Welcome to Racerhead and the next-to-last weekend of supercross. After a wild three-race run in Georgia we’re off to Salt Lake City for the white flag and checkered-flag rounds of a series that many are probably surprised has made it through the COVID-19 gauntlet. SLC is just the seventh city involved in the 2021 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship—the lowest amount of cities on the tour since 1976! That was right at the beginning of SX expansion, two years after the series was launched. Back in ’76 the series visited Daytona, Houston, Dallas, Pontiac, and Los Angeles, then added a December exhibition race at a place most people had probably never heard of at that point: Anaheim, California. Of course, this is all coronavirus-related, so hats off to Feld Entertainment for sticking to their plan of a 17-race series despite the travel restrictions, social distancing, and forced crowd limits that mean there's no way they’re making a profit in 2021. They have kept a lot of racers and team staff and industry workers employed through the pandemic. And thanks to the riders, race teams, and fans who did support SX in this very different year.
In the 450SX division, Red Bull KTM’s Cooper Webb is of course in the driver’s seat. His late-race charge overtaking ATL 2 winner Ken Roczen, just as the Honda rider was seemingly about to get a head of steam before the final sprint to the finish, was the defining moment of the series so far. Just when it seemed like #94 was about to take a momentum-stealing second straight win, he crashed all by himself in the whoops and lot his mojo for the rest of the race, and then Cooper Webb went all Cooper Webb again and reasserted control. Webb has become quite the finisher as a professional, a Ryan Villopoto-like competitor who saves his best laps for when he needs them (though the rest are pretty damn impressive as well).
In the 250 class it’s more about a team than just one rivalry, as 2021 must be the first time in history that four members of the same team have each won multiple races. Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing's Colt Nichols, Christian Craig, Justin Cooper, and Nate Thrasher have all won at least two races—ten in total so far. They are also in the driver's seat for both titles. (Andras Hegyi will have more on that later.)
And while the 450SX class has been mostly about the Big Three of Webb, Roczen, and Eli Tomac (Eli's not winning races at his usual clip but he still have multiple wins this year), we really only see one surprise this season, though it really wasn't a surprise at all. Justin Barcia has now won the opener in each of the last three seasons, though this time he did it on a Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull GasGas, in the very first AMA Supercross race for the brand, and not at Anaheim (despite the creative video).
Speaking of Barcia, he obviously hasn't won since that opener, but that's nothing compared to the long time away from the winner's circle for a few of the other big-hitters: 2018 AMA Supercross Champion Jason Anderson last won the 2018 Atlanta SX on March 3rd, the first time the race was ever held in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. That's more than three years ago. For Red Bull KTM's Marvin Musquin it's been more than two years, back to the March 23, 2019 race in Seattle's Century-Link Field. And for Honda's Chase Sexton, as well as Star Racing Yamaha's Dylan Ferrandis, Aaron Plessinger, and Malcolm Stewart, all four past 250SX Champions, they’ve never won a 450SX main event. If any of these guys want to get that first win or get off those long winless streaks before we flip the script to Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, they obviously have to make something happen in a hurry.
Besides that, it will be interesting to see tomorrow night just how much better Jett Lawrence has gotten in supercross over the past two months, as we haven’t seen the 250 SX East Region guys since Orlando 1 back in mid-February. He made huge strides between his rookie season and the start of 2021, and then was making more as the East Region races went on. He’s got little hope at winning the title, but Jett probably wants to send the message that he will be even more of a force in 2022, and that he’s also still the fastest Lawrence out there! (Just kidding, Hunter. Can’t wait to see them both together, as well as all of the Star Yamaha winners, at the East-West Showdown next Saturday night!)
Correction – Pointing out of the 250SX Class (Aaron Hansel)
Earlier this week I wrote a piece about the 250SX Class and the riders in it who would or wouldn’t be pointing out. We thought we had it and Jason Weigandt even got confirmation from the AMA, but it turns out the initial piece was not correct. I wrote that if Colt Nichols or Christian Craig wins a 250SX championship this season—and one of them almost certainly will—the rules would advance them to the 450SX class. Below are the set of rules that led me to arrive at that conclusion.
A rider that wins a 250SX Championship will be eligible to participate in the 250SX class for a maximum of four years total.
If a rider wins the 250SX Championship in their fourth season but has not reached the max point threshold in four seasons, that rider will be eligible to compete in the 250SX class the following season only.
If a rider wins the 250SX Championship in their fourth season but has reached the max point threshold in four seasons, that rider will be ineligible for the 250SX class.
The very first section says a maximum of four years total. Since Nichols and Craig both have more than four years in the class, and winning a championship means a rider gets a maximum of four years in the class, I applied this rule to both of them. Yes, there is an exception to that rule that allows a rider to defend their title for one year if they haven’t pointed out and if the rider “wins the 250SX Championship in their fourth season.” Both Nichols and Craig, as already stated, are beyond that four-year mark, and I interpreted this to mean that, since they're past their fourth season, they would be advanced to the 450SX class no matter what. We contacted the AMA’s Mike Pelletier to be sure, and he confirmed that we were correct. We published the article. Then phones started ringing.
Pelletier, who no doubt has plenty on his mind right now with the series coming to a close, acknowledged his error to us, and we updated our article to reflect the changes. He admitted that rule changes for the 2018 season, which allowed Justin Hill and Zach Osborne to defend, had to be applied here. There is only one circumstance where a rider can't defend, and that's if he hits the over-the-points-threshold limit four times and then wins the title in the same year. This actually would have applied to Shane McElrath if he won the title last year. He wouldn't have been allowed to defend. Craig and Nichols are safe because although they've been in the class more than four years, they haven't gone over the points threshold four times.
It’d be easy to point a finger at the AMA, and the iffy wording of the rule in this situation, but I’ve got to shoulder some of the blame here too. After all, I am the one who wrote the article, and a deep dive into old email chains revealed that Pelletier had indeed explained the rule change to me several years ago when I asked him why Osborne had been allowed to stay in the 250 class. The memory of that email sure would have been handy when I was writing the article!
With all that set, a few apologies are in order. First, I’d like to apologize to the readers. You come here for news you can trust on the sport you love, and it’s unfortunate you got some information that turned out to be wrong. Second, it no doubt caused a bit of confusion for Nichols and Craig, who were correctly operating under the idea that they’d be allowed to defend a title. Lastly, an apology to Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing team manger Wil Hahn, who I’d imagine found himself on the receiving end of a few unpleasant phone calls.
Editor's note: Look for Aaron Hansel, our man in California, at the upcoming Lucas Oil Pro Motocross opener at Fox Raceway at Pala. But if you want to discuss this pointing-out stuff with him, you have to have an infield pass, because Hansel is going to be a flagger. Kidding. Or am I? DC
Zacho Backo (Jason Weigandt)
This week I was working on a Racer X magazine story on the ClubMX facility and team. I needed to get some quotes from Zach Osborne, who started the place (but sold his ownership stake in 2014). Well, turns out Zach was actually going to be at ClubMX this week, for the first time in almost seven years! Zach is finally back on the bike and needed to do a Fly Racing photo shoot with some new gear. Since Fly already had to shoot Justin Brayton at Club anyway, and it was raining down in Florida, Zach came up to ride there. Go ahead and throw out all the "Is Zach no longer riding at Baker's Factory!?!?" theories you want, but he'll be back in Florida soon. it's always a fun time when you get a good group together. With Zach logging motos with our own Racer X advice columnist Phil Nicoletti, well, read Phil's column this week where I ask him about not being able to beat Zach in the practice motos. Phil was grumpy, of course. In fact, he sent a text that said, "I retired today."
I think Phil should hitch a ride back to Florida with Zach and go pound out sand motos at Croom with his buddy Alex Martin. I'd practically pay to watch the torture!
I'll have an Osborne interview next week where we talk about his supercross season, his back injury, and his thoughts on Cooper Webb's ability to ramp it up with five minutes left in a main event. Zach says Cooper doesn't do that during practice motos during the week….
As for Zach's status, he could only do 20-minute motos when I saw him on Tuesday. After that he gets arm pump, then his form suffers, then he starts sitting down, and that hurts his back. But the Club folks said Zach looked way better on Tuesday than he did on Monday, so he's making rapid progress. From what I saw, he rode well but was smooth and not nearly as intense as he would be when we get to race time. Zach's confident his back will be ready to hammer once Fox Raceway at Pala kicks off the motocross season on May 29.
In the meantime, what a supercross season we have on our hands. Can't wait for Salt Lake tomorrow and the return of 250 East—and what will likely be another great 450SX main event. I know Cooper Webb looks great from a statistical standpoint, but rarely do we get this late in the season with so many riders believing they can get a main-event win. Besides the usual Webb-Tomac-Roczen trio you have Chase Sexton, Jason Anderson, and Aaron Plessinger showing signs of a breakthrough. Justin Barcia is always capable. Seven (or more) potential winners? That's rare air for round 16.
PULP STUFF (Matthes)
I'm coming to you live from Park City, Utah, and just got my band from the SX will-call people indicating I'm good to go to watch round 16 of the SX series tomorrow. Of course, it's a day race tomorrow (I'm kidding, I just found that out). I got a place up here all week because last year I was down in SLC and heading up here to mountain bike a lot, so I figured I would beat that system by staying up here. Well, we were a month later last year, and who knew that could make a difference, as I look out my window here and see snow. Yes, the trails up here are all basically unrideable. So yeah, I really outsmarted myself as I sit here alone in Park City, and looks like I'm going to have to drive down to SLC to go pedal. Realllllly happy about that.
Sexton was a great interview, especially when he told me that when he was thinking of putting a jacket on for the parade lap, I came to mind. Makes me all warm and fuzzy inside to know I could affect a rider’s choice on the parade lap. The thing is, though, A-Stars makes it tough to know, because they make jackets that replicate the rider’s jersey! Anyway, we had to talk to him about James Stewart and how his coaching is going with Chase. Chase took us through that failed attempt to quad in Daytona as well when he put his tooth into his handlebar. You can watch the video below to get it all in.
Cameron McAdoo was THE story from the three Atlanta races, both good and bad, and he called in to take us through his exciting ATL 3. I know there were some regrettable posts by some industry people and riders about RAM IT, but when McAdoo took us through the different incidents, they made sense and didn't indicate—to me anyway—any lack of awareness by him out there. All racing incidents that, outside of the practice crash, which he did say maybe could have been prevented with some better strength in his legs, could have happened to anyone. I understand other people could see it differently, but McAdoo was cleared by docs on Tuesday night, and they were closer to the situation than me.
Watch the McAdoo interview here:
Knee Braces Vs. Knee Guards (KEEFER)
If you don't follow Ryan Hughes on social media, maybe you don't know how passionate this dude is about certain aspects of our sport. One that has caught my eye lately is how he feels that knee pads/guards make you feel the bike better, which in turn can improve your technique. He also thinks braces are horrible for you, but I will spare you all of that for now. I’ve been a knee brace–wearing rider for almost 20 years and thought, why not try both and see what Ryno is all up in arms about? Is he full of crap? Is he on to something? The setup for this test was simple: make an appointment with my ortho doctor (who rides dirt bikes himself) and ride back-to-back in the EVS TP199 knee pads and my CTi braces, which are custom fitted to my legs. I did find it interesting that when visiting my doctor, he stated that NO brace is going to save you from ligament damage. He explained/showed me how the knees and legs move, then busted out several braces from his arsenal to demonstrate this. He also explained that there are impact benefits of knee braces because of the frame that surrounds the knee/leg. We both have no dog in this fight, so simply going into this with an open mind was key.
This subject is one the touchier subjects in our sport. Certain debates—KTM vs. Honda, lappers, TV broadcasters, whoops, 450s destroying our sport, knee pads vs. knee braces—get people all riled up! The comment section of my Instagram on the subject is one to be treasured, and I guess just like our nation right now, our sport is divided on this subject. I do know that after riding in both knee pads and braces, as well as talking to my doctor, I am really considering trying knee pads for a while. The impact protection isn't as good with the pads as the braces, but that’s where being a responsible adult and deciding for yourself if less impact protection as well as more comfort is right for you! After two weeks of riding in both, I came to a conclusion (or so I thought) and typed it all out over on PulpMX. You can read it here.
10 Blu (Andras Hegyi)
You've probably already noticed, but Yamaha is having quite a year—in the 250 class anyway. Yamaha has had upper hand over its rivals in 250SX since 2015, when the Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing juggernaut really began picking up steam. The Blu Cru (however they shape that) has been the most successful brand for the last seven seasons in both wins and titles. Between 2015 and 2020, Yamaha got five 250SX titles, half of the 10 titles up for grabs. And in the last 117 main events, from the 2015 season opener round to Atlanta 3 last Saturday, Yamaha collected the most wins, with 41 victories in all. In that same period, Kawasaki notched 32 wins, KTM 18, Honda 16, Husqvarna 9, and Suzuki just 1.
Last Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway's third round, Yamaha got its 10th win in 2021, and it was a historical one: the first time ever in the small-bore supercross division, in existence since 1985, in which Yamaha has been able to get at least 10 wins. The brand has had 9 wins in a season twice before (1997 and 2001). And Yamaha has a good chance to conquer both titles, West and East. It would be the very first time ever that Yamaha swept both SX Regions in the same year.
Brands to get at least 10 wins in a small-bore supercross class
Kawasaki: 2004 (14 wins), 2007 (11), 2009 (11), 2010 (11), 2014 (10), 2019 (11)
Honda: 1991 (13), 2012 (13)
Suzuki: 1990 (11), 1994 (10)
Yamaha: 2021 (10 and counting)
The four Yamaha riders to earn a 250SX main event win in 2021:
The june 2021 ISSUE OF raCER X MAGAZINE IS NOW AVAILABLE
Congratulations to Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Cameron McAdoo on getting his first-ever Racer X Magazine cover, shot by Rich Shepherd of Align Media.
Forty-six years ago, Texas Stadium near Dallas opened the 1975 AMA/Yamaha Super Series of Stadium Motocross—a much different gathering than the 2021 Monster Energy AMA Supercross tripleheader that just took place in nearby Arlington. (Read or listen)
If you want to listen to this story read by Davey Coombs, check out the Racer X Read Aloud, brought to you by Renthal. If you love podcasts, you'll love hearing our stories.
Hey, Watch It!
Longtime friend Mark Homchick found this rare old gem: Evel Knievel doing a promotional sales film for Chevrolet Auto Parts. It's a true time machine in just how different things were back then!
Kellen Brauer did his usual fine job with his Race Examination of ATL 3 which you can watch right here:
Listen To This
This week on The MotoXpod Show, Darkside and ScottieT have Garrett Marchbanks tell his side of the Cameron McAdoo situation. Also, Ben LaMay talks about returning to the outdoors, Colt Nichols is ready to get back to racing, and photographer Mike Emery discusses his career.
Head-Scratching Headline/s of the Week
“Suzuki extends agreement with Dorna to compete in MotoGP™”—(Very good news from) MotoGP.com
“Ted Nugent tests positive for coronavirus after calling pandemic a ‘scam’”—Independent.co.uk
“Smile - you're on Jihadi Camera! Outcry in Iraq over prank TV show that has fake ISIS fighters 'kidnap' celebs, strap 'suicide vests' to them and tell them they'll be executed”—DailyMail.uk
“Caitlyn Jenner Announces She’s Running for California Governor”—TMZ.com
“Florida McDonald's offers $50 just to show up for job interview”—Fox 5 New York
Yes, you heard it right, Travis Pastrana is joining American Flat Track next Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway when he and his buddy "The General" Ryan Sipes will enter the Yamaha Atlanta Super TT. Same place where supercross raced last week, Atlanta Motor Speedway. Here's more, as well as how you can watch or attend.
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid’EH Update #16.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!