Finally, Anaheim. After two very, very long and strange years, Monster Energy AMA Supercross returns tomorrow to its capitol building, Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, for the start of the 49th annual series. The riders, the race teams, the industry, and especially the fans have all been waiting anxiously for this moment. And with almost all of the top supercross stars healthy and ready to go, tomorrow night’s season opener will be a welcome reprieve for what’s been another uncertain winter in this damn pandemic. Red Bull KTM’s Cooper Webb will begin his quest for what would be a third 450SX title, while Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing’s Eli Tomac and his replacement at Monster Energy Kawasaki, Jason Anderson, will each be trying to get a second #1 plate in this series. Webb, Tomac, and Anderson are the only three riders in the race tomorrow who have won this championship before. There will also be Honda’s Ken Roczen and Red Bull KTM’s Marvin Musquin, two veterans who have never won this title, making yet another charge at it, and at least five guys who will be going after what would be a first career 450SX main-event win, and have a realistic shot of getting it: Dylan Ferrandis, Chase Sexton, Adam Cianciarulo, Aaron Plessinger, and Malcolm Stewart. And of course, there’s the guy I’ve been picking to win the ’22 opener all year long, as he’s the same guy who won the ’21 opener … and the ’20 opener … and the ’19 opener, Justin Barcia.
Sticking with Barcia, think about all that’s happened in the sport since the last time a starting gate dropped at Anaheim. We lost legends like 1980 AMA Supercross Champion Mike Bell; Marty Smith and his wife, Nancy; Grand Prix legends like Joel Robert and Bengt Aberg and more. GasGas came into the sport and won its first start with Barcia. Zach Osborne won his first 450SX as well as a 450 Class Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship title and is now retired. GEICO Honda and JGR Racing closed up shop. The add-on “an FIM World Championship” no long needs adding onto supercross. Both of the Lawrence brothers—as well as Jo Shimoda, Cameron McAdoo, Seth Hammaker, Garrett Marchbanks, and more—all got their first career wins in 250SX. NBC Sports Network disappeared, and Peacock became a thing. And there have been nine different Salt Lake City SX races since the last Anaheim race! There has also been supercross rounds with no fans, some with a few fans, and some with a lot of fans, all depending on where things stood with the pandemic.
And the pandemic remains the elephant in the room. Despite everyone’s best, most optimistic hopes that this thing would be gone by now, it’s not. And while it hasn’t kept Anaheim and the rest of the California races from finally returning to the schedule, it will hover over the whole proceedings, as pit access will be restricted and everyone in the paddock will have to show either a vaccination card or a negative test that’s taken place within the last day. That’s causing some grief, as some are implying that there are competitors using fake vaccination cards to get around the weekly testing. In fact, Ken Roczen’s wife, Courtney, posted as much, setting off a bit of a firestorm on social media. Her point is that while some—including her husband—are willing to take a test every week so as not to have to get a vaccination that they have opted out of, those with vax cards will not be tested, limiting the chances they will have to sit out any races should they be tested and fail—because you can’t fail if you aren’t tested, right?
This is a racing story that is turning into a science and society story as we head into fairly uncharted territory. And it’s not just our sport. There’s a standoff between #1 seed Novak Djokovic and the Australian government over his vaccine exemption, and Kyrie Irving is finally back to playing basketball for the Brooklyn Nets, though only at away games. And the NFL is seeing whole swaths of teams forced into their “COVID-19 protocols” as they limp toward the end of the regular season.
Yet here we are, on the verge of a new season, beginning with a return to the “House that Jeremy Built,” and a whole slew of storylines to follow—and I haven’t even mentioned the 250 class, where Jett Lawrence had to drop out with a rib injury, to be replaced by his brother Hunter, who was set to ride in the East Region, which won’t have Justin Cooper either, as he just broke his foot this week! A huge thank-you goes out to everyone at Feld Entertainment for navigating the series through all of this the last two years and getting it back to an almost-normal start to a brand new 2022 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship.
Unfortunately, I’m missing the return to Anaheim due to a positive test for my family late last week that canceled our plans and put us on lockdown as a precaution (though I did finally get to watch all of the Racer X Supercross Preview Shows the guys did), so I will be watching from home on both Peacock in the afternoon and CNBC tomorrow night. And yes, I’m still picking Barcia for the win in the opener! Fortunately, Racer X has Weege, Matthes, JT$, Kellen Brauer, and Tommy Tenders all there to report on all of action all day and night tomorrow. It should be an epic return to the Big A, so get your fantasy teams set with PulpMX.com or MotoxDream360.com or wherever you play and good luck tomorrow night! Time to go racing again!
Here are some press day photos from today by our guys over at Align Media.
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Pro Perspective (THOMAS)
GO TIME. All of the work, all of the anxiousness, all of the anticipation—that all comes to a head tomorrow night. Anaheim is back! The biggest event of the season takes place in Southern California in 24 hours or so, and I, for one, can't wait. For the riders, they will be nervousness incarnate. Big picture, Anaheim 1 is just another race. The same points are handed out. The same impact on the series will be reflected as Detroit or Atlanta or Daytona. For impressions of the season and validation of a successful off-season, though, A1 means much more. A great A1 can propel riders into a higher confidence aura, furthering thoughts that this might be their year. A poor performance, on the other hand, can seed doubts about bike settings and the ever-present "did I do enough this off-season?" question. It may not mean more than the other rounds in a practical sense, but psychologically, it simply does. Stomach butterflies and a few long stares at the ceiling tonight will be a common theme. In reality, there's nothing that can be changed now if riders aren't prepared. The hard work has been done. The result tomorrow night was created months ago, it just comes to fruition on January 8. So for the riders, my advice would be to take solace in that. Don't overthink it; just let things happen. Stay out of your own way and trust in the thousands of laps done in November and December. The foundation has been built, now just lean into it and enjoy the rewards of the yesterday's work.
IT'S HERE (Matthes)
Never mind Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve—it's Supercross Eve! It's time for the 2022 Monster Energy Supercross season to kick off, and it's going to be an interesting season for sure. There are questions around each of the top three riders to win 450SX races the last three years: Eli Tomac and his new bike, Cooper Webb and a new program, and Ken Roczen and his issues finishing a season. I think one of these three riders wins the title, but they all have question marks, you know? Then of course there are the "kids" Chase Sexton and Adam Cianciarulo who are capable of going as fast as anyone, and will it be this year the guard changes at the front? Dylan Ferrandis was really fast at times, just won a 450 Pro Motocross title, and I wonder if he can take the leap.
Lots of questions for sure, and we all need to also understand that generally the series starts a bit chaotic with "anyone can win" vibes but soon settles into a somewhat predictable rhythm and flow, so remember that when, say, Aaron Plessinger and Ferrandis win the first two rounds. Sometimes we have a 2010 season when the Ryans started their climb up, but most times, things settle down, K?
The 8-Time Club (DC)
One of the best things about having the Anaheim SX back on the schedule after last year's absence is the fact that the race is so shrouded in history and trivia. The first race took place in December of 1975 and wasn't actually a part of the AMA Supercross schedule, but rather just something promoter Mike Goodwin called the "American Motocross Finals." The format was a wide-open, three-moto race that allowed guys to show up on any-sized motorcycle. So Marty Smith got out his works RC125 Honda and Gary Jones showed up on his own Jones-Islo 125. (Both ended up breaking down, and the winner was Suzuki's Tony DiStefano, though it's worth mentioning that because Tony D. was in between years of his Suzuki contract, he basically raced as a privateer.) There was also a high-school race that night, and the winner was a San Diego senior named Broc Glover.
One year later the first "real" Anaheim Supercross would happen, again in December, and this time Marty Smith would show up on a works Honda 250 and win his second supercross (his first was the Pontiac Supercross earlier that year)—though it's worth mentioning that Anaheim '76 was the first race to use the "Class C" qualifying format SX mostly uses today of heat races and one long main event.
Over the years, Anaheim more or less overtook the Los Angeles Coliseum, where this form of racing was more or less born, as the de facto capital of supercross. It's been the opener many times, though it was also off the schedule a few times for remodeling (1997-'98). When it returned in '99, it began running multiple times each January and early February, as the promoters would leave the dirt in throughout the month and also hold Monster Jam events on the off-weekends for supercross. So many races means so many stats, and if you check out our friend and stat-man Clinton Fowler @3lapsdown on Instagram, you will see what we mean! (And congrats to Fowler on getting the gig to work with Feld Entertainment this year on his statistical analysis for the broadcasts of Monster Energy AMA Supercross.)
But there is one particular stat that really jumped out at me this week, one that's actually be around for the last eight years. In the epic history of the Anaheim SX, the most main-event wins at Angel Stadium in the premier class by any rider is eight … but the record is shared by four different riders! And all four of those riders had careers that overlapped: Jeremy McGrath, Ricky Carmichael, Chad Reed, and James Stewart have each won the Anaheim SX eight different times.
McGrath's wins came from 1993 through '96, all on Hondas, then he won four times in '00 and '01, all on Yamaha. Carmichael's wins at Anaheim stretch from '01 (when he famously outdueled McGrath at Anaheim 3) to '05 and '06, each year in which he won twice. RC's wins came on Kawasaki, then Honda, then Suzuki. Reed first got on the board in '03 aboard a Yamaha, and his last two would come 11 years later aboard a Kawasaki. Chad also had a three-race sweep of Anaheim, which happened in 2008. And then there is Stewart, who first won in '06 and then swept all three in '07 aboard Kawasaki. He won twice on a Yamaha in '09, then added two more in '10 and '11. (After those four, the next two closest are the Ryans, Dungey and Villopoto, with five wins each, then comes the active rider with the most wins, Ken Roczen with four.)
How fitting that the four guys with 32 Anaheim SX wins between them (out of a total of 76 Anaheims so far) are all somehow tied at eight, and will remain that way forever in the Anaheim SX history books.
MILLVILLE MUDDER (Matthes)
Weege and I recorded a new Leatt Re-Raceables Podcast the other day about Millville 2006, which is the race where the rains came in the second motos and made it a complete mess. This was the race where RC lapped the field in moto two, but it's also a race where Suzuki's Broc Hepler grabbed the win with a great ride in the slop in moto two. This kicked off a three-race win streak for Helper, who had already signed with Yamaha before the nationals started. We called up Broc to talk about that and more. It was awesome to catch up with him, as he doesn't do much public stuff anymore, but in my opinion, he was always an underrated rider. Don't forget that when he won those three nationals in a row, Ryan Villopoto was out there working on his first of three-straight 250 National Motocross titles. Hepler was right in that mix for awhile. Listen to the show below:
HRC Tour (Matthes)
Part two of my tour of the Honda warehouse and its cornucopia of old factory Honda CR works bikes is up on Racer X YouTube or PulpMX YouTube. Dave Arnold, who, along with Roger De Coster, guided the early eighties Honda team to so many wins and titles, sits down with me to take me through the bikes they have there. This was so cool for me to do—Dave was awesome, and his memory was razor sharp as well. Super smart guy, and again, this was a bucket-list thing for me to do. I had known about these bikes being there for years and always wanted to do something like these. These bikes are works of art and the stories behind them were great.
Here's Part two of the video:
And then I took the audio of the two videos and added about 20 minutes of other talk with Dave and made it a podcast below:
R.I.P. Rick “Holeshot” Bigalow (DC)
Every New Year’s Eve we post a column called The Lives They Lived about some of the moto folks and friends and fellow riders we lost in the previous year. We try to include as many as we can, but sometimes we miss someone. That was the case with Florida legend Rick “Holeshot” Bigalow, a lifelong motocross and flat track enthusiast. Bigalow was a third-generation racer who was known all across Florida for not only his holeshot prowess but his generosity in helping others in the sport. He was a regular at big events like the Winter-AMAs, the Mini O’s, the RCSX at Daytona, and even Loretta Lynn’s. Before his death last fall, he had already passed those wonderful qualities down to a fourth and fifth generation through his son Quinton and grandson Chase Adams. A celebration of life was held at Orlando MX Park in Bithlo in December, and Rick’s longtime sponsor Kissimee Motorsports posted $50 gift certificates for whoever got the holeshots in a series of two-lap fun sprints run in honor of “Holeshot.” Said Norma Bigalow Taylor of her brother, “Rick has helped hundreds of people over his lifetime with bikes, working on them, helping find them and getting young men racing as well. Quinton Bigalow and Chase Adams WILL carry on Rick's love for the track as he taught them well.”
Andrew Short in the Dakar (Nick McCabe)
While almost everyone is focused on Anaheim right now, don’t forget that a former SX/MX superstar is over in Saudi Arabia right now putting in hundreds of treacherous miles a day in the Dakar Rally. Andrew Short is riding for the Monster Energy Yamaha Rally team in the world’s toughest race right now and putting up posts every day on social media to keep his fans at home up to date. Today was a rough, as Andrew posted, forcing a stoppage for all after 60 or so miles due to safety conditions.
Also, remember Red Bull KTM and later Factory Connection Honda rider Joaquim Rodrigues of Portugal? He got third in the 125 SX at Pontiac back in 2005. Now 40, he is also into rally and won a stage earlier this week aboard an India-made Hero Rally bike.
Hey, Watch It!
MY BIGGEST SECRET | Justin Barcia BAMTV
Daniel Sanders made some new friends at the Dakar Rally
Yoshimura covered the pre-season prep for the Twisted Tea/HEP Motorsports Suzuki / Progressive Insurance team.
Head-Scratching Headlines of the Week
“Partying passengers stuck in Mexico after airlines decline to fly them home”—CNN Business
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!