This thing is winding down, huh? Round 14 of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship took place in Atlanta, Georgia, and we were back at the speedway again. Last year the series moved south of Atlanta where the NASCAR track is for three races and overall, it was a pretty good move. The crowd seemed to love it, the hassles of the dome in downtown Atlanta were not missed (security, parking), and the “vibe” of going to the speedway seemed to be pretty well accepted.
“Vibe” is a big word these days, by the way.
I like the speedway races. I don’t like them better than a 55-second to one-minute baseball or Glendale stadium SX at night, but give me a 1:20 lap around a speedway with two sets of whoops, two sand roller sections, left and right turns, and unique obstacles over a 42-second football stadium where every rider is doing the exact same rhythm, all day long. I’m a fan of great tracks which to me equal great racing most of the time. I’m not a fan of 28 laps on an easy track that’s follow-the-leader.
Now, as anyone who listened to the recap pod on this site, or the PulpMX Show on Monday knows that JT isn’t a fan of these races because of the “vibe” we have at the outdoor speedways. And I’ll admit it’s not as good, the TV screens aren’t as good, it’s too spread out, there’s no roof, and so on and so on. To which I say, who cares? Yeah, that stuff is nice, but I guess I’m not easily amused because I’d rather have great tracks and variety of racing than fireworks and music. Unscientifically on my Twitter feed, I’d say it was a 50/50 mix of people who preferred one over the other.
We’ve gone from racing 125s with 35 horsepower to 250 four-strokes with 50 hp, and 250 two-strokes with 47 hp to 450 four-strokes and 55 hp. Yet we’ve stayed with 67-foot triples for some reason. We’ve stuck with the same sort of obstacles for decades now. The bikes have outgrown the stadiums in a lot of cases and the speedways help that. Again, I’m not saying lose all the stadiums because the baseball ones and Glendale are great, but the small floor plan stadiums with two left turns and 42-second lap times kind of suck. Plus, since we lengthened the main events (a mostly good change for the sport IMO) it’s clear that the amount of dirt brought in needs to be increased drastically. The tracks are hammered in the short lap time races and also a bit dangerous.
Speaking of 67-foot triples, well on press day we had a 120-foot one that many riders were not happy with, and I get it. I’d love to see a big jump like this on a track with an “easy” way to not jump it all the way and then if you do decide to launch it, make it so it’s more forgiving than what we saw on press day. I can hear Phil Nicoletti’s, “We’re not cats, we don’t have nine lives,” comment now about an obstacle like that but I mean, c’mon, Chance Hymas jumped it first time, and he’s an amateur. As JT does like to say, and I agree with him, “You don’t have to jump it," which is true. So, I love what they did with the jump but bad execution in the design of the jump, which got quickly removed after more than a few guys were saying “WTF.”
Not all of the riders felt the same way as Matthes about the big jumps. Here Justin Bogle comes up short on press day.
Jason Anderson won again and he’s very good on a track like this. He’s able to adapt and be unique, take some crazy unplanned lines out there and he’s got more room to move on a bigger track. All things that work well for him and he showed it in the ATL. He was also doing a 3-4 before the whoops that was impressive—I didn’t see anyone else do that all day long (Sexton told me he did it on press day). Anytime a rider can jump something that no one else can, that’s damn impressive. After a little bit of a mid-season wobble, JA21 is back on track and continues his impressive “comeback” season on the Kawi.
We had Broc Tickle on the Pulpmx Show on Monday, who tests for that team, he said that Jason’s also majorly fast during the week and a good test rider. I had heard differently, as far as his abilities to test when he was on his last team, but we’ll go with what Broc says. Tick’s also been impressed with his work ethic which is something we’ve said for a long time now. Jason likes to put out the slacker, Team Fried 420 vibe on social or in interviews, but you don’t win a 450SX title or land on the podium as much as he has without putting in hard work on and off the track. Also, I think Broc’s help with the bike, and with Jason off the track has been a real underrated part of 21’s season.
Honda’s got Trey Canard, KTM has Ryan Morais, Kawasaki has Tickle- these are great riders who can help a team work through parts that can help a race team. Also, if a suspension or motor guy has some wild hair idea he wants to try, he can get the team’s test rider to see if it works or not. As Tick mentioned on the show, when he was racing, testing put him behind on his race prep because you’re not doing motos, you’re at the track longer, and you aren’t always into it. I’ve seen this firsthand in my time on a couple of factory teams.
The riders don’t want to be there testing all day and if you have a rider that can go close to race speed, things can really move smoothly, and the test rider can be very beneficial to a race team. I cried about this fact at Yamaha for years that we needed a guy, especially as we were having issues with carburetors not staying on the bikes and bikes burping and farting, but nope, couldn’t make it happen. Props to Honda, KTM and, Kawasaki for helping their race teams be better. It’s just money!
I thought something was wrong with Eli Tomac early on in the main event as he lost two or three spots. He even seemed to look down at his bike at one point. Then he got on it and got back to work ripping past those riders who got by him, and was even catching Anderson at one point. The hesitation he had early on in the race might’ve cost him the win. I ran into Eli in the airport Sunday morning and mentioned to him that I thought he thought his bike might’ve had an issue and he agreed that yes, he thought so to, and that it was related to the heat race. But that’s all he would say. I tried to pry some more out of him, but he wasn’t having it. Either way, it was a good race for ET and he can clinch the title this Saturday in Boston if things go right.
Man, Chase Sexton was setting himself up to have a day, right? He qualified fastest, he won his heat, and he grabbed the lead early in the main. It was all set up for him to get a win. Remember he had a chance to win here last year at one race before a lapper hurt him. So, this was pretty much a done deal, right? He has the speed (duh) and the fitness to win a 450SX. This was going to be a done deal.
Except it wasn’t. He washed the front end out (a few riders went down in that turn) and had to fight his way back to the podium in a great ride. A guy like Chase, I’m not sure a “leading and a crash and pass a bunch of dudes to get third,” ride is something he even cares about, but I do dammit. And he rode great all day except for that crash. Hey, here’s something that probably no one has said before “If Chase Sexton stops crashing, he can really win a lot of races.”
250SX showdown time and I just had a feeling we wouldn’t see the two riders with big points leads, Jett Lawrence and Christian Craig, win this thing. Obviously, they were favored but I don’t know, something about these things makes me go with the rider who hasn’t been the best all year. Heck, Jett was third last year in the series and won, two years ago Jeremy Martin was third in the points and won one of these things. It just works out that way.
Hunter Lawrence rode great to win this race after passing a more-game-than-I-thought-he-would-have Jo Shimoda to take his second win in a row and pull a bit closer to leader Craig, who got second. We had Hunter on the PulpMX Show and he wasn’t having it with the part where I said that Craig caught him a bit and then he got a bit better to keep the gap the same, but hey, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I thought Craig was moving up and looking better in the, wait for it, whoops, before Lawrence buckled down and stopped the Yamaha rider’s momentum. Then Craig fell and hung on for second.
THE JETT was very fast all day but he fell in the heat in the first turn and he fell in the main. Other than that, the third was good but yet again, self-inflicted mistakes kept him from winning this race. On the good news front, he can clinch his first 250SX title this weekend. I like his odds!
I’ll be totally honest here, I don’t have any 250SX, 450SX, or 450MX professional race wins under my belt. Nope, just my four Manitoba titles (missed a fifth one by two points ICYWW) but I do know someone who does have some of these big race wins. His name is David Vuillemin, he’s from France, and he used to be really fast. He’s also working with Marvin Musquin and Dylan Ferrandis out there so, yeah, he knows a thing or two about a thing or two. I asked him some key questions about some riders and here’re his answers
Racer X: Eli Tomac and how surprised or not surprised you are with his season?
David Vuillemin: I'm not really surprised because Eli for several years has been a series (SX or MX) favorite, a champion, or the rider who wins the most races. The unknown was to see if he would adapt to his new bike. But he has a lot of experience and knows what he wants in terms of settings. The team did good giving him something he likes
Jason Anderson’s “comeback” and your thoughts on him?
I’ve really enjoyed watching Jason ride for a while now. I really like what he does on a motorcycle and his skills. He also always tries hard to get the best results he can. He's a competitor. He proves that change can be good, and I can see he did his homework this winter. He came out swinging this season. Too bad he had some tough races where it wasn't his fault, or he would be way closer to Eli in the standings
Chase Sexton can he/will he pull it together and be dominant
It's only my opinion but I think Sexton has the best potential of all the field right now. He's good on any track. He's fast, smooth and I like the bike/rider package he has. He could've won a handful of races this season without some fluke stuff happening. Call them lack of focus, brain farts or anything you want but without those, he would be tough to beat. He's still very young (22) so I'm pretty confident he'll figure it out.
What’s up with Cooper Webb?
I'm actually not very sure. During the testing and off-season on the new bike, I thought he was super good/fast and that his weaknesses, mainly whoops, had tremendously improved. But then, he's having a not-so-good season where he struggles to get on the podium. I know a lot of stuff changed for him this season, new bike, new trainer, riding at different facilities, back to Aldon (Baker), some injuries. It's a lot even for a two-time champion.
Marvin’s had a nice season, have you been somewhat happy with his season, and does he race next year?
Marvin's season has been very up and down. Some great races and some bad ones. At 32, it's tough to still be a title contender. Eli would be the oldest SX champ ever if he clinches this season at 29. Marvin passed his peak a while ago but he's a great rider who can win races from time to time. At this stage of his career, I think he has to focus to take it race per race and put himself in a good position on days he feels good, and everything clicks. He's done that. And not to worry or get bummed out on bad days. It has been fun working with him. He made a lot of changes. Improved a bit in areas he needed, and he looks happier to ride and race this season which is ultimately the goal when your career is almost over. No idea if he races next year though.
Speedways or no speedways- what are your thoughts on more races like Atlanta, either in the day or the night?
It doesn't really matter where they do the races to be honest with you. If they can make a minute-long SX track on a Walmart parking lot, I'd be okay with it. I thought they could've done better with the track in Atlanta. There wasn't much to it. A lot of doubles and triples, which aren't very interesting and too many no jumps at all sections. I actually like day races and I would vote to bring Daytona to what it used to be. 20 laps, 1-minute and 30-second lap times, 30-rider main, and during the day. Legendary stops like that should stay the way they were.
Do you like the Vibe of a dome SX?
I do. I love the east coast dome atmosphere/feel to them where we pit inside, and it snows outside. [Laughs] Tracks are better in a dome, layout is better. The dirt stays good all day unlike open stadiums, like the Cali rounds, Vegas or Salt Lake City. Doesn't matter what the weather is outside, the track will be good. A dome in SX is like the grates for starts, a no brainer.
Ladies and gentlemen, the great David Vuillemin!
Some other news and notes:
-Yeah, I saw Alex Martin lead a lap and a half in the heat race. Rome wasn’t built in a day bro. First, we do that, then we win a heat and then we crush the main. Then maybe, if we’re not too old, we win a 450SX title. “It all started in Atlanta that day,” is what we’ll all be saying.
- Privateers continue to crush the 450SX class and yet again, Papa Chiz gets the big piece of chicken with his strong eighth-place ride. Chiz got TWO LAPS in during the first practice because of some bike issues and qualified way back. But nothing matters to him, nothing phases the guy, he just makes it through the heat and runs eighth in the main because he’s Chiz. That’s what he does. How does it feel 9th through 22nd, to get beat by a dude that was 27th in qualifying?
-Austin Forkner came back and man, was he great in the heat race. He was hung up in the first turn and came from 19th or so to the win. Seriously, he rode amazing. In the main he was close to a podium before, I would guess, the race pace caught up to him a bit and he dropped back a bit. Still, an impressive return, I think. Wonder if he can get a win before the SX year ends?
-Good job to Zombie Blose (Chris) for being top non-factory rider in the 250SX main unless you want to count Mitchell "Freckle" Oldenburg which, I guess you can, but I’m not. I don’t know why, Blose just seems more privateer-ish to me. So, sue me.
-Hey, we’re getting ready to raffle off a new 2022 YZ450F and 19 other prizes to lucky winners. And ALL the money goes to the privateers in “my” race at Denver. Yay for us! Yay for privateers. What are you waiting for? Buy a ticket on PulpMX.com.
Thanks for reading and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to chat about this race or whatever else.