Welcome to Racerhead, on Friday the 13th, a date which has long been thought to be an unlucky one on this planet … but I don’t think anyone ever thought we would all find ourselves dealing with what has suddenly become the entire world’s collective and very immense challenge.
Wow, what a difference a week makes. Last Saturday we were focused on a tie for the points lead in the 2020 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship and the 50th running of the Daytona Supercross. Thousands of amateur motocross, vintage, and GNCC riders were also headed to the Sunshine State for what promised to be an epic, extended weekend of racing. And it was. But now, just a few days later, Daytona seems very far away and a long time ago, and our whole world is suddenly a much different place. The growing pandemic that is the COVID-19 coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the planet and our sports world, causing the immediate suspension or outright cancellation of everything from tomorrow night’s Indianapolis Supercross to the entire Indiana Pacers basketball season, along most or all of basketball, hockey, soccer, NASCAR, Formula 1.… Italy is closed, Broadway is closed, Disney is closed, even Mt. Everest is closed as the world grapples with containing this health crisis. And all the while, the stock market has been slipping and sliding in an unsettling trend.
Last Friday we started Racerhead with a note that this coronavirus was starting to become a real threat—for the world of sports, anyway. Seven days later it's a global pandemic, coming at us unlike anything we've dealt with in this lifetime. The sports world as we know it has ground to a halt, as events all over the world have shut down. First it was MotoGP in Qatar, then MXGP in Italy and Argentina, then Spain and Portugal. And when the governor of Washington declared a state of emergency over the hotspot that is Seattle, Feld Entertainment canceled the event.
All the while, the global financial markets were plummeting, as panicked investors sold stocks and confused governments tried to get ahead of the pandemic. Italy quarantined half the country. Israel followed suit. Then they pretty much closed those countries. Cruise ships filled with unknowing passengers were parked at sea. Music festivals and business conventions were canceled. University systems all over the world sent teachers and students home.
At the Wednesday evening NBA game between the Houston Rockets and the Utah Jazz, the players were on the court and the referee held the ball just moments before tip-off to start the game. But then a team doctor ran out to the scorer's table and informed the officials and coaches that Rudy Gobert, a Jazz player, had tested positive for the coronavirus—the same Rudy Gobert who had recently made a joke at a press conference by reaching out and touching every reporter’s microphone or tape recorder. He was taken off the court and into quarantine. And then, almost immediately, the NBA's league office suspended the league completely—no games in front of empty stands, no anything. Game over. Done.
In short order, other sports followed suit: the NHL, Major League Soccer, the UEFA Champions League in Europe—even Broadway’s lights went out. NASCAR said “empty stands” for a couple of days, then they postponed. Tom Hanks, one of the biggest stars on the planet, announced that he and his wife, Rita Wilson, had tested positive while making a film in Australia and were self-quarantined. That’s right, the star of the film Cast Away was casting himself and his family away for the immediate future. (And later Janine Posey walked into my office and told me that the NCAA canceled the entire “March Madness” basketball tournament—men’s and women’s—and the season was effectively finished. Immediately. Completely.)
All the while, stock markets kept falling, schools kept closing, stadiums were being emptied. As I began to write this intro, at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, everyone was guessing that Feld would go on with the Indianapolis Supercross, albeit in front of an empty Lucas Oil Stadium. The track was already built, the rigs were all on their way there, the TV production crew was in place. But an hour after I left for home, they announced that Indy would join Seattle and Detroit on the canceled list, soon to be followed by Foxborough and Denver.
Is this it for Monster Energy AMA Supercross in 2020? I certainly hope not, but it is suspended for the next month, as authorities all over the country have advised. Feld has some options to bring the series to a close, but all of that will take shape after the world’s immediate health crisis is under control. Same goes for MXGP in Europe. Youthstream/In Front were able to race last weekend in the Netherlands, but they have since postponed several rounds all over the planet. They already moved Argentina to November, more than a month after the Motocross of Nations was set to go in France, but it’s sounding more and more like they will populate the weekends of October and November with races that are being postponed now, so that September date for the MXoN may now be up in the air.
Backing out to look at the much bigger picture—not just sports—our world has been challenged by such existential threats before, whether it was the Great Influenza of 1918 or even the Bubonic Plague—or the “Black Death”—of the Middle Ages. We have had World Wars and cold wars, civil wars and revolutions, the Great Depression, and more. And we still aren’t singing from the same songbook when it comes to global warming.
But we’ve never really had one hit us with such broad and rapid advancement as this, and that’s because the world is a much different place now. We are all wired together by the internet and social media and everything else that connects us to practically everyone else on the planet. We also move around farther and more rapidly than ever, and that makes us susceptible to agents, viruses, radicalism, terrorism, and more. This coronavirus thing is happening to all of us, and all at once.
But if it feels similar, maybe it’s because, for those of us in our twenties and beyond, we have shared a moment of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty much like this before. It happened on the morning of September 11, 2001, specifically in the time between the second airplane hitting the World Trade Center and the first tower collapsing. It was that long moment—maybe an hour, tops—where we couldn’t quite understand what we were seeing on our TVs, what was happening before our eyes, then realizing that we were under attack from someone, somehow, but not fully digesting just how bad it was or what it was. We didn’t know if it was somehow going to get worse, but then of course it did. Rumors were that other planes were being hijacked, maybe to be used as weapons on other cities; we just didn’t know. And then the tower collapsed, taking down everyone in it. The other tower soon followed, and we all knew at once, all together, that everything in our world had changed. We were going to war. We didn’t know with whom, or where, but we knew what we had to do, and we got to it.
In this case, the moment is much longer—several weeks, really—and we are still in it. The realization of what is really happening has been much slower that it was on 9/11, because we still don’t really know how bad this virus can be, but we are now fully engaged and paying attention. The Twin Towers didn’t fall this time, nor was the Pentagon hit or did Flight 93 fall from the sky, but a lot of much smaller (and thankfully less lethal) dominos did—stock markets, sporting and entertainment events, travel restrictions, school cancellations. And while we are all dreading where this may go next, we are all getting ready together for the challenges.
Like I said at the beginning, the Daytona Supercross seems like it happened a very long time ago, yet it’s only been a week. But man, so much has changed, and this may only be the beginning.
Narrowing this back down to our little world of being dirt bike enthusiasts and motorsports fanatics, where does that leave Racer X Online? Same place as all of our readers, all of the riders we cover, and all of the fans who follow Monster Energy AMA Supercross, Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, MXGP, and more. We are trying to be cautious, we are trying to be vigilant, and we are trying to be supportive and prepared for whatever comes next. We will also remain ready to do our part, however and whenever we can, to help get this thing under control.
And while much of the racing may be on hold, everyone’s passion for dirt bikes is as intense as ever. We will certainly miss the racing, but we understand that this is a fluid situation, as well as the fact that we are all in this together. We will do our best to continue giving our readers and followers the quality moto content they have long counted on us to deliver, and we will continue to keep you posted on any and all developments with the riders, the race teams, the industry, and the various championships we cover.
So hang in there, stay tuned, and let's keep looking ahead to seeing those starting gates drop once again all over the world. And take care of yourselves.
Some photos courtesy of Guy B./Vital MX
Check out some of the vintage supercross and Racer X vintage bike show from the Daytona Supercross last week.
IMG_5214 Davey Coombs IMG_5299 Davey Coombs IMG_5312 Davey Coombs IMG_5348 Davey Coombs IMG_5416 Davey Coombs Vintage1 Davey Coombs Vintage2 Davey Coombs Vintage3 Davey Coombs Vintage4 Davey Coombs Vintage5 Davey Coombs Vintage6 Davey Coombs Vintage7 Davey Coombs Vintage8 Davey Coombs Vintage9 Davey Coombs
The Whirlwind (Jason Weigandt)
When a major historical event takes place, we always remember where we were when we first heard the news. Usually that's a singular, often tragic, and unforgettable moment. This COVID-19 shutdown has felt more like a rolling 48-hour wave of news, and I'm sure 20 years from now we will all have our stories of where we were and what we were doing as it happened. And that’s just the shutdown info! If this were to turn really sideways and tragic on the health front, the news jolt would grow so much stronger.
For now, the attention is on the shutdown, and it’s a wild ride when you’re planning travel around events. I’ll just give you my schedule this week as an example. Last Thursday I came to Daytona to be ready for announcing at the Daytona Supercross. This Saturday is the American Flat Track opener, which I will also be announcing, for NBCSN’s coverage of the series. However, in between those two races at the same track, I was scheduled to drive back home to Charlotte to drop my family at home, and then fly to Indianapolis for supercross press day and our Racer X/PulpMX live show. Then I was going to fly BACK to Daytona Saturday morning for flat track. Of course, by Wednesday afternoon, news started breaking about events getting canceled or run without fans. Wednesday just happened to be media day for flat track, which meant I was rubbing elbows with all the head honchos of that series as the news was rolling in and decisions were being made. It was a fascinating day, and then at about 5 p.m., the Seattle Supercross was canceled (or postponed). Thursday morning, I drove out of Daytona not knowing if the Indy Supercross (or press day, or our live show) was going to happen. By about noon, word came out that the race was running without fans, which, to me, ended any need for press day and also put our live show in jeopardy, which meant maybe I wouldn’t even need to go to Indy at all. So then came a cascade of calls and texts to try to figure all of that out, while also fielding calls and texts from riders and industry people all trying to figure out if the race was actually happening. At one point, Cade Clason called me from the security line at the airport wondering if he should bother to get on his flight. I’m sure this scenario was playing out over and over, for every rider and every mechanic on every team.
I finally decided to just stop my drive in Savannah, Georgia, halfway between Daytona and Charlotte, to just let things play out. For the next few hours, I played soccer with my kids in a park so I could have a hand free to check my phone for updates. By 5 p.m. we knew Indy was going to be canceled. We decided to cancel our live show. But American Flat Track’s Daytona TT would live on, only without fans. So, I was about to head back to Daytona … except my kids said they wanted to go home! We had already been gone for eight days, so I drove all the way back to Charlotte, dumped them in their beds, and then started packing to drive right back to Daytona, today, for flat track tomorrow. Could the race get canceled outright while I’m on my drive? [EDIT: See below.] That’s not supposed to happen, but this week we learned anything, and everything could happen. It’s certainly been memorable.
By the way, I believe Feld Entertainment will still try to get in some supercross races this year (this is not based on insider info—this is just me guessing) so the title is not over. However, if by some chance Daytona ends up being the last race of the season, could you imagine knowing the championship between Eli Tomac and Ken Roczen was decided in a late-race pass for the win? For sure, we’re never going to forget the 2020 season, no matter how it plays out, because now it’s certainly not going to play out the way it was originally planned.
Daytona 200/Daytona TT postponed (DC)
Sorry, Weege, and sorry to all of the racers down there for those events—just got this while editing down your bit for Racerhead this afternoon:
"American Flat Track has postponed this weekend’s race events at Daytona International Speedway, which includes Saturday’s DAYTONA 200 presented by CoMoto and the DAYTONA TT. The 79th DAYTONA 200 will be held as part of Biketoberfest in October and the DAYTONA TT will be rescheduled on a future date. We believe this decision is in the best interest of the safety and well-being of our fans, competitors, officials and everyone associated with the sport. We will continue to monitor this dynamic situation as we assess future race events.”
I DON'T KNOW (Matthes)
That was my standard reply Thursday to all sorts of people hitting me up about the Indianapolis SX. I had a late afternoon flight too, and I could hit press day and then the PulpMX/Racer X Live Podcast show Friday night, but as I was waiting to board the flight, I knew from some people on teams that had been on a call with the Feld folks that Indy was likely going to be run with no fans and that Detroit and Boston was canceled (to go along with Seattle). Which would've been weird, but hey, I got it because the dirt was already in there and all that.
Waiting to board my plane, I got a notice that the governor of Indiana had banned gatherings of 250 people or more and, quickly doing the math in my head, there were way more than 250 people on teams and at Feld, so I wasn't thinking the race was going to go. As I was walking toward the plane down the jetway, I got a text from a big-name rider that said the race was off.
What do I do? I boarded the plane but sat there wondering if I should get off. Fake a heart attack? Could I trust this news? The plane door closed, and I got another text from a trusted industry guy that said it's not happening. But still nothing official, and besides, we had a live show that we could do.
Take-off for a stop in Chicago, buy the Wi-Fi (sorry, Weege) and yep, no sooner had I logged on than the race was donezo. I mean, I get it, because with the NHL and some other leagues shutting down, you just cannot be the one major indoor thing that's running, right? Legalities in that are staggering. So, what now of our live show, we were just under 250 tickets sold, so there would be no laws broken to have it. Some of us wanted it on, some didn't, and I was on the fence big-time. I thought that doing the show would be a bit of fun in a crappy situation for everyone, but then we were thinking that so many people travel to this round from all over, maybe it wouldn't be worth it to do in front of 50 people. And then of course guests we had lined up weren't going to show. In the end, canceling it made the most sense. We've sent out emails to everyone on how refunds are going to work and sorry about that also!
I'm just guessing here, too, but like Weege, I think we'll get some rounds in here to decide the champions but to me, tough to see 17 being run. Hunker down and hang out with the family, because things are going to get a little weird here.
Virus Free (Keefer)
Well, that escalated quickly. I went from packing my bags for Indy to canceling flights, just like a lot of other people. Indy was going to be another stop on the Racer X/PulpMX Live Show Tour, but the cancellation of the race, as well as the riders/show guests going back home early, only made the decision clearer that we had to cancel the show. As you have read, the series is up in the air, and if I was a journeyman privateer, I would be seriously bummed out. Guys like Chiz, A-Ray, Enticknap and many others rely on the night show/main event promoters’ purse to keep the lights on at home. Now, with the series in a standstill, these guys are out of a paycheck. It's going to be interesting to see how many of these guys race locally for money, but I guess that may be up in the air if local races are being canceled as well. Maybe they trade their SX suspension in for softer outdoor suspension? Maybe some of those SX-only riders are more open to ride some outdoor motocross races this summer since their SX season has been cut short? I think we may see a different outlook on our sport after all of this is over and done with.
The silver lining about this outbreak is that maybe some of the industry folk that work their ass off every weekend can now enjoy some actual riding time with their friends and families. Instead of getting on a plane to go to work, maybe now they can enjoy doing what they started doing before they took their industry jobs. It's funny because you will hear most of the people who work within the industry say they barely ride anymore because they’re so busy. When you get a motorcycle industry job, you may think that you get to ride all the time, but for the most part, that is simply untrue. In fact, you actually ride much less! So now with this COVID-19 downtime, you may see some of these mechanics, team managers, gear/goggle/boot guys and trainers actually get back to riding on the weekends like the rest of us fans/enthusiasts. Whoever would have thought that the motocross track would be one of the safer places to be in this day and age?
Since I am not going to Indy and it is currently raining in the high dez, I will be hosting a few of my buddies to some epic turn tracks as well as some fun trails from the high desert ponderosa. I already burned in a new track (don't mind the trash or the broken-down trailer in the photo, it's just a high dez thing), and it's currently waiting for the lap time wars to start. Hopefully some of you out there that were planning on going to Indy now turn your focus to actually getting on your dirt bikes to ride! Don't let this Coronavirus scare you away from strapping on your helmet and enjoying what you love the most. Your freedom on two wheels!
Back-to-Back (Ken Hill)
With two rounds down and no letup in sight, Kailub Russell put sun another dominating performance in the sands of Florida as the Wild Boar GNCC once again was won by a seemingly unstoppable Kailub Russell. The brutality of the track took its toll on both man and machine as the three-hour event raged. With injuries taking out the majority of the top tier, it was once again Kailub Russell’s to lose.
Ricky Russell and Josh Strang had their hands full trying to run down the orange blur ripping through the whooped out root infested course that spanned nearly 13 miles but neither could ever mount a charge that would put them in contention. For Ricky, the season is starting off strong with podium visits in the opening rounds and the same can be said for a rejuvenated Josh Strang. Both riders seem to have programmed in place that would’ve had them running upfront regardless of the fallout from the house cleaning injuries racked up.
The Baylor brothers Stew and Grant looked to be two riders poised to do some damage to the podium as both have had solid rides in the sand in the past. Unfortunately, mechanical issues took them both out of any chance for redemption allowing another race to slip by. The new team may be facing some hurdles that are being tackled and should have them putting a Sherco on the box soon enough, the question is how far down the line will that day come. Baylor fans are ready for it and so are those behind the bars.
The series is now set to unload its fury onto the clay soil of Georgia as the General GNCC is just hours away from kicking off its third round that only allows a few short days between events. The same familiar names should do well here and the conditions are shaping uptake prime as the wet conditions have given way to sunny skies and drying winds. Kailub has a large target on his backbone that many behind him would love to bullseye and knock him down a peg or two and somehow curb his dominance. The target may be there but running it down and finding your marks proving to be difficult even as the champ celebrates his final full season in the XC1 pro class.
Kawasaki’s Daytona (Andras Hegyi)
The jubilee 50th running of the Daytona Supercross was a very memorable event for Kawasaki. Winning in the 250SX class, Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Garrett Marchbanks got his maiden professional victory, and winning in the 450 class, Eli Tomac took his fourth Daytona first-place trophy. Before this race, Tomac had already won in Daytona in 2016, ’17, and ‘19. He trails only Ricky Carmichael (5 wins) on the all-time list, tied with Jeff Stanton at four.
And thanks to Tomac and Marchbanks, this is the seventh time that Kawi swept Daytona. Fifty years ago, in that first Daytona event, you won’t find any Kawasaki riders listed in the results, but you will see plenty of old European brands like CZ, Maico, Bultaco, and the original Husqvarna. But there was one Kawasaki rider there: a teenager named Mike Hartwig. He rode practice, but then the AMA discovered he was not old enough for a pro license, so he was told to park it!
KTM Crossers in Europe (Andras Hegyi)
Last Sunday, KTM and the factory KTM riders got some records at Valkenswaard, at the GP of the Netherlands. Jeffrey Herlings bettered his own record, set in 2018 at Valkenswaard, when he became the first rider to win eight GP races at the same track in the FIM Motocross World Championship. Last Sunday, Herlings took his ninth victory at Valkenswaard. Herlings had seven GP wins in MX2, while in 2020 he got his second MXGP win there.
Also, last year, young Tom Vialle became a star in the MX2 World Championships. Despite being a rookie, he was able to achieve the same success his father, 1990s Grand Prix contender Frederic, had back in his prime. Tom managed to get podium results and take a single GP win as well. Regarding the seasonal podiums, Frederic Vialle’s best season was 1996 as he collected six podiums in the former 125cc class. But the son Tom was better than him last season, earning seven podiums in all.
Now Tom has improved even more. He started the season with two moto wins and an overall in the first two GPs. And during his world championship career—the elder Vialle raced in the world championship between 1991 and 2000—Frederic never was an overall points leader, but winning the GP of the Netherlands last Sunday, Tom became new points leader for the first time in his career.
And Vialle could be the points leader for some time to come as the MXGP has been suspended, with talks of it starting up again in early summer, and rescheduled races continuing well into the fall months of October and November. As for MXGP, Herlings is the red plate holder there as the series goes on hiatus to deal with the rest of the world is dealing with now.
The may 2020 ISSUE OF RACER X MAGAZINE IS NOW AVAILABLE
Inside the May issue of Racer X magazine: As Monster Energy Supercross departs the West Coast, the 250SX East Region takes the spotlight. Ricky Brabec is the first American motorcyclist to win the Dakar Rally. Former GP racer Rob Andrews on what makes Belgium’s Namur one of the world’s great tracks. Arenacross is making a comeback—again—with AMA Kicker Arenacross. All these features and much more in the May issue.
Hey, Watch It!
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on the NBA suspending its season:
"WASH HANDS": Skywriter encourages good hygiene in message written over Sydney, Australia, amid global coronavirus pandemic.
My longtime friend from England, the MX artist Rob Kinsey, sent me this funny but also sad and alarming video of a bunch of wild, hungry monkeys getting into a brawl in Thailand over a banana that—wait for it—fell off a banana truck...
Jason Weigandt provides a check-in on the American Flat Track success story. In 2017, a sport that was on the verge of withering to nothing found another gear, with some radical changes ushering in steady growth. Now factory rides are here, as well as some new young stars battling the established champions. Heck, they're even training with Aldon Baker these days!
The best part, though? While the sport has grown more professional and sophisticated, the riders are still new to this process, so they're pretty open and honest in interviews. So Weigandt hit up defending Super Twins Champion Briar Bauman, Singles Class sensation Shayna Texter (the Red Bull KTM "girl who can beat the guys" who is also Bauman's fiancée), and 2019 Singles Class Champion Dalton Gauthier, who is moving to the big class for 2020. The new season starts this Saturday night at the Daytona TT. Here's the bench-racing ammo you need if you watch the race, which will air on NBCSN after Monster Energy Supercross from Indianapolis.
The Fly Racing Racer X Podcast has Weege and JT join me to talk about these SX races being postponed, what’s next, what we know, what we don’t know (a lot), what we think is going to happen and nuttier things that we’ve heard.
The Fly Racing Racer X Podcast comes in with a chat with former Suzuki factory rider Danny Smith talking about his FMF Honda, Suzuki, and YOT rides, jumping on the RM250, me working for him as his mechanic, what he’s doing now, and more.
This week on the Main Event Moto Podcast, Daniel Blair flies solo and talks round ten of Monster Energy AMA Supercross 2020 in Daytona, Florida.
“Gov. Inslee to restrict gatherings of more than 250 people, a move aimed at sports and concerts”—Seattle Times
“NBA player touches mics in presser, tests positive for coronavirus”—CNN
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid’EH Update #11.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!