“We close our eyes and another year goes,” sang Oingo Boingo once upon a time, and that’s how I like to begin the first Racerhead of the year. A brand-new season is upon us, and we are once again all gathered under the Big A for the start of the 2015 Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship. The go-to phrase is #whosnext because there will be a new champion, and the contenders are lined up to make a claim for the throne. You can watch live tomorrow on Fox Sports 1 beginning at 10 p.m. Eastern (all series races start half an hour earlier now). You can also watch the live practice and pre-show with www.supercrossonline.com which will go from 3:50 to 7:30 p.m. (ET).
Racerhead is coming to you from the far back corner of the Anaheim press conference, where it feels a little bit like Groundhog Day—we’ve been here before, time and again and again… And yet it feels like it’s all brand new. The top title contenders are up there speaking to the media, and looking up at the table, one would be hard-pressed to pick out a sure-winner for tomorrow night, which is not always the case. We’re back where we started, yet there have been so many changes since Las Vegas ended the 2014 season that it seems like a whole new world. Ken Roczen and Justin Barcia and Josh Grant and Justin Brayton are all on new teams. Chad Reed and Trey Canard and Davi Millsaps are all healthy. In the case of Millsaps, he's also on a new team. Jason Anderson and Cole Seely and Blake Baggett and Dean Wilson have all moved up the premier 450 SX class full-time. Out of all these top guys, Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey, Honda’s Eli Tomac, and BTOSports.com KTM’s Andrew Short seem like the only ones who aren’t in some sort of transition—though Dungey did get married during the off-season! That right there could be the podium. Or it could be all kids. Or it could be Reedy and the old guard… Like you, I am trying to guess who will win tomorrow night, and who will win this series in the end, and it seems more wide open than ever.
Of course there are two missing men that would be up there at the table behind all of those helmets and Monster Energy cans (and Monster Energy girls): Ryan Villopoto and James Stewart. You know where RV, the champion the last four years, is headed, and you know why Bubba, a former two-time champion, is not here. Both will be here tomorrow to watch, and both will also be obvious in their absence on the starting gate. Those are very big gates to fill. I can’t remember a season opener where it was as wide open as far as who could turn up and win as this one—2005 maybe? Add up Villopoto and Stewart and you have maybe half the total wins of the last decade and six of the last eight championships missing from the starting gate. It is still astonishing to me that Villopoto led all eighty laps of the last four main events last year (and likely the last eighty laps of his AMA Supercross career) with a bad knee. I know the fans will miss him, but his competition probably won’t!
One of the questions that came up during the presser was about James Stewart’s situation, and Trey Canard really stood out in how he spoke about the importance of being earnest and smart in taking care of yourself, in following all of the rules and guidelines, and the difficulty of taking everything into consideration—what you eat, what supplements you take, what prescriptions you might have—and underscoring just how important it is to be thorough about your body and the rules. Maybe some took that lightly before this whole situation, but it’s obvious that Stewart’s situation was a real eye-opener for everyone, as the reality is that 2015 will start without him—and not because of injury.
After the press conference, which was hosted by Jamie Little, who just made her own move over to Fox Sports during the off-season after twelve years with ESPN, a handful of riders got to go out and do a fifteen-minute session. The track was pretty much already built, but no one was doing anything particularly outstanding. It was honestly hard to tell much from the riding, other than the fact that everyone was taking it pretty easy. One guy fell, Team Honda’s Canard, but that was about all that stood out…. Wait, perhaps that’s the omen I’ve been waiting for—someone to stand out somehow from a very crowded pack, and be the man to watch for tomorrow night, because Trey got his first crash out of his system early. Or maybe that’s not the right omen…
And so begins the forty-first season of Monster Energy AMA Supercross. If you want to watch the whole press conference, here it is.
There will be a new Monster Energy AMA Supercross Champion when all is said and done, and you will get to see it more than ever thanks to the deal Feld Motor Sports got with Fox Sports to get all of the races live on at least one of their networks, and also online. We’re all looking forward to seeing who steps up and how this all pans out—Anaheim means it’s time for everyone to get their A game on!
#WHOSWEST? (Jason Weigandt)
The annual guessing game of which 250 riders will race which coast continues today. Yes, today, just one day before the first race of the year. We still only sorta kinda know. You can look at the entry list, but there are riders entered for the West that will not compete tomorrow and will race the East. The team that started this trend, Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki, isn’t going to stop playing this game anytime soon. As it turns out, the team only has two riders that are 100 percent healthy, Tyler Bowers and Chris Alldredge, so they’re racing West.
“That’s why we tell all of our guys to be ready for Anaheim, you never know who is going to be hurt,” explained longtime Pro Circuit suspension man Jim “Bones” Bacon. The team has no plans to start assigning riders to a coast because the fear is a rider will taper his training down to be ready for Dallas in February and then get called off the couch the day before Anaheim. Just last year, Dean Wilson crashed a few days before the opener and nearly missed the race. For that reason, Pro Circuit wants everyone to think they’re racing Anaheim, and until the team is forced to commit before the first practice of the first race, teams aren’t going to operate any differently.
For the riders, it’s tough not knowing. Last year Adam Cianciarulo told me he had to go through two of Aldon Baker’s gnarly boot camps, one to be ready for the West, and then another when he found out he’d be racing East. “It’s not fun,” he told me back then.
But the riders get paid by the teams, so they’re at the mercy of them. That’s fine. The bigger problem comes with fan and sponsor involvement, and this guessing game doesn’t work in that environment. For starters, there’s been absolutely zero talk and bench racing here today about “Who will win 250 West?” Why? No one knows who is racing for sure! The riders and teams aren't able to drink in the Anaheim hype and buzz because no one is sure. Yes, some teams (like GEICO Honda) came right out and said who was racing West, but you can’t bench race about the championship unless you know all the players.
So here’s what we think we know about tomorrow’s 250 West field. Pro Circuit has Bowers and Alldredge, GEICO Honda has Malcolm Stewart and Matt Bisceglia. The entire Lucas Oil Troy Lee KTM team makes it easy on us by only racing West (that’s Darryn Durham, Jessy Nelson, and Shane McElrath), and Rockstar Husqvarna has Zach Osborne and Zach Bell. People got excited when they saw Jeremy Martin today riding on his new #6 Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha, but we believe Star’s West team will be Cooper Webb and Aaron Plessinger, not Martin. Justin Hill will be Red Bull KTM’s West entrant.
That’s what we think. The official word doesn’t come until the riders hit the track in practice tomorrow. And actually until a rider logs a time within the “fast forty” and qualifies for the night show, he can still pull a switcheroo and withdraw his entry to switch to the East. If you’re running a fantasy team, be sure to look at the final qualifying numbers to really know who is racing and who isn’t. Kind of a shame we have to wait so long; we could have been talking about this stuff for a month now and giving these 250 riders a lot more coverage and attention.
As for the 450 class, I’ve talked to a lot of people today and you know what name I’ve heard the most? Davi Millsaps. Lot of people seem to like his chances, and I can’t say I disagree—he’s riding a bike that’s been pretty darn successful the past four years!
THE HISTORY OF SUPERCROSS (DC)
We have finally caught up to the present with our 40 Years of Supercross feature here at Racer X Online. Thanks to Jason Weigandt and Chase Stallo for getting us to the white flag with today’s 2013 feature, which leaves only tomorrow’s 2014 entry before wrapping it up. It was a blast to go through all of the old records, programs, the press kits, the results in The Vault and the Cycle News archives, and chart the growth of the series. It’s hard to believe that what started out back in 1974 as the two-round “Yamaha Super Series of Stadium Motocross” (and before that the Superbowl of Motocross at the Los Angeles Coliseum) has turned into this motorsports and live-entertainment juggernaut. We will close it out tomorrow and then archive it all in the Racer X Online Vault.
And, for what it’s worth, one of the most interesting things I stumbled upon was the fact that Ricky Carmichael never won the opener at Anaheim. Not even in any of his five championship years. That’s the mantra that everyone should remember about tomorrow night: You can’t win the championship at the Anaheim opener, but you can sure lose it.
The Real (S)X-Mas Eve (Steve Matthes)
Forget the one that everyone celebrates and the jolly fat guy delivers presents, this is the real (S)X-Mas eve. The night before supercross and all was calm, nothing was stirring, even at the test tracks and blah, blah, blah. It’s here. The 2015 Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship (as we’ve seen here lately, you must NEVER forget about the FIM folks).
Being a long time mechanic in this sport I flash back to just how much work everyone involved has put in with the goal to be good under the Big A. The mechanics and everyone involved with the team have been wide-open for two months now making sure everything is ordered, stocked and ready to go. The riders have been working on themselves, everyone else has been working for the good of the team. And inevitably, there will be things that don’t get done until Friday night or Saturday morning. It’s almost a pecking order as to how late things will get done. The factory teams are pretty dialed in right now, the satellite teams will maybe get a few aftermarket parts delivered to them Friday night while the smaller teams, heck they’ll be getting their rigs wrapped with stickers in the pits on Saturday morning. I’ve seen it.
The folks at Feld Motor Sports, the promoting group, have been working hard also and they always seem to bring something new to the table every year. Last year it was the new finish line video board and managers tower. I see they brought back the over/under bridge (yay!) and I’m sure that won’t be their only gift. Props to all the teams and Feld for working so hard to bring us the sport that we love. Trust me, I know they do.
PRO PERSPECTIVE (Jason Thomas)
It's here! All of that waiting has finally ended. Tonight will probably be a bit restless as all of the possible outcomes will be doing laps in everyone's mind. Even for the most prepared of riders, there is still the element of chaos that exists in the world of supercross. Things happen out there that no one can plan. All any rider can do is try to be ready for anything and everything. There will be no hiding or faking on Saturday night. Sure, racers are racing each other—that's the name of the game. At this first race, though, sometimes the race is against yourself. Maintaining a mental calm and razor focus isn't easy when there's palpable excitement everywhere you turn. This first Anaheim is predictably unpredictable. Who can adjust and react? The ability to adapt stems from diligence in preparation. The curtain will be unveiled on everyone's preparation tomorrow night. I. Cannot. Wait.
Jimmy Lewis is one of the most respected test riders in the history of dirt bikes. He can ride just about anything—motocross, desert, GNCC, Dakar, Endurocross, Super-Moto—and he’s also got a wide background in motorcycle journalism, as does Scott Hoffman. Together they have teamed up to build an online motorcycle testing hub that gives you their expert input on what motorcycles, parts, and accessories work best, and in a wide variety of circumstances. Check out the new site www.dirtbiketest.com and see what they think about everything from the new 450s to old-school scramblers, not to mention all of the bits and pieces that go with dirt bikes in general.
Wide Open (Steve Matthes)
It’s such a cliché and we sometimes use it too much but seriously, this year IS wide open. We’ve had the defending champion of supercross bow out before (RC rode selected events, Donnie Hansen and Bob Hannah got hurt) but in 2015 we have the defending four-time SX champ (Villopoto) leaving as well as the guy (James Stewart) that scored the second most wins last year. Poof! Twelve wins out of seventeen gone from the series- I’d say that makes it pretty wide open no?
Kenny Roczen won two races, Chad Reed won two races and Ryan Dungey won one. Those are the winners that are left over so I would say there’s going to be some serious adding to one or two riders win totals. And I don’t think there’s any doubt that Eli Tomac gets a win this year. The way I see it we have seven riders that can win this title. Seven! Roczen, Reed, Dungey, Tomac, Davi Millsaps, Justin Barcia and Trey Canard. Perhaps a rookie can “pull a McGrath” but I don’t see it. I think you have to look at these seven and thing that the winner is going to come from that group. As opposed to last year when it was Villopoto, Stewart, Reed or Dungey that were going to win the title. See? I just proved that it was wide open in 2015 and that folks, is exciting.
Something to Prove (Steve Matthes)
I worked for a couple of riders in my time that were sort of afterthoughts and written off as anyone that could do anything. Both Timmy Ferry in 1999 and Nick Wey in 2002 were known as great riders, had great 125SX careers but no factory teams thought they were worthy of a ride. So they were stuck with me as a mechanic and both guys were out of box vans in the back of the pits. Ferry (Noleen) and Wey (Moto XXX) had some support but both guys worked hard, rode with a bit of a chip on their shoulders and put in great results as privateers. Ferry scored a ninth overall in the points and Wey was eighth. Ferry got a Yamaha supported Chaparral ride the next year and Wey was rewarded with a Yamaha supported Mach 1 Motorsports ride. I saw the confidence grow each week as they battled with the factory riders on their way less trick YZ250’s. And not too mention they had to overcome the handicap of me working on said bikes.
I bring this up because the positions that Wey and Ferry were in back in the day is the same positions that Jake Weimer and Kyle Chisholm are in now. Both riders have been deemed by “the man” (not Roger DeCoster) as not being capable of finishing well enough to get a salaried ride on a top team. Weimer’s on Monster Energy/Team Tedder Kawasaki and Chisholm’s doing his own thing. They’re basically privateers now and trying to bolt on the best parts they can to battle the top guys. Motivation to make money and show people that they were wrong are great chips to put right there on your shoulder. The mental game, ever so important in supercross, is going to be strong with these guys. They have no choice if they want to keep racing dirt bikes for a living.
I’ve been there, I’ve seen it and now let’s see if Weimer and Chisholm can use their weaknesses (of being a privateer) to their advantage to claw their way back to the top of the food chain.
(BREAKING: Well, Chisholm’s going to have to start his comeback at Phoenix as he’s unable to make it out to A1 due to truck issues.)
MARQUEZ ALSO WON IN MOTOCROSS (Andras Hegyi)
By now the Spanish Marc Marquez is the ruler of the road racing. But the young MotoGP star is very attached to his off-road roots, as well as motocross. In fact, last Sunday in Spain, Marquez won a motocross race! The 21-year-old Marquez has already become a legend in road racing during last two seasons. Two years ago he became the youngest world champion, beating American legend Freddie Spencer’s old standard, then Marquez became the youngest title defender. He also won the most races, beating Australian Michael Doohan’s record. But Marquez is not only fast on the asphalt, but in the dirt as well. In December in Barcelona, on an American-style dirt track, he beat the current AMA Grand National Dirt Track Champ Jared Mees. Then last Sunday Marquez won in a motocross race in Pons, Spain.
Marquez's off-road, motocross skill is not accidental. The MotoGP star began his motorcycling career as a motocrosser when he was 4 years old. His first bike was a Yamaha PW50 in 1997, which he received as a present for Christmas. He started doing some enduro racing, as well as motocross. In fact, Marquez was a junior motocross champion in Spain before he made the move into road racing. But Marquez still has a private dirt track, and he is often riding motocross for practice for MotoGP. Just think, had he not gone into MotoGP, he might have been here just like Germany’s Ken Roczen, trying to make it happen in Monster Energy Supercross and Lucas Oil Pro Motocross.
HEY, WATCH THIS!
What happens when you give Dirt Shark more time and more budget? Check out The Doonies, the Lawrence of Arabia of Monster Girl videos.
That’s all we have from a very busy Anaheim press conference. Everyone is rushing out of here to beat traffic, get to autograph signings and team dinners, and to just be ready for what tomorrow brings. It’s a whole new era in Monster Energy AMA Supercross, and while I know the series tagline is #Whosnext , I really feel like we’ve all got next! This is going to be good. Thanks for reading Racerhead, see you at the races.