Welcome to Racerhead. Well, it’s almost over, finally. No, not the election—that may unfortunately drag on for a little while longer. What’s almost over is the on-again, off-again, coronavirus-besieged 2020 racing season. Over in Italy, the FIM Motocross World Championships will conclude this weekend with the final of three rounds in Italy. And here in the States the AMA Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) Series reaches its conclusion with the Buckwheat 100 in Preston County, not far from the Racer X HQ. And out west there are the Vet World Championships out at Glen Helen, which is always a lot of fun. And then that’s pretty much it for 2020. Sure, there is the 49th Annual THOR Mini O’s, starting November 23 at the revamped Gatorback MX Park in Gainesville, Florida, and lasting throughout Thanksgiving week, but that has always felt time like the first race of next year, not the last race of the current one. (And you will be able to watch it all week long on RacerTV.com.) But as far as #2020 goes, it’s over after this weekend.
Despite this weekend’s final rounds, we already know who our champions are: Tim Gajser has repeated as MXGP Champion, Frenchman Tom Vialle has wrapped up the MX2 title, Becca Sheets claimed her second GNCC WXC crown, and Kailub Russell already clinched his eighth straight GNCC crown. As a matter of fact, Russell won’t be racing this weekend in West Virginia, as he is set to get a little surgical work done on the knee he injured a while back. Russell is also retiring from off-road racing—or at least the GNCC Series, but he may be racing somewhere in 2021. We’ll just have to wait and see.
We’re also seeing the end for a few, especially over at Trentino in Italy, as Belgium’s Clement Desalle, France’s Gautier Paulin, and Estonia’s Tanel Leok are all wrapping up their Grand Prix careers. None of the three ever managed to take a world title, but all three were very successful, winning plenty of races. All three are also highly respected in the paddock, and we likely haven’t seen the last of them around the races.
And there’s Jimmie Johnson. He’s joining fellow moto child-turned-NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer in retiring from the stock car circuits, calling it quits on a career that included seven titles. Jimmie was a class act, and he even mentioned in a Sports Illustrated feature this week that Ricky Johnson was his hero growing up. (And this was an homage to the RJ of 1982, '83....) Like Kailub, Johnson isn’t necessarily quitting racing altogether; he’s just looking for a “different grind” to occupy his passion for motorsports racing. He's already testing Indy Cars. That said, I doubt we will see Jimmie Johnson lining up in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship someday soon (though I wouldn’t put it past a couple of the others who are retiring), but it was always fun cheering for Jimmie, just as it was for Clint, because they were always motocross racers at heart, if incredibly gifted behind the wheel of a car.
Welcome to the off-season, everyone. I already can’t wait for January 16, 2021, and a road trip to Houston!
Racer X Magazine (DC)
Before we get too much further into the week that was, the brand-new issue of Racer X magazine (January 2021) just came off the presses with Jett Lawrence on his first-ever cover. Jett, of course, won the last round of the 2020 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship at Fox Raceway in Pala, the first major pro win of his career. He’s featured in the new issue along with the rest of his GEICO Honda teammates after they dominated the last motos of their team’s existence. Steve Matthes and Aaron Hansel teamed up to cover that story, which is titled “Closing Time.”
There’s also a feature I penned called “Finding Gene McCay.” It’s the story of a minicycle racing prodigy from Lexington, Tennessee, who was every bit on the level of guys like Jeff Ward and Brian Myerscough back in the early and mid-1970s, then was out of the sport by the time he was 18 years old. McCay came out to Loretta Lynn’s in August to see what the sport looks like all these years later, and he brought a suitcase filled with old clippings, magazines, photos, and more.
Jason Weigandt wrote a feature about Zach Osborne and Dylan Ferrandis called “Better With Age” that explains how so many riders seem to be succeeding in this sport at an older age. Dylan and Zach are not alone.
There’s a bunch more in the new issue so make sure you check it out on the newsstands soon, in your mailbox, or by a digital subscription. If you have a digital subscription, you can read the full "Finding Gene McCay" story below.
Give Them Time (Jason Weigandt)
In a normal year, October 1 is the official day when teams can officially announce new riders, because old contracts expire the day before that. That’s not the case this year, because the racing season stretched past October 1, so extensions and exceptions were made. We really don’t know when to expect new announcements, so when they come, it’s like an October or November surprise. We just got word last week that Monster Energy/Star Racing Yamaha had added Malcolm Stewart to its 450 roster for ’21. Then, last Friday night, just after Racerhead published, the SmarTop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts Honda team announced its ’21 roster. Stewart, obviously, is no longer there, but the team has added Shane McElrath and Benny Bloss to carryover riders Justin Hill and Vince Friese. Only Friese will race the 2021 Honda CRF450R. The team was afraid they’d be short of parts for testing, so they’ll keep three riders on their proven 2020 Honda and let Friese do the testing on the new machine. This is not unprecedented: in 2017, Honda came out with an all-new bike, which Justin Brayton rode for the MCR team, but Mike Alessi and Friese stayed on 2016s that season.
Brayton, by the way, will be racing for the expanded Penrite Honda team here in the U.S. for 2021.
What’s interesting to me is how far both Star Racing and MotoConcepts have come. A decade ago, these were not headlining teams—Star was a semi-successful Yamaha 250 outfit but certainly not a powerhouse like it is today. In fact, we used to make jokes at that team’s expense, usually about how it would sign amateurs, give them one year as a pro, and dump them. Well, you certainly can’t make fun of their process anymore, as Star keeps churning out the hits. It’s been seven seasons since Jeremy Martin and Cooper Webb started blowing minds on the new YZ250F in the 2014 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship. Seven seasons on top? That’s legit.
Star has come so far that they’ve been given the controls of Yamaha's factory 450 racing team. We’ve seen this climb before, though. We used to poke fun at the terrible results of an old Rockstar Energy Suzuki team. Eventually, that team straightened things out, started winning, then morphed into today’s Rockstar Energy Racing Factory Husqvarna squad. Teams with big dreams really can make it.
When the MotoConcepts team put Tony Alessi in charge, well, it was easy to poke fun. Drama follows the Alessi crew. But along the way, Tony the Minicycle Dad transitioned to Tony the Professional Team Manager. He’s told us he’s way less crazy now that he’s not managing his own kids. And the team has generated great results from several different riders over several different seasons. This is not luck; this is repeatable, and Shane McElrath and Benny Bloss should just be the next in line. Tony Alessi is now just known as a legit team manager, no jokes, all business. You can read my interview with Tony from earlier this week.
This week we also had the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GasGas team news, starring Justin Barcia. A week ago I was in California hosting an event for KTM and Husqvarna and heard someone testing on the supercross track on the other side of the building. The bike was, um, hitting the rev limiter a lot. So far, from everything I’ve heard, Barcia is “flying at the test track.” (Insert "Bam Bam on the GasGas going fast fast" jokes here). I think the Barcia/GasGas combo will be one of the most intriguing stories heading into the new season. Never hurts to have race winners and big names coming in with a fresh start—especially a guy who famously rides really well at the start of a season. This should be fun to watch unfold.
And with the news of the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GasGas team announcement, this is pretty funny....
World Vets (Keefer)
The 36th Annual Dubya World Vet Championships at Glen Helen kick off this weekend, and once again I got Steve Matthes out of Sin City to come race with me. If anything can make me happy, it would be Steve racing his motorcycle! I mean, why else would you work in this industry and not at least race or ride once in a while, right? Last year Matthes went 14-9 for 7th overall, and this year we have some inclement weather come into Southern California, so I’m looking to see the four-time Manitoba Champion have some better results in the mud. I will say that I like what I’ve been seeing from Steve, as he’s been traveling down south to ride with me—not to mention that he’s been ripping his local rough dez tracks near Henderson, Nevada. We’ll be recapping the whole event on Monday night's PulpMX Show, so be sure to tune in if you can't make to Glen Helen yourself this weekend. Medals Up!
Gajser’s numbers (Andras Hegyi)
Slovenian motocrosser Tim Gajser is now the first Honda rider to take four world titles in the FIM Motocross World Championships, in existence since 1957. There have been 15 Honda world champions in all so far.
Gajser is also the most successful Honda rider ever in Grand Prix history. On Wednesday he scored his 28th GP win aboard a Honda. Gajser is also the most successful Honda racer in MXGP (formerly MX1), in existence since 2004, with 23 GP wins there.
At age 24 years, 57 days old, Gajser is the second-youngest four-time world champion. The youngest to take four world titles is the currently sidelined Dutch superstar Jeffrey Herlings, who got his fourth world title in 2018 at 24 years, 4 days old. (This list does not include the women’s world championship.)
Gajser is the 12th rider to get at least four world titles. The record holder is Stefan Everts with 10 world titles. The others are Joel Robert, Roger De Coster, Eric Geboers, Georges Jobé, Joel Smets, and Harry Everts, all of whom are from Belgium, plus the Italian Antonio Cairoli, the Swedish legend Torsten Hallman, the "Flying Finn" Heikki Mikkola, and of course Herlings
Gajser’s fourth world title means that Honda now has its 30th world title. KTM has 37 and Suzuki has 30.
Someone gave me a 1965 Playboy magazine for my birthday recently. Yup! As I thumbed through it, I felt like I was looking at a time capsule. I couldn't believe how different the world was back then—and I'm not talking about the girls modestly posing in the magazine. The culture and just the way life was so much different. For instance, there were cigarette ads everywhere, without a word of warning from the Surgeon General, accompanied by maybe a dozen different hard-liquor advertisements. There were six different ads for "Press Free" polyester "Swingers'" slacks, as "Sta-Prest" pants were apparently the rage. There were record and book clubs where you got any six free if you agree to purchase six more for the rest of the year. And there was a behind-the-scenes look at Woody Allen's new film, What's New, Pussycat? with Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, and Peter O'Toole. But the real culture shock came when I stumbled upon the three different motorcycle ads in this August 1965 magazine. Mind you, this is a half-dozen years before On Any Sunday really launched motorcycling into the mainstream, and just as the Japanese brands were gaining momentum in America.
Let's start with the Yamaha ad, which apparently sold you on the idea "YAMAHA—more fun than a barrel of monkeys." It was part of a Disney movie tie-in for The Monkey's Uncle, starring Annette Funicello and Stanley the monkey and the Yamaha Rotary Jet 80, which is "the one to go ape over.... For that uncaged feeling... Get going on the greatest going."
"SUZUKI ARE HERE" shouts the Suzuki ad, here being Custer State Park in South Dakota, where one could apparently use a Suzuki to round up buffalo in "cutting out yearlings from one of the world's largest bison herds." Try that today in a state park and see how fast you end up in jail. But more astonishing is the price range of the various Suzuki models: $245 to $598.
A little more subtle was the Honda ad: "What's new in wheels? 4 minus 2." The Honda Super 90 was featured, along with "Playboy Man" and his adoring gal. The ad suggested you "think of the advantages. Prices start at $215. Insurance is painless. Upkeep negligible. And you can park it almost anywhere. The famous 4-stroke Honda engine is precise, predictable. And tough as nails. 15 models offer quite a choice... Very sophisticated design. Who needs 4 wheels?" And then the most famous advertising slogan in motorcycling history: "After all, you meet the nicest people on a Honda."
One other thing in the magazine that doesn't make a lot of sense today: the Playboy Interview subject for the August 1965 issue, usually reserved for national politicians, big movie stars, professional athletes, and the like, was with a man named Robert Shelton. His claim to fame at the time? He was the "Imperial Wizard" of the Ku Klux Klan. Among his remarkably dumb and hateful quotes? "Our studies have found there is more stirring and movement of the nigra when they have a full moon. They show a higher increase of crime and sex." Unreal.
50 for the Blu Cru (Andras Hegyi)
Thanks to Geerts, the Belgians celebrated a GP win in MX2 again for the first time since 2012. His final finish of second overall in the championship is also a high-water mark in MX2 for Belgium. In the past among Jeremy Van Horebeek was third overall in 2012, while Geerts also finished third in 2019.
On Wednesday in Trentino, Italy, Geerts collected his sixth GP win of 2020. Only the Italian Antonio Cairoli, Yamaha’s only MX2 world champion, has more Yamaha GP wins than Geerts in this division. Cairoli picked up six Grand Prix wins in 2005 and then ten more in 2007, as well as world titles in both those seasons. And thanks to Geerts, Yamaha had a points leader in MX2 for the first time since 2008. And finally, last Sunday at the first Trentino round Geerts notched Yamaha’s 50th GP win in MX2, then made it 51 on Wednesday. (Two earlier winners were Americans Zach Osborne and Cooper Webb.) Yamaha is the second most successful brand in the MX2, behind only KTM, which has 177 GP wins in all in this class.
Yamaha’s 51 GP-wins in the MX2
Antonio Cairoli (Italy): 24 GP wins
Jago Geerts (Belgium): 6
Andrew McFarlane (Australia): 4
Valentin Guillod (Switzerland): 3
Billy Mackenzie (Great Britain): 2
Davide Guarneri (Italy): 2
(One win each): Alessio Chiodi (Italy); Nicolas Aubin (France); Benoit Paturel (France); Maxime Renaux (France); Gautier Paulin (France); Cooper Webb (USA); Zach Osborne (USA); Dean Ferris (Australia); Max Anstie (Great Britain); Ben Watson (Great Britain)
The january 2021 ISSUE OF RACER X MAGAZINE IS NOW AVAILABLE
Inside the January issue: With Dylan Ferrandis and Zach Osborne winning titles, is old the new young in AMA Pro Motocross? We say goodbye to GEICO Honda after 20-plus amazing years. Gene McCay was a seventies minicycle prodigy who walked away from the sport, what happened? Our annual holiday shopping guide—this time stocking-stuffers only! These features and much more in the January issue of Racer X.
Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GasGas introduction of Justin Barcia to the team:
HEAD-SCRATCHING HEADLINE/S OF THE WEEK
“Russell Wilson Spends 'at Least $1 Million' Each Year on His Body”—Popculture.com
“A Profanity Filter Banned the Word ‘Bone’ at a Paleontology Conference.”—Vice.com
“Google searches for ‘Liquor Stores Near Me’ hit all time high as Americans watch election results come in”—DailyMail.co.uk
The gate drops on Monday night at MotoXDream360.com for the first ever flashback 90s fantasy Supercross game. The WeBigInc Early 90s kicks off with three nights of racing each week for the next four weeks. We entered every round of 250 main events from the 90, 91 & 92 seasons into our MXD360 database and each Monday (90), Wednesday (91) and Friday (92) nights, the computer will kick out a random main event. You can now hire dirt bike legends, Bayle, Stanton, Bradshaw, Chicken, Wardy, Kiedrowski, Larocco, Dubach, Tichenor and hell, even Surf Detergent's own Jeff Glass. Hire a team of 8 riders each week under the 3 million dollar salary cap and go racing for four weeks. Old Cycle News race recaps the next day after each race. And best of all, it's FREE. 12 races over 4 rounds to win some cool Camel & Coors swag from WeBigInc. The 90s, when else could an 18 year kid promote cigarettes and beer? And seriously, what else ya gotta do til January 16th? MotoXDream360, so easy a monkey could do it.
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid’EH Update #45.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!
Main Image: @legomotox