Main Image by Jason Weigandt
Welcome to Racerhead, coming to you from the first road trip of 2021 for me. In the Racer X van with me are MX Sports’ Tim Cotter, Racer X Brand Manager Ryan McLeod, and Jeff “GameStop” Cernic (he’s buying all weekend). We are rolling across Ohio headed for Indianapolis, Lucas Oil Stadium, and the fourth round of the 2021 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship. I wasn’t planning on attending an event until maybe the Atlanta rounds, but after listening to Jason Weigandt’s recap of Houston 1-2-3 and the “Bosom Buddies” Airbnb he was sharing with Matthes and “Filthy” Phil Nicoletti, we decided to make the trip west to the second stop of the series, though only for this round and not all three. Our first stop was Waffle House, second stop was this old sign. Still hanging on!
When we get to Indy (about a six-hour drive in total), we’re first headed to the Irving Theater on Washington Street for tonight’s live (but limited-capacity) Racer X/PulpMX Live Show, and then to the stadium in the morning to watch practice and timed qualifying—but not actually go down in the pits or anything, following the very strict guidelines in place for the safety and wellbeing of the riders, team staff, officials, and more. Feld Entertainment needed to put those restrictions in place (and follow them) in order to make this series even happen. And for that we should all be thankful, because it’s been one helluva series so far!
Think about it: We’ve had six different winners in the six main events so far. The 450SX points leader (by a single digit) hasn’t won yet, and the 250SX East has two guys wearing the red plates this weekend who happen to be teammates and each posting a win, a runner-up, and a show finish so far. There have been eight different riders to occupy the nine podium spots so far in 450SX, and last week’s Houston 3 saw a dramatic turn of events that showed Cooper Webb still has his killer instincts, Ken Roczen has a resilience that’s built up over some difficult years, and Dean Wilson might be colorblind.
So now they’ve all rolled into Indianapolis—the home of Lucas Oil, Eli Lilly, Steak ‘N Shake, and big-city neighbor to our buddies at Throttle Jockey, who actually hail from the mean streets of Kokomo—to continue the supercross drama for a new set of select fans, and we will be four of them. Here’s hoping Indy delivers as much good racing and drama as the tripleheader in Houston did!
But before we get into the rest of the week, we need to start with one more nod to Mike “Too Tall” Bell….
Mike Bell: Godspeed (DC)
Our sport lost a great guy this past Sunday when Mike Bell passed away while mountain-biking due to a heart attack. If you knew Mike personally, you know the words “great guy” were an understatement. He was an absolute gem as a person, during and after his racing career. He absolutely loved the sport, the industry, his competitors, the fans—he was the kind of guy everyone looked up to, and not because he was taller than your average motocross racer. Mike is also now the first AMA Supercross Champion who is no longer with us, a terrible distinction, sadly. (Donny Schmit and Brian Swink were 125 SX Champions who also left this earth too soon.) We took a look back at some of the highlights of Bell’s career, all but one race of which was on a Yamaha, with this week’s List.
On a personal note, I got to know Mike after his racing career was over and he was working at Oakley, and later KMC Wheels. I would send him old photos from his career I found in either the Dick Miller Archives or old press kits or wherever, and he would write back with great memories of what was maybe going on that day of racing—something cool about the bike or just how much he loved that track. He was incredibly humble for a guy who won the 1980 AMA Supercross title, a whole bunch of outdoor nationals and Trans-USA races, international supercrosses, and much, much more. Instead, he was just like any of the rest us moto enthusiasts, ever ready to bench race and just talk about the good old days.
Another person who knew Mike Bell much better than me is Larry "Supermouth" Huffman, who actually called the 1978 Los Angeles Superbowl of Motocross—the first AMA Supercross win of Bell’s career—and who also came up with the nickname “Too Tall.”
“It's happened again,” wrote Huffman. “I wake to find another friend has passed and again, another motocross legend. Mike Bell was definitely one of ‘the good guys.’ Very, very, nice guy, easy to talk to, and humble.”
And Todd Huffman of the MX Files offered this:
I was fortunate to interview Mike a couple of times and do his Yamaha Wall of Champions video. I had plans to include him in a future season of our series The Motocross Files but for now this will be as close as I get...a short film about Mike's big win against the legendary Bob "Hurricane" Hannah in 1978 at the LA Coliseum... it almost didn't happen.
A few years ago we were producing a special on the greatest supercross races of all time for CBS Sports and this one made the list from fans' surveys. It was approved to shoot, we shot it and showed the rough edit to Executive Producers who canned it! They said it was ‘too old’ and ‘no one wants to watch that old stuff.’ So it sat for a few years. When Yamaha's 60th Anniversary came around I brought up this unfinished short film to Bob Starr at Yamaha and he said, ‘Yes! Let's finish it.’ So, thanks to Bob and Yamaha, the motorcycle world and Mike's family have what was perhaps Mike Bell's best motorcycle career memory.
Race In Peace Champ.
WET WINTER (Thomas)
Three rounds in, we have developed a few trends when it comes to rider performance. We have seen Ken Roczen and Justin Barcia come out swinging, looking comfortable and aggressive. Eli Tomac has been inconsistent, and we have not yet really seen the blinding speed Tomac is often able to wield. Zach Osborne and Marvin Musquin have both had their share of ups and downs. The speed is there, but the results aren’t necessarily reflecting that due to crashes and poor starts.
All of these trends seem easy to trust with three rounds of evidence. As we enter another three-round rendezvous, though, I think we may be in for a complete unwinding of everything we think we know.
Indy’s January arrival should see some of the softest, ruttiest dirt in years for Monster Energy AMA Supercross. We will see the Indy round go off in the throes of winter, and with that, the dirt will likely be frozen and wet as it enters Lucas Oil Stadium. It will slowly dry over the course of the next nine days, but I do expect somewhat treacherous conditions for the first two rounds. How can that affect the results, you ask?
I see these conditions helping some riders more than others. Riders like Musquin and Dylan Ferrandis seem to thrive when conditions are challenging. I attribute this to their European upbringing, and while the same assumption could be made for Ken Roczen, I see this specific skill set more important for the French riders. When the track slows down due to the ruts and awkward lines, Musquin is able to coerce his motorcycle into flowing alongside the deteriorating conditions. He hops, skips, and wheel-taps his way through whoops that most riders want to try to blitz. While this skill set is rendered useless at some rounds of the series, I believe it’s going to be a weapon for the Indy trio.
Another rider who could really benefit is Justin Barcia. His youth was spent on the often-muddy tracks of New England. He developed strong skills in rutty conditions that still shape his tendencies to this day. Remember, he was your 2019 Anaheim 1 winner in muddy conditions, followed by A1 2020 in drier but still very rutty conditions. These are just two examples, but looking back over his results, there is clearly an uptrend when the track is soft. With Barcia squarely in this title fight, look for him to capitalize on this opportunity that Indy presents.
The other rider I want to mention by name is Aaron Plessinger. While his 2021 season has been average at best (which is good for him, considering his last two seasons), he has had success in sticky conditions. He won the 2016 Indy event, but more importantly, he showed a prowess on the 450 as well. His 2020 Atlanta ride was one of his best, and guess what: the track was soft and sticky. This could be a great chance for Plessinger to turn things around in a very important contract year.
Other riders could excel, of course. Eli Tomac and Cooper Webb seem to thrive in tough conditions, but they are likely to do well in any scenario. Adam Cianciarulo and Zach Osborne are both Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Champions, so clearly they can ride well in adverse conditions. I am curious to see if they can minimize the mistakes that rutty tracks often create. That’s the most important aspect to consider when tracks take a dive. Who can use it to their advantage, and who lets it take advantage of them? We will see the first round of data tomorrow night.
Critical Juncture (Jason Weigandt)
I know we think every season is the one where anyone can win, but inevitably, somewhere around the fifth round of the series, we figure out who the genuine threats for the supercross title are. That makes this three-race Indianapolis tilt very critical, as by the time Monster Energy AMA Supercross rolls out of here next Saturday, you’re probably only to be looking at three or four riders who can really win this title. I know, that seems impossible based on the close points and exciting racing we saw at the first three rounds, but history shows that such parity won’t last forever. So who will stay on the contender wagon over the next three races? It’s going to be really interesting to watch, and arguably the most important races of the entire year.
I watched press day today at Lucas Oil Stadium and was quite surprised by the dirt. Indy is usually pretty wet, which leads to rutted conditions, and racing in late January would seemingly make that worse. Well, not quite the case here. This dirt is soft but not nearly as soft as we’ve seen at some Indy races in the past. I just talked to Feld Entertainment’s Mike Muye, and he said they were really happy with the condition of the dirt when they brought it in—Indy had not had a ton of rain this winter, so the dirt was much drier than usual.
I texted Justin Brayton (of course) after he rode press day, and he said it’s soft but not as soft as usual for Indy. I’m really curious how the whoops will hold up. There’s a big, nasty set of them at one side of the stadium, and if they don’t break down, the guys who excel at skimming whoops will have a huge advantage. If they start getting rutted and cupped out, I’m sure a jump line will come into play (as JT mentioned above). I thought for sure we’d see jumping whoops here, but with this dirt being harder than expected, maybe there’s a chance they’ll hold up. The official track map shows two sets of whoops, but only one remains here in reality, by the way.
The Monster Energy Kawasaki, Honda HRC, and Muc-Off Honda riders were the headliners of today’s press day. (At the first press day of the season all the factory teams ride; after that, it’s usually two big factory squads per weekend.) The riders didn’t get to ride the whole track here on press day, so I can’t really say if one stood out more than others, but if you want to really overreact to something, I can tell you Jett Lawrence was easily matching the pace of Eli Tomac and Adam Cianciarulo on his 250. But no one was really pushing today, so don’t go crazy with that info.
That’s what I’ve got for now. I’ll have more thoughts via the Weege Show preview video. Check it out.
And then Dean Wilson posted an update of his own:
Bam Bam fits GasGas (Keefer)
Everyone was wondering if Justin Barcia would be better on the GasGas versus the Yamaha bLU cRU. (Salut, Jeff Kocan!) Well, after three rounds, my answer would have to be a resounding yes, it does. But why? It's not like the Yamaha was some turd of a machine, because he managed to win a supercross and an outdoor national last year on big blue. So when I ride a production version GasGas MC 450F and a Yamaha YZ450F back to back, there are some nuances (at least to me) of the GasGas that fit Barcia better. One thing is the bike is lighter out of the crate. This helps him move around on the bike more, like he’s done his whole career. The second thing is that the GG engine charger likes to be ridden in the upper RPM ranges, which also fits Barcia's hang/rev-it-out style. Even when you talk to other factory riders who are on KTMs or Husqvarnas, none of them say their factory bike has tons of torque, but instead has an incredible throttle-to-rear wheel connection and a smoother linear delivery that allows them to be more aggressive with the throttle, which in turn can lead to faster lap times for that kind of rider. If you watch Ferrandis ride a bike, his style fits a YZ450F perfectly. He's aggressive but almost always a gear higher and is a smoother type of rider compared to Bam Bam. Don't be fooled—your production-version 450 that’s sitting in your garage right now is not THAT MUCH different than a factory 450 you're watching on TV. The engines are closer than you think, and most of the chassis changes are preference for these faster riders.
Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing YZ450F Perspective (Keefer)
With a rumored 8-10 pounds of weight shaved off from last year's factory YZ450F, the Star Racing Yamaha bikes are doing well but still look to be riding the riders, instead of the other way around. From my perspective, the Star Yamaha YZ450Fs need to get off of the gate better to help the riders. When playing back the start several times, the YZ450Fs of Mookie, Plessinger, and Ferrandis seem to squat under throttle, then shoot forward instead of shooting forward first and biting into the ground. I just feel like there is too much movement in the rear of the Yamaha’s user-heavy throttle. Now, to me, this could be if they went stiffer on the shock that the bike becomes harsh feeling, so maybe their setup has to be softer in the rear to get comfort around the track for 20 minutes. The bad news is that this may cause the bike to not shoot out of the gate like the steel-framed bikes, which look to be getting a lot of rear-wheel traction off the grate. From what I heard, Star Racing went to work this week and made some chassis changes to help the riders out a little, so possibly look for a better start/result for the three Blue Starred amigos.
Speaking of Bam Bam…. (DC)
Our friend Larry Rapier (@supercrossKING on Instagram) had a little fun with one of Simon Cudby's amazing photos of Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GasGas Factory Racing's Justin Barcia this past weekend, reaching back to that amazing photo of Ricky Carmichael from 1997 shot by David St. Onge and the subject of an amazing story by Brett Smith of @wewentfast on what it meant to "go viral" before that was actually a thing in media....
HEP HART (Matthes)
One of the more intriguing riders this year is Brandon Hartranft of the Twisted Tea/HEP Motorsports Suzuki team. Brandon rode for Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM last year, got podiums indoors and out, but was without a chair when the music stopped in the 250 class. So he jumped up with the HEP Suzuki team, and now, three rounds down, here we are.
Hartranft works very hard off the bike, and he's a no-frills type of rider. Not going to wow you by any means, but he's a solid rider. The jump to 450s hasn't been perfect for him to start the year—he crashed hard at Houston 3, and in the LCQ it looked like it was affecting him. At the previous two Houston rounds, he made the main, once by winning the LCQ. I’ve definitely seen him hit the ground more than he or the team would like, that's for sure. He got one start at Houston in his heat race and he was outside the top nine before the lap ended. Welcome to the 450s, Brandon!
All in all, he'll get better as the season goes on, and he's in the same spot as a few bigger names than him (Broc Tickle comes to mind), where these guys are showing how hard it is to do 20 minutes plus a lap on a track that's incredibly beat up, and without falling down. The key for Brandon is to stay healthy, build each race, and hopefully by the end, with attrition, he's getting top-tens. Easier said than done!
Mike Bell in the Record Books (Andras Hegyi)
Mike Bell spent almost his entire professional career with Team Yamaha, save for one race—his first, in 1976, the Anaheim Supercross, in which he finished 20th on a Suzuki. And there was a time in the racing years that followed until his retirement in 1983 that he set records that would stand for years before being matched or eclipsed. Here's a look at the wins and podiums that the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famers accomplished.
In the history of the AMA Supercross, in existence since 1974, Mike Bell was the first supercross rider to get at least 10 podium results in one season. In 1980, when he was champion, he took 12 podiums in all.
Bell was the first racer to win at least seven main events in a season. In 1980, the year he became AMA Supercross Champion, there were lots of doubleheader weekends, and Bell proved to be especially good on the first night of those weekends. He won Seattle 1 and 2, Houston 1, Pontiac 1, New Orleans 1, Philadelphia 1, and San Diego. During his supercross career, Bell got 11 wins in all.
"Too Tall" Bell always stood tall on the podium. He was the first rider to have 30 podium results. Bell got his 30th podium in 1982, when by the end of his career the next year Bell made 32 podiums in all.
In the 1979 AMA 500cc Pro Motocross Championship, Bell had the most wins in the ten-round series, but he did not win the championship. Suzuki's Danny Laporte was the winner with 399 points, and Bell finished runner-up with 396. Those three points are the smallest difference between the champion and the runner-up in the history of the 500cc motocross class, which existed between 1972 and 1993, though this record was tied in 1992 when Kawasaki’s Mike Kiedrowski won the 500cc crown by only three points over Honda’s Jeff Stanton.
Banch: A Privateer’s Journey (Nick McCabe)
Motorcycling has a long history of generating inspiration for feature-length films, with perhaps the most notable release being Bruce Brown’s legendary On Any Sunday. Over the years, many films have come and gone, with each new entry earning certain notoriety on YouTube. The Dirt Bike Kid, WinnersTake All, Disney’s feature length film Motocrossed, Crusty Demons of Dirt, and even Frezno Smooth all have a place in history, as well as plenty of entries on rottentomatoes.com.
The latest entry in the full-length moto film category (with no budget) is an impressive grassroots effort put together by aspiring filmmaker Jared Conley (@inaworldofecho) called Banch. The film features a New England racer named Andrew Boccorossa, and also has cameo appearances by some of the fastest riders in New England. Conley follows Boccorossa as he travels from Connecticut all the way to California while attempting to qualify for the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship nationals and chronicles life on the road and at the track. While the movie is available for free on YouTube, a cool side note is that the group has produced a small run of hard copies that they’re selling, with all proceeds going to benefit Road 2 Recovery. At 55 minutes, the film is a quick watch, especially if you’re home on lockdown. Head over to road2recovery.com/shop for more info on how to buy, and under the shop section of the site.
50 for the Orange Brigade (Andras Hegyi)
The history of Monster Energy AMA Supercross goes back to 1974 for the 250/450 class, and during those years there have been two different historical periods for KTM. The first lasted between 1974 and 2011, while the second one has been since 2012. Between 1974 and 2011, KTM could not get any overall podium results, wins, or titles—with one possible exception: at the 1974 Houston Supercross, Buck Murphy won the first "moto" of the four-moto weekend event. But Buck was on a Penton, which is what KTMs were called in the U.S. back then in an ode to the pioneer and KTM partner John Penton. No matter, Murphy would only finish seventh overall when all was said and done at the first Houston SX.
But since 2012, KTM has been the one of the most successful brands in AMA Supercross regarding wins and titles. Last Saturday at Houston 3, Red Bull KTM rider Cooper Webb took the KTM brand’s 50th victory in the 450SX class. Since 2012, only Kawasaki has collected more 450SX wins.
Between 2012 and 2021, until last Saturday, there were 156 main events in 450SX (that's counting the "weekend winners" when it was a multi-moto format from '74 through '76, and then again in 1985, and then the more recent "triple crown" events). In that period seven different brands have now won, with Kawasaki the most successful, followed by KTM. As for the other five, both Kawasaki and KTM have more total wins that the others have, combined, in that same timeframe.
KTM’s 50 wins were accumulated by five different racers. Among them the most successful is Ryan Dungey, a historic figure for KTM, as he took KTM’s maiden 450SX podium, first wins and titles, and still has more wins aboard KTM than anyone else. And since 2012, only Kawasaki has been more successful than KTM, with 61 main-event wins. But regarding the number of titles, KTM and Kawasaki are all square as of now, with four titles each since 2012 (though it would be five for Kawasaki if one counted the first title in 2011 for Ryan Villopoto).
KTM’s 50 wins in the 450 SX:
If you add recent KTM Group manufacturers Husqvarna and GasGas, the Austrians now have 59 wins, just two less than Kawasaki!
Kawasaki's 17 seasons (Andras Hegyi)
It happened last week—last Tuesday, to be exact. Defending 450SX Champion Eli Tomac won the midweek Houston 2 race, which turned out to be a historic victory for Kawasaki, as Team Green became the very first brand to win in 17 consecutive seasons of Monster Energy AMA Supercross. Kawasaki riders have now won in every season since 2005. The former record was held by Yamaha, as it won every year between 1997 and 2012, 16 successive years. Kawasaki has taken the majority of 450SX wins and titles in those 17 yeas, six titles and 101 wins. All have come from four megastars: James Stewart, Chad Reed, Ryan Villopoto, and Eli Tomac.
Kawasaki won in 17 consecutive seasons (2005-2021)
Yamaha: 16 (1997-2012)
Kawasaki: 15 (1984-1998)
Honda: 15 (1982-1996)
KTM: 10 (2012-2021)
Kawasaki’s best years for wins between 2005-2021 in the AMA Supercross (450 SX)
The march 2021 ISSUE OF raCER X MAGAZINE IS NOW AVAILABLE
Hey, Watch It!
This one's not a video but a photo and it's more like, "Hey, watch out!" The guy bailing off in 1990 at the Meadowlands SX is apparently Larry Maxwell, shot by the Crash-N-Burn legend Thom Veety.
Banch. An awesome feature-length film about traveling the nationals as a privateer and having a great time doing it. Worth the watch on your big screen when you have a full hour to dedicate to it.
Kellen’s Houston 3 Race Examination:
Jeffrey Herlings did a cool interview recently, “Carpool Karaoke” style. It’s in Dutch but has English subtitles:
Evan Ferry makes the jump up to a 250F:
Listen To This
Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing team boss Bobby Regan has put together one of the largest teams in the history of motocross and supercross. Can quantity bring them victory in 2021? Jason Weigandt reads his feature article "Recruitment Center" from the March 2021 issue of Racer X magazine.
For more from DC, Jason Weigandt, Steve Matthes, and the rest of the Racer X crew, subscribe to Racer X.
Racer X Read Aloud is brought to you by Renthal.
Head-Scratching Headline/s of the Week
“Florida offers to host Olympics if Tokyo backs out: state official”—Yahoo.com
“Should Lappers be black flagged?”—TXDirt on Vital MX
“BAM MARGERA: STOLEN BENTLEY CRASHES INTO HOUSE...'I Can't Write This S***!!!'”—TMZ.com
Remember that terrible crash that MXGP rising star Arminas Jasikonis had that left him in a coma and fighting for his life? Here's a welcome development:
Day In The Dirt Down South
The Red Bull crew is back again for some down south racing at Dade City Motocross during bike week, March 12-14, 2021. Racing registration opened up today for what is a weekend of racing like no other. Red Bull has a long list of athletes for the East Coast edition of the event, with early confirmations of Travis Pastrana, Tyler Bereman, Ronnie Renner, Robbie Madison, Smagical, Twitch, Chad Reed, and more to be announced. If you’re not familiar with the event, it features GP style racing with races ranging from 20 - 75 minutes, as well as the Coup de Grace survival race which, well… has no exact time, race ’til the checkered flag! The course is over 2 miles long, runs through a barn, and even on the local paved roads. Check out the track map:
Visit DayInTheDirtDownSouth.com for a detailed event schedule, race registration, fees and more. Be sure to follow the event on social media for updates and all the vibes. @DayInTheDirtDownSouth on Facebook | @DayInTheDirtDownSouth on Instagram
David Lepley spotted this old Hi-Point trailer at Santos Bike Shop in Florida and was wondering if anyone out there knows who it might have belonged to. He said it looks like it hasn't been moved in 20 years!
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!