Welcome to another edition of Racerhead, coming to you from all over the country once again. The California "season" of Monster Energy AMA Supercross is finally over, and everyone is headed to Arlington, Texas. Yes, the West Region continues, and yes, there's another California race later on, but for all intents and historic purposes, the turn east begins the second phase of the series. Now raise your hand if you had Ryan Dungey leading the field by more than a race just one-third into the series....
That's what I thought—not a lot of hands went up there. The Red Bull KTM rider is making this something of a snoozer, which is what happens when hard work, a great bike, a well-oiled team, and a superbly talented rider get some momentum going. Now raise your hand if you thought after three races that Cooper Webb would be stuck on three wins at this point.
Same—not a lot of hands. His season took an unexpected turn when he suffered a DNF and two terribly timed crashes while vying for wins. Now Joey "Not a Fluke" Savatgy has the points lead, and even if Webb wins again this weekend and Savatgy finishes second, they will be tied in points and will both wear red plates for the next couple of months while they wait for the West Region to start back up. Should be interesting.
Finally, before we get into the week that was, here's a get-well-soon to Ricky Carmichael. RC is dealing with some skin cancer issues right now—melanoma is something every motocross rider or parent or sibling should worry about because we all spend some so much time in the sun—and you can see the effects of what he's dealing with on his Instagram page @rickycarmichael. It's not pleasant, to say the least, but it's important. Remember to use sunblock, kids, which RC will tell you, as will Jeff Ward and a few other guys who spent a life in motocross. Keep yourself covered and use sunblock when you're just hanging out at the track. Later on in life, it might save yours.
TRACK TALK (MATTHES)
We’re six rounds into this series, and I have to say it’s been a refreshing year for the tracks so far. Look, it’s not easy to build these tracks week in and week out (plus the bikes are way too fast for these things, but that’s another debate for another time), but for a few years I feel like a lot of tracks are cookie-cutter easy, and that doesn’t make for good racing.
This year though has been a bit of a fresh look at how to peel the same egg, and I applaud Rich Winkler and his crew. Rich did an interview on this site, and he admits that he does struggle to think of new things, but with some help he’s been able to have spice things up this year. Anaheim 1 was great and not the traditional “easy” track it usually is. San Diego 1 had incredible dirt, and Glendale showed some imagination with the long start and going outside the stadium. Anaheim 2 was amazing, and even in San Diego 2 this past weekend we saw some cool obstacles, although the racing wasn’t awesome (I blame some of that on the Monster Jam that was there, which leaves the dirt incredibly hard and slick). And the whoops … well, at three of the six races this year they’ve been a factor. Anytime you can get these riders making mistakes, that’s going to make for good racing. Too often, these guys can ride the tracks with their eyes closed.
So I just wanted to say, as a guy who’s been hard on some tracks over the years, bravo to Dirt Wurx guys on some good work this year.
Pro Perspective (David Pingree and Jason Thomas)
Ping: The most interesting battle out west right now is between Cooper Webb and Joey Savatgy. I don’t know many people who picked Savatgy over Webb prior to round one, or round three for that matter, but it’s something that needs to be looked at. Cooper destroyed these guys at the first few rounds. He was sharp, fit, and just plain faster than everybody else. But after a mechanical and a couple tip-overs, he’s let Savatgy back in the race. The Monster Energy/Pro Circuit rider was having a good night in Oakland and keeping Webb honest. I don’t believe he was going to make a pass on Webb, but he didn’t have to, because Cooper’s bike died, handing Savatgy his first win.
That win bred confidence, but I think there was still some doubt in Joey’s mind—and everybody else’s—that he could win again in a heads-up race with Webb. But Savatgy’s ride at San Diego 2 was impressive. He got the start and put in fifteen really good laps for his second win while Webb had yet another crash. Momentum has definitely shifted, and Savatgy now believes that he is capable of winning more races—and this championship. This title fight is going to go down to the wire, and Cooper now finds himself in a points hole and fighting against Savatgy’s momentum. Dallas will be telling and crucial for both of these riders.
If the title does come down to the last round, in Vegas—and it most likely will—remember that they are going back to an East-West combined format, which has the potential to swing points one way or the other in a significant way.
What about Webb riding some East Coast rounds on a 450? I think it’s a great idea. First of all, Webb already has a 250 supercross title, so he should be looking ahead to his future in the premier class. He’s already proven that he’s comfortable on it by doing very well in several overseas races. That means that bike setup isn’t an issue and they won’t have to scramble to get ready. By continuing to race he’ll stay sharp and go into the final West Region rounds confident and relaxed while Savatgy is feeling like it’s the opener all over again. I hope he decides to jump in and at least race a few rounds.
JT: As Ping said, the situation in the West has totally changed. Cooper Webb had the field covered at the first three rounds, and the talk was more centered around a perfect series instead of a championship showdown. Well, now we have a real battle between Savatgy and Webb entering the big D.
I think this weekend will be critical for the mental edge as we enter the long West layoff. A win can make the next month or two seem easy and let things flow the right direction during outdoor testing. A bad race this weekend or just a straight-up defeat can result in a loss of confidence and many sleepless nights before Santa Clara. Someone is going to win and someone is going to lose, but how the mental game plays out after this race can be pivotal.
As for any talk of Webb racing a 450 on the East swing, I just can't see it being a good idea. He is in the midst of this title battle and needs to get in some important outdoor testing during the break. The West guys get a huge jump on the outdoor preparation, and he would be foolish to give up that edge. The 450 class will be there waiting when he is ready. For now, I would focus on the task at hand and also use the extra time to prepare for the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. Prioritizing his efforts could pay big dividends as the rest of 2016 unfolds.
BASEBALL VERSUS FOOTBALL (Matthes)
So far we’ve had four out of five races at baseball stadiums (Oakland is both football and baseball), and we’re moving into a stretch where nine of the last ten races (not including Daytona) are in football stadiums. The prevailing wisdom is the football stadium tracks are longer, and they may be in square footage, but the riders also have more speed. Whatever the case is, new PulpMX Show producer Travis Marx (Twitter: @imtravismarx) ran the numbers for me in terms of lap times, and the baseball stadiums produce longer lap times.
Take a look at the chart Travis made for lap times. With all these football stadiums coming up, get ready for some shorter races people.
THE NUMBER: SIX
In the first six rounds, Red Bull KTM's Dungey was able to get six straight podiums, including four wins. In the history of premier-class SX racing, this is only the fourth season where a rider started the first six races in similar way: Ricky Johnson (1988), Jeremy McGrath (1996), Ricky Carmichael (2001), and Chad Reed (2004) all got six podiums and a least four wins in the first half-dozen races. All became champions in those seasons.
This is also the fourth season where he was able to get at least four wins, which makes him the eighth rider ever to get at least four wins in four different seasons. McGrath did it in all seven of his championship seasons: 1993, '94, '95, '96, '98, '99, 2000. Carmichael, Ryan Villopoto, and James Stewart would take at least four triumphs in five different seasons; Reed, Johnson, and Bob Hannah won at least four in at four distinct seasons. In other words, RD1 (or RD5) is in extremely good company!
DESALLE DOWN (DC)
New to the Monster Energy Kawasaki MXGP team is Clement Desalle, the seemingly perennial runner-up and all-around fierce competitor. Not-so-new is the horrible luck that team has had since Ryan Villopoto joined for his short, forgettable misadventure in GP racing. Last year the team took just one win when Villopoto got so mad after his lackluster debut that he laid down the law in Thailand (though only for his Saturday afternoon qualifier and the first hot moto). Then he got hurt and ultimately quit; his teammate and longtime friend Tyla Rattray quit, too, at the end of a very long and successful career. Kawasaki responded to RV's move by hiring Davi Millsaps and Wil Hahn in America, and neither won a race. Now it's Eli Tomac and Hahn here, and we're still waiting for a win for them in Monster Energy AMA Supercross. It's no doubt coming, but Eli’s already more than a race down on Dungey in the title fight.
Desalle was hired to get Kawasaki its first 500cc (or now MX1/MXGP) title, as not even Brad Lackey, Hakan Carlqvist, Georges Jobe, Billy Liles, David Thorpe, Paul Malin, Kurt Nicoll, Rattray, or Villopoto managed to win the FIM World Championship in that class on a green bike. It's probably not going to happen this year, either, as Desalle broke his arm in a weird wreck that a fan caught on tape and posted on Facebook.
His teammate Jordi Tixier, a former MX2 world champ, also got hurt and needs wrist surgery. The longest losing streak in motocross history (even longer than Husqvarna here in America) continues.
Of the 24 entries that were announced for the Qatar opener in a couple of weeks, scratch Desalle and Tixier (and almost Ben Townley, as he got hurt in Valence too after a run-in with Jeffrey Herlings, but he has been cleared to race.) By the time this race happens, they may not even have a half gate.
Never Forget (DC)
I grew up fascinated with Grand Prix motocross. Heikki Mikkola, the Flying Finn himself, was my favorite rider, and I literally used to wait in the front yard for the mailman to show up with Cycle News so I could see if Mikkola had beaten Roger DeCoster and Ake Jonsson and Gerrit Wolsink and everyone else. Every fall, when the Carlsbad 500cc USGP ran on ABC's Wide World of Sports (usually six months later), I would bet my unknowing friends that Wolsink would win, not Mikkola or The Man, and it worked for years—he won the race five times between 1974 and '79! Wolsink was the guest of honor last weekend at the annual Carlsbad Reunion (the actual Carlsbad track is now an industrial complex and an intersection), and he also visited the San Diego SX. That's not what this is about.
I remember always hearing the story that Ake Jonsson, maybe the fastest man in motocross to never win a world title, lost the 1971 500cc World Championship to DeCoster because his sparkplug fell out on his Maico at the end of the last moto. That was always a head-scratcher, and at times I thought my dad, even with his stellar bench-racing bona fides, was making that story up because he loved Maicos so much that he may have ingratiated what really happened.
But then I saw this post on Facebook from my lifetime friend Selveraj Naryana (we actually met in 1974 at the Honda Hills Trans-AMA when I was in the second grade) with a photo of himself and Ake from that fateful day. He also solved the mystery for me, and I am sure there's someone else out there who might have also heard the story but never knew the details:
I was at the Carlsbad GP reunion on Sunday, seeing great legends and motocross heroes, I am (overwhelmed) and chilled being with the greatest heroes of motocross friends and fans. This photo was taken after Ake and me discussing the sparkplug failed last few laps of the 500cc World Championship in Holland in 1971. The Champion spark plug star washer was not yet invented then (so) only one washer was held in between the sparkplug and the cylinder head. It was a sad evening, But Ake was still calm with great smile 30 minutes after the 2nd moto... He was one of the greatest riders that I ever worked with. I miss those days. It was not easy to work out of car and trailer hook up. No box van, no air compressor, few spare parts, same tires for the entire race. (We cut the tires with hand cutters.) No 5-Star hotel, no pit tent, no fancy tools, no team shirts!!!. Something break down? Weld the frame in between motos, even cutting the frame to change the steering angle, ha! Yes, working only with own knowledge, and you can see a one in only spare special spare engine sitting in the bike trailer. One engine for entire year! Riders had to build their own engines. You cannot believe that; sometimes they felt safe..... Those days are Golden Days. Troubleshooting not with fancy or high tech equipment! Ake and Roger DeCoster and I are friends even though we were competing each other. We would go and eat together after the event. Man, the life was so awesome then.... I am glad that I grew up from the ground level to share the old, fabulous years of my life with my good old motocross legends. Thanks Ake and Roger for the greatest moments life in the 70s. I just wanted to share my emotional thoughts. Wow, I miss my old days. I am glad that I am still surrounded by old and new motocross friends. They are my heroes forever.
ARENACROSS NOW (Jason "Wheels" Todd)
You may have noticed an uptick on our Instagram @racerxonline from last weekend's Birmingham round of Amsoil Arenacross. That's because our new contributor Jason "Wheels" Todd made the trip to Alabama to have a look at what's become the Triple A League for aspiring supercross racers. Here's some more on the weekend that was, courtesy of wheels
Okay, gang, like DC said, Amsoil Arenacross may be the Triple A of professional (indoor) racing, as it's now the stepping-stone to racing inside the big stadiums of Monster Energy AMA Supercross, but I saw nothing “minor league” about the action associated with this series. Amsoil Arenacross uses the motto “More Intense” as its marketing/social banner, and it is absolutely fitting.
Let's start with the Austin Stroupe revival, which sort of sounds like the title to an album, doesn’t it? Or maybe just the next chapter to his autobiography? The star-crossed rider from North Carolina was interesting to watch all day on Saturday as a fill-in rider for Rockstar Husqvarna. He showed a positive, appreciative, and all-around stellar vibe during track walk; he looked really comfortable during practice and really, really fast throughout the evening’s program. Despite finding himself on the ground once or twice, Stroupe jived well with the motorcycle and his team—I thought he was the quickest rider all day in the whoops. Stroupe would earn a third-place finish in the second main event. “Fill-in” riders aren’t normally expected to podium or win races, but if I were Junior Jackson and Rockstar Husqvarna, I would be quite happy right now. And if I’m Stroupe, I’m really happy to be back and moving forward again.
So far this year, Benny Bloss, Austin Forkner, and Chase Sexton have all taken steps to earn their tickets to the big dance via Ricky Carmichael’s Road 2 Supercross. So which elite amateur would be next? Birmingham, Alabama, would find Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM’s Sean Cantrell as the answer. Arenacross is gnarlier (#MoreIntense) than any amateur racing (with the possible exception of Loretta Lynn's), and Cantrell came in ready to show what he could do. He would qualify for the main events in both classes and win the AX Lites main event. His debut had everything a race could offer: he got a holeshot, he led laps, he battled hard, and he won. In the Arenacross class, Cantrell would unfortunately find himself on the ground, thus completing the pattern of “having everything a race could offer.”
As I alluded to previously, many promising young riders have tested the waters on their way to the big leagues. Yes, there are skeptical as to whether this system works (especially West Coast guys who don't have a lot of close races), but my thoughts are this: if you’re skeptical about Amsoil Arenacross preparing riders for supercross, load up your van and go experience it for yourself. I truly admire what the folks over at arenacross are doing, both the riders and the promoters. Stick and ball sports have the NCAA; Monster Energy Supercross now has Amsoil Arenacross. The regulars who make up the rider roster are no slouches either. Jacob Hayes is a flat-out badass. They make these kids work hard. The racing is, in fact, more intense, and if you can withstand the pressure cooker of AX, it can only help make you more prepared for supercross.
MEET JAMES BENTLEY (DC)
Do you remember the "mystery rider" we could not figure out from a poster sent in by one of our readers from the late 1960s or early 1970s? We’ve had some pretty serious bench-racers try to help us figure out who the man was, from Mark Blackwell and Dangerous Joe Bonnello, from Scott Wallenberg and Husqvarna scholar Kenneth Olausson (who quite literally wrote the book on Torsten Hallman, who was a special guest last weekend at the San Diego SX) and Tom Rapp (who found the photo). Well, here is a photo of the man we finally ID'd, James Bentley, plus some results that show that he was a pretty fast local back in the day. In this world of immediate and immense information, this was a lot of fun.
Hey, Watch It!
Monster Energy Supercross: Chasing the Dream is back, and it's fantastic. Here is Episode 1.
We just got a note from our man at American Honda, Chris Jonnum, with info on a new Honda project that you're going to love. Honda Racing TV features all kinds of motorcycle and ATV activity featuring the Red Riders, from 18-time Trials World Champion Toni Bou to Trey Canard and Cole Seely here on the AMA circuit. Nicky Hayden, the GEICO Honda boys, road racer Jack Miller--they are all here! Check out Episode 1 or Honda Racing TV.
Well this is a real breakthrough. Props to the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team for an innovative move, bringing live streaming video from their pits on Saturday straight to you. Three cameras mounted high above the pits give you the full view of bike changes, conversations and plenty of behind-the-scenes stuff you won’t see anywhere else. Plus, the team is cutting interviews and posting them almost instantly from the races. It’s really cool—go here to sign up and get access.
Another absolute gem, a film my dad had back in 1974 and used to show on the side of the barn on Saturday nights at Appalachia Lake MX Park. It was from the 1972 Puyallup Trans-AMA, and I had it memorized! Especially cool is the slo-mo support class at the 9:40 mark that shows what looks like 100 riders go off the gate together!
And a note from Selvaraj Narayana on the video:
Yes…I was with Ake Johnson and Hans Maisch that weekend. It was remarkable. We had to cut the frame at night to make the steering head change that weekend. I know it very clearly that, I was so scare whether the frame will hold up or not. Thanks for sharing the memories. It was great to get a jewel of video. 44 years ago, I will put this video in my facebook so others can see it. Thank you so much.
Get Your Fresh Hot Pulp Here
Tony Blazier is restoring a 1990 CR250 and chronicling this for us. Here’s installment #3.
Cade Clason had an interesting San Diego 2 with him getting, then having it taken away (rightfully in my eyes), the last spot into the 450SX main event. Well it’s not all bad news as he made Just Short column this week.
The Fly Racing Moto:60 Show had Grant Langston talking about how frustrating it must be for anyone in the 450SX class not named Ryan Dungey here.
Swizcore loves himself some Jason Anderson and all that he stands for right now here.
And David Vuillemin gives us his take on San Diego and all that happened in his weekly column here.
Heading to Arlington for the seventh round of Monster Energy Supercross this weekend? Stop by the Racer X booth—located in the Party in the Pits—to pick up a free copy of Racer X Illustrated. You can also sign up or renew for just $25 (60 percent off the cover price) to get a one-year subscription, a FREE Racer X beach towel, and an extra issue! Say hi to MegaWatt and do some bench racing while you’re there!
Going to the supercross races is always more enjoyable when you're not freezing by the time the night show starts. Check out our line of warmer items, from the Thermal Shield Henley (pictured below) to Racer X beanies, all at Racer X Brand.
Subscribe online and get a free Jason Anderson cover shirt for as low as $9.98! Get ’em while they're hot—these won't be available once the offer closes.
For news from Canada, check out DMX Frid'Eh Update #7.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races.