Welcome to Racerhead, coming to you from about as far away as one can get from Las Vegas and all of the razzle-dazzle of the Monster Energy Cup. While Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Adam Cianciarulo and Eli Tomac were putting on a show—and so were SmarTop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts Honda’s Malcolm Stewart and Vince Friese—I was on my way to the far northeastern corner of the country, taking a little time off to check out Maine. It was a short post-season vacation, and while I watched the Monster Energy Cup online, I will leave all of the backstory to the other guys.
The reason for Maine in the fall is to see the changing of the seasons, as all good things come to pass. The once vibrant leaves enjoy their lifespan, showing up in the spring, enjoying the summer, and then dying off in a brilliant change of colors, burning to bright oranges and reds and… Okay, that’s a little too sappy for Racerhead. But what I was trying to get at is the fact that all good things really do come to an end, and now is that time for David Pingree as the resident pro of Racer X and Racer X Online. Ping has been doing both informative and hilarious work for us ever since he retired from professional SX/MX some 16 years ago, and he was a contributor before that. His Ask Ping advice columns were more satire than service, though his bike testing and bike builds were also straight-up, spot-on suggestions from a very good former pro rider. Along the way he started a family, adopted some dogs from Puerto Rico (long, hilarious story), and even went to work as a fireman. It’s all added up to a very full life and a successful post-racing life for him and his family.
But all that real work with the fire department and side work out at the racetracks and lonely work in front of a computer offering up questionable, hilarious advice was beginning to be quite a bundle to handle. Time is of the essence in this life, as all these fading leaves in Maine will remind anyone, and Ping knows that his time with his wife and daughters, working on a new role at the fire department, doing our bike builds, bike tests, Dialed-Ins, Ask Ping, Electonic Ping, and more… has made for a crowded and busy 24 hours for him every single day. Something had to give, and as much as he enjoyed doling out suspect suggestions on the struggles of life, he decided it was his tenure as the angry bard of motocross life that had run its course.
Thanks Ping, for keeping us all entertained and on our toes, trying to make sure that you didn’t push it a little too far here and there, and also for some of the amazing features you worked on over the years for Racer X. “Chinese Takeout” may never be matched in the great bad ideas. We all really appreciate the fact that we bet on you, and you bet on us, and it was an amazing ride. Good luck in all that comes next for you and your family, David Pingree, and of course we will see you at races.
Unforgettable (Andras Hegyi)
Since its beginning back in 2011, the Monster Energy Cup, held in Las Vegas, has always offered memorable and remarkable surprises. Since the very first night we have seen some dramatic events, from big crashes to guys missing the Joker Lake to sometimes someone taking home a million dollars. The 2019 edition was no exception.
What a debut! What a night for Ryan Villopoto! It was the Monster Energy Cup but it turned into The Ryan Villopoto Show. RV won all three main events with huge gaps, leading every single lap of the way and earning the one million dollar prize that came with a sweep. The entire calendar year of 2011 was a fantastic season for Villopoto. Before winning the Monster Energy Cup, he was champion both in 450SX and 450 Pro Motocross. So far, no one has repeated RV’s ’11 of double #1s and the million-dollar MEC bonus.
A great night for Justin Barcia. He debuted in the factory Honda team and it was his maiden 450SX race as well. His debut was very successful as he won the overall, but he did not manage the big bonus, settling for $100K instead.
Due to some injuries James Stewart was forced to withdraw from the Monster Energy Cup both in 2011 and ‘12. But in 2013 he was healthy and took to the line. In the first main event he had an accident, dropping him back to 19th place, but he moved up finishing 8th. Then he won the last two main events to become the overall winner.
Before the 2014 Monster Energy Cup, Davi Millsaps had a nightmare that lasted almost a year and a half. Millsaps’ previous race happened on May 4, 2013. Between then Millsaps suffered some injuries and he had four surgeries. After his terrible period he returned at the Monster Energy Cup in which everything was new for him, as it was his maiden Kawasaki race too. But Davi had a fine night and ended up winning the MEC.
Ken Roczen rode with Suzuki for the first time in America in 2015, but in the AMA Supercross and AMA Pro Motocross series he was unsuccessful because of some ankle and back injuries. But at the Monster Energy Cup it all came together for Roczen. The German rider became the first non-American winner at the MEC.
Eli Tomac finally won. Before ’16, Tomac already was a veteran rider at the Monster Energy Cup, having raced the first four editions of the MEC riding a Honda. He was fifth in ‘11, third in ‘12, fourth in ‘13 and runner-up in 2014. He was absent in 2015 because of a shoulder injury. But riding Kawasaki, he managed to win in 2016 finally.
French Red Bull KTM rider Marvin Musquin became the second millionaire in the history of the Monster Energy Cup as he monopolized all three mains two years ago, joining first-year winner Ryan Villopoto as the second rider to win one million dollars at the MEC.
Again Eli Tomac won, becoming the third millionaire. Kawasaki’s Tomac became the first and only two-time winner in the history of the Monster Energy Cup, while he became the third millionaire, repeating Villopoto and Musquin’s performances to win all the three main events. Tomac was perfect, but he was helped by his teammate Joey Savatgy, as he handed the first-place over to Tomac on the last lap of the last main event.
Adam Cianciarulo used the MEC to make his move up from 250 to 450 and was immediately successful. With his new #9 affixed to the factory Monster Energy Kawasaki KX450, he won the ninth Monster Energy Cup in a thrilling finish, holding off his Kawasaki teammate Eli Tomac. The 450 rookie Cianciarulo repeated his debut in 250SX, which happened back in 2014, in Dallas, Texas, when he raced in his very first AMA Supercross race and won. The Monster Cup won’t count the same in the record books as, say, an Anaheim 1-in-2020 would for Adam, but it’s still a fantastic start to the next chapter of his career.
Levi Sherwood Landing Soon (DC)
While Ben Townley or Darryl King might take exception with the first sentence, the PR from AME this week explained, “New Zealand’s greatest two-wheel competitor Levi Sherwood has today announced that he will retire from Freestyle Motocross competition in-front of a huge home crowd at this year’s Monster Energy S-X Open Auckland at Mt Smart Stadium on November 16.”
“I have decided to pull back from riding competitions and to have my last competition ride in New Zealand at the S-X Open in Mount Smart Stadium is going to be an awesome send-off,” said Sherwood in the release. “I’ve never actually competed in New Zealand so for my final event to be on home soil at the S-X Open is going to be pretty cool.”
“I’m now moving into the next step of my life which I’m really looking forward,” Sherwood continues. “But it’s bittersweet for me, I’ve got so many great memories from the past 10 years of competition but am really looking forward to putting on my final show for the Kiwi fans so make sure you grab your tickets and come check it out!”
Sherwood is a two-time X Games & Nitro World Games winner. Good luck to Levi and his family on their future endeavors.
Kailub Russell? (Ken Hill)
Now seven-time AMA Grand National Cross Country XC1 Pro Champion, Kailub Russell entered the 2019 season coming off a shoulder surgery that left him out in the wind as the short off-season allowed for very little time to catch some rest and to properly heal. With a pack of talent gunning for him, the FMF/KTM Factory Racing-backed Russell needed to get things handled right off the start and command the points lead early while keeping himself off the ground and healthy. Even for such a talented and tough rider, the demanding physical aspects of this sport were having its way with the champion and as early as round two he was questioning whether he was going to be able to make the season much less battle it out for his seventh championship. The competition wasn’t taking it easy on him as Steward Baylor Jr. and Thad Duvall could taste blood in the water as they looked to put Russell down and keep him there. But, by mid-season, Kailub was riding a razor-thin points lead and had thus far managed to keep himself in the hunt round after round.
It wasn’t until the summer break that he finally rounded a corner and began feeling like he was building strength and finally healing. Things were looking great right up to the point where the wheels came off once again as he found himself pegging a tree with his shoulder (during the week) and he was right back to square one. For many, there was no knowledge of how much pain he was in or how far back on the ropes he was as he continued to slug it out. Catching a break near the end of the season, his closest competitor Duvall of the Rockstar Husqvarna team would suffer an injury that sidelined him, ensuring the championship to remain in Russell’s grasp for one more year.
With the championship locked in, it was a weary and tired Russell that will be sitting out of the final round at Ironman GNCC as he heals and prepares for the upcoming ISDE event and wants to take every minute of down time to heal, retrain, and focus on another coveted ISDE win for his country. Only time will tell if he can hit his marks and add more to his already long list of accomplishments. He is looking at the 2020 season in a very optimistic way even knowing that the onslaught of competition coming after him may be the fiercest he will ever face. That being said, there’s still going to be some competitive racing this weekend in Indiana at the Ironman finale. You can watch the Ironman GNCC streaming all day Saturday and Sunday at racertv.com.
Here Comes Kelley! (Ken Hill)
The final round of the 2019 Grand National Cross Country series is set to go off at the Ironman once again in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The coveted championships have in the past come down to this round but not this year. XC1 Pro was clinched by Russell, XC2 Pro was dominated by a very hard charging Trail Jesters KTM-backed Ben Kelley, and Jesse Ansley put the finishing touches on his season as he wrapped up his XC3 Championship at the previous round.
With the major classes sorted out, the final round becomes more about setting the tone before the off season at one of the most vivid and fan involved motorized races in the country. The record book will forever hold their names but the story is just getting started for Ben Kelley. In only his second XC1 Pro race he went right to the top at the Mountaineer GNCC. All eyes are now on him to see what he can do at the final round after having several top names dropping out of the last round due to mechanical issues earlier. Not that Kelley did not earn that win, but when the competition level is so close it becomes a question of what if Stu Baylor hadn’t broke, could the win have been taken by Kelley, etc. That's racing for sure, but a clear win when all the heavy hitters are on the track makes for incredible racing and proves what we all know, and that is that Kelley is ready to challenge for wins right out of the box.
Interestingly enough is that, this year, Kelley claimed all but one class win in an XC2 Pro class that is stocked with talent. His consistency was the key to his success, as was his ability to have speed on standby and apply it when needed whenever anyone got close enough to challenge him. Maybe knowing that he finished fourth overall on the year tells the tale of what is yet to come as he already knows what it feels like to run at the top of the XC1 Pro class, which is a hurdle many have trouble overcoming when they take the step up.
Kelley will have all eyes on him at the final round to see what this young and very talented racer can bring to the table. As many XC1 Pro riders already know, the effort to get up on the box just got harder, and with Kelley looking to write another chapter in his racing career they will have to figure out how to stop him which may prove difficult.
Stepping Up for Micky Dymond (DC)
As you probably know from reading Racerhead the last two weeks, former Honda and Yamaha factory rider Micky Dymond suffered a serious bicycle crash while riding with David Bailey a couple of weeks ago that has left Micky in the hospital with a brain injury. Now, both Road 2 Recovery and Pole Position Raceway are both stepping up together to help raise money for the well-liked and highly-respected Dymond. R2R has set up a recovery fund to support Dymond's road to recovery, and Ken Faught of Pole Position Raceway in Corona has set aside November 4 for a big event at his popular indoor karting facility. To see how you can participate and help Micky Dymond in his time of need, please check out this post on Dymond's R2R fund.
And look for more info on next week's big event at Pole Position Raceway.
Rookie Role (Jason Weigandt)
Amazing job by Adam Cianciarulo over the weekend, which will only add to the hype starting to build for his rookie season. What impressed me most was his surge on the final lap, when he really needed it most. I thought for sure that Eli Tomac taking the Joker Lane early, and getting a clear track on the last lap, would take the lead. But Adam stepped up the pace and put in the best lap through the Joker Lane that anyone logged all night. That earned him the win.
Because Adam is so likeable and popular, and because his comeback story from years of injuries is so magnetic, it’s hard not to get pumped on the prospects of his success. If Adam gets awesome results, it will be great for the sport and well received by fans, no doubt. However, you can’t let such grand hopes create unrealistic expectations. Adam is still going to be a rookie, and for every Jeremy McGrath and Ryan Dungey 450SX championship rookie season, there are dozens and dozens of rookies who, literally, fell on their face when facing 17 weeks of supercross in 18 weekends. You can take the McGrath and Dungey rookie argument and I can counter with 43 other years where that didn’t happen.
The list includes Ricky Carmichael, who was jacked up badly early in his 1999 campaign; James Stewart, who was injured in practice at round two of his rookie season; or even current champion Cooper Webb, who struggled the first two years in the big class. Eli Tomac got hurt in practice at Anaheim 1 of his rookie year. Justin Barcia won his second supercross in his rookie year, then got hurt the next weekend. Trey Canard was a title contender his rookie year but broke his leg. Ryan Villopoto struggled early and then missed rounds with illness before winning races late in the season. It goes on and on—simply making it through all the races is challenging enough. Who was last year’s hot rookie coming into 2019? Aaron Plessinger. He got hurt at Daytona.
So, you can’t rush this process. It would be cool to see Adam up front on a weekly basis, but the first order is to simply be there on a weekly basis. It’s a challenge quite a few young riders found more difficult than expected.
MEC MATTERS (Matthes)
Whether it was the PulpMX Show this past Monday night or the Racer X review podcast (which you can also listen to below), we were talking about the just completed MEC and what it means. The conclusion we came to was not much, really. If you're looking at this race as anything other than a fun, one-off race where the "readiness" of the racers vary as does the comfort with a track that's also got to be good for Superminis.
So just calm down on the “AC gonna be Jeremy in '93” talk, please and thank you. He'll be fast, don't get me wrong but his win over Eli Tomac doesn't mean he's going to be your 2020 450SX champion. I wrote about this over on MX Vice but here's some examples of past MEC results that didn't mean squat when it came to the following SX season.
Now, if you want to do the right thing and move this race to December where it would be better for A- riders B- teams C- fans and D- help the USA Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations "problem" we have, then it might change this race and what it means.
Okay, check this out:
Just last year we saw Cooper Webb debut on the new Red Bull KTM ride and go 6-19-9 and be kind if underwhelming. Of course I don't need to tell you how he did in 2019 450SX.
In 2017, Justin Barcia showed up on a privateer Honda, on his last legs, unsure what he was going to do and went 10-6-5 for sixth overall and, like Webb, you barely noticed him at the MEC. He proceeded to get a fill-in ride at Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing, podium three out of the first four 450SX races that next year and is still there now as a factory guy. Oh and he won Anaheim 1 last year!
Maybe the ultimate example is Davi Millsaps in 2014 where he debuted on the factory Kawasaki and won the whole damn thing. This was surely a sign that “The Duke” was going to kill it on the new team and bike right? Well, no Davi struggled all year long before being fired by Kawasaki for not having a prescription for something he had in his locker in the truck.
So just sit back, enjoy the MEC and soak it all in but don't run around to your buddies with some hot takes from this race. It's too far away from Anaheim to make any meaningful judgments.
Viva Las Vegas! (Mitch Kendra)
I was given the task of going to Las Vegas to cover the Monster Energy Cup and to, more importantly, experience Vegas for the first time—which made for a long, unforgettable weekend that I’m still recovering from several days later. Yes, the racing was great until the very last checkered flag as Eli, Adam, and Mookie entered the third and final race tied up at four points apiece in a winner-takes-all finale. Stewart’s teammate Vince Friese and 2019 FIM Motocross World Champion Tim Gajser finished fourth and fifth, respectively, and there were some other unpredictable results from the night. But as Weege and Matthes mentioned above, it’s easy to overthink the event for what it is and that these results will show us what will happen come the 2020 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship. That’s not to take away from the hard work that guys like Malcolm Stewart, who suffered an injury at the second round of supercross in January, have been putting in but as Steve pointed out earlier this week in his Observations column, there were only five factory riders present at the event (Dean Wilson would’ve been a sixth factory rider had he not suffered an injury during qualifying. Heal up, Deano!). If the entire class were competing in the MEC and the event was only a week or two from the start of the championship it might be a different story but that’s not the case. Come Anaheim 1, we will get a real taste of who is ready and who isn’t. Even though we can’t go fully off of these results, I got enough of a hint that I can’t wait until the first actual gate drop of the season at Angel Stadium. Only 71 more days until A1, but who’s counting!
Off the track I had an unexpected, unusual weekend in the Sin City. I went into the trip knowing the bare minimum (when my flights left and landed and what day the race was) and that’s it. I didn’t even know what hotel I was staying in until we pulled into the parking lot and made it up to the room. I was able to catch up with West Coast Racer X colleague Trent Lopez, who then took me under his sweet-talking wing all weekend long for late nights, crazy sights, and everything else you can and can’t expect from a weekend in Vegas: Parties on back-to-back nights, crazy hotel suites, and more drinks than we all could (or should have) drank. We made it into a few parties and didn’t get arrested, so I took it as a win. A few questionable decisions later and I landed back in Pittsburgh. Sorry to give such a short rundown of what I got to see and do, but hopefully hear more about it soon, specifically the January issue of Racer X magazine that comes out November 7.. Cheers to a great time in Vegas!
RIP Connor (Matthes)
Although details are not all out there yet, there was a death at the Supercross Futures race here in Las Vegas over the weekend. Connor Webb of Southern California passed away while racing based on some social mentions I've seen and THIS story. There's a GoFund Me for Webb and we'll wait to hear all the information come out, but definitely a sad story. I went out motoing the other day and it was a great time but it's something that could happen every time you throw a leg over a bike, right? RIP Connor.
KEEFER OFF-ROAD INC (Matthes)
Most people think of Kris Keefer as a moto guy, but he actually started out desert racing and idolizing dudes like Larry Roeseler and Danny Smith. He went back to his roots, got a chance to ride Ricky Brabec's factory Honda CRF450 desert machine and signed up for a Hare and Hound race. You can read about a motocross racer going 90MPH in the desert.
Where Are We Now? (Weigandt)
With Motocross of Nations, RedBull Straight Rhythm, and Monster Energy Cup now finished, it's up to the off-season international supercrosses to give us a glimpse at the top riders. The real work will take place behind the scenes, though, as most riders begin serious training around November 1. As Matthes said, things could be different once everyone shows up at Anaheim in a full state of ready.
There’s a pretty set pattern when you’re a high-end rider with job security like Eli Tomac or Adam Cianciarulo. The top dudes will probably start the gnarly training around November 1, and you won’t see them at any races until Anaheim. For others, this off-season will be a little more complicated. It starts with Chad Reed, who, incredibly, put his bcdMD/Mountain Motorsports effort on a Honda together about 10 days before Monster Cup. He, Ben Schiermeyer (his JGR mechanic that he is leasing from the team at the moment) and Dan Truman whipped this together in record time, and while Chad wasn’t good in MEC qualifying and had to go to the LCQ, he of course was much better in the races and was a top-ten guy. Even crazier, straight from Las Vegas Chad hopped on a flight to Europe to do another car race, then he’ll return to squeeze in a little bit of riding and testing before racing the Paris Supercross, then the S-X Open Auckland in New Zealand the next weekend, and then the AUS-X Open in Melbourne, Australia. That’s a crazy schedule of international travel while also trying to build a bike program from scratch, but, Chad Reed might be the only one who actually enjoys doing this kind of travel (plus, riders of his stature make a lot of money for these off-season races, so it’s gotta happen).
Another rider who will pop up at these internationals in New Zealand and Australia is Joey Savatgy. Poor Joey. He definitely rode well enough to earn a great ride for 2020, but there aren’t many slots available. JGRMX Suzuki is the perfect fit, Justin Hill isn’t coming back (he’s now with SmarTop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts Honda) and Weston Peick’s future is still yet unknown. But JGR is feeling the budget pinch, both from lack of a title sponsor and diminished monetary support from Suzuki.
The team hopes it can get a sponsor or get more from Suzuki, or both, by Anaheim. JGR’s current state—unable to commit to anything yet—leaves both Reed and Savatgy out in the cold. Reed decided to just take the reigns and do his own thing. For now, Joey waits. My bet? I think he’ll end up on a Suzuki at these international events anyway—he’s got to race something (because he gets paid if he shows up) so why not get seat time on a bike he still might end up racing? I stopped by the JGR shop this week to figure out what was happening. There are still workers there building bikes and engines, but they don’t have plans locked in. Alex Martin is under contact, and that’s all they know. If I were to bet on 2020, I’d say JGR Suzuki is there with a smaller effort and smaller budget, with Alex racing 250s and Savatgy on a 450, just scraping an effort together. That’s the bet I would make, but it could definitely go the other way. As Jeremy Albrecht told me this week, owner Coy Gibbs doesn’t try to make money on the team. They team can spend whatever the team brings in. So if the team only takes in a little, they just have to spend a little. Savatgy has earned better, but the numbers are not on his side this year.
Now, a word on those New Zealand and Australian races. The AUS-X Open in Australia has been a big race on the calendar for a few years, and now the New Zealand race is building up to create a strong doubleheader of races down under. Reed and Savatgy are in for both. Jason Anderson is in. Dean Wilson was in, but damn it, Dean went down hard at the Monster Energy Cup. I believe he’s going to be out for awhile, so here comes Australia’s newest sensation, Jett Lawrence, capitalizing on the hype to come race some supercross and get paid. Well-orchestrated and good timing by Jett and his crew, as I believe you’ll see him racing down there, and the fans will love it. Also: Josh Hill has a deal for these races, Ricky Carmichael is coming, and even New Zealand legend Ben Townley is going to race in Auckland. Oh, and Cody Cooper, too! Plus you have Justin Brayton leading the full series, so he’ll of course be at these races. They should serve as a good check in with some good riders. New Zealand’s event takes place November 16, and the AUS-X Open is November 30. Savatgy has said he’s going to fly home between races. That’s some gnarly travel, but that’s what the off-season is really all about.
The december 2019 ISSUE OF RACER X MAGAZINE IS NOW AVAILABLE
Inside the December issue of Racer X magazine
- The 73rd annual FIM Motocross of Nations was a disappointment for Team USA, but there’s cause for optimism.
- Minicycles could be the frontier battleground in the electric-motorcycle revolution.
- The FIM Motocross World Championship made its debut in China, and our Jason Thomas was there.
- Brothers Logan and Jordan Martin rehabbed a ’96 XR400 for a race that lasts 24 straight hours. What could go wrong?
All these features and much more inside the December issue.
Poster Info (Print Edition Only)
Side 1 of our collectible pull-out poster features Monster Energy Kawasaki’s new AMA Pro Motocross 250 Class Champion, Adam Cianciarulo. Side 2 pays tribute to 2019 AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame inductee Ron Lechien, with a sweet Paul Buckley shot from Southwick ’87.
Hey, Watch It!
LISTEN TO THIS
The Fly Racing Racer X Podcast comes in with Weege and JT joining me to recap the night that was at the MEC. From AC to ET to the reverse tracks to Evan Ferry and yes, even some Stew talk, it’s all right here.
The second Fly Racing Racer X Podcast this week comes in with a conversation with former factory mechanic Tony Berluti about his long career in the sport including where it all started in Reno, getting the job at Suzuki, leaving there for H&H, his MCR Honda days, and much more.
The always-friendly Marvin Musquin sat down with Jason Weigandt to talk about his knee injury, his age, his continuing work with Aldon Baker, his dreams of moving to the U.S. as a young racer, and more. Can Marvin, who will be 30 in December, be at his best when Anaheim comes?
In addition, Weigandt provides some thoughts on the Monster Energy Cup and the latest update on JGR Suzuki's status for 2020.
This week on the Main Event Moto Podcast, Daniel Blair, Chris Cooksey, and Producer Joe recap the 2019 Monster Energy Cup. Hang out with them as Daniel focuses on the headlines in the sport. Oh yeah, sometimes it goes off the rails. Give a listen to episode #138 of Main Event Moto Podcast now.
Head-Scratching Headline/s of the Week
“Police: Man shot 15 times walks into emergency room”—AP News
“Mark Zuckerberg's fascination with Augustus Caesar might explain the Facebook CEO's haircut”—Business Insider
“Always is removing the female symbol from its packaging to be more inclusive”—CBS News
“7ft 5in Tacko Fall enters concussion protocol after collision with ceiling”—The Guardian
The story says he “was forced to enter the league’s concussion protocol after hitting his head on a ‘low ceiling.’”
“Former Apple lawyer in charge of preventing insider trading is indicted on insider trading charges”—CNBC
“Mass. Dem’s Bill Would Make It Illegal To Call Someone ‘Bitch’”—The Washington Free Beacon
Bad news, and hopefully some good news, out of California on Milestone.
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid’EH Update #43.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!