Welcome to Racerhead, and the busiest off-weekend of all. Lucas Oil Pro Motocross starts up in eight days with the Hangtown Classic, and the Dirt Diggers North Motorcycle Club has been burning the midnight oil to get ready for the opener next Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, every practice track in America has been busy with riders big and small as folks prepare for either Hangtown or their upcoming AMA Amateur Regionals, as qualifying for Loretta Lynn’s is fast approaching.
The FIM World Championships return to Trentino, Italy, where Ryan Villopoto’s ill-fated GP season ended last April. The AMSOIL Grand National Cross Country Series presented by Maxxis picks up in Indiana, and there is a new Junior Moto-X event ramping up in Oklahoma.
Supercross finally came to an end on a rare rainy day in Las Vegas, and a pair of 250SX Champions were crowned after a frantic last lap—congratulations to Malcolm Stewart and Cooper Webb. And then the last (and slowest) 20-lap main of the 2016 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship went off, and Ken Roczen once again gave Ryan Dungey fits, but this time #1 got the better of #94 and closed out his championship run with his ninth win of the year. Congrats to Ryan, Roger DeCoster, and the entire Red Bull KTM team.
But let’s take a different route here. Earlier today the U.S. Congress passed legislation to rapidly fund a nationwide program to combat the growing scourge that is opiate addiction, which runs the gamut from painkiller abuse to heroin addiction. Nearly 30,000 people died from drug overdoses in the last year, which means more people died from overdoses than auto accidents. As one congressman put it, if an international terrorist group did something that killed 30,000 Americans, the capital would be on fire.
Of course, motocross racing is not immune to issues related to the abuse of pain medication and the deep, dark downward spiral that often follows. We’ve mentioned some who seem to have fallen through the cracks as a result of this kind of erratic behavior—Jason Lawrence, Nico Izzi, Ryan Mills, Billy Payne—but we’ve never really managed to get the real truth from someone who has struggled. Yet we all probably know someone, or raced with someone, who is struggling to get through it all. And least not until now.
Over the course of three months earlier this year, Brett Smith was working on a profile of Austin Stroupe. Just eight years ago, Stroupe was winning 250SX races as a full-blown rookie on the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team and was seen as the heir apparent to Ryan Villopoto. But within a couple of years he was off the fast track and on a bumpy, uneven, and downright puzzling journey. He would show up at some races and look great and then not even qualify at the next. It soon became obvious that there was something wrong, but before anyone could ask Austin if he had a problem, he was gone. Stroupe disappeared from the tracks, and so apparently did his future as a professional racer.
But then, in January of this year, Stroupe started racing again in arenacross. When Racer X Online Managing Editor Chase Stallo found out Stroupe was signed up to race in Baltimore, he cold-called Smith, a longtime contributor for this magazine and ESPN—and so began a weeks-long conversation between the errant rider and the relentless reporter. Smith told Stroupe it was an all-or-nothing story, that he’d either tell him what was really going on or not waste either of their time, and Austin, to his credit, seemed ready to talk about what had been his problem over all these years: he was addicted to painkillers.
The story was coming along great until Austin started doing better in the AX races. After that, he wasn’t sure he wanted his story out there in the public—it might ruin his chances of getting on a team in the future. Smith was left with an incomplete story. But just as he was putting it on the shelf, word came out that Stroupe had been arrested on March 9 in North Carolina for heroin possession. His parents left him in jail for nearly two weeks, in part to protect him from himself. And once he was out, he picked up the phone and called Smith. He wanted to finish telling his story.
Brett Smith’s “Austin, We Have A Problem” is the centerpiece of the July 2016 issue of Racer X Illustrated. It is not an easy read, but as DMXS Radio’s David Izer said earlier this week, “It’s truth.” Stroupe’s poignant rise and fall and attempts to find balance in his life, and get away from all of the elements that keep bringing him down, is a heart-wrenching tale of someone you know, someone who has fallen is still trying to find a way back up. The rider and the writer formed a bond over hours upon hours of conversation, and what comes out of it is, well, truth—profound, harsh truth.
Both Smith and Stroupe were guests on this week’s DMXS Radio Show with Izer and his partner Kevin Kelly, and both give a lot of insight into what went into the story. And when you listen to Stroupe talk, you can hear a hint of relief in his voice, as if the burden of people knowing his dark secret has been lifted from his chest. Download DMXS right here. Smith also wrote about the story behind the story here.
Make sure you pick up a copy of the new magazine and read this cautionary tale about what’s become an epidemic in our modern world. And thanks to Brett Smith for writing it and Austin Stroupe for simply telling it.
Goodyear (Jason Weigandt)
This year’s Monster Energy Supercross season was awesome. I’ve realized the true measuring stick of this isn’t the points standings, results, stadiums, tracks, or attendance. It’s simply the measure of how many riders stayed healthy. This year was a great year on that front, as the season finale in Las Vegas featured nearly every single factory rider on the gate, save for James Stewart, Dean Wilson and Christophe Pourcel—and even a missing man like Wil Hahn ended up replaced by another rider who was missing, Josh Grant, plus Nick Wey jumped into the fray midseason. The Vegas entry list had Dungey, Roczen, Anderson, Seely, Canard, Reed, Tomac, Musquin, Baggett, Bogle, Peick, Barcia, Weimer, Tickle, Millsaps, Brayton—quite a list. If you compare the Vegas main to Anaheim 1, the only riders who went missing were Stewart, Pourcel, the Hahn brothers, Australian Lawson Bopping (who was only here part-time), and Kyle Chisholm. Oddly, those six riders finished in the final six spots at Anaheim (17 to 22), so the entire top 16 at the opener was also on the track in the main event at round 17. (Also missing was Dean Wilson, he finished ninth at the opener.) That’s an amazing percentage.
So while Dungey had the title locked up and the track was muddy, he and Roczen still battled. Behind them, things got crazy, with Tomac bulldozing through the field again, Baggett and Reed fighting to the final lap for fourth, and Justin Bogle coming from nearly last to well inside the top ten before getting knocked down by Grant (while they both battled with about four other riders at the same time). It was much more exciting than the typical final round, where half of the big stars are gone and the ones who remain go into safe mode, saving all risk for the Nationals. This Las Vegas was exciting, and it was only because so many riders were still healthy and ready. Once they get together in a race, they can’t stop themselves from trying to make passes.
This bodes even better for Hangtown, with so many riders coming in with a full head of steam. Like the rest of you, I’m counting the days and the hours, but I’m also happy that supercross ended on such a strong note. Just wish there was a way to guarantee every year ended like this!
HANGTOWN ON THE HORIZON (DC)
Motocross starts at Hangtown! The 45th running of the Hangtown Classic will mark the start of the 12-race Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. It’s a fresh start for everyone—yes, right now Jimmy Albertson is tied for the points lead. Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey will once again be trying to defend a title, and Yamalube/Star Racing’s Jeremy Martin will be trying to join an extraordinarily small club of three-times-running champions in the small-bore class that includes Broc Glover (1977-’79), Mark Barnett (1980-’82), Ricky Carmichael (1997-’99), and Ryan Villopoto (2006-’08). In just eight days we will get to see if Eli Tomac can get back to the speed he was showing early last summer, and if #214 Austin Forkner is really the Next Big Thing. We know Adam Cianciarulo is back, but is Cooper Webb out? How will Tristan Charboneau do in his GEICO Honda debut? And what teams made adjustments for this summer? We’ve got that answer right here.
Hangtown will also mean the first new trophies of our 2016 Racer X Trophy Contest. Every year we offer one free full-page advertisement to the National promoter who comes up with the best trophy. Last year the contest ended in a tie between the Dirt Diggers of Hangtown (beautiful six-shooters under glass) and the Martins of Spring Creek (hand-carved Vikings). David Harvey of Hangtown sent us some shots of this year’s offerings: these beautiful gunslinger belts. Hangtown is going to be tough to beat!
THE NUMBER: 9 (Andras Hegyi)
Red Bull KTM's Ryan Dungey earned himself some personal records for most wins and the most points in an AMA Supercross season. Dungey outdid his own records from last season. In 2015 Dungey got eight wins and 390 points, while in 2016 he got nine wins and 391 points. He also successfully defended the AMA Supercross title for the first time, and he now has three 450SX championships.
The most wins in a season are 14 victories registered by Jeremy McGrath in 1996 (in a 15-race season) and Ricky Carmichael in 2001 (16 races), while the most points in a season are 392 by Carmichael in 2001 (and that was in a 16-race season, not 17 like we have now). It should be noted that for this points record, the current points system goes back to 1986.
Damon Bradshaw is the only rider in the history of SX not to be champion despite getting nine wins in a season. Bradshaw's best season came in 1992. In 16 rounds, he got ten podiums and nine wins. Before the last race, Bradshaw held a six-points lead but wasn't able to close the deal; Jeff Stanton did and won the title.
Jeremy McGrath has the most seasons with at least nine wins, with five. In 1993 he got ten wins, in '94 he got nine, in 1995 he got ten again, and in '96 he got those fourteen wins. As a Yamaha man, he collected ten wins in 2000.
Ricky Carmichael was able to get nine wins twice. In 2001 RC equaled McGrath's '96 record of 14 wins in the saddle of his Kawasaki. One year later, in 2002, he moved to Honda and got 11 wins.
In 2004, while riding a Yamaha to his first AMA Supercross Championship, Chad Reed was able to get 10 wins. James Stewart got 13 wins as a Kawasaki rider in 2007, and then he got 11 wins with Yamaha in 2009. And like Carmichael and Stewart, Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki's Ryan Villopoto was able to get at least nine wins in two different years. He got nine wins in 2012, and ten wins in 2013.
Finally, Ryan Dungey became the first rider to get at least nine wins in a season in the saddle of a non-Japanese bike.
GRASS TRACK FIND (DC)
Like every rider out there, I am always looking for new places to go riding. For the past few weeks, every time I drive up Interstate 79 in southwest Pennsylvania, a grass track on the side of a hill catches my attention. Someone laid out what looks like a smaller version the old Brownsville golf-course track, which held the 1980 AMA Youth Nationals. This track, off the Waynesburg exit, is not nearly big enough to actually host a race, but it could certainly host a couple of Racer Xers, right? We are trying to figure out who exactly it belongs to, then we're going to roll out the CRF150s for an office national. And with all of the off-cambers and hairpins, I just might have these guys covered! Either way, can't wait to ride this track.
Pro Perspective (Jason Thomas and David Pingree)
JT: Mud is the great equalizer. That cliché gets tossed around every time a dark cloud hovers near a motocross track. Unfortunately, mud is just one of those factors that everyone will deal with if you are in this sport long enough. It's generally not something that many riders look forward to, especially for the weekend warriors who spend hundreds of dollars to get their equipment back to the pre-mud condition it was in. For pro riders, the equipment isn't the concern; it’s having to jump big obstacles and take big chances in scary conditions. Supercross in mud takes those risks to the next level.
Watching the Las Vegas mudder last weekend, it was clear that riders were having to push the envelope. To turn competitive lap times, there were jumps that had to be cleared through horrific ruts and slop. To get an idea of how that felt, go back and watch the elite riders rolling through the whoops one by one. Have you ever seen that before? Probably not. The track had forced the sport's best to ride at a level they haven't seen since they were just starting out on minibikes.
Further, think back to how many riders crashed on seemingly simple double jumps, as well as the chaos the finish-line tabletop caused. Mud turned basic obstacles into highly difficult sections. It made world-class riders look like local-class novices. If it made riders like Ryan Dungey and Ken Roczen look that uncomfortable, imagine how that mud would make the Everyday Joe look. That is why mud is the great equalizer. Mud's ability to turn the best in the world into blooper-reel fodder is unrivaled as a racing variable.
Ping: The worst mud supercross race I’ve ever participated in was Dallas in 1995. We had gone through the whole night program before the rain hit, and the dirt was like concrete. (Dallas was known for rock-hard soil back then.) During the 250 LCQ, the skies opened up, and that hole in the old Texas Stadium became a big problem. Imagine a few inches of water sitting on top of a hockey rink, and you start to get an idea of the traction level we were dealing with during the main events. That night—and, I’m sure, last Saturday in Las Vegas—you had to get a start and you had to stay on two wheels to do well. I was in a podium position up until the last lap, when a lapper went down right in front of me. I switched lines, and my wheels went out from under me like somebody yanked them out. My strategy the whole time was to stay upright, do as many jumps as I could safely do, and not get sucked into racing with somebody. As soon as you got aggressive or hammered the throttle too hard, you were down.
The sketchiest part of muddy supercross races is traction on the faces of jumps. Normally, you don’t worry about grip, and you have a feel for how the bike will accelerate as you leave the face. Those rules go out the window when it’s slick, and a simple double or finish-line jump becomes death defying. Doug Henry was jumping the triples that night in Dallas, and it was one of the craziest things I’d ever seen—and I’ve been to Tijuana with motocross guys in the 1990s.
I’ve never been great in the mud, and I always thought mud races were a waste of time and bikes. But if I was good in the slop, I’m sure I would have ranted about being versatile in all conditions, blah, blah, blah. The fact is they’re going to happen, so you have to put the time in riding when it’s wet.
FLASH TRIVIA (DC)
On Saturday night, GEICO Honda’s Malcolm Stewart clinched his first AMA title, amateur or pro. Before Stewart, who was the last U.S.-born rider to win an AMA Supercross title as pro without having first win as a youth or amateur rider at Loretta Lynn's?
THE NUMBER: 75 (Andras Hegyi)
Eight-time FIM World Champion Tony Cairoli got his first win in nearly a year by sweeping both motos of the German GP at Teutschenthal. The win marked Cairoli's 75th GP victory, and the win came in his 13th season on the circuit. Only the most successful GP rider of all time, the 10-time world champion and Belgian icon Stefan Everts, has more winning seasons than Cairoli. Tony became only the third rider to win in at least 13 different seasons. Cairoli overtook none other than Roger DeCoster, who was able to win in 12 different years during his GP career, on this list.
The Man raced in the FIM World Motocross Championship between 1966 and 1980. DeCoster's early wins were aboard CZ motorcycles, then Suzuki throughout the seventies, and his last win in 1980 was aboard a Honda. DeCoster won all five of his 500cc world titles for Suzuki. Cairoli, on the other hand, won the first batch of his GPs and titles aboard a Yamaha, and the rest with KTM.
Surpassing DeCoster, Cairoli has equaling the French rider Yves Demaria's performance. The three-time world champion took part in GP racing between 1988 and 2007.(Demaria would win also at Budds Creek, the USA in 1994.) But Cairoli's 13 different winning seasons are consecutive and that's an absolute record. Tony has won continuously since 2004, his debut year.
In front of Cairoli there is only Stefan Everts with 15 different winning seasons. (It is the same way with the number of titles and the number of GP wins.) Everts raced in the world championship between 1989 and 2006. Both Everts and Cairoli had won in the USA. Everts did at Budds Creek, Cairoli at Glen Helen. And Everts' wins came aboard Suzuki, then Kawasaki, then Honda, then Yamaha.
SUPERCROSS 1963? (DC)
Supercross as we know it started on July 8, 1972, at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Or maybe it was March '71 on the infield of Daytona International Speedway, or maybe on the old baseball diamond on the infield of the Orange Bowl in 1964—depending on how "super" you made your scrambling event.... Of course, the earliest date most will point to is the mid-fifties' Great Victory Day races in Prague, Czechoslovakia, which were truly manmade motocross tracks on the infield of giant soccer stadiums—though they didn't have the eureka moment of turning on the lights, which is what promoter Mike Goodwin did that night at the Los Angeles Coliseum from which we chart the modern history of supercross.
Add to the prehistory the 1963 Scrambles race on the infield of a half-mile oval stadium in Stafford, Connecticut. While researching a completely different subject, we stumbled upon this bit of coverage in the old Cycle Sport magazine. The track was artificial and temporary, and "Of course no women or children were allowed in the pits." The story is a time capsule of what sporting life was like in Connecticut in 1963, particularly motorcycle racing, which brought with it a heavy amount of police scrutiny and oversight. If you read the writer's barbs here, he did not take too kindly to the "oppressive atmosphere." Of course this was pre-On Any Sunday, pre-"You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda," and pre-supercross as we know it. These were the olden days, post-The Wild One, post-Rebel Without a Cause, and people still weren't quite sure what to make of any gathering of motorcycles, whether it was on a racetrack or some city street.
The article is certainly a walk down some avenue of history, and while there has certainly been countless changes in motorcycle racing since, you gotta love writer Bob Hicks' critique of the track: "A big jump aiming the riders back onto the flat track proved to be a dud, as the approach was far too short to get really airborne at all. With a longer run, the jump could be a real crowd-pleaser." And that's the other thing that Goodwin got right! Wonder what Bob Hicks would think of supercross now.
Hey, Watch It!
Racer X Films: 2016 Kawasaki KX450F
Racer X Films: Justin Brayton and Jimmie Johnson
The Amsoil Arenacross Finals from Las Vegas will air tomorrow night at 8:30 p.m. EST on Fox Sports 1.
You can sign up for Lucas Oil Racing TV online to watch tomorrow night’s Junior Moto-X races from Guthrie, Oklahoma.
Come help kick off the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship season with all of the top teams and riders at the Palladio Outdoor Mall in Folsom, CA on Thursday, May 19. Meet the riders and get autographs before they take the track for the season opener at the GoPro Hangtown Motocross Classic on May 21.
Sad news for the downhill mountain biking world: World Cup contender Stevie Smith passed away while riding a motorcycle in the woods near his home in Vancouver. Smith was 26 years old and highly respected in the cycling industry. Here is a full report on Smith and his career:
While in Vegas, Ricky Carmichael had the chance to conduct a podcast with UFC Women's Bantam Weight champion Miesha Tate, who recently defeated Holly Holm.
For more from Canada, check out DMX Frid'Eh Update #20.
Thanks for checking out Racerhead. We’ll see you at the races next week!