Main Image: Gatorback Cycle Park by Cole Beach Photography
Welcome to Racerhead on another Friday during the off-season. We’re a week away from Thanksgiving, which means we’re just a few days away from the start of the 49th Annual THOR Mini O’s from Gatorback Cycle Park in Gainesville, Florida. This is maybe the best week of every off-season, because it gives us a chance to see the fast young kids coming up, many racing bigger bikes for the first time. It’s also a trip down memory lane for anyone who went to the Mini O’s over the years. The event started way back in 1972 as what were called the Winter Nationals, at a track called North Florida Raceway near Jacksonville. It then moved to Chicken Farm (real name) at Homosassa Springs, then ultimately to Gatorback in 1983—the same year Gatorback held its first AMA Pro Motocross National. FLASH TRIVIA: Who were the winners of the 1983 Gatorback National? Answer farther down. RacerTV.com will be streaming the motos all week long, so stay turned for a viewing schedule.
The Mini O’s started with three disciplines: flat track, motocross, and an off-road Grand Prix. In the late seventies they added a TT event to the flat track, and then in 1985 they added “stadium motocross,” later to be known as supercross. They also eventually got rid of the off-road GP, as the event had become so popular that they didn’t have room to set up a track in the fields. And eventually they did away with the flat track and TT events, as it required everyone to load up and drive over to Ocala, the nearest oval track, in the middle of the week. Among the standouts of those early years were Jeff Ward, the future superstar from California who helped get the event on the map; his East Coast rival Gene McCay; homegrown Floridans Kippy Pierce, Karl Jordan, Todd Hempstead, Vince Devane, and Ron Tichenor; and West Coast visitors like Larry Ward, Kyle Lewis, Bob Moore, Bader Manneh, and Johner Kight. And then along came the biggest of all the Mini O’s stars, Damon Bradshaw. If you want to read more on the origins of the Mini O’s and the early years, check out part one of our feature on Mini O’s History, which goes up to the Damon Bradshaw era.
Personally, I went to my first Mini O’s in 1977 when it was at Chicken Farm. I was never much of a sand rider, as there’s no sand in West Virginia unless you find some piled up on a construction site or playground, so I got thoroughly whipped. The next year, my longtime friend and fellow West Virginian Brian Stanley went down to the Mini O’s and won the first of three Mini O’s championships, which ruined my excuse every Thanksgiving! But besides getting beat, I remember those old Mini O’s as being a lot of fun, and also drawing a lot of very fast kids! It should be fun to watch.
The 2021 Monster Energy AMA Supercross schedule got a tweak this week: the schedule has been adjusted to include a third race in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s now a tripleheader that will serve as the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds of the series. The first race will be Saturday, January 30; the second on Tuesday, February 2; and then the third will now take place on Saturday, February 6. I’m already contemplating the back-and-forth five-hour drives from Morgantown to Indy, and with it being in February, it will probably feel a lot like the annual drive through winter to the Indy Trade Show, then watching industry folks get arrested after midnight out in front of Steak ‘N Shake. (Yes, I mean you, McGuyver.) Feld Entertainment added in their press release: “Three Rounds of the 17-Round Championship will be announced later as will the remaining Eastern Regional and Western Regional 250SX Class races, Triple Crown and East/West 250SX Showdown events.”
Lastly, in the new issue of Racer X magazine, there’s a feature I wrote about the aforementioned Gene McCay, a prodigal talent from Tennessee who raced in the 1970s. We had a lot of material for it, and we’ve been fooling around with audio stories online, so the next logical step to try seemed like a spoken-word slideshow. With some help from Andrew Fredrickson and Griff Cotter, here’s my telling of “Finding Gene McCay.”
TRIVIA ANSWER: Something of a trick question, as there were three classes that day! Suzuki’s Mark Barnett won the 125 class, Honda’s David Bailey won the 250 class, and Kawasaki’s Kent Howerton topped the 500s.
Marv’s In the Mix (Jason Weigandt)
Nothing more nerve-wracking in the moto media than rocking up to the test track. Sometimes you’re welcomed, and sometimes the work is supposed to happen in secret. Worst, you’ll usually get permission from five different people to come to the track, but then there’s a sixth guy around who didn’t know you were coming and doesn’t want you to be there. But test track media is critical during this time of year because we won’t see the riders on a racetrack for months. KTM solves this problem a bit by holding a factory team launch every year at its test track. On Tuesday afternoon, Marvin Musquin, Cooper Webb, and Max Vohland (the Red Bull KTM team for 2021) and Joey Savatgy and Justin Bogle (Rocky Mountain ATV/MC-KTM-WPS for 2021) came to the track for a presentation, interviews, and some riding. I got to host the event, which was cool, and then I quickly swapped my KTM host shirt back over to a Racer X shirt to get more content. Literally. All of the riders then spun some laps except Savatgy, who literally hasn’t ridden a KTM 450 SX-F yet.
We’ve covered most of these stories this week. Check out today’s Three on Three feature for thoughts on Savatgy and Vohland (plus Broc Tickle to SmarTop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts). I also interviewed Savatgy and team owner Forrest Butler. We’re still wondering what happened to Blake Baggett, who had one year left on his contract. If we had to guess, 2020’s budget crunch didn’t work out in Baggett’s favor, but Baggett isn’t one to reveal much info.
I also want to discuss Marvin Musquin, who is back on a supercross track for really the first time since the end of the 2019 season. Marv wasn’t riding at last year’s SX intro, and his knee never came right, costing him all of SX in 2020. His knee was actually bad leading into 2019 as well, so he had barely any riding or testing heading into the ’19 SX campaign, and yet he still finished third in the standings. A year before that, Marvin was on fire during the off-season, winning nearly everything he entered (including the Monster Million at the Monster Energy Cup) and came out and won Anaheim 1.
“I just want to see what I can do entering with a good off-season,” Marvin said at the team event. “I was able to get some good results at the end of 2019, but before the season we weren’t even sure if I was going to be able to race.”
So, the last time we saw Marv enter a campaign with full head of steam, he won the opener (unfortunately, he crashed out of round two). Can he get all the way back to his old level? It’s one of the real stories heading into this season. Marv’s been a contender nearly his whole career. Can he keep that going after a year off?
MARTY NATION (Matthes)
No one was happier than me to see Martin Davalos shining in the 450SX class last season. Well, it wasn't all sunshine, as there were some rough moments for the "rookie" in the big-bike class, but he got better as the series went on, almost made a podium, and rode very well in the SLC series. I wondered if he was in line to move elsewhere in the off-season, but we had him on the PulpMX Show on Monday night and he said he didn't really talk to anyone and he's happy to go back to Team Tedder KTM. He's got access to some very good parts for the bike, and he seemed like he really enjoyed riding for Tedder. This past year was the first time he wasn't contracted to ride the motocross series, and even though he said the team told him he could ride motocross if he wanted to, he told us that with all the COVID stuff going on, he laid low all summer and didn't ride for a couple of months.
When you look at the field of 450SX riders, I think not many people are thinking about Davalos and his chances in 2021. He was sneaky good last year—remember, it was him who took down Adam Cianciarulo's fastest-qualifier streak last year at Anaheim 2! I've always been there for Marty, and it was good to talk to him on the show. Watch out for Hurricane Marty—it's coming to Houston.
We had a good PulpMX Show with Marty, Tim Cotter from MX Sports, Filthy Phil, and Colt Nichols on. Weege was out here for some VIP hosting thing, so I was able to get him up here to co-host with me. On the show he told us about his cabinet-hanging woes that were great. Poor Weege. Get it for the rider interviews, stay for the Weege cabinet stories, please and thank you.
Check out the interview with Davalos below:
Moto Dad'n (Keefer)
Between going to the track every day this week and doing my normal job, I have also been working hard on my Moto Dad skills. My son Aden is getting ready for the Az Open on December 3, so I have been burning the candle on both ends at the track. Now, this is nothing new to most people reading this, but in my case it's new to me. Twenty-twenty has brought challenging times to a lot of parents out there, but it also has allowed me to spend more time with my son. This year has also allowed Aden to blossom as a rider and get a hunger that I never have seen from him, but holy crap is it exhausting and nerve-racking. It's tough because I have to focus on the bikes/parts that I’m testing, but at the same time I have to make sure Aden gets enough attention from me as well. It's a balancing act that I am working on. I hope to dial it in more as we go, but man, is it fun to watch your child get better at anything in life, let alone something you're still into and love yourself. To all the parents out there grinding it out in the moto battlefields for your children, I salute you! I may need to seek some of your wisdom here shortly or I might have to take up drinking. Holy crap.
Helping a Friend & Fellow Rider (Blake Wharton)
A friend of mine @laliberte_11 had a bad crash recently that has left him in the hospital for three months. Chris Lalberte has a long road ahead of him, but he’s in good spirits, though this is not a great time to be in the hospital due to COVID-19. Shout out to @firstname.lastname@example.org for taking care of him. If you can help a fellow rider out, here is his Road 2 Recovery account. Get well, Chris! Hope to see you at the races soon.
Slovenia rules (Andras Hegyi)
Once upon a time, Slovenia was a part of the old Eastern Bloc of Europe. Once a part of the communist domain of the Soviet Union, Slovenia was part of what used to be called Yugoslavia. It declared independence in 1991 to become the first country to break off from Yugoslavia. Now it's home to be the best Eastern European motocrosser ever, Tim Gajser.
The Honda HRC factory rider holds numerous records, both for his country and for Honda. He is the first four-time Honda Motocross World Champion, as well as the most successful Honda rider in the FIM Motocross World Championship, with 29 Grand Prix wins. And thanks to Gajser, Slovenia has managed to get to the top of Eastern Europe in regards to motocross, which is a big deal since this is a very small nation—Slovenia is only the 150th biggest country by area in the world, comparable in size to New Jersey!
Before the fall of the Eastern Bloc (the Soviet Bloc) in the late 1980s and early '90s, motocross riders from the Soviet Union (mainly Russia) and East Germany were very competitive. In the 1960s and the '70s they took world championships in the former 500cc and the 250cc categories. From the Soviet Union, Gennady Moisseev took three world titles in the 250cc class in the 1970s, and before him his fellow countryman Victor Arbekov was the 1965 FIM 250cc World Champion. Also, Paul Friedrich from East Germany became took three world titles in the former premier 500cc class. And the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia were always competitive in the Trophy and Motocross des Nations until 1980.
After the Cold War started to fade in 1980, the funds for motocross racing were no longer there for most communist countries. A long break set in for the Eastern European riders, as they could not win any world titles against the Western riders. That winless period lasted until the 2010s, as countries declared independence and rebuilt their economies. Since then, Latvia and Slovenia managed to enter the world motocross elite. Pauls Jonass is the first (and only) world champion from Latvia, taking the MX2 title in 2017, while Klemen Gercar was the maiden world champion from Slovenia, in MX3 in 2013. Then began the Tim Gajser era. He just took his fourth world title and became the most successful Eastern European crosser ever, surpassing both Moisseev and Friedrichs. Slovenia is also now the most successful East European country regarding the number of world titles. Slovenia has five world titles, allowing them to overtake the former Soviet Union, which had four world titles.
MOTOXDREAM360.COM Update (DC)
Meanwhile, in moto fantasy land, the dcracerx team briefly broke into the top 50 of the WeBigInc Early 90s leaderboard, then slipped back to 61st (out of 219 entries). Thanks to a solid ride by Damon Bradshaw at the 1991 Atlanta Supercross and a fourth-place finish by Mike Kiedrowski, my fantasy lineup is doing better than I expected when I drafted it after a big gulp of wine last weekend. (Okay, maybe it was a bottle.) But my old team leaders, Jean-Michel Bayle and Jeff Stanton, went 2-3, minimizing my gains. My lifelong friend Mark Sepkovic continues to make Western PA MX proud with the overall lead, and I noticed Denny Stephenson is 13th, Tony C693 is in the top 30, Johnny O’Hannah is a solid 44th, just a few spots in front of PulpMX. And breathing down my neck in 62nd is Clinton Fowler of @3lapsdown fame, and I think Keith Johnson is The Wick sitting mid-pack at 103rd… Bobby Show of WPAMX Time Machine in 121st, which happens to be the last number that a 125 SX winner from Western Pennsylvania was wearing, #121 Branden Jesseman at the 2007 Orlando SX….
Can’t believe I just did a Breaking News update on a fantasy league. Welcome to the off-season. Check it out if you want to have some off-season fun: www.motoxdream360.com. Looking forward to tonight’s race, whichever it is from 1992.
The january 2021 ISSUE OF RACER X MAGAZINE IS NOW AVAILABLE
Craig Delong claimed the 2020 XC2 GNCC title, check out his highlight video below:
Grant Baylor won both his and Sherco's first AMA National Enduro title.
Bummer to this trashed bike after quite a tumble
Moto Co Revolutions trailer: (full video to come on December 8, 2020):
HEAD-SCRATCHING HEADLINE/S OF THE WEEK
“Director Spike Lee changes direction with musical about Viagra”—News.trust.org
“JUSTIN HERBERT R.I.P. LUSCIOUS LOCKS!!!... Shocking New Look”—TMZ
"A Whole Australian State Shut Down Because of a Takeout Pizza That Didn’t Exist"—Wall Street Journal
Pretty cool to see Brett Smith's story on the Yamaha PW50 in the December 2020 AMA issue, which was highlighted on the cover.