Detroit was back on the schedule for supercross this past weekend for the first time since 2017. Ford Field is a nice stadium and staying downtown Detroit is fine despite the reputation the city has. The pit set up is pretty brutal for fans. Everyone is locked in their trucks and there’s no pit party—not to mention the weather was brutal (again)—but Detroit has a ton of SX history and the stadium is cool.
I’ve written this before but before the season Trey Canard, Ryan Dungey, Nick Wey, Tim Ferry, and maybe some other riders (I couldn’t track down any other names) got on a call with the folks at Feld Entertainment and Dirt Wurx to discuss track design and build. Go read some of my Observations columns over the years and see how much I’ve complained about the tracks lacking dirt, lacking imagination, lacking obstacles that challenge the riders, and so on. I didn’t come up with this off the top of my head, I have spoken with many riders and over and over these were the frustrations they were describing to me. I also have my own experiences of going to races since 1996. Sometimes the things they did to the tracks were numbingly bad.
But this year? Things have been better. Yes, riders aren’t totally happy with all the tracks all the time, but I always keep in mind that Ryan Villopoto complained about winning a million dollars one time, so there’s that. As documented here, they’ve used a layout similar to the Glendale SX map a few times this year, which has kept the racing close. Obstacles that everyone can do aren’t always good, but if you make them right, things can work out ok—although it can be frustrating for the riders. I wonder how much that phone call did to open up Dirt Wurx’s mind on what can be/should be done to the tracks each week to keep them safe but still provide good racing.
This week’s track was not the Glendale layout, but it was pretty good. There was a quad there that Austin Forkner (on a 250?!?) busted out first in press day. They knocked down the fourth jump before practice which isn’t something I’m normally cool with but at least they left enough of a roller there for the rides to air it out if they wanted to. Split lanes have often just been left in the past even if one side is clearly better than the other but after the first non-timed practice (very important to not make changes during qualifying practice that affect the times but sometimes they still do this for some reason) they knocked the single down on one side because it was shooting the riders too high. The change they made was effective, both sides of the split lane were usable and the visual of having riders doing different rhythms next to each other was cool.
They didn’t flatten the whoops before the night show either! They were the toughest ones we’ve seen since Glendale. Did this phone call with these riders help? I mean, it would be hard to say it didn’t, right? I’ve been hard on the track crew over the years, I’ve always maintained that we’ve got these motorcycles that have more power, torque than the two-strokes ever did but we haven’t seen track design/dirt capacity match the bikes. It’s hurt the racing in my opinion, the guys haven’t evolved with the sport and the machines. And there’s still some ways to go but this year, we’re seeing some positive changes to track design/alteration/build. Bravo to the guys involved in helping this happen, I think it’s provided for some great racing almost all year long.
Anyone want more Triple Crowns? We had our second one of the year and it was great. Props to the SX ops guys for keeping the overall score up on the scoreboard during the last main event and you could see Tomac and Webb going at it for the overall as ET moved through the pack.
Look, I get that the teams and riders need more time between races (I agree with this and think Feld should bring in a FMX show and we need a “B” main for the dudes that didn’t qualify to entertain people, but here’s the thing, that lengthens the program for TV/people there and more importantly, that costs money) and I get that the riders are doing almost the equivalent to an old-school 20-lapper three times which is a lot. SX is a dangerous sport and they’re putting themselves more at risk.
I get ALL of this.
But dammit, they’re SO good! Even the most ardent “DON’T SCREW WITH THE SPORT AND TRIPLE CROWNS ARE GIMMICKS” people have to admit that Detroit was great. The stars of the sport were on the track more often and it was great racing.
The other side of things is that the privateers don’t get a chance to get on TV, get some fame from an LCQ battle or a longer main event that allows them to get on TV. Because right now, with just 12 minutes, you’re not showing much else than a battle up front. Poor privateers show up, race an LCQ and if they’re a DNQ, they’re done by 5:30 at night.
I get ALL of this. Sucks for those guys, and the privateers are my people! My islanders!
But dammit, the Triple Crowns are SO good!
Help me, I’m so torn up about this.
Dear Privateer Island, I’m sorry I betrayed you. But I want more Triple Crowns. Sorry not sorry. Your friend, Steve Matthes.
Have more Triple Crowns, fix the time between the races, add in the LCQ’s to start the night, add more nets, fix the 20-year Tuff Blox not being staked down issue and I might never complain again about anything else ever again. [Ed Note: He’ll find something!]
I wrote this last week about Eli Tomac:
“This weekend in Detroit is huge for Tomac. Somehow he went from red plate two weeks ago to now 16 points down in the title hunt. He’s got to stop this slide this weekend in Detroit for the Triple Crown. He’s not a fan of this format either which makes it doubly hard for him (however he might not like it, he usually does well. He’s even got that coveted Triple Crown trophy for winning two of the three overalls last year). I don’t know if he needs to win this weekend but he’s got to get at least on the podium or this thing might be over for him. Don’t look now but next week is the quasi-halfway point of the series. If he loses more points—he has just one win in the mud and has to jump three riders to win—you think that’s going to happen? BIG weekend for Tomac in Detroit and I’m fascinated to see how he responds.”
Well, consider the response logged! Eli Tomac went 1-1-6 for the overall win in Detroit and as good as Cooper Webb’s ride was last week in Arlington, Tomac’s 13th or whatever off the start to first in just 12 minutes was equally as impressive. Tomac passed four or five guys by cutting down early in one turn. He was quadding, he was nailing the whoops, he was aggressive as hell, and he was on another level. The second main he was just as good and killed everyone. In the third main he told me he accidently had his bike in third off the start (!) and got a worse start than the first one. He then knew what he had to do to get the overall win so it wasn’t as gnarly but he still rode very well.
So…. Eli’s Eli again? I spoke with John Tomac a bit before the first practice and asked him about last week because that was so weird to see. He just said that Eli wasn’t comfortable with the bike on that track and he’s not one to push through it like some guys (for example, I’m pretty sure RC could’ve rode a mechanical bull and still been great) and that led to him tightening up. It sounded like Eli did some more testing on the still-developing 2019 KX450 and Tomac was back this weekend. The mystery that is the riddle of Eli Tomac continues but he needed this win badly and got it. He’s the only guy I can see in this field that can just go on a run and erase the 13-point deficit to Webb. So I know I said Detroit was big for Tomac and it was but I’m ALSO interested in this weekend. Like, is he better now?
Supercross 450SX Standings - 2019
|1||Cooper Webb||Newport, NC||332|
|2||Eli Tomac||Cortez, CO||314|
|3||Marvin Musquin||La Reole, France||309|
|4||Ken Roczen||Mattstedt, Germany||283|
|5||Blake Baggett||Grand Terrace, CA||255|
By the way, Eli Tomac is great for our sport because he keeps all of us talking. I mean, I’m sure it’s not awesome for him and for Kawasaki and all that but like deciphering the Sphinx, we sure all spend a lot of time talking about Eli Tomac. I imagine if there were podcasts and columns like this when MC went on his run we’d all just shrug shoulders and say, “Yeah, he killed them again” and move on. Not with Tomac!
But Cooper Webb only lost three points to Tomac in the title chase and actually widened his lead on second. Webb wasn’t his usual self all day long but he got better as the mains went on. The whoops also broke down as the mains went on and I don’t think Webb’s results getting better and this fact was just a coincidence. His battle with Blake Baggett in the last main was great and once again, he looked terrific. He’ll take this result and move on. I’m not sure you guys have looked or not but when the riders take the halfway flag this weekend, the 2019 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship will be halfway done with Cooper Freaking Webb leading in wins and points.
Well this Chad Reed/JGR/Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing thing has already worked I’d say. Pack it up, boys, you’ve all done your job. Nice work, everyone. Reed’s terrible 2018 is a distant memory as he’s currently eighth in the points with this podium and another fifth included. That’s all that I think JGR and Chad could expect. I mean, he probably won’t admit it (he kind of did on the PulpMX Show on Monday) but that’s where he’s at right now. He rode well in Detroit but I wonder, at his age, if the worsening results as the mains went on indicated he got a bit tired? The riders put some serious laps in Detroit after all.
Reed was great though and it was cool to see him get second in one main and a third overall. I know the fans there loved it. He keeps talking about this being his last year, the last time he’s at a stadium, etc., but, I mean, as I said this thing’s already worked out well so if he’s happy, the team is happy, he’s able to run up front from time to time, let’s sign up for 2020, yeah?
The AMA sent a notice out after the race indicating which riders had faced disciplinary action from Detroit and this one caught my eye:
Rider: Justin Barcia
Session: 450 Main Event 3
Violation: Overly Aggressive Riding
Penalty: Written Warning
I assume this was for the pass on Blake Baggett for the lead in the third main. One week after being the victim (from Tyler Bowers), Barcia was the aggressor and paid for it with a written warning. I mean, wow, a written warning. We’ve seen those give out a bunch over the years and not sure what it means, but in my opinion, Barcia’s pass on Baggett was fine. It was aggressive sure, and I get Baggett and his team being upset, but he got to the exit of the turn in a natural way the corner flowed and put a textbook supercross block pass on Baggett. I’ve been the first guy to get on #51 for dumb moves in the past but watch this pass again and realize that we see this move all the time and it was for the lead. Calm down, everyone. The AMA appears to be more and more lost when it comes to policing passes which might be worse when, in the Duke Finch days, absolutely nothing was done unless someone was going to get charges pressed on them.
Is Austin Forkner ever going to lose? He’s five for five (three wins in Detroit to go with his other two) and he’s lead every single lap the 250SX East Region has raced except one. Yeah, it’s been that good of a start for Forkner and one that’s not totally unexpected as he’s always had balls out speed. He’s just harnessing it right now. Watching him in practice is pretty cool; it reminds me of Zacho last year. He can put the bike anywhere he wants to at any time. He can jump anything he wants, taking any line out of a turn and you can see as he’s working around slower riders in practice that nothing is phasing him out there. It’s been impressive and the 250SX East/West Showdown this weekend in the A-T-L between him and the other Pro Circuit kid whose first name starts with an “A” is going to be great.
Jordon Smith deserves a lot of credit for being able to get a second overall with a wrist that almost stopped him from racing. We had Daniel Blair in studio on the PulpMX Show and as you all know, he’s also the NBC Sports pit reporter. He said that last week after the crash that hurt his wrist, Smith was trembling he was in so much pain. He barely rode this week, probably got a pain shot, and rode well to save any chance he’s got at getting this title. Nice work for Jordon!
A few other random thoughts on random things:
- What happened to Justin Bogle? I know he’s hit a bit of a rough spot here from crashes but he almost got a podium in SD (granted in the mud) and then followed that up with another good ride. The last two weeks have been rough.
- When you can, let me know what’s going on with Justin Hill, please. Reed told us on the show on Monday that he’s never as fast as Justin during the week, then the race comes and it’s not been good.
- We’re still waiting for Marty to be Marty. He’s been much better the last two weeks than the opener but he’s come nowhere near winning a heat or qualifying fastest or winning a main event. Has age finally caught up to him? The Alex Martin-Marty battle/Matthes-Payton bet has been fascinating to watch, that’s for sure.
- Watching Kyle Cunningham and Blake Wharton go at it in a couple of mains only a few positions back of Marty Davalos and Alex Martin is priceless. I hope all of them, some 10-plus years older than other riders, are getting good experience out there in the 250SX class. #gettingfeetwet
- Chase Sexton’s starts have been better than last year. That’s the good. The bad is they’re not good enough to run with Forkner whose average starting position is, well, I think it’s one.
- Hey, man, Joey Savatgy has been really good. I know it’s early and I know he’s been hurt and jumping into the series so I’m not hating on my buddy Wacko but two races in and Savatgy’s been better than #16. Savatgy switched agents last week and from what I hear it’s because he wasn’t happy with the pace of contract talks with Kawasaki for 2020. Seems to be a bit early for all of that but maybe the new guy can lock him in there. Joey’s been great so far.
- Justin Brayton rode well and almost won the first main event although he was powerless to stop the Tomac train. Not a coincidence that the whoops were big and in practice, JB10 was killing them. His starts abandoned him after main one but he was still very good on the night. Afterward he broke it down pretty easy his thoughts on why: “Honestly, they’re supercross whoops. I can’t stand jumping whoops. Just one of my things. We’ve only had two races where we’ve skimmed—Phoenix and here.”
Thanks for reading, we’re onto Atlanta, although I’m taking a weekend off and will be like all of you guys on the couch watching it. Stay tuned, I think we’ll have a special guest writer for the ATL OBS next week. In the meantime, email me at email@example.com if you want to chat about this race or anything else.