Welcome to Racerhead and the (almost) end of an era. The long, strange journey to a first 450 Supercross crown is about to come to a close for Monster Energy Kawasaki's Eli Tomac. By Sunday night he will have almost certainly shed the somewhat dubious, double-edged honor of being the fastest man to have never won the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship. He's got more wins than anyone ever before in 450SX to have not made it to the very top of the standings at the end of the championship—not to mention four AMA Pro Motocross Championships, including the last three 450 Class titles in a row in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. (And don’t forget, he’s also a new father!) He's already considered one of the all-time best outdoors, though his lack of a championship ring in AMA Supercross has been frustrating for him, his family, his team, and of course his fans. Unless he suffers some kind of colossal setback, something of wildly unexpected and epic proportions....
Oh wait, this is 2020. Nothing is certain! Red Bull KTM's Cooper Webb has a very, very long shot to still hold on to his #1 plate, but even if he doesn't, he should hold his head very high for the way he's kept fighting and improving. And while Honda HRC's Ken Roczen had his hopes of giving the Red Riders their first AMA Supercross crown since 2003 torpedoed by his ongoing health problems (as well as the relentless drive of his competitors), he should also be happy with his return to form. If all three of these guys are healthy and ready for Supercross 2021, it would be hard to pick a clear favorite between these three.
Sunday night will also mark the end of the Salt Lake City era of supercross. Sure, it only lasted a little more than three weeks and seven rounds, in the same stadium, with the same empty stands, slightly different tracks, and lots and lots of dystopian steps to protect the riders and race teams, yet it will be remembered as one of the most entertaining periods in the sport's history. We have seen six great races in three weeks' time, and it will end on Sunday night with not one or two but all three championships decided. For all of the hard work, hand-wringing, second-guessing, and just plain uncertainty, the "Glendale Plan" that ended up in Utah was a winner, in my opinion. We are getting to see the conclusion of a championship series that didn’t lose its integrity or meaning in the pandemic. The supercross season wasn't wiped out like so many other sports tours were, and now the NBA is basically taking the same idea to Disney World. Literally. They will soon put their playoff teams in a bubble in Orlando and play without fans, on TV, under strict (but no longer strange) guidelines and try to conclude the 2020 season in the arena. Sound familiar? They just saw it work out incredibly well in Monster Energy AMA Supercross, thanks to the bold risks that Feld Entertainment and all the riders and race teams took together in Utah.
We could also see something else on Sunday night that we haven't seen in a very long time. There are two riders wearing #1 red plates in the 250 class: GEICO Honda's Chase Sexton (East) and Monster Energy/Star Racing Yamaha's Dylan Ferrandis (West). They are both in position to successfully defend those titles, though they will each have to work a little harder than Eli will in what's shaping up as a fantastic East/West Showdown/conclusion. Turns out it's been since 1992 that both defending champions in this class were able to successfully defend their #1 plates. Twenty-eight years ago, Peak/Pro Circuit Honda's Jeremy McGrath (West) and Suzuki's Brian Swink (East) dominated their respective divisions on the way to second straight championships. No two riders have done it since.
Think of what each champion has been through this season. Ferrandis suffered the boos of a couple of West Coast crowds after his run-ins with GEICO Honda's Christian Craig and Jett Lawrence at Anaheim 2, but he kept his head high and remained focused. As for Sexton, remember, he was supposed to be racing in the West before he became this series' "December surprise" when he crashed on that pit bike and cracked his collarbone, forcing him to wait and defend his East Region title instead.
So after nearly three months of inactivity (well, besides the very appreciated Moto Fite Klub), after three months of uncertainty, and then after a little over three weeks of racing in residency at Salt Lake City, the 2020 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship is about to end exactly the way we all wanted it to, no matter who we want to win, because it will end the way it was always supposed to: on the actual racetrack. Thank you Salt Lake City and supercross, it's been surreal.
Killian Auberson (DC)
There was also unexpected and unfortunate news from Utah. Gas Monkey Energy/AJE Motorsports Husqvarna rider Killian Auberson was practicing at a local track on Tuesday outside of SLC and suffered serious back injuries. Auberson came to the U.S. from Switzerland to pursue his dream of racing supercross. According to a press release from Road 2 Recovery, he underwent surgery on Tuesday evening to repair the fractured T3 vertebra in his neck and the removal of a bone spur that was putting pressure on his spinal cord. He is in stable condition and is recovering at a hospital nearby. Unfortunately, Killian is suffering paralysis from the chest down due to the excessive swelling and damage to his spinal cord.
Road 2 Recovery has established a fund to help with his medical costs—which are expected to go substantially beyond what his medical insurance will cover. Killian plans to air transport back home:
"It is expected that Killian will have an extended stay in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), with plans for air transport back to his home town in Switzerland for additional medical treatment once he is stable enough to travel. His medical bills are anticipated to be substantial even after his insurance is applied; therefore, the Road to Recovery Foundation has opened a fundraising campaign to assist with Killian’s medical bills. If you are able, please donate to Killian’s R2R Fund here. As more information on Killian’s recovery becomes available, we will update his Road2Recovery page. We encourage folks to leave positive messages of support on Killian’s R2R page for him to read. Killian and his family thank you for your generosity and support during this difficult time."
To find out more updates, and also how you can help Killian, please check out his Road 2 Recovery page.
The Master Plan (Jason Weigandt)
Look, our standards are high. Eli Tomac has already had a great career, AMA Hall of Fame–level, for certain. He’s got three straight AMA 450 Motocross Championships, which is rare air. But he is defined by not winning this 450 Supercross Championship, to the point where there’s as much talk about what he hasn’t won than what he has. If he finally gets this supercross championship, it can completely change the narrative, and while it still won’t explain away the bizarro scenarios of 2017, 2018, and 2019, he’ll have put to bed any questions about being clutch. This season, with the COVID-19 break, made this championship harder to win than most, and there was Eli operating at the same high level in these final races as he did before the break. He has ridden superbly when it counted here, including a great come-from-behind run on Wednesday. He’s making it count.
Almosts and could-haves don’t count in racing, or any sport, but think of it this way: if we assume Eli will contend for this year’s AMA 450 Motocross title again—which, obviously, he will—you’re seeing a rider good enough to be in contention for eight-straight championships over both series in a four-year span. That’s a remarkable run of speed and durability. However, we can’t discuss this because his supercross runs have been almosts and could-haves.…
Yes, the inconsistency has plagued Tomac’s rep, but his type of inconsistency is strange. It’s a few random sub-par races each supercross season that ruin his title hopes. It’s not the typical win-or-crash situation. Since he joined Monster Energy Kawasaki in 2016, Tomac has only missed one race with injury, the Houston Supercross in 2018, which, yep, cost him any shot at the title (he crashed at Anaheim one, missed round two in Houston, then returned to win round three at Anaheim). For a rider at the elite level to win this many races and battle for this many titles without a major injury or break is very uncommon. But he didn’t win the biggest ones, and that was beginning to define him. Until/unless he finally gets this on Sunday.
If (or when) he does, maybe then the story changes. Instead of the 1 millionth “what happened to Eli” discussion the narrative instead turns to his successes. You can begin talking about Eli’s own talent and drive, the superb coaching, training and upbringing by his parents, and the factory Kawasaki team, which wins all the time yet remains underrated, in my opinion. The 1980s Team Honda juggernaut and the recent rise of the KTM/Husqvarna group get so much of the limelight. But look at Kawasaki’s championship success from Jeff Emig in the mid-‘90s all the way through now, with Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart, Ryan Villopoto and Tomac. That’s a nearly 25-year run of top-flight contention with very few lean years at all. And on the training front, Aldon Baker’s incredible twenty-year run of success makes him a hot topic, always, but watching a mountain bike Hall-of-Fame dad help his son create a motorcycle-hall-of-fame career is pretty amazing. But, without that supercross title, Eli, his program, and his team couldn’t quite drink it all in.
Now they’re on the verge. This title could mean so much, in so many ways, to so many people. The 19th place he has to get really won’t be the story. It will be much, much bigger than that.
SLC Vibes (Aaron Hansel)
I’ve covered a lot of races for Racer X in the last ten years, but let me tell you, this stint in Salt Lake City has by far been the strangest of the last decade. I’m not talking about just the racing itself, either, although Wednesday, the only race I’ve been to so far since landing in SLC on Sunday, was pretty weird. But the weirdness started pretty much as soon as I landed in SLC. After immediately getting screened for COVID-19, I went to grab a haircut. Somehow I ended up at a place called Cutthroat Barber Shop, and it’s exactly like it sounds. On the front of the building there was literally a cartoon picture of a guy getting a haircut with his neck bleeding, and when I swung the door open, I’m pretty sure I heard a record needle scratch. Everyone in the place stared at me for a brief moment, and I stared back, feeling wildly out of place. It was a bunch of big dudes, most of them tatted up, who looked pretty tough, and I don’t think they were used to guys who look like they might be driving a minivan walk through the doors. They were all nice, though, and I ended up with a good cut.
Later that evening I took a stroll around downtown and the weirdness continued. Scores of pubs and restaurants here are still closed, and the places that are open are operating in very limited capacity. Except for a random pack of about 60 bicyclists riding around blasting music the other night, the streets are pretty empty. I know it’s like that almost everywhere right now, but it was such a contrast to my last memory of being in SLC, and it felt very strange, even a little sad. But when I walked back in to the hotel, there was Mitch Payton in the lobby holding court with stacks of industry people gathered around him, spaced six feet apart, of course. All of a sudden, everything was as it should be, and I slept soundly that night, my sense of normalcy somewhat restored.
After a few days of blowing off work to go play disc golf (sorry, boys, I really didn’t have as many magazine assignments stacked up as I let on), it was time to head to the stadium for round 16. Everyone had been telling me how weird it was, so I was really expecting to have my mind blown on race day. But it really wasn’t that strange at first. It was a little odd not being allowed in the pits, or working in a nearly deserted press box, but nothing too crazy. There usually aren’t a ton of fans in the stadium during qualifying anyway, so the empty seats didn’t strike me as odd. By far the weirdest part of the afternoon was seeing Ricky Carmichael and Steve Matthes actually chatting like buddies. Matthes even invited him to go mountain biking! Strange times indeed.
When the “night” show rolled around, that’s when the abnormality of the situation started to really set in. No fans, no music, no hype, no pyro, no opening ceremonies, no electricity in the air. Not even Lurch screaming into a microphone! The good thing about racing is, as cool as all those things are, they aren’t necessary for the action to be exciting. The main events—namely the 450SX main, in which Tomac came from last to second, were proof of that. It might actually have been a good thing there were no fans there, because they would have been so loud in that 450SX main they may have brought the building down! I skipped hitting the pits afterward, we’re not allowed to interact with the riders in person, and headed straight back to the hotel for the post-race press conference, which is now done via Zoom, another COVID-19 changeup.
As different as this whole week has been, it’s been strangely fun. It feels like supercross has taken over downtown SLC. Whether it’s the Kawi boys playing dominoes in the hotel lobby or endless team-branded pickup trucks rolling through the streets, it’s all supercross, all the time. You get on the elevator and you’re joined by Aldon Baker and his mountain bike. You step outside the hotel and Roger De Coster and Ian Harrison are rolling up in their truck. You walk down the sidewalk and bump into a masked Jimmy Perry. You turn your head and Align Media’s Rich Shepherd is cruising in his convertible Mustang, his super long red hair streaming comically in the wind. The reason we’re all gathered here is pretty tragic, but being here for an extended period of time has been cool. There’s no way I would have had time to go e-biking with Steve Matthes or disc golfing with Mike Emery at any other round, and I think for most people involved in this unique stretch of supercross, it’s going to be something most of us remember for quite a while.
Pro Perspective (Jason Thomas)
Well, it all comes down to this. Clichés aside, Sunday's finale marks the end of a historic Salt Lake City run. Monster Energy AMA Supercross will crown three champions on Sunday and although the 450 class is somewhat tranquil, the 250 East and West are anything but.
For many of the 450 riders, they will be ready to get this event over with. It has been a grueling few weeks, and there is a tough summer of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship ahead. For Eli Tomac and Cooper Webb, they have a championship to decide. I can't imagine Tomac will take any big chances in Sunday's main event. Catastrophe is really the only factor standing in the way of his first 450SX title. With that in mind, look for Tomac to play it safe and bring this home somewhere inside the top five. For Webb, his only recourse is to go win the race and hope the unthinkable happens.
In 250SX East, Sexton has really made a statement with his last two wins. He repossessed the momentum that McElrath had earned at rounds 11 and 12, even making contact on his way by at round 16. He comes in with a six-point lead and a mountain of confidence. The big factor here will of course be the addition of the loaded West field. With so many talented riders joining the fray, McElrath will need to holeshot and win if he wants a shot at the upset. Sexton's starts have been solid of late, but keep in mind, he's also been starting against a depleted East field. If Sexton starts poorly in the showdown and McElrath grabs his signature holeshot, we could be in for fireworks. The start of the showdown is the single most important aspect of this East Coast finale.
For the West, Austin Forkner has arrived with a vengeance. He has really raised the level we last saw in February. His two wins have brought him back within seven points of leader Dylan Ferrandis. While that may seem safe, Ferrandis faces the same challenge as Sexton: his starts have been inconsistent, opening the door to showdown drama. If riders like McElrath, Sexton, Nichols, Jett Lawrence, Christian Craig, Cameron Mcadoo, and Michael Mosiman all find themselves with great starts and in front of Ferrandis, those seven points could become much easier to erase.
Forkner and McElrath have been the more consistent starters on their respective coasts and also find themselves at similar points deficits. They will need to utilize and maximize this edge on Sunday if they want any chance of turning the tide.
One last aspect to watch for will be team tactics. Specifically, watch for riders to be deployed strategically to squeeze championship contenders. Riders like Cameron Mcadoo could be asked to start next to Ferrandis and lean on his start path, hoping to give Forkner an edge. Jett Lawrence and Christian Craig could try to start on each side of Shane McElrath, both riders leaning toward the middle. Colt Nichols could be asked to start to the inside of Chase Sexton (to help McElrath) or Austin Forkner (to help Ferrandis). The possibilities are endless, but I fully expect these games to be played. Championships don't come easy, so look for any and all opportunities to be taken.
Nichols, Craig, and McAdoo could all become important factors in their teammates' championship hopes.
Every year at the AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn's, the trend is for lap times to get quicker and quicker as the week goes on, despite several course maintenances each day and each night. Of course weather often plays a role, as does the fact that we try to schedule midday track work for after when the Pro Sports classes run and the track is at its roughest.
So what about Salt Lake City? While the track configurations have obviously changed from SLC 1 back on May 31 to SLC 6 on Wednesday night, are the lap times steadily coming down? Has everyone's growing familiarity with the dirt and altitude in Utah showing in faster laps times? Sort of. Out of curiosity, I went back and compared main-event lap counts and fastest 450SX main-event times.
SLC 1: 29 laps with a fastest main event lap time of 43.199 (Eli Tomac)
SLC 2: 27 laps with a fastest main event lap time of 45.619 (Eli Tomac)
SLC 3: 24 laps with a fastest main event lap time of 50.927 (Eli Tomac)
SLC 4: 26 laps with a fastest main event lap time of 45.676 (Cooper Webb)
SLC 5: 29 laps with a fastest main event lap time of 43.659 (Ken Roczen)
SLC 6: 29 laps with a fastest main event lap time of 42.926 (Eli Tomac)
Now let's qualify a couple of these. SLC 1 was a very forgiving layout, as the riders were on a true SX track for the first since February 29 in Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium. SLC 2 was a slightly more difficult track, and then it rained before SLC 3, which makes it the outlier. But the last three all had decent weather, and the lap times were indeed coming down.
Of course any change to configuration of the tracks means a change in lap times, so that's difficult to compare. But what's now so difficult to see is that Eli Tomac has the single fastest lap time in four of the six SLC main races, but only two of six main event wins. He's been the fastest guy, but not the best starter.
One more to go here in SLC and today I headed out to this Iron or Flying Horse Ranch place that's amazing. I went out to watch Chad Reed ride and out there was Ken Roczen, Justin Brayton, Cooper Webb, Brandon Hartranft, the Lawrence brothers, the Australian team Penrite Honda and more. It was like a mini-national or something. Beautiful place, great scenery out there and it was cool to see the guys just hanging out and doing some riding. Not a lot of intensity from the group as a whole but just a chance to get out, get the blood flowing and in Reed's case, do a bit of testing.
Yes, it's just one more for Reed but he did find some suspension stuff that he liked (talking with the Red Bull KTM guys) and so his guys were headed back to the stadium to implement the changes made today to the race bike. It's the guys last SX race but you didn't expect anything else right?
There's no doubt he's been better on the KTM here in SLC than he was on the Honda before the shutdown and he mentioned at SLC6 that he'd like to do some more racing but not the full 17-round schedule. That makes a lot of sense to me if he can get some backers like the Mountain Motorsports team did this year. He's a legend of the sport and he's going out with seven races in one city with no fans. Hardly ideal right? For him, I would think it would be worth it for Fox to have him out there and if the costs are covered, he would be able to hit the rounds he wants to, didn't have a chance to say “see ya” this year. The hard part is staying sharp and keeping his speed where it needs to be if he's taking multiple weeks off the series and then jumping back in.
You know that Feld Entertainment, who work with Reed on his VIP program, would probably love to see him back out there. So, yeah, let's make this happen. C'mon, KTM, Fox, Feld, (INSERT SPONSOR HERE), let's make this happen!
I did a Privateer Podcast with Bubba Pauli yesterday and it's interesting to hear his perspective on being a team owner, racing in Spain and other fair races in the summer and his relationship, a teaming up with Joan Cros. He reminded me a bit of a guy like Forrest Butler who wasn't in the mains (Pauli has made some though) but realized that gathering sponsors is more than just results. Interesting program and give it a listen.
Okay, I'm sitting in my truck at Reed's rental house here in Park City and we're about to go on #onelaste-bike ride also so gotta go...enjoy the last SX everyone!
Young Lawrence of Australia (Andras Hegyi)
Last Sunday's SLC 5 race was a memorable day for Australian supercross racers: after eight years off the box, an Australian reached the 250SX podium when GEICO Honda’s Jett Lawrence, a 16-year-old rookie, finished third. Before Jett, Matt Moss was the last Australian podium rider in this class, back in February 2012 at San Diego. Of course Jett is the younger Lawrence brother, and Hunter Lawrence has podium results in 250 Class of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, the MX2 World Championship, and also in the MX2 category at the Motocross of Nations. But Hunter has been mostly hurt during SX season since he arrived in America, and that has helped little brother ascend more quickly. Jett is now the youngest Australian ever to make a podium in the 125/250 SX division, in existence since 1985. Jett Lawrence will turn 17 this September. Previously it was Brett Metcalfe who was the youngest Aussie, grabbing his first podium in 2003 at the age of 19.
Australians to get podium results in the 125/250 SX
* Kim Ashkenazi was the very first Australian to get a podium in AMA 125/250SX. On February 10, 1996 he was second in the 125 SX West Region held in San Diego, aboard a Suzuki RM125.
* Brett Metcalfe took the most podium results in the 125/250SX. He collected nine podiums across five different seasons (2003, '06, '08, '09 and '10) riding with four different brands: KTM, Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki.
Of course, the most successful Australian supercross racer ever is Chad Reed, one of the all-time best from any country. He is the only Australian champion in the history of the AMA 125/250 supercross (2002) as well as the only Australian to win the premier AMA Supercross Championship (2004 and '08). Reed rode in his maiden full-time AMA season in 2002 in the 125 SX East Region, getting six wins and eight podiums for Yamaha of Troy. His amazing career will in all likelihood end on Sunday night. Thank you for all of the incredible races over the years, #22!
Eight for Webb (Andras Hegyi)
Since Monster Energy AMA Supercross returned, defending champion Cooper Webb has been putting in some excellent races. The factory Red Bull KTM rider has the most wins in Salt Lake City, especially on Wednesdays, as Ralph Sheheen points out often: all three of his wins in SLC came in the middle of the week! The late-surging Webb has taken the most points in Utah, as he has been first or second all six times so far. He's now up to second overall, as Honda's Ken Roczen has been inconsistent as he deals with ongoing health issues. Only the points leader, Eli Tomac, has also been on the podium all six times.
And regarding podium results, Webb set a new personal record in 450SX. Wednesday marked his eighth consecutive podium result. In 2019, on his way to the title, Webb reeled off six consecutive podiums. Webb has been on the podium every race since February 29 (Leap Day), which was the ninth round in Atlanta. It was before Atlanta that Webb's own inconsistency hurt his chances of successfully defending his AMA Supercross title. In the first eight rounds Webb got only one win and five podiums. Coincidentally, Webb has obtained 13 podiums so far this season, just like he did during the whole 2019 season.
Finally, regarding the number of consecutive podium results, the most successful rider ever in the history of the premier supercross class is the former Red Bull KTM star Ryan Dungey. The most successful KTM rider ever on the AMA circuit, he ran off 31 podium finishes in a row between 2015 and '16.
Congrats, Kevin Kelly! (DC)
DMXS Radio cofounder Kevin Kelly spread the good news himself on Facebook: he's a qualified announcer for the Monster Energy AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn's, which takes place August 2-8.
"Had a tough qualifier up at @bajaacres but I qualified again to announce @lorettalynnmx . Lots of great announcers to battle with here so this one feels good. Thanks to @t_cotter for for flying up specifically to watch me announce first hand. I'm sure @jasonweigandt is planning on cherry picking an easy region like out west to qualify to announce like he always does. Somebody should remind @hotrodney22 that he has to qualify as I'm sure he will barely remember that Lorettas is even happening."
Then like the pro he is, Kevin successfully read his sponsors off from his mic flag: DMXS Radio, Chico's Bail Bonds, and Vurbmoto. He's slated to announcing the 65cc, Pro Sport, and Vet +30 Sportsmen motos. We wish him luck at the Big Dance!
Meanwhile, the gates are filling up for Loretta Lynn’s as the Super Regionals have been going off all over the country. These are the high-pressure moments of summer, made all the more so this year because there was no real Area qualifying to speak of. Good luck to all of the riders out there!
THE AUGUST 2020 ISSUE OF RACER X MAGAZINE IS NOW AVAILABLE
HEY, WATCH IT!
Chad Reed's farewill to supercross:
Watch as Mark Fineis goes around the outside at the Baja Acres regional qualifier to snag the holeshot:
It gets the approval from start master Mike Alessi!
And check out Robbie Marshall hitting the “up” button on the Pleasure Valley elevator:
Perhaps overshadowed by championship scenarios for Sunday, Chad Reed may indeed embark on his final Monster Energy AMA Supercross race this weekend. Or will he? The two-time AMA Supercross Champion met with the media on Thursday night to discuss his future, and then got into the details about his career, including highs and lows, his philosophies, and more. Right now, car racing has his heart, but sees a potential spot for himself inside the supercross industry when he's finally hung up the boots. But will that position ever be available? Listen to this podcast to learn more.
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.
“The NBA Is Coming Back. There Are 113 Pages of New Rules...”—Post of Asia
“Here’s What Life Will Be Like For NBA Players Quarantined At Disney World”—NESN
“Living in DISNEY Bubble...” —Wall Street Journal
"Drunk monkey gets life behind bars for attacking 250 humans"—New York Post
That's it, thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!