Yeah, we’re here! Anaheim 1, round one of seventeen in Monster Energy Supercross, has come and gone, and with it, tons of things to talk about. The hopes and dreams of riders and teams were either met or smashed, and all the off-season work proved to be either fruitful or a waste. It’s what dreams and nightmares are made of, people! And all of us, well, we’re just outside the fishbowl watching it all play out. Oh, and also judging anything and everything.
As usual, the track at Anaheim was on the basic side. I have no issues with this; you want the guys to be able to work slowly into the season, so for the first round, holding off on crazy combos and massive whoops seems to make sense. The one section of whoops before the finish were pretty legit, but they were short. Still, they gave some people trouble (hi, Phil!).
Props to the track crew for sifting the dirt. The surface looked better than usual. Nice work by the guys to try and improve something for the racers.
The biggest stories coming into Anaheim 1 were Honda HRC’s Ken Roczen and Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac. Roczen’s story was whether or not he could come back from a career-threatening injury, and Tomac’s was how he would handle being the favorite for this title.
Well, first up is Tomac, and yeah, it didn’t go well. It went terrible, actually. He looked so good all day long out there in practice, his heat was good as he made up some time, and, goddammit, he even holeshot! As he was pulling away with what looked to be an easy win, he came up short on a double and went down. The rear wheel of his bike caught his pants and broke them, and the crash hurt his shoulder. He pulled off and is now 25 points down in the title chase. Just. Like. Last. Year.
First up, his pant malfunction. I don’t think Alpinestars can be blamed for this. The rear tire was spinning wildly and caught some fabric. This ripped open the front and broke the zipper. What can you do if you’re A Stars? Sometimes poop happens. The bigger question is how the shoulder is, and from my sources, it seems like it should be okay. But wow, what a shocker for ET and the Kawi team. He can do this again, but the margin of error just got real low.
I was in the truck before opening ceremonies getting some coffee and spoke with ET a bit. He seemed pretty loose and relaxed, and last week on the PulpMX Show, I’d say he was pretty confident about his chances. And why wouldn’t he be? He won nine races last year, and the dude that beat him is gone. So, my thinking is: if I’m on the team, I’m making sure Tomac is loose; I wouldn’t put pressure on him and wouldn’t change a thing with this result. Stay the course, keep the settings you know work, and get to work. Still, the error he made was a puzzling one in a string of puzzling errors amid mostly brilliance last year.
Yamaha’s (?!?) Ryan Villopoto was on the PulpMX Show and we asked him about Tomac’s situation. (RV has some experience in the situation. He went 16th at A1 in 2013 and came back to win the title.) RV said that it’s almost better for a racer because the pressure is off. You can just go out and be aggressive and ride like you want to. Nothing to lose, right? Then RV told us how he’s going to go flat tracking on his new Yamaha.
As far as Roczen, well, he got a fourth with a terrible start. I checked his position after the first few corners and he was way back there. The next time I looked back, he was, like, sixth! Seriously, he worked his way through some dudes doing warp nine. It was impressive. In his first race in almost a year, Roczen looked almost as good as ever. Normally (to me, anyway) he’s very aggressive and attacks the track with scrubbing and near-perfect form. This past Saturday, he was more subdued (to me, anyway) and almost smoother than I remembered. He was working on Justin Barcia for third when the checkers flew, and he’s got to be very happy with his fourth.
He even had a close call which took strength to get the bike back upright, and that wasn’t a problem. According to some experts in certain medical fields I spoke with, who had nothing to do with Ken’s recovery, they think that’s going to be an issue with KR, and perhaps he showed that he’s dialed in. Well, everyone, exhale— Roczen’s good and he’ll be winning very soon.
Let’s get to the results, shall we?
1st | #28, Shane McElrath | Canton, NC | KTM 250 SX-F
Well, he did it again. Last year we barely talked about McElrath before A1 and he came out with wins at the first two races. This year we definitely talked about him more coming into this race, but not as much as we should have. Shane was so good in this race. He just rode away from everyone after grabbing the start. Seriously, very impressive. Much bigger names in this class than Shane, but he doesn’t seem to care.
2nd | #23, Aaron Plessinger | Hamilton, OH | Yamaha YZ250F
Great start for Plessinger. AP is a guy I’ve been waiting around for to figure it all out. He’s that good, folks. I wonder if he’ll be a dude like Travis Preston, who was good on the small bikes but because of his size, enjoyed more success on the bigger bike—despite his 125SX title. Plessinger getting a good start might be the best thing to come out of this race.
3rd | #92, Adam Cianciarulo | New Smyrna Beach, FL | Kawasaki KX 250F
You can’t win the title at the first race, but you can sure lose it. This doesn’t just apply to AC, but I think it can fit here. The kid was fast all day (Hill got him on the very last lap of the day for the top time) and looked good in the main—he was just unable to do much with McElrath, who was on fire.
4th | #17, Joey Savatgy | Thomasville, GA | Kawasaki KX 250F
Joey came from the back in both his heat and the main event in a very good ride. I thought he looked great, and at times, he was the fastest man on the track. I’m sure he wasn’t stoked on the fourth, but just wait—get a start and he’s probably gone.
5th | #32, Christian Craig | Orange, CA | Honda CRF 250
Probably not what Craig wanted, but also nothing wrong with this finish. Craig needs big whoops like I need Big Macs.
6th | #52, Mitchell Oldenburg | Alvord, TX | Yamaha YZ250F
The sneaky-fast rider of the day in Anaheim, Freckle looked great and will be on the podium, if not the top step, very, very soon. Seriously, he was that good. Just wait.
7th | #1, Justin Hill | Yoncalla, OR | Suzuki RM-Z250
I thought Hill should’ve stuck with Pro Circuit because of the OEM stock platform of the Kawasaki over the Suzuki, but I’m not going to run around claiming some “victory” even though Hill didn’t look that great at the opener. Two things: 1.) he wasn’t that great last year at A1 and still won the title, and 2.) it’s rather rash to make judgments after one race. Hill did win the best-looking bike/gear combo at A1, though, so there’s that.
8th | #40, Chase Sexton | Clermont, FL | Honda CRF 250
Sexton was a bit bummed after the race about his ride because he started right up there and dropped back. But, hey, it’s his first supercross ever and he’s in the top ten. He should be pumped and head straight to Chuck E. Cheese.
9th | #62, Justin Cooper | Huntington, NY | Yamaha YZ250F
Cooper had to go to the LCQ to make the main in his first-ever SX. Think Star Yamaha owner Bobby Regan would’ve been cool with Justin not making the main? Uhhh, no. Anyway, late in the race Cooper moved up pretty good, but his starting spot did him in for his debut.
10th | #11, Kyle Chisholm | Valrico, FL | Yamaha YZ250F
Chiz did what Chiz does in that you didn’t notice him all that much, but at the end of the race, you’re like, “Hey, look at Chiz, he’s in the top ten!” Next time I see him, I’d like to ask him how he likes the Yamaha over the Honda he rode last year, with him being a bigger guy and all.
11th | #53, Bradley Taft | Nixa, MO | Yamaha YZ250F
There was so much Taft hype coming into the race, it was ridiculous. It was Phantom Menace meets James Stewart at Anaheim 2005-type hype. Well, maybe not that much, but combine the hype with the pants he was wearing at Anaheim 1 and big things were expected. He was a “must-pick” for SX fantasy, and I did just that. Annnnddd truthfully, this finish is “okay,” but it was a tad like Jar-Jar for me.
12th | #42, Dakota Alix | Jay, VT | KTM 250SX-F
I can honestly say that I didn’t see much of Alix out there and ran into him at the team truck, which made me think, “Oh, hey, how did Dakota do tonight?” That’s how much I missed him out there.
13th | #63, Hayden Mellross | Clermont, FL | Yamaha YZ250F
The Aussie was 11th and looking good when something happened on the last lap and he lost a couple of spots. He and my fantasy SX team were not happy.
14th | #30, Mitchell Harrison | Tallahassee, FL | Husqvarna FC250
Not a good start for Harrison on the Husky. He came out last year all in control and stuff, so it’ll be interesting to see how he does on the new bike.
15th | #67, Justin Hoeft | Castaic, CA | Yamaha YZ250F
Hoeft is pretty good. I look for better finishes than this in the coming weeks.
16th | #68, Justin Starling | Deland, FL | Husqvarna FC250
Starling is a veteran at this point in the deal. He should move up to 450SX and try to make some money. #sorrynotsorry
17th | #217, Ryan Breece | Athol, ID | Kawasaki KX 250F
Breece did pretty well, considering he was getting a guy running a VIP program to map his motorcycle, huh?
18th | #902, Killian Auberson | Corona, CA | KTM 250 SX-F
19th | #992, Jean Ramos | Corona, CA | Yamaha YZ250F
Poor Jean Carlos Ramos, ran right over Nicoletti and that started his night off poorly.
20th | #388, Brandan Leith | Eagle Mountain, UT | Kawasaki KX 250F
21ST | #26, Alex Martin | Millville, MN | KTM 250 SX-F
Poor Troll. A crash earlier in the day left him with a bruised or broken collarbone, and he finished it off when he flew off a berm (a net would’ve helped) and onto the concrete in the main. A DNF is not a great start for A-Mart, but hey, it could’ve been worse.
22ND | #54, Phillip Nicoletti | Bethel, NY | Suzuki RM-Z250
Hey, Troll could’ve been Filthy Phil! Seriously, it doesn’t get much worse for Phil than it did in Anaheim. He saw me in the hotel first thing in the morning and said that it was a bad sign that I was the first guy he saw on race day. Turns out he was right, because 1.) his bike broke three laps into press day (remember, his bike broke last year in SX and he badly damaged an ankle and foot), and 2.) 25 seconds into the very first practice of the year, he went down hard in the whoops and hurt his shoulder. Topping it all off was 3.) crashing three turns off the start and getting run over by three or four guys. Yup, this is Phil Nicoletti’s Anaheim 1 in a nutshell.
1st | #25, Marvin Musquin | Clermont, FL | KTM 450 SX-F
His dream off-season just rolled into Anaheim 1, huh? Musquin got the opening win rather quietly with some efficient, clean riding while not getting his usual great start. Musquin was great, and while he’s been doing all this winning lately, it was just his third career 450SX win, so that’s still a big deal. Marv looks great, and to see him come up and win this was a good sign. Yeah, Tomac was pulling away, but so what?
2nd | #21, Jason Anderson | Rio Rancho, NM | Husqvarna FC450
The #21 was very good out there and closed in on Marv late in the race.
[Note: In a previous edition of this column we mentioned rumors that Anderson and Marvin weren't getting along down at Baker's Factory, but Aldon himself says that's bull. So there.]
Anderson rode great and you have to imagine wins are coming soon for him.
3rd | #51, Justin Barcia | Greenville, FL | Yamaha YZ450F
Without Eli Tomac doing what he did, Justin Barcia was the story of the night in Anaheim. Winning his heat and leading laps along with this podium ensured that fact. He looked great out here. I thought he was soaking and riding “through” the sections out there on his way to his first podium in SX since April 5, 2014! Yes, that’s a long time for “Bam Bam.” That sound you hear is Keith McCarty ripping up the six-race deal he had with Yamaha and extending it the rest of supercross. Talking to the Yamaha guys, both Barcia and Webb are on spring forks and didn’t test with air even once. Methinks the air fork revolution is going to come to an end soon.
4th | #94, Ken Roczen | Clermont, FL | Honda CRF 450
Roczen’s social media is so much fun. I can’t get enough of him arguing with fans, getting people going with things he posts, and so on and so forth.
5th | #34, Weston Peick | Menifee, CA | Suzuki RM-Z450
What a ride by Weston. He showed speed, skill, and aggression (shocking!) to get this great finish. Weston admitted after the race that a good start was key because the track wasn’t that technical. It’s hard to make up time on guys out there, and one mistake can undo three laps of progress.
6th | #14, Cole Seely | Newbury Park, CA | Honda CRF 450
Big battle royale with Cole when Roczen slipped by, and he tucked behind the German and they ripped through the pack. It was interesting to watch the different techniques with the different guys that were slipping back after good starts. A quiet night for the 14.
7th | #10, Justin Brayton | Mint Hill, NC | Honda CRF 450
Brayton had a nice night with second in the heat and a respectable finish in the main. Look at the guys around him and I guarantee his bike isn’t as trick as the others. I was in the MotoConcepts truck (times change, eh?) talking to Brayton, Jake Weimer, and Brett Metcalfe (he helps the team out) about different things, but mostly they wanted to know about the Hawaiian vacation I just got back from. I just kept thinking about how the three guys I’m talking to could buy an island out there from their career earnings.
8th | #20, Broc Tickle | Holly, MI | KTM 450 SX-F
New bike, new gear, new trainer for Tickle, but same old tricks for Broc in that he got a terrible start in the main and worked hard to get this spot. I can’t tell if this is a write-up from 2015 or 2018. To be fair, Tickle’s entire night could’ve been different had he not crashed in the heat. He would’ve got a way better gate pick, and then his start wouldn’t have been that bad. He looked good all day, and he’ll figure it out this week.
9th | #33, Joshua Grant | Wildomar, CA | Kawasaki KX 450F
Didn’t notice JG all that much, to be honest, but there he was with a top-ten finish. Nothing wrong with that. I was talking to Dan Fahie, the Kawasaki team manager, before the race and trying to nail him down on where JG needs to finish for him to be happy. He just said he’d be happy if the guys race to their potential. I got nothing else out of him, so I’m going with the idea that Kawasaki would be happy with top tens every week. Take that, Dan!
10th | #2, Cooper Webb | Newport, NC | Yamaha YZ450F
Oh boy, this isn’t good. Webb just slowly slipped back from close to the top five early in the race to a tenth. I saw him make a couple of big mistakes where he couldn’t jump sections and dudes just flew by him. That’s got to be a bit unsettling. And with Barcia killing it, the guys at Yamaha can point to the bike and go, “See!” It’s way too early to make any conclusions about Webb’s year being like last year. Still, not a good opener for #2.
11th | #6, Jeremy Martin | Carlsbad, CA | Honda CRF 450
J-Mart is riding for the first three 450 races and got a great start, but dropped back to this spot. He admitted that he got a bit tired on the bigger 450, but I’m a fan of this move for him. Look, back in the day guys like Reed, Wey, Byrne, and many others rode the West Coast 450SX races to be ready for the first East Coast. And I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but J-Mart’s 250SX career isn’t exactly stellar, so why NOT switch the program up and see if it helps?
12th | #4, Blake Baggett | Grand Terrace, CA | KTM 450 SX-F
Not a good night for Baggett at all. In fact, it was a BAD night for Baggett. I spoke with some of the team guys and they think A1 is gonna be just like Hangtown last year, where Blake got “tight” and then was much, much better from round two on. Let’s hope so, because this spot is nowhere near what he and the team want.
13th | #55, Vince Friese | Cape Girardeau, MO | Honda CRF 450
Good ride for Vince on the MCR team that has picked up Bullfrog Hot Tubs as a huge sponsor on the team. I’d still like to see owner Mike Genova in a full hot tub under the tent, lighting cigars with $100 bills.
14th | #69, Tyler Bowers | Lake Elsinore, CA | Kawasaki KX 450F
Look at Bowers’ finish here and tell me, outside of maybe Friese, who he is 100 percent better than? So, good ride for The Bear, and I like that he’s going old-school in a box van! I love box vans! Bowers was the best privateer this past Saturday night and he’s missing this weekend due to a race in Germany, but I expect at A2 he’ll be this good again. In talking to him, it doesn’t sound like he’s got solid plans outside of the West Coast stuff, although he told me he expects a fill-in ride will come along. The Bear is bold!
15th | #22, Chad Reed | Dade City, FL | Husqvarna FC450
Reed’s a LONG way from where he’s used to, but, honestly, I wasn’t sure he would make the main. Not due to ability, but due to him being in pain from his ankle injury. He’s barely been on the bike, he’s just riding around out there, but he appears to be happy judging by this post-race interview. It’s weird to see the #22 out there at half-speed, but hopefully he keeps getting healthier, faster, and gets into the top ten each and every week. Could he get a podium? Never say never with this guy.
16th | #39, Kyle Cunningham | Willow Park, TX | Suzuki RM-Z450
Nice work by Cunningham, as he’s now a 450SX guy full-time. As anyone who reads my stuff knows, guys like Kyle need to make this jump once the gravy train 250SX rides end. The purse money in 450s is WAY better and equipment doesn’t matter as much. So, if one of the big-five teams ain’t calling, it’s time to embrace Privateer Island status.
17th | #907 Ben Lamay | Wasilla, AK | Honda CRF 450
For sure, a lot of people had no clue who #907 was out there. Lamay’s been doing AX the past couple of years, but he’s back in the big leagues and trying to grind out some results. Go look at Ben’s results in the Racer X Vault. He’s always been pretty solid, especially in MX.
18th | #91, Alex Ray | Milan, TN | Yamaha YZ450F
A1 marked the debut of the new A-Ray. He’s fitter and he’s actually taking this stuff real seriously. And, of course, he’s still sending it out there. He had to go to the LCQ, his start device broke, and his start was SO bad. (Seriously, go watch it. He was dead last.) So, to see him rip right to the front quickly was impressive. He’s just got to get to the point where he expects to be (he’s probably there already) and rides like he can. Desire is not an issue with Alex.
19th | #58, Matthew Bisceglia | Weatherford, TX | Suzuki RM-Z450
Matt’s whole deal came about pretty late and he’s riding Nut Up Suzukis with Josh Hansen (who didn’t race due to injury), so he can be forgiven for not quite being 100 percent coming into Anaheim 1. He’ll get better, I think, and a guy like him is in the same spot as Cunningham in regard to getting into the 450s. By the way, Matt rides a 2018 Suzuki 450 with Race Tech suspension, as do I, so we’re basically like teammates.
20th | #90, Dakota Tedder | Surfside, CA | KTM 450 SX-F
Tedder’s on a KTM? Yeah, that’s right, and it’s weird to see him on orange. But it must agree with him because he, like Ray, just rode it right into the main event. Props to Tedder for having a family back him that has SO much money, yet not changing the Monster Kawi wrap on the trailer. Bold move. DGAF, bro.
21ST | #722, Adam Enticknap | Lompoc, CA | Honda CRF 450
Everyone’s favorite privateer hero made it right into the main event via the heat race. Yeah, he was fortunate that Benny Bloss lawn-darted himself near the end of the heat, but, hey, gotta be in the position to get the position, right?
22ND | #3, Eli Tomac | Cortez, CO | Kawasaki KX 450F
I don’t even have anything else to say about this outside of the fact that ET’s A Stars parade lap jacket that matches his jersey perfectly is sweet.
Some other news and notes:
- I ran into Jeremy McGrath (remember him?) in the pits, and while that is always a pleasant experience, what was cool was Weege asking him about these press conferences and wondering why the riders don’t smack-talk that much. Weege is a fan of wrestling, so you can understand his desire for this. Anyway, MC said that there wasn’t a need to really do that for him, and although he didn’t say it, I imagine it was because he was SO MUCH BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE FOR SO MANY YEARS. MC said he would like to see some personality from the guys now, but understands that if they do show something, they’re immediately criticized by 50 percent of the fans.
- Sorry, I know some people like them, but I’m not a fan of the blue rims on the Yamahas. Nope, still not.
- I spoke with Dean Baker at JGR Suzuki about the 250 program that’s going on over there. Not Dean, but some other Suzuki guys have heard me be critical of the machine for the highest levels of racing. Baker’s been around a long time and knows motors inside and out. He told me that from last year, while he was on the 450 program, the 2018 250 Suzuki is a better bike for the riders. And Dean said that the limits of compression and clearance in the motor has more to go if a rider wants to go there. So, they’re not time bombs, you know? The new normal for 250 machines are the intakes that either go straight down (or almost) into the motor, like Honda and Yamaha or like Kawasaki have been doing, which adds a second injector and changes the angle of the intake for more extreme air and fuel tumbling. The Suzuki doesn’t have this. It’s old-school straight feed, and it hurts the power of the motorcycle. Nothing the JGR guys can do about this; a new bike is coming next year, but for now, the JGR guys are looking everywhere to squeeze more out of the bike.
- With the new metal grate behind the starting gate, the procedure for the riders is to drop the gate before each practice and they all head to the first turn. I like this; it’s a real-world scenario for the racers, but I predict tempers flare, egos get bruised, and at some point, this procedure is changed.
- Eli Tomac didn’t register a time in the first practice because, I think, the Kawi guys took his transponder off. As I was breaking in their new coffee maker, I told them I wasn’t a fan of this. No rider on the track is going to be psyched out because they couldn’t get a time on Tomac in the first practice of the day. Knock it off!
Thanks for reading, everyone. I appreciate it, and welcome back to another exciting season of Observations from the races. This is, I think, my tenth or 11th year of doing this column almost each and every week from the races. Yeah, it’s been that long! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to chat about A1 or anything else.