Welcome to Racerhead, coming to you from the frozen Northeast. It’s set to be exactly 0 degrees tomorrow morning. Yes, I would rather be in San Diego! Tomorrow night will mark the third round of the 2022 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship, and I must say that it’s been an incredibly interesting series so far. Well, at least in the 450SX class. The 250SX West Region is something else altogether. More on that in a bit.
So when was the last time you remember seeing a guy win a motocross race with 3-3 moto scores? Because that’s where we would be if the first two rounds were motos. Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull GasGas-powered Justin Barcia is the points leader right now after two solid 450 mains, which means although he didn’t win the opener like he had the last three years in a row, he’s now got the early red plate for the third year in a row after round two (and fourth-year in a row total) anyway thanks to his consistency in these first two turbulent weeks. Behind him we’ve seen Honda’s Ken Roczen go 1-13, Jason Anderson go 9-1, defending champ Cooper Webb go 2-7, Marvin Musquin tally a 4-8, Chase Sexton a 5-10, Eli Tomac 6-4 (gotta get some starts, ET3), Malcolm Stewart a more-impressive-than-the-finishes-show 7-5, and Dylan Ferrandis 16-6. No one is out of this yet, and no one is a clear-cut favorite yet either. Tomorrow night is when we may see the picture clear a bit, or at least that’s what Jason Weigandt will talk about here in a moment. It’s great to see supercross back up and running in California, and back to being almost anyone’s guess.
We’ve also yet to see a breakthrough win for any of the guys who are right there but haven’t won a 450 main yet in their careers. Plessinger, Sexton, Ferrandis, Stewart, and to a lesser extent the injured-but-trying Adam Cianciarulo could all do it at pretty much any time, with the right circumstances. I really thought Sexton might do it in week one, and I thought Plessinger might do it in week two, but neither ended up getting the monkey off their back. What we did see, as we’ve pointed out earlier in the week, was the first podium since the last SLC round of 2020, where the none of the Big Three—Webb, Tomac, Roczen—made it the 450 main-event podium. And to me, if you add it all up, it makes for an incredibly interesting series so far.
The 250SX class? Not so much. We’ve seen Christian Craig dominating, Colt Nichols and Jo Shimoda cartwheeling in the whoops, Michael Mosiman yet to reach the podium—let alone the win that we all know he’s due to get—and Hunter Lawrence not getting the starts he would need to compete with Craig. The biggest cheers we’ve heard so far in this class came for none other than Gared “Stank Dog” Steinke for finishing ninth in his heat race in the 250 class last weekend and getting a 125 two-stroke into the main event in this class for the first time since Michael Willard, way back at Seattle 2007. The main event didn’t go very well for Steinke, but he did what he set out to do, and the NorCal fans in Oakland—not to mention all of the other two-stroke fans—were thrilled for their local product to find himself a niche spot in the history books. Can he do it again? Good question. Can he make a 450 main on a 250cc two-stroke when the series moves east? That’s an even bigger question. It should be fun to watch (and hear), though it would also be fun to watch, say, Hunter Lawrence or Jo Shimoda or anyone else get up there and challenge the red-hot Christian Craig tomorrow night in San Diego. And if you think Steinke went off a little after the race, just imagine what would happen if Vince Friese got on the podium. SmarTop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts Honda team owner Mike Genova would be screaming louder than any two-stroke!
So why does Weege think this weekend’s race is the one that may help sort out the overall favorite more so than the previous two?
Round Three Theory (Jason Weigandt)
The 2011 Los Angeles Supercross was a classic. It was the first time the series visited the iconic Dodger Stadium, and the superstars put on an amazing show. Here’s a snip from my Redux Column back on January 28, 2011: “The race was awesome. Dungey led early, Stewart battled past, Dungey and Canard kept Stewart in sight (yup) until Villopoto came blasting through, even catching Stewart and trying for a pass. Then Villopoto and Dungey tangled, Stewart got a small gap, then crashed, and Villopoto took the lead and took off. Stewart mounted a crazy late-race charge, pulling off an insane pass on The Dunge and even reeling in Villo. Good stuff all around.”
By 2011, I was working on my Round Three Theory, which is that the rider who wins the third round of the series establishes himself as the rider with the best chance of winning the title. The first two rounds are too crazy and often don’t indicate much for the long haul. Riders are nervous; everyone is guessing on bike setup. By the third round, the nerves are gone, everyone knows the general direction on setup, but the field is still flush with confidence. A lot of riders still believes this will be their year. This leads to great racing, but also the first “realistic” victory of the season. If you can beat everyone at round three, when the full field is dialed in, healthy, relaxed, and confident, you’ve really done something.
We have some stats to back this up. I calculated that the round three winner has won the title in five of the last six years. (Only Eli Tomac’s 2018 round-three win didn’t lead to a title, but Eli did win the most races that season.) Then on Twitter, @MxReference charted the stats all the way back to 1980, and I noticed something interesting: Back in the 1980s it seemed like a round one win would really propel a rider to a title. Somewhere along the way, round one stopped reflecting how the rest of the season would go. Since the 450 four-stroke started winning titles in supercross (2006), the round three winner has won the championship in 12 out of 16 seasons. Meanwhile, since ’06 the round-one winner has only won the title in four of 16 seasons. Wow.
Does this mean I’m proclaiming whoever wins this Saturday wins the title? No. But feel free to shove it in my face if I’m “wrong” at the end of the year anyway. That’s what the internet does. My real point is to keep a keen focus on how this weekend unfolds, because the numbers show it reflects how the rest of the rounds will look, much more so than the first two. It’s always interesting, but this weekend will be extra, extra interesting.
[Ed. note: One of my all-time favorite weirdo stats is that in 1982, ’83, and ’84, the winner of the first round of AMA Supercross at Anaheim was a first-time winner who would go to win their one and only AMA Supercross title that same year, and all three were on Hondas: Donnie Hansen, David Bailey, Johnny O’Mara, respectively.]
Christian Craig (DC)
While the 450SX class so far has been topsy-turvy out of the gate, the 250SX West Region has been anything but. Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing's Christian Craig has been a dominant force at the top, using his good starts and masterful blitzes through the whoops to lead 28 of the 32 main-event laps so far. He won Anaheim and Oakland going away, and he's probably everyone's favorite this weekend in San Diego as well. He's taken advantage of a slim field in the West that first saw Honda HRC's Jett Lawrence swap coasts with his brother Hunter (though big brother is no slouch), plus the opening-night injuries to last year's 250SX East Region #1, Colt Nichols. And we just now broke the news that you can add Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki's Seth Hammaker to the injured list as well. Rumors were going around this week that he’d crashed big earlier in the week, and he just confirmed it on Instagram.
Get well soon, Seth. And Colt. And Jett. Ugh.
Back to Christian Craig. He is also taking advantage of his sheer age and experience. At 30, he's one of the oldest main-event winners ever in this class (though still a couple years younger than John Dowd was when he won the ’98 Dallas 125 SX, as well as that year’s 125 SX West Region title). Craig turned pro way back in 2009, which has people wondering how he's even allowed to race 250SX. That, in turn, led Craig to post his own explanation last week, in the form of a list of injuries and absences he's had ever since he started racing.
"That was just kind of explaining my career," he said of the post in the press conference after winning Oakland. "I’m one of the most hated guys on social media lately. I don't know why. I’m one of the nicest guys out there. But everyone has their favorite rider, and everyone likes to talk. So, I just put a little Tweet out there. Just my career. I’ve been hurt more than I’ve raced, and it’s unfortunate. No one has had a career like me, and I hope nobody does. I’ve been in the hospital a lot. I’ve dealt with some big injuries. I’ve had to step away from racing. I get to enjoy this now. I’ll smile every time I’m racing when I’m on the line. I know these days are limited and you don’t get a lot of them. I like to tell everyone around me, enjoy it while you can. Even the bad days, if they don’t work out your best, enjoy it because you’ll look back one day. It’s just being grateful."
Over the years we've seen a lot of guys get moved up too early and consequently never get a good ride for the premier class (my friend "Mad" Mike Jones come to mind). Personally, I've always been okay with a guy who chooses to race the 125/250 class in SX because it's his only option (and he is still eligible). But Craig says he's moving up to the 450 class next year whether he wins or loses this title. The problem is that his injured teammates Colt Nichols and Justin Cooper, last year's champions, also have to move up due to the rules. So either three guys with current 450 rides will have to be dropped or retired, or teams will have to add 450 spots in order for these three guys to find rides in 2023. That's not likely to happen, so keep an eye on this topic moving forward. When the game of musical chairs ends during the next off-season, some very good riders may not have a seat.
Pro Perspective (Jason Thomas)
Two races down, 15 to go. For the majority of the 450 elite, they’ve had one good race and maybe one they would like back. That sets up an important round three, as they could establish a trend from here. Mentally, many riders are likely wondering which result is the real deal. For Aaron Plessinger, is round two's bounce-back the real McCoy? Was Marvin Musquin's ability to overcome adversity and still be fourth at A1 more representative of his upcoming season more than his ho-hum Oakland? Was Dylan Ferrandis' relentless push forward at Oakland what we should expect, or will it be more of the mistake-riddled A1? All of these questions will surely be answered as the months roll on, but the thoughts that riders mull over as they lie down each night are molded on the short-term.
"You're only as good as your last race" might not be the best approach for a rider’s psyche, but it's a quote that has stood the test of time for a reason. For all of the riders wanting assurance that things are progressing down the path they planned so many months ago, Saturday night is a great chance for positive reinforcement.
PULP SHOW PLUGS (Matthes)
Weege, Lewis Phillips from MX Vice, and Trevor Reis from Maxima Oil all stopped by the show on Monday night to talk about Oakland and more. We had Aaron Plessinger on the line, and he talked about his 9-2 finishes to start the year, how he wasn't amped up enough for A1, how he hopes he can race a GNCC this year, his cowboy hat, and more. Then he wanted to ask us a question about the #722/Ryan Breece collision in the LCQ in Oakland. It's funny that AP was that locked in on the LCQ action after making it in through his heat race. Then we even got Adam Enticknap on the line and he and AP talked about quite a bit. Good times on Monday night—Weege even had a dog visit him during the show, which was my personal highlight. Also, stay for the Lewis music trivia contest, please and thank you.
Also, I know Aaron Hansel did a great story with UK privateer Dylan Woodcock that's worth a read. I also did a privateer podcast with the man, and what a story he has! From being paralyzed in a Houston hospital last year to being back on the bike and making his first main in Oakland since the accident, Dylan's been through a lot. Also, he seems like a good bloke, very funny, and after these first six races are done, he'll head back home and do some stunt work for movies like his pops. Really cool story, a big fan of the sport as well. Dylan Woodcock is someone to cheer for.
I also did a podcast this week with ’80s privateer hero Billy Frank, and it's a pretty interesting story really. If you look at his results, they were pretty good, especially outdoors, but back then there weren't many factory rides. He got ninth overall at the 1986 500cc USGP at Carlsbad, for crying out loud. Also, Billy packed it in pretty early when he was still competitive, but the fire went out. He grew up in Michigan racing with guys like Jeff Stanton, and when I was researching his information, I was surprised at how many big-name guys he beat at the Trans-Cal Golden State Nationals. Billy Frank was faster than you remember.
Chance Hymas (Keefer)
I sat down with Honda HRC's Chance Hymas this week on the RMATVMC Keefer Tested Podcast. I thought the likable 16-year-old from Pocatello, Idaho, had a lot of unique perspectives on his rise to the pro ranks. We talked about his recent wrist injury, getting to ride SX with Roczen, Sexton, the Lawrence Brothers, SX Futures, and a lot of other interesting off-racing topics like how he likes to work on his own bikes, his CRF450X bike build, and traveling with his dad to all these amateur events across America. Looks like we might even see him line up at some rounds of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship this year after the Monster Energy AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch. We know Honda knows how to grab rising stars, so Hymas could be another one to look out for later this summer!
IN MEMORIUM (DC)
On the last day of every year we post a requiem for some of the fellow motorcycle friends and enthusiasts we lost along the way in the previous year, called The Lives They Lived. In case you missed it on New Year’s Eve, here it is.
Sadly, we’ve already lost a few industry friends and veterans in 2022. Kenny Clark was the U.S. Racing Manager for Yamaha from 1977 through ’89, and before that the MX team manager in the early 1970s. He helped persuade Yamaha to hire and import Dutch GP rider Pierre Karsmakers to help develop the team beginning in 1973, and then left briefly to work with Carroll Shelby before returning to take over the whole racing program. His most successful year on the job was likely 1978: he not only saw motocross riders Bob Hannah, Broc Glover, and Rick Burgett win every AMA title, but Clark was instrumental in helping get Kenny Roberts to Europe to race in the 500cc Road Racing World Championships (called MotoGP today), and Roberts promptly became the first American to win that title. Kenny Clark passed away at his home in Idaho, where he had retired.
And then earlier this week we received news that Preston Petty had passed away at the age of 80 while staying in Texas. He was a racer-turned-entrepreneur who developed plastic fenders and revolutionized the sport. He was also an ISDT racer, one of Honda’s first sponsored riders in America, and also an early proponent of motocross racing.
Godspeed to both Kenny Clark and Preston Petty, longtime giants in American motorcycle racing.
Hey, Watch It!
Just in case you missed the MAVTV program on the first Moto Combine at Ironman in August, hosted by our own Jason Weigandt, you can check it out right here:
Bubba Stewart to play Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions | Golf Today | Golf Channel
Oakland SX into San Diego 2022 - Dirt Wurx Alex
Head-Scratching Headlines of the Week
“Olympic Athletes Advised to Leave Phones at Home to Dodge Spying While in China”—Yahoo! Finance
"Ryan Fitzpatrick went shirtless in freezing temps at the Buffalo Bills game on Saturday"—ESPN
"A Man Led Police On A Chase Just So He Could Finish His Hamburger" - Jalopnik
“Machine Gun Kelly designed Megan Fox's engagement ring to hurt coming off”—CNN Entertainment
Ads we could not get away with today:
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!