Welcome to Racerhead, coming you from the corner of the bar at Mr. Chubby Wings (real name, really) near the Jacksonville airport, about 10 miles from WW Ranch Motocross Park. It’s actually Thursday evening as I start this column, knowing that tomorrow is going to be a full work day with new Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship promoter Junior Scarborough and his entire crew and family. It’s been a minute since the outdoor nationals were last here.
It was 1997, actually, at Gatorback Cycle Park in Gainesville, and it marked only the second outdoor national for a 17-year-old wunderkind named Ricky Carmichael. He was riding a Pro Circuit Kawasaki KX125 with no energy-drink sponsorship anywhere to be seen. He had exactly zero national wins, but he scored his first one that day, and then added 101 more over the next decade.
Much has changed since then. For instance, there was single Yamaha four-stroke out there, ridden by Doug Henry as a prototype. There was also a grand total of two KTMs, ridden by Keith Bowen and Lance Smail. And there wasn’t a single Husqvarna. The reigning champions were Team Kawasaki’s Jeff Emig in the 250 Class and Honda’s Steve Lamson in the 125 Class. The race was shown on ESPN2, hosted by Art Eckman and David Bailey; I was just starting out as the pit reporter. Racer X was a newspaper, not a magazine, though we did have a website (though we didn’t really know what to make of it). iPhones were as far off in the future as those jet packs we were promised, and the fastest-growing sport in the world was NASCAR. Bill Clinton was the U.S. president, Apple Computers Inc. named co-founder Steve Jobs as interim CEO, the movie Titanic was in post-production, and a quarterback prospect from California named Tom Brady had just enrolled in the University of Michigan. Oh, and Adam Cianciarulo had yet to celebrate his first birthday.
After the race, won by Carmichael in the 125 Class and Emig in the 250 Class, ahead of his Suzuki-mounted nemesis and rival Jeremy McGrath, rumors started firing up that the race might be in jeopardy. Motocross Action editor Jody Weisel correctly coined the opener “the orphan national” because it was being held in the middle of the AMA Supercross Championship—everyone would ride motocross for the first week in March, then do two more months of SX before the second national at Hangtown. The race and the track were great, but the teams really didn’t like the timing or the extra work, or the risk of losing a championship in SX because they had to race motocross for a weekend. So then-promoter Bill West decided to turn his own race into a round of AMA Supercross, and just like that, the Gatorback National was gone, and everyone gathered the next year in Tampa for supercross instead.
Over the years, lots of folks wanted to see the race somehow return to Florida, but with a hard cap of 12 rounds—and some very hot summer weather in the Sunshine State—it just never quite happened. What opened the door for this event was the fact that the Muddy Creek National in Tennessee just wasn’t gaining much critical mass. Promoter Sam Gammon decided last summer that the risk/reward was too close for comfort, as one bad rainstorm might wipe out his crowd and facility. Having already experienced working with Junior at the MXGP of the USA in 2017, we thought we would give WW Motocross a go. It’s a cool sand track close to Jacksonville, on a great big plot of land, and he’s got the full cooperation of the Jacksonville community. All we need now is some good weather, as it’s rained hard on us the last couple of days, but the whole area needed it after three really dry weeks. Now the forecast looks nice and toasty for the weekend, and we’ll get to see who’s in shape on a Jason Baker-built track that looks like a lot of fun right now, but it’s going to get really rough!
So now I’m back at Mr. Chubby Wings, where I spent an evening writing Racerhead by the light of the jukebox during the MXGP of the USA. I hope this race is a great big success for Junior and the whole Florida MX community, because we’ve started the season strong with four great rounds of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, a tie at the top of the 450 Class between Ken Roczen and defending champion Eli Tomac, and Florida’s own Adam Cianciarulo—now old enough to drink—on the first winning streak of his professional career. Not a bad way to come back to Florida after all these years. For more on the history of motocross in the Sunshine State, read my latest feature here.
Getting to Know WW Ranch (Jason Weigandt)
I caught GEICO Honda’s Hunter Lawrence cruising around WW Ranch today on a mountain bike and asked the man who finished second at the 2017 USGP here if it would help being familiar with this track. Well, it won’t, because Hunter says the layout this weekend is completely and totally different than the GP here two years ago. So there goes any advantage for anyone who raced here in ’17. Probably doesn’t matter to Lawrence, though, who had just two 15-minute practices to learn High Point last week and went out and won the first 250 Class moto. Lawrence is hanging in Florida with teammate RJ Hampshire (who, coincidentally, won that GP here two years ago) to get acclimated to the humidity at the Eastern tracks. Hampshire’s track ended up underwater this week due to rain so they rode at Blake Baggett’s impressive El Chupacabra Ranch. “So sick,” said Lawrence of Baggett’s track.
Thomas Covington is back in action this weekend after missing High Point. Big Air Tom explained on Instagram two weeks ago that he has Epstein Barr Virus, but he has basically taken four weeks off from riding and training now and hopes to feel a little better this weekend. He really doesn’t know too much about how to get better or how long it will really take, he said for now he’s just trying and relax and take vitamins!
I asked Adam Cianciarulo about the four-race win streak in the 250 Class and how he manages the emotions of it. AC told me he’s just trying to can to block it out. “Honestly, by Sunday morning those feelings are gone, and then the feeling is more like, ‘How can I get that feeling again?”’ Adam says the key is to never get complacent, to keep improving and to not rest on his laurels. So Sunday morning, it’s back to work.
I also talked to Justin Cooper, who is on the other side of the ledger now, trying to bounce back from a bad race at High Point. “You really try not to think of the championship and just take it as an individual race,” he said. If Cooper looks at the points he lost last weekend, that just makes the bad vibes from High Point linger longer. So he’s trying to ignore the title and just approach this as another race. Cooper said he just didn’t feel comfortable last week; they made some bike changes and he hopes to bounce back. With humidity being such a topic this weekend, you have to wonder how the Monster Energy/Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha riders, who all train in California, will fare. Cooper thinks there are two sides to it. He thinks he can come in fresher and just tough it out on Saturday, compared to other riders who might deplete themselves during the week riding in these conditions.
The track looked fast today but I’d imagine the big bumps will form later after practices and into tomorrow’s motos. Overall though, no one seemed worried about learning a new track, and most of the field trains in this weather, so it’s all good down here for now. We’ll see how everyone is feeling tomorrow afternoon though!
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FLAT TRACK RACING (DC)
Okay, I've been getting some email grief, as well as some social media comments, about how WW Ranch is "too flat" and not a real motocross track. That motocross tracks should be natural terrain, not manmade hills like the big one in the center here in Jacksonville. But flat land kind of is "natural terrain" in Florida, just as it's been for some of the roughest tracks I've ever seen in my life. Take Lommel, Belgium, for instance. When I went to the Motocross of Nations there, I saw what it would look like if the devil built a racetrack. It lures people in, looking smooth, flat, and easy. After a few bikes are on it, it starts to show its teeth. By the first moto, the bottom has fallen out, and it becomes a brutal slog—no one but the best sand riders ever win at Lommel.
As far as American tracks go, the roughest I ever rode was Cocoa Beach, and it followed the same formula as Lommel: devil builds track, everyone thinks it's flat and easy, devil start dropping depth charges into the dark sand. It was an exhausting place to ride a dirt bike, and the only place I've ever seen that was comparable to Lommel.
The old Kenworthy's National in Ohio was flat as a pancake, but the real test there was the pure, thick, moist soil, which rutted up nicely, and the cauldron of July in Ohio—hot, muggy, brutal. No one lucked into wins at Kenworthy's. And one of the all-time great psych-out moves I ever saw was a miserably hot and sunny day in 1997 when Jeff Emig went to the starting gate in all-black Shift gear, and while everyone else was huddled in the trees or under umbrellas looking for shade, he just sat there on the starting gate, helmet and goggles on, letting his competition know that the heat was not going to beat him.
Later this year, the 2019 Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations will take place on the infield of the world-famous Assen TT track. The whole area is flat, so they’re trucking in sand to build it out. Like Lommel, Assen gets whooped out and rough. It's flat, and it's going to be a real challenge for Team USA, no matter who we send.
We all love hills and valleys, but there aren't a lot of either in Florida. But there are some creative folks on bulldozers and tractors, and a weather forecast that will make this a test even if you're just watching alongside the track. Let's give this flat track a chance and see what happens. I mean, isn't Loretta Lynn's completely flat? That track works pretty darn well in sorting out the champions every August, and no one goes home saying it was easy.
Over There (DC)
The MXGP season just took a crazy turn: not only did Jeffrey Herlings get hurt again on a parade lap mishap, but his teammate Antonio Cairoli went down in Latvia and suffered a separated shoulder. The beneficiary of it all was Honda HRC's Tim Gajser, who won his fourth straight MXGP overall with unlikely 6-1 moto scores. Cairoli, who seemed like he was practically cruising to the title six weeks ago, is now well behind the red-hot Gajser. He says he plans to be back soon, but not this weekend in Germany. As for Herlings, he crashed on the backside of a tabletop and had his ankle clipped by Arminas Jasikonis. However it happened, he ended up with a cracked ankle, though he didn’t know it. Jeffrey went out and won the moto, but then realized that he had a worse problem than he thought with the ankle. After X-rays showed the crack, he did not ride the second moto, and will be out indefinitely. The only good news is he should be back before the end of the season.
The good news for KTM is that while they have both of their legends out in MXGP, the Spanish rider Jorge Prado continues to absolutely dominate the MX2 field. He's won every round he entered this year and has a comfortable points lead of 30 points, despite missing the second round in Europe.
FIM/WADA: Season 4 (DC)
For the fourth time since Monster Energy AMA Supercross riders have been monitored, a rider tested positive for using a banned substance. The veteran Christian Craig was randomly picked at the 2018 Daytona Supercross—yes, more than a year ago—but we only found out about it this week after Christian posted a public letter to his fans on social media. He is working with the FIM and World Anti-Doping Agency to resolve the matter. According to the WADA Prohibited List, heptaminol hydrochloride is a category S-6 stimulant that is prohibited in competition, but not when you’re out of competition. It’s a cardiac stimulant that increases blood flow with mild peripheral vasoconstriction.
The last person to test positive for this was Robert Brown, a weightlifter, who received a nine-month suspension and loss of results. Craig is likely facing a similar suspension, though the question that must be asked is: why the hell did it take so long to announce the positive test? That was literally more than three championship series ago. We've gone through the rest of the '18 SX Championship, last summer's Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Series, the 2019 Monster Energy AMA Supercross tour, and four rounds of this summer's Pro Motocross tour. And God only knows how long it will be for Stewart—er, I mean Cade Clason, or rather Broc Tickle … oh, sorry, God only knows how long it be for Christian Craig to get this resolved with the FIM and WADA.
PRO PERSPECTIVE (DAVID PINGREE AND JASON THOMAS)
David Pingree: I always liked going to a new track in the series. With this weekend's race being held at the WW Ranch in Florida, you get a fresh opportunity to create a vibe with a track. It's not often we see new venues, so this is rare and fun. There are a handful of Florida riders who've spent some time there, but I think the layout will be changed and, for the most part, it will be new for everybody. This is especially great news for rookies like Hunter Lawrence, Derek Drake, and any other riders new to the series. At every other round they are trying to learn where the track goes while the veterans of the sport could circulate with their eyes closed. This weekend will be a level playing field for everybody.
Aside from that, it's great to be racing motocross back in Florida again! When I first turned pro (back in ought-two before the Big War), the motocross series started at Gatorback while the supercross series was still going! Halfway through you'd have to start riding outdoors and come up with a setup. It was a struggle to go from the shorter sprints in the stadium to the long, hot, humid battleground in Gainesville. If the heat bumps up this weekend you will definitely see some overheating from the riders; the humidity down there is crushing. But I always enjoyed starting the weekend knowing that, at that point, everything was equal. I'm looking forward to watching the track develop and seeing who makes the WW Ranch their new "favorite" track.
Jason Thomas: New races are cool. Although WW Ranch was visited in 2017's USGP, this will mark the return to Florida after a 22-year hiatus. The last time we had a national in Florida, it was just 45 minutes down the road at Gatorback. It also marked the first of 175 or so nationals I lined up for. I was still in high school so I missed the practice held Friday but was ready to roll come Sunday morning. It brings back a lot of memories to have the series in Florida and I hope the fans turn out in full force to welcome the series back.
As for how the racing goes, the heat and humidity will be the storyline. With highs expected in the upper 90s tomorrow, everyone will suffer. Who suffers the least will be a big determining factor in the results column. Gatorback was always in March so it wasn't a big deal. March in Florida is typically warm but not the sweltering heat that will await everyone tomorrow. Watch the last few laps of each moto and you'll see who prepared correctly and who didn't. There is no hiding from conditions like we will see.
As for the "new" track, some of these guys got to ride it two weeks ago which will definitely help. Also, the riders who raced the USGP should have a nice starting point. Keep in mind, Hunter Lawrence raced this event and nearly won (Ping may have glossed over that) so this marks one of the only tracks he's previously ridden. We saw how much that seemed to help in Pala, so maybe he finds another moto win tomorrow. I look for the Florida based riders to excel overall, though. The dirt and conditions will be just like a Tuesday practice day. For those who are based in California, or up north, for instance, this is going to be a very tough day. I think we will see the results bear that out.
40 FOR TOMAC (Andras Hegyi)
Though Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac did not win either moto win last Saturday at High Point, he did take the overall win, repeating his '18 victory at the same track. He is the first Kawasaki motocrosser to be victorious at High Point, on the schedule since 1977, in two consecutive 250/450 AMA motocross seasons.
The win marked Tomac's 19th in the 450 Class, as well as his 16th victory with Kawasaki. That means he's now tied with both James Stewart and Ricky Carmichael for first in the Kawasaki’s premier motocross class wins list. In addition, Tomac’s victory marks his 40th podium in the 450 Class.
Riders to get at least 40 podiums in 250/450 AMA Motocross
Ricky Carmichael: 84 podiums
Ryan Dungey: 69
Kevin Windham: 55
Mike LaRocco: 53
Chad Reed: 45
Ricky Johnson: 43
Bob Hannah: 41
Eli Tomac: 40
The Next Aussie (Andras Hegyi)
Last Saturday at High Point a fairly long podium-less spell came to an end for Australian motocross. On August, 29, 2009 at the Southwick National, Brett Metcalfe finished third overall. At the time, nobody might have thought it would take nearly 10 years to see another Australian reach the 250 Class podium in AMA Pro Motocross. Finally, last Saturday at High Point, that cold streak ended. GEICO Honda’s Hunter Lawrence, 20, won the first moto and then ended up second overall. In doing so, he became only the sixth Australian to podium in the history of 125/250 AMA Motocross, in existence since 1974. Lawrence’s second-place is the 26th Australian podium in the history of this class. You have to go all the way back to Chad Reed's win in 2002 before you see an Aussie doing that well at High Point.
Australian riders to get podiums in 125/250 AMA Motocross
Brett Metcalfe: 10 podiums
Chad Reed: 6
Jeff Leisk: 5
Michael Byrne: 2
Andrew McFarlane: 2
Hunter Lawrence: 1
RedBud’s New Beer: LaRocco’s Leap Light (Jordan Roberts)
In hindsight, this product coming to fruition is as much of a no-brainer as the pencil with an eraser tip. It’s a match made in motocross heaven: RedBud and beer. What started out as a necessity to furnish VIP tents with alcohol at the Motocross of Nations, though, had quickly evolved into a flurry of what-ifs, eventually being narrowed down to a private label beer for RedBud brewed by local Round Barn Brewery.
The goal was to deliver a beer that embodied what the RedBud Pro Motocross National has grown to become: an all-American celebration of our nation’s independence through the love of motocross. Round Barn's Head Brewer, Malkam Wyman, crafted a brand new American golden ale that goes down as easy as anyone treading a hillside at last year’s muddy MXoN. My job? Design a can that screamed the look and feel of RedBud, which was a collaborative effort between the Ritchie family, Round Barn, Garth Milan, and Mike LaRocco himself. What we ended up with is a piece of motocross history—the only moto-inspired beer I’m aware of since the now-retired Moto Brew.
LaRocco’s Leap Light will only be available at this year’s Circle K RedBud Pro Motocross National. Knowing the fanbase, this commemorative beer will likely sell out before it even hits ice.
The August 2019 ISSUE OF RACER X MAGAZINE IS NOW AVAILABLE
The August 2019 issue of Racer X magazine is now out. Sign up now for the print and/or award-winning digital edition. And if you're already a digital subscriber head to digital.racerxonline.com to login. In this issue we check out how Lucas Oil Pro Motocross offers a second chance at titles for riders in both classes. No Fear MX exploded onto the motocross scene in the nineties, and we detail their rise and fall. Get to know new champions Chase Sexton and Dylan Ferrandis. For over 50 years, the Oxley family has made Costa Mesa Speedway America’s prime destination for speedway racing, and we find out why. All these features and much more inside the August issue. Print subscribers can also open up the issue and unfold a collectible poster of Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki's Adam Cianciarulo. Here are the feature articles you’ll find inside:
“Clean Start” by Davey Coombs
The opening rounds of the 2019 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship offered a second chance at a title for top riders in both classes.
“The King's New Clothes” by Steve Matthes
Jeremy McGrath, Travis Pastrana, and more spoke with us for this oral history of No Fear MX gear and how it came and went.
“Alternative Methods” by Jason Weigandt
When Austin Forkner and Adam Cianciarulo faltered at the end of supercross, Chase Sexton and Dylan Ferrandis took their star turns. Get to know two new champions.
“A Night At The Speedway” by Mike Emery
For over 50 years, the Oxley family has made Costa Mesa Speedway America’s prime destination for speedway racing.
"10 Minutes With... Ryan Villopoto" by Steve Matthes
Check in with Ryan Villopoto about his summer plans.
Moto trainers going head to head in 2 Tribes, Diamond Don’s Riverport International Vintage Motocross race in Texas, how to attack sweeping corners, proper hand-control lubrication, rules for starting-gate movement, and much more.
All this—and more—exclusively in the August 2019 Issue of Racer X magazine. Not a subscriber? Sign up now for the print and/or digital edition.
Hey, Watch It!
For more on Jordan Jarvis and her attempts to qualify for the finals at Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, check out Sharon Cox's feature here.
Kinda neat how the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM announced that amateur star Pierce Brown will make his pro debut this weekend at the Florida National
LISTEN TO THIS
The Fly Racing Racer X Review Podcast comes in with the Jasons joining host Steve Matthes to talk about the High Point National. The trio does their usual gig—talking about the highlights from the weekend including the accurate live timing and scoring graphic on that screen that Matthes and JT love (sarcasm). Check it out.
Matthes also caught up to former Xtreme Gear owner Dale Davis for an episode of the Fly Racing Racer X Podcast. Davis talks about starting Xtreme Gear, passing on McGrath, Jeff “Chicken” Matiasevich, and much more.
Daniel Blair and Producer Joe bring in Episode #123 of the Main Event Moto Podcast as Blair and Producer Joe are joined in the bat cave by Snap-On Dan. They talk about High Point Hang out with them as Daniel focuses on the headlines in the sport and sometimes it goes off the rails. Listen to Episode #123 of the Main Event Moto Podcast below.
Josh Hansen was this week's guest on The Whiskey Throttle Show. Ping and GL sat down with Hanny and talked through his entire career, including the very high peaks and the very low valleys. Josh won seven supercross races and three X Games gold medals during his career and he still has one of the coolest styles of any rider, current or otherwise. We covered GL's championship party, Hanny's Lamborghinis, his Hollywood girlfriends Holly Madison and Stephanie Pratt, the millions of dollars he spent, the pressure of his family legacy and how having a daughter has changed his life. It was a really good talk with the likable Honda test rider. Watch it on YouTube or listen on iTunes, Spotify or Stitcher.
Head-Scratching Headline/s of the Week
“Google Calendar Dies One Hour After Google Tweets About How Great It Is [Update]”—Gizmodo
“Ex-MLB star Lenny Dykstra spent 9 hours dumpster diving outside a Jersey Mike’s. Here’s why.”—NJ.com
“Dean Wilson Has A New Training Partner. Spoiler: It’s Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch”—Exhaust
“Morgantown GromSquad Invades High Point National, Roczen Approves”—Exhaust
Florida NATIONAL RACER X ALL-DAY PIT PASSES | LIMITED QUANTITIES LEFT
Going to the Florida National this weekend? Want to be able to get into the pits all day?
The only way to cruise the pits whenever you’d like is with the Racer X All-Day Pit Pass, but quantities are limited! Get yours today while they’re still available and get all-day pit access plus a one-year subscription to Racer X Illustrated for $100*.
If you preorder online for this event, you’ll need to pick your Racer X Pit Pass up at Will Call, where you’ll also receive an extra copy of Racer X, the official event sticker, and Racer X stickers.
*Purchase of this Racer X Pit Pass includes a general admission ticket.
SUBSCRIBE AT Florida AND GET ALL 12 EVENT STICKERS
Are you headed to the Florida National this weekend? Make sure you stop by the Racer X booth, located in Sponsor Village, and subscribe for as low as $15 and receive ALL TWELVE Official 2019 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Racer X event stickers. You will also receive a complimentary magazine and free Racer X stickers.
Be sure to check out our Racer X Brand items on display and grab some gear. See you at the races!
Shout out to this little fella for showing heart and getting over that finish line by any means possible.
View this post on Instagram
I had to reshare this. This little fella is going to achieve great things in his life. What an inspiration. Huge respect to his parents for teaching him to never ever give up, despite the circumstance. Well done buddy! #Repost @adamcianciarulo I saw this on Facebook. Not sure who this little guy is but I love his heart and attitude! Keep it up buddy. (vid / Richelle Risdon)
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid’EH Update #24.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!