Merry Christmas, everyone. Anaheim is almost here! We have been counting down the days to the Anaheim Supercross on January 3 as we prepare for the 2015 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship. Today, it’s 2005 and the return of Ricky Carmichael.
The fall of 2004 was one of those seasons where things shook out quickly. After Ricky Carmichael devastated the 250 Class outdoors and James Stewart did likewise in the 125 Class—they won twenty-four and twenty-three motos, respectively—both were on the move. Carmichael was leaving Honda for Suzuki, while Stewart was going from his KX125 (and one win on a KX250F) to the premier class. Both would ride 250cc two-strokes in the 2005 THQ AMA Supercross Championship, which would actually begin in December 2004 with the “world” rounds now moved to Toronto and Vancouver. Carmichael decided to enter both events (as well as the earlier US Open of Supercross) in order to get as much seat time with Suzuki as possible. His new manager was Roger DeCoster, but he brought his core group—mechanic Mike “Goose” Gosselar, trainer Aldon Baker, Fox Racing’s Scott Taylor, and more—with him to Suzuki.
At the US Open, Carmichael found out that the bike needed work, and defending AMA Supercross Champion Chad Reed was even faster than before. Reed had ruled the 2004 SX tour while Carmichael was on the sidelines and Stewart was still in the 125 class. Reed beat Carmichael straight up the first night in Vegas and then took advantage of a big mistake by RC the second time out, as Ricky crashed once and then had an engine failure.
But neither Reed nor Stewart, nor many of the other top contenders, would go to Canada. Instead, it was veterans like Mike LaRocco, Tim Ferry, and Kyle Lewis, as well as Nick Wey, Heath Voss, and Jason Thomas—not exactly Reed, Stewart, and Kevin Windham. Carmichael won both races, effectively claiming the THQ World Supercoss Grand Prix series. Much more importantly, he and his new team got race experience together with the new bike. And his very presence seemed to give Canada a nod of approval; the rest of the top contenders would follow him north the following season.
The hype going into the 2005 Anaheim 1, 2005 probably eclipsed that of any other race in supercross history. Reed would be defending his title against Carmichael and Stewart. Carmichael would be facing a stiff challenge trying to get his SX championship back, and the industry had been waiting to see him race against Stewart head to head since they were both children on minicycles. The showdown between those three was already big, not to mention a temporary return from the King of Supercross himself, Jeremy McGrath, who was coming out of retirement for the first few rounds. Jeremy didn’t go out the way he wanted (or deserved) with the Bud Light KTM misadventure. Honda invited him to come help get the bike set, and Jeremy was still in excellent shape—once fast, always fast! Add in a cameo by Travis Pastrana and factory riders Ernesto Fonseca, David Vuillemin, Tim Ferry, Sebastien Tortelli, Michael Byrne, and Factory Connection/Amsoil Honda’s LaRocco, and it was what everyone called the "perfect storm" of supercross (and likely inspired by the best-selling book of the time by the great war and adventure correspondent Sebastian Junger).
Unfortunately, it was also a real storm. Rain pelted Angel Stadium in Anaheim for days, and while not exactly as bad as Seville, Spain, a year earlier, it was a mess. Adjustments were made to the schedule, and the main event would be shorted to just twelve laps. Through it emerged an incredible performance by the forgotten man in all of this, Amsoil/Chaparral/Napster (remember that?) Honda-backed Kevin Windham. Still running a Christmas beard, Windham thumped everyone in the mud, taking advantage of a crash by Carmichael, who had holeshot everyone and stayed relatively clean. Carmichael actually ended up having to go backwards down half a straightaway as the ruts were so deep he couldn’t get his bike turned around (and the rules had been changed after the controversy that had ended the 1985 championship). Windham’s teammate Mike LaRocco finished a solid second, and Carmichael, once a mess in the wet stuff, salvaged third. Stewart was okay with finishing fifth in his first premier-class SX event. Here are the highlights.
Further back, Reed crashed and got so much mud stuck in his front wheel he couldn’t turn the bike, and he basically had to push and drag it to the mechanics area to get help. The defending champ scored just 5 points with a sixteenth place. McGrath had it even worse, as he tangled with Heath Voss off the start and lost his clutch lever, making it impossible to get around. He did lead briefly in his heat race, though, and the fans were going crazy.
In the 125 class, there were a couple of firsts: Nathan Ramsey added yet another “first” when he won Red Bull KTM’s first AMA main event aboard the brand new KTM 250SX-F. (He was also the first to win aboard a CRF450 and CRF250.) At 30 years of age, he was the oldest man in the race. He also became the first person to win AMA Supercross races on four different brands: Yamaha, Kawasaki, Honda, and now KTM. Samsung Honda’s Josh Woods was second, and for the first and only time in AMA Supercross history, a Japanese rider—Akira Narita—finished on the podium.
One week later it was time for another first; this was Broc Hepler’s night in the 125 West Region. He won for the first time in his career, and he did it aboard Suzuki’s RM-Z250, giving the thumper its first win. Hepler, 18 at the time, led from practically start to finish, with defending West Region champ Ivan Tedesco second.
But that wasn’t the biggest story of the night. In fact, the biggest story came in the middle of the day in practice, when James Stewart crashed on his KX250 and broke his arm, ending his title hopes before they even started. Carmichael took full advantage of the kid’s absence and marched to the main event win—Suzuki’s first in the 250 class in six years, and Ricky’s first since Daytona 2003. Windham proved that Anaheim was no fluke and finished second, with Reed third. Here’s the Phoenix coverage.
An epic battle finally broke out when the series returned to Anaheim, as Reed finally got rolling and challenged Carmichael—but only for six laps until he crashed. Suddenly, it was starting to feel a lot like 2001. Windham finished third. The 125 class winner was Ivan Tedesco, riding for what was now branded as the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team. Here’s the Anaheim 2 show, which begins with Stewart’s arm-breaking crash from the previous weekend.
Reed’s crash comes just after the 29:30 mark. Adding to this video is the fact that McGrath puts in a great ride, holding third for awhile and finishing fifth.
Carmichael made it three in a row at SBC Park in San Francisco, which was an important race to him since it was close to his longtime sponsor Fox Racing’s HQ. Reed was all over him for much of the race, but Carmichael just seemed to have his number at that point. LaRocco also rode a great race for third. Carmichael already had a 16-point lead on Windham and about a full race on Reed, and Stewart was out. You can watch it here.
The 125 class had a new winner for the fourth straight race as Amsoil/Chaparral/Napster Honda’s Billy Laninovich took the victory. Finishing fifth was Yamaha of Troy’s Brett Metcalfe, who drew the short straw for the team and was assigned to race a YZ125. With this class making the jump to four-strokes much more quickly than the premier division, Metty was often the only two-stroke in the main events.
Carmichael kept on rolling at Anaheim 3, with carnage everywhere behind him—Windham crashed and ended his main as Doc Bodnar’s passenger on the Asterisk Mobile Medics cart—and Reed crashed hard in practice. He still finished second, but he was now 29 points behind in the points.
Here’s a cool fact: Anaheim 3 saw just one American in the top five, Carmichael. He was followed by Reed and Michael Byrne (both Australian), David Vuillemin (France), and Ernesto Fonseca (Costa Rica).
The RCA Dome in Indianapolis was next, the opener for the 125 East Region. No matter, Ricky won again, then came Reed and Windham. Mike LaRocco was a very popular fourth, passing the much-younger Fonseca, much to the delight of the RCA Dome faithful. Davi Millsaps, riding a Suzuki RM-Z250, got his first professional win in the 125 main event ahead of the veteran Grant Langston, who was trying to rebuild his career after a disastrous time riding a KTM in the premier class in 2004. Here’s both classes and the complete show from Indy.
Reed went back to California and straight to Yamaha’s race shop and went to work. “Monday morning I drove to Yamaha and sat down with those guys, told them what my feelings were, what their feelings were, and to come up with a game plan,” he told Cycle News’ Kit Palmer. “There were things that I needed to make better, and I needed their help. They’re behind me 100 percent. They stepped up to the plate and gave me everything possible to win.”
Reed has surged on the 2003 and 2004 YZ250s, but the switch to an aluminum frame for 2005 seemed to throw him. After more testing, the team stepped up. The San Diego race was fantastic. Reed finally found his speed and confidence and set out after Carmichael in a blistering way—he and Ricky were so far out front that when he passed RC on the last lap for a wild win, they were lapping fourth-place David Vuillemin! Check this out beginning around the 36:00 mark—Windham gets the blue flag and can’t seem to believe it because he’s in fifth!—and see Carmichael’s crash and how close Reed came to lapping third-place LaRocco at the checkered flag.
Ramsey got himself the 125 win after holding off Tedesco’s last-ditch efforts to catch him. One week later, another older rider—Grant Langston—would win in the East Region return at Atlanta.
Carmichael came right back at Reed in the Georgia Dome and it was another epic battle, with Ricky even crashing at one point in front of nearly 70,000 fans. Ricky’s rampage even had him tangling with Windham on his way up through. The crowd also got to roar for Ezra Lusk, the best rider ever to come out of Georgia, and a recent retiree. Here’s the frantic Atlanta main event.
When the series returned to Daytona, everyone had RC pegged to win. After all, he had won thirty-three of the last thirty-five outdoor nationals in the last three years, and Daytona was his favorite SX track, and in his home state. He was also at the point where he would pretty much put the series on lockdown, just as he had in 2001, ’02 and ’03.
But Reed had proven he could win at Daytona too; only his 2004 win came in Carmichael’s absence. So when Reed started up front and #4 was close behind, it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before Ricky wore Reed down. Only it didn’t happen. Reed rode a superb race and never buckled to Carmichael’s pressure.
In the 125 class, Josh Grant appeared to be closing in on what would have been his first-ever win when KTM’s Josh Hansen slammed him in a corner and knocked both to the ground. In a classic “pick-up pass,” as in, knock yourself and the guy in front of you down and pick up your bike first and get going, Hansen made it work.
“I wasn’t ready for it,” said Grant afterwards. “I was going to try to use my regular line and try to pull right there. I went outside and this orange… We both went down, but luckily the bikes were still running.”
While admitting he was a little mad about the whole deal, Grant nonetheless patted Hansen on the back. “I told him, ‘Good job. I’m happy with second, and I just hope to do it next weekend.'” Samsung Honda’s Troy Adams finished third.
The big shakeup in the 125 East points came from Millsaps, who was taken out early in the race and finished a lowly 18th. It looked like he and Langston would be battling for the crown, but with his win, Hansen was back in contention. Start watching this at 1:22:00 to see the frantic last lap of the Daytona 125 main.
One week later at Orlando, James Stewart finally returned from his broken arm, and he added even more drama to a suddenly invigorated tour. He was finally going to race the big boys on a dry day, and for much of the race he was the fastest man on the track. Carmichael had gone down early, and he was furious with himself. “Damn, I fell down again,” he told Cycle News’ Brendan Lutes. “It seems that after ten years of doing this, you would learn that that gets you nowhere. But evidently I haven’t learned that yet.”
Neither had Stewart. Even though he was fastest in practice, beat Carmichael in his heat race, and was ten seconds faster than Reed’s heat, while leading the main, he lost control on the seventh lap and crashed, handing the lead and the win to the suddenly red-hot Reed. Chad had barely made the start after his bike started running rough on the main event parade lap. He asked his mechanic Darrin “Rookie” Sorenson to please just check the pipe to see if his power valve was stuck. All of the Yamaha wrenches jumped in for some tuning, and they got the bike fixed. The impact it had on adding drama was obvious in the way Reed rode. Here’s the Orlando action.
Color commentator Denny Stephenson makes a great point at the right time: “We all know Bubba is the fastest guy on the track. We just don’t know if he can make it for all twenty laps.” And BOOM! goes the dynamite. Watch it right around the 36:00 mark.
And during that same week, over at Oak Hill Motocross Park in Texas, a 15-year-old Team Green rider named Ryan Villopoto swept six class championships at the FMF GNC. He would race his first supercross two years later.
After a short break it was back to racing at Texas Stadium in Dallas, and that’s where Stewart grabbed his first win in the premier class, and in dominant fashion. Even a front-brake malfunction didn’t slow him much. While Stewart was enjoying his first win, Carmichael and Reed were going at it for second-place. RC pressed the issue until Reed crashed on the last lap. Carmichael was still some 30 points ahead of Reed at that point. Here’s Dallas.
But Carmichael was also suddenly on a losing streak, having lost Daytona, Orlando, and Dallas in succession. He would lose at the Pontiac Silverdome as well, but not to Stewart—he crashed early while trying to get to the front and had to battle back to finish fourth. Windham led much of the way, but it was Reed who got it done, riding a brilliant race and passing Stewart along the way. Carmichael was a very frustrated second. He was still in control of the series, just not winning races like he was used to doing. Here’s Pontiac.
In the 125 class, Josh Hansen won again, tying Grant Langston in points. But the Pontiac race was the East Region finale, and in the tie-breaker—most wins—Langston had four to Hansen’s three. In winning, Langston became the first rider to have won a title in the 125 class in AMA Motocross, FIM World Championships, and now AMA Supercross.
After winning seven of the first nine races, Carmichael had seemingly lost some mojo and even suffered a midweek crash before Seattle that gave him a slight concussion and also hurt his shoulder. But as much as Carmichael loved to win, he also knew how to manage a championship better than anyone in the sport’s history. Even though he would not win another race in the rest of the 2005 THQ AMA Supercross Championship, he was right there every time, riding smart and close. But in Seattle, he actually let his guard down at the very end. Stewart was gone with another win, and Reed had crashed off the start, so Carmichael was probably going to be okay with finishing second, until Kevin Windham surprised him by passing him on the last lap!
Strangely, RC still had something to celebrate: the THQ World Supercross GP title, which he clinched despite his off-night in Seattle. And then one week later, after another Stewart win in Houston, Carmichael clinched the title that mattered most, the THQ AMA Supercross Championship. Considering how fast Reed had gone the previous two seasons, the hype surrounding Stewart’s entry to the class, and Suzuki’s checkered history over the past two decades, this was a rare championship that many didn’t expect Carmichael to win.
“I don’t think anybody thought I could do it except for the people that are with me every weekend and all week,” he said of his tight crew. “It’s awesome to show the non-believers that I can still do it. I don’t care how many races I’ve won or what I’ve gotten the last five races, and this and that. What I know is I’ve got the number-one plate. It’s just all over with.”
It’s also worth noting that Carmichael pretty much had the fans on his side at this point, a big difference from his early days with Honda, when he was booed just as often as he was cheered.
Team Honda’s Andrew Short would win the 125 West Region race that night, but Ivan Tedesco had already clinched the title. Suzuki’s Davi Millsaps would close out the season’s 125 racing with the win in the East-West Shootout in Las Vegas, with Langston second and Grant third, giving the East Region riders a 1-2-3 podium.
At the last race in Las Vegas, James Stewart went off the track in his heat race off the split start and injured his thumb—he would not race the main event. But even though Carmichael looked like he was motivated to win, Reed had his number again. And this was a major milestone: Reed’s win at the Las Vegas finale marked the last win in AMA Supercross competition in either class for someone on a two-stroke motorcycle.
Carmichael was visibly frustrated, but he would take out all of his revenge in that summer’s AMA Motocross series, moving up to an RM-Z450 four-stroke and winning every round that summer. He would return to race full-time for one more year, and he would be on a 450 full-time, as would Reed, as would Stewart, as would pretty much every one else. An era was truly coming to an end.
2005 AMA Supercross Championship
- Ricky Carmichael Suzuki 367
- Chad Reed Yamaha 342
- Kevin Windham Honda 284
- David Vuillemin Yamaha 245
- Mike LaRocco Honda 229
- Ernesto Fonseca Honda 198
- Sebastien Tortelli Suzuki 176
- Heath Voss Yamaha 160
- Travis Preston Honda 130
- James Stewart Kawasaki 139
125 East Region
- Grant Langston Kawasaki 143
- Josh Hansen KTM 143
- David Millsaps Suzuki 137
- Steve Boniface Honda 97
- Kelly Smith Yamaha 96
125 West Region
- Ivan Tedesco Kawasaki 160
- Nathan Ramsey KTM 131
- Andrew Short Honda 126
- Billy Laninovich Honda 119
- Jay Marmont KTM 98