Welcome to Racerhead #52, the last one of 2019 and the decade that was the… what, Twenty-Tens? Twenty-Teens? No matter, here's hoping that everyone is having a great holiday season so far and that you got the moto gift you were hoping for on Christmas morning. Personally, I got exactly what I wanted: Don Emde's amazing new book, The Speed Kings, about the rise and fall of what used to known as "motordrome" racing on board tracks in the early days of American motorcycle racing. It's a big, beautiful book about a chapter of our history that's been largely lost to time. You can get one right here.
Speaking of history, please stop by Racer X Online on Tuesday, December 31, when we post our last column of every year, The Lives They Lived. It's a salute and memorial to some of the moto friends we lost along the way in this most recent lap around the sun. Sadly, some of those folks were people everyone here at Racer X knew and cared deeply for.
We've been writing Racerhead every Friday since the start of this millennium, so we're two decades into it and still going strong. This last decade has been a lot of fun, though if you had told me on the last Friday of 2009 some of the things that would completely change before the last Friday of 2019, I might not have believed you—nor may I have wanted to in many cases. For me, the worst development since '09 was a non-development, as in the inability of the motorcycling industry to turn itself back around following the recession that ended the last decade. After the numbers of sales of new motorcycles dwindled, so did the number of riders at local races. Like a lot of people, I kept thinking it was just a matter of time before sales bounced back to those tantalizing 2006-era numbers that were record highs, but a crowded marketplace and changes in what people do with their recreational time have conspired to make buying a motorcycle less of a priority than it was just ten years ago. Back then, we didn't spend so much "screen time" on TV and computers as we do now on smartphones, social media, Netflix, etc. There is also the cost of entry for motocross, which actually began to change earlier than 2010 with the switch from two-strokes to four-strokes, and the subsequent dwindling of the two-stroke market. Yes, there's certainly a revival now, but in 2010 the Japanese OEMs were all-in on four-stroke-only, with the exception of Yamaha.
The lack of new riders at the local level also began hurting some of the bigger amateur races, and in time that cost the sport both the World Mini Grand Prix and the NMA Grand Nationals at Ponca City, Oklahoma, as well as the old Spring Classic at Lake Whitney, Texas, then later the Spring Classic at Mill Creek in Alabama. And then the whole AMA National Arenacross Championship as we knew it went away, though a revival of sorts will begin with a different promoter this coming weekend.
The motocross publishing business also got turned upside down. That weekly bible of motorcycle racing, Cycle News, stopped printing, though it remains in a very slick and readable online format at www.cyclenews.com. Dirt Rider and Cycle World also ceased publication in paper form. But the biggest shock was when Transworld Motocross was stopped in its formidable tracks after a new buyer of the parent publishing company decided it didn't want to be in the sports business. (Our friends Donn Maeda and Michael Antonovich have kept their work going strong with www.swapmotolive.com).
But it hasn't been all bad news. Some of the bigger events in motocross are thriving, like Monster Energy AMA Supercross, Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, and the Monster Energy FIM Motocross World Championship (MXGP). The Loretta Lynn's AMA Amateur National Championship is as big as ever, and so are the THOR Mini O's and the Mammoth Mountain Motocross Classic. And newer amateur events have emerged to fill some of the gaps that formed, like the Ricky Carmichael Daytona Amateur Supercross, the James Stewart Freestone Spring Classic in Texas, the Baja Brawl in Michigan, the Maine Event up north.... If you build it, they will come, right?
I happened to have the January 20, 2010 issue of Cycle News near my desk. It features James Stewart on the cover, riding a San Manuel Yamaha YZ450F on his way to the win at the Anaheim SX opener. No one could have known at the time that it was the last time Stewart would be featured on the cover of Cycle News, as well as the last time he would be on a cover wearing #1. (Same goes for the June 2, 2010 Cycle News cover showing Chad Reed wearing #1 after he won the 450 National opener at Hangtown alongside some newcomer in the 250 class named Eli Tomac, who was still an amateur when Anaheim '10 happened.) One week after Stewart's cover for taking the Anaheim 1 win, the Ryans—Dungey and Villopoto—would begin to assert themselves as the dominant 450 riders in America.
The 2010 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross schedule that was published in that first issue included five stops that would not be there for long. Glen Helen would cancel their scheduled race in March and opt into the FIM World Championships for a couple of years, only to return in 2014, then leave again in 2019. Southwick was also on the 2010 schedule but would leave after 2013, then fortunately come back to stay in 2016. Steel City in Delmont, Pennsylvania, would host its last outdoor national in 2012, and Freestone in Wortham, Texas, would hold its last pro national that same year, though the track continues to thrive and hold big amateur and regional events. What you don’t see are future rounds/missteps that would come and go at Lake Elsinore and Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, as well as the first Glen Helen replacement (Pala), which then would become the second Glen Helen replacement, only under a different name (Fox Raceway) and management. I sure didn't see that coming. I am glad there's still a national in the Southeast, but I'm surprised that it didn't work out at Muddy Creek in Tennessee (but they’re off to a good start at WW Ranch in Jacksonville, Florida).
But back to that Stewart cover. We all know what troubles were ahead for "the fastest man on the planet," but we didn't know them before that first race of the decade. We did know that Jason Lawrence was in a freefall, as Cycle News reported that J-Law had just gotten out of jail on Christmas Eve after serving four months of a one-year sentence. He qualified but didn't finish the 450 main event. And looking at the results of that Anaheim 2010 opener—and this is an astonishing stat—there wasn't a single KTM in the 450 main event, let alone a Husqvarna! Now, ten years later, KTM/Husqvarna have won the last five AMA 450 Supercross Championships in a row.
The point of this is that no one had a crystal ball back at the start of the 2010s, and if they did, they almost certainly didn't see the rise of the Ryans, the strife and mercurial years to come for both James and Chad, the emergence of KTM (and subsequently Husqvarna) on the AMA stage, the end of Arenacross and the World Mini GP and so many other events….
Nor would anyone probably have foreseen the demise of Team USA and the rise of France at the Motocross of Nations, the ongoing greatness of Antonio Cairoli in MXGP, the fast rise of Jorge Prado in MX2, or that the-fastest-man-on-the-planet right now by pretty much all accounts would be a Flying Dutchman name Jeffrey Herlings. Electric KTM minicycles, the continued success of Red Bull Straight Rhythm (using two-strokes), Team USA becoming the force in the ISDEs, the demise of superbike racing in America, the revival of flat track racing, the disappearance of Nuclear Cowboyz—all of those are things we might not have imagined when that first checkered flag fell on January 9, 2010.
But the two most surprising developments of all nearly happened on the same day in the last week. First, that lifelong bachelor and all-around great guy Jeff Cernic got married—congrats, Jeff!—and then Travis Pastrana parked his Suzukis after 28 years and showed up on Christmas Eve aboard his new KTMs. Wow on both counts.
Here's wishing a safe and happy new year for everyone, as well as some good luck on a brand-new decade. Thanks for stopping by and reading Racerhead. Same time, same place next year (Friday)?
With exactly eight days to go until Anaheim 1 and the opening round of the 2020 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship, let me turn it over here to Jason Weigandt:
West is Best? (Jason Weigandt)
I messed up last week. I said that our sport is lucky to get the season started right after the holidays. That's cool and that's fun, but that’s just for the fans. For those plugging away on race teams, it’s not good at all. I know plenty of team people who are absolutely grinding right now in the scramble to get ready for Anaheim. What’s traditionally a holiday week is one of the hardest-working weeks of the year for a motocross mechanic. Taking the week off between Christmas and New Year's? No chance if you're a mechanic. The reward when all that work is done? The mega-grind of missing nearly every single weekend at home for the next nine months. Just to provide an extreme example, Ben Schiermeyer, mechanic for Chad Reed, has told me he has been working 15- to 17-hour days to help get Chad’s bikes set for the season. Chad’s not on an existing team, so he, Ben, Dan Truman, and some others have to essentially build a new team from scratch. Every day in December counts. Merry Christmas!
Last night, we recorded our annual preseason predictions podcast with myself, Steve Matthes, and Jason Thomas previewing Monster Energy Supercross for 2020. We could only discuss the 450 class because we don’t know which riders are racing which coasts in the 250s, which cued an annual rant from Matthes and prevented us from diving into the class. One simple chess piece can change the entire landscape in the 250s. We can assume Dylan Ferrandis will race West to show off his 1W, but what about Austin Forkner? Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki's decision on East or West could change the whole dynamic of everything. So, without that knowledge, how can you make predictions?
Shout to the Rockstar Energy/Husqvarna racing team for announcing today what riders will race where. A press release explained that Michael Mosiman will race west, and new recruit RJ Hampshire will race east alongside rookie Jalek Swoll. That's how it's done, boys.
This chess game is standard fare for the off-season, and teams can get away with it because so much of the pre-Anaheim chat is about the 450s. That’s the hype, that’s the attention. Fans don’t care about the 250s nearly as much right now, so it’s kind of a side story, which allows teams to slip under the radar. So, I don’t think this practice is going to change. Too bad, really, because we’d love to add some 250 bench-racing to the mix in the run up to Anaheim.
As for the 450s, here was the main point we discussed in last night’s podcast: Cooper Webb was maybe not the fastest rider every single week last year, but he was the most consistent, and put himself in the best positions. He had some amazing wins, but he also had weekends where things looked shaky only for him to pull it together when it counted in the main. This year, we find out if that makes Cooper lucky or good. Did the ball just happen to bounce his way? Is there something about his race craft that allows him to do this over and over again? That’s the crux of the whole thing—is Cooper’s path repeatable? It’s easy to predict a repeat champion if a dude is just way, way faster than everyone else every week. Cooper’s approach has always been different. He wins with race craft, mental toughness and smarts and then last year he added incredible starts to his game. It’s hard to put a watch or a gauge on that, which makes it a harder thing to predict. That only makes 2020 that much more interesting.
Oh, and here is the NBC Sports television schedule for the 2020 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship:
WHO'S PLAYING? (Steve Matthes)
Imagine buying some tickets to the Los Angeles Kings vs. Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game, but you show up and it's actually the Anaheim Ducks vs. Ottawa. This is an analogy that works when it comes to our sport because you know showing up next week at Anaheim you're going to see all the 450 stars of supercross, just as you expected, but we won't know who we're seeing when it comes to the 250SX class, because no one knows for certain who’s racing where. This a complete joke. The 250SX riders get the same amount of points as the 450 guys, the powers that be change the rules so the riders can stay down longer, they get a significant amount of TV time, and the salaries for the top 250 riders are huge. But despite all this, we have no idea who's actually racing next week when the season begins!
We're trying to get eyeballs on our sport, trying to break through the 1,000 channels on your TV, and we have teams that won't tell the fans and media who is ACTUALLY RACING? I get it. Sometimes injuries happen and you have to switch the riders from one coast to another, but the teams should be made to release a list of who is going to race which coast. Spare me the head games of trying to psych out the competition or whatever the reason is. (Mitch Payton told me he does this so that if he told his riders they're not racing East at the end of February then they won't be 100 percent ready if an injury happens to a West guy and they have to suddenly be moved up earlier.) It's another thing that makes me shake my head at what we're doing. There's zero hype or talk or bench racing about the 250 class right now, and that's not good. I understand breaking the class into East-West divisions, but what I don’t get is why they play keep-away with the actual roster. If the NFL did that, there would be riots in the virtual streets. People love building their own teams and playing in fantasy leagues, and that passion has certainly benefited the NFL when it comes to pregame hype and live TV numbers. What we’re doing with our 250SX rosters in supercross seems counterproductive to helping grow the sport.
I'll now get off my soapbox. See you next week, everyone!
Lego MX (Davey Coombs)
In the past we've been lucky enough to have our friend at @lego.mx on Instagram do a cover of Racer X magazine for us featuring Jason Anderson as he was working his way to the 2018 Monster Energy AMA Supercross title. Now we're stoked to feature another artist, @legomotox, and he also did an homage to a new Racer X magazine cover that features a rider getting ready to defend his AMA Supercross title: Red Bull KTM's Cooper Webb. Give both of these guys a follow on Instagram; they both have really good stuff!
(And when you're checking out @legomotox, make sure to scroll through the Racer X cover as he shows a little behind-the-scenes on how he built out the Cooper Webb cover.)
The Twenty-Tens (Andras Hegyi)
With 2019 coming to a close, so is the second decade of the 21st century. The 2010s offered some fantastic performances, amazing individual achievements, some awesome teamwork, and some superb brand advances in the motocross world.
Dungey’s Seven: Between 2010 and '19 there were 30 major titles distributed in Monster Energy AMA Supercross and Lucas Oil Pro Motocross. There were also 20 AMA Regional 250SX titles awarded. All told, the titles were divided among 24 different riders. The most successful among them was Ryan Dungey. Riding first for Rockstar/Makita Suzuki and then Red Bull KTM, he picked up seven AMA titles in this last decade, despite retiring after winning a fourth supercross title in 2017.
Kawasaki’s Sixteen: Between 2010 and ’19 there were six different brands to win AMA titles. The most successful was Kawasaki, as riders on green were able to take 16 AMA titles in all. Kawi got eight titles in both supercross and motocross. The most successful Kawasaki rider was Ryan Villopoto, who took six AMA titles in the saddle of a Kawi between 2010 and 2019. The 10-time AMA champion Villopoto, who raced his last AMA Supercross in 2014, was also the most successful in 450SX, as he got the most wins and four straight titles (2011-'14).
Tomac’s Mixed Records: Eli Tomac became one of the biggest American motocross stars in the 2010s. He got five titles in all (counting his 250SX title), and he became the first Kawasaki rider to win three titles in the history of the 250/450 Class MX Championship. But Tomac is short of two relevant titles: he has never been able to be champion in 450SX nor has been able to win the Motocross of Nations as a member of Team USA. With 27 main-event wins, Tomac has the most victories without winning the SX championship.
Team USA's Problems: At the Motocross of Nations, which have existed since 1947, Team USA is the most successful team, with 22 wins—all of them since the first win in 1981. Team USA dominated in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. But in the 2010s, Team USA was pushed into the background, as the Americans scored only two victories at the MXoN, in 2010 and '11.
Italy's Best Decade: Between 2010 and '19, Italian motocrossers were the most successful in the FIM Motocross World Championship. There were 34 titles in all, and the Italians got 12 of them. The nine-time world champion Antonio Cairoli took six titles in the last decade and also became the most successful Italian motocrosser ever. In addition, Cairoli became the second most successful rider ever in the history of the championship, in existence since 1957, behind only 10-time world champion Stefan Everts of Belgium. And another Italian motocrosser became the most successful female rider ever in the FIM Women’s World Championship, in existence since 2008: Kiara Fontanesi took six world titles between 2010 and '19. Fontanesi also has one AMA Amateur National Championship from Loretta Lynn's, which she won back in 2007 in the Girls (9-13) class.
Best Decade for the Dutch: Dutch motocrossers had a great run in the 1980s and early '90s with their first three FIM World Champions: Dave Strijbos, John Van den Berk, and Pedro Tragter. Beginning in 2012, Jeffrey Herlings rewrote the history of both Dutch motocross and the FIM World Championship. With four world titles, Herlings became the most successful Dutch motocrosser ever, as well as the most successful ever in the small-bore 125cc/MX2 category. In addition, the most successful premier-class season ever in the world championship also belongs to Herlings, who a record-breaking MXGP season in 2018. Herlings also helped Team Holland finally get its maiden victory at the Motocross of Nations in 2019, as well as a stunning cameo win at the 2017 Ironman National in Indiana.
France’s Five: French motocrossers obtained some successes both in the FIM World Championship and the AMA championships. In the world championships, Marvin Musquin, Jordi Tixier, Romain Febvre, and Livia Lancelot each collected a title. And on the AMA Supercross circuit, Musquin, Christophe Pourcel, and Dylan Ferrandis each won 250SX titles. But the biggest successes for France in the last decade came at the Motocross of Nations. Team France had five consecutive wins there between 2014 and '18. The leader of Team France was Gautier Paulin. Despite not having any individual world titles, he does have a record at the Nations. Besides Team USA legend David Bailey, Paulin is only the second rider to get at least five consecutive victories at the Motocross of Nations.
New Winners: Between 2010 and '19, there were brand-new powers to emerge in the global motocross scene, mainly in the FIM Motocross World Championship. There were four new countries to get world titles: Spain, Switzerland, Latvia, and Slovenia. The two-time MX2 World Champion Jorge Prado of Spain became one of the most successful small-bore riders ever, and he had the most successful small-bore season ever in 2019. And three-time world champion Tim Gajser of Slovenia became one of the most successful Honda pilots ever in the FIM World Championship with three titles so far, including 2019 MXGP title.
KTM Rules: Among the brands, KTM was the most successful in the FIM World Championship, and one of the most successful ones on the AMA circuit. Between 2010 and '19 there were 34 world titles to win, and KTM picked up 19 of them. KTM now has 39 world titles in all, which means it has become the most successful brand ever in the history of the FIM World Championship. KTM also rewrote their history on the AMA circuit by getting their very first victories in both the 450SX and 450 MX series, as well as their first wins. Between 2010 and '19, KTM took 10 AMA titles in all. KTM was also successful with Husqvarna, a brand they purchased during the decade. Between 2010 and '19, Husky got four AMA titles in all, picking up its maiden 450SX title, 125/250 SX title, and 125/250 MX titles too.
Cycle USA (DC)
In the intro, we mentioned some of the bigger publications from 2010 that are no longer in print. Well, if you think the national newsstand has been hit hard, local print media has arguably been hit harder. We’ve lost count of all the local and regional papers that have gone away, and that includes our own Racing Paper, which was dedicated to PAMX and AMA District 5. Well, now we need to bid farewell to the print version of Cycle USA, which has been around for 28 years. Published by Chuck Melcher out of Wisconsin, the paper has spent nearly three decades informing readers and racing families and fans about the races in their area: motocross, arenacross, off-road, flat track, ice racing, you name it, Cycle USA had it covered. The last issue includes coverage of the 50th season of Byron, Illinois’ Motorsports Park, one of the longest continuously running motocross tracks in America.
The end of Cycle USA’s print run will certainly leave a big void in the Midwest racing scene, but you can find ongoing information, as well as archived past issues, at www.cycleusa.com. Congratulations, and thank you to everyone who ever worked on or contributed to Cycle USA. It was a job well done.
The February 2020 ISSUE OF RACER X MAGAZINE IS NOW AVAILABLE
The February 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 February issue of Racer X magazine
- Red Bull KTM’s Cooper Webb is the 2019 Racer X Rider of the Year.
- The legendary Paris Supercross may have lacked some star power, but that may not have been a bad thing.
- Racer X’s Trent Lopez hit the gym, pounded out laps, and entered the brutal Ironman GNCC, just to see if he could do it. (He could.)
- Steve Matthes and Kris Keefer entered the Dubya USA World Vet Motocross Championships at Glen Helen, then sat down for a chat about their weekend.
All these features and much more inside the February issue.
Hey, Watch It!
2020 Monster Energy Racer X Supercross Preview: Episode 1, Championship Fire 2020 Monster Energy Racer X Supercross Preview: Episode 2, brothers in arms 2020 Monster Energy Racer X Supercross Preview: Episode 3, Breakthrough Boys
LISTEN TO THIS
The Fly Racing Racer X Podcast comes in with JT and Weege joining me to preview what we think is going to happen in 2020 450SX. Don’t hold us to any of these predictions please and thank you!
The Fly Racing Racer X Podcast comes in a chat with Boyesen Engineering owner Dag Boyesen on how business is these days, his dad Eyvind’s idea to start the company, the roots of the reeds, Boyesen Racing Team, his own career in racing, and more.
This week on the Main Event MotoPodcast, Chris Cooksey interviews Daniel Blair on his past, present, and future. 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
“Lawyer claims he killed fox with baseball bat while wearing wife's kimono, sparks backlash”—Foxnews.com
“MICKEY, MINNIE AND DONALD It Ain't Such A Happy Place 'CAUSE WE'RE GETTIN' GROPED!!!”— TMZ.com
“COCA-COLA Plans to Offer Cannabis Drink?”—Drudge Report
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid’EH Update #52.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!