Welcome to Racerhead, coming early on Christmas Eve. Tomorrow is the big day and here’s hoping that you and your family and loved ones have a joyous weekend. Then we plow right into New Year’s, and then just 15 short days from now, Anaheim and the start of the 2022 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship! (If you want to get amped up even more for that, NBC is featuring a Supercross Preview Show on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. ET. Don’t miss it!)
With the year closing down, the pandemic still hanging around and supercross heating up, it’s been a mostly slow December. There hasn’t been much in the ways of December surprises, unless you count the big yet quiet news about the Stark Varg electric model, the re-emergence of James Stewart with his new Bubba’s World Podcast, or even the announcement that the FIM has found a new partner in their “World Championship” hopes for supercross in the Australian company SX Global. All of those were newsworthy in certain ways, but none of those really stories really affect the upcoming ’22 SX tour, which has made December a rather slow news month in regard to racing.
But that wasn’t always the case. Back in the day, before the SX opener moved up so close to the new year, and before testing and training became the complicated science projects they’ve evolved into, December used to be a much busier month, and riders used to be out and about all over the world, not just grinding away on hidden test tracks in California and Florida. Before SX knocked it out in 1982, the Trans-AMA Series (later called the “Trans-USA” Series in its waning days) ran into December, usually ending on the west coast at such famous tracks as Carlsbad or Saddleback. The series pitted visiting Europeans on a paid holiday and the new-to-motocross Americans who were just discovering that what we called “scrambles” here was a completely different ballgame in Europe called motocross, and the Europeans were much, much better at it than us. It was promoter Edison Dye who came up with the idea of having Europeans like Torsten Hallman and Joel Robert come to the states during downtime on their Grand Prix tour to showcase just how good the bikes he imported worked in the hands of experienced racers. Dye’s series, launched in 1966, was called the Inter-Am tour and it was the basic beginning of professional motocross in America. By 1969 the Inter-Am had grown to the point where the final round, held on December 14 at Saddleback Park in Orange, California (not that far from where Angels Stadium sits today) attracted 20,000 spectators! Swedish Husqvarna riders Arne Kring, Bengt Aberg and Haka Andersson went 1-2-3. The top American? Tenth-place Bill Silverthorn.
And get this: December ’69 also hosted what may have been the first-ever Minicycle National Championship, on December 21, also at Saddleback. Sanctioned by the “Mini Bike and Kart Association” (which would later become the NMA), 105 kids turned out on their race bikes. Now before you start imagining a major minicycle race like today’s massive events, with factory riders and semi-haulers, here’s what brands the kids were racing in those days: Bonanza, Powell, Taco, Maverick, Rupp, Zebra. There was at least one Honda out there, too, but it was more like an SL70 than an XR75, which was still a few years away. And Cycle News covered the “just for fun” event but did not actually list any results. My how things would change…
By 1970 the AMA was ready to get into the motocross business. They started sanctioning races and started their own international series to compete with Dye’s, the Trans-AMA Series. It ran in the fall and would eventually overtake the Inter-Am in size and importance, forcing Dye to move his series into the summer and shorten it to just a handful of rounds. The Trans-AMA Series got a huge boost when Team Suzuki hired Roger De Coster and he immediately became 500cc World Champion. He also loved coming to America and made the Trans-AMA Series an annual working holiday in the U.S. That led the FIM to want to put a round of the 500cc Grand Prix tour in the states. But first they needed a test run and they chose the December 4, 1972 Trans-AMA finale at Saddleback as an “international cup” race, and it was filmed by ABC’s Wide World of Sports for airing some months later. De Coster didn’t win, but rather Maico rider Ake Jonsson did. The race was a big success, and one year later the first 500cc U.S. Grand Prix of Motocross was held at Carlsbad.
Also on that December 4, 1972, race, a desert racer named Gene Cannady decided to line up for the 500cc class aboard a Big Horn Honda 360. It marked the first time a Honda had ever entered an AMA event. One year later, Honda would introduce the CR250M Elsinore and win the ’73 AMA 250cc National Championship with Gary Jones at the helm.
By 1975 there was a new kid in town: supercross. The name hadn’t caught on yet, so they called it the “Super Series of Stadium Motocross.” And it was growing so quickly that they some stadiums didn’t get the okay in time to join the actual AMA-sanctioned series that began in 1975. Case in point: Anaheim. On December 13, 1975, after the Trans-AMA Series was over, promoter Mike Goodwin decided to add a race at the baseball stadium that the team then known as the California Angels played in. Goodwin called the race the American Motocross Finals, and he made it an open-class event, which meant the riders could race anything they wanted. So, Team Honda’s Marty Smith decided to roll out on the works RC 125cc Honda he had dominated the ’75 AMA 125 Nationals aboard, and while he was fast, the bike kept breaking down. The overall winner in the three-moto Anaheim “MX” ended up being Suzuki rider Tony DiStefano. (There was also a high school race, and the winner was a local senior named Broc Glover.)
One year later, on December 4, 1976, Marty Smith showed up at Anaheim on a 250 and actually won his first “AMA Supercross,” though it was still not part of a series—it was just the second American Motocross Finals. But this race was historic for a different reason: The promoter Goodwin decided to try something new. Instead of the three-moto format of his previous stadium races, he tried a heat-race and semis format, and then one main event. It worked out great for the 30,000 fans on hand, and AMA Supercross had itself a new format that it uses primarily to this day.
By 1981 AMA Supercross was starting up in late January, and the move had the effect of making the Trans-USA Series shorter and shorter as teams just weren’t that interested in the series, and the Europeans had quit coming. The focus on supercross changed the schedule, but not like it is today, as winter-time series like the CMC Golden States and the Florida Winter-AMAs ran through December and into January, and sometimes even overlapped with the Anaheim opener, which meant racing Saturday night and then Sunday for guys like Glover, Rick Johnson, David Bailey, Johnny O’Mara, Jeff Ward, Ron Lechien, and the rest of the eighties’ stars.
By the mid-nineties AMA Supercross had grown into a 17-race series and the calendar required it to start in early January if they were going to fit it all in before summer, so those Florida and California races also began to wane in importance for the factory stars, making Decembers really, really slow every year, though not in 1996. That was the year that then-four-times-running AMA Supercross Champion Jeremy McGrath decided to drop bombshell news on December 27, 1996, by way of a fax machine. McGrath announced that day that he was leaving Team Honda and switching to Suzuki, despite the fact that the ’97 season was starting in just 14 days at the Los Angeles Coliseum! It was the beginning of a crazy season that would start with a shocking Greg Albertyn win in the opener and end with an even-more-shocking Doug Henry win at the series finale in Las Vegas aboard a four-stroke Yamaha YZM400F. In between Kawasaki’s Jeff Emig took the crown from McGrath, but not without a fight from the King of Supercross and his RM250.
Decembers went quiet for supercross a few years after that, but then came back big in 2002 when the AMA and Clear Channel (the precursor to what is now Feld Motor Sports) got into a battle over who would be the new supercross promoter (Jam Sports), so the old promoter did a deal with the FIM to start a World Supercross Championship to compete with the AMA series. Believe me, it’s a really, really long story for another time… So Clear Channel decided to start the new series with two races in Europe in December ‘02, one in Geneva, Switzerland, and one in Arnhem, Holland. The events did not go over well with the riders and teams who had to get ready sooner than they ever had for supercross, and then travel to Europe for two weeks right before the holidays and do races that did not offer them their usual show money. Those ’02 races did not attract the actual AMA Supercross Champion, Ricky Carmichael of Team Honda, but they did help introduce the SX fans to a kid from Australia named Chad Reed. They were also the only two races that Jeremy McGrath raced aboard his KTM (and KTM was nowhere near what it is now). How did he do? He decided to retire rather than keep racing when the AMA series started!
For two years FIM World Supercross struggled in Europe in December, then they pulled the plug after the 2003 trip, which again did not feature Carmichael, nor Reed, nor many other top U.S. stars. The winner of the December 7, 2003 World SX opener in Sevilla, Spain, was an Australian Suzuki rider named Darryl Hurley. So the SX promoters came up with a different idea for their “mandatory” international races in 2004, and it worked out much better in my opinion: They did their two December races in Toronto and Vancouver, Canada. The races were much easier on the riders and teams, and this time Ricky Carmichael decided to go because he had switched to Suzuki and wanted to get some gate drops before Anaheim. RC then went on to win the 2005 AMA Supercross Championship, and he credited the December races in Canada for helping him and the Suzuki team get ready for January. That in turn had the effect of both Chad Reed and James Stewart following him to Canada in December 2005, and the races were even more of a success. Maybe too much so, because by this point the AMA and the SX promoters were back on the same page, and it was time to merge the two series together, since the FIM was locked into a long-term co-sanctioning deal. The Vancouver race was scrapped and just one international round would be on the schedule—Toronto—but it would not take place in December. Instead, they moved it to March, right in the middle of the 2008 schedule, and that was the end of major races in the month of December.
So here we are, December 24, 2021, a full twenty years since those first “world supercross” events in Europe. The FIM is no longer associated with the AMA series, though now they have that new partner who has said that they will likely start racing in the fall of 2022 and into December again. Where those races will take place, exactly, and who might show up to race, remains to be seen. But if they’re looking for some history of SX and MX racing in December, well, this was it!
Everything Season (Jason Weigandt)
Been a busy stretch. Last week Steve Matthes flew here to Charlotte to hang out and live with his favorite two people, Phil Nicoletti and Alex Martin. I joined them at ClubMX on Thursday and Friday and watched the boys ride, and we can confirm Garrett Marchbanks has been flying at the test track. Alex and also SGB Racing Storm Lake Honda rider Cade Clason looked much improved from when I last saw them ride back in October. Also, Phil didn’t look as uncomfortable on supercross as I expected him to be. He hasn't raced it in years, and even when he did, he had a name for it.... Mostly, though, we just talked trash on each other, got lost and messed up the communication several times, and even recorded a podcast with Nicoletti and Justin Brayton that had messed up audio. The whole experience bordered on disaster.
Note: Strong language used, viewer discretion is advised.
After two days with Matthes back here near my house, I flew to his place on Monday to co-host the PulpMX Show. Yes, James Stewart was on the phone as a guest! I’ll let Matthes explain how that went, but I can say that when James does decide to do interviews, he’s amazing.
We also talked to Sebastien Tortelli, who is a test rider for the Stark Future Varg electric bike everyone is, yes, buzzing about. Seb sure made the bike sound promising. He actually did a little riding of the old Alta electric bike late in its development, and he felt the Alta folks had spent all the time on the battery and powertrain and not enough on the chassis. Seb says the Alta was too front heavy for whoops. They have worked hard on the Varg's battery placement so that won’t be the case. Seb sounds very excited about the bike but he says what they’re riding now is only 65 percent of the way to a finished product. The much-hyped 80 horsepower mode isn’t in the prototype, yet, but expect very fast progress from here, now that they have working test mules. I’m amazed how much talk and excitement has been generated by this bike. Oh, and then the SX Global World Supercross Championship was announced this week! New bikes and a new series just before Anaheim! And James Stewart is back around? This is information overload!
On Tuesday we shot our annual Monster Energy/Racer X preview shows at Matthes’ studio. As we’ve done for nearly a decade now, me Matthes and Jason Thomas share all the off-season info you need, throw in some opinions and laughs, and bring in guests like Nicoletti, Justin Brayton, and Kris Keefer for deeper analysis. I actually like Keefer’s contributions the most! I don’t know why team people and mechanics reveal so much to him, but we’re all better for it.
Thanks to PulpMX’s Travis Marx for handling the cameras and a gold star to our own Kellen Brauer for editing and producing episode one in 24 hours. We launched it Thursday morning. We will have five episodes in total, and I can say many, many people on the show are riding the Chase Sexton hype train. Although Keefer is predicting big things from Aaron Plessinger. Don’t you love off-season bench racing?
Merry Christmas to everyone in your family. I’m looking forward to fun on Saturday, with an extra eye on having even more two weeks later, on January 8th in Anaheim.
As Weege mentioned, we were able to get James Stewart on the show Monday night talking about his new podcast. In fact, James said that he studies my show to get better. That's what we do, folks, at the PulpMX Show! Weege and JT just threw up a little.
But seriously, it was great to have him on and he went into detail, maybe more than I would've expected, about why he's not working with Chase Sexton any longer, but he actually isn't quite sure why he's no longer doing those SX recap videos for Feld Entertainment. James also, like other racers of his era, can't quite grasp why today’s racers are all friends with each other. Very revealing interview and he sounds like he's in a good place. Looking forward to having more Stew around our sport in 2022 for sure.
Here's the interview if you want to watch it:
PULPMX FANTASY (Matthes)
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Sign-ups are open now, you can play for free or pay to win prizes, you can create your own league against your buddies or just against everyone else. Whatever you want to do, I promise you it's a fun way to get into our sport a little more. Even Weege pays to play, that should tell you something!
Pro Perspective (Jason Thomas)
The hard work is almost over! Riders have gone through nearly two months of suffering as we approach Christmas. They will be hard at work today, possibly tomorrow, and again next week, but change is on the horizon. Next week’s final hurrah will signal the end of a grueling boot camp experience. New Year’s weekend will bring race week and with it, a marked change in everyone’s training program. Focus will shift to ramping up the intensity with shorter moto’s and finding that last bit of speed. Riders will also try to recover a bit, too. Working for months on end is a huge waste of effort if the rider wakes up tired on January 8th. Finding the right balance between being razor sharp but also fully rested is not easy but trainers with experience will have a solid plan in place. One more week of hard work with a couple of holidays mixed in, that’s all that stands between riders and the Anaheim opener. Yes, I’m excited for Christmas. Yes, I’m excited to put 2021 behind us. More than anything, though, I am excited to walk into Angel Stadium in southern California and start another season of Monster Energy AMA Supercross.
Vacation Stuff (Keefer)
Every year I like to take a couple weeks to recharge the batteries and refrain from typing or talking about dirt bikes but we all know how that goes, right? Look, here I am typing about dirt bikes! I feel sorry for my poor wife who has to put up with my bi-polar like ability to want time off and also be bored at the same time. I usually am working or doing something so "hanging out" is not really in my nature. It's a real struggle around these parts. I did, however, make my way to Mesquite Motocross Park in Mesquite, Nevada, this week for a block of training with my kid. I also took a DIY mod YZ450F and KX450 SR to compare back-to-back on the soft, rutted dirt that is Mesquite. You wouldn't think a track in the middle of the Nevada desert to be called "soft" but in actuality it's the softest dirt we have within a few hours of Southern California. To me it mimics some East Coast dirt that I have ridden. Hence the reason why I rent it out for two days to ride with the boy as well as get some testing in.
Aden and I got down to business and managed to ride over 80 laps over the course of two days. Gary Brough and his sons Gavin, Riley and McCoy do a great job prepping the track to challenge us West Coast hard packers. As you can see in the pics, choosing a rut is NOT that difficult in Mesquite. I brought some Baker’s Factory knowledge home from Florida and we are currently having a mini boot camp this week in the high dez. To say that Aden is whipped would be an understatement! The look on his face at 7 PM is priceless! I can say that he is looking forward to Sunday as that will be his day off. Ryan Holliday at Kawasaki was nice enough to give Aden some help through the Team Green program in 2022 so he has some work to do to ensure that he is worthy of what he is getting. This Team Green ride also helps mom and dad's pocketbook so there's no need to get me anything for Christmas, Aden, you're saving me money and that is the only Christmas present that I need!
We are also getting some nice moisture in Southern California which means the sand tracks will be prime and ready so that means vacation mode on the emails are on and the phone is off! See you guys at A1! Merry Christmas from the Keefers!
Head-Scratching Headlines Of The Week
“McDonald's Forced to Ration Customers' Fries as Supply Shortage Hits Japan”—Yahoo Finance
“KENT STATE O-LINEMAN PUKES DURING IDAHO POTATO BOWL... Flagged For False Start”—TMZ Sports
“Hawai'i Bowl canceled after Hawai'i drops out”—ESPN.com
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid’EH Update #51.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!