Main image courtesy of KTM Images/Ray Archer
Welcome to Racerhead and what will be the last really busy spell for a while. The 2021 FIM Motocross World Championship will wrap up on Sunday and Wednesday with an MXGP doubleheader at Mantova, Italy—the same track that hosted the 2021 Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations back in September. And if the 17th and 18th rounds of this championship are anything like the first 16 have been, fans all over the world are in for a treat. Three men are within three points of one another: Dutch KTM rider Jeffrey Herlings, Slovenian Honda star Tim Gajser, and French Kawasaki rider Romain Febvre, who has the narrowest of points leads going into the last four motos of the season. The last round in Trentino last Sunday was filled with drama, as Herlings crashed twice—hard—in the exact same spot in the second moto, and then got the benefit of help from KTM teammates Antonio Cairoli and Jorge Prado when they let him back by them at the end of the moto, effectively minimizing the damage of those crashes. Our man Kellen Brauer is actually there at Mantova for the last two races and will have more on the final showdown of what’s been maybe the closest three-way championship battle in motocross history.
Out in California the big Dubya World Vet Motocross Championships are happening this weekend at Glen Helen Raceway, which means the world’s fastest older men are going to be battling all weekend long. Our man Kris Keefer is there with Steve Matthes, and he will have more from that down below.
Down south, Matt Walker is hosting a Racers 4 Waverly benefit race at Silver Dollar MX in Reynolds, Georgia, with all proceeds going to Road 2 Recovery and their efforts to help the people of Waverly, Tennessee—home of Loretta Lynn’s Ranch—who were affected and displaced by the deadly flood that came through in late August.
And over in Ohio this weekend there is an open ride weekend happening at the newly refurbished Honda Hill Motocross Track, once home to some of the biggest motocross races in the East. Honda Hills is located about a half-hour east of Columbus, Ohio, and had been mostly abandoned for the last 15 or so years, until a new group bought the once-grand track built by Daytona 200 winner Dick Klamfoth and started the process of recovering it. Now they are ready for company, and a few of us here at Racer X are headed over to check it out. (For more info call 740-252-1423.)
Lastly, and very importantly, there is the rollout of a new mental health initiative by the Road 2 Recovery Foundation called Max Matters. Vintage Iron’s Rick Doughty lost his son, Max, to suicide. Doughty started the Max Matters initiative in his memory, and Road 2 Recovery has picked up from there to turn this into a resource for today.
Yesterday, our man Jason Weigandt dove into this deep topic with Rick Johnson. RJ, an eight-time AMA National Champion, has admitted that he once attempted suicide at the peak of his professional career, while he was racing and winning in the mid-eighties. He didn’t admit this for over 30 years, but he spoke about it at length with Rick Doughty for an article in the latest issue of Racer X magazine, as well as with Weigandt for this eye-opening podcast/Zoom interview:
As part of the first steps of this new initiative, R2R will hold a free Zoom conference next Tuesday, November 9, at 5:30 pm Pacific. You can attend anonymously, and professional counselors will be there to answer questions and provide guidance. If you’re struggling and haven’t told anyone, this is the place to take steps. Please check it out, whether it’s for yourself or if you feel you have a friend or family member who could maybe use some support.
And finally, before we get into the rest of Racerhead, we are sad to announce the passing of Bill Brown, a longtime supporter of Midwest motocross and the man behind Braco Trailers. Brown was an early sponsor of Loretta Lynn’s MX, beginning with the very first year in 1982. He was also a longtime sponsor and support of Larry Whitmer, the Indiana motocross legend and longtime RedBud announcer. We still have a Braco trailer here at Racer X—it’s the very first enclosed trailer we ever had, back when my dad would take me and my brother and our dirt bikes all over the country as we were growing up. Godspeed, Bill Brown.
HELLO ITALY (KELLEN BRAUER)
Coming at you from a train somewhere in the middle of northern Italy today! My wife, our one-year-old daughter Hollie, and I packed up and headed off to Italy a few days ago to catch these final two Grand Prix races up close as the three-way title fight between Jeffrey Herlings, Romain Febvre, and Tim Gajser is coming right down to the wire in MXGP.
When I initially wanted to come to these last two GPs in Mantova, I did so with the intent of catching Antonio Cairoli’s final two races of his career, at least as a full-time racer. Cairoli has racked up 94 Grand Prix victories, 70 of which he did in either the MX1 or now MXGP class and amassed nine world titles along the way. He will not win the title this year, but he is still in fighting shape for victories as he approaches his late thirties and could send the partisan Italian crowd into a frenzy if he wins on either Sunday or Wednesday.
But putting the Cairoli swansong aside, the three points between three riders for the final two rounds of this championship is quickly becoming the storyline. Jeffrey Herlings had pulled out to a double-digit lead two rounds ago after he had already climbed out of a massive hole, having to miss a GP with a broken shoulder blade. Then he promptly crashed out of the first moto at the MXGP of Pietramurata and this championship pretty much went back to all even. Romain Febvre and Tim Gajser have also each had bumps along the road, as Gajser himself rode through injury, but each rider won a moto at Trentino, and they look set to make this finale absolutely insane.
Mantova hosted the Motocross of Nations just over a month ago as Davey mentioned above, and Gajser and Febvre both elected not to represent their countries (Slovenia and France, respectively), as they did not want to risk injury during a title fight. Herlings did race for the Netherlands, as he had committed to doing so when he was way out of the title race, and handily won both of his motos at the MXoN. Mantova is somewhat considered a sand track, though it pales in comparison to "real" sand tracks here in Europe like Lommel, Lierop, and Valkenswaard. Either way, sand is Herlings’ specialty, and it seems that it does not matter how much sand exists on the track. Even one grain of sand seems enough for Herlings to work with. With that in mind, he likely is looked at as the favorite coming into this final two, but he also threw away a more manageable points lead just two rounds ago.
Anything can happen from now until Wednesday, and I'm beyond excited to see it all happen here in Italy. By the way, it's very nice how simple travel can be sometimes in Europe. We needed a short taxi from the airport to our hotel last night in Milan, but we've used nothing but Metro (similar to a subway) and now trains while on the ground here in Italy. Even to get to a relatively small town like Mantova with just 50,000 people, a two-hour train ride cost us just 25 euros (about $30) for the whole family. Then the train drops us off a few blocks from where we'll stay for the next six days. Easy! Alright, let's get this party started!
World Vets (Keefer)
The Dubya World Vet Championships kick off Saturday at Glen Helen Raceway and the gang is all getting back together for another go at some medals. Matthes, Newf, Willard, myself, and a whole host of some friendly dez rats will be aiming for some gold over the weekend. Matthes needs some redemption from last year's mediocre finishes, but at least he has been logging some hours aboard his trusty YZ450F in order to prepare himself for agony of the choppy hills of the Helen. The legend of the Newf (Ryan Lockhart) is coming out of outdoor retirement and bringing his Canadian skills to see what the +40 Exp class holds for him. Oh, and remember that small, good-looking, tan dude named Michael Willard from Ohio? Yeah, that guy is here as well to go against the likes of Mike Alessi, Josh Grant, and others in Sunday's 30 Pro event. Every year at this time my house becomes a lodge for some of my close friends and fast old dudes to share stories and race some dirt bikes. I look forward to this every year, and this should be one to remember. I’m sure Matthes will have plenty to say about what goes on at the house, at Glen Helen, and how bad his arm pump was on Monday's PulpMX Show. The World Vet shows are usually a great time. Hope to see you at "The Helen"—make sure to look us up and come over to say hey! Steve loves it!
Different Time (Jason Weigandt)
I enjoy this time of the season to focus media efforts on other parts of this racing world. We’re covering this super-close MXGP season extensively here at Racer X Online, including the controversial Antonio Cairoli “move over” for Jeffrey Herlings last Sunday. The best part about that ordeal? Both riders actually admitted it! Herlings and Cairoli owned it. For some reason, the European and GP-based riders are always more forthcoming than the Americans. That’s true of MXGP riders, and it’s also true of foreign-born riders racing in the U.S. Has anyone ever thought the likes of Chad Reed, David Vuillemin, Grant Langston, or (today) Dylan Ferrandis aren’t just telling you exactly how they feel? The Lawrence brothers? Is Ken Roczen an outgoing personality or a dud? I don’t know why the non-Americans hold stuff so close to the vest, but they do.
I’d even argue that Marvin Musquin, usually, is pretty unfiltered, but there was that one time he could not be. Marvin moved over for Ryan Dungey in New Jersey in 2017, but the KTM folks couldn’t admit it because the AMA Supercross rule book said riders can’t “fix” a race and Kawasaki, on behalf of Eli Tomac, was well aware of that rule. So everyone had to pretend Marvin just made a mistake on the last lap. Seeing Herlings openly thank Cairoli while Dungey and Marvin had to pretend nothing happened is quite a contrast. You can chalk it up to the rulebook and the difference in culture.
Anyway, more MXGP is coming this weekend and then again a few days after that. It’s been fun to watch.
I also spent the last two weeks unpacking all the stories from the Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) series, including an interview with Women’s XC Champion Becca Sheets this week. Becca won her second-straight WXC title this year but also announced she is stepping away from racing. She’s a great personality and a fun podcast if you want to watch or listen. I also chatted with new XC1 Overall GNCC Champion Ben Kelley this week, I’ll have that pod and interview next week.
On the supercross front, November 1 is usually an unofficial start date of training “boot camps” for the top riders. September and October have been met with various states of resting and testing, but suffice to say almost everyone prepping for Anaheim will be deep into the suffering soon. Anaheim is nine weeks away, and a good eight weeks are often dedicated to the mega-grind. Internet videos and social media posts have opened the once-secret doors of off-season training, and now we know what it looks like when riders are kitted out for long cycle rides, or in the gym, or logging practice motos. Still, this eight-week span is what you’ll hear about when riders say, “People don’t see how much work we put in behind the scenes.”
That’s what’s happening right now. In a few months, we’ll get to move to the next cliché phrase: “The hard work paid off.”
WIN AD HALL OF FAME... (DC)
... or more like Win Ads We Couldn't Get Away With Today...
1987 Suzuki win ad featuring George Holland, sweeping both motor, from the Cycle News Archives.
Adolf Weil x 2 (DC)
The late German motocross legend Adolf Weil's name came up twice in the last week here one Racer X Online—or at least in notes from our readers after we had some editorial oversights of the Maico rider who was once one of Roger De Coster's greatest rivals.
First, in last week's Racerhead, we were singing the praises of the incomparable Tony Cairoli as he winds down his career, and we thought his win in the previous Wednesday's MXGP at Trentino made him the oldest GP winner ever. In fact, we wrote, “In doing so the 36-year-old Cairoli became the oldest rider ever to win an MXGP race...”
Our old friend and fellow moto historian Reese Dengler immediately sent this email:
You are wrong, camel breath, as Late Night legend Johnny Carson would say to sidekick Ed McMahon from his "List of Facts" desk... On April 11, 1976, Maico’s Adolf Weil won the French 500cc MXGP at age 37, and we all know that the 500cc class back in that day was considered the premier moto-cross class at the time. So Cairoli is not the oldest rider to win an MXGP. That is, unless you're only considering after the FIM officially gave the name “MXGP” to the premier class. But I think that would be a cop-out and not historically accurate.
Reese is 100 percent correct in stating that the old 500cc GP series was the premier class, especially in the 1970s when it was where the big dogs in Europe like De Coster, Heikki Mikkola, Gerrit Wolsink, Bengt Aberg, Adolf Weil, Graham Noyce, and our own "Bad" Brad Lackey battled. We had simply forgotten about Adolf as we were singing the praises of Antonio. We regret the error.
And then on Tuesday we posted The List about the longest-tenured professional riders, or just who was with the same brand for the longest. It was mostly about recent riders, though we did mention the Czech rider Jaroslav Falta and how he spent his entire Grand Prix career racing Czech-made CZ motorcycles. Well, Adolf Weil was in a similar situation as Falta, riding for a brand made in his home country—Germany-made Maicos, in Weil's case. The difference was that the Maico was competitive for longer, and Weil was free to race whatever he wanted because he was on the western side of the Iron Curtain. So Adolf raced Maicos for his entire career, which last from 1967 to 1978, a dozen years in the FIM World Championships. Weil was also the 1973 Trans-AMA Champion, having defeated the reigning 500cc World Champion, Roger De Coster, for that title. It's not nearly as long as, say, Doug Dubach on YZs or Barry Carsten on RMs, but it was his entire career, and at the very highest level.
And I also should have mentioned Travis Pastrana’s long, long association with Suzuki, which began in 1991 when Pastrana’s parents got some Suzuki RM80s from Cernic’s Racing, and continued all the way through Travis’ youth, amateur and professional career, and then up through his FMX and early Nitro Circus days. The main reason that Pastrana’s partnership with Suzuki ended was because he was running out of fresh Suzuki RM250 two-strokes to ride or farm for parts. Pastrana’s Suzuki tenure is every bit as impressive as that of Barry Carsten!
The Lowest Number (DC)
A few weeks back we posed the question, What is the lowest number to have never won in AMA Supercross or Pro Motocross? It was #47—at least it was until the '21 High Point National, where Rockstar Husqvarna's Jalek Swoll won for the first time. But after that, we knew that #48 was ridden into the winner's circle by Trey Canard ('08), #49 and #50 by Martin Davalos and Malcolm Stewart, respectively, both in 2016. And #51 was a winner for Ryan Villopoto in 2006, #52 on Ivan Tedesco's Yamaha of Troy bike in 2002, and then #53 with Ryan Sipes in 2012….
Finally, we figured it out: #54 is now the lowest number to have never won an AMA Supercross main event or outdoor national on the AMA circuit. We went back through our lists of numbers, which dates back to 1974—the first year of AMA Supercross—to see every person who's ever held the #54 and see who did the best with it.
In the '70s the number was held by visiting Swiss rider Sam Wuillemin, Oklahoma's Trey Jorski, NorCal's Pat Richter, SoCal hotshot Jeff Jennings, multi-time AMA 250 National Champion Gary Jones, and Tony Wanket. The best finish anyone finished with #54 in the '70s with #54? Pat Richter's seventh place aboard a KTM at the St. Pete 500 National in Florida.
In the 1980s, in order, #54 was worn by Monte Anderson, Michigan's Kris Bigelow, Canada's Ross "Rollerball" Pederson, NorCal wild man Donnie Cantaloupi, Kevin Davis, SoCal's Russ Wageman (father of current fast guys Robbie and RJ), Washington's Mike Larson, Arizona's Robert "Fig" Naughton (in both '87 and '88), and Wisconsin's Corey Scweitzer. The best anyone did with the number in the '70s? Naughton finished second at the 1987 Seattle 125 SX. (Bigelow's two fifth-place finishes in '81 in the High Point and St. Pete 250 Nationals was also impressive.)
In the 1990s the #54 was assigned to Florida's Jeff Frisz, Pennsylvania's Jeff Glass, Tennessee's Mike Brown (in both '92 and '93), New York's Bruce Stratton, California's Jeff Pestana, and then Minnesota's two-time FIM Motocross World Champion Donny Schmit for 1996. Schmit, who raced just once in '95, the Spring Creek 250 National, finishing fourth overall, tragically died that winter due to a rare blood disorder. In '97 the #54 was assigned to Florida's Gene Naumec, in '98 the Japanese rider Takeshi Koikeda, and finally in '99 to Buddy Antunez. All told, Mike Brown did the best with it, finishing second in '92 Pontiac 125 SX on a Peak/Pro-Circuit Honda CR125.
Moving into the new millennium #54 has gone to NESC rider Scott Carter, New Jersey legend Barry Carsten, New Mexico's Ryan Clark, our contributor Jason Thomas, California's Steve Mertens, Ohio's Jeff Gibson, New York's Bobby Kiniry, California's Daniel Sani, Michigan's Nico Izzi, and Florida's Matt Boni. The best finish of this group would have been Izzi's third-place finish at the '08 Indianapolis SX in the Lites class, but he had chosen to keep his first pro number #341 instead.
The next decade of riders with #54 begins with Jason Lawrence in 2010, as well as 2011, but he also chose to stick with his previous #338. The number finally shows up again in '12 on Weston Peick, then South Carolina's Les Smith, SoCal's Christian Craig in '14, Ryan Sipes in '15, Will Hahn in '16, Gannon Audette in '17, "Filthy" Phil Nicoletti in '18 and Dylan Merriman in '19. None of those guys was able to win in the year that they held #54. It didn't happen in 2020 (Jordon Smith) nor '21 (Nick Gaines), which brings us to 2022 and the new #54 and a new chance to finally get a first win, right?
Wrong. The #54 for 2022 was assigned to Martin Davalos, but Davalos announced his retirement, so the winless streak for #54 in AMA Supercross/Pro Motocross will continue through at least next season. Whoever gets #54 for '23 will have the weight of 50 years of pressure to finally get that number into the winner's circle!
Hey, Watch It!
GoPro: Jeremy Seewer FIM MXGP 2021 RD16 Garda Moto 2
No days off, Win #95 and a 3-Way Title Tussle - Behind the Bullet With Jeffrey Herlings EP 8
Alex Martin shared some footage of him on his new ClubMX Yamaha YZ450F in his latest Troll Train VlogTroll Train - 450 Time!!!
Speed Sport: Aldon Baker On Fitness & Bike Training
Adam Cianciarulo takes you around the new Kawasaki text track in the latest “Adam Uncut”:
Listen to This
Jason Weigandt and Steve Matthes talk about the epic finale at Steel City MX in 2001 when KTM's Grant Langston's wheel blew apart costing him a chance at the title, they cover RC's move down to 125's, Mike Brown's day and they even get GL on the line to tell us about what it was like to be him that day. Stay tuned for Part 2 with Mike Brown!
Head-Scratching Headlines Of The Week
“Two Computer Nerds Trademarked The Word "Meta" And Are Demanding Mark Zuckerberg Pay $20 MILLION To Get It Back”—Bartsool Sports
“Florida ‘Teacher of the Year’ arrested for hitting pupil who criticized award”—NY Post
“Squid Game crypto plunges to $0 after scammers steal millions of dollars from investors”—CNN Business
“NASCAR sending Kyle Busch to sensitivity training for using R-word during interview”—Fox News
“Lucas Oil Now the Official Oil of the Dallas Cowboys in Multi-Year Partnership”—Press release from Lucas Oil
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid’EH Update #44.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!