Welcome back to Racerhead, and welcome back to the races! Well, almost. After being on lockdown for more than two months, the 2020 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship will finally resume in Salt Lake City this Sunday night. The series is going into residency there as a way to complete its championship run even though the country is still not fully reopened due to the coronavirus, which has now taken more than 100,000 people since it first hit in this country. Through a great amount of effort from Feld Entertainment, the series organizer, and also a huge commitment from the riders and race teams to participate under a slew of safety protocols—including no spectators in the stadium—fans all over the world will get to see this title settled on the racetrack, courtesy of NBC, the NBC Sports Network, and NBC Gold.
So where exactly did we leave off? What was going on in supercross in those pre-COVID-19 days, pre-Tiger King, pre-The Last Dance? You know, back before we knew what social distancing meant before we were supposed to wear masks before we realized we were suddenly in a “delivery culture” world? I mean, were Zoom meetings even a thing in mid-March? I know homeschool was, especially in our sport, but now every parent has become a teacher and every dining room a classroom.… So, I went back to the last Racerhead we did before all coronavirus hell broke loose for a refresher.
It was the Friday before the Daytona Supercross. At the time, there were two red plates in the 450SX class, as Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac and Honda’s Ken Roczen were tied in points. The next day, Tomac would run Roczen down in the Daytona main event for the win and the points lead, by three. The winner of the 250SX final at Daytona was something of a surprise: Garrett Marchbanks. The points leader, though, was GEICO Honda’s Chase Sexton. Also, MX Sports Pro Racing had a meeting on that Friday afternoon in the driver’s room at Daytona International Speedway to talk about the upcoming 2020 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, which was set to start on May 16 at Hangtown, followed by Fox Raceway at Pala (May 23) and then Thunder Valley (May 30) in Colorado. Yes, if there had never been a global pandemic, supercross would have been ended four weeks ago and we would be talking about the third round of outdoor motocross in Colorado.
Of course, it did happen, and now we’re looking ahead to Round 11 of the resumed Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship, which will take place on Sunday night in Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, rather than March 14 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. And then on Wednesday, June 3, Round 12 will happen in the same SLC stadium rather than setting up in Detroit at Ford Field. It’s just crazy how much those plans had to change for the series to get back on track, and it will be weird to see a race with completely empty grandstands, save for anyone who takes advantage of Supercross Live’s offer to make a cardboard cutout of themselves and places it in the stands for $25, which I saw done to pretty cool effect at a German soccer match recently.
In case you’re wondering, I decided not to go out to SLC for the event, as we were very limited in the amount of staff we could send to cover the races—Feld is doing all they can to keep everyone safe and prevent exposure as much as possible. Jason Weigandt is there, as is Steve Matthes, and Aaron Hansel will cover the last couple rounds after Weege heads home. We also have our regular photographers Rich Shepherd and Mike Emery there, and they will all be helping some of our friends who will not be able to attend and cover the event. Also, I know how much work and planning went into this for Feld, and I applaud them on their commitment to complete the series in a safe and entertaining manner. We’re well at work on a radically changed Lucas Oil Pro Motocross program, so my time is better spent here working than being out there watching. I do wish everyone luck, hope everyone stays safe, and I hope we get the closest finish in series history. It will be great to watch a sporting event for the first time in ten weeks without already knowing who’s going to win!
And before we go any further, the motocross world lost two people this week who were a part of our sport for a very long time. Last Saturday at RedBud, Jane Akin suffered a heart attack while working at the gate. Jane was a part of the RedBud family practically since the beginning, as well as the Dutch Sport Park facility, anchoring scoring and sign-up. She was also the mother of Lisa Akin-Wagner, one of the best female motocross racers ever. Godspeed, Jane.
Also, Dave Miller, the renowned engineer behind some of the trickest, coolest dirt bikes ever made, lost his battle with brain cancer. His company Dave Miller Concepts was practically an art studio for motorcycles; the fabricator had a way of taking production motorcycles and turning them into exotic one-offs. I did not know Dave Miller personally, but MXA's Jody Weisel did and wrote this fitting tribute to his friend, along with some of the epic bikes he built.
And you can see some of Dave Miller's work on his Facebook page.
Salt Lake City Life (Jason Weigandt)
I can’t believe we did it. On Monday, March 16, we held an internal meeting here for Racer X Online to figure how we could fill this website, which is designed to cover racing, without any races. Well, 11 weeks later, we’re here. Racing is back. I want to give a huge thanks to the riders and teams that worked with us in creative ways so we could provide coverage and the riders could get exposure. There’s a lot of sappy #weareinthistogether stuff out there, but I feel like our little industry really lives that, and it showed. To the 30-plus riders who joined Racer X for interviews during this break, I thank you. I don’t take that for granted.
Not much to report yet here in Salt Lake City, because until we all get our COVID-19 test results in, we’re not supposed to go to the stadium. I know the TV crew came in early this week, got tested, and has started work today. Otherwise, it’s just hang out and wait. So? This morning I hooked up with my old buddy and 2000 GNCC Champion Shane Watts, who lives out here. Shane rolled out the dirt bikes and we hit some amazing single-track trails for about three hours. In typical Wattsy fashion, both bikes were pretty clapped out, including a TT-R230 that, which he introduced by saying, “The brakes don’t work very well.” Great! Also, the chain was rusty.
Oh well, we hit the trails, and they were epic. By the way, bikes don’t matter. Shane let me ride his KTM 250 two-stroke and he still yarded me on the darned TT-R230! What’s amazing is that in some state forests here, it’s legal for dirt bikes to share trails with horses, hikers, and mountain bikers. Out here, it’s obvious people feel differently about outdoor activities. I’ve interviewed a ton of riders since this May 31 supercross plan was announced, and most seem not only satisfied with the deal, but they’re actually pumped on it. To spend three weeks in an outdoor haven like this? The bicycle-loving moto community would take a deal like this every year!
As for the racing, we’ve got a ton of preview stuff here on the site. Check out the 450 Words I wrote last night explaining the many different scenarios for this ridiculously competitive 450 field. I mean, have we ever had 15-ish riders healthy and aiming for podiums at the 11th round of the season? I don’t think so. What really sticks out to me is all the talent that’s not even top ten in points right now: Plessinger, Baggett, Friese, Osborne, Davalos, Bowers, Reed, Chisholm, Bloss. Like, there are legit names in there, and then there are ten additional riders that are in the top ten. This is going to be crazy!
Yesterday I talked to GEICO Honda’s Hunter Lawrence, who will finally make his supercross debut when the 250SX West resumes on June 10. Hunter gets two West races and could also race the final-round Showdown if he gets into the top 20 in points. That will be hard since Logan Karnow and Cameron Mcadoo are tied for 20th in points with 27. So why not have Hunter race East, which will hold three races? Because that would give the GEICO Honda team four East riders, and with teams needing to stay under a ten-person team limit out here, they can’t service that many riders. So HLaw will race West, and yes, that puts him on the same gate as his brother Jett. This should be fun, but it’s still a week away. Right now, the focus is on the East, which races the first three. Can’t wait!
NOTE: In case you missed The Weege Show as he self-taped while traveling out to Salt Lake City, it’s pretty interesting!
Salt Lake City Numbers (Andras Hegyi)
Salt Lake City is about to make some new records for Monster Energy AMA Supercross, like hosting the most races in a single season, as well as the most in a row. But SLC has already held memorable supercross races, like the time San Manuel Yamaha's Kyle Chisholm was DQ'd and suspended after officials felt he was blocking Suzuki's Chad Reed as he battled with the race leader, Chisholm's teammate James Stewart, as Chisholm was being lapped. There was also the time in 2003 when Team Yamaha's Tim Ferry first tangled with Team Honda's Ricky Carmichael and went down, then Ferry's teammate Chad Reed touched Ricky's front wheel and knocked him down, then Reed won and, somehow, after the race, Carmichael got into a shouting match with—wait for it—Steve Matthes, who was Ferry's mechanic at the time! (This was the beginning of the RC-vs.-PulpMX feud that still simmers.) Yamaha of Troy's Ernesto Fonseca from Costa Rica got his last 125 SX win here in 2001, and Factory Connection Honda's Kevin Windham took his last 450SX victory here in 2010. And future AMA Supercross Champion Jason Anderson celebrated his 250SX win in Salt Lake City in 2013, after series points leader Ken Roczen didn't qualify on his Red Bull KTM! And that same night Monster Energy Kawasaki's Ryan Villopoto clinched his third straight AMA Supercross Championship.
This year marks the 47th AMA Supercross season, which has been in existence since 1974, and this is the 42nd season in which a round has been held in May. But Sunday night's novelty is the fact that this will be the very first time an AMA Supercross race has ever been held on May 31. This is the 12th season that Salt Lake City has hosted a round of Monster Energy AMA Supercross. The series has visited Salt Lake City on and off since 2001.
Between May 31 and June 21, Salt Lake City will of course host the last seven rounds, which is the all-time record for races held in a single place in a single season. In years past, other venues have held doubleheaders, and of course Anaheim has even had three dates in one season. Other places with multiple races in a single season as Pontiac (Michigan), Houston, Seattle, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and San Diego.
GNCC Continues (Ken Hill)
As the rest of the country slowly reopens, racing on the East Coast is getting up and running as various series get cranked up and racing resumes. The AMA Grand National Cross Country Series heads to Camp Coker in Society Hill, South Carolina, for the fifth round, as the series reboot continues amid the coronavirus health crisis. With tons of planning with state and city and local officials, the season was put back in motion two weeks ago in Georgia after nearly two months of hibernation—and just in time. The sultry heat and humidity that is expected later in the season will now be a factor as the southern climate adds another huge element the racers must overcome.
The best news out of the XC 1 Pro class this week was that Ricky Russell was released after a wicked crash on the final lap of the Bulldog GNCC. With preseason injuries sidelining some of the biggest names in the class, Ricky looked to be in a position to take the fight to current champ Kailub Russell (no relation). There is no expected date of return to competition for Ricky, who is expected to be on the mend for quite some time after his groin injury.
Also, Josh Toth made his debut after having to sit out the first rounds, also due to injury, and came firing back with a solid fifth-place finish at round four. And Steward Baylor Jr. sat out the last round when his departure from Sherco left him in limbo. But he's decided to use the break to rest his knee and come back at some point in the near future.
With such turmoil surrounding every aspect of getting the series back to racing, the championship appears to be Kailub Russell's to lose. Kailub, the winner of the first four rounds, has the experience and ability to get out to an early lead and push when needed, so it will take some pressure to get him out of his zone. That pressure could come from Josh Strang, whose consistency has been on point in 2020, scoring four podium finishes. This is best start of the season for Strang in quite some time, and the cagey veteran has the knowledge to make things happen. And don't count out Layne Michael, who has had a somewhat bumpy start but did secure a solid and well-earned third at the Bulldog GNCC, giving him a confidence boost heading into the upcoming rounds. But if anyone is going to keep FMF/KTM Factory Team leader Kailub Russell from winning his eighth straight GNCC title, they are going to have get rolling right now in South Carolina.
The july 2020 ISSUE OF RACER X MAGAZINE IS NOW AVAILABLE
The July issue of Racer X magazine is coming to newsstands and mailboxes soon. Subscribe to the print and/or award-winning digital edition today. And if you're already a digital subscriber head to digital.racerxonline.com to login and read the issue in full right now.
Inside the JUly issue of Racer X magazine
- What happens to the business of racing when racing itself stops without warning?
- When he was diagnosed with the COVID-19 coronavirus, Rick Johnson fought back—just like always.
- Simon Cudby’s photos remind us that better days are ahead.
- The history of the AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships before Loretta Lynn’s.
Hey, Watch It!
Episode two of Luke Renzland's vlog:
Blake Baggett launching into the Freestone 12 eight years ago:
LISTEN TO THIS
Husqvarna’s Andy Jefferson stops by the PulpMX studio to do a deep dive into his career as a fast SoCal racer, meeting a young Mitch Payton, racing agains the best, his job at Husqvarna/KTM/Gas Gas, and much more.
The timing couldn't be better for two riders in Monster Energy Supercross. Monster Energy Kawasaki's Adam Cianciarulo and Honda HRC's Justin Brayton were both scheduled to miss some time in 2020 due to small injuries, but the COVID-19 lockdown gave them time to recover, and now they're dialed in and ready as supercross resumes on May 31. Jason Weigandt chats with both riders to get their thoughts on going racing again, including their practice and training plans while staying in Utah and their perspective on rolling with the changes.
Monster Energy/Star Racing Yamaha teammates Shane McElrath and Justin Cooper are second in the 250SX East and 250SX West standings, respectively, but both want more as Monster Energy Supercross resumes. Weigandt talks to both about their training during the break, their schedule while in Utah, and McElrath gets deep about life during COVID-19 times. During the break, Shane was actually ready to start driving for DoorDash!
Then, Weigandt checks in with defending 250SX East Region Champion—and current points leader—Chase Sexton, including his Utah plans, and the "secret weapon" that helped him with riding tips during the break. Then, a four-pack of supercross rookies joins Weigandt to talk about what they've learned. It's Jett Lawrence, Jalek Swoll, Jo Shimoda, and Derek Drake, all looking forward to the 2.0 version of their first supercross season.
And if you haven’t already, check out the first few Racer X Read Alouds, where our staff read their Racer X Magazine feature out loud.
"Audi Driver Who Used Ringer In Online Race Dumped From Own Team" - Jalopnik
"Cheyenne Frontier Days canceled for 1st time in 124 years" - Associated Press
"BOSTON MARATHON: IN-PERSON RACE CANCELED We're Going Virtual!!!" - TMZ Sports
"Monkeys Escape With Covid-19 Test Samples After Attacking Lab Assistant...That's A Real Headline" - Barstool Sports
Race Mechanic Needed?
Our buddies over at Pro SX/MX Tech trade school are finishing up their race mechanic courses in the next few weeks and there are a few ace wrenches looking to get placed with riders and teams. If you or your riders are looking for a race mechanic, reach out to the school at 951-719-9392 and see if they've got what you're looking for. These guys have been through the entire program that details exactly what an SX/MX mechanic goes through on race days and during the week. For more info check out prosxmxtech.com, and we hear there might be a spot or two open for next school year too, which starts up in October.
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid’EH Update #22. Their website it up and runnin again after some issues—make sure to check them out!
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races. Soon.