Round two of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship took place at Fox Raceway at Pala this past weekend. The folks at MX Sports (sister company of this website) and Glen Helen broke up (again) and so it was back to Pala for the Southern California national.
How was it? Well, the last time there the series had issues with traffic flow and the people who were running the track. It seemed this year the traffic issue was better, I mean I get there balls early and leave balls late, so it’s never really a factor for me. But some people that came later in the day did tell me the traffic was better than last time so there’s that.
The track itself, I like it. Some didn’t, some did. We had Cooper Webb and Michael Mosiman on the PulpMX Show on Monday and asked them which track (Glen Helen or Fox Raceway) they preferred. Webb said Glen Helen, Mosiman said Fox Raceway, so there’s that. There’s some elevation which is always needed, in my opinion, for any national track, there’s some jumps for fans and overall, I liked it. Some said it was like a local track but I mean it’s tough to compare any track in the world, yes, I said world, to Glen Helen and those hills. So all in all, Pala was pretty good.
We saw some great racing in both of the first motos and I couldn’t help but wonder if the track prep had something to do with that. Pala featured a much harder base than most of the other national tracks and we didn’t see the usual super deep rip and water. I’ve been critical of track prep at the nationals from time to time because it just becomes “rut cross” at many of the races. At each race, it’s the same tire, same ruts, same techniques used over and over. We don’t have the variety of soil that we used to have. Maybe this is affecting the Motocross of Nations results? I don’t know, just spitballing here but when you can’t tell a difference from Hangtown to RedBud to Budds Creek, I think we have a bit of an issue.
At Pala it seemed the riders were able to go anywhere at anytime due to not being locked into a rut. The harder base was a bit of a shock I’m sure to some of the riders and we were rewarded with some great racing. Yes, it makes it easier and does “dumb down” a track but it makes it pretty exciting. I say, let’s try to make the tracks a little more open for the riders to go anywhere at any time. Watch the first two motos at Pala and tell me I’m wrong.
Ok, I was back playing team manager again for the SmarTop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts Honda team with Kris Keefer. And again, it didn’t go the way we wanted it to. Keefer put his best lap of the day in the last lap of the 450 LCQ so there’s that. We went out on a high note? I don’t know, it was a fun deal I suppose but like last week, I know Kris can ride better than what he showed this weekend. But the stopwatch and results don’t lie and it’s all down there for everyone to see. My managing skills clearly weren’t up to par and it’s back to being a media guy from now on. Much more fun and less stress—just drinking coffee and talking to everyone in the pits.
Eli Tomac went full beast mode this weekend at Pala. Seriously, it was a tour de force of riding and it seemed like he was maybe playing with the competition like a cat with a ball of yarn. First moto he was cruising around in fourth just chilling behind Ken Roczen, Marvin Musquin, and Jason Anderson when he decided enough was enough. It was time to go to the front. Two laps later he did and it was over for everyone else. Second moto he rode behind Musquin for a bit but seriously, did anyone think he wasn’t going to get Marv?
Spoiler alert: he did. This thing was relatively easy for ET, he’s such a hammerhead when he’s on. Just using his long legs and soaking everything up, blowing through obstacles, and using superior fitness. It’s impressive to watch and I know I’ve typed this over and over but it truly is. It’s AMAZING that he’s not more consistent and winning more titles (AHEM… 450SX) because he’s the total package of a rider. Three out of four motos for ET to start the year and the title defense is off to a good start.
Uh oh. Ken Roczen was dynamite at Hangtown and we wondered if he had managed this issue he’s having that makes him feel fatigued. Seemed like it, right? He was great and took the overall win there. This week at Pala he jetted out to a nice sized lead in moto one and I said to someone that I couldn’t believe this story he was writing. Because, you know, I figured he had the moto on lock and all.
Oops, he didn’t! Roczen got caught and passed by Tomac and had Musquin all over him at the end. Second moto he didn’t have his usual flair and I don’t know for sure but I would bet he didn’t have a ton of energy out there. And it wasn’t that hot, by the way. So we’re back to wondering about Roczen and whether he can get a handle on this issue this summer.
Zach Osborne and Jason Anderson are going to be a great battle to watch all summer long. I was impressed with both of them again this weekend. Osborne is the train that just never stops, he’s charging the entire time. Lacking a bit of top end speed early on that Anderson and the others have, Zacho is like a dog on a bone. If he sees you, he’s had that determination to get you. Anderson is the opposite of Zach where he can sprint, he’s all over the bike using energy, but at Pala, he looked like he got a bit winded at the end of the races. Still, with small amount of seat time, #21 has been very good.
I asked Osborne about racing close with Jason for three motos so far and he told me, “We have a pretty weird relationship that we’re pretty straight up with each other. We tell each other we’re going to bash each other all the time, just bull crap.”
I’m surprised at how good Adam Cianciarulo has been to start the nationals. I spoke about all the reasons last week, so I won’t get into that again, but at Pala, AC won his second national in a row with some smart riding. His coach, Nick Wey, went with a somewhat controversial gate choice on the far right (for the LCQs the holeshot came from out there because it wasn’t disced all the way to the edge but for the motos, they made sure it was, so that wiped out the advantage) and AC had his work cut out for him. But he smartly moved up to third. Second moto he got serious heat from Hunter Lawrence and truthfully probably wasn’t going to win until Lawrence tipped over. Things sometimes go your way when it’s your turn and four motos in, Cianciarulo is looking pretty great. After the way supercross ended, what an unlikely title if he were to pull this thing off, huh?
Now THAT’S the Hunter Lawrence we thought we’d see at Hangtown. First moto he was going for at least a podium when a rock hit his bike and he lost his oil. Then he crashed with Jordon Smith to complete the DNF. Second moto he rode great to track down AC (maybe he had some extra energy from packing it in early in moto one?) and passing him. Lawrence has had some crap luck to start the season but the speed is there. He’s going to win races, no doubt about that.
Sounded like the whole GEICO team had some serious testing this week. Here’s Lawrence’s quote to me about the week: “This is my fifth day of riding this week. We were three days of testing. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Press day Friday, and now today. So it’s been a big week for us. We were doing big days, too. 9:30 till 6:30 at Glen Helen Tuesday. Wednesday relatively big as well. 9:00 until 4:00. Glen Helen again the other day, 9:00 till 12:00 and we were happy. So it’s been a big week. So it’s a huge relief that the bike was a lot better than what it was last weekend. I think it showed as well with my speed.”
I don’t want to judge here but holy crap, was the team’s pre-season run of testing that far off? I know Chase Sexton wasn’t happy with his bike after the opener but no rider is happy with their bike after the opener because it’s the opener. Just grinding some serious days at the Helen trying to dial your bike in seems a tad excessive. But hey, what do I know?
The Monster Energy/Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha guys were again great and Justin Cooper won the first moto, Dylan Ferrandis had a tangle with AC in the first moto but rebounded with a good second moto, and although he lost spots at the end of the first moto, Colt Nichols was again very good. They’re the three amigos and going to be up front all summer long. We had Yamaha R&D man Travis Preston (the man beat Stew for Gods sake in a 125SX title chase!) in-studio on the PulpMX Show and he’s ridden quite a few factory bikes in his day. He told us that when he’s ridden the Star factory bikes, it gives him “goosebumps” they are that good. He says they rev so far, he’s not sure how they stay together! Yup, you can definitely see that and when you combine those bikes with the talents of Cooper, Ferrandis, and Nichols, you have a pretty great combo.
You could be forgiven for forgetting about “Fast” Freddie Noren. His 2018 was wrecked with injury and he needed surgery to get a few things fixed. At one point I had heard he only had a two-stroke and was teaching kids at ClubMX. Freddie raced 250SX this year to mixed results, he got a bit better later on in the year, but let’s face it, Noren’s never going to be McGrath indoors. But outdoors? Yeah, Freddie’s putting the “Fast” back in “Fast” Freddie. Really cool story here with a good Hangtown and an even better Pala. Noren went 9-9, for ninth overall, in a couple of great rides. I like Freddie, he’s good people, and I’m stoked that he’s back up to speed.
Things you just don’t see anymore: TPJ Honda’s Ben LaMay went out for the first practice and his bike blew up. He changed the piston himself on the bike but was forced to miss the second practice session. So with one session on his bike he went out there and was battling for a top-ten when his mousse in his tire exploded. Second moto he got 16th. Yes, a rider did his own piston change and then was battling for a top-ten. When has that ever happened before? Ben LaMay is my hero.
In the symmetry department, Justin Bogle wasn’t stoked on his day, he said he crashed on Friday on press day and didn’t feel right from that. He qualified 12th OA and went 12-12 in the motos despite getting the holeshot in the second moto. Not that anyone is confirming this, but it does seem that the team will go to three riders once Benny Bloss comes back at High Point. I like this move.
Dean Ferris told me at the end of a day he wasn’t stoked on his rides either. “I’m definitely frustrated. Like I said, I’m grateful for the opportunity. We’re going to keep working forward. We’ve got a bunch of stuff to keep testing. The team’s keen as mustard, we’d say in Australia. Keen as mustard to keep improving and make me comfortable. It’s just I’m frustrated now because the day didn’t really end on a high note. At least I got a top ten last weekend and we improved. I improved for moto two here, just the result wasn’t that good.”
I’m going to now try to use “keen as mustard” as much as possible in my life. I think Dean’s going to be keen as mustard to try some KYB air forks this week on this bike.
Like his teammate Ferris, Justin Barcia’s not pumped on his start to the nationals, but he seems to be at least in the right mood. He’s not 100 percent due to wrist injuries sustained in supercross and mentioned that his one wrist will need surgery at some point and that his other wrist is jacked and it’s the one that’s bugging him the most while racing. In short, life sucks for Barcia right now as he’s basically just hanging on. Expect him to be better after the break. I asked him about his A Stars gear that was… interesting and he had an unusual answer for why I didn’t like it: “You’re too old, for sure. I’m still into it right now, but down the road maybe I won’t be. I was supposed to be born in the ‘70s. That was my colorway. I should have had that back in the day.”
You have to give credit to Justin Hill for a good couple of motos at Pala. Look, we’ve all had our moments where we’re wondering what in the hell is going on with him and been critical of what JGR was getting from the 46. So when he rides up from the back, shows speed, fitness, and those obvious skills, you have to reward it. Pala was very good for Justin and has to be a confidence-inspiring ride. Just go out there, use your skills to be better than most racers out there and save energy, finish 5-10 most motos and everyone will be stoked.
Because my rider Kris Keefer had to race the LCQ I checked that out and just wanted to shout out Chris Alldredge who came around ninth on lap one (top four go to the motos) and passed his way up, including two guys on the last lap to get third and into the motos. Which is a pretty good ride but even more so because he’s on a 250 two-stroke. I would never normally know this kind of stuff, but I watched it, saw Alldredge way back there and figured it was over for him. And then it wasn’t. Nice work, Chris!
Blake Baggett had a garbage day with a huge crash in moto one and a sore wrist from it that held him back in moto two. This is a guy that had title hopes going in and just four motos down, he’s way back. Tough way to start any series.
“Troll Train” Alex Martin grabbed the start in moto two and we were hoping for big things. It didn’t work out and like Baggett, “we’re” not where “we” want to be four motos in. The good news is the Suzuki RM-Z250 looks pretty good motor-wise.
Thanks for reading OBS this week, good stuff at Pala and the series has some interesting turns. I’m going to Calgary this weekend for the first round of the Canadian Motocross Championship, so next week, lots of Poutine talk. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to chat about this or anything else.