Welcome to Racerhead—thanks for stopping by. When I was visiting Castillo Ranch recently, doing my own small part to #MakeCastilloRanchGreatAgain, Davey Castillo and I did some epic bench-racing at the nearby Union Hotel (est. 1887) about what the nineties were like up there. That was back when guys like Jeremy McGrath, Denny Stephenson, Buddy Antunez and “Factory” Phil Lawrence all hung around Castillo Ranch to ride, train and play during the off-season. With Ken Roczen planning on doing a boot camp at the ranch rather than Florida like so many others do now, we joked about how #94 was “putting the ’90s back in supercross.” Well, this week kind of felt like a nineties off-season with lots of little thing happening here and there, like Kenny’s ongoing spat with Aldon Baker (and now Ping) and the Stewart brothers popping out of their garage on Yamahas and up on Brian Deegan’s IG and Twitter. My colleague Jason Weigandt did a great job of summing both stories up (and also getting his hair on point) right here.
But as far as off-seasons go, this one has felt like we’re all in one long holding pattern, waiting for news on things, whether it’s rides coming through for several free agents or whether we’re really going to see a NASCAR Chase-style points system in Monster Energy AMA Supercross. There just hasn’t been any really, really big bombshell news.
Earlier this week I was chatting with Steve Matthes for a feature he’s working on from back in the day, and I happened to pull out the 1997 Supercross Souvenir Yearbook, which was produced by Cycle News in the fall of ’96. The program featured reigning four-time SX Champion Jeremy McGrath on his factory Honda CR250. Cycle News’ Kit Palmer asked me to write about the rider who had, in just four years, already become the winningest rider in supercross history. There were also features penned by Eric Johnson on Yamaha’s promising young rider Kevin Windham and Honda’s surprise signing of Scott Sheak, who was set to be Jeremy’s understudy.
Digging a little deeper, there was a brief mention of #70 Ricky Carmichael from Havana, Florida, and his one professional career highlight: eighth place at the 1996 Steel City 125cc National. Teams were included like Honda of Troy, Chaparral Yamaha, Primal Impulse Honda, Xtreme/PJ1 Yamaha, Moto XXX, Sizzler/Noleen Yamaha, and more. And the Splitfire/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team’s ad page featured their growing collection of #1 plates, which totaled six to that point. There was also a feature on Mitch Payton’s new rival on the satellite team front, Phil “Flipper” Alderton of Honda of Troy, and ads for the latest in moto journalism, www.supercross.cyclenews.com, “the OFFICIAL Web site of the AMA Supercross Series,” pixelated image and all.
Nowhere is there a hint of some of the very big things to come, like energy drinks, four-strokes, social media. . . . And in a sign of the times, there’s not even a single photo of a KTM rider, just off-roader Scott Plessinger (Aaron’s dad) in a KTM Off-Road advertisement. (And coincidentally, there’s a photo of Michael Craig holding his young son Christian in the Honda of Troy piece.) Who would have known opening the 1997 Supercross Souvenir Yearbook that that season would end with Doug Henry winning the final round in Las Vegas on a white Yamaha 400 four-stroke? We really didn’t see it coming!
But back to that cover, and the other thing that we didn’t see coming that made that off-season so interesting: Jeremy McGrath featured prominently on his #1 Honda in a collage of Kinney Jones’ color photos, which made for an odd sales situation, because Cycle News could not stop the presses—literally—after McGrath shocked the industry on December 27, 1996, when he announced that he was leaving Team Honda for a new mash-up team with Suzuki and the aforementioned Phil Alderton financing it, with support from Jeremy’s personal sponsor 1-800-COLLECT. It was the proverbial bombshell news—maybe even the original online/off-season bombshell, though I distinctly remember first seeing the news as it was printed out of our fax machine. Heck, we all thought he was up at Castillo Ranch, riding red!
McGrath’s departure was layered with reasons ranging from his desire for more personal freedom to do things like freeriding videos to inching toward running his own race team, his own website, even his own 900 number. Jeremy got all that and more in the bargain, but that would not become apparent until 1998, because ’97 was mostly a mess for the King of Supercross, as he never really meshed with the Suzuki, and Kawasaki’s Jeff Emig would usurp his crown. But McGrath would get it back in ’98 (and ’99 and 2000) when he found his way to Chaparral Yamaha, and Honda would not recover until 2002, when they won the off-season by signing that Carmichael kid to new deal that brought the supercross crown back to them—though not the #1 plate, as Carmichael preferred wearing his trademark #4 by that point. But even that news was minor compared to the Jeremy-to-Suzuki headlines of December ’96.
So here we are 20 years later. The series is painted black and green with Monster Energy girls, the #1 plate is on a KTM 450cc four-stroke, Phil Alderton is sadly gone, Pro Circuit ads have dozens of #1 plates, Christian Craig and Aaron Plessinger are now 250cc title contenders, and the preseason favorite to win it all is up at Castillo Ranch, riding, training, and getting ready, riding his Honda.
The more things change, right? Only 50 more days until Anaheim.
Before we get into the rest of the week, here’s a salute to Wil Hahn and a congratulations on the end of his professional racing career. Wil is a longtime friend to all of us here at Racer X Online, and for a while he was also a magazine contributor. (And look for more of his stuff now that he’s wrapped up his racing.) For more (and better) perspective on Wil’s retirement, let’s turn to our other resident pros, JT and Ping.
Pro Perspective (Jason Thomas and David Pingree)
JT: Wil Hahn is only 26, but like Ricky Carmichael, Jeff Stanton, and Ryan Villopoto, he is retiring early. Wil has had more injuries than most riders will ever face, and surely this has weighed heavily on his decision. His chances of making big money and having a factory bike are probably less than he would like nowadays, too, which would also make this decision easier. Most importantly, he feels that it is the right time to walk away. That is a decision that only the rider can make for himself. I commend him for being wise enough to know when the time is right.
The immediate memory I think of with Wil is his 2013 East Region Supercross Championship. Wil was not the favorite entering that season. I, for one, thought it was Dean Wilson's series to lose. Wil had other plans, though, and never backed down. He took the fight to Deano and fought off huge pressure to maintain a points lead heading into Las Vegas. All Wil really had to do was finish well and the title was his. Easy, right? In timed qualifying, the unthinkable happened: Wil crashed in the whoops just before the finish and broke his hand. I’m not even sure if he knew it was broken, because he didn't want to hear about it or know about it. He had a job to do and wasn't going to let pain interfere. He taped his hand up and gritted his teeth for a long fifteen laps. Somehow he found the strength to get the job done and win a championship. You could visually see the pain in his face after the race, mixed with the joy of fulfilling a dream. It was the ultimate display of heart and determination and a day he won't ever forget. That "want to" was a theme he carried with him his whole career and is the first thing I think of when someone says the name Wil Hahn.
Ping: Congrats to Wil Hahn on his decision to quit racing full-time to take a job with GEICO Honda. I don’t like to use the term retire, because unless you plan on sitting on a beach for the next 50 years sipping piña coladas and working on an even tan, you aren’t really retired. Kevin Windham? He’s retired. Mike LaRocco? He’s probably working more hours than he ever has. But I digress.
I first met Wil when I was looking for a rider in 2010 as the TLD team manager. Wil had a breakout ride in Orlando in 2009 with KTM, and we believed he had a lot of untapped potential. Wil came aboard and posted solid results all season long with multiple podium finishes in supercross. His goofy, fun-loving personality was the perfect fit under the Troy Lee Designs tent, and his determination and work ethic earned the respect of everybody on the team. The way he committed to the job of being a professional racer, I knew it was only a matter of time before he was winning races. We fought to keep him, but he really wanted to ride for GEICO Honda. He had always looked up to that team as an amateur, and he felt like that’s where he needed to be. Two years later, they won an East Region SX Championship, and there wasn’t a person in the pits who wasn’t elated for Wil.
Wilbur has seen his share of injuries since then, and through it all, his passion for the sport and commitment to remaining positive haven’t wavered. I respect the hell out of that, and I know he’ll be a great asset at GEICO Honda for years to come. Well done, Wil. See you at the races.
ICYMI (Chase Stallo)
Let’s take a look back at a surprisingly busy week in the off-season.
- In Hahn’s retirement announcement on Instagram, he cited his numerous injuries sustained throughout his career as a factor in his decision.
“I don't know where to begin, as this is hard for me to say,” he wrote. “However, the Aus-X Open will be my last race as a full-time professional racer. I know that 26 is a young age to retire from racing, but it is time for me to move on and pursue another career. I am still just as in love with the sport as I was when I was four-years-old, but sadly, my body has taken a beating through the years. The injuries have taken their toll...”
Hahn is returning to GEICO Honda (the team he won his championship with) to work as a test rider, as well as with the amateur team. Congrats on a great career, Wil.
- Is Jake Weimer headed to arenacross? Is Fredrik Noren going to Smartop/MotoConcepts? Steve Matthes answered those questions and more in a live chat on RacerXOnline.com yesterday. You can check out the full archive here.
- Yes, James and Malcolm Stewart were spotted riding Yamahas at the JS7 Ride Day at his Florida Compound on Thursday. The news was broken by Metal Mulisha founder Brian Deegan. (How strange is that?) No, we don’t know what it means. But here are some photos and videos.
- Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha’s newest recruit, Colt Nichols, recently suffered a broken femur while testing for the 2017 season. He’s hoping (key word) to be ready for the East Region in February. Our own Matthes is reporting his spot could be filled by Australian Dan Reardon. What about Tyler Bowers, you ask? Transworld Motocross is reporting his deal is done with 51FIFTY Energy Yamaha for 2017.
- As previously announced in their deal with Suzuki, JGRMX will house a two-rider 250 squad, with Yoshimura doing most of the work. The team announced this week they have signed Matt Bisceglia, with Phil Nicoletti dropping down to the 250 class for SX and moving back to the 450 class for Lucas Oil Pro Motocross. Phil hasn’t raced the 250 class since 2012.
- Team Rockwell Watches has partnered with PHNX Racing Co., owned by former pro and team owner Ryan Clark, to field a two-rider team for 250SX West Region. They’ve signed Zac Commans and Trevor Reis for 2017.
One to Go (Jason Weigandt)
Southern California (and Florida) is buzzing with riders preparing for supercross in 2017, but ah, there’s one series that’s yet to finish! EnduroCross will host round eight of eight this weekend in Ontario, California, and surely the series hopes some industry heavies come on out to watch. As usual, the title has come down to two riders: Colton Haaker and Cody Webb. These two, literally, have been chasing each other since they were kids, both raised as trials riders in Northern California, both are about the same age (Haaker is 18 months younger) and both realized there might be a way to make a living as racers in EnduroCross, so both dove head-first into the series when it began. Then they climbed the ranks together, progressing from also-rans to contenders to race winners and now the very top in the sport. The old dominator, Taddy Blazusiak, even returned to the series this year, but his season has been a disaster of crashes, injuries, crashes, DNFs and more crashes. Webb and Haaker have gone so next-level, they often lap the entire field in the main events!
Southern California is buzzing with riders preparing for supercross in 2017. Cudby Southern California is buzzing with riders preparing for supercross in 2017. Cudby Southern California is buzzing with riders preparing for supercross in 2017. Cudby Southern California is buzzing with riders preparing for supercross in 2017. Cudby Southern California is buzzing with riders preparing for supercross in 2017. Cudby Southern California is buzzing with riders preparing for supercross in 2017. Cudby
But Webb has held the edge on Haaker, taking the title the last two years. Haaker finally got one last year in Europe’s SuperEnduro Series (the same thing as EnduroCross, just overseas), when the two went 1-2 in points again, and Haaker literally pulled off a last-lap pass to take the race win and the championship. That momentum has stayed with him, and now Haaker has the edge in the U.S. He’s won five races to Webb’s two and has a 14-point lead in the standings. A seventh place this weekend should do it.
These two riders are battling in other ways, too! Both have released cool videos recently. So if you want a 2016 EnduroCross final round preview, how about a video shootout between Webb and Haaker?
Here’s Haaker’s Heater:
Webb starring alongside Taylor Robert in Red Bull’s Donner Party:
Enjoy your weekend, folks!
Huh? (Steve Matthes)
Coming on the heels of the Ken Roczen/David Pingree Instagram dust-up over the training methods of one Adam Cianciarulo, another bomb was dropped when James and Malcolm Stewart showed up on Yamahas at their house for their annual ride day. I touched on some of this in my MX Vice column here, but this one was surprising. After all, James Stewart did not like the backward-motor YZ450F when he rode at JGR. Not one bit! And the last time we saw JS7 on blue, he had dropped the bike to the ground at Houston SX in 2012 and walked off. He reappeared at the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on Suzuki and had been there ever since until this off-season when his Yoshimura Suzuki team folded up.
Let’s be clear here: James Stewart hated that bike, and yes, it’s better now than it was then, as Yamaha released a second-generation backwards-engine bike and did some work on the frame rigidity, reducing some of the unpredictability it used to have. But to see JS7 back on blue?
I’m not sure where to go with this. Rock River Powersports Yamaha (a dealership) followed up with a post of Stewart saying big things happening, and it tagged the CycleTrader.com Rock River Yamaha team it operates in the post. But just a couple of weeks ago we had Crossland Racing tweeting out photos of both Stewart brothers indicating that something was going to happen there. In talking to Malcolm, he said he had never talked to Crossland, didn’t know Crossland, and there was nothing to that. If that’s true, in my opinion that is hella lame of Crossland Racing to do that, but whatever.
I just cannot see any reason for Yamaha to support James Stewart to go racing. But then again, I’ve heard plenty of people in the pits say they hate this person or that, and then, a year later, they’re working together. But still, James Stewart on a Yamaha? This one is WAY too much for me to believe.
Weimer to AX? (Matthes)
One of the guys who’s been left twisting in the wind with no ride has been the rider who finished 10th in the 450SX points last year, Jake Weimer. Jake started out as privateer with Team Tedder Kawasaki and early on got picked up by RCH Suzuki and put in some good results. He missed the outdoors getting some hardware removed in his arm and has been back riding for a while on a—wait for it—RCH Suzuki. We all expect that if RCH goes racing, it will be with Justin Bogle and Broc Tickle, but for now, they haven’t told Weimer that he’s not got a ride, and as a matter of fact, the team has been letting Jake practice SX with a mechanic and factory bike.
In the meantime, the powerhouse Babbitt’s Kawasaki arenacross team has reached out to Jake to gauge his interest in riding for them. Babbitt’s lost Chris Blose to Rockstar Yamaha and they have an open spot. Weimer’s still hoping to land something with RCH (or anyone really), so he hasn’t committed to doing “arenacrash” just yet, but stay tuned.
“Iowa fan arrested for public intoxication thought she was at Iowa State game that didn't exist”– Deadspin
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation Lowers the Price of its "Riding Straight – Marijuana Awareness" Host-An-Event Kit (on MSF PR)
Hey, Watch It!
Herlings prepares for Red Bull Knockout
Ryan Walters works with top riders and companies in the action sports and motocross world. He recently sent over this cool mashup of all his work over the summer.
Simon Cudby hit up Milestone yesterday and caught Justin Bogle, Alex Martin, Cole Seely, Jake Weimer, Mitchell Oldenburg and more hitting the test track in preparation for the 2017 supercross season.
Even though they don’t make cars, Yamaha has put together an awesome display for the Los Angeles Auto Show showcasing all of its products. It’s a rare look at everything Yamaha makes—from motorcycles to musical instruments—in one place. If you’re near L.A, check it out. And good on our friends at Yamaha for promoting some bike sales to a very, very large audience at that show.
Congrats to Texas' David Wells for finishing over Colorado’s Jared Hardy in the third round of the Racer X Amateur Film Festival semifinals with 57 percent of the votes. Jared is our youngest semifinalist, at just 15 years old (that’s right, 15!), so you can expect to see his name in the future if he decides to stick with it.
The fourth round of the semifinals is now underway, featuring entries from Austria’s Uwe Froehlich and Connecticut’s Kenny Kaplan. Remember, you can vote up to once per day through next Thursday at 2:00 p.m. EST. Watch and vote now!
Quit freezing your nips off and add a new favorite to your closet! The Racer X Zip-Up Shield Hoodies are available in three different colors and will keep you toasty as the temperatures continue to drop. Don't be a Matthes; dress for the season.
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid'Eh Update #47.
That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races.