging on me. Hey, man, I wrote it—I've got to stand behind it.
As he's gotten older, gotten hurt, gotten fired, and still had good (sometimes great) results, I think he's realized that his time in pro racing is closer to the end than the beginning. So we're seeing a Davi Millsaps that is a little more comfy in his own skin and is taking a little more time to smell the roses in this great career of his. It's with all this knowledge that I wanted to call Millsaps up and talk a bit about this upcoming season and his career in the Motorcycle-Superstore.com Racer X Podcast. He was very gracious with his time, and near the end we touch on some things that he would change in his career if he could go back. I thought this part was very interesting. Another thing you don't realize is just how much this guy has been hurt and how many surgeries he's had. Makes you realize that his wins and podiums might be that much more impressive than they already are. Anyways, have a listen and let me know what you think @pulpmx on Twitter.
A Busy Week (Simon Cudby)
I had a busy week again for team photoshoots. This week was Monday for the TLD KTM team at their Corona SX track. Tuesday was the Husqvarna off-road team shoot, taking place east of San Diego at Jeremy McGrath's property. Thursday was RCH Yoshimura Suzuki shooting day in Corona with Broc Tickle and Justin Bogle. Check out the images below.
What I'm talking about is my application to the AMA Hall of Fame on behalf of former 125 National Champion and Yamaha, Honda, and Kawasaki factory rider Ron Lechien. Unbelievably, the Dogger isn’t in the HOF.
Yeah, yeah, he's a bit "light" on the national titles, with just that one in '85, but you want some facts? Here are some facts: Ronnie won a 450SX when he was 17 years old! Ron raced 158 races in his full-time racing career and podiumed 80 of them for a 51 percent podium rate. HALF the races he lined up for, he made the box. And he was no specialist, as those podiums came in 450SX, 125MX, 250MX, and 500MX. The guy could ride anything. He raced the Motocross des Nations twice and won his class both times, and in '88 he beat everyone in the world there in both motos. He won two USGPs ('84 Unadilla 250, '89 Hollister 500). No offense to anyone, but there are some dudes in the AMA HOF who don't even come close to these accomplishments. When Ron Lechien was on, no one—not Rick Johnson, not Jeff Ward, not Johnny O'Mara—could keep him in sight. How do I know? All three of those guys have told me that.
Ronnie suffered a broken femur in '89, and that was basically it for him. In at 16, out at 23. He battled off-the-track issues for a while, but he's emerged from those and been a staple at his family’s business—Maxima Oils—for a long, long time. This actually might be Lechien's greatest accomplishment!
So knowing all this, a couple weeks ago I set out to right a wrong. It wasn't an incredibly hard process: go to the AMA HOF site and fill out the appropriate paperwork. I needed to fill out an official application, write a little letter as to why I thought he should be in (I threw in Jeff Ward as a reference!), dig up some old Cycle News stories about how great the Dogger is, find a photo (thanks, Fred!) and bingo—bango, I beat the December 31 deadline to be considered for the next year.
Let's cross our fingers and hope the AMA Hall of Fame board members come to their senses and put an icon in where he belongs.
TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGING (Jason Weigandt)
Matthes broke the news on this one a few weeks ago, but this week it became official: timed races are replacing set laps at Monster Energy Supercross in 2017. This is a very popular move for fans, who have been begging for more racing with the big stars for years. Lap times keep getting shorter at the races but now that won't matter because the 450 mains will last 20 minutes and one lap, and the 250SX mains will last 15 minutes and one lap.
We're crunching some numbers and think it should add a lap or two to the longest tracks, but several more than that to the shorter ones. Perhaps the biggest difference will be consistency. Last year, three 450SX main events besides Daytona went over 20 minutes in time. But Santa Clara's main took less than 15 minutes! Now every race will be similar.
But will it impact the actual results in the races? There will be many factors to consider, from the track breaking down to even more lapped traffic, and of course, endurance. On Wednesday I got to talk to Eli Tomac about it. Eli is as fit as they come, but has had his troubles with starts through the years, so if anyone can benefit, he would be the one. However, he told me "It won't affect the top five" because everyone up there is in great shape. Actually, it might not impact anyone in the top 10—or maybe even top 15! There just aren't any slackers out there anymore.
So we'll see if it makes a big difference. Tomac isn't counting on it though; instead he's just working very, very hard to get better starts in 2017. I bet everyone else is, too. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
GREEN TEAMS (Andrew Hegyi)
On Wednesday, Kawasaki officially announced their factory and factory-backed teams in the 450 and 250 classes for the 2017 season. Monster Energy Kawasaki (450) and Mitch Payton's Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki (250) have a very big task to perform. They want to put an end to the Kawasaki's two-year title drought. Since Ryan Villopoto, the most successful Kawi rider ever, left SX in 2014, Kawasaki hasn’t been able to get any championship titles in either category, indoors nor outdoors.
Among the brands, Kawasaki has a very exclusive record. Kawasaki has the longest streak in winning titles continuously. Between 1984 and 2014, Kawasaki was able to get championship titles in every season. Kawasaki was successful in the former 125, 250, and 500 classes (back when everyone was racing two-strokes), as well as in the current 250 and 450 four-stroke categories, in both supercross and motocross. There are no other brands having similar successful performance in a row. Honda has a 15-year streak of titles from 1982 to '96; Yamaha won titles for 10 straight years dating back to 1972 to '81. Suzuki's longest series of titles consists of four years (1979-82). While KTM has been able to be champion since 2012, that is a five-year series of titles. But after the Villopoto-era Kawasaki has become unsuccessful. Since Villopoto got his 10th AMA title in 2014, Kawasaki has not collected any new #1 plates. Kawasaki hasn’t able to take any titles in 250 SX since 2011, in 250MX since 2012, 450MX since 2013, and 450SX since 2014. What makes that surprising is that Kawi is the most successful 250 brand ever with the most titles and wins.
In theory, every factory and factory-backed teamed Kawasaki rider may be able to be champion in 2017. Eli Tomac is the number-one Kawasaki rider. He is one of the title contenders in 450. But Colorado-man hasn’t been champion yet in 450. He begins his fourth season on the 450 in '17. Tomac's teammate Josh Grant is a veteran who is in his 14th season. Grant will be 31 soon, but he has no titles so far.
Mitch Payton's Pro Circuit outfit hosts a lot of very talented riders, but none of them have been a champion professionally. Joey Savatgy is in his fifth season, and he seems to be getting faster year-by-year. Adam Cianciarulo has been considered one of the most talented prospects in a long time, but injuries have kept him from getting anywhere close to a title since he started in 2013. Justin Hill became a professional in 2013, like Savatgy and Cianciarulo, but also has no title, though all three have multiple 250SX wins. Finally, Austin Forkner only raced outdoors in 2016, and he managed to be the Rookie of the Year as well as a 250 National winner, something only Savatgy has also done. So there are huge expectations from him.
Hey, Watch It!
Racer X Films: 2017 Supercross Preview Show: Episode 1: Transition Team
Racer X Films: SX Preview Show: Episode 2: The Leap
Feld Entertainment will debut the Monster Energy Supercross 2017 Preview Show on Sunday, December 18 on FS1 at 5:00 p.m. ET/2:00 p.m. PT. This unprecedented, unfiltered look into the lives of Ryan Dungey, Chad Reed, Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin, Jason Anderson, and Cooper Webb chronicles preparations before the elite riders go head-to-head in the quest for their place on the podium.
Team Tedder/Monster Energy Kawasaki Racing has an opening for a full-time practice mechanic for the duration of Monster Energy Supercross and Lucas Oil Pro Motocross. Race shop is located in Montclair, California. Job is being a practice-bike mechanic to work with existing support staff of traveling mechanics, suspension technicians, crew chief, trainers, auto mechanics, runners, and parts girl. Send all replies to email@example.com.
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For the latest from Canada, check out the DMX Frid'Eh Update #51.
That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races.