1. Biggest surprise of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship?
Jason Thomas: I am going to go with Ryan Dungey's absence. Ryan has been unflappable for most of his career, basically synonymous with the word consistent. He has never missed an outdoor championship season before, making this injury a huge abnormality. I don't think he would have been able to stop the Ken Roczen train but he would have certainly made things more interesting. Going into the outdoor season, I never even considered the "what if" of Ryan being absent. I never even considered the possibility of him not being there; that has to be my biggest surprise.
Steve Matthes: Can I go with the fact that it's 2016 and we still don't have wash bays for the teams? No? Ok, fine. I'd say that my biggest surprise was that Eli Tomac wasn't, you know, better. Yeah, we saw the #3 in supercross do, you know, good and stuff but he's always been a bit better in motocross to me and did you see the first five motos last year? Ok, he got two overall wins and three moto wins on the season and a lot of dudes would LOVE to have that season but he was way off the pace of Roczen most weekends. So was it Tomac or was it Roczen stepping up to another level? Well, that's the bench racing question and one we'll never truly know. But 1.8 was Roczen's average start position and 7.8 was Tomac's, so I don't have to remind you that being an average of six spots better off the start didn't help things, do I?
Jason Weigandt: Alex Martin for $1 million, Alex. We now live in a world where A-Mart, eight years into his pro career as a top-ten hopeful, now just wins overalls and motos on the regular and gets picked for the Motocross of Nations team without anyone even thinking twice about. It still blows me away. After Glen Helen and Hangtown we were all amazed. Now it's just normal. Plus, his supercross season pretty much sucked, making this seem even less likely. If this were baseball you'd just have to assume Alex is dining on a five-course meal of the finest anabolic steroids Biogenesis has to offer. I don't believe that's the case here. Alex's level of step-up is inspiration for every borderline "making it" privateer. This is just amazing and awesome and very surprising.
(Matthes, stop referencing Roczen's position at the end of lap one as indication of good starts. Did you see how many times he started seventh and passed six or so dudes on the first lap? Can SOMEONE get us stats on the running order earlier in the race, please?)
2. Who did the most with the least?
Thomas: I am going to go with Cooper Webb. Sure, he is crazy talented and has a factory bike, etc. That's not what I mean. Coming in with a jacked up wrist with everyone telling him to take the summer off, he was still able to run away with the series. Two weeks prior to Hangtown, he could barely ride. I didn't think he would be able to deal with the pain or run the pace with the lack of practice and testing he faced. He entered the season way, way behind the eight ball. His first few races were average as expected but once he got healthy, he laid the wood to the rest of the field. He wrapped up the title a race early and showed everyone that he knew best.
Matthes: Typical JT elitism naming Webb as his guy that did the most with the least. Smacks of a highly paid ex-rider's opinion. The rider that did the most with the least was Stank Dog! As in, he had the least CC's out of everyone, yet put in some good results here and there. Here's where I remind the two-stroke kooks (oops, I mean, people) that Stank had a hard time keeping his 125 running a lot of weekends. I thought they were so reliable compared to the "time bombs" of the four-strokes?
Seriously, Stank's not a bad answer, but to me it's Heath Harrison. Along with Noah McConahy, they were the true privateers traveling the national circuit. As a former mechanic for top privateers like Tim Ferry and Nick Wey, I can appreciate living in a van, showering at truck stops, trying to find water each week and parking so far back of the starting line that it's like you're in another county.
Harrison had some real good rides even before injuries struck the 450 class. And along the way, he had his trusty wrench Tony with him. Maybe it's just because the #99 reminds me of Wayne Gretzky, but I elect Heath Harrison as the man who did the most with the least.
Weigandt: Yeah, Harrison and McConahy. These guys logged career years and I also really enjoyed getting to know them, as well. Two hilarious guys who are racing for the love of it—it was really tough on them just trying to get to the races but they were always quick to say racing a dirt bike for a living is awesome and they have no complaints. By Ironman, they were the only 450 riders I bothered to talk to before practice, because they always had the best stories! Good on those guys.
Not sure if their results will ever result in huge paychecks or factory rides when you have dudes like Broc Tickle, Dean Wilson, Malcolm Stewart and Justin Bogle also looking for work, but at least they'll always have the memories of their best summer ever.
3. Tomac and Barcia versus the GP regulars like Gajser, Cairoli, Fevbre and Desalle. Any idea who wins in Charlotte?
Thomas: I don't know! That's a good thing, right? Racing isn't supposed to be predictable and with so many variables (such as a new track for everyone, a different series for the USA guys, and jet lag for the GP guys) it's anyone's guess how this goes. I like Gajser, of course, with his track record this year. I think Tomac and Barcia will also be up there, especially with the dirt make-up and track style. That's my podium but I can't decide on the order just yet: Barcia, Tomac, and Gajser.
Matthes: I think Austin Forkner could upset the apple cart here and beat both Cooper Webb and Jeffrey Herlings. Seriously, look at how fast this kid has been in the last month or so. I fully expect the egos of Webb and Herlings to get in the way of playing it smart (although I think Jeffrey should) and we'll see a battle, but perhaps it's for second? Just saying. I live in Vegas so if I were to lay odds on the MX2 race, I would think its Webb slightly favored over Herlings and then Forkner after that. But don't sleep on the kid.
In MX1, I fully expect a Gajser/Tomac battle for the top spot with Febvre, Barcia and Cairoli duking it out for the final podium spot. Gajser is the real deal, folks—you'll see that this weekend and next.
Weigandt: We talked about Webb and Herlings last week here and I said it was nearly impossible to predict because not only have they never raced each other, but we have no clue what this track will be like. So it's equally hard to guess on the MXGP class. I think it will come down to who can adapt the best. Does the weather or time zone or dirt tip things in favor or Tomac or Barcia? Does the GP format favor someone like Gajser? Is this track good for the Americans, who know supercross, or is the man-made MXGP track a unique animal only the Euros know how to tame? I'd love to take a guess here but then I will be painted with either an anti-GP or anti-American brush. I know how this works, I'm not taking the bait. But if you're interested I'll see you guys at the Waffle Waffle Waffle House.