Welcome to Racerhead, coming to you on the first weekend of the 2021 off-season, at least here in the U.S., as they are racing this weekend in Sardinia below Italy as the Monster Energy FIM World Championships plow on. The AMA season ended with the Hangtown Classic last weekend—the latest Hangtown Classic ever, but better than 2020 when it didn’t even happen! Thankfully, we were able to get all 12 rounds of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross in, and for the first time ever, both AMA National Motocross Champions (that’s for you, Jim M. from the O.C.) are foreign imports. Australia’s Jett Lawrence became the first Australian to ever win the AMA 250cc Pro Motocross Championship, joining 450 titlist Dylan Ferrandis of France as 2021 AMA Pro Motocross #1’s. Lawrence made it more dramatic than need be, as he struggled with crashes at Hangtown, trimming his own comfortable 23-point advantage into a 6-point nail-biter at the end. As for Ferrandis, he finished just the way he started this tour, winning the 450 overall with 1-3 moto finishes, just like he had at the season opener back in May, only this time he had to come from about last in the second moto to earn that overall win.
After each won their titles, they celebrated in their own ways, though Jett’s celebratory burn-outs on the podium and in the pits were actually joined by Dylan, who had clinched the week before. It was really cool to see these two ascendent stars of the AMA circuit genuinely enjoying one another’s success, despite not being teammates. And their mutual joy was on full display in Cycle News, the weekly bible of U.S. motorcycle racing. One week ago Ferrandis and his embrace of his new #1 plate sure got a lot of love from his sponsors as well as the editors…
While the Ferrandis' championship ads had a mostly #1 plate vibe, with Jett Lawrence one week later his podium burnouts were the hot championship ad theme in Cycle News...
And you've gotta love the simplicity of this series of spreads by 100% celebrating their clean sweep of all of the AMA championships in 2021, with 250 SX East and West Champion Justin Cooper and Colt Nichols on the first spread, then 450 SX and 450 MX Champions Cooper Webb and Ferrandis, and then finally Jett Lawrence on the last spread, which gave 100% that five-title sweep.
Now we head into an off-season that really began way back in May when it was announced that Eli Tomac and Monster Energy Kawasaki were parting ways, and now officially includes Malcolm Stewart signing with Rockstar Husqvarna and Red Bull KTM’s veteran Marvin Musquin going SX-only in ’22. Jeremy Martin is returning to Monster Energy/Star Racing Yamaha, Justin Bogle is parting ways with the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC / WPS/ KTM team after three years, Guy B. calling it a career at Vital MX, followed by Michael Lindsey calling it quits with his FXR Chaparral Honda and returning to Vital MX as content manager (and congrats to both Steve and Michael on this news), plus the very likely upcoming official announcements that Tomac is joining Star Racing Yamaha and Aaron Plessinger is signing with Red Bull KTM… We probably missed a few there but you get the point, the off-season and the real season never really end, they just blend together!
Back home in Morgantown, West Virginia, we’re taking the off-season quite seriously—we’re all going out to High Point Raceway this weekend for the annual Big Dave’s Vet Homecoming Weekend, which features a PAMX race, vintage motocross, an off-road mini-GNCC, an old bike and gear show, pit bikes, Stacyc racing, karaoke, the works. I was out there all day with MX Sports’ Tim Cotter and Derek Garcia and Racer X Brand Manager Ryan McCleod and more working on the track and getting things ready for what should be a very fun weekend at the track… Which they really all are, right?
But let me close this intro on a sad note. A very good man named Tom Hudson passed away in Texas in an accident on the farm of his daughter Jackie and her husband Andrew Short. Known by many as “Subway Tom” because he owned franchises of the restaurant chain, Tom was a lifelong motocross enthusiast. He helped his daughter Jackie in her WMX career, and then followed Andrew’s career after they met. He was helping raise his grandkids and just enjoying ranch life down there in Texas when this tragic accident happened earlier this week. Godspeed, Tom Hudson, it was a pleasure to know you and call you a friend.
Tour of Italy (Jason Weigandt)
As soon as I walked in the door after a red eye flight back from Hangtown, I was repacked my bags and grabbed my wife so we could head back to the airport. We were going to Rome, Italy for a KTM event. The event was supposed to be secret but everyone knew it was a retirement announcement for Tony Cairoli. Rumors persisted, though. Couldn’t they just announce Tony’s retirement at a race? Were they planning a big shindig in Rome to announce something huge? Maybe a brand switch, or maybe coming to the U.S. in 2022? Marvin Musquin’s new 2022 deal is for supercross only, maybe Tony would slot into a spot next summer?
Well, turns out this big event really was just for Tony to announce his retirement. It’s a major sign of respect from KTM to host a gala event in Rome, away from the race track, on a rooftop restaurant just next to the famous Spanish steps. Tony will continue riding, including testing for KTM and, yes, he wants to do some motocross nationals in the U.S. next year. It’s not the full-time 12-round title assault many hoped for, but it will be very fun to see how he does if he shows up in America next year.
We weren’t in Rome to look forward, though, we were there to look back at Tony’s amazing run with 93 GP wins and nine FIM World Motocross Championships. He and his De Carli racing team switched to KTM for 2010, and the brand-new 350 SX-F, and started winning immediately. It proved the new generation of bikes, with fuel injection and (finally) a rear suspension linkage, were capable. KTM’s Motorsports boss Pit Beirer believes Roger De Coster doesn’t even consider coming to KTM if Cairoli doesn’t start dominating the GPs on orange bikes, first.
The relationship between Cairoli and KTM has been long and fruitful, but now the team has another generation of racers with Jeffrey Herlings in his prime and Jorge Prado entering his. From what I could surmise, it’s getting crowded running three A-list contenders, and there were rumors that Prado could go looking for a new home. They can’t let that kind of talent get away, so he becomes the focus. Maybe Tony could have moved to a different brand within the KTM group, but that wouldn’t make sense after all the success he’s had with the De Carli team, which will remain a KTM squad with Prado.
Beirer, the boss, feels this is a nice way to go out—with Tony still very competitive and even in contention for a tenth World Championship. In a way, this looks like Musquin’s deal for ’22. KTM’s real war horses now will be Cooper Webb and the incoming Aaron Plessinger. KTM will bring Marvin back for supercross, but eventually it will be the Plessinger and Webb show, just like it will be Herlings and Prado in MXGP. Riders like Cairoli and Marvin could find a way to stick around and few more years and collect some paychecks, but I think KTM would rather them go into retirement wearing orange.
So that’s the racing stuff. I learned much more than that. I got to meet Tony and his wife Jill, who are all class. Prado was there, too, and he’s hilarious, honest and high energy.
Our dinner table featured prominent MXGP journalists Adam Wheeler, Lewis Phillips and Ray Archer. Red Bull KTM Team Manger Dirk Grubel decided to sit at our table, as well. We bench raced for hours, perhaps the most enlightening conversation I’ve had all year, cramming so many MXGP stories, characters and personalities into one evening. When you consider the ties that bind racing together—Dylan Ferrandis, the Lawrence brothers, Ken Roczen, Max Anstie, and American riders like Webb, Musquin and Justin Barcia trying different set ups from KTM’s GP teams—there’s no shortage of things to talk about. It was fascinating. Really, my only regret is not being able to stay another few days to attend this weekend’s GP in Sardenga, but I’m already booked for a gig this weekend covering MotoAmerica road racing in Barber, Alabama.
I left the event with a few new pieces of knowledge. First, Cairoli will be defined as much for his class and character as his racing success. Second, KTM is into a second decade of major racing success, and it’s a challenge to make sure the pioneers are honored properly. Why not just announce Cairoli’s retirement at a GP this weekend? Because that wouldn’t be classy enough. We’ve seen things get a little rough in the endings for Kailub Russell trying motocross this year, or with Ryan Dungey’s foray into ownership (briefly) with a Honda team. (Ryan’s back on a KTM now.) KTM wants Tony’s racing exit to be nothing but good. Third, I learned how cool the characters in the GP scene really are. The fourth and most obvious piece is how amazing Rome is as a city. We Americans might think of America as the world’s hub, but when you realize the scale, power and scope that the Roman Empire once commanded, you realize we’re all just tiny pieces of a much larger story. Maybe I’ll write a little more about that next week. For now, I’m off to another race, as is Tony Cairoli. Ciao!
Sudden Opportunity (DC)
Let me add to the Antonio Cairoli retirement here, first with a compliment and then with a bit of news. In the times that I have met Antonio, interviewed him, or just watched him race, he has been the epitome of class and character. He and his wife Jill have been a fixture on the MXGP circuit for years now, and while most U.S. fans may only have gotten occasional glimpses of him, I’ve been watching for years on MXGP-TV.com and he is as relentless and competitive as anyone the sport has ever seen. Having won at least one Grand Prix in each of the last 17 years straight—a record that I don’t think will ever be matched—I think it’s fair to say Antonio Cairoli has been faster for longer than anyone ever on a dirt bike. And while his results in his few U.S. races—the old USGP races at Glen Helen, Charlotte and Jacksonville, the MXON races at Budds Creek (’07), Thunder Valley (’10) and RedBud (’18)—were not as triumphant as he might have hoped, he was always gracious and friendly, win or lose. I remember his disastrous 2007 MXON event at Budds Creek where he hoped to take it again to Ryan Villopoto (Cairoli topped him in the second moto at the ’06 race in Great Britain) he was instead sabotaged because a crew member from the Italian team decided to throw a giant cheese wheel into the shipping container that carried his bike, causing an impound at U.S. Customs in Washington DC. They barely got the bike released in time for the race, and Cairoli never looked right that whole weekend. But he was very complimentary of Villopoto’s incredible rides that day, rather than pout over his own misfortune. Like I said, a class act always.
As for the other breaking news involving Cairoli, there's a sudden kink in the current FIM World Championship tilt as series points leader Tim Gajser broke his left collarbone while training this week. According to MXLarge.com the HRC Honda factory rider from Slovenia has already had the clavicle operated on and plans to line up this weekend in Sardinia (an island off Italy in the Mediterranean Sea), which will be a chore, as they will be riding on a rough sand track. The situation could propel Romain Febvre or Antonio Cairoli, or even Jeffrey Herlings, to the front. Right now Gajser is 28 points ahead of Monster Energy Kawasaki's Febvre, with Cairoli one more point back and Herlings 34 down. Suddenly, Cairoli has a much better shot at what would be a record-tying tenth world title, which would be an amazing feat in his final season. Many believe that it’s Herlings who will ultimately break Stefan Everts’ record of 101 Grand Prix wins, though both he and Cairoli are currently tied at 93 apiece. Herlings has years to go in the tank still. But how damn cool would it be to see Antonio Cairoli get to that tenth titles on his way out the door? Stefan Everts won his record 10th World Championship in his final season. Cairoli has a shot to match him in more ways than one.Top of FormBottom of Form
Shootout SZN (Keefer)
To shootout or not to shootout? That is the question! As the racing season has ended the testing season is just starting to ramp up. However, if you're like me, you're burnt out on the same ‘ol shootout crap. Every year we get the same format, same criteria and to me almost the same results, right? I have been doing shootouts for over 20 years and in that time, the format hasn't changed much, if at all. So my thought this year was to possibly bring back shootouts (last year I decided not to do them), but instead of doing the same format, I’m considering a slightly modified version. What I mean actually doing some mods to each bike to see if it changes the outcome! Suspension re-valving, muffler system, handlebars/grips, gearing (if need). These are all mods that most do to their machines so why not see if the fourth-place machine could benefit with some aftermarket sprinkled into it. Does it bring it up to first or second place level? Does a number one stock bike with some mods done make it that much better? Often a bike has one or two problems that are easily fixed by the aftermarket, and it’s suddenly a much better machine. I would love some answers, but what about you? Send me your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know if you like or hate that idea. I would love to evolve media testing for you, the consumer, so let me have it!
KEEFER (Steve Matthes)
Good to see that after five years of me pestering him, Keefer is finally going to use my idea for his shootouts. I feel vindicated.
SILLIEST OF SILLY SEASONS (Matthes)
Well that's a wrap on the 2021 season, fivechampions were crowned and we mostly got through this SX residency, 12 rounds at 11 tracks MX season without any real-world hiccups that have affected other sports. COVID was creeping around the corner here late in the MX season though. Whew!
As I ponder whether to head to the MXDN next week or not, there's still some spots out there to be decided for some riders. Coty Schock’s team, FXR Chaparral Honda, is folding so he's got to decided where to go from here. I would bet on Phoenix Honda but there's a Twisted Tea HEP Suzuki element to this as well. The HEP guys are also looking towards Justin Bogle as he's going to ride the bike and by all accounts it sounds like Team Tedder wants to get someone for SX in Marty Davalos’ old spot. Max Anstie's going to RM ATV KTM with Shane McElrath and Joey Savatgy and Jason Anderson's Monster Kawasaki deal will be announced soon enough, probably Oct 1.
There's a lot going on in the pits with mechanics and such as well, maybe the most we've seen in a few years. I tweeted about this earlier this week but Olly Stone is heading from Austin Forkner/Pro Circuit Kawasaki to Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull GasGas to be Justin Barcia's mechanic. JB51's guy Billy Hartle is hanging up the wrenches. Jade Dungey is leaving Chase Sexton/Honda HRC to go to Red Bull KTM and work for Aaron Plessinger, Jason "Rango" Montoya is going to Monster Kawasaki to work for Anderson, Eli Tomac's wrench Brian Kranz is will now move in-house at Kawasaki to work with test riders Broc Tickle (Tick's also got a deal to fill-in if there's an injury there on the race team), Derek Rankin, Christian Craig’s mechanic, is going from Star Yamaha to be the crew chief at RM ATV/MC KTM, Derik Dwyer is going from Jeremy Martin and Star to the TLD GasGas team and Tony Archer is going from Schock’s mechanic to the Monster Pro Circuit team.
In a bit of a shocker, Michael Byrne is quitting the manager role at RM ATV/MC KTM to work with Cooper Webb exclusively like he did for CR22 for a couple of years. I'm interested in watching this move for sure. Webb has left Aldon Baker and will riding to be at the 83 Compound and working with Byrner for 2022. We might finally have our answer on how much the Baker program helps a dude out.
Hey, Watch It!
Episode 2 of Chase Sexton's Two Three Series is up:
For Ralph Sheheen's Geico 15-Minute Moto Show he rang up DC to talk about how the Coombs families' involvement in moto got started, Racer X Magazine, and even a little tour of the Racer X Office:
Head-Scratching Headlines Of The Week
“Tourists Are Now Smoking Toad Venom in Mexico’s Hipster Town Tulum”—Vice World News
“Digital doggies: pet influencers on the rise”—Yahoo News
Meanwhile, in New York... Roy Janson spotted this in the New York Daily News.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!