Round four of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship took place at the historic High Point Raceway (or Mount Morris, as MXA used to call it) just outside of Morgantown, West Virginia. The first true East Coast national always is tricky for the riders, as the dirt causes the bikes to react much differently than they would on the West Coast tracks—sometimes, that’s an issue for riders. I think teams have a better handle on it than they used to, but the traction, the ruts, and all of the things East Coast dirt brings mean the riders have a new element to get used to.
WARNING: POSSIBLE OLD-MAN-YELLING-AT-CLOUDS PARAGRAPHS COMING UP!
There aren’t too many tracks on the circuit that have the history of High Point. Maybe Southwick, maybe RedBud, and that’s about it. High Point had the uphill triple behind the starting gate, the downhill double before it, the flat “SX section” by the pits (later named Bradshaw Boulevard), the uphill start going to a gentle left that saw riders having an equal chance to pull the start from just about anywhere, and the wall berm, where the riders would slam into a berm that was right up against some wood.
Uh, yeah, that’s all gone. Look, there are modern, cool Major League Baseball stadiums like AT&T Park in San Fran or Miller Park in Milwaukee, but there are also parks like Fenway in Boston, Wrigley Field in Chicago, or Dodger Stadium in L.A. that don’t get touched. We love them for their charm, and it’s a reminder of the sport’s past. So we have Indiana or Muddy Creek or even Budds Creek that are a bit newer. High Point, however, has gone through some major changes, and this year, the last vestige of the old High Point went away with the addition of a brand-new start. It’s basically unrecognizable from the traditional layout that thrilled us for so long. I get that the wood berm had to go; that was a bit weird, for sure, and potentially dangerous. But Bradshaw Boulevard? The start? The uphill triple? Like, why change it? I don’t know, man, in my opinion I’d just leave it alone. So we asked Davey Coombs why some of the changes were made, and he pointed to the overall evolution of the sport since this track opened in the mid-seventies. Here’s some of what he said:
“Tracks (and land) can get worn out sometimes. High Point worked well in the pre-live TV, pre-four-stroke days. But the start was too short and wildly uneven for the riders on the outside of the starter's box. The uphill triples behind the start were jumpable on 125s (see RC can-canning off them in 1999). The pits were uneven and small. If had to evolve as an event and a race track for today's audience and athletes, or it would have been on the chopping block just as Steel City was, just as Kenworthy's was, or essentially any facility in any sport that doesn’t continually get better. MX Sports has to lead from the front, and that's why Steel City is gone and High Point underwent so many changes.”
With the new position of the start, the track now allows better access for bikes to get into staging before practice and the motos, the mechanics have a much better location to pit board from (and the riders can now see those boards better), the medics have better access, etc. I get it, but I still liked seeing dudes slam each other into the wooden berm, circa 1986. I guess I’m just getting old.
Okay, back to regular programming.
Thank you, Eli Tomac and Marvin Musquin, for that second moto race at High Point. What a job those two racers did in putting on a show for the fans. A couple of gnarly dudes going at it and leaving everything out there on the new High Point track. We had Eli on the PulpMX Show on Monday and he told us that he was pushing pretty hard in that second moto and that was all he had in terms of pace. And Musquin knew he needed the win for the overall, so I imagine he was doing the same. It seemed that Marv was going to be able to make the move on Tomac like he did in the first moto— after all, he did catch the #1 again—but Tomac seemed to get that he needed to not bury his bike in the turns and keep his momentum up in order to match Marv. He credited some bike changes after moto one that gave him a better moto two ride, and I’m sure that’s true, but I felt like he kept his momentum up better in a few of the half-turns out there.
I mean, Ken Roczen is an amazing guy, and those two were so locked in their battle that they absolutely dropped the #94. Granted, Roczen couldn’t really match their pace early on, either, but still, to beat Roczen by over a minute is something pretty special. Tomac told me that he kind of knew a couple of spots where Marv would want to try to pass and was playing a bit of defense in those spots along with taking lines that he knew would be the one main groove, and if Marv was going to pass him, he would have to carry a ton more speed and banzai an outside line.
Musquin, for his part, rode an absolutely great first moto in catching Tomac from about four seconds down (once he got by Justin Barcia) and breaking ET’s perfect moto win streak (and crushing Jason Weigandt’s heart, I’m sure). Marv’s always good at High Point, but I had been hearing he was maybe dealing with an injury in recent weeks and was not 100 percent. That might explain his Thunder Valley and Glen Helen rides, right? Well, if there was anything bothering him, it’s gone now because he was great at High Point. And by the way, I didn’t remember this, but Daniel Blair told me that three weeks ago on the PulpMX Show I said Tomac’s moto streak was going to end at High Point and Musquin would be the one to do it. Huh, who knew? Me, that’s who.
I’m sure Eli doesn’t, but I hope we see more motos like the second one at High Point. That was cool.
By the way, Tomac also reiterated that he is in for the 2018 Motocross of Nations at RedBud this year, and he’ll also do the Monster Energy Cup the week after. And little birdies tell me he’ll race both of those on the new 2019 KX450. We asked Eli about the new bike, and yeah, of course he’s going to tell us how great it is, Kawasaki pays him millions of dollars, after all, but it did seem like he was genuinely impressed with the motor on the new bike. And the bosses at Kawi will be impressed with the new E-start button, so Tomac doesn’t just act like starting his bike after a fall is the toughest thing in the world to do.
Okay, let me get this straight. You lead both motos at a national for 20 minutes before going 2-2. It’s your best race of the year, and then for the next race you decided to switch suspension components? I mean, I guess so. That’s what Ken Roczen did at High Point when he went from Showa (at Thunder Valley) to KYB (at High Point). The decision wasn’t validated either way, as he was cleaned out in the first turn of the first moto and came from last to seventh. Second moto, as stated, he rode well to get a third, but wasn’t able to match the top two. Still, as a former mechanic, the switch was weird. I interviewed Roczen after the race and forgot to ask him about the switch. There goes my Pulitzer.
But from asking around a bit, it seems that Kenny got a chance to ride teammate Cole Seely’s KYB stuff and liked the feel of it. Roczen’s got a lot of experience with KYB over the years, and asking anyone out there, they’ll tell you Showa and KYB stuff does feel different from each other. Not that one is better or worse—just different. Roczen has been testing a lot with Showa to get a setting he liked (sure looked like he enjoyed the “Thunder Valley” setting, right?) but felt comfier on the KYB, so to save testing time and just get Roczen riding more motos, the KYB stuff was put on.
I had someone who doesn’t work with Roczen but does work closely with KYB tell me that they wished he would’ve tested with KYB some more and made a commitment for the year to go with KYB. This person mentioned that if things go a bit south with Roczen, does he look at the 2-2 at Thunder Valley with Showa and then go back? Of course, this person is invested in suspension so they think the public will immediately start thinking that KYB is crap and Showa rules if that happened (I don’t think the public thinks like that, by the way). Just another edition into the catalog of “Suspension Wars: As the Forks Change.”
Something I talked about in our post-race podcast was Roczen standing around and signing things, taking photos with fans after the race. Kenny’s always been pretty cool guy with fans and media alike, as are most guys, but I watched this lady bring up a little boy, probably five or six years old, and you could tell the kid was shy, he wasn’t saying anything despite his mom asking him to. The lady was telling Kenny something about meeting the kid before, and I have no idea if Roczen actually knew or not, but he crouched down and said, “I remember you!” to which the kid smiled and said “You do?” and then immediately the two of them started talking about something or another. Roczen said, “Give me a hug, buddy,” to which the kid did and he couldn’t stop smiling. The mom got a photo, and this is something the kid will never forget. I’ve seen plenty of riders not even look up at fans, not really be into the signing stuff (not all the time, but sometimes) or whatever, but what Roczen did, taking five minutes out of signing stuff, was awesome and made this kid and mom’s day, I bet. Even jaded-ass me thought it was pretty cool. Bravo, Kenny, bravo.
The RC Hard Charger award should just be renamed “The Baggett” award from now on, and he’s banned from winning it anymore. At High Point, Baggett passed approximately 800 riders in both motos. This after he qualified fastest on the day. Years from now, people will look at his 5-7 scores at 2018 High Point and just shrug, but he was great. The first-moto charge from down in the first turn to fifth was amazing. High Point is not the easiest track to pass on, you know. Blake Baggett was great at High Point and no one, definitely not him, will care.
Aaron Plessinger was probably so happy to be back on the East Coast. I don’t know Aaron that well, but he reeks of East Coast to me. He’s from Ohio and loves GNCCs and country music. That’s pure East Coast, bro. Well he got his red plate back with a couple of great 1-1 rides, and really, he had a pretty uneventful day to do it. Yes, he needed some luck (more on that in a minute) to be perfect on the day, but he was far ahead of everyone else not named Jeremy Martin. It’s all coming up roses for Aaron right now, and he’s going to be even better at a few tracks coming up or if it rains.
GEICO Honda didn’t have a stellar day. Cameron McAdoo came back after being out for, like, forever and suffered a broken wheel in moto one. McAdoo, who I can’t possibly see coming back to GEICO in 2019, is auditioning for a ride, and I can imagine he’s trying to remember when he killed a black cat as his wheel broke, so there’s that. The second thing was, you may remember me writing and talking about how Justin Cooper is taking the “Chase Sexton” hype for himself because we just haven’t seen Chase get a start yet. Well, he did in the second moto at High Point and was running fifth or so when he got a rock in his case, and POOF, there went his bike.
But the worst was still to come. Jeremy Martin, with a 12-second lead in moto two and going to go 2-1 on the day for the win and keep the red plate, had something go boom on the Honda. That was it, DNF for J-Mart, and he went from points leader to 20 down. Tell you what though, as any longtime reader of this column knows, I don’t like it when the rider dumps his bike on the ground and walks off. No way. Not a fan of that. Unless you’re exhausted and having an issue, push it back! It’s not like your team is going to let you push it all the way; they’ll meet you out there somewhere, bro. Martin pushed his bike to the mechanics’ area, and I liked that. The motocross gods will reward him for that down the road.
Speaking of Plessinger, Dylan Ferrandis came back this weekend and rode great, as he just missed the overall podium. Justin Cooper again got holeshots and rode well. Plessinger’s got the points lead. And this just in, the Star Yamahas are great. I know, not breaking news, but the Blue Cru looks to have a bit of an advantage on the other guys right now.
I was standing with Jeremy Albrecht before the start of the first 450 moto and we were talking about his guy Justin Hill’s first race on the big bike. I asked J-Bone to give me Hill’s moto scores and he said “5-6,” and I’m like “Okay, buddy, have another drink.” Well, wouldn’t you know it, Hill went 4-6 on the day! Yeah, crazy, right? The guy who couldn’t break top ten in the 250 Class and wanted to get on a 450 badly backed up his talk with a great day. Okay, Baggett would’ve beaten Hill had he not crashed, but that’s about it. Hill was great, fitness looked good, speed looked good, and I can’t believe that if he kept these type of results up, the JGR guys would not have three bikes on the track when Justin Bogle comes back. The real moral of this story is, we should always listen to J-Bone.
I asked Hill about his day afterward and the call to him about riding the 450 bike (with Phil Nicoletti’s departure to Rockstar Energy Husqvarna), his selected-races-only thing, and his day in general. Let’s break his response down and give you why talking to Justin Hill can be awesome.
“Truthfully, I really don’t know. We’ll just see,” about the selected races plan. I feel like anytime someone says “truthfully,” they’re not being truthful, just like when someone says “with all due respect,” which means they’re about to disrespect you.
“He [J-Bone] called me. I was taking a couple days off after Thunder Valley just kind of relaxing and sleeping in and chilling and the whole deal.” NO OTHER RIDER THAN HILL WOULD EVER ADMIT THIS. Ninety-five percent of riders would be like “I was grinding out on my bicycle when J-Bone called,” and if you hadn’t broken the top ten in a moto yet, then 99 percent of riders would not admit this. Justin Hill is awesome, part one.
“He calls me and I wake up and answer the phone and he’s like, ‘Hey, you want to ride a 450?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah!’ He’s like, ‘Do you want to know why?’ ‘I don’t really care.’” Hill doubles down and now admits that not only was he sleeping in, but J-Bone’s call WOKE HIM UP. Then he tells his team manager he doesn’t want to know why he is being moved to a new class; he doesn’t care. Justin Hill is awesome, part two.
“Obviously I only had a couple days to test the bike. I’ve only rode it six times or something like that. I’m brand new to the thing again. I’ve been flip-flopping motorcycles. All Suzukis are good, so that’s the bonus.” Maybe the point about him saying “truthfully” up above is correct, because I can tell you that Justin Hill DOES NOT think the 2018 Suzuki 250F is “good,” but I admire his salesmanship. Does he mean the Suzuki Samurai was good, also?
And finally: “I haven’t even seen Coy in a few weeks because he’s been busy with NASCAR. He shows up and I tried. I tried today.” The team owner showed up today and Hill admits that he “tried.” Justin Hill is awesome, part three.
Couple other news and notes:
We have this thing in our shows with Kyle Chisholm in that “Chiz’s gonna Chiz.” What that means is you’re not going to notice him much, he’s going to get you a good result, and he’s going to ride hard all moto. In other words, “Chiz’s gonna Chiz.” Well, at Thunder Valley, he reversed course on us and ate poop so hard, the red flag came out. Very unlike Chiz. He came back at High Point and then hurt his knee to the point where he thinks he tore his ACL in practice. Like, what the hell is going on here, Chiz? We want the old reliable Chiz back!
I wonder how much longer, if Justin Bogle comes back and does well and Hill continues to do well, will Weston Peick keep racing? Sounds like he’s got a good injury to his hand that has been holding him back.
Privateer Austin Root did a great job this weekend with getting points both motos. He did have an adventure on the starting line in the second moto when he killed the battery of his bike and it wouldn’t start. The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna guys jumped in to get it going, but he couldn’t turn it off the whole time and it was overheating while sitting there. Seemed like “Groot” had a very stressful time down there! But good work anyway.
JGR Suzuki’s doing a cool thing where they’re taking the bike of their old rider, Kyle Cunningham, around for the East Coast stuff. Suzuki’s given Kyle some parts, his dad is his mechanic, and there’s zero in it for the JGR guys to do this, but hey, nice job by them.
The Kiwi Cody Cooper is racing the entire series in a rented motor home pulling a trailer with him and his buddy. Cooper’s having a blast doing it and is probably spending all the money he’s making, but hey, man, memories are priceless. Cooper finished in the top ten overall with a couple of great rides, and he’s spending time with ex-pro Gary Semics, who he credited with helping him with his starts this past week. Semics was telling me that he’s trying to race with a shock that has his high- and low-speed compression adjusters all the way in because he hasn’t had time to get a new setting put in. That’s so Cody Cooper right there, people.
A guy comes up to me in the pits and says he used to be a huge Alex Ray fan from his calls into the PulpMX Show, but that he witnessed Ray clean out his buddy Brad Esper down a hill. Alex says the guy moved over on him and that this guy needs new eyeballs. The guy called into the PulpMX Show on Monday night to recount the incident and tell us how Esper is jacked up from the crash. We got ahold of Ray later and he again said it was the other guy’s fault. So we’re at a standstill—anyone got this on film?
Luke Renzland came back to the nationals with his Traders Racing Yamaha team and had a decent day for his first national of the year. He lined up on the far right-hand side gate for the second moto, and I asked him if he was trying to get onto the hard stuff like RJ Hampshire at the USGP or if he missed his gate pick. He said nope, he started in that gate both motos and did it last year, also. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the start was all-new this year, so his hot line wasn’t exactly the same. He did do okay, though.
I was in the announcer’s tower looking at the gate for 250 moto and thought I saw Doug Dubach down there with a fanny pack and pit board. I asked Rob Buydos if that was indeed Doug, and he said yup. Dubach’s working with Japanese national champion Yusuke Watanabe for the summer and even wrenching because they had some issues with finding a guy. Look for an interview on here later this week with Doug about this.
Thanks for reading, this has been High Point OBS, bro. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to chat about this or anything else.