Main Image: Christian Munoz
Welcome to Racerhead, and here’s hoping everyone had a nice Thanksgiving holiday. The big AUS-X Open Supercross taking place in Marvel Stadium in Australia, with Jason Anderson, Justin Brayton, Chad Reed, and the pro SX debut of Jett Lawrence will happen. Jason Weigandt and family have been stationed in Australia much of the last two weeks. More on that below. The annual A Day in the Dirt MX celebration is getting started out in rainy California at Glen Helen Raceway. Over in Europe the FIM will be having its annual gala, which means 2019 Monster Energy AMA Supercross 450SX Champion Cooper Webb will be there to receive his FIM World Supercross Championship award. And the racing continues down at the 48th Annual Mini O’s at Gatorback Cycle Park in Gainesville, Florida, where a whole bunch of fast kids and amateurs and vet riders are getting some motos in. The final day of racing is tomorrow and the Dunlop Tire livestream from the THOR Mini O’s can be seen on www.racertv.com.
For most, Thanksgiving is a time of family, feast and football, all in the purpose of giving thanks for the things we have and the people around us. For amateur motocross racers it’s feast, family, and the Mini O’s. Since 1972 Florida has hosted this American motocross classic, and it’s gone through quite a few changes over the years to make it what it is now, the 48th Annual AMA/THOR Mini O’s, presented by Pro Circuit, one of the biggest motocross races in the entire sport. If you’re an aspiring racer in SX/MX, chances are you have spent at least one Thanksgiving surrounded by dirt bikes and friends in central Florida.
The event started out as something else entirely. Jacksonville area promoter Pat Ray had a track called North Florida Raceway, which had a small dirt track, a sandy motocross track, and plenty of woods. On Thanksgiving weekend of 1972, Ray decided to hold a race that would include all three disciplines, and he called it the Winter Nationals. Unfortunately, the weather did not work out, and the two-day event was cut short. But the first Winter Nationals, as the race was called, was deemed a success.
The next year Ray made an unlikely alliance with California promoter Ron Henricksen, founder of the NMA, which meant National MiniCycle Association back then. Henricksen had already founded the biggest minicycle race of all at the time, the World Mini Grand Prix, at Saddleback Park in Southern California. He figured that he could make a similar big race in the East, where minicycle racing was just beginning to flourish, and there weren’t yet any AMA national-caliber events. In fact, the AMA had only just started sanctioning amateur motocross events.
With an NMA sanction for 1973, Henricksen was able to get some of the faster West Coast kids to come back East for what would now be a three-day event for Hare Scrambles (Friday), Flat Track (Saturday), and Motocross (Sunday). Among the young prospects who really put the event on the map that year were Honda factory XR75 racer Jeff Ward and fellow California fast kids Jim Holley, Lance Morewood, Paul Denis, Henricksen’s son Kurt (who was already famous for having appeared on the cover of mainstream magazine Sports Illustrated) and Indian factory rider “Flyin’” Mike Brown (the original Mike Brown from California, not the one still racing at Loretta Lynn’s!). Wardy won the 0-80cc Modified (12-15) class, Denis the 0-60 Stock, and Henricksen the PeeWee class.
Over the next couple of years the event expanded, and then after the 1975 version its founder Pat Ray decided to sell the race to another Florida promoter, Bill West of Super Sports in St. Petersburg. West also ran the Florida Winter-AMA Series, which at the time was arguably the biggest motocross series in America. West gave the Winter Nationals its first AMA sanction as well as a move further south, placing it at a track called Chicken Farm MX Park in Homosassa Springs. It was even sandier than North Florida Raceway, and that change of terrain soon allowed some fast Florida-based kids that were sand specialists to start emerging on the national stage, including Kippy Pierce, Karl Jordan, Mark Murphy, John Rheinholt, Todd Hempstead, Doug Longwell, and eventual Honda factory rider and 250 National winner Kenny Keylon.
There was also a very fast and versatile flat tracker from Georgia named Billy Liles who would use his sliding skills to easily win the dirt track portion of the events, as well as the TT races (dirt track with at least one jump and one right-handed turn incorporated in the design) now being race in Ocala. Liles would end up being the first breakout star from the Winter Nationals, and he would do it as a motocross racer, signing the first Kawasaki Team Green contract, then going on to win AMA 250 Pro National and then moved to Europe and became a contender in the FIM 500cc World Championships, and even a winning member of Team USA at the FIM Motocross of Nations.
In 1983 West moved the event again, this time to Gatorback Cycle Park, its present location. Eighty three was a big year for Gatorback because it also hosted an AMA Pro Motocross National for the first time, won by Mark Barnett (125), David Bailey (250), and Kent Howerton (500). The Thanksgiving race had also picked up a new and longer name, as it was by this point being called the Florida Winter Nationals and Minicyle Olympics. And this time West invited another promoter to come help out by using his woods racing expertise to lay out the new Hare Scrambles track for the event—it was my dad, Dave Coombs Sr., who had founded the AMA National Hare Scrambles Series in 1978, and then the 100-Miler Series, which over the years transformed into what is now the AMA Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) Series.
The big winner in 1983 would go on to become one of the biggest stars in the SX/MX world. Riding a Yamaha YZ80, North Carolina’s Damon Bradshaw topped a field of some 400 riders to earn the biggest prize of the week, the Bronze Boot. Other standouts that year included California’s Bob Moore (the future 125cc World Champion), Florida’s own Ronnie Tichenor and Michigan’s “Fast” Eddie Warren (both future 125 Supercross and Japanese National Champions), and “Hammerin’” Hank Moree of South Carolina, and Jeff Stanton, then a Yamaha Support rider from Michigan.
In 1985 West decided to stop holding the TT and dirt track races at Ocala and allow everyone to set up and stay at Gatorback. By this point the event had grown to over 1,000 riders and once again it was North Carolina’s Bradshaw who dominated the proceedings to win his second Bronze Boot. He would repeat again in 1986, by which time the race was being called the Winter Olympics, only to have to make another change when the trademark of the actual Olympic Games was threatened. That’s when it was shortened to the Mini O’s.
Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s the race grew and transformed. The dirt track and TT portions would eventually be replaced by a supercross segment, on a track built by Action Sport’s Drew Wolfe. Florida’s own Ricky Carmichael, Michigan’s Brian Swink, Georgia’s Ezra Lusk, Louisiana’s Kevin Windham, and Oklahoma’s Robbie Reynard would rule the first part of those years, all to go on to very successful professional careers. They would be replaced by the next generation: James Stewart and Davi Millsaps from Florida, West Coast visitors like Justin Buckelew, Mike Alessi and Ryan Villopoto, and even international stars like Ernesto Fonseca, Martin Davalos, and even Ken Roczen. They all came to Florida for Thanksgiving because it was apparent that the Mini O’s were an excellent way to get in front of professional and amateur team managers, as well as much of the motocross industry.
The ultimate testament to the importance of event may have come in between Thanksgiving of 1996 and March 2, 1997. Those races mark Ricky Carmichael’s last time as an amateur at the Mini O’s at Gatorback and his first outdoor national win as a professional, which also took place at Gatorback. That would be the only time Florida’s favorite son got to race a pro national in his native state, as West decided to turn the Gatorback National into the Tampa Supercross in 1998.
The Mini O’s stayed at Gatorback and have continued to grow in size and stature ever since, becoming one of the major pillars of amateur motocross in America. They continued to churn out top stars in riders like Ryan Dungey, Eli Tomac, Cooper Webb, Justin Barcia, Jason Anderson, Austin Forkner, Adam Cianciarulo, Justin Cooper and on and on…
The last big change in the 48-year history of the event came when West decided to retire, first giving the reins of the event to his brother Jerry, then early in the millennium selling the rights to Wyn Kern and Unlimited Sports MX, who run the massive event to this day. The facility continues to grow, as does the stature of the event. And you can watch the last day of the 48th Annual AMA/Thor Mini O’s (Saturday) with the Dunlop Tires live stream on www.racertv.com.
Okay, here’s the report from down under from Weege…
Here is a collection of vintage Mini O's stuff we dug up!
Meanwhile, Down Under… (Jason Weigandt)
I watched Chad Reed cry today. During a series of press day video shoots for the Monster Energy AUS-X Open, Chad recorded a speech for opening ceremonies, and he finally, completely, declared that the 2020 season will be his last as a full-time racer. This isn’t just a thought or rumor any longer—it’s fact. Reed will try his best to put a team together to race supercross in the U.S. in 2020. At the end of that, he will be done.
Chad will likely be back at the AUS-X Open and other off-season events in the future, possibly even racing, or maybe in a Ricky Carmichael-like ambassador role. For most riders, that would soften the transition into retirement. Not for Chad, though. There might not be another person on this planet who lives and breathes the concept of being a racer in the same way he does. That’s who Chad is, that’s how he identifies himself, and he’s admittedly had a tough time trying to figure out what his life would be like without it. After 20-plus seasons as a professional, he’s finally reached that point, but it’s still very difficult for him to square up with those thoughts. So as he shot his opening ceremony video, thanking the Australian fans, he started to cry. Chad said he couldn’t understand how other riders were able to just retire as if it didn’t bother them. It was as emotional as it gets.
Chad’s not done. He has fairly firm plans in car racing now, and he likely still has 17 Monster Energy AMA Supercross rounds in the U.S. in 2020 left, plus hopes of still showing up with a dirt bike for races like this in the future. That still doesn’t make this easy for a guy like him. One day, Chad is going to look in the mirror and not be able to say he’s a supercross racer. That’s all he’s ever known and all he ever wanted to be. It was all pretty heavy.
The good news is that Chad said the ribs he injured at the Paris Supercross are feeling better. Two weeks ago in New Zealand, Chad crashed on the first lap and called it a night. He said things are different racing in Australia—these races mean as much to him as any other races in his career, and he feels like tonight’s show, which will host the largest crowd in Australian supercross history, will become a high-pressure deal for him. He wants to put on a one last show for his home fans, and he doesn’t take the responsibility lightly. He’s not taking any of this lightly.
As for the rest of the riders, Jason Anderson and Joey Savatgy are back Down Under after some testing and training back home. Both arrived here Thursday morning and went straight into a tour of the city of Melbourne. Then after a full day of press and a Friday night reception, finally, they got some rest before tonight’s race (it’s already Saturday here). Anderson won the New Zealand event and wants to repeat that here to become FIM Oceania Supercross Champion (yes, this is a thing). Savatgy struggled in New Zealand after a practice crash that left him sore, and then he lost his rear brake in the races and failed to finish the final of three main events. He hopes to be better here. Adding drama, the five-round Australian Supercross Championship concludes here. Australia’s own Luke Clout now has a one-point lead over Justin Brayton, but Brayton is finally recovered after a crash a few weeks ago and says he actually enjoys being the chaser. The last three years, Brayton has come into this race protecting a points lead and has had to ride conservatively. Now he’s ready to fight for the win.
In the SX2 class, Americans Josh Osby and Chris Blose are 1-2 in points, and, similar to Clout and Brayton, the gap is small enough to where the race winner will likely be the champion. Jett Lawrence will be part of the SX2 mix here, and that’s adding a lot of hype for the Australian fans. I got to spend some time talking to Lawrence’s dad, Darren, and I have to say he seems like one of the most level-headed moto dads out there. Having that kind of guidance should serve Hunter and Jett well. Darren told me he’s very conscious of how many talented riders have failed to capitalize on their potential, and he reminds his sons of that every few weeks just to keep them level-headed. For the Australian fans, Jett’s pro supercross debut coinciding with Reed’s retirement announcement makes some things go full circle.
By the way, I can’t say enough good things about Melbourne as a city, or of Marvel Stadium as a race venue. I’ll put this city up against any I’ve ever been to. Also, this domed stadium feels exactly like any of the standard ones in the U.S.—you might as well be in Atlanta, Minneapolis, or Indy here. It’s the first Australian Supercross I’ve been to, but the group has told me this is a big step from the usual. Last year’s AUS-X Open took place at an arenacross-sized venue in Sydney, and could only hold about 15,000 fans. This bigger stadium in Melbourne should draw 35,000, which is a good draw for a country with only about a tenth of the population of the United States. Throw in the championship action, Reed’s announcement, Lawrence’s pro supercross debut and more, and it should be one heck of a day. If you’re in the U.S., stay close to the Ausxopen.com site and follow @sxopensupercross on Instagram. I think a link to watch the race live exclusively in the U.S. will pop up on the site (TV broadcast rights are just some of the hoops to jump through down here). Keep in mind Saturday night in Melbourne will be around 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time Friday night in the U.S. Pull an all-nighter so you can watch!
Prado’s Fiesta (Andras Hegyi)
The last weekend was long and busy for the most successful Spanish motocross racer ever, two-time MX2 Motocross World Champion Jorge Prado. On Friday, November 22, a great honor was conferred upon him as he was awarded the most important distinction of the Spanish motorcycle press, a title called Protagonista de la Moto, (Protagonist of the Motorcycle). That honor is awarded by the Spanish motorcycle journalists, including all the motorcycle pressman working in the radio, the television, the internet, and print media, for the best rider of the year. The Spanish motorcycle journalists decide the person to be awarded by means of voting. Honoring Jorge Prado was something of a surprise because today Spanish motorcycle sport is full of megastars, such the 26-year old Marc Marquez, who became the youngest ever eight-time world champion in MotoGP, while the best trial rider of all time, the Spaniard Toni Bou, earned his 50th world title.
Then last Saturday and Sunday, like in 2018, a special race-event celebration was held in Prado’s honor called The Champion, in which the Spanish motocross and motorcycle communities give the young star an ovation for his successes. It was an authentic hot Spanish fiesta that was held at the Motocross Madrid Park, at Valdemorillo, near Madrid, the capital of Spain. Races were organized in four different categories—those races were the 15th round of the Madrid motocross championship—and after the races Prado was the prizegiver. He also conducted a 15-minute special motocross training, and he took part in a procession together with the Spanish motocross kids. That let Spanish motocross fans see Prado riding a 450cc bike for the very first time on Spanish soil. In 2020 Prado will be moving up to the premier class, MXGP, riding for the Red Bull KTM team.
This past season Prado rewrote the history of the Motocross World Championship in the small-bore category, the MX2. He collected 837 points, 16 GP-wins, 31 moto wins, and 14 double-moto wins. All those numbers are records in the small-bore class, in existence since 1975. In addition, Prado became the youngest two-time FIM Motocross World Champion as he took his second title being only 18 years, 7 months, 20 days old. He also took the title with the biggest margin ever, as the gap to his closest competitor in the points standings was a staggering 213 points. The former gap-record belonged to the ten-time world champion Stefan Everts. The Belgian legend had a 210-point margin over the second-ranked rider in 2006 racing in the MX1, when he won 14 of the 15 rounds.
The january 2020 ISSUE OF RACER X MAGAZINE IS NOW AVAILABLE
The January 2020 issue of Racer X magazine is coming to newsstands and mailboxes soon. 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 and read now.
Inside the JANUARY issue of Racer X magazine
- Red Bull Straight Rhythm looked like all fun and games, but the players were in it to win.
- Privateer Marshal Weltin tries to make some cash in the East Coast off-season motocross races including the Racer X Maine Event.
- Our newest staffer got on his first-ever solo flight—straight to Vegas for an old-school weekend of racing and parties.
- Our minicycle buyer’s guide helps you pick exactly the right first bike for your youngster.
All these features and much more inside the January issue.
Poster Info (Print Edition Only)
Hey, Watch It!
LISTEN TO THIS
The Fly Racing Racer X Podcast comes in with Rob "Doc Wobbles" Walters talking about his new Titanium bolt company, his path from England to working for Robbie Reynard, GNCC racing, building vintage bikes, Dave Thorpe, and more.
This week on Episode #142 of the Main Event Moto Podcast, Daniel Blair and Producer Joe take your listener questions. Hang out with them as Daniel focuses on the headlines in the sport. Oh yeah, sometimes it goes off the rails.
Head-Scratching Headline/s of the Week
“Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins missed the last play of the game taking a selfie”—CNN
“Patriots Finally Have Reason to Be Concerned About Tom Brady and the Offense”—Bleacher Report
(The Patriots are 10-1 and have the best record in football.)
“As flu sacks eight Patriots, kicker Nick Folk is out after having an appendectomy”—The Washington Post
“How The Pilgrims Started Black Friday”—AP News
(“The makers of SwampButt Underwear believe that the origins of ‘Black Friday’ are linked to those who first introduced the idea of feasting, giving thanks and post meal purchasing; the Pilgrims.”)
“Papa John's founder John Schnatter ate 40 pizzas in 30 days and says it's gotten worse”—CNN
"Cheaper ingredients. Worse pizza?” starts of the piece.
“A college football player's crude touchdown celebration cost Ole Miss a win in the Egg Bowl”—CNN
The Goon Squad
We noticed a group out of the Midwest that calls themselves The Goon Squad with the goal of giving back to the young racers giving it their all. Here's a bit more about the Squad, and what they're looking for in 2020.
From The Goon Squad:
We are a non‐profit group made up of eight motocross families together with one mission: to give back to the youth of motocross.
In 2019 we gave away a brand new pit bike, a trip to FCA MX camp in Minnesota, ten sets of gear from boots to helmets and a whole bunch more. In 2020 we have teamed up with the local track owners with plans to make our very own three-track series, if the riders qualify by racing six of nine scheduled races (which are also part of the District 23 Minnesota schedule), they will be entered to winning a 65cc dirt bike, a white tail buck hunt, an enclosed deer stand, gear sets, free tires, suspension, and so much more.
If you would like to learn more about us or are curious how you can get involved, please look us up on social media (@TheGoonSquadMX), check out our YouTube channel (The Goon Squad MX) where we will be introducing our very own mini-series and send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!