This week was a tough one. Just as things are getting up and rolling again everywhere, after the successful conclusion of Monster Energy AMA Supercross, as we start rolling towards the start of the outdoor nationals here in the U.S. and motocross racing is getting back up and running in Europe as well, just as the Areas for the AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch are wrapping up and the Regionals are upon us, we get a cruel reminder of how dangerous what we do really can be.
Scott Sheak was a Loretta Lynn’s champion as a kid, a factory rider and an AMA National winner as a pro, and just one of the nicest, kindest, most humble fast guys you might ever meet. His professional days were nearly 20 years behind him, and he was coming back out to qualify for the +45 class at Loretta Lynn’s when he suffered a horrendous practice crash three weeks ago in New York. He came down on his head, doing severe damage to his neck, back and head and, despite doctors’ best efforts, he was never responsive. When he passed away earlier this week, Scott Sheak was just 47 years old.
Because he grew up racing in the Northeast, I was able to see Sheak rise through the amateur ranks. In the early nineties he was a standout on Kawasaki Team Green when it was arguably at its zenith. The lineup included Robbie Reynard, Kevin Windham, Craig Decker, Tim Ferry, Davey Yezek, Ricky Carmichael, Matt Walker, Brock Sellards, Brian Deegan, Nick Wey, Derek Natvig, Mercedes Gonzalez, and more. Sheak rode Kawasakis for ten years as an amateur, and in his last year he swept both 125 A Modified and 250/Open A Modified, topping his teammates Yezek and Deegan.
Yet somehow Sheak did not get picked up by Mitch Payton’s Pro Circuit Kawasaki program when he turned pro, and he began a career odyssey that would see him ride for numerous teams: Boyesen Yamaha, F&S Suzuki, FMF Honda, Plano Honda, factory Honda, and then finally, toward the end of his career, Pro Circuit Kawasaki. He even ended up in Europe on the 125cc Grand Prix circuit for a time.
There’s much to write about Scott’s career, all of the ups and downs, but it may be easier to illustrate what he was like over the course of three races, all of them High Point Nationals, from 1995 through ’97.
His first real breakout ride came in ’95. He was riding a privateer Suzuki RM125 on a very muddy track—and Sheak loved the mud. He got a decent start against all the factory-backed guys, then made an early charge that took him all the way into the lead just after the halfway mark. The crowd was going nuts, as they loved the idea of this somewhat-local privateer kid somehow winning. The last guy he passed for the lead was Honda of Troy’s Mike Brown, and for a minute it seemed like Sheak was about to have a dream come true … and then his bike blew up.
One year later, Sheak was back at High Point, still on a Suzuki, still looking for his first win—only this time he had Kenny Watson as his mechanic. He again found himself battling with a Honda of Troy rider for the lead, only this time it was Mike Craig (Christian’s dad). This time his RM125 held up, and an ecstatic Scott Sheak won a national moto for the first time in his career. The High Point crowd went nuts for him.
“I knew I could do it! I knew I could do it!” he shouted to the ESPN/Cycle News pit reporter (me) as people kept stopping and congratulating the popular privateer. “I got the start, kept my head, and rode smart. Mike Craig rode a great race, but even after he passed me towards the end I kept my head together and kept my pace. Now I know I can beat these guys, and now they know I can beat them too.”
Sheak might have won the overall that day, but his RM125 was simply not as strong as the factory bikes he was up against, especially as the second moto wore on. As his power slipped, he could not jump the first uphill infield triple coming up out of the woods, casing it lap after lap and losing ground. He refused to blame his equipment, but it was obvious that he was outgunned. He told me afterward, “I don’t want to blame my bike, so maybe it was just a bad line.… Maybe I didn’t test my suspension or motor enough this week, but I should have been able to find a way over that thing.” Seriously. Just so freakin’ humble and gracious. They just don’t make ’em like Scott Sheak anymore.
(Go the 24:30 mark to see Scott’s reaction when he won the first moto, it’s really cool…)
Which brings us to the third High Point National in this trilogy of races, the 1997 one, almost certainly regarded more for the infamous and insanely muddy win for privateer Damon Bradshaw on the Manchester Honda in the 250 class, than for the 125 class winner.
Finally, in 1997, Scott Sheak had full factory support, as Team Honda saw something in the kind kid from New York and picked him up to be two-time 125 National Champion Steve Lamson’s understudy. Like everyone else in the motocross world in 1997—and specifically 125 class riders—Sheak was finding out just how fast and fierce this chubby little Florida rookie named Ricky Carmichael was. Riding for Pro Circuit Kawasaki, Carmichael won the first three rounds of the 125 AMA Nationals, dominating at Gatorback, Hangtown, and Glen Helen. Sheak and guys like Lamson, Windham, Tim Ferry, and Frenchmen Mickael Pichon and Stephane Roncada were left in his wake. No one could figure out how to beat the kid on the #70 Kawasaki KX125—at least not until it started raining at High Point that day. That’s when Carmichael’s Achilles’ Heel was finally exposed: he wasn’t very good in the mud (yet). And the rider who would exploit that weakness first and finally get his first overall win was Scott Sheak.
“My pit board said ‘Mud Monster’ today because that’s what I was trying to be,” said an ecstatic Sheak to this pit reporter after he finally put it all together on the same track he had come oh-so-close on—and now he finally did have that dream come true. “My team has been trying so hard to support me, and it feels good to finally get a win for them. It’s been a long, long year so far, but they have always been there to support and encourage me to keep trying. My whole family is here to watch today and I just couldn’t be happier.”
Three High Point races, three totally different outcomes from Scott Sheak, and he was the exact same kind and gracious and humble man afterward, win or lose or breakdown. That’s the way I will always remember @ironsheak.
Scott Sheak (1974-2021)
Scott G. Sheak, former professional motocross racer from Germantown, New York passed away on May 18, 2021. He suffered multiple life threatening injuries while practicing for the Loretta Lynn’s Area qualifier at Walden Motocross in New York. Unfortunately, he succumbed to these injuries days after and tragically passed from our lives into God’s loving arms, surrounded by family embraces at Westchester Medical Center Trauma unit. He was 47 years old.
Born in Hudson, NY February 24, 1974, Scott grew up racing motocross becoming one of the most promising young riders in the sport by the early 1990s. In 1997 Sheak achieved a childhood dream when he won an AMA 125 Pro Motocross National in Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania. His talent and success was undeniable, as was his humble and gracious nature. He received so much joy from training and coaching the youth he encountered both on and off the racetrack.
His artistic talent can be seen in his tattoos, helmet designs and more currently in his vision of what he could do with the acres of land he lived on. His art shows through the enjoyment he got moving dirt, trees, building a pond and uncovering beautiful mountain views to share with his family and friends. Scott was an avid hunter and loved fishing and could always be found outdoors with his wife Amy who he referred to as, “the love of his life, his beautiful wife”. He was a hometown country boy who, “at the end of the day,” was happiest at home with his family.
Scott Sheak is survived by the love of his life Naomi “Amy” Sheak, stepchildren Ryan Doyle and Brooke’lyn Doyle, Father, Wallace “Buzzy” Sheak, Mother, Karen Sheak, sister’s, Stephanie (Todd) Green and Suzanne Neville, nieces Elizabeth, Mackenzie, Emily and nephews, Brett and Jake.
The family would like to thank Road 2 Recovery, Racer X, Pro Circuit, Jamie Slaughter-MSC, 100%, along with the rest of the MX family for all the incredible support through this very difficult time. In lieu of flowers, the family asks you to consider making a donation in Scott’s name to www.road2recovery.com.
A memorial service will be held for Scott Sheak next Wednesday, May 26, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Bates and Anderson Funeral Home in Hudson New York, and then another at 10 a.m. on Thursday, May 27, and a burial service immediately following ay Cedar Park Cemetery.
A celebration for Scott will be held that afternoon at Claverack Motocross Track, 131 Tishauser Road, in Hudson NY. Claverack’s Leah and Bob Brew added that anyone who wishes to come with camper/RV can come the day before and also stay after. For those not going to the cemetery the track gates will open at noon.
Godspeed, Scott Sheak.
RIP to Scott Sheak, a born and raised and very much New York kind of guy. He was very tough on the bike and in a way, got a bit of a raw deal with Honda. You see, he had broken out as a privateer in 1996 (won a moto at High Point!) and gotten a factory Honda ride that next year. He performed pretty well, won a mud race at High Point, and the next year was shuttled off to the brand new FMF Honda team. So he had a deal for a factory OEM team for two years but the second year was put on what was then the factory Honda 125 team and it was a brand new team at that. It was also not ran very well, the bikes were slow and there was some dysfunction involved as well. How do I know? Well, I was on the team with Scott as Danny Smith's mechanic.
Sheak was not happy to be there, felt like he should have the factory bike still and clashed with management. I remember him saying things to our manager that shocked me, like, how can you say that and not get fired? Thinking about it makes me laugh though, Sheak was an honest guy and told you what he thought. Amongst us on the team though, he couldn't have been any cooler. He was the "top" guy on the team as far as stature so we all kind of looked at him for how and what we were supposed to do you know?
We weren't friends per se but he was a very cool guy to me, a kid from Canada in year two of him chasing the dream. I did a podcast with Scotty a couple of years ago talking about that FMF year and the rest of his career.
Mixed Expectations (Jason Weigandt)
This week I got the chance to catch up with some riders with real stories to tell heading into this Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. You might have caught my piece on Zach Osborne a few days ago. The defending 450 Class MX Champion’s back is still not 100 percent, but the cagey veteran Osborne is figuring out ways to cope, like new training methods and even a strategy to play the long game in the back-to-being-12-round series. Osborne doesn’t expect to come out on fire at the first two rounds, but he says those aren’t great tracks for him anyway. He thinks High Point will mark the real tale of the tape for him. On the bright side, even though he did win the title last year, Osborne thinks this year’s schedule favors him more. He wants hotter weather, and he’ll get it with the nationals shifting back into their usual summer dates.
Also talked to Chase Sexton. Although Sexton looked to be flying instantly when he jumped on the Honda CRF450R last summer (he was fastest in qualifying at round one), he said he never quite felt “connected” to the machine. In both motocross and supercross, he struggled to find traction at times, specifically connecting the rear wheel to the ground. Sexton says they actually made some bike changes at the Salt Lake City Supercross rounds and it feels much better. He finally has that trust in when the bike is going to break loose, which is something he’s found critical when jumping from 250 to 450. While Sexton admits everyone always says they feel better than they did last year, he has reason to believe it’s really true for him.
Jeremy Martin would be the on-paper favorite, I think easily, for the 250 Class this year. He was second in points last year, the champion Dylan Ferrandis has moved to the 450s, and Martin is reunited with the Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing team he won titles for in 2014 and 2015. Unfortunately, it’s going to be a little tougher than that. Martin’s shoulder injury from round one of the 250SX West Region is not 100 percent, and he will eventually need surgery. He didn’t want to throw his entire season away, though, so he’s done all the rehab and therapy he can to get his shoulder muscles strong. Will it hold out for all 24 motos? Martin certainly hopes so. If the injury isn’t an issue, you know Martin will be strong, so this will be one of the most critical stories to follow all year.
Austin Forkner will be back racing the series after missing all of 2019 and 2020 with his own injuries. Forkner has been healed up and riding for a while now, but Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki chose to sit him out of the final supercross rounds. This could give Forkner a leg up in motocross at the start of the season, but he says Fox Raceway at Pala is not his best track, and he doesn’t ride there nearly as much as most riders (he spends as much time as possible in Oklahoma). So he wants to come in and start fast, but he’s not sure that will happen. Either way, he’s just happy to be back racing—all the missed time has certainly made him even more focused and motivated. He knows it’s his job to win races and compete for championships, and he hasn’t done it in a long time. This series is another chance to right the ship.
It’s going to be a great season. I want to get a racing fix early, so this weekend I joined up with the MotoAmerica (aka AMA Superbike) road racing series. I’m at Virginia International Raceway, and I’ll be part of the broadcast team for the MotoAmerica Live Plus stream throughout the weekend. I spent yesterday chatting in the paddock with riders, teams, and insiders; it’s always great perspective to hear how other series and other pockets of the industry operate. I think it’s going to be a fun weekend covering road racing, and then next weekend in California, it’s on!
If it seems like this is the latest-starting Pro Motocross season ever, you would be wrong … but you would be close. Last year’s mid-August start was the latest in the history of AMA Pro Motocross, which goes back to 1972. This 2021 series, which starts next weekend, will be the second latest start ever. Thankfully, this time it’s a full schedule, running through September 11 and ending at Hangtown, the traditional opener, but moved to the back of the schedule in hopes that COVID-19 regulations and restrictions in California are much more relaxed by then. (If you’re wondering what the difference between being at Fox Raceway at Pala as compared to Hangtown is, remember that one is a state OHRV park and the other is on tribal land, which means they have much different rules.)
After the opener we will visit all of the usual stops, which means High Point, Unadilla, and Southwick, as well as Hangtown, are back after missing 2020. Not on the schedule is WW Ranch in Florida, which chose to take the year off after a couple of good but very warm races. There is one change of date: Southwick, originally scheduled to take place on June 26, will now run on July 10, as rapidly changing regulations in Massachusetts had organizers Keith and Rick Johnson pushing back to the open weekend after RedBud, rather than squeezing into August, which had also been discussed. That would have meant six straight weekends from August through mid-September to end the season. It would have also put The Wick and Unadilla on back-to-back weekends, which would not have been ideal for either, as they are only 175 miles apart.
The mid-September finish came in part at the request of Roger De Coster, who was hoping it would help keep potential Team USA riders in racing shape much closer to the date of the Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations, which is set for September 26 in Mantova, Italy. Hopefully it works out the way everyone hopes, though with several top riders changing teams at the end of the season, that may throw a wrench in the works.
Meanwhile, over in Europe, they are finally closing in on their start date of June 13 in Russia. The challenges that MXGP has had have been considerable, what with international travel being complicated by the virus, though the news today is that those in Europe who have been vaccinated will soon be allowed to travel more easily to other countries with a “vaccine passport.”
One rider who is already on the go is Jeffrey Herlings. The Dutchman is set to race this weekend in the British Championships at Lyng—the first British race with spectators since 2019. Herlings hasn’t raced for the last eight months after injuring himself last September at Faenza in Italy. There were some whispers that Herlings might pop up at one of the early Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship rounds, but those whispers were more like wishful thinking. Also, the promoters of the event, the Norwich Viking Motorcycle Club, just put out a press release stating that all 4,000 tickets they were allowed to sell have been sold, which is great news, though now they are asking folks who don’t have tickets to stay away:
“We have now reconciled the sales and it will not be possible to make any tickets available at the gate on Sunday. We do not have enough spare capacity to guarantee everyone that turns up will be able to get in and we really don’t want to have to turn people away; especially if they travelled a good distance. It has been a very difficult decision to make and we know a lot of you will be disappointed, as are we, (it will affect our income as we lose the ticket sales) but we cannot in all honesty let people travel when we can’t guarantee entry. There are, in addition, road safety implications to consider as selling tickets at the gate slows the whole entry process and lengthens the queues on the roads, which will inevitably lead to Police intervention.”
As for the AMA opener next week, if you’re looking for more on the upcoming Pro Motocross championship, including advance tickets (which will be limited at many events), just pop over to the series’ website. And if you are in Europe and ready for MXGP to get up and running, visit www.mxgp.com for all of the details, including advance tickets, as Europe will also likely have various limits of fan capacities, so get them now!
And speaking of schedules, check out this neat art that Tim Glasspool (@goodtimbo on Instagram) created for this year's High Point National. Glasspool has worked closely with Brett Smith (@WeWentFast) recently in multiple collaborations, including Smith's latest on the 50-year anniversary of the film On Any Sunday.
ET LEAVING HOME (Matthes)
I spoke to someone close to Kawasaki this week a bit more about the Eli Tomac thing and from their point of view, this isn't a bad thing that Eli Tomac is leaving the team at the end of the summer. Meaning there's no animosity, there's nothing the Kawasaki guys are going to do to not help Eli win his fourth 450 Class Pro Motocross title, everyone is on the same page. This is an OEM that let RC and James Stewart go and fired Jeff Emig and Davi Millsaps, they've certainly gone through this kind of stuff before. This person thought that some of Eli's lack of speed this SX summer (compared to years past) was because of his teammate Adam Cianciarulo's injuries that kept him out of SX. That inter-team rivalry is always something that pushes the riders. This also didn't seem to be at all a money thing as I was told that the green team could've paid ET whatever he wanted, no it seems like both sides kind of wanted a change to see what else is up there. There doesn't need to be some drama or scandal when a rider like ET switches teams, sometimes, it's just time. That appears so in this case.
Former pro turned trainer Seth Rarick has left Aldon Baker's facility where he and Mike Brown worked with the 250 guys and Dean Wilson to go over to Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing. Rarick's not going to be doing his training though with the Star guys, he'll be working more in the managerial end of things with the 250 team. We think at some point Wil Hahn will be moving over to the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GasGas Factory Racing team to work with them and I think this is something where Rarick can learn under Wil and pick his brain before Hahn moves over. Hahn and the Star guys work great together but I believe Wilbur didn't want to relocate out to Tallahassee, Florida, where the Star team is going to be based. So at some point, Wil will depart the squad when Rarick and the team feels he's ready to go. I've known Seth for a long time, used to give him EKS Brand goggles when he raced, and he's a good dude, he's a very hard worker and he'll be an asset to those guys.
Lab Rat (Keefer)
A couple weeks ago I did an article up over on Pulpmx.com and Keeferinctesting.com about the controversy of which is better: knee pads or knee braces. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know Ryan Hughes has been telling everyone out there in social media land that knee pads are better and that braces really don't help prevent knee ligament injuries. Well, since I’m a test guy, I wanted to get to the bottom of all this and went in search of some explanation and dove down the rabbit hole of wearing knee pads. I’ve been wearing knee braces for over 20 years and have never really thought of knee pads as a form of "protection,” but with Ryno speaking to me through social media, as well two-time AMA Supercross Champion Cooper Webb on the knee guard train (as well as many others), I got a pair of pads and found a lot of benefits while on the bike.
While on a training trip with my family to Colorado, I began to gravitate toward the pads that always seemed to call my name in my gear bag before heading out onto the track. I could feel my bike better with the pads, my legs didn't get as tired during a long day of riding, and I just felt freer on the machine. I felt like I was reborn!
However, last Thursday, after 20-something years of zero knee injuries, I found myself pulling off the track because I managed to catch a rut (with my foot) as my leg decided to rip away from me in a 90-degree angle. I heard a "POP" and noticed my knee felt loose and unstable. Not knowing how bad it was, I went back to the van and got undressed then immediately noticed that I could not put much weight on my left leg. The family and I packed up from Colorado early and went back home to Southern California to see my doctor and get an MRI.
The results came back this week and I have complete tear of my meniscus in my left knee. Was it coincidence? Dumb luck? Was it because I wasn't wearing braces? These are all the things that went through my head as I got the read from my doctor. I now have to have surgery on my left knee to fix my meniscus and will most likely be sitting out Loretta Lynn's, because our Regional is in two weeks. SON OF A....! I honestly don't "think" it would have mattered if I was in braces, but I thought to myself, How convenient is the timing of this injury, when I just wrote an article about this exact thing? Even with this injury (with pads on), I still feel like I am not fully on either side. I stand strongly with whatever makes you feel safest is what you should stick with. I felt safe with pads on and I went for it. Did it bite me in the ass? Who knows? But I do know, as I lie here with my foot up in the air on the couch, that I will be going back to braces for the simple peace of mind. If I get a knee injury again with braces on, I at least won’t be beating myself up about whether I was wearing the right protective equipment. Do pads feel good while riding the bike? Hell yes they do. Are they "safer" than braces? Not in most cases.
The good news? It wasn't my ACL, and my recovery shouldn't be that bad. It could have been worse, and my wife is thankful it wasn't, because she can't put up with my non-riding, negative-speaking, moody, bitchy ass for too long. If you want to hear the whole story, including Mrs. Keefer's side of things, you can listen to the latest RMATVMC Keefer Tested Podcast over on Keeferinctesting.com now.
Track 93 (DC)
Our little neck of the woods (Morgantown, West Virginia and Western PAMX) got some great news this spring when we learned that a new track was opening up near Rivesville, maybe 20 minutes from the Racer X main office. It's called Track 93 and it will be open for practice. The owner, Cameron Childers, is just a motocross enthusiast who wanted to build a good place to ride on his 300 acres of land. He hired Craig from Dirt Designs to come out and build the track, and it's getting ready to come online as soon as next week. Our man Megawatt was invited out for a sneak preview, and he took along his RG Motorsports coworker Jeremy Wilmoth to shoot some drone shots of the new place. There's a Pee-Wee track, lots of equipment, a big water truck, and lots of fun-looking (and thankfully modest) obstacles, as you can see from Wilmoth's photos. Can't wait to get out there and do some riding!
Unchartered is going to make you want to put Peru on your bucket list of places to go ride.
Here's a cool video from MXMag.Be from "Lommelwood" checking in with some of the MXGP regulars as they get ready to start racing in Russia next month
Head-Scratching Headline/s of the Week
“Man has wrong leg amputated in 'tragic' hospital mix-up”—CNN Health
“Tim Tebow jerseys the hottest seller in NFL’s online shop”—News4Jax.com
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid’EH Update #20.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!