Welcome back to our countdown to the Anaheim 1 opener of Monster Energy AMA Supercross, which takes place in just six days! We’ve been going through the forty-year history of supercross, and today we reach 2008, a season that started with a great deal of promise and drama. This is the first time that the title sponsor of the series would be the beverage giant Monster Energy, which had been ramping up their sponsorship of riders and teams throughout the past few years (as were Red Bull, which was then affiliated with both Team Honda and KTM, as well as Rockstar, which was now fully on board with Makita Suzuki).
Even though James Stewart had unified the titles in 2007 (just as Ricky Carmichael did in 2005), the confusing and clunky series-within-a-series was finally dropped for 2008, as was the under-performing Vancouver round out in British Columbia. Instead, the AMA would add the Toronto event to the actual AMA schedule, marking the first time since the old Copetown Trans-AMA races that a race in Canada counted for an AMA championship. Also, the stand-alone Daytona round would now be co-sanctioned by the FIM, though it would still have its own sponsors, track-builder, and TV production, all of which by this point were organized by what was by this point called Live Nation and is now Feld Motor Sports. And finally, rather than try to be ready for early December races, everyone got a reprieve and the series would begin at its de facto capitol city, Anaheim, California, on the first weekend in January. But the name remained a tongue-twister and a sports editor’s nightmare:
2008 Amp’d Mobile AMA Supercross/Amp’d Mobile World Supercross GP Championship.
There were many reasons for unifying the two series—a leftover from the Jam Sports deal—but the primary one was that the US-based distributors for the four Japanese brands had no desire (or budget) to do a couple of extra races outside the US, even if it was for a “world championship.” And even though a press release on the eve of the 2008 season said that in 2009 the series would “again include two races outside of the United States,” it went down to one in 2008, and then none last year, even though the Rogers Centre race in Toronto seemed to be picking up steam.
But there’s just something better about starting at Anaheim than anywhere else—and that goes for not only Canada but Orlando and Atlanta and even the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Big A has held more SX races and attracted more fans over the years than any other venue. And its close proximity to the heart of the industry makes it the perfect setting to get things started after the holidays.
When Chad Reed showed up to race at Anaheim in 2008, he had a new sponsor for his L&M Racing team: the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. He was also coming off of a summer break, as he was now a supercross-only rider. His primary competitor, Monster Energy Kawasaki’s James Stewart, had also been on the sidelines, but his problem was the knee he twisted at the Washougal National the previous July. Both were ready to roll and make a bold statement at Anaheim. They won their respective heat races, setting the stage for a rematch of a largely one-sided battle the previous season, advantage Stewart.
Unfortunately, Stewart’s title defense started off with a first-turn crash, losing the front end of his Kawasaki after getting hit from behind by Kevin Windham, who himself was hit from behind from someone else. Stewart would have to come from almost dead last to get second. It was an impressive ride, but Reed was hard to beat—even after stalling the bike early while leading, he looked dialed on the #22 Yamaha. Here’s the main, which starts just after the 10:00 mark.
Third place would be Stewart’s Kawasaki teammate Tim Ferry, with Honda’s Andrew Short and Ivan Tedesco rounding out the top five.
The West Region Lites win went to Rockstar/Makita Suzuki’s Ryan Dungey, who bested his soon-to-be-bitter rival Jason Lawrence, who was riding for the Yamaha of Troy team owned by Phil Alderton.
Despite finishing second, Stewart would wear the red plate at Phoenix for the second round because back then the champion wore the red plate, not the points leader—guys like Carmichael, Stewart, and Reed would rather wear their own numbers than #1. Reed’s confidence was up, and he and Stewart again had similar wins and lap times in their heat races. The Phoenix main event starts at the 26:00 mark.
As close as the 450 duel was at Phoenix, the Lites race was even better, with Torco Racing Fuels Honda rider Jake Weimer going up against Dungey and Yamaha’s Broc Hepler. Check it out here, beginning at the 27:00 mark.
Says TV color commentator Jeff Emig, “That’s one of the best main events I’ve ever seen!” And Torco Fuels Honda was actually the working name in 2008 for what we now know as GEICO Honda.
What happened at the next round was one of the most unexpected turns in the history of the series. Reed and Stewart were now tied in the points going into Anaheim 2, which marked the third round of the series. Practice didn’t have much drama, nor did that evening’s racing. Instead, the drama happened at about 6:15 p.m. at the Kawasaki rig, when James Stewart told a crowd of beat reporters that he was not going to be able to race that night or any night soon because he was still having problems with the knee he injured the previous summer.
“This is definitely tough,” began Stewart. “It was to the point where it was fine, but I had an accident on December 20 and I hurt my knee, and I haven’t ridden since then. I would just come to the race, race the weekend, and was struggling as far as putting my foot down… Every weekend it was getting worse and worse until where I was out riding and it wanted to pop out. There was nothing I could do about it. It was either try to suck it up and get a couple more races in and then pull out and then miss the whole outdoor season, or doing the smart thing to try to get it fixed and be back for the outdoors."
“I’ve done my share of riding in pain,” Stewart told Cycle News’ Kit Palmer. “I’ve done it the last three weeks. I can’t take it anymore. It’s a tough decision to make… as you could see during the first two races, I wasn’t racing at 100 percent.”
Just like that, it was over: James Stewart was taking himself out of the series one weekend after winning. He would not return until the opening round of the AMA Motocross Championship on May 25, 2008, at Glen Helen Raceway, and he would win every moto of the series—a perfect summer, ala Ricky Carmichael.
To say Stewart’s absence took the air out of the SX series would an understatement. At that point it was fairly obvious that with Carmichael retired and Stewart now on the sidelines, it was going to be the Chad Reed Show, and it was—for a while, anyway. After a long and fun opening ceremony for “retro night,” as they were calling the Anaheim 2 race, and a celebration that included a reunion of the 1986 Anaheim rivals Ricky Johnson and David Bailey (who rode out on a modified Honda to take a lap around the track), Reed made quick work of holeshot-winner Mike Alessi and just rode away from the pack. Yamaha’s Josh Hill would finish second, and Honda’s Kevin Windham would be third. At this point Reed already had a 15-point lead on Windham.
The series traveled north for the fourth round in San Francisco’s open-air AT&T Park, and once again the rain showed up and wrecked havoc on the proceedings. The races were shortened, including a fifteen-lap main for the 450 guys, but the results were the same for Chad Reed, who won for the third time in four races. Windham was again second, with Honda’s Davi Millsaps third, his second-ever podium finish on a 450. The biggest surprise was fourth place: Bad Boy Energy Drink/Pirelli-sponsored privateer Jacob Marsack! Believe it or not, this would not be his best finish of 2008.
In the Lites class, after Dungey had won again at Anaheim 2, he would have problems in mud and traffic and only finish seventh at San Fran, which opened the door for the second first-time winner of the series—Jason Lawrence. He got the win, and then Motorsport Kawasaki-backed Tommy Hahn took second after Brett Metcalfe mistook the muddy white flag for the checkered flag in the ten-lap race. Watch the main event beginning at the 28:00 mark.
Lawrence kept the momentum going right into the third and final Anaheim round to take another win and shrink Dungey’s once-hefty points lead down to single digits. Ryan had some problems in traffic, and he ended up finishing eleventh in the main event. The roles were becoming quite clear by this point: J-Law was the bad boy, Dungey the choir boy. Boasted Lawrence after the race, “I’d like to win five or six in a row, but the series isn’t that long!”
It was getting long for everyone else in the 450 class. Chad Reed earned a rare Anaheim three-peat, sweeping all three rounds at the Big A. This time Millsaps was second, Tim Ferry third.
If by this point you’re wondering where Ryan Villopoto, the defending West Region Lites Champion was, the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider was struggling with a wrist injury and decided to have it worked on, then wait until the East Region to return to the track. As for the East Region #1 Ben Townley, he had switched to Honda during the off-season, but then began a long string of serious and costly injuries that would bring his career to an ultimate end.
Reed just kept winning, though not by as much as many expected. In fact, after he earned a never-before-accomplished sweep of all five California rounds (San Diego, San Franciscom, and the three Anaheims), the Cycle News report for San Diego was entitled “Barely Dominating.” Yet, by the time the series left the Golden State he had a 35-point lead! Here’s the San Diego main, beginning at the 20:00 mark.
The real drama was in the Lites class, where the wheels were falling off for Dungey, just as Lawrence, who didn't finish the second Anaheim race, caught fire. Lawrence railed the outside line off the start of the San Diego and just flat took off, giving him three wins in a row. Dungey, meanwhile, had his third lackluster race in a row, dropping his bike and struggling to finish sixth. Rounding out the podium were Tommy Hahn and Team Solitaire privateer Bobby Kiniry.
Someone other then Stewart finally got ahead of Reed at Houston’s Reliant Stadium when Kevin Windham won his first AMA Supercross main event since the Anaheim opener way back in January 2005. Reed still finished second, so it didn’t seem like a big deal—at least not yet. Kawasaki’s Ferry placed third. Here’s the TV show, though it starts out kind of sloppy.
In the Lites class another new winner emerged in Austin Stroupe, stopping J-Law’s streak, but Lawrence was right there in second, with Dungey off-song again and finishing fourth.
The East Region finally started the following week at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, and the premier class saw a brand new winner for the first time since James Stewart’s breakthrough win in Dallas back in 2005. Honda’s Davi Millsaps scored a popular win in front of his home crowd by pressuring Reed into a rare mistake. You can see it just after the 25:40 mark.
The same wall that bit Reed would play a crucial part in the Lites main, as the heavily-favored Villopoto crashed on it and then got run over by Torco Racing Fuels (now GEICO) Honda’s Josh Grant! RV’s wrist took the blow and he could not finish the race. Watch it at the 33:50 mark.
While RV struggled, Trey Canard was doing the exact same thing that Dungey did at the Georgia Dome the year before: winning the first supercross race of his professional career. The Torco Honda rider led from start to finish to claim the win, beating KTM riders Martin Davalos and Ryan Sipes.
Reed bounced right back to make a statement at Inadianapolis’ RCA Dome, with Josh Hill second and Honda’s Andrew Short third (and West Region visitor Ryan Dungey fourth in his first-ever 450 main). Canard was able to once again win, taking advantage of an early Ryan Villopoto spill that set him back in the back. Nevertheless, #2 charged all the way up to second.
One week later at the Daytona Supercross the rookie Canard would win again, this time in one of the wettest races of all time. Canard was lucky in that he got the holeshot and stayed as clean as possible, for as long as possible, while Villopoto, his arm better, lost his brakes early in the rain-shortened ten-lap finale. Watch how bad this thing is, beginning at around the 41:30 mark.
The drama of that race was nothing compared to what happened in the premier class. As guest commentator Ricky Carmichael pointed out, “It’s raining cats and dogs!” The track deteriorated much, much more for the twelve-lap 450 main. It’s worth watching and listening to the last lap call of Ralph, Fro, and Ricky as the events play out below them in the mud.
The brown stuff blowing out of the back of Reed’s exhaust was the intestines of his motorcycle’s engine, as well as a sure Daytona SX win. It took awhile, but eventually Kevin Windham came tiptoeing around, trying to save his own engine from the elements. He got it to the finish and capped off one of the all-time worst mudders in series’ history with a stunning win. Reed had lapped enough people to finish seventh even without taking the checkered flag, but his points lead was down to less than a race.
Reed’s bad luck continued in Minneapolis, where he crashed while chasing after Josh Hill. That opened the door for Hill to sneak away with the one and only AMA Supercross win of his career (with 450 part-timer Dungey an impressive second). Windham was third, Reed seventh—suddenly the points lead was down to 17 points.
Minneapolis also marked the first bad night of Canard’s career—if fourth place can be considered bad! After winning the first three SX races of his rookie season, he was off the podium headed by Villopoto, Grant and Davalos.
When the series went north of the border to Toronto, the Lites race was not part of the AMA in either region. But the premier-class race counted the same as any other, and Reed rebounded with a dominant win over Windham. Once again, it seemed like things were settled.
Reed rolled right through Dallas’ Texas Stadium race over Hill and Millsaps, with Winhdam fourth, while Villopoto made up some serious ground on Canard after the rookie crashed and then had to fight back to fourth. After losing the first three rounds, RV had cut the points lead down to 17.
The entire series was rocked by Reed’s practice crash at Detroit’s Ford Field. The series-long points leader crashed and landed on his shoulder, chest, and neck. He was forced to go to the emergency room and was unlikely to even race. X-rays showed a broken shoulder blade. But Reed is one tough man, as he has proven time and again, and he showed up at the stadium just before opening ceremonies to gut out what he could. He ended up twelfth, and rather than losing as many as 25 points to Windham, he was only able to make up eleven, as Windham was beaten by Honda’s Millsaps.
“I thought I was going to die,” said Reed to Cycle News’ Shan Moore. “I have never coughed up so much blood in my life.”
With yet another win, Villopoto was closing in on Canard, who really did have a bad night in Detroit, finishing tenth. With one round to go in St. Louis, Villopoto was just 3 points behind. And since they both had three wins, whoever won the final round would be champion.
The St. Louis Lites finale was a dramatic finale as we’ve ever seen in the Lites class, and you can watch it right here beginning at the 27:45 mark.
The decisive moment came on the seventh lap when Canard double-doubled into the inside of the last corner and got an edge on RV, who then ran out of real estate on the outside. Was it too aggressive? Maybe. But like Jeff Emig said, “Hey, this is for a championship!”
One week later in Seattle, Jason Lawrence would clinch the West Region title with a runner-up ride behind Dungey, now back on a 250 and hoping for the happy-go-lucky to make some kind of mistake. J-Law would, but not until Las Vegas, when he apparently overslept the day after the series ended and missed the awards ceremony. And that’s where Dungey would get some vengeance, taking the East-West Shootout ahead of East Region combatants Villopoto and Canard. (Lawrence finished dead last in the shootout; his summer of trouble was only just beginning.)
Windham still had hope that the battered and bruised Reed would make another big mistake, but it never came. In fact, while Windham won the next-to-last round at Seattle to get to within 10 points of runner-up Reed, Chad showed up in Las Vegas and put an exclamation point on his season by winning for the eighth time. Windham would end up second with four wins, Andrew Short third on the season, and Millsaps four in the points with two wins.
Reed, unlike Lawrence, did not miss the awards ceremony, and he gave a heartfelt speech about how hard it had all been to even finish—and then how hard it’s been in general to be a stranger in a strange land. With his parents on hand for a rare visit from Australia, Reed talked about leaving home as a young man to chase his dream. If you haven’t seen or heard it, here’s a clip from the ceremony (and forgive the man for his attire).
There was even more going on under the surface. Reed thanked team manager Larry Brooks in his speech, but they were about to separate (and not amicably). The next season a new rider would show up under the L&M Racing’s San Manuel Band of Mission Indians tent, and take the spot from Chad Reed: James Stewart.
2008 AMA Supercross Championship
- Chad Reed Yamaha 365
- Kevin Windham Honda 352
- Andrew Short Honda 281
- Davi Millsaps Honda 278
- Josh Hill Yamaha 228
- Tim Ferry Kawasaki 217
- Nathan Ramsey Yamaha 173
- David Vuillemin Honda 169
- Nick Wey KTM 159
- Paul Carpenter Honda 144
Lites East Region
- Trey Canard Honda 147
- Ryan Villopoto Kawasaki 137
- Nico Izzi Suzuki 99
- Branden Jesseman Kawasaki 94
- Josh Grant Honda 91
Lites West Region
- Jason Lawrence Yamaha 157
- Ryan Dungey Suzuki 154
- Austin Stroupe Kawasaki 131
- Brett Metcalfe Kawasaki 126
- Tommy Hahn Honda 117