The 2000 EA Sports AMA Supecross Championship marked the beginning of the videogame era of sponsorship, where EA Sports and THQ would take turns as top series biller (followed by mobile phones, then energy drinks). It was the beginning of the AMA’s new semi-permanent numbering system, where you would see Ricky Carmichael wearing #4, Mike LaRocco #5, Kevin Windham #14, etc.
But Jeremy McGrath was still the overlord of it all. He would be gunning for a seventh title in eight years, and he had his Mazda/Chaparral Yamaha YZ250. He even had his own videogame. He also had a total of sixty AMA Supercross wins to that point, more than double the next-closest man in the record books, Ricky Johnson.
Yamaha also had a factory team, which now included the imported David Vuillemin and thumper pilot Jimmy Button, plus McGrath’s teammate Tim Ferry. They also hoped to have Jeff Emig out there on the #3 Strategic 3 YZ250. As mentioned yesterday, Emig lost his Kawasaki factory ride the previous summer after getting arrested in Lake Havasu with drug paraphernalia in the form of a beer can fashioned into a pipe. Emig made all of the apologies he could and then tried to rebuild his career. He shocked everyone by winning the 1999 US Open on an FMF-supported YZ250, and was prepared to make a comeback with his own team at Anaheim 2000. But on New Year’s Eve he crashed while practicing, snapped both wrists, and was done for the SX season. He would later get hurt even worse just before the start of the outdoors, and that in turn led to his forced retirement.
How a hero like Jeff Emig became unemployed is a cautionary tale for all. However, what he did next to rehabilitate his life and his standing in the industry is a prime example of doing things right. After his racing career ended, he took his punishment, started a family, ran his own team, went to work with Shift and Fox Racing, did some amateur nationals, started working as a TV color commentator, began his own grip company, started teaching at motocross schools, and essentially put the bad days and injuries behind him. That’s how you do it right after it all goes wrong.
But back to 2000 and the chasing of Jeremy McGrath. Team Honda had sent Mickael Pichon back home the previous May after a dust-up between his dad and a race official at High Point, which cost Mickael his ride. He would go on to win an FIM World Championship, but his chance to do as well on a 250 in SX as he had on a 125 was lost.
Team Honda still had Ezra Lusk, who had won both Anaheims in 1999, Kevin Windham, and Sebastien Tortelli, but that would be trimmed to two before practice was over at Anaheim. A minor crash for Greg Albertyn caused new Kawasaki rider John Dowd to get hung up with him, and that in turn led to Lusk landing on Dowd. Ezra ended up with a dislocated shoulder. It was an unlucky break for the man that many felt would be Jeremy’s primary challenger.
Suzuki had Albertyn and Damon Huffman; Kawasaki had Dowd, the now-full-time 250 rider Ricky Carmichael, and the revitalized Larry Ward.
In the main, McGrath would run down the strong-starting Carmichael, then find his rhythm and get moving. You can watch the whole race here.
A great McGrath/Carmichael/LaRocco battle picks up around the 1:10:00 mark of this extended video. Carmichael would ultimately fade to eighth, but he was at least positive about the fact that he did not crash.
“I feel a lot more confident than I did last year,” he told Cycle News’ Kit Palmer. “I was a lot more in control. Last year I was on the ground most of the time.”
As for McGrath, he capped his win by saying, “I might not be the fastest every week, but I’ll be there every time.”
The 125 winner at Anaheim was Primal Impulse Suzuki’s David Pingree, who beat Yamaha of Troy’s Casey Johnson and Motoworld Yamaha’s Greg Schnell.
The second round of the series was also at Anaheim’s Edison International Field, and McGrath won again, giving him an “Anaheim sweep” after just two weeks of racing. Yamaha’s Vuillemin was a solid second, with LaRocco third and Carmichael fourth. Lusk was missing again due to the previous weekend’s practice crash, and by now it was known that he would be out for the rest of supercross. Here’s the second Anaheim show.
In the 125 class, history was made. Splitfire/Pro Circuit rider Tallon Vohland, back from an extended tour of Europe to race on the Grand Prix tour, won his first 125 SX race in more than eight years, setting a record for the longest time between wins.
San Diego was next, and disaster struck in practice. Jimmy Button crashed in the whoops and came down on his head, jarring his neck. He was initially paralyzed, and the veteran’s injury sent shock waves across the sport. He would spend weeks at Sharp’s Memorial in San Diego before some feeling started coming back, and over the course of several years he would make a strong recovery. But he would never race again, though his contributions to the sport were nowhere near finished. Along with his longtime friend Bob Moore, Button helped found Road 2 Recovery, which supports professional athletes and their families in times of injury. He’s also an agent at WMG, working with some of the biggest superstars in the sport today.
Button’s injury seemed to shake his close friend McGrath, and he had a trouble-filled night, bending his front brake rotor in the first turn and then riding conservatively for fourth-place in the main. The winner was the rookie Vuillemin, who led every lap of his heat race and the main event. LaRocco finished second—a third straight podium—and Windham was third. Here’s the main.
The 125 class winner was also a first-timer—Motoworld of El Cajon’s Greg Schnell, who topped Vohland and his teammate Shae Bentley.
Vuillemin made it two in a row (and four in a row for Yamaha) with a resounding win at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix. This time #934 tracked down McGrath in the late stages, one of the few times to that point that anyone had ever caught McGrath and passed him at the end. McGrath was a frustrated second, and third-place in this race—and scoring the first 250 SX podium of his career—was Chevy Trucks Kawasaki’s Carmichael. At this point McGrath still held the points lead, but only by 2 over Vuillemin. Here’s what the end of the race looked like when McGrath was tracked down by Le Cobra.
McGrath bounced back quickly, winning the Houston race at the Astrodome over the rising presence of Carmichael, who finished in between Jeremy and Vuillemin to help McGrath add 5 points to his series lead.
In the 125 class, Shae Bentley got himself a win, one week after Casey Lytle broke through to win in Phoenix. In five rounds of the 125 West, there had been five different winners: Pingree, Vohland, Schnell, Lytle, and now Bentley.
The series then moved to the East Region, and neither the heavily favored defending champ Ernesto Fonseca or the newcomer Travis Pastrana who was supposed to be the winner came away with the win, but instead it was FMF Honda’s Michael Brandes who took the win. Pastrana was already an action sports celebrity given his X Games gold medal, notorious jump into San Francisco Bay, and appearances on the David Letterman Show and ESPN’s Sportscenter. Travis was so talented and exuberant that Suzuki boss Roger DeCoster had a tough time holding the kid down—literally. When Travis went out and tried an Indian Air freestyle trick over the finish line on the sighting lap at the RCA Dome, he crashed into a TV stand, and DeCoster’s jaw practically hit the dirt.
Pastrana’s debut begins at about the 48:00 mark here, and it’s worth hearing just how much enthusiasm the kid has—and this was before his multiple crashes, caused in part by his injured thumb.
The 250 winner at Indy? Once again McGrath, followed by LaRocco, Vuillemin, and Carmichael. McGrath would also win at Pontiac’s Silverdome the next weekend, this time over Tortelli and Suzuki’s Damon Huffman. By this point Jeremy had padded his points lead to 22 over Vuillemin.
A seventh different winner in the 125 class in seven races would emerge in Pontiac, as Yamaha of Troy’s Stephane Roncada, who had gotten caught up with Pastrana and Brock Sellards in a crash in the Indy main, took the win. Sellards was second in Pontiac, with Fonseca third. Here’s all two hours from the Silverdome.
McGrath would win yet again at the next round at the Georgia Dome, leading him to tell Cycle News’ Henny Ray Abrams, “I feel like nobody wants to win. I want to win, and I feel like no one else wants to step up and take it, and I’m not going to give it away.” McGrath said this because he was winning despite having the flu for the past two weeks. At the halfway mark of the series, he had won six of eight races and was more than a race ahead of everyone. And Yamaha had won every race to date.
In the 125 class at the Georgia Dome Stephane Roncada finally became the first man to win twice, beating Sellards and Nick Wey.
Someone finally stepped up to beat McGrath at Daytona, and it was none other than Ricky Carmichael. The Floridian finally got it all right for twenty laps—twenty-one actually, as the AMA’s head flagger accidentally gave him the white flag twice—and RC finally had his first major SX victory. And in the 125 class, that very same day, Travis Pastrana finally kept it on two wheels long enough to win. Actually, he dominated, finally just settling down and riding forward. Watch the breakthrough wins for both Ricky and Travis here.
Just before the 25:00 mark, Pastrana goes from fourth to first in one whoop-covered stretch.
One week later, McGrath was right back on top, winning the sixty-seventh main event of his career at St. Louis. Vuillemin was a solid second, with Carmichael third. Pastrana would win again in the 125 class, and he was now getting up some steam and momentum. Here’s St. Louis.
Vuillemin got another win at the Metrodome the following week, which meant that he had clinched the first two of three rounds of the $500,000 Vans Triple Crown—Phoenix and Minneapolis—and only needed to win the finale at Las Vegas for a half-million bucks. LaRocco was second, and McGrath, now just looking ahead to clinching the title, finished third. He was 25 points ahead of Vuillemin with five rounds to go.
The series also returned to the West Region in Minneapolis, and Shae Bentley became the first rider to win two rounds in the region. He was helped by David Pingree’s lousy fifteenth-place finish after his front brake rotor got bent up in a first-turn crash, turning a 9-point lead into a 10-point deficit to Bentley.
McGrath tacked another win when the series returned to Pontiac for the second time in 2000, and Roncada won again as well in the East Region. Then it was off to Dallas for the end of the West Region and a dramatic victory for Shae Bentley, who emerged from a first-turn crash that took down half the field made for some nail-biting passes for Bentley and his rival David Pingree. Bentley ended up with the title by just two points.
In the 250 class Honda got its first win of the season as Kevin Windham finally put it all together, with a little help from McGrath. Watch the start here at the 1:34:00 mark. It was a complete accident, but they clipped bars and McGrath immediately went from first to last.
New Orleans was next and, ironically, the French Quarter was the perfect place for two Frenchmen—Vuillemin and Roncada—to sweep the mains. It was crucial for Roncada, who then found himself tied with FMF Honda’s Brock Sellards for the 125 East Region points lead with 150 each and one race left to be run.
The next-to-last round was held at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois, below Chicago. It was an attempt to try something different—Route 66 was a state-of-the-art drag strip with grandstands, suites, and plenty of room for a unique track that went back and forth over the walls of the strip lanes. It looked much different than anything but Daytona, but the results were the same: McGrath won his sixty-ninth race, and he clinched his seventh AMA Supercross Championship in eight years. In the 125 main Ernesto Fonseca finally won a race, but Roncada earned the title by finishing ahead of Sellards. The race was featured on ABC, and you can see it here.
Oh, if you’re wondering who the host is here, it’s Terry Gannon, who before becoming an excellent network broadcaster, was a shooting guard for the North Carolina State Wolfpack team—Jimmy V’s team—that won the 1983 NCAA Basketball Championship over Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma.
The series ended in Las Vegas with McGrath winning his seventieth race, preventing his teammate Vuillemin from winning the half-million dollar bonus. The winner of the East-West 125 Shootout was Travis Pastrana, who kept it on two wheels long enough to beat the best from both regions. Here’s the Vegas finale.
Overall, the 2000 EA Sports AMA Supercross Championship was very successful, not only for Yamaha but for the promoters and the sport. But below the surface there was a simmering feud between the promoters and the sanctioning body. It would eventually turn into a full-on battle and result in some strange new bedfellows that still have ramifications that we are experiencing today.
And somewhere down in Florida, during the summer and fall months of 2000, Ricky Carmichael was trying something different, fully immersing himself in a full-on boot camp that would radically change the results and pay dividends to #4 for years to come. The end of the long reign Jeremy McGrath, the King of Supercross, was entering its twilight.
2000 AMA Supercross Championship
- Jeremy McGrath Yamaha 372
- David Vuillemin Yamaha 337
- Mike LaRocco Honda 302
- Kevin Windham Honda 278
- Ricky Carmichael Kawasaki 263
- Sebastien Tortelli Honda 243
- Damon Huffman Suzuki 186
- Larry Ward Kawasaki 175
- John Dowd Kawasaki 170
- Heath Voss Honda 113
125 East Region
- Stephane Roncada Yamaha 172
- Brock Sellards Honda 168
- Travis Pastrana Suzuki 164
- Nick Wey Kawasaki 144
- Ernesto Fonseca Yamaha 131
125 West Region
- Shae Bentley Kawasaki 122
- David Pingree Suzuki 120
- Greg Schnell Yamaha 116
- Jiri Dostal Honda 93
- Rodrig Thain KTM 91