Welcome to Racerhead, coming to you at a beautiful beginning to Memorial Day weekend, as well as the opening round of the 2021 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, the DirtBikeKidz Fox Raceway 1 National here at Pala, California. The place is filling up with some very enthusiastic fans, as the whole country continues to work its way out of the dreaded pandemic that’s been with us since last March. Before we get into previewing the big race, don’t forget to take a moment this weekend, and especially on Memorial Day, which is Monday, to think about all of the men and women who sacrificed their lives for this great nation of ours, the United States of America. God bless them all.
For the second year in a row, Lucas Oil Pro Motocross is not starting at its traditional opener, the Hangtown Motocross Classic. Last year it was impossible for the Dirt Diggers North Motorcycle Club, the event promoters, to hold any races. This year they can, but just to be on the safe side of the ongoing-but-diminishing COVID-19 restrictions, they asked to be the last round of the series in September.
Here at Fox Raceway in Pala, it’s a different story given than the track is set on tribal land owned by the Pala Band of Mission Indians. As a result, they don’t have to be as strict as the Dirt Diggers do up north, where the track is set within the Prairie City Off-Highway Vehicle Park, which belongs to the state of California. As a result, don’t be surprised tomorrow to tune in on MAV-TV, NBC Sports or Peacock (or follow along on the Pro Motocross App) and notice a sizable crowd. The excitement for this event and a whole new season has been palpable ever since the conclusion of Monster Energy AMA Supercross on the first of May. And with three weeks off, as well as the opener being right here in Southern California, the heart of the U.S. motocross industry, everyone seems relaxed and ready to go. Both classes are packed, and the guys will have more on what to expect and what’s been going on below. I’ve been transitioning into my “summer job,” which is more with MX Sports Pro Racing than Racer X magazine, so I haven’t been able to get much insight or interactions with the riders the past few weeks. Instead, I’ve been more focused on things like mask mandates, COVID-19 restrictions, and all the things each event in the series will be facing. For instance, it was in the news today that Washington has increased spectator events to 50 percent capacity, capped at 9,000, which is wonderful news for Washougal, with more capacity expected by their event in July. And back in Indiana, the Indy 500 will run at 40 percent capacity this weekend, though they are getting pressure in the press to enforce their mask mandate, which does not expire for another week. The 40 percent is a positive step for the Ironman National, which happens in late August.
The news was not so good Down Under in Australia, where they had to postpone Round 3 of the 2021 Penrite ProMX Championship after a small COVID-19 outbreak (15 people) in Melbourne caused them to hit the pause button on their series. (And fans in Australia, we hear you—we have not given up on getting a stream going as NBC continues to seek a way to make it happen.) And over in Europe, the British Nationals are up and running, with a special guest last weekend and a sold-out crowd limited to 4,000 spectators.
As far as the rest of our series goes, everything is looking like a go after Southwick made that move last week a couple of weeks back, and restrictions everywhere are lightening up. We’re almost out of this horrible deal, and it really does feel like we’re almost back to normal.
I had the best seat in the house on Tuesday’s Pro Ride day here at Fox Raceway—they needed a caution flagger for the big corner jump that is the second turn. I got to watch the whole pack in both classes, each doing two full moto-length practice sessions. The Monster Energ/Star Racing Yamahas and Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasakis all looked fast, as did the factory Hondas of the Lawrence brothers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this all come down to the old guard vs. the new, which means Jeremy Martin and Jett Lawrence. Remember, they finished 1-2 in the last moto of 2020 here at Fox Raceway, only they were teammates on the old GEICO Honda squad. As far as the 450 goes, there are so many guys who could break out that I don’t even want to try to narrow it down. Whoever wins is going to have to be a bunch of very good guys to win the opener, let alone the title.
It’s the eve of the opening round of Pro Motocross, people, and these are always exciting times. Anytime a series kicks off there’s tons of speculation on what we're going to see. Right now in the 450 Class, I can count 12 riders who probably think they're going to be top-five! One thing I think is that I'm not going to take the results we see this weekend as gospel going forward. For one, it's an opener of a series, and we always see some sideways results. Two, it's a Southern California track and plenty of guys ride there often so that might skew some results a bit. Having said that, let's get this thing started!
Almost Back! (Jason Weigandt)
Zach Osborne, Adam Cianciarulo, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin, Chase Sexton. That’s last year’s top-five in 450 Class points. Let’s add five names. Cooper Webb, Ken Roczen, Justin Barcia, Dylan Ferrandis, Aaron Plessinger. Those are big names. Capable riders. As Kellen Brauer will touch on next, it's ten names on paper that that would not surprise anyone if they won a moto. There’s more talent out there, like Jason Anderson who won last year’s opening moto of the season. It’s crazy, it’s deep. This is exciting.
What really intrigues me about this year’s field is the collision of eras. Too often we’ve seen the superstars of the past either retire early or get forced out by injury. These days, they’re sticking around. Just look at the teams. With Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen, and Marvin Musquin you have three riders that have been winning races at this level for a long time. All three have younger teammates looking for their turn, Cianciarulo at Kawasaki, Sexton at Honda and Webb at KTM. You have Ferrandis moving up from the 250s, Plessinger finally healthy enough to show what he can do on a 450 outdoors. Often, we only get to see these matchups in mythical bench-racing scenarios. This year, we get it in real time.
We spent two hours with the top riders this week in the pre-season press conference:
The rider who probably grabbed the most attention was Roczen, who was brutally honest about his expectations for Saturday. A young Ken Roczen never doubted himself rolling into an outdoor campaign, but he was subdued this time, admitting he has had a tough time “reconnecting” to motocross after taking last summer off. Everyone wants to know how Kenny’s body will hold up to 24 motos in the summer. How he will adapt to the 2021 Honda outdoors. If he will have his old speed back. It sounds like he literally doesn’t have any answers to those questions.
“Just been feeling a little bit of a disconnect with it. Trying to adjust to the speeds and whatnot and trying to keep my momentum up. As far as expectation for this upcoming weekend, I don’t really have any right now. To be honest, I kind of want to see where I’m at and then build each and every weekend from there on out.”
That’s not the usual Ken Roczen. He usually starts a season on fire, and then the challenge is to try to maintain that level. This one appears to be reversed. Maybe he’ll get better as it goes on. Maybe he won’t. He doesn’t seem to know. Ken was even offered a chance to say the 2021 Honda is extra-dialed in for motocross because Tim Gajser already won the 2020 FIM Motocross World Championship (MXGP) on a prototype version of that bike. Ken says that doesn’t really apply.
“As far as I know, I don't think we’ve had really that many settings from Europe because they run the BFR shock that we don’t run and we don’t really have here right now,” he says. “So that’s obviously out the window. But for right now, I just think we have a hard time running some of the same settings because we also can’t do some of the changes. I’m not 100 percent sure what they’re actually running over there, but I know they could do frame changes, I believe, if they wanted to and things like that.”
Between Zach Osborne fighting through a back injury, Roczen struggling to find his old form, and Eli Tomac no longer coming in with the #1 plate, the 450 landscape looks much different than it has in a while. It’s still likely that someone will seize control of the series at some point, but going into the opener we have no idea what to expect. Man is that exciting.
I’ll be back in the TV booth as usual this year, with my mate Grant Langston alongside for the broadcasts on NBCSN (second motos) and MAVTV (first motos), or keep the same Peacock Premium package you had from Monster Energy Supercross and you can watch every moto live online, as well as qualifying coverage every morning at 10 a.m. local time. I call the summer 12 weeks of glory, as I get to work the best job in the world. Come join us every weekend. It’s going to be one heck of a summer.
STILL NOT RACEDAY? (KELLEN BRAUER)
I can’t believe it’s still only Friday and we’re not quite at the first round of the 2021 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship yet. Kicking things off with a press day on an unusual Tuesday somehow makes it feel like the race has already happened, but here we are three days later and we’re still a day away.
It was great to have the early-week press day, though, as pretty much all the top riders and teams were there to get a full extra hour of practice time that they normally don’t get on a racetrack prior to a weekend event. You can read my full report on what happened on Tuesday, but essentially all you need to know is the track will be gnarly. There was a lot of sand put on the hills and even in some flat areas at Fox Raceway, seemingly to compensate for the track usually getting very dry and hard packed by the end of the day. But the sand they brought in was much more of a silt than a sand and the hills saw many riders get caught out by either landing a drop off into the silt and stopping or trying to jump over the deep stuff and getting sketchy. It does appear that there will be some changes to the track come race day, but it’s still likely to be a fairly typical Fox Raceway where the afternoon chop will be a handful to deal with.
We followed up press-day riding Tuesday with a massive preseason press conference on Wednesday that went nearly two hours. There certainly was a lot of the typical “we feel great, the bike is great, etc.” answers, aside from Ken Roczen, who was quite honest about his current situation. Having not raced Lucas Oil Pro Motocross in nearly two years now, Roczen said he felt a “disconnect” from motocross and has struggled getting up to speed following his Monster Energy Supercross campaign. Roczen took the championship to the final round in Salt Lake City against Cooper Webb for the first time in his career, and he was very focused on keeping his attention on supercross down the stretch. Be sure to read the full interview with Roczen from Wednesday to see more of his honest thoughts on where he believes he is heading into Pro Motocross.
We also learned things like Adam Cianciarulo’s collarbone injury still is bothering him slightly after they plated it close to his neck, and he still experiences some soreness from time to time. Jeremy Martin and Zach Osborne both sound like they’re ready to go for the opener, but the back injury for Osborne and the shoulder injury coupled with a rumored wrist issue for Martin do leave some questions for where the two might stack up. Eli Tomac wants to get back to his winning ways in what will be his final season with Kawasaki, and Justin Barcia is having fun riding tracks that he called “pretty bad” in California lately.
Honestly, it feels like there are more questions than answers after a week of riding and press conferences leading into the opener on Saturday. On paper, it feels like ten different riders in each class can legitimately win on Saturday, but it still might take a few rounds before we really know who the title contenders will be in 2021. I’m just ready to watch those gates drop on Saturday and see how it all unfolds!
Watch raw riding footage from the May 24 press day below:
Jeffrey Herlings Returns… (Adam Duckworth)
… not to the U.S., as many were hoping, but rather the UK. Four-time FIM World Champion Jeffrey Herlings made his racing comeback eight months since he damaged his neck in Italy last year, but faced tough competition from factory Yamaha MXGP rookie Ben Watson and a host of homegrown talent in round two of the British Motocross Championship.
After more than a year with no spectators at UK racing, the gates were thrown open to a sell-out crowd of 4,000 fans. They packed into the historic old-school Lyng circuit to see riders like Tommy Searle, Evgeny Bobryshev, Liam Everts, Conrad Mewse, Dylan Walsh, and Adam Sterry.
The shock of the day was how fast Watson is. He beat Herlings in the opener then held him off for 20 minutes in race two before the Dutchman got by—but he was chased all the way to the flag by the local hero. Tommy Searle took third overall while red plate holder Evgeny Bobryshev retired in too much pain with a recent shoulder injury.
Conrad Mewse dominated the MX2 class but had to battle past 40-year-old veteran Brad Anderson who holeshot moto one on his 250 two-stroke KTM. The UK series allows 250cc two-strokes to race against 250 four-strokes. Ando is the current European two-stroke champion and says he'll retire from pro racing at the end of the year. MX2 GP rookie Taylor Hammal was second from Steven Clarke and Liam Everts.
As for the FIM World Championships, they are still set to begin in two weeks in Russia, where Herlings will find even more competition as he returns to form.
Freestyle Snacks (DC)
Every now and then a cool mainstream advertisement will pop up with some elements of motocross/supercross in there, like the recent Taco Bell commercial for the Quesalupa that featured a girl doing a stunt that the director tries to abort..
Sebastien Tortelli (Matthes)
This week Weege and I got together to do another of our Leatt ReRaceables Podcasts, and in honor of Pala MX kicking off this weekend, we went with the 1999 MX opener at Glen Helen. It was there that I witnessed one of the best rides I've ever seen in person, as Honda's Sebastian Tortelli ripped through the field to go 1-1. It was an amazing ride by the '98 World Champion, and Weege and I tried to capture it. A young ESPN pit reporter named Davey Coombs profiled Seb before the first moto gate drop as "someone to watch," and I'd say he nailed that. Whatever happened to that guy, anyway?
It was cool to be able to call Seb (he's living in Spain these days) and have him talk to us about that day, how he practiced concrete starts on his driveway before the race (?!?), His departure from the series later on due to wrist injury, how hard he was on practice bikes and more. Really fun show to do. Have a listen.
More on Tortelli (DC)
Weege and Matthes asked me if I had anything to offer about that ’99 Glen Helen National opener and the astonishing ride of Sebastien Tortelli, but I was on a plane flying across the country and missed the chance to add a little background on Tortelli’s career. I was lucky enough to be there at the 1995 Motocross of Nations in Slovakia when Tortelli really broke through and blew everyone away. He was 16 years old and riding a Kawasaki KX125 and was getting coaching from France’s first FIM World Motocross Champion, Jacky Vimond. To say that Tortelli shocked the world is an understatement; it was a truly sensational ride, nearly as mind-boggling a surprise as what Ryan Villopoto did on a 125 at the 2007 MXdN, as well as what Johnny O’Mara in the legendary ’86 MXdN aboard a 125. There was no way that a 125 was going to beat all of the 250 and Open bikes on those massive hills, but Tortelli was definitely riding better than anyone else, as fellow 125 class entrants Stefan Everts and Steve Lamson found out. (After the race, Lamson groaned, “I got beat by a kid wearing pajamas”—a reference to Tortelli’s funky green-black-and-yellow Oxbow gear.)
The next year Tortelli would dominate the 125cc World Championships, and two years later he would defeat Everts again for the 250cc World Championship. He also won another shocker, the ’98 AMA Supercross opener at the Los Angeles Coliseum. He then signed a contract to move to America and ride for Team Honda.
But there was a catch, and it would affect the rest of Tortelli’s career, in my opinion. At the time, the AMA had a rule that said any FIM World Champion who came to America had to ride in the premier 250cc class in AMA Supercross. That meant that rather than getting a year or two under his belt learning the ropes—which he still did, despite winning that ’98 opener on a muddy Coliseum track—Tortelli had to race the 250 class. He was a two-time world champ, but very green in the ways of U.S. supercross. He started ’99 barely in the top ten, and then a chain of supercross injuries began that would derail season after season. It also affected his chances of winning an outdoor national title, as he always seemed to start MX injured or behind in testing as a result of a previous injury. Had Sebastien Tortelli been allowed to ride SX in the lower class for a year or two, like fellow international travelers Christophe Pourcel, Marvin Musquin, and Ken Roczen—all of whom came here with world championships after the AMA changed the rule—I think Tortelli would have had much more to say for Ricky Carmichael when they went outdoors.
Let me also add that Tortelli, as you will hear on the Leatt ReRaceables, is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet at a motocross track. He was always a pleasure to work with on magazine and Cycle News features, as well as when we got together on an interview for TV.
RJ AND MC (Matthes)
We had multi-time SX and MX champion Rick Johnson on the PulpMX Show this past Monday, and as usual, RJ brought the goods. He's a great interview, and we chatted about the SX series, who he likes for MX, his career, and more. Earlier that day I had been texting with Jeremy McGrath about some stuff and mentioned how cool it would be to get him on the show at the same time as RJ, as there's definitely a bond between the two. RJ explained on the show how he recommended MC to Honda back in 1990, but it was for a full factory Honda ride and NOT the Pro Circuit/Peak Honda ride it ended up being. Anyway, it was great having two guys on who you can tell respect the hell out of each other and are great interviews as well. Check it out here:
Scott Sheak (DC)
Scott Sheak’s family and friends laid him to rest earlier this week in New York, then enjoyed an afternoon together honoring and remembering Scott at Claversack Motocross Track in Hudson, New York. MX Sports’ Tim Cotter and I were very bummed to miss the opportunity to visit with Scott’s family, as we were out west getting the series started, but we will be honoring the 1997 High Point National winner at next month’s High Point National. Here are a few photos Scott’s wife, Amy, sent us to share with everyone.
Hey, Watch It!
British championship Rd. 2: Herlings and Watson star in front of sell-out crowd
For the fourth consecutive year On Track School was able to provide the Wiseco Scholarship for a young, amateur MX athlete. This year's recipient is 15-year old Jace Lewis, who is putting in work both under the helmet and behind the computer.
While being interviewed by Vital MX on Tuesday, Rockstar Husqvarna's Dean Wilson said, "I've never lost a moto at Pala." And he's right! Back in 2010 and 2011, in the first two incarnations of Fox Raceway National at Pala, Wilson won all four motos. But in the more recent races of 2019 and '20, Wilson has been hurt and missed the event, as he explained in this Vital MX video.
Listen to This
BigMX Radio did a podcast this week with our Simon Cudby.
Head-Scratching Headline/s of the Week
“Summary of MLB: Braves Pound Pirates 20-1”—Ohio News Time
“Oslo is the Third Best Karaoke City in the World, Study Reveals”
“List of bizarre MLB injuries grows when Cleveland pitcher breaks thumb while removing shirt”—msn.com
“OOOP: LeBron accidentally reveals top secret APPLE headphones...”—Drudge Report
With the Southwick National date now confirmed for July 10, the date for the New England Legends charity ride is Friday and Saturday, July 23-24, at NHMX. The ride will be led by Doug Henry and Tony Lorusso with the proceeds going to a good cause: New England Riders helping New England riders. The event is limited to the first 50 riders per day, and cost is $100 per rider per day and includes riding (11 a.m. to 4p.m.), a special event T-shirt, pizza dinner, beer and soda, and a raffle ticket. They are also pulling together a silent auction of valuable memorabilia each day. Sign up at stimilon.com/registration and click on New England Legends Charity Ride. Open now, don't wait—this will sell out fast!
And if Lucas Oil Pro Motocross is not your cup of tea for the weekend, they're having a big off-road event out at Glen Helen, the Adelanto Grand Prix. Lori Bryant, the track manager, told us this week they have been getting a huge turnout of little kids on Stacycs, which is great news for our collective future.
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid’EH Update #21.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!