Welcome to Racerhead, and Happy Halloween—which in Morgantown, West Virginia, is a very big deal. Because we're a university town, the students go all-out here for pretty much the entire week leading up to October 31. And because this year it's on Sunday night, the whole weekend will see a bunch of folks wandering around in costumes. And since there's a big WVU football game tomorrow against Iowa State, I'm guessing the parking lots around the stadium (not to mention the stadium itself) will be all kitted up. Personally, I'm thinking of dressing up as Evel Knievel for the umpteenth time to hand out candy on the front porch, primarily because it's easy—already have the cape and helmet, as well as a vintage Evel bicycle. And thanks to my friend Steve Bogardus’ recent retro SX gifts, my date will probably be Miss Camel Supercross, because that’s how Evel would roll. We'll see if any of the kids get it….
The AMA Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) Series came to a soggy end last weekend at Ironman in Indiana, where it just rained buckets on Saturday night and Sunday, turning the finale into one great big mudder. How big? With 2,711 unique entries, it may have been the single biggest weekend off-road event in the history of the American Motorcyclist Association. It definitely beat GNCC’s own record by more than 200 riders.
Unfortunately, the showdown for the championship between KTM's Ben Kelley and AmPro Yamaha's Steward Baylor was practically drowned out after it had barely started when both riders' bikes fell victim to the rain and mud on the first lap. Both would spend the shortened two-hour race trying to salvage whatever points they could, though Kelley had the luxury of just needing to finish near Baylor, after the previous round's points penalty to Baylor and several others. In the end, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna's Thad Duvall ended up winning, which made sense—a fellow West Virginian should win what may have been the wettest race since the old Blackwater 100s. And Ben Kelley, who hails from Connecticut, put on an incredible performance to recover from way, way outside the top twenty to ninth overall, enough to clinch his first AMA Grand National Cross Country Series Overall Championship. After the race, Baylor, who was plagued all day long by problems and finished 65th, came to the winner's circle to congratulate Kelley on the title, as well as Duvall on the win (and Duvall did one of Baylor's trademark loop-outs as he crossed the finish line to win an overall for the first time since big back-to-back injuries nearly derailed his career). Weege will have more on how it all played out in the Indiana mud further down.
Everything here in the States has begun slowing down as we start looking forward to 2022, but this year still has some racing to go, and man is it getting good over in Italy. There are just three rounds left in the 2021 FIM Motocross World Championship: Sunday's third and final MXGP at Arco Trentino, and then a doubleheader at Mantova (November 7 and 10). Three men—Jeffrey Herlings, Romain Febvre, and Tim Gajser—are within three points of each other. That's literally a dead heat with just six motos to go in the championship. I will let our "GP guy" Kellen Brauer (who's headed over to Italy for the last two rounds) tell you more about the championship and how it got so close all of a sudden, but I do want to talk about the winner of Wednesday's second Arco Trentino race, the incomparable Antonio Cairoli. Since he announced his retirement last month, the 9-time world champion has slipped out of the battle royale for the title, due to a big crash at the MXGP of Sardinia, but he then led Italy to the 2021 Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations victory at Mantova, then pounced on the opportunity to get another MXGP win on Wednesday after the three title rivals each had problems in one of the two motos. In doing so the 36-year-old Cairoli became the oldest rider ever to win an MXGP race, the 70th win in MXGP's premier class of his career. And 70 is a very big number in our world of SX/MX, as "Park Boys" on the Vital MX Forum pointed out, both in Europe and the U.S.
The record for premier-class GP wins belongs to Stefan Everts at 75. Here in America, we have Jeremy McGrath's 72 AMA Supercross wins as the all-time standard. We also have Ricky Carmichael's 76 total 250/450 National wins. Cairoli will not get to Everts' all-time record of 101 Grand Prix wins, as he's at 94 right now, with only three races to go (that record will almost certainly fall to Herlings early next season, as he is at 97). But to reach 70 MXGP wins and be in a global SX/MX club that only also includes McGrath, Everts, and Carmichael is a fitting cap to what's been an epic career for the amazing Antonio Cairoli.
TIME TO TUNE IN! (KELLEN BRAUER)
The 2021 FIM Motocross World Championship is now the only major motocross series still running as we head into November, and boy is it good! I’m often labeled as the “GP guy” in this office, but it’s been refreshing to see that my cohorts are seemingly just as into this crazy three-way title fight down the stretch as I am.
After Jeffrey Herlings’ throttle housing was run over in the first moto at the MXGP of Pietramurata on Wednesday, he was left on the sidelines for the entire first moto. He watched what was becoming a fairly manageable points lead dwindle to a 1-point deficit after the checkered flag waved. And even after the second moto, Herlings’ subprime gate selection and another small crash left him with a fourth-place finish and a narrow 1-point advantage then over Romain Febvre. Reigning World Champion Tim Gajser sits just another two points behind Febvre leaving three races to go and 3 points in it for the title. Herlings' Wednesday at the races was frustrating, but he's keeping an eye on the bigger picture. For more on Herlings' mindset going into the final three rounds, MXLarge spoke with the Dutchman about how he views it all.
The MXGP of Garda this Sunday, the MXGP of Lombardia next Sunday, and the MXGP of Citta di Mantova the Wednesday after that are all that remain. In 12 days, one of these three riders will walk away with the 2021 championship. Here is my assertion to you readers: watch! GPs don’t often appeal massively to American fans, whether it’s the early hours to watch it live or the sometimes-awkward times to watch it on CBS Sports later in the day, or a number of other things, but this is can’t-miss stuff here.
We rarely get two riders to the end of the season with a shot at the title, let alone three. And I’m not just speaking of the MXGP series here. And on top of that, the three players involved here have such different stories.
You have the three-time and reigning MXGP champion in Gajser who is trying to become just the sixth rider in either the 250cc, 500cc, or MXGP class history to threepeat on the big bikes. He would join Paul Friedrichs, Joel Robert, Roger De Coster, Stefan Everts, and Antonio Cairoli on this extremely tiny list of Mount Rushmore–level names in MXGP. You have Romain Febvre who has been through the wringer with injuries after winning the MXGP world title as a rookie in 2015. And you have Jeffrey Herlings, who has unmistakably been the fastest rider in the series nearly the entire time he’s been in it but has also been bitten by the injury bug. Herlings is three Grand Prix wins away from 100 in his career and just four from tying the great Stefan Everts. He won’t reach Everts this year, but he could reach 100 and stamp this championship home in emphatic fashion.
These three riders are fast, exciting, and have all had some form of adversity this year. The story of who comes out on top is merely the conclusion to one heck of a chapter in MXGP history. So, check your local CBS listings, get the MXGP-tv pass for these last three rounds, whatever you need to do to witness these three races. It is going to be one heck of a final showdown!
- MX2 Free/Time PracticeLiveOctober 31 - 4:30 AM
- MXGP Free/Time PracticeLiveOctober 31 - 5:30 AM
- MX2 Race 1LiveOctober 31 - 7:00 AM
- MXGP Race 1LiveOctober 31 - 8:00 AM
- MX2 Race 2LiveOctober 31 - 10:00 AM
- MXGP Race 2LiveOctober 31 - 11:00 AM
- MX2 Race 2 (Delayed)October 31 - 9:00 PM
- MXGP Race 2 (Delayed)October 31 - 10:00 PM
And remember, daylight savings time ends in Europe tomorrow, so the Sunday MXGP schedule will be adjusted to the winter times, as noted by Paul Malin below.
As Crazy As It Gets (Jason Weigandt)
The Ironman GNCC has become quite a happening in this industry. Twenty years ago, when I started going, it felt like the world’s largest secret, as the place was absolutely packed with spectators and the track itself was an amazing “greatest hits” of the whole 13-round GNCC circuit wrapped into one course. Much of the excitement, though, was local. The town loved the race, and the fans were mostly Indiana locals who would hang out in the woods watching bikes and quads scale the big hills and charge through the water crossings.
Apparently, word has gotten out bit by bit, year by year, and Ironman is no longer a secret. The entire industry knows this as the place to be, especially with the timing, as most of the U.S. racing scene is wrapped by late October. These days the event is absolutely bonkers packed, and instead of me trying to tell people about it, other people tell me how great it was. A few years back, some higher-ups from Monster Energy and Kawasaki checked it out and were hooked instantly. Now Monster is a big supporter of the series and Kawasaki is back with a factory race team. If you go to the Ironman, you can’t not be impressed.
Even when the weather is horrible! That was the case this year. KTM had invited a bunch of media people to race the event on the new Factory Edition 350 XC-F. Rain absolutely crushed the place on Saturday night and through Sunday morning, but KTM still sent those fresh bikes out there to get roasted. I talked to Swap Moto’s Michael Antonovich this week and he said that yes, he was there on the start without an umbrella getting dumped on by rain. Goggles and such were toast almost immediately. He still had fun though! Come on, Anton!
I’m bummed because I had an invite to go race, but I decided to pass because my kids had scheduled events, and I miss far too many of those already due to travel. GNCC will be easier for me once my kid can race the 65cc class, which takes place on Sunday morning, instead of Saturday morning’s 50cc race. Anyway, shout-out to the guys who went for it in the mud. It’s always better to trash someone else’s bike, right?
The Sunday AM race also featured the final round of the GNCC WMX (Women’s) Championship, which was a showdown between Becca Sheets and Rachel Archer. I interviewed Sheets today. She only needed to finish third to clinch her second straight title, but then she basically drowned her bike when she hit a water crossing above the gas tank. You know how a Yamaha draws in air from way up high? Yeah, it was deeper than that! She thought she was done, but another racer stopped to help, and they removed the air filter and wrung it out to get it as dry as possible, started the bike without the filter, put the dry-ish filter back on, and went for it. She made it to the finish to clinch the crown.
That all set the stage for the afternoon XC1 Pro overall fight between Ben Kelley and Stu Baylor. Both ended up dead in the water, literally, on the first lap. Stu could never get his bike right and even needed to stop for a clutch change mid-race. Kelley had to turn his KTM upside down to pump the water out before it drowned. Just crazy circumstances with a title on the line, and 90-some riders came through the finish of lap one before either title contender checked in. Ben Kelley kept chugging along and eventually made it into a points-scoring position, and then ultimately finished in seventh. Baylor never made it to the finish, and that was the end of his title run. Read my full story.
Yeah, anyway, it was crazy and congrats to Kelley for handling the pressure to keep KTM’s title streak alive now that Kailub Russell is retired. Congrats to Baylor for an amazing comeback effort (he missed round one with an injury) and for always, always keeping things entertaining. Can’t wait for next year. Maybe I’ll finally get back to the Ironman myself!
Rocky Williams (RIP)
Earlier this week the motocross world lost one of its all-time good guys in Rocky Williams. He was a race mechanic in the 1970s and early ’80s, most famously with "Gassin'" Gaylon Mosier when he was riding for Wheelsmith Maico and later the Kawasaki factory team. Rocky's backstory was the kind of stuff with which one could make a movie. Our colleague at We Went Fast, Brett Smith, wrote about Rocky on Wednesday after news of his passing. Here's what he wrote:
Gerald Williams died in the evening of October 26. Rest In Peace, Rocky.
Many here might not recognize the name. It's been over 40 years since Rocky spun wrenches at the races. His career as a mechanic was notable because he was talented, funny and profoundly deaf.
He couldn't hear a damn thing, yet he was able to thrive in a world that's often filled with nothing but noise.
The story of Rocky Williams is one of many in various stages of completion in my projects folder. There's no specific reason why it's unfinished. He would have appreciated the tribute.
In April 1978, the LA Times featured Rocky on the front page of the sports section. "I feel the vibrations," he told Shav Glick. "I can tell if the engine's OK or what's wrong with it by the way the handlebars feel. I must communicate well with my rider. I ask him to tell me when the engine is running properly and then I feel the handlebars and get the proper vibration. From then on I can tell if it's running rich or lean or needs work by the way it vibrates."
Acceptance of a deaf mechanic made it a tough road for him. He said he started working on his brother's bike and then Bob Hannah when Hannah had a Husky. He also said he worked for Broc Glover and Bruce McDougal before they turned pro. He went to Suzuki and Yamaha and cited his experience with the riders above but was turned away because he was deaf.
In 1975 Rocky said a rider named Gaylon Mosier found him he worked for free for 6 weeks at Maico before he was given $300 a week and expenses. When Mosier decamped for Kawasaki in 1978, Rocky thought he'd be left behind again. Mosier called him and said, "get out your green pants!"
They won the 1978 Anaheim Supercross together (pic 8), a handful of AMA Pro MX races and many other events between the Trans AMA and CMC Golden State events. When Mosier was killed riding a bicycle in the fall of 1980, he was left without a rider who advocated hard for him and was ultimately dropped from Kawasaki.
He loved motorcycles, however, and later worked as a Harley-Davidson mechanic. He was 74.
In The Beginning: Villopoto-vs.-Alessi (Racer X Archives)
Back in August of 2002 the motocross world began seeing glimpses of what would become a longtime rivalry in Ryan Villopoto vs. Mike Alessi. The setting was the 2002 AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, and the two boys were going up against one another in the 85cc (12-13) Stock and Modified classes. Alessi was already a well-known Honda factory rider from Southern California; Villopoto was just starting to emerge from the Northwest as a Yamaha support kid. It was a very one-sided rivalry to this point, in favor of Alessi. But that was all soon to change, as you will read in Eric Johnson's excellent feature story from a minicycle matchup from nearly 20 years ago.
Earlier this week I did a story with Weege on the history of the permanent numbering system and went through the best riders to hold each of the numbers and how #8 and #22 have only been held by one person since 2000, the first year of the system. (Part two is next week, by the way.) Couple of things about the feature: Number 1 is it was cool to do and fun to look back at. Number 2 is I really don't need the DMs telling me that so-and-so wore the #8 in 1992 or whatever. If you take the time to read the story—and I know people don't read anymore because it's too hard on the brains—you would know that Weege and I were just talking about riders wearing numbers SINCE the advent of the permanent numbering system. Also, knowing me and Weege, do you guys who send me DMs think that we just think these numbers were never used before? Like we haven't been following the sport since the 1980s? So yeah, thanks DM guys for not reading the story and also not understanding our knowledge of the sport.
Whew. Feels better to say that. Also, in doing the research for the story, I left Ernesto Fonseca off the list for his permanent #10. I know he had permanent #24—the story I looked at didn't have the #10 as a permanent for him, but while looking at another source, it does have it as a permanent for Ernie. I don't think this fact changes Weege's vote on Brayton being the best #10 ever though.
Hey, Watch It!
GoPro: Tim Gajser 2021 FIM MXGP R15 Pietramurata Moto 2
If you're a fan of James Stewart--and, in particular, a fan pf James Stewart hitting the whoops in supercross--then "DF313" on Vital MX has made you a masterpiece. DF313 pieced together more than an hour of footage, in chronological order, of James Stewart hitting the whoops. We didn't watch the whole hour, but we eventually will! Thanks DF313.
Head-Scratching Headlines Of The Week
“A hiker got lost in Colorado, then ignored rescuers’ calls because they came from an unknown number”—The Washington Post
“Violent brawl breaks out at Miami dog show”—New York Post
“The Cowboy Channel Adorned with National Finals Rodeo and Cowboy Christmas Branding to Sponsor Richard Childress Racing, Austin Dillon at Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway this Weekend”—Press Release header
“The remarkable story of a man who found 162 bowling balls under his house”—ESPN+
“Facebook is rebranding itself as 'Meta'”—Finance.Yahoo.com
“China’s Hockey Team Is So Bad It Might Be Dropped From the Olympics”—New York Times
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid’EH Update #43.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!