Racerhead #8

Racerhead #8

First of all, thanks to everyone for their kind words and well-wishes last week when my pneumonia went from bad to really, really bad. I checked into the hospital in the middle of last week because the doctors weren’t quite sure what was going on, and ended up spending the better part of a week in Mon General getting medicine, tests, and also a diuretic that allowed me to shed the nearly 30 pounds(!)I gained when I was getting sicker and sicker. I’m lucky I had good care and insurance and everything is back in working order.

Last Saturday, privateer Dylan Slusser was trying to qualify for the Minneapolis SX, with plans to race Atlanta this weekend.
Last Saturday, privateer Dylan Slusser was trying to qualify for the Minneapolis SX, with plans to race Atlanta this weekend. Dave Deringer

That said, I was devastated to wake up this morning and read my friend Lori Slusser’s post about the sudden passing of her son, professional racer Dylan Slusser. Dylan competed in the Minneapolis Supercross last Saturday and then drove to the Carolinas for a week of practice at South of the Border, planning on racing in Atlanta tomorrow night. But then, on Wednesday evening, he woke up with a terrible headache, and things started happening fast. He was rushed to the ER, and doctors immediately went to work on him for an aneurysm in his brain, as he was slipping out of consciousness. Dylan ultimately fell into a coma and was put on life support, and this morning he passed away. He was 25 years old.

Throughout the rapid ordeal, Dylan’s mother, Lori, was doing her best to keep everyone up to date, even as she was driving 10 hours from Pennsylvania to South of the Border to see him. Slusser was a very popular and polite presence in PAMX, having grown up racing at places like Pleasure Valley, High Point Raceway, Steel City, and more. Lori Slusser works for Cernic’s Racing and was always on hand at the races, whether Dylan was off doing a pro event or there racing himself. Here is the Facebook post from this morning with the sad news.

The rapid, unexpected episode was a grim reminder of the way Donny Schmit passed in 1996, when he had a seizure in a stadium elevator while attending the Minneapolis SX. Like Schmit, Slusser’s sudden decline caught everyone off guard. Doctors would later learn that it was aplastic anemia that robbed Schmit of the rest of his life. In Dylan Slusser’s case, doctors believe it was an aneurysm, something almost impossible to detect until it happens. Slusser, ever the good son, was an organ donor, and he has already helped others in ways he will never know, yet they will never forget.

Jeff Cernic has setup a GoFundMe to help the Slusser family with medical expenses. You can donate here if you wish.

Godspeed, Dylan Slusser.

Pro Perspective (David Pingree)

Ricky Carmichael used to talk a lot about managing a championship. Riders who get out to an early lead are forced to make decisions about the risks they should take. Play it safe and protect the points lead, or hang it out and keep pushing for wins at all costs? There were several years where Ricky was accused of "backing it in" to the Las Vegas finale, but his goal was always the title, regardless of how he got there. (He did a pretty good job of that, by the way.)

Ryan Dungey was being forced to ride hard early in the season. Ken Roczen was flying, and if Dungey wanted to be anywhere near the lead, he had to push. He was close in San Diego and was actually out front when Ken had his accident at Anaheim 2. Since that round, Ryan seems to be off. Is he trying to figure out how hard he needs to push to win this title? Has the lack of pressure taken him out of his rhythm? Only he knows for sure.

We saw Shane McElrath come out swinging, but then dip into a funk as he tried to sort out how hard to push the issue. He was just making a renewed push to the front when a mechanical gremlin crushed his chances.

How will Savatgy manage the 250SX East Region Championship from here on out?
How will Savatgy manage the 250SX East Region Championship from here on out? Rich Shepherd

Now we will see how Joe Savatgy manages his championship run, as he darted to an early lead in the series in the East Region. It's easy to slip into a conservative mode too early and have it bite you as the series rolls on. The best thing to do is ride just under the limits of your ability and focus on one weekend at a time, but that's much easier said than done. And if Christian Craig, Zach Osborne, Jordon Smith, and RJ Hampshire have a say, it isn't going to be easy for Savatgy. But it will be fun to watch.

HOT SAUCE (Steve Matthes)

Everywhere you look in the pits, you see ex-racers staying in the sport and helping out. You've got Michael Byrne as coach for the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC-WPS-KTM team, Tim Ferry helping Trey Canard and Martin Davalos, Andrew Short testing for Honda, Buddy Antunez working with Weston Peick, Tyla Rattray with Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM and Davi Millsaps, Mike LaRocco and Wil Hahn for GEICO Honda, Ryan Morais with Red Bull KTM, and I'm probably forgetting a few guys here or there. And let’s not forget about brand ambassadors like Jeremy McGrath and Ryan Villopoto at Kawasaki, and Jeff Emig at Husqvarna. It's a new interesting trend in the sport with the ex-riders trying to pass on whatever they've learned to the current riders. It's an interesting mix of jobs with guys like Ferry and Byrne doing individual coaching, LaRocco managing a whole team, Rattray not doing much coaching but doing all the training, and Shorty doing a ton of testing of the motorcycle. 

I bet if you ask each of these guys, they would all give you different job descriptions of what they do, but in my opinion, it's a very good thing to have around a team of riders. As long as the retired rider isn't berating the current riders and telling them how everything was so much better back in the day. That's a job exclusive to me while I'm yelling at a cloud.

Ivan Tedesco is interested in getting back into the industry scene.
Ivan Tedesco is interested in getting back into the industry scene. Kyle Scott

One guy that's expressing an interest in getting back into the game is former MX and SX champion Ivan Tedesco. In a Fly Racing podcast coming out next week, I spoke to Ivan about what he's been doing lately and what he wants to do. He was testing for the RCH Suzuki guys and had a big hand in helping Ken Roczen get a setup going last year that proved to be very beneficial. He hasn't been doing anything with the team and told me he's really been getting into mountain biking while he tries to figure out what the next step is for him. And it seems like he'd like to work with a team in a coaching capacity. You could do much worse than a guy with Tedesco's credentials, experience, and knowledge. Not sure what he's going to do or what capacity he gets back in, but I think Tedesco is eager to get back to the races. Stay tuned.

Jimmy Out (Chase Stallo)

Privateer Jimmy Albertson announced this week that he will miss the next two rounds of Monster Energy Supercross—Atlanta and Toronto—because he’s not happy with the way he’s been riding. Through seven rounds, Albertson has missed just two main events (due to injury) and finished a season-high 16th two weeks ago in Arlington. In his post, Albertson wrote that with how much preparation it takes just to get ready for the races, he hasn’t had much time to focus on training and riding. Expect Albertson back in two weeks at Daytona. You can read his full post below.

I wanted to let everyone know that I will be taking the next 2 rounds of sx off and return for Daytona sx. No injuries, just not happy with my riding so decided to go back to focusing on the things that made me improve going into the season. With all the workload I take on to prepare for every weekend, it's very easy to not have time to get proper training and riding in. Today was the first day of "rebuilding Top Jimmy". Huge thanks to @rr67 and @theashleyphillips for believing in me and putting up with all my bullshit.

Expect Albertson to be back in Daytona.
Expect Albertson to be back in Daytona. Jeff Kardas

LAST TIME AROUND (DC)

Tonight's arenacross, tomorrow night's supercross, and Sunday's amateur race are being dubbed Motofest by Feld Motor Sports, and it should certainly be a good time for fans who want to see a whole bunch of racing. But it will also be the last time Monster Energy AMA Supercross visits the Georgia Dome, as the stadium is being knocked down soon to build a parking lot for the brand new stadium next door. That's where SX will be in 2018, and so will AX if all goes according to plan.

The Georgia Dome is actually the second venue for SX in Atlanta. The original building was the open-air Fulton County Stadium, site of some major mudders over the years, including the first race in 1977, when Team Honda's Jim Pomeroy stalled in the final corner after getting caught up in the mud, allowing Bob "Hurricane" Hannah to sneak by for the win. Fulton was also the site of the epic 1990 Battle of Atlanta, a wild race in which Team Kawasaki's Jeff Ward somehow emerged from a throng of contenders and crashers that included Rick Johnson, Guy Cooper, Jeff Stanton, Damon Bradshaw, Mike Kiedrowski, and more. Here's a PDF of the race from our magazine feature.

The Georgia Dome became the place for Atlanta SX in 1993, with the first race won by favored Southern son Damon Bradshaw, who stopped the first winning streak of Jeremy McGrath's career at four races in the Georgia Dome. The Georgia Dome was the home of the Atlanta Falcons (who are probably still trying to get the license plate of the bus Tom Brady ran them over with in the last 17 minutes of the Super Bowl) as well as the 1996 Summer Olympics, where the late Muhammad Ali famously lit the torch.

So farewell to the Georgia Dome. It joins its predecessor in the dustbin of AMA Supercross history, joining other lost venues like the Pontiac Silverdome, Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Memorial Stadium in Charlotte, RFK in D.C., JFK in Philadelphia, the Kingdom in Seattle, Texas Stadium in Dallas, the Houston Astrodome….

Dungey Theories (Jason Weigandt)

Earlier this week in my Exhaust column, I tackled a topic that shouldn’t even be a topic, but yet is getting a ton of attention. Is something wrong with Ryan Dungey? Seems crazy to type that, considering he’s holding the 450SX points lead, but he hasn’t quite been as sharp as we expect him to be after winning and taking the points lead at round three.  While he’s still garnered podiums (and one fourth) over the last four races, Eli Tomac and Marvin Musquin have been faster. Go ahead and call me crazy for bringing this up—but after I posted the article, comments on our site (and on my personal Twitter account) ran the gamut with theories. But you know what I didn’t hear many people say, though? Everything is fine!

Yup, it’s ridiculous, but here we are, a strange world where the points leader is getting questioned. That’s life at the top, I suppose. Anyway, theories I've heard the most in response to the story range from “Eli and Marvin are just getting better” to “he’s freaked out from the Roczen crash” or “he’s ready to retire.” Who the heck knows—I still think the additional laps, and breaking-down tracks, have made the always-consistent Dungey back it down slightly later in the races. Anyway, just a theory.

The hometown crowd couldn't get Dungey out of his
The hometown crowd couldn't get Dungey out of his "funk." Jeff Kardas

If I had to bet on who wins the title this year, I’m still putting my money on Ryan, no doubt. But this kind of conjecture not only makes bench-racing fun, it makes the races more fun to watch too. Dungey has a nice points lead, but the whole thing seems a little more wide open right now. Tomac is rolling, but he’s not the points leader, so there are no guarantees of how his season turns out, and same for Dungey, with the points lead but with only one win. This could go a variety of ways, and it’s cool to see that as the series nears the halfway point.

And if Dungey does win the title but doesn’t end up dominating like he did in all of ’16 and much of ’15, I think it will still ring as a very impressive campaign. It’s one thing to win when you’re just the fastest guy. It’s another to out duel the competition with smarts, experience, and consistency. Kind of like the veteran team that figures out how to make the big plays in the big games. He's just a tough out, as they say. Right now Dungey isn’t head-and-shoulders better than everyone else, but he still has a nice points lead because he knows how to execute when it counts. Gotta respect that.

Coincidentally, I also posted this video interview with Ryan this week. In it, we talk about stuff outside of racing, and he's as funny, candid, and real as anyone could ever be—I think it's one of his best interviews ever (in my humble opinion). It's amazing how far this guy has come. Even while dealing with the pressure of trying to win this title again, he seems happier and more relaxed in his role than ever. I should add that when I shot this (Friday before the Dallas SX) he also had to do spots for KTM dealers and St. Jude's, his chosen charity. Took it all in stride just like we now expect him to. Respect that, too!

DESERT MOTO (DC)

Last week marked the start of a new season in Monster Energy AMA Supercross as the 250SX East Region got underway. This weekend it's the start of another season, the 2017 FIM World Motocross Championships. MXGP has returned to oil-rich Qatar for a rare night race next to the Losail Formula 1 circuit. The race marks the beginning of a months-long tour that will not end until mid-September in France. It is a long, grueling series on a wide variety of tracks, ranging from the sand-covered infield of the Assen TT circuit in the Netherlands to a brand new track in Indonesia. 

This year is looking particularly interesting in the premier MXGP class, as a new establishment of stars is riding up to continue battling the Old Guard, led by legendary Italian rider Tony Cairoli. In each of the last two seasons, a rookie to the class has won: French rider Romain Febvre (2015) and the Slovenian rocket Tim Gajser (2016). Now they will be joined by the most ballyhooed rookie in the history of the series, Dutch prodigy Jeffrey Herlings. After years of either dominating the MX2 Class or crashing himself out of contention, Herlings moves up to the 450 with more than 60 Grand Prix wins already; only Cairoli and the great Stefan Everts have more.

We finally get to see a white number plate background grace the front of Herlings' bike for a complete season.
We finally get to see a white number plate background grace the front of Herlings' bike for a complete season. KTM Images

Of course, the wins won't be coming as easily as they did in MX2, as Herlings now has the likes of Cairoli and Febvre and Gajser—the last three MXGP World Champions—healthy and ready to battle (though Gajser is said to have the flu right now). There's also the healed-up Max Nagl, Clement Desalle, and just a bunch of guys with race-winning speed like Gautier Paulin, Shaun Simpson, Kevin Strijbos, Evgeny Bobryshev, and more. It will definitely be interesting to see how Herlings stacks up with these guys, and we've seen glimpses of his prowess on a big bike in the Motocross of Nations a few times as well.

The MX2 (250) class is also interesting because there's a couple of Americans involved, and they should be in contention for race wins and maybe even the crown. Thomas Covington is hoping to become the first American since Bob Moore in 1994 to win an FIM World Motocross Championship. Covington rides for Rockstar Energy Husqvarna, which is weird because his dad, Mitch, is a major executive at Monster Energy—the same Mitch Covington quoted below in the NASCAR story about Monster Energy's girls causing a tempest in a teapot with their provocative outfits. Also, Darian Sanayei will be moving up from EMX to the MX2 Class full time with a France-based Monster Energy DRT Kawasaki team. 

Covington and Sanayei will be battling the likes of Red Bull KTM's Pauls Jonass and Jorge Prado, Suzuki's Jeremy Seewer, French rider Benoit Paturel, and a bunch of other 23-and-under international talent. Chase Stallo did a preview of the series right here.

In a wide open MX2, Covington is a real contender for the championship.
In a wide open MX2, Covington is a real contender for the championship. Husqvarna Images

Earlier today Gajser and Jonass won qualifying. You can find full results here.

Also, yesterday in Qatar, it was announced that the Charlotte MXGP will not be back in 2017. The costs of building a track on the infield were prohibitive to the success of the event, and Youthstream is looking for a replacement venue in hopes of keeping the race in America, which hosted two MXGP rounds last year (Charlotte and Glen Helen). Stay tuned, because this one is developing as you read this. 

If you would like to watch the race from Qatar live tomorrow (the race is on Saturday), visit www.mxgp-tv.com to get signed up for either a single race or the whole series. 

GOOD EYE (DC)

Chris Riesenberg, 31, is a longtime motocrosser who lives in Phoenix and makes video games as part of the Rainbow Studios team. At least that's what it says on his VitalMX profile. I bring it up because while perusing Vital earlier this week, he (Riesenberg448) posted some photos of something I didn't catch while watching Saturday night's Minneapolis SX:

Anyone else notice that Alex Martin's start device never released until he was headed to the dirt into turn 2 in his heat race crash? The front end never touches when he goes to slap the face of the second jump and tire doesn't come down to get any front break into turn two. I'd have to say this is probably a big part of why he ended up on the ground.

I was wondering what happened to Alex, because I had him pegged to finish much better, but just like his brother Jeremy in the West, 2017 isn’t starting out very well for him. Here's hoping for better breaks in Atlanta for Big Al.

Eli Rising (Andras Hegyi)

A year ago, his first with Monster Energy Kawasaki, Eli Tomac didn’t have any victories through the first seven rounds. This year, he already has three. By collecting his third triumph, he has become the seventh Kawasaki rider to get at least three wins in a supercross premier-class season.

Tomac notches his third win of the season in Dungey's hometown.
Tomac notches his third win of the season in Dungey's hometown. Rich Shepherd

Kawasaki riders with at least 3 wins in a 250/450 supercross season

Ryan Villopoto

  • 2010: 7 wins
  • 2011: 6 wins (series champion)
  • 2012: 9 wins (series champion) 
  • 2013: 10 wins (series champion) 
  • 2014: 7 wins (series champion)

James Stewart

  • 2005: 3 wins 
  • 2006: 8 wins 
  • 2007: 13 wins (series champion)

Jeff Ward

  • 1984: 4 wins (series champion) 
  • 1987: 5 wins 
  • 1989: 4 wins 

Ricky Carmichael

  • 2001: 14 wins (series champion)

Mike LaRocco

  • 1994: 3 wins

Jeff Emig

  • 1997: 5 wins (series champion)

Eli Tomac

  • 2017: 3 wins 

MONSTER CUP (DC)

This weekend is the beginning of a new era. No, not Motofest in Atlanta, but rather NASCAR in Daytona. Monster Energy, the longtime benefactor of SX/MX promoters and race teams, is dipping its big-green toe into the stock car racing world big-time as the new title sponsor for NASCAR, replacing Sprint. Monster has backed cars before, including Ricky Carmichael's race truck, but now they are the main sponsor for the entire series. It may seem like a perfect fit—Monster has always been about racing—but some aren't very happy with the outfits the Monster Energy models are wearing at the events. Here's a report on the pushback Monster and NASCAR are getting from some fans.

Of course NASCAR kicks off at its Super Bowl—Daytona International Speedway is the cradle of the series, not to mention the single biggest, most important race of the whole season—and several people who are normally on the Monster Energy AMA Supercross tour are down there for the race. Racer X senior contributor Eric Johnson is there on behalf of Monster, and Kelly Louch is managing all of the aforementioned Monster Girls. And right after the race construction will begin on the track for the upcoming Daytona Supercross by Honda, the oldest stop on the AMA Supercross tour. Here's a couple of before pictures of what the doomed infield grass looks like before RC and the Bomber and Don Flanner get the tractors out.

Go East (Andras Hegyi)

After having been very successful run in the 250SX West Region—four consecutive victories for Justin Hill and a 21-point lead—Kawasaki has started successfully in the East Region. Monster Energy/Pro Circuit's Joey Savatgy won the Minneapolis opener and, thanks to him, Kawasaki has collected its first East Region win since 2014. It was three years ago, at the seventh round of the East series, the Ecuadorian Martin Davalos won. There were 17 East Region rounds without any Kawasaki triumphs, as only Honda, Yamaha, KTM, and Husqvarna got victories.

FLASH TRIVIA: Who is the last Suzuki rider to have won a 250SX main event?

In addition, Savatgy has become the seventh Kawasaki rider to be victorious in an East Division season opener, and also the seventh Kawi rider to win in both the East and West Regions.

Kawasaki riders with wins both in West Division and East Division

Rider West Region East Region
Dean Wilson 2012, 2014 2011, 2013
James Stewart 2002, 2003 2004
Ryan Villopoto 2006,2007 2008
Christophe Pourcel 2007 2009,2010
Grant Langston 2006 2005
Austin Stroupe 2008 2009
Joey Savatgy 2016 2017

Kawasaki riders with season opener wins in East Division

Rider Season Championship
Eddie Warren 1985 Yes
Mickael Pichon 1996 Yes
Ricky Carmichael 1998 Yes
James Stewart 2004 Yes
Christophe Pourcel 2009,2010 Yes
Adam Cianciarulo 2014 No
Joey Savatgy 2017 N/A

 FLASH ANSWER: Jason Anderson at Salt Lake City in 2013. [Ed. Note: We previously stated Racer X contributor Blake Wharton was the last 250SX winner for Suzuki, which was incorrect.]

Industry in Indy (Scott Wallenberg)

The industry returned to Indy last weekend in the form of a Parts Unlimited trade show, with star power including Ryan Villopoto, who was in attendance signing autographs. However, one of the coolest autographs we saw was 100% goggle man Bevo Forti signing an ad he appeared in back in February 1989 for Bridgestone's Rory O'Neill.

Kenny Baba from New-Ray Toys also sent us these pictures from his trip to the Arlington Supercross two weeks ago. 

Outdoor Testing (Kyle Scott)

While everyone has their eyes on Motofest this weekend in Atlanta for the second 250SX East Region race of the year, Justin Hill, the 250SX West Region points leader is staying focused back home in California. I spotted him yesterday doing some outdoor testing at Glen Helen. Matt Bisceglia was also there testing out his ankle. Bisceglia over jumped a triple at Milestone a while back and broke the navicular in his ankle. The injury caused Biseglia to miss the 250SX East opener last weekend in Minneapolis. Kyle Peters is setup as a fill in rider for Bisceglia for the first two rounds of the East Region before he goes to Australia to compete.

I asked Bisceglia when he was expecting to return to racing, and although he was hoping to line up for Toronto it’s looking like it’s going to be Daytona. With Peters retuning to Australia and Bisceglia out, that will leave an open spot under the JGR rig at Toronto. It was a typical Thursday at Glen Helen, with plenty of other fast guys ripping including Ricky Brabec, Carson Brown, Jess Pettis, Zach Bell, and more.

Head-Scratching Headline of the Week

“Athens man assaults mother with pork chop, head-butts her, police say” –OnlineAthens.com

Hey, Watch It!

Tomorrow the FIM World Championships will be up and running in Qatar. Ten-time champion Stefan Everts will be trying to help Suzuki win their first world title since Steve Ramon back in 2007. Everts runs the Suzuki MXGP team with Kevin Strijbos (2007 runner-up) and Arminas Jasikonis on 450s and Jeremy Seewer, Hunter Lawrence and Bas Vaessen riding the 250 in MX2. Here's the team's video intro:

We recently found out that Stephen Erikson, a 2014 Racer X Amateur Film Festival semifinalist, has entered another film contest and is aiming to win a Shotover G1 gimbal—no joke of a prize! As evident by his entry, Erikson has been on the grind, churning out videos and improving his craft. Vote now to help him win some equipment and take his work to the next level.

Random Notes

The 110th annual DMXS Radio Atlanta Supercross Party

Here’s the lowdown from the DMXS guys about their famous annual celebration.

What:
This year's party is special as we’ll put the surly arenacross crowd and the supercross crowd in one room and hash out the world’s problems. We’ll make it easy to decipher who’s who as we’ll have tiny drinks (like their tracks) for the AX guys, while the SX guys will drink from full size glasses. Not discriminating here, just making it easier for the fans to follow along. 

When:
Starting at 10:00 p.m. local time on Friday night after the arenacross race until we shut the place down. Crowd will build as the arenacross finishes up and everyone migrates over from the Dome.

Where:
Tongue and Groove is where we drop the gate on this shindig. 

Address: 
565 Main St NE,Atlanta, GA 30324 Tandgonline.com

Dress Code:
Just wear clothes. We’ve had a few naked incidents involving family members and while it’s fun to look back on, we would prefer you keep your clothes on, especially you Wes Kain. Feel free to wear a full set of gear to the party to make sure everyone knows you ride. It's a cool move for sure and we definitely won't make fun of you.

We hope to see you there!

A post shared by DMXS Radio (@dmxs_radio) on

Here's a really interesting article from the road racing world on the ongoing feud between Honda and KTM.


Wonder what Ezra Lusk is up to? (No, this is not his business, just a random #signjousting find.)

Eli Tomac graced the cover of the German motocross magazine, Cross Magazin. 

ESPN did a cool story on motocross champion and ex-Nitro Circus member Jolene Van Vugt on her new career as a Hollywood stuntwoman. She’s already worked on The Dark Knight Rises and NBC's Blindspot. Van Vugt also details the accident that nearly killed her at a Nitro Circus event. You can read the entire thing here.

Down south for Atlanta SX this weekend? If so, be sure to stop by the Racer X booth—located in the Party in the Pits—and pick up a free copy of Racer X Illustrated. Also, don't forget to subscribe or renew for as low as $10 to get a one-year subscription, a free $25 Rocky Mountain ATV/MC gift card, and an extra issue!

Not going to Atlanta SX? No worries—you can still subscribe to Racer X Illustrated for as low as $9.98 right now and get a free $25 Rocky Mountain ATV/MC gift card, plus immediate access to the current digital issue.

Terms and conditions

For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid'Eh Update #8.


Finally, a sad tip of the visor to Russian motocross legend Victor Arbekov, the former FIM World Motocross Champion from the 1960s and Torsten Hallman's great rival. Arbekov, who was suffering in the late stages of cancer, apparently jumped out of the window of his eighth-floor apartment in Moscow. He was 74 years old. 

Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races.