Racerhead is coming to you from a car racing west from Morgantown to Columbus, Ohio, for tonight’s AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The long-overdue welcome for Ron Lechien will finally happen, as this evening he will be introduced by fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Emig and join a bunch of his old teammates—David Bailey, Broc Glover, Bob Hannah, Ricky Johnson, Johnny O’Mara, and Jeff Ward all come to mind—in the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. He will also be joining a bunch of his San Diego-area neighbors (RJ, Marty Tripes, Marty Smith, John and Rita Gregory, Johnson, and more) in the HOF. It should be a lot of fun to hang out with the Dogger and friends tonight.
It will also be a somber occasion when they induct Kurt Caselli posthumously into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Caselli was killed several years ago when he hit an animal at speed while racing in the Baja 1000. Kurt was not only an amazing and versatile rider, he was a really great guy. He was a motivator, too, advocating for a stronger commitment and better performance from Team USA in the annual International Six Days Enduro. Although the world’s most important off-road race began way back in 1913, no American team had won before Caselli’s passing. Part of his legacy is that, in the time since, Team USA has now won twice, including this year’s event in Portugal. The other part of Caselli’s legacy is his family and friends’ push for safety in off-road motorcycling through the Kurt Caselli Foundation, also known as the KC66 Foundation. Caselli may no longer be with us, but he continues to lead through his legacy.
The AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Class of 2019 is Caselli, Lechien, rights advocate Mark Buckner, trials pioneer Wiltz Wagner, and museum founder Dale Walksler.
Two weeks ago, we wrote about the tragic passing of fomer pro Davey Yezek at the age of 44. If you're nearby and want to pay your respects, there will be an informal service in his honor this Sunday, December 8 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Assunta Club at 205 Oak St. in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania.
Wait, we’re getting an urgent message from Europe….
GENEVA CALLING (Matthes)
The last big off-season race of the year is about to start here in Geneva, Switzerland, and I'm furiously typing this out before the first gate drops! We've had practice, and in both sessions it was a bit of a shocker as Frenchman Cedric “The Entertainer” Soubeyras was fastest. Soubs is a great rider for sure, but it was still a surprise to see him on top of the board the whole time in both practices. As a result, Honda HRC's Justin Brayton; SmarTop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts Honda’s Justin Hill, Malcolm Stewart, and Vince Friese; Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki's Martin Davalos; and Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing's Justin Barcia are all looking up at Soubs to start the night. Go Soubs! (BTW Cedric is racing 250SX East Region.)
The track here in Geneva is way softer than its usual self. The ruts are deep and there are a lot of obstacles tucked into the track, so it's hard for the guys to get some speed up. The whoops are nasty as well, especially when you add in the softness of the dirt.
We're doing pre-race and post-race shows from our little room in the pits, and you can go to pulpmxshow.com to hear those. The pre-race one is up on the PulpMX Show feed now, and the post-race show should be around 5 p.m. EST if you want to hear that. Or head to pulpmx.com to hear the archives as we do them. Thanks to Brayton, Mookie, the 722, and Lewis Phillips for stopping by for the first pre-race one.
Some notes from the Geneva SX pits:
Justin Barcia told me that the addition of Sergio Avante at Yamaha has been a big help, and the bike he's riding here is same one as he rode in Paris except with new chassis additions, which the team had found in the last little bit of practice.
Justin Brayton's gear didn't make it here (should be late tonight), so he found some Fly gear that's the wrong size to wear. He tried some braces from Barcia, he had 722's socks on, and then borrowed some boots that were one size too big for the first practice. The next time out he had some boots from a dealership, so he was a bit happier. He did manage to find a Brayton replica Shoei helmet, though!
Davalos, of course, will be on Team Tedder (bore and stroke!) KTM for Anaheim 1. But for this race he's on a Kawasaki from Pro Circuit. He told me he has very little time on the Kawi and it's definitely different than the KTM he's been on. Still, Marty was fastest in his group over Hill, which is impressive.
And yes, the 722 is here, and he's feeling a bit tired. I didn't get the usual enthusiasm from him.
Pro Perspective (Thomas)
This weekend's Geneva Supercross is one of the best of the off-season. Eric Peronnard and crew do a fantastic job of coordinating riders and taking care of every detail. The arena is large enough for a real supercross track, and the level of difficulty offers separation between rider skill sets. The event pays well, fan turnout is great, and everyone who attends both for fun or to perform is glad they went.
For the riders, Geneva is a good indicator for how off-season progression is coming along. We now sit less than a month away from A1, and riders are beginning to find their form. Testing should be very close to completion (unless you're Justin Brayton and have been in Australia), and this round can be looked at as a dry run for January's opener. The main events at Geneva are longer than usual European rounds, giving a nice barometer for fitness levels, too. The payday always helps, and getting a few gate drops isn't a bad idea either. The factor I always tried to keep in mind was the track itself: the dirt in Europe during this time of year is completely different from anything riders will see at Anaheim. It's soft and sticky, wreaking havoc with settings. Trying to use setting feedback from a race like Geneva going into A1 is a very bad idea. For 2020, however, having St. Louis as the second round could provide an opportunity to use the knowledge gained. The dirt in St. Louis will be similar: tacky and rutty and continuously thawing throughout the weekend.
The fame and fortune of racing in Switzerland doesn't come without compromise. First, these races come with risk. Riders are never impervious to injury, even when the prize money is guaranteed. Adam Cianciarulo got hurt at this event in 2014, Weston Peick had a big injury last year at Paris, and Joey Savatgy suffered a heel injury just last week in Australia. There is always inherent risk in riding or racing, but I know from experience that these races are a very scary proposition for team managers. Some teams (Factory Yamaha) actually required insurance policies specifically for these rounds to ensure their salary for the upcoming season. With those policies rumored to be in the $7-10K range per round, it's just another consideration that has to be weighed.
For riders like Justin Brayton, these races are a no-brainer. There is simply too much money to be made. Yes, there is probably a price paid come March and April with burnout and fatigue. Riders like Eli Tomac and Ken Roczen are in a financial position to focus 100 percent of their efforts onto the upcoming season, even if they are passing up a potential $300,000 to 500,000 if they chose a full slate of off-season events. They are paid handsomely to win events in the USA, and their decision reflects that. It's always going to be an individual decision based on one's unique situation. For myself, I raced anywhere, anytime. I wasn't ever going to win a race in the USA at the highest level, so my decision was easy. If there were American or Australian dollars, British pounds, euros, Italian lira, French or Swiss francs, German deutschemarks, South African rand—whatever—up for grabs, you could find me suiting up and battling that country's best SX riders.
Injury, Injury (Weigandt)
As soon as I saw Joey Savatgy hit the ground, and his Suzuki RM-Z450 go bouncing down the track in Australia without him, I knew the news wouldn’t be good. The Racesafe medics at the AUS-X Open were quickly to him (and credit Joey’s buddy Ricky Carmichael for stopping on the jump and making sure everyone could see Joey was down) but Joey was obviously in huge pain, with most attention focused on his lower leg. I thought maybe Joey had suffered a tib-fib or an ankle injury, but instead he had broken his heel, which is a very painful injury. At the track, there were fears he wouldn’t be able to get on a plane due to swelling and pressure and would have to get surgery in Australia and stay there for an extended time. That’s especially sad for Joey, who is a new dad. Luckily after a few days he was able to board a flight home, and he underwent surgery in California. While a timetable for Joey’s return to racing isn’t set, I did hear surgery revealed the injury wasn’t quite as bad as first feared. Joey won’t be back soon, but he will be back sooner than it first appeared.
Just when you start thinking these off-season races are too dangerous and riders should stay home, though, we get another big name knocked out of action due to an incident at the test track. Marvin Musquin was slowly getting back into form after missing loads of riding time with a knee injury. Then, he tweaked that knee again, and now he needs surgery that will cost him the full 2020 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship. Score this one a draw between the risks of racing and not racing in the off-season. And get well soon, guys.
Monster Responsibilities (Jason Weigandt)
In somewhat-related-to-supercross news, Monster Energy has ended its three-year run as the title sponsor of NASCAR Cup racing. This news didn’t come as a surprise, as in fact even this last 2019 season represented only a one-year extension of Monster’s original NASCAR deal. In the meantime, NASCAR had been hinting that its next big sponsorship arrangement would be devoid of a title sponsor altogether, and instead offer up a few separate brands in different categories. Indeed, NASCAR has announced four different sponsors: Coca-Cola, GEICO, Busch Beer, and Xfinity.
It’s pretty clear now that Monster never made a fit with NASCAR the way it has with dirt bikes. The title sponsorship of Monster Energy Supercross has stretched over a decade now, and sponsorship with race teams like Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki goes even further, with no end in sight. I’ve also heard that the entire title-sponsor model at NASCAR had run into some trouble. Previous title sponsors in NASCAR, such as RJ Reynolds (running the cigarette brand Winston) and Sprint/Nextel (mobile phone carriers) not only sponsored the series, but then spent many millions more sponsoring tracks, drivers, races, and of course buying lots of media, including millions more in TV commercials. NASCAR is no longer in its heyday, though, and with audiences shrinking, that title-sponsor money tree doesn’t produce as much fruit. (There are estimates that Sprint was paying $75 million to be title sponsor, but then spent over $100 million in the sport total through support of other programs.)
By breaking up the sponsor package, there should be more flexibility for tracks/drivers/teams/races/broadcasters to get in on the money. ESPN’s story on the deal contained these key phrases:
All four of the premier partners will be featured in multiple platforms across the sport, including integrations in broadcast, NASCAR digital and social channels, event entitlements, in-market promotions and at-track activations.
"This new model will provide our premier partners with a heightened level of integration and visibility across all aspects of our sport," said Daryl Wolfe, NASCAR executive vice president and chief sales and operations officer.
It’s easy to poke at NASCAR for a shrinking audience and aging demographic, but it’s also facing headwinds from another side. For many brands, Google and Facebook advertising, which wasn’t even a thing not that long ago, has taken over the lion’s share of the advertising budget. NASCAR is going to batten down the hatches with some of its favored brands and hope that flexibility and partnerships prove good alternatives now that the mega-money trees are growing elsewhere.
Here Comes Keefer! (Kris Keefer)
I have been reading Racer X for as long as I can remember and have been a subscriber even when I was the senior test editor over at Dirt Rider magazine. My longtime friend Jerry Bernardo (remember MW2?) introduced me to Davey Coombs as well as his dirt bike lifestyle “newspaper” at one of those random LBZ parties in Anaheim years ago, and I have been hooked ever since. I’m not going to lie: when I heard David Pingree was leaving, I was bummed out, because I enjoy Ping’s humor and appreciate how he gets his words across on camera when he evaluates new bikes. When you think of Racer X Films, you think Ping!
When I got the call soon thereafter to see if I would be interested in helping Racer X Online with bike introductions, builds, and the occasional feature story, I knew I was up for the challenge. I created the media portion of Keefer Inc. Testing almost three years ago because I wanted to bring a no-BS, honest, more in-depth way of testing to the consumer, and it has been a very rewarding experience. I now get the honor to bring that style of motorcycle testing over to Racer X Films for your viewing pleasure, but also have the opportunity to keep The Keefer Tested Podcast going on a weekly basis on the Racer X Podcast Network. I promise to continue to bring the fun into dirt bike testing over here, but will be adding a ton of digestible testing information so you can come away more knowledgeable. I know my face isn't as pretty as Ping’s, but I am currently trying to grow a mustache.
I can’t tell you how excited I am that I also get to continue the Keefer Inc. Testing duties as well as bring more motorcycle R&D analysis to Racer X Online. To be a Racer X editor-at-large is an honor for me, and I want that title to benefit every Racer X reader/viewer out there who has any setup or new bike/part questions. I want to keep that open line of communication going between media testing brand and consumer, so as always, if you have any dirrt-bike-related questions, you can always mail those over to firstname.lastname@example.org. I can hopefully keep steering you in the right direction so you have more ammo to convince your significant other that you in fact DO need that new bike or shiny new part in your garage. See you guys at the track!
[Ed. note: Welcome aboard, Keefer! And readers who want to check out his style can read his first Racer X magazine feature, “In with the Old,” about his and Matthes’ experiences in the Dubya USA World Vet Championships at Glen Helen Raceway—in which Keefer won a class and Matthes did not—in the February 2020 issue which comes out next week. Subscribe here!]
The Red Riders (Aaron Hansel)
Earlier this week, Honda formally introduced the four teams they’ll be supporting in the motocross and supercross racing realms in 2020. A multitude of media showed up at the Honda test track for the presentation and to watch the guys burn laps, and there was also plenty of one-on-one time for us to chat with riders and team personnel. As a member of the media, these types of events are great. Not only do you get to interact with riders and industry folk in a relaxed setting outside of the stress-filled race day environment, but it’s also an opportunity to get some perspective that will come in handy once the gates start dropping.
One of the biggest takeaways for me was the feeling that Honda seems to be moving toward creating a family of teams with an aim toward providing support to anyone on a red machine. Whether it’s a random Honda rider at a GNCC getting a hand from David Eller’s Phoenix Racing squad or a privateer on a Honda racing their local supercross round receiving help from the factory team, it was communicated that the goal is to spread support and lend a hand to anyone on the brand when possible. As for Honda’s teams, they’re looking pretty strong this year.
Honda HRC: Roczen’s had his share of hurdles these past few seasons, but he’s injury-free right now and said he’s got a much better handle on the health condition that was holding him back in 2019. I’d never seen him ride on the Honda test track before, but not surprisingly, he looked pretty effortless, so I was amused when I heard him tell Chase Sexton that he really “had to give her the berries” to get through a certain section of the track, and that Sexton might not even make it on his 250.
I had a chance to chat with Justin Brayton, too, who has been doing quite a lot of racing during the off-season and has even more outings planned before A1. Brayton explained his main aim was to get as many real-world gate drops in as possible before January, and that he feels like he’ll be coming into Anaheim halfway through the season already. That’s a good thing. He also joked about getting more fans in 2020 because Kenny’s autograph line is going to be so long.
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SmarTop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts Honda: Hey, did you know this team has two championship riders on the roster? Yep, Justin Hill and Malcolm Stewart, both of whom own 250SX regional titles. Vince Friese is on the team, too, and at this point it’s pretty weird to remember the era when the team wasn’t taken very seriously. Those days are clearly gone—Factory Honda doesn’t dole out support to bozos—and they’ve got a real shot at securing some really fantastic 450SX finishes in 2020. Malcolm Stewart looked like he was ready to have a breakout season before breaking his femur in Glendale, and if his recent podium finish at the Monster Energy Cup is any indication, he’ll be picking up where he left off.
Justin Hill didn’t have the season he wanted last year, but he seemed pretty happy with his current situation. When I talked to him, he mentioned how happy he is with Tony Alessi and that he always does whatever he can to make the rider happy, both on and off the bike, even if it’s a small thing like helping Hill find a place to store his boat. Hill also said he thinks he pushed too hard during the off-season last year and came into 2019 depleted. And of course Friese has followed the arc of the team, vastly improving over the last few seasons. If that trend continues, the squad’s got a very real shot at having their best season yet.
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GEICO Honda: Where to start with this team? They've got three riders who've never raced supercross in America with Jo Shimoda, Hunter Lawrence, and Jett Lawrence, and they've got Jeremy Martin finally returning after seriously injuring his back in 2018. Then there's Christian Craig, who is fighting his suspension in an effort to be ready for A1 (Craig tested positive for a banned substance and received a suspension from WADA, which you can read about in an interview with him right here). Finally, defending 250SX East Region Champion Chase Sexton, who'll be joining the factory Honda HRC 450 team for the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, will try to defend his title in his final year in the class. Up top, Josh Wisenor will be beginning his first full season as team manager after taking over for Dan Betley , who retired earlier this year during the nationals.
There’s a lot going on there, but some of the biggest news is the addition of Ryan Dungey as a minority owner of the team. There’s been plenty of speculation online about a messy breakup with Dungey’s departure from KTM, but in person, Dungey seemed amused by it and just about rolled his eyes when I asked about it, stressing that his relationship with his old team and brand is still great. There’s also been some half-baked conspiracy theories thrown around that this is an undercover chess move by KTM and Dungey to eventually lure the team away from Honda, which has supported the squad for over two decades. C’mon, man! If you want to come up with absurd ideas, you can use the one I came up with: Dungey bought part of the team so he could boss around his brother Jade (Sexton’s mechanic).
Lastly, if anyone at GEICO Honda is reading this, could you please make sure the Lawrence brothers race the same coast? The two brothers joked (I think) plenty about taking each other out to repay one another for smack talk, and it’s going to be fun seeing them go at it on the track—and even better interviewing them afterward. Oh, and noted sweets connoisseur Jett wore socks with donuts on them. They are going to be fun in 2020!
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Phoenix Racing Honda: Although Phoenix Racing Honda has very strong efforts in GNCC, ATV Motocross, and Kicker Arenacross, 2020 will mark their most serious effort in supercross. The team was supposed to make a go of it last year with Justin Bogle and Kyle Cunningham, but things fell through, which painted the team in a light that owner David Eller wasn’t, and still isn’t, fond of. We interviewed him semi-recently about it, and it turns out there was a lot more to it than what was known at the time, so it’s good to see them back at it a year later. Jace Owen, who’ll be sporting the #1 plate, and Kyle Peters will start off in Arenacross until the 250SX East Region begins. At that point, Peters will join the supercross ranks. Peters has been a solid and consistent rider for years and is a good pick to lead the team’s efforts. I think he’s also a great match for Eller, who above all else seems to value riders with positive and respectful attitudes who know how to act like professionals.
Max is Back (Andras Hegyi)
Max Anstie is returning to the U.S. from MXGP in 2020 for HEP Motorsports Suzuki. This somewhat surprising return will be the second SX/MX stint in America for the 26-year-old Englishman. Anstie basically grew up with one boot in Europe and one in America, as his father, Mervyn, a former Grand Prix racer, married an American. Max was often a title contender at all of the big amateur races on both continents. In 2008, as a member of what is now KTM's Orange Brigade, Max won the first moto of the SuperMini 12-15 class at Loretta Lynn's. Behind him, in order, were Eli Tomac, Justin Bogle, Jeremy Martin, and Jacob Hayes. But after finishing third in the second moto, Max lost his title shot when he crashed out of the third and final race. Anstie did get two titles at the Paris-Bercy Supercross, one in 85cc and the other in the 125cc class; he was also once runner-up in the 85cc FIM World Championship, and he finished third in the 85cc European Championships.
Anstie turned pro in 2009 and raced here full-time for two years, and then in '12 and '13 he did some early rounds of Monster Energy AMA Supercross. But Anstie’s first American career did not quite fulfill the hopes and expectations he had, as he was not able to get any podiums on the AMA circuit.
Between 2011 and now, Anstie was a regular in the FIM Motocross World Championships. In 2015 he was third overall in the MX2 category, behind Tim Gajser and Pauls Jonass. In the history of MX2, in existence since 2004, Anstie is the only rider to win with three different brands (Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Husqvarna). And during his MX2 career, between 2011 and '16, Anstie collected six wins and 14 podiums in all.
Max took part in the premier MXGP class between 2017 and '19, earning six podiums. He also became something of a specialist at Lommel, Belgium, arguably the most difficult sand track in the world. Anstie won there three times, so look out for him at WW Ranch as well as Southwick.
Finally, Max's best race ever was the 2017 Motocross of Nations in his home country. As a member of Team Great Britain, he helped put an end to a two-decades-long podiumless streak. Anstie swept both of his motos to win the MXGP category.
Although the friendly and funny Max Anstie will be returning to the U.S. without any world titles, he is certainly a world-class rider and could be a contender, especially next summer in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship.
Welcome back, Max!
Bonus: Our colleagues in the UK at MXVice.com posted a recent interview with Anstie, aptly named "Chatterbox," which you can read right here.
Hey, Watch It!
Check out this Rocky Mountain ATV/MC video as they catch up with James Stewart at the JS7 Ride Day:
LISTEN TO THIS
The conversation after this year's Monster Energy AUS-X Open drifted in a different direction. While the post-race press conference is supposed to allow race winners and champions to talk about their night and their season, nearly every rider on the stage—Chad Reed, Jason Anderson, Justin Brayton, Chris Blose, Dan Reardon, and Josh Hill—mentioned the perspective and enjoyment they've gained as they continued racing at an older age. For Reed, Brayton, and Blose, that includes defying the odds of conventional competitiveness; for Hill and Reardon, it included comebacks from retirement. Even Anderson, only 26, feels he's gained much maturity in the last year. There's only one exception to this concept: the 16-year-old Jett Lawrence, who added some hilarity to the conversation and also explained his background with Reed.
Jason Weigandt hosts the event, and you'll enjoy the perspective of some of the wise men of this business.
The Fly Racing Racer X Podcast comes in with The Familie’s Chris “Beeks” Onstott talking about his decision to leave Fox to go to the Familie Agency, his beginnings in the sport at THOR, getting the job at Fox, being a FOMC, Racer X work, working with Stew, and much more.
This week on Episode #143 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
“Amazon pulls Auschwitz-themed Christmas ornaments”—BBC News
“Sports Illustrated reports that Sports Illustrated disputes Sports Illustrated’s report that USC has fired Clay Helton”—Awful Announcing
"This is the worst idea I ever had... I started a Supercross team." YouTube.com on ML512's latest adventure.
"Receiver at Colin Kaepernick's NFL workout lands a job with Washington"—Twitter
“Peloton says you 'misinterpreted' its much-maligned holiday ad”—CNN Business
“Snoop Dogg Is Now An Announcer In NHL 20, Might Mess Around And Become The Next Doc Emrick”—Barstool Sports
We found a good read on the MXA site, written by Jody Weisel himself. The article is a look back at what the headline calls, "The Biggest Disaster in Motocross History," the Cannondale motocross bike from nearly 20 years ago.
We noticed some really cool drawings and animations from French illustrator Cyril Calmeau on Instagram of 2020 Monster Energy Supercross contenders trying to get a hold of the #1 plate. Check them out at @6rilmx.
Three-time Canadian National Champion and German Supercross Champion, Matt Goerke suffered a serious injury during qualifying at the Int. Supercross Chemnitz, at Fair Chemnitz, Germany on November 30th.
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#R2RFund started for @mattgoerke after he suffered a serious injury during qualifying at the Int. Supercross Chemnitz, at Fair Chemnitz, Germany on November 30th. Goerke crashed while jumping through a large triple section and landed extremely short on the jump. The impact of the crash caused the majority of his injuries, fracturing his spine at the L2 vertebrae and broke his left clavicle. For more information on @mattgoerke injuries and how you can help click the link in our bio. PC- @lissimorephoto
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid’EH Update #49.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!