Main image from the Paris Supercross, by Christophe Desmet
Welcome to Racerhead. We've reached December, and now we’re just 36 more days from Anaheim 1... Is it too early to pick Justin Barcia once again in the opener? The two biggest races of the off-season happened last weekend with the massive 50th Annual THOR Mini O's in Florida, as well as the return of the Paris Supercross in France, where we got to see a few AMA Supercross veterans in Marvin Musquin, Justin Brayton, and a semi-retired Chad Reed go up against some very good MXGP riders in the semi-retired Antonio Cairoli and Romain Febvre, as well as some of the home country’s better supercrossers. The track was rather modest by Monster Energy AMA Supercross standards, as the organizers knew that they were getting some soon-to-be-at-Anaheim riders in Musquin and Brayton, plus Cairoli and Febvre and Reed haven't done much supercross lately. As expected, Musquin won fairly easily, sweeping all three main events, while his countryman Cedric Soubryas, no stranger to supercross, was a solid second overall ahead of Brayton. Fourth went to new Twisted Tea/ HEP Motorsport Suzuki rider Justin Bogle, with Reed scoring an impressive fifth overall. The event was jam-packed, which was great news for the promoters, as they really had to work on making this event even happen, given the difficulties with international travel restrictions, different vaccination policies for different countries, and the general uncertainty that it was even going to happen. Eric Peronnard, the U.S. rider liaison and one of the co-promoters, told me, "I don't think Xavier [Auduoard, another co-promoter] and I have ever had to work so hard on this race as we did the last three months."
While it's hard to tell what the results mean in the big picture—I don't think Musquin becomes more of a favorite at Anaheim because he won Paris, though Roger De Coster recently said Marv's riding really well—there was one glaring and unfortunate taste of reality. Romain Febvre, who was tied with Jeffrey Herlings going into the final moto of the 2021 FIM Motocross World Championship, suffered a massive and ugly crash when he over-jumped a step-on/step-off and then shot sideways off the triple that followed immediately upon landing. It was a spectacular, ugly reminder that even on a tame track like Paris, supercross requires a different skillset than outdoor motocross, and while the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider is definitely one of the fastest motocross riders on the planet, supercross requires finesse, patience, and mistake-free riding. Both Romain and Antonio were good sports about entering, but they were clearly not as ready and confident as they would be for a motocross race, where I’m certain they would have been 1-2 in this field. And newly crowned MX2 World Champion Maxine Renaux finished second in the 250 class, but the winner was Kicker Arenacross king Kyle Peters, who also went 1-1-1. On an outdoor track, Renaux wins, no problem, but coming indoors he could only finish between Peters and last-minute U.S. replacement rider Kevin Moranz.
I bring this up because in Europe there is hardly any supercross, and the top guys like Herlings, Tim Gajser, Febvre, and Cairoli focused their entire careers on going fast on outdoor motocross tracks. Their skillset, their mindset, their bike settings—all are based almost exclusively on winning MXGP races, and it shows both in the Motocross of Nations efforts each year as well as the few times one or two of them might venture into a stadium race. Here in the U.S., on the other hand, outdoor motocross prep really doesn't start until Monster Energy AMA Supercross ends in May. And even now, in the off-season, the supercross tracks have been busy since early October with riders and race teams switching back quickly from outdoor settings and techniques to their supercross setups, sharpening their skills on the rhythm sections, banked hairpin turns and of course the whoops, which were pretty much non-existent in Paris.
Don't get me wrong: the Paris SX is a fantastic, well-run event, and it's got its own rich history, as everyone since the OG race back in 1984—which included Johnny O'Mara, Jeff Ward, David Bailey, and Broc Glover as the featured Americans—used to go there and have amazing battles. And then after Jean-Michel Bayle became the first home rider to win, then went to America and won the '91 AMA Supercross title, the floodgates opened to many French and other international talents to come to the U.S. and try their hands at winning in both SX and MX. But now that pipeline to import talent has slowed up somewhat and fewer top European talents are thinking about emigrating to America; Herlings, Gajser, and Jorge Prado all had chances earlier in their careers to come learn the ropes of supercross just like Musquin and Ken Roczen did, but they elected to stay put and have had very strong MXGP careers as a result. Sure, we still get some remarkable talents over here like Dylan Ferrandis and Australian brothers Hunter and Jett Lawrence, but when Musquin and Roczen call it quits, there probably won't be an FIM Motocross World Champion racing in America for the first time since JMB retired after the '92 season, and then Greg Albertyn turned up in 1995 from South Africa.
Mind you, it's a two-way street, this talent pipeline, and it's long been down to a trickle going from our shores to theirs. No American has won the FIM title since Bob Moore in 1994, and few top Americans have really tried to go win over there, Ryan Villopoto's star-crossed '15 attempt notwithstanding. And the focus on supercross here has certainly shown in the last ten years of the Motocross of Nations. After six straight years of Team USA winning, other nations have claimed every MXoN since 2011. (There are other mitigating factors, including timing and, at times, the disinterest of our top riders to attend, as well as the obvious fact that the guys in Europe are damn good outdoor motocross riders!)
Two more morsels of food for thought on the different focus points between SX/MX in America and MX alone in Europe: the only rider in AMA/FIM history to win both the premier-class AMA Supercross crown as well as an FIM world title remains the incomparable Jean-Michel Bayle. Among those who brought a motocross world title here and did not get to the very top of supercross like Bayle did were Albertyn, Sebastien Tortelli, Shayne King, Grant Langston, Christophe Pourcel, Ben Townley, Tyla Rattray, and of course Musquin and Roczen, who are still trying. (Chad Reed, who won the AMA Supercross title twice, left Europe before ever winning the world title, and Mickael Pichon only won a world title after leaving America.)
Hopefully at some point in the future we will see a truly focused American athlete at the top of his game go to Europe and finally win a world title, just as Brad Lackey, Danny Laporte, Trampas Parker, Donny Schmit, and Bob Moore did back in the day. And hopefully we will again see an international rider fresh off of a world title come here and give the AMA circuit a go like all those guys listed above did. But for now, it’s becoming more and more obvious that we live in very different dirt bike worlds, despite being only an ocean apart.
The Big One (DC)
Romain Febvre’s awful crash saw him go from an incredible comeback season on the ’21 MXGP circuit to now being a big question mark for ’22. The ’22 MXGP tour starts in mid-February at Matterley Basin in England, which gives him less than three months to first heal and then prepare for what he and his team surely hoped would be another title run. It was at first said that he had broken his femur, but a couple of days after the crash his team put out this press release:
Romain Febvre underwent successful surgery today on the right leg he broke at the Paris Supercross; the factory Kawasaki rider will rest for a few weeks before starting preparation for the 2022 season.
Together with several other leading MXGP riders Romain Febvre entered his last race of the season on Saturday; it was a unique opportunity to celebrate his second place in the FIM MXGP Motocross World Championship in front of the French fans. Feeling comfortable on the track laid out in the Paris la Defense Arena Romain posted the third fastest lap time, ahead of the US riders, in the Superpole to confirm his fastest time from Friday practice. Fifth in the first of the three races Romain made a great start in the second sprint and was a challenging second behind Marvin Musquin when he crashed on the finish jump. Evacuated by the medical service and later transferred to the hospital Ambroise Pare at Boulogne Billancourt, where he had further examinations, Romain underwent surgery this morning; Professors Bernard Hollier-Larousse and Victoire Bouveau treated a double fracture of the tibia and fibula of the right leg. Following successful surgery, the Monster Energy Kawasaki Racing Team can communicate the actual situation as rumours have continued to appear on social media since yesterday.
Finally, we get to add Febvre's big crash to a long list of spectacular big-air get-offs that have happened both indoors and outdoors. They include Jason Upshaw's somersault in the '85 Rodil Cup at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Zach Bell's over-scrub in 2013 Dallas Supercross, Eli Tomac at the 2013 FIM Motocross of Nations in Germany, privateer Broc Schmelyun's High Point crash of 2015, any one of many James Stewart get-offs, Ricky Carmichael flying off the infield jump at Washougal, and of course Chad Reed's "Chadapault" from the 2011 Spring Creek 450 National at Millville. But the all-time big-air crash remains the same: Doug Henry, Budds Creek 1995.
Coming of Age (Jason Weigandt)
While much of the off-season focus will be on riders who switched teams—Eli Tomac, Jason Anderson, Aaron Plessinger, and Malcolm Stewart—I think it’s an even more pivotal year for other riders. Chase Sexton and Adam Cianciarulo are coming of age; they have shown plenty of talent and speed, but in 2022 they’ve got to turn that potential into race wins. I don’t think anyone expected we’d be heading into 2022 with Cianciarulo still not holding a 450 supercross win and only three career 450SX podiums. He got a podium in his first 450SX, at Anaheim 1 in 2020, and he’s only collected two more podiums since.
We now know Adam has been bothered by a nerve problem in his arm that will supposedly be fixed this season. Year three is usually key, as most riders usually figure out the big bike at that time. Ricky Carmichael took a huge leap and took his first premier-class supercross title in year three, as did Ryan Villopoto and Cooper Webb. Jeremy McGrath won the championship as a rookie, but that’s an extreme case. If a rider doesn’t figure it out by the third year, it’s not a good sign. The pressure is on Cianciarulo to turn potential into results, and I’m sure he’s well aware of that.
Sexton is only entering year two in supercross, but he did have an extra half-year of experience on a 450 because he raced pro motocross in 2020. Like Cianciarulo, he has been mega-fast on the big bike. In Houston 2 last year when Sexton and AC started 1-2 and absolutely took off early, even eventual race winner Eli Tomac had to say the pace was very hot up front. Then Cianciarulo blew out a berm and crashed in the sand, and Sexton hit that berm the next lap and crashed as well. This was only round two, and it seemed big results would be coming soon, but the rookie and sophomore mistakes got them. Sexton did lead a lot of the season finale in Utah, but Webb tracked him down late. We know the pieces are there, but you can never take for granted that they will come together. I feel like it’s a critical juncture for both of these riders.
What I like about Sexton is he’s pretty honest about the learning process. He said losing traction suddenly was his biggest cause of mistakes on the 450 as a rookie. We’ll check in with him next week at the Honda HRC team intro and see how things have progressed heading into year two.
SPY PHOTOS (Matthes)
Interesting conversation this week on the PulpMX Show with myself, Daniel Blair, and JT where, shockingly, JT and I disagreed on the leaked photo of the new KTM 450 SX-F Works Edition. You see, KTM's launching an all-new works edition bike this year and have a save-the-date out there for the media where they'll unveil the race team and the riders. Someone over on the forum at Vital MX posted a shot of the Aaron Plessinger's bike and then the admins at Vital MX that photo and put it out on social, on their website, etc. I don't think KTM was too happy about this fact, and we talked about it on the show. My point was there have literally been a hundred people or more who have seen this bike, there have been videos and photos already out of the bike (but not as clear as this shot on Vital), and what did KTM expect would happen? That no one would leak a shot out into the world? If they wanted it to be ultra-secret, then limit the people who see it, are around the bike, etc. Hard to prevent what they wanted to prevent in the world we live in today. To me, if the photo is out there floating around the world, then Vital MX guys can post away and I don't see an issue. They themselves didn't ask for the photo, pay someone to sneak a photo, etc.
JT saw it differently and thought even though it's out there, it's professional courtesy to not post it. And as you can see, Racer X hasn't posted the photo either (although I guess you could say technically it's a Vital MX "property”). We see in mainstream sports all the time the media that covers the sport breaks news that the teams don't want, and this is just another case of that IMO. KTM just needed to do a better job of access around the bike—take phones away or sign NDAs or whatever.
No, we're not showing you the bike, by the way.
Secret Secret (Kellen Brauer)
I’m in Orlando, Florida, this week, but not for work—at least not for my work. My wife ended up having a bunch of work conferences out here this week and decided to bring the whole family along, including my one-year-old daughter, so we can go to the Disney parks and such. So seeing that I was going to be here, I packed up my video camera, my photography camera, microphones, a GoPro, etc., with the thought that, “Hey! It’s the off-season! Everyone allegedly grinds in Florida at these compounds, so let’s see if we can get out there and get some great riding footage, interviews, and more from everyone out here!” One small problem: KTM has a new bike. Perhaps you’ve heard by now that the 2022.5, which is really the 2023 KTM, is going to be underneath Cooper Webb, Marvin Musquin, and Aaron Plessinger at Anaheim 1. It’s common this happens where KTM drops a model a whole year ahead of time in order to get some key components riders want onto the bike before supercross. It’s pretty cool, except that KTM strictly wants nobody, and I mean nobody, to see this bike until they announce it.
As Matthes said above, it’s kind of old news at this point since so many leaked photos and videos have already come out, but here we are a month from the gate drop of the opener and KTM is still silent. That made getting onto these compounds to film or do really anything near impossible this week. Baker’s Factory, which houses Aaron Plessinger, was a hard no from the beginning. Same was said for 83 Compound (Chad Reed’s old property) where Cooper Webb trains now. We were able to get a little leeway thanks to the help of our own Sam Nicolini, who organized for me to go to 83 to talk with Justin Bogle on camera, but that’s it. Bogle wasn’t riding anyway, but all the Rocky Mountain KTM guys, privateer Jack Chambers, and more were pounding out laps. I would have loved to show the world how hard Chambers is working, but alas, there was a Red Bull KTM with a #1 on it there that we simply cannot talk about.
So I did my Bogle interview and we left. Then the rest of my week has been filled trying to connect with some other people down here and to make a trip to the Sandbox happen, but schedules were changing more often than the weather does in Florida in the summer. Ultimately, nothing else quite worked out around my schedule (which was quite free most of the week) and any of the compounds to get out there and film. It’s disappointing, but it’s just the nature of the game right now. There’s probably some unfamiliarity involved here where I’m still a relative nobody in the industry, so people at these compounds probably think they can’t trust me to film and not have Cooper Webb in the shot or what have you, but I digress. And I get it that the KTM employees there would have been annoyed if I’m filming when Webb’s not on the track and they’re nervous to send him out there with me standing there. Just strange how this whole dynamic is playing out.
Long story short, I didn’t come here to work, but it’s a good thing I didn’t come here for work, because I would have very little to show for it. I’m heading back to California now where I’ll be at the KTM and Honda team intros next week and I’m looking forward to it because it means we’re that much closer to A1. Hopefully KTM drops that new bike next week too!
The List…Continued (Aaron Hansel)
Earlier this week we ran a list of racers and former racers who’ve become entrepreneurs, which you can view here. Well, as is usually the case when we run a list like this, I missed a few, and some pretty glaring ones too.
The first, as pointed out in the comments section, was James Stewart’s Seven MX. That’s a big omission! Then that reminded me of Troy Lee, who briefly raced pro in the early ‘80s before becoming the legend he is today. Then a whole new flood of racers-turned-entrepreneurs opened up. Ty Davis and Zip-Ty racing, Doug Dubach and Dr. D Products, Chad Sanner and Eleven10 Mods, Weston Peick owns a furniture shop, Travis Pastrana and the Nitro Circus, as well as his involvement in Just Live CBD products … the list goes on. I’m sure I’ll think of 20 more after this week’s Racerhead goes live too.
The original thing that prompted the idea for making a list of Racer-Preneurs was the substantial list of cautionary tales of motocross athletes crashing on the track and burning off of it. There are plenty of negative examples, unfortunately. But when you really stop and look, there are just as many, if not more, examples of athletes doing some really impressive things off the track, which is worth having a look at! I'm just sorry I missed so many on my first go-round. Remind me of any of racers I missed in the comments section, and if you’re a racer or former racer who I omitted, I apologize!
[Ed. note: Hansel will need to apologize to Torsten Hallman, who basically founded the U.S. aftermarket industry; “The Man” himself, Roger De Coster; the all-around amazing Malcolm Smith; GP pioneer-turned-motorcycle industry guru Mark Blackwell; “Professor” Gary Bailey and his eponymous Motocross Schools; Donnie Emler Sr. of FMF fame; desert ace Mitch Payton of Pro Circuit fame; Eddie Cole of Answer Products and later Manitou mountain-bike forks, 661, and Matrix; Bryar Holcomb with his Mark Charles Bike Stands and later Factory FX; track builders John Savitski and Mark Barnett; Jim O'neal and his family's O'Neal Racing; the late Jim Hale, who ran both AXO in the U.S. and Mechanix Wear; enduro star Dave Bertram, who founded the Cycle Gear stores and now runs Helmet House; Jeff Surwall and the late Marty Moates of No Fear; John Ayers from Gear Racewear and Moto-Tees; the late flat-tracker Tom White of White Brothers fame; Steve Wise and his nationwide ministry; former fast guys-turned-outdoor national promoters John Martin, Keith Johnson, and Ryan Huffman; all of the guys who became Hollywood stuntmen.… See, Hansel, this is why it’s not always easy to do a list like this—you’re bound to miss a bunch of folks! —DC]
GNCC Factory Rider for the Day
So you wanna be factory? Red Bull and Wings for Life have set up a slew of motorsports charity auction items, including our favorite: a KTM 350 XC-F to pit out of the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rig at a race of your choice.
Don’t let this one-of-a-kind experience pass you moto-heads by! The winning bidder will be provided with a 350 XC-F to pit out of the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rig at a race of their choice. They will also be given a set of Thor gear to wear for the race and take home (pants/jersey).
Limited to one (1) rider and one (1) guest
Rider must be 18+
Winner is responsible to provide their own boots and helmet
Hotel accommodations included (1 double room for 2 nights)
Airfare and other accommodations not included
Eligibility for a race in May/June of the 2022 GNCC racing season
Rider is responsible for familiarizing themselves with GNCC rules and regulations before entering the race
Hey, Watch It!
The Inaugural California State Shootout is coming up at the end of the month, check out their commercial:
From Score to Floor, Tales of MXGP of Pietramurata | Behind the Bullet w/ Jeffrey Herlings EP10
Supercross Beyond The Track - Mike Emery - Episode 68
MotoMarketingPodcast #99: Jeremy McGrath
Listen to This
Here's a good listen, our man Scott Wallenberg, Racer X publisher, on Pit Pass Moto Podcast, talking vintage bikes, the Racer X Inter-Am, and his own journey through the motorcycle industry.
Head-Scratching Headlines Of The Week
“USC SORRY FOR 'F*** THE MORMONS' CHANT... At BYU Game”—TMZ Sports
“Why Dollar Tree is ditching $1 forever”—CNN Business
“NFL free-agent safety Kenny Vaccaro to 'reinvent' himself, turn attention to esports”—ESPN.com
“Chase Elliott named NASCAR's most popular driver, but what's up with that hat?”—Fox News
“Grizzlies outscore Thunder by 73 points in biggest blowout in NBA history”—Yahoo Sports
Looking for a new place to race in Oklahoma? Jeremy Thomas and his family just opened right outside of Stillwater, Del City MX. Here's a local newspaper's coverage of their first race.
Go The Rat, that most Australian of moto things, is coming back.
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid’EH Update #48.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!