Welcome to Racerhead and the dog days of winter, or maybe these are the winter doldrums, or whatever we call this period of downtime from races. Because it's not really the off-season anymore, as everyone involved in Monster Energy AMA Supercross is working hard right now shaking down bikes, testing their settings, getting in shape, and just basically planning to hit the road around this time next month, if all goes according to plan. And this still being 2020, of course nothing can be really certain to go according to plan! Still, we're counting on the 2021 SX season to start on January 16 and stay for a week of residency in Texas—a state that has technically never really hosted the opening round of a season, unless you count 1988. That's the year multiple SX promoters were feuding and the Anaheim SX opener, set for January 30, was run without an AMA sanction. It was clumsily called the MTEG Coors Super Crown of Stadium Motocross, as the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group had the exclusive right to hold dirt events in all of the California stadiums, but Mike Goodwin had the contract with the AMA to be the exclusive promoter of AMA Supercross events in California. It would end badly, but that's a whole different story.
So on January 30, 1988, a race was held at Anaheim, won by Rick Johnson of Team Honda, followed by Micky Dymond of Team Yamaha, Jeff Ward of Team Kawasaki, Broc Glover of Team Yamaha, and Erik Kehoe of Suzuki. For all intents and purposes it was the first "supercross race" of 1988—it just didn't count in the AMA Supercross standings. One week later, at the Houston Astrodome, defending champion Jeff Ward got the win over Johnson, Dymond, Kawasaki's Ron Lechien, and Kehoe. The record book shows that Houston race as the 1988 AMA Supercross opener. Confused? So was I, but thanks to Jason Weigandt for reminding me of this strange saga.
In case you're wondering, last year there was no SX race planned for Houston on the original schedule. The last time the series visited NRG Stadium was 2019, and the race was won by Red Bull KTM's Cooper Webb, followed by his teammate Marvin Musquin, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna's Dean Wilson, Kawasaki's Eli Tomac, and Honda's Cole Seely. The 250SX West Region round was won by Monster Energy/Star Racing Yamaha's Dylan Ferrandis.
In Southern California and Florida, the test tracks and private tracks have been humming with activity, including the time-honored team photo shoots for posters and autograph stock. It all looks and feels a little different, as there is no Yamaha factory team and no JGR Suzuki, but there is now a Star Racing Yamaha 450 team and Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GasGas team. The latter is off to a great start, too, as Justin Barcia has already snagged a cover for them, landing on the front page of our brand-new issue. It's the first time we've ever had a GasGas on the cover. It's also the first time in a while that we've seen Barcia in different threads than the Alpinestars gear we've long seen him wearing, probably all the way back to his GEICO Honda days. (TLD also picked up rookie-to-be Max Vohland, who is on the Red Bull KTM factory team.) As for Alpinestars, they still have quite a stable of athletes, including defending AMA Supercross Champion Eli Tomac, former champ Jason Anderson, they just signed two-time 250SX East Region champion Chase Sexton, former FIM Motocross World Champions Jeffrey Herlings and Romain Febvre over in Europe, Dutch Yamaha rider Glenn Coldenhoff, and now Team Honda's Hunter and Jett Lawrence, and more. That's a solid global lineup!
Inside the February issue: Eli Tomac is the 2020 Racer X Rider of the Year. Joe Gibbs Racing MX may be gone, but its influence can be felt across the pits. Sometimes the champions aren’t always the fastest riders. On a good day, these guys could beat anyone. Todd DeHoop checks out the SoCal Vintage MX Classic at Glen Helen. These features and much more in the February issue of Racer X.
Speaking of the GasGas, our test rider Kris Keefer was out testing the 2021 GasGas MC 250F and MC 450F model at Glen Helen Raceway. Stay tuned for his initial thoughts on the bikes over the next week!
But back to the present, right now in December, and the coronavirus. The vaccine is almost here, but it's going to take some time and some convincing for some folks to get it. All across the country the pandemic is wreaking havoc on our everyday lives, and the motorcycle industry has been no different. Sure, we saw a huge increase in sales, but we also have seen the economy in general take huge hits. And with more and more restrictions coming, it's hard to tell where we're going to be. There's a GNCC banquet this weekend, but it's all virtual, which means no one will get to rip the sleeves off of whatever James Bond jacket Kailub Russell wears this time. And I spoke to Donn Maeda earlier about his Swap Moto Live Series event, which is still on for this Sunday afternoon at Glen Helen, though there will be no camping as the state of California is starting to lock down again.
No matter, everyone keeps working through the uncertainty, getting ready for the start of a new year, a new season, and hopefully a return to some sense of normalcy. Like I said, these are the dogs days, or maybe the doldrums, and we have to just keep working to get through it. Hopefully sooner than later.
Biggest Team (Jason Weigandt)
All year long we’ve joked about Monster Energy/Star Racing Yamaha hiring 49 riders for 2021, and this week the squad held its team photo shoot, and it looks ridiculous. Maybe it’s not 49 riders, but I counted nine bikes in the photos, and that doesn’t even include new amateur signing Levi Kitchen. So let’s make it ten riders!
“We’re full,” joked team owner Bobby Regan when I talked to him yesterday. “But we’re still looking over at some guys in Europe! All we want to do is win. Our passion hasn’t changed. It might even be more than it has ever been before.”
Of all the riders on the team, Aaron Plessinger might have the most interesting perspective of all, because he’s the only rider who will switch from the previous Monster Energy Yamaha 450 factory team over to Star’s new 450 campaign. I talked to Aaron this week and he indicated the Star bike is much different than his previous Yamaha, and he absolutely loves it. Aaron’s confidence had taken a big hit in 2020, those Salt Lake City Supercross rounds were not good for him or Justin Barcia and Aaron said he had gotten to the point where he, “couldn’t get through whoops to save my life.” Then he suffered a really bad wrist break and dislocation during testing for the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship. That resulted in a long time off the bike, which sunk him further into the depths. Once he started riding again, and now back on the team he had so much success with in the 250 class, he started to feel it again.
“I’m still not quite there with the confidence in the whoops, but it’s really coming back. I’m almost back to where I want to be,” said AP with still more than a month before Monster Energy Supercross begins. He says the Star YZ450F is quite a bit different than his 2020 bike, and so far he absolutely loves it.
Regan told me they’ve stripped a lot of weight off the Yamaha YZ450F, and they’ve putting all the technical know-how developed from their 250 program into the 450 effort, obviously. Of course, the challenges are different, as instead of trying to build horsepower on the 450 they’re focused on rideability. Regan, Brad Hoffman, Wil Hahn, and Jeremy Coker splitting the management duties of the 250 and 450 teams. Regan is still the primary amateur talent scout, although he’s starting to bring Hahn along with him in that role.
“The goal is to keep this going long after I’m not able to do it anymore,” said Regan.
Still, while winning is the only goal for Regan, he does admit they’re brand new to the 450 class and have a lot to learn. In fact, while they only had to sign two 450 riders, they wanted to bring a third rider, Malcolm Stewart, on board to help the team collect even more data and information about the big-bike class.
As I spoke with Regan, he just kept repeating two terms over and over: passion and winning. That’s it. Bobby’s team doesn’t sell parts, they don’t do anything but go racing and Bobby has always been willing to spend his own money to do it. In fact, he says he and his wife put in a lot of hours to help run the team, but they’ve never taken any pay from motocross, as his car dealership in Mississippi is still his main job. All he wants to do is win. Can they do it in the 450 class? So far the early returns on their 450 project sound quite good.
Check out this post from former JGRMX team manager Jeremy Albrecht's Instagram post of a McElrath #12 JGRMX Suzuki RM-Z450.
Off-Season (Mitch Kendra)
While we’re still in the “off-season” for the pros—though, as DC said, they are all hard at work getting ready for 2021—the time has come where amateur riders are in their off-season as well. The big events of the year—the Daytona Ricky Carmichael Amateur Supercross, Loretta Lynn’s, Mini O’s, and more—have come and gone. Some riders are putting in more seat time on their new bikes, riders such as Ryder Difrancesco (new to the Kawasaki KX250), Haiden Deegan (new to the 125 but also takes his dad Brian’s KTM 450 SX-F for a spin here and there too!), Casey Cochran (new to the GasGas), and more. Others are grinding away on their second year racing the bike they are one. Some A level guys Levi Kitchen and Cullin Park, are working toward making their pro debuts later in 2021.
Kitchen’s winning streak in 2020 finally came to an end—not because he started losing, but because he ran out of races to compete in! Now that his off-season has started, he got a call from the Monster Energy/Star Racing Yamaha crew to come and test for some supercross. As Weege explained above, as if they don’t have enough guys yet! Kitchen signed with Rock River Yamaha in 2019 and has since pitted under the same tent as the Monster Energy/Star Racing Yamaha amateurs at big events. He envisioned himself on one of those Star Racing Yamaha bikes one day.
“As far as amateur-wise, I think my bikes were plenty competitive on an amateur level,” Kitchen said last week. “We [Yamaha amateur riders] all got along but the end goal was for sure to be on that side of the tent on a Star bike. So that’s what I was working for the whole time.”
Now, the Washington native will have his opportunity. With his excellent performance at the Mini O’s in November, Kitchen earned his final points toward his Supercross Futures pro license (since the event counted as points in the A divisions because COVID-19 has impacted the ability to run SX Futures events in 2021), but he’s not rushing into the pros?. His goal is to get comfortable with supercross now in the off-season, remain amateur throughout 2021 Loretta Lynn’s, and then make his pro debut in the final three rounds of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship.
“I’m just taking it day by day, but I think initially [the plan is] to stay amateur A until Loretta’s, race Loretta’s as my last amateur race, and do some outdoors after that,” Kitchen said. “But my initial goal is, if I feel ready, I want to just go [pro] outdoors next year and just kinda make that my plan. Or do Loretta’s, either way. I’m open to anything, really. Whatever they [the team] think I should do, they know best.”
Cullin Park is working toward that same “2021 amateur to pro late in the year” plan—albeit going about it his own way. Park, a native of Clermont, Florida, trains with several of the local pros day in and day out—including Tyler Bowers, who has taken the 19-year-old under his wing. Park recently switched from Yamahas to Hondas and made his debut on red as a member of Michael Lindsay’s Chapparal Honda team at Mini O’s just a few weeks after learning the ropes on the CRF250R. The team had a midweek hiccup—which you can read about in the full interview with Park that we will have posted on RacerXOnline.com in a few days—but overall the week went well for the Florida native.
“I had a really good, consistent week,” Park said on the phone. “I got a moto win in Open Pro [450 Pro Sport] in outdoors. And I was really hoping to land a championship but I fell just a little short. But overall I’ve gotta be happy with my week. It’s a new bike, new team, and I’m just happy to have consistent week up on the podium.”
Next on the agenda for Park?
“Getting ready for this year, I’m not going to be racing supercross, but I want to get on supercross this year and just get comfortable with it because obviously it’s a whole new learning curve for me coming up,” he said.
“My next big amateur events will be the big spring nationals: the next big one will be the Daytona RCSX, Freestone,” Park said on 2021. “From there, hit Lorretta’s.”
Seeing Park on the Chapparal Honda at Mini O’s was a shocker since he had been on Yamahas all year until he posted a photo from the pits at Gatorback Cycle Park of his new ride.
Yamaha YDX-Moro Pro E-Bike (Keefer)
Steve Matthes and I had the chance to meet the guys at Yamaha up at Sky Park in the San Bernardino mountains to try their new Moro Pro E-Bike. I’m not a huge e-bike mountain bike guy like Matthes, but it was fun to see/hear about all the technology that goes into their product lineup. I thought it was also interesting that Yamaha has a lot of proprietary parts on each bicycle. Yamaha makes their own batteries, and they only sell/make aluminum frames for their bicycles, and those are only a couple of the things that stood out to me during the presentation. I also found it interesting that Matthes was about as attentive as I would be if I was at a new motocross bike intro. He was definitely was in his element! He was asking a lot of detailed questions and even had facial expressions that mimicked some of the best I have ever seen from him. Once the guys at Yamaha spoke about the delivery of the Moro's motor/pedal delivery, you could just see the Canadian face light up. I wish I could have got a video, just so all of you could see the pure joy on his face once he started riding up the mountain. It was like a kid opening up his presents on Christmas morning. Look for a full report about the day and the bike right here on racerxonline.com very soon!
The Golden Boy's Pink Gear (DC)
Last weekend at the Master of the Pit race at Butler, Pennsylvania’s Switchback MX, we told Ryan Villopoto we would come up with a list of our favorite Yamaha riding gear sets from yesteryear, just to give him and his new gear partner Canvas MX some ideas for future possible tributes.
Of course, one of the outfits we included was Broc Glover's first set of pink JT Racing gear, which he debuted in the fall of 1984 at the very last round of the season … sorta. It's an interesting story we never knew, so we told Broc we would share it here.
"The Summer Olympics were held in the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1984, which meant that we couldn't race there for almost two years because they had to completely renovate the old stadium," Glover begins. "We had to go race in Pasadena—the '83 Superbowl of Motocross was in the Rose Bowl, not the LA Coliseum. Same in 1984, at least for the summer. But then after the actual Olympics were done, they decided to go back to the Los Angeles Coliseum in November since everything from the Olympics was finally out of the stadium. But the color schemes that they had changed, all of the pastels and '80s colors that were part of the renovation, were still there.
"So John and Rita Gregory showed up that day with this brand-new pink gear, which was really, really pink! Yamaha was in the process of switching their racing colors from yellow to white, and since the race was so late in the year, we actually rode our 1985 bikes, which were white and red. The pink gear kinda matched, but I really wasn't into it—I actually thought it was some kind of prank, or that I would look like a clown—so I didn't wear it in the actual main event. But following the main event, they had a one-off race called the Miller Masters, which had a $50,000 purse, which was huge, and the only people allowed to race were ones who had won main events during the 1984 series. But they realized that it wasn't very many guys, so they decided to invite anyone who has won a heat race as well. I ended up telling John and Rita that I would maybe wear it in the Miller Masters.
"That whole night I was feeling kind of sparky and thinking I could do well. In the main event I started out second behind Ronnie [Lechien], but then he hit some of that hard-packed adobe that had been watered, which made it really slick and so he crashed. I was right behind him and couldn't avoid him and crashed too. I was pissed!
"The Miller Masters was about 20 minutes later, and I was back at the Yamaha truck and totally pissed. That's when I decided, ‘Okay, I will put this pink gear on,’ but I would not wear the pink boots, only because they were brand new, and I didn’t end up wearing the jersey either. I went to the line and everyone was looking at me like, What the heck? But I was still so mad about losing that shot at winning the main event that I was totally motivated to win the Miller Masters, and I went out and just got it done. And all of the sudden the pink JT Racing gear became this big deal! Seriously, I only wore it because I was so pissed about what happened in the main event. That's how the whole thing started!"
Indeed, the pink JT Racing gear did become somewhat iconic, not just for Glover but also for Jacky Vimond, who raced a Yamaha YZ250 in Europe to the 1986 FIM 250cc World Championship.
I also got to talk to Pete Fox about his zebra design, which we called the coolest Yamaha gear ever when Damon Bradshaw was wearing it as a rookie in 1989. But Pete said the gear wasn't actually on Damon first, but rather Rick Johnson. "At that time, moto fashion was uniform, solid, and a little stale,” Pete said. “I wanted to have fun and push the creativity. Lucky for me, when I showed the prototype to Rick Johnson, he was totally into it. He wore it for the first time at Unadilla [at the '88 250cc U.S. Grand Prix] and looked badass." We certainly agree!
The february 2021 ISSUE OF RACER X MAGAZINE IS NOW AVAILABLE
Nine-year-old Alexander Ciciretti was sent to the emergency room after a motocross accident earlier this year. The incident ended up saving his life because doctors at Orlando Health were able to discover a life-threatening condition that he and his parents hadn’t known about previously.
Here is a Vital MX video of Jo Shimoda shaking down his new Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki out at the supercross test track above Glen Helen:
listen to this
The debut episode of the new LeattRe-Raceables Podcastwhere Steve Matthes and Jason Weigandt take you through the epic Anaheim 1 2005 SX opener. From the mud, to Stew's 250SX debut to RC throwing it away, Weege and Matthes recap all the drama on TV and behind the scenes of this epic race. Weege says this is hands down the most hyped opener in the history of the sport and he will not back down from that position. This race had Carmichael, Reed, Stewart, McGrath and Pastrana all on the same gate, people! Check out the pod with the link above or just search for it where you get your pods.
HEAD-SCRATCHING HEADLINE/S OF THE WEEK
“THE OLYMPICS: BREAKDANCING BECOMES OLYMPIC SPORT... Spins Into '24 Games”—TMZ.com
“Michigan-Ohio State football game called off due to COVID-19 cases with Wolverines”—ESPN.com
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid’EH Update #50.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!