Welcome to Racerhead on the busiest week of all for amateur motocross in America. Of course, we are at Loretta Lynn Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, for the 38th Annual Rocky Mountain ATV/MC AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship, and the races have been going off like clockwork since Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. One thousand five hundred of the top amateurs in the country are here, racing three long motos in each class. There are 36 classes altogether, and they run the gauntlet from 51cc to Masters +50. In between are 65s, women, ex-pros, future pros, 125cc two-strokes, 450 C riders, and more. And every class brings about its own excitement, drama, and challenges.
Take the Pro Sport classes, for instance. There are a bunch of very fast young men who are soon to be turning pro. GEICO Honda has three top prospects out there in Carson Mumford, Jo Shimoda, and Australia's Jett Lawrence, the younger brother of current GEICO Honda factory rider Hunter Lawrence. But the week has been very uneven for all of them. Mumford has suffered with mistakes and inconsistency, his results not showing his true potential. Shimoda got off to a rocky start, then straight-up beat Lawrence in a moto. But then this morning he crashed and apparently dislocated his shoulder, likely putting his planned professional debut at Unadilla next weekend on hold. And then there’s Lawrence, who has been something of a revelation—for me, anyway. I have never actually seen this 15-year-old ride in person, and if you've been watching the live motos on www.racertv.com this week, you were probably pretty impressed with his overall race craft. He came from behind but lost an all-time great moto to Rockstar Energy Husqvarna's Jalek Swoll, as they crossed the finish line in a dead heat, though transponders gave the nod to Florida's Swoll by .006 of a second. But Swoll is dealing with a hip injury and was not able to really follow up like he wanted, and Lawrence was sitting pretty for the 250 A Pro Sport title as he started pulling away for the third moto win. And then his bike broke.
Here's the finish between Lawrence (left) and Swoll (right).
Welcome to Loretta Lynn's, where anything can happen, including a highly regarded Australian import losing a championship at the last second to a highly underrated Chilean KTM rider named Hardy Munoz who just last week was said to have nearly been thrown out of the country for not having all of his paperwork sorted. As top contenders like all of the aforementioned stumbled—Troy Lee Designs KTM's Pierce Brown is also not having the week he probably expected—Munoz went 3-4-3 to snatch the national championship away.
In the 85cc 10-12 classes, the big battles have been between KTM teammates and neighbors and training partners Daxton Bennick and Hayden "Dangerboy" Deegan. They have gone back and forth with moto wins and problems, including Bennick forgetting to remove his neck towel as he went out on a parade lap, said towel falling into his rear brake assembly and getting caught. When his mechanic tried to remove the towel with pliers, he apparently bent the brake rotor and that cost him his rear brakes late in the moto. So they went into the final all tied up with a moto win and a runner-up finish apiece, only to have Bennick get a lousy start—but then Deegan crashed at the end of the first lap and was out!
Others have struggled, including Kawasaki Team Green's Ryder DiFrancesco going out in one moto with failed electronics, and Jordan Jarvis just not having much luck with her starts in the Women's class. We've seen near perfection from Max Vohland in Super Mini, and my new friend Nick Romano just grabbed himself a title in 85cc racing. There's a resurgence of sorts happening with Suzuki as a player at the national level, and the never-ending nitpicking about ex-pros like Mike Brown, John Grewe, Barry Carsten, and now Darryn Durham coming back and riding in the three Vet classes that allow ex-pros who scored SX/MX points to compete—though the complaints come almost entirely from people that aren't actually here but just watching online. (And not the two Vet classes reserved for Sportsmen who never scored a point.) Oh, and pee-wee protesting is still a thing, as one parent/grandparent with a rider inside the top ten apparently protested everything about everyone in front of the kid—after the second moto. That led to a crazy chain-of-custody watch that had to last from that moment over the next 24 hours to today's third and final moto, and even as I type this they are tearing down YZingers en masse.
Add it all up, and it's quite honestly the best week of all for me as far as motocross goes. I’m working the infield during the day, the campground in the evening, and enjoying all the camaraderie of the sport we all love so much. Pit bikes and golf courts are circulating in a chaotic yet somehow controlled parade across the massive property, and the races go off like clockwork. A bunch of old friends and ex-pros are here but not racing, as they have other responsibilities: Larry Brooks and Chris Wheeler are working with Suzuki, Nathan Ramsey for KTM, Nick Wey is being the parent of a couple racers, Matt Walker has a massive group of students, Jeff Emig is here with the USMCA (and to graduate from high school tonight with On-Track), Will Hahn is here scouting talent for Monster Energy/Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha, Washougal's Ryan Huffman is on the infield, Ron Tichenor is here visiting friends, Erza Lusk popped back in to work with some kids, and Ryan Villopoto literally drove his family in his RV from Washougal to hang out with Mitch Payton, host a Yamaha dinner, and drop the starting gate on a 125 class race.
My point is that whether you’re an amateur or a legend, retired or recommitted, young or old, a first-timer or a lifetimer, an A or C rider, or just looking for a way into the motocross industry, there is a place for you at Loretta Lynn Ranch. If you've ever been, you know what I mean. So let me get back out there and help. Make sure you check out the rest of the motos, which end tomorrow afternoon, on RacerTV.
Little bit of weird timing, but Honda dropped a PR yesterday that announced Cole Seely was announcing his retirement from the sport. Seely's been on the injured list for a while after a tough 2019 450SX season when he came back from a bad crash at the Tampa SX in 2018. It wasn't a huge surprise, as I heard from people close to him that he was thinking of hanging it up around the end of SX, and when I spoke with Cole throughout the year he mentioned a few times how hard it was to come back from this injury, both physically and mentally. And when you're a racer and not able to work through worrying about getting hurt, well, it's a sign that you might be done.
Too bad for Cole, though, that he has to go out of the sport on the injured list though, but hey, we don't all get to write our endings, right? Seely's success in the sport was pretty unlikely, he won both 250SX and 450SX races, podiumed in both the 250 Class and 450 Class, and he was never some amateur motocross star (those at the Ranch right now who aren't having the week they wanted to can look to Seely and others like Justin Brayton and realize that success there doesn't mean you can’t go far in a pro career) and kind of just self-made himself into a great racer. His Fun Center Suzuki ride in 2009 was the first time many got to see him, as he would grab some starts here and there and then get pretty tired after that! But as I said, he just slowly got better and better, the Troy Lee Honda team stuck with him, and Seely reached the mountaintop. No titles, sure, but he still did better than 99 percent of the dirt bike racers out there.
Also, Seely was always someone who thought outside the box. He had other off-track interests, and he actually thought about your question and gave you a truthful answer. As I said, many times this year he would outline how he was struggling to get back to his old level after his injury. Cole didn't say the usual shit racers at his level do, and I appreciated that.
Congrats on a great career, Cole, and I'm sure you'll still be around as a Honda representative (he's ridden for the brand for nine years), building project bikes or whatever else you want to do.
Soooooooo about that Honda spot over there alongside Ken Roczen that Seely held. Well, it's probably the most attractive ride left for 2020 unless you're a huge believer in the JGRMX/Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing team. JGR and Honda each have one spot to fill, and Joey Savatgy and Justin Bogle or Benny Bloss (whichever doesn't get the spot next to Blake Baggett) are the biggest names available. From what I gather, Honda is thinking ahead to 2021 and wants to put Chase Sexton full-time on the 450, so this deal for Honda is just going to be one year. And Savatgy, after riding well this year but getting the boot at Kawasaki for Cianciarulo, might not be down for doing another one year and out on a factory team. Can't say I blame him. So he might end up at JGR with a two-year deal (I tried to broker this deal with Jeremy Albrecht last weekend but it didn't work) and be paired with Chad Reed in 450SX, and then the team would stick Fredrik “Fast Freddie” Noren on the bike for outdoors when Reed is done.
Honda's other option—something I've heard has been talked about—is putting MCR Honda's Justin Brayton on the factory team for 450SX. (I'm not sure what would happen for Pro motocross—maybe Christian Craig?) Not sure what the MCR team would do then, but they'd want to play nice with Honda to ease the transition and maybe get something in return down the road from the OEM.
JGR is also from what I heard looking at bringing back Justin Hill if the Savatgy thing doesn't happen. There's also Broc Tickle lurking around for a 450 ride after his suspension ends in February. So stay tuned, folks, things are just heating up.
Remember Washougal? (Jason Weigandt)
I just ran into DC inside the MX Sports office here at Loretta's and he asked if I could write about Washougal, to which I immediately said "Washougal feels like a month ago." When you watch non-stop motos from sun up to sun down here at Loretta's, time passes in strange ways.
However, the Washougal National is worth remembering, because we saw great racing and critical moves in terms of both the 450 and 250 Class Championships. Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac went full beast mode in his twin come-from-behind charges, answering any remaining questions about his speed this year. Eli has been the most consistent 450 Class rider this year, which is why he's the points leader, but he hasn't unleashed his normal full fury of speed. Until Washougal. Oh my, that was impressive, and with his 1-1 he stretches the points lead to 50 over Red Bull KTM’s Marvin Musquin. After the race, Eli told me the 50-point line is his real goal. Eli had to take the title down to the final round the last two seasons and is determined to wrap this one up early, so even when he could have settled for a second or a third at Washougal, he elected to go on the attack and collect maximum points.
In the 250 Class, Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Adam Cianciarulo was in a similar position to put the clamps down on anyone else's hopes, and since he lists Washougal as his favorite track, he was looking good to do so. Monster Energy/Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha’s Dylan Ferrandis is a tough dude, though, and just wasn't going to let it happen. A second moto duel with Cianciarulo throwing everything he had at Ferrandis for 30 minutes plus two laps, but Ferrandis never giving him an opening, was an instant classic. It was also super critical for the title. Cianciarulo could have pushed his points lead into the 40s, but instead Ferrandis has it down to 28. We also know that in a straight-up fight, Ferrandis has reason to be confident he can win more battles. Cianciarulo has been good at staying level-headed this year, though, and admitted to our Steve Matthes after the race that even though he didn't win, the battle gives him some confidence because Ferrandis, in his words, kicked his ass at RedBud.
Onto Unadilla we go next weekend. It's starting to feel like this Ferrandis/Cianciarulo battle has only just begun.
Pro Perspective (Jason Thomas)
The final weekend off in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship coincides with the festivities down at Loretta Lynn's. While many in the industry are spending a week in the heat and humidity of western Tennessee, I have trekked across the Atlantic for the Belgian round of MXGP. Regardless of the continent, there is great racing to be found all summer long.
As for the pro riders stateside, they will surely enjoy a few days off before the final stretch. By now, most everyone is dealing with some sort of nagging injury or soreness. The off-season is looming, and for the many not in championship contention, it can't come soon enough. It's been a long eight months of racing already.
As the season winds down, there is still much to gain. Many riders have not secured their 2020 contracts, and great results now loom large. Riders like Joey Savatgy, Justin Hill, Justin Bogle, and Benny Bloss (along with Broc Tickle) are all vying for a few open spots. While those with signed deals may be just working through the dog days of summer, these undecided riders will be feeling the urgency. There is one spot at HRC Honda, one spot at JGR Suzuki, and one spot at Rocky Mountain ATV/MC KTM-WPS. Having factory equipment is the priority for these guys, providing the platform for success. It's almost a prerequisite if hoping for the most successful year possible.
In the final six motos, I will be interested to see if any of these riders can leave their mark. Savatgy stepped up big time with his solid Washougal performance. Leading laps is a huge deal when it comes to sponsor exposure and providing value. Justin Bogle was able to do that back at RedBud, similarly to Savatgy last time out. Benny Bloss had a breakout ride at Unadilla several years ago and will surely want to replicate that form. The time is now for these guys to impress and put their name at the top of the list. Who will be left without a chair when the music stops?
GREEN MACHINE (Andras Hegyi)
Eli Tomac is now Kawasaki's all-time wins and podiums leader in 450 (previously 250) MX. After having already overtaken both James Stewart and Ricky Carmichael in wins aboard a green bike in this class, last Saturday he passed another Kawasaki legend in Jeff Ward. Tomac got his 18th 450 MX victory in the saddle of his KX450 at Washougal. He's also the brand's podium leader, as Kawasaki's previous record holder Ward, had 35 Kawasaki podiums in the class. But in getting his fourth seasonal win, Tomac collected his 36th Kawasaki podium in the 450 MX. Tomac has raced with Kawasaki since 2016, and last Saturday was his 45th round with Kawasaki. He missed the podium only in nine rounds, giving him an 80 percent podium percentage. By comparison, Wardy raced for Kawasaki between 1985 and '92 in the premier motocross class, and he took part in 51 rounds in order to get his 35 podiums, a podium percentage just below 70 percent.
The september 2019 ISSUE OF RACER X MAGAZINE IS NOW AVAILABLE
The September 2019 issue of Racer X magazine is out now. 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.
What's inside? Behind the scenes of the moving and shaking 250 Class. We celebrate 50 years of world-class motocross at Unadilla and take a look at the international years in the first part of a two-part series. The 125 All Star Series in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross offers a nice buzz for all. And we sent our art director to Oregon for some epic trail riding. All these features and much more inside the September issue.
“Drama Class” by Jason Weigandt
The 250 Class of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross has seen some solid action in 2019, but the real juicy stuff has been going on behind the scenes.
“Unadilla. Established 1969 - Part 1” by Davey Coombs
As one of the world’s premier tracks celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, we explore what makes it such an icon of global motocross racing.
“Class Disruption” by Mike Emery
The joys, pains, hope, and obstacles that come with loving the smell of premix and the buzz of 125cc motorcycles.
“Out There” by David Langran
Racer X art director David “Langers” Langran goes off-roading for the first time in the wilds of scenic Oregon.
Poster Info (Print Edition Only)
We feature both a new-school and old-school vibe for our poster this month with a 2019 shot of Honda HRC’s Ken Roczen on the front and a 1976 shot of Suzuki’s Roger De Coster on the back.
50 Years Faster - O'Neal
We're celebrating 50 years of the O'Neal brand and their 50 Years Faster campaign with an in-depth picturesque look at their rider roster over their expansive five decades-long evolution in the sport we love.
Hey, Watch It!
Last night, Jarryd McNeil became the first person to four-pete in the X Games, as the 28-year-old won the Moto X Step Up. Rewatch the broadcast below:
Fox introduced their 2020 gear this week with this video:MX | MADE FOR MOTOCROSS | ROCZEN, AC, FORKNER, DUNGEY
LISTEN TO THIS
The Fly Racing Racer X Review Podcast comes in with Jason Thomas and Jason Weigandt joining host Steve Matthes to talk about the Washougal National. The trio does their usual gig, talking about the highlights from the weekend and whatever else weird stuff comes up. Check it out.
Matthes also caught up with trainer Randy Lawrence talking about his training work with Derek Drake (now) and Ryan Villopoto (then), wrenching for McGrath, his early days of growing up in SoCal, and more.
Jason Weigandt is down at the Loretta Lynn Dude Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, for the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship and he caught up with Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Austin Forkner. In this edition of The Racer X Exhaust Podcast, Weigandt sits down with Forkner to discuss the season, the crash, the night in New Jersey, his progression as a pro, his start in racing, and more.
Daniel Blair and Producer Joe bring in Episode #128 of the Main Event Moto Podcast. This week, DB and Producer Joe are joined in the batcave by Chris Cooksey. The trio talks about the 2019 Washougal National. Daniel focuses on the headlines in the sport and sometimes it goes off the rails. Listen to Episode #128 of the Main Event Moto Podcast below.