Main image by Mitch Kendra
It was another wild weekend of racing in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship last weekend as the Ironman National provided some fireworks, and somehow the 450 class title race is still as close as it can be. As such, we fired off some burning questions to longtime pro Jason Thomas to pick his brain about Chase Sexton and Eli Tomac’s title fight, Jett Lawrence’s “slump,” and more.
The Eli Tomac/Chase Sexton battles have been fantastic, and it was no different at Ironman. Watching Sexton come from behind and catch Tomac, pass him, then have Tomac come back by was crazy. How does that happen? Was Tomac saving something just in case?
I asked him this on the podium and he said he knew that it was going to take an all-out push to get the win. I don’t think he was necessarily saving it, but when the adrenaline takes over, sometimes the level can go to a parabolic place that surprises even the rider. These guys are digging deep with so much on the line.
If Tomac doesn't make that mistake in the second moto while catching Sexton, does he catch and pass him?
With the response that Sexton put in, I don’t think so. Sexton got caught up with lappers and seeing that, Tomac put a charge in to try to capitalize. The under-reported part of this is that Sexton also dropped to a 2:01 that same lap that Tomac made the mistake. Sexton then stayed in the 2:01’s and the rest was history. It was a crazy series of events for Sexton to run into traffic, Tomac put in his best lap into an immediate mistake, followed by Sexton responding with his best lap. The resiliency Sexton showed there was impressive.
Did you notice any complacency from riders at the second to last round? And if so, are you noticing any other riders taking advantage?
I was so locked in on the battle for the lead, I can’t say that it jumped out at me. It’s normal for these final few motos to be a bit blasé for many. It’s a 106 percent guarantee there will be several riders going through the motions this weekend in the 106 degree heat. If you don’t have some goal to achieve or outside motivation, many riders will be hoping to put a button on this series and exit without injury. Also, did I mention it’s going to be 106 degrees?
We know Aaron Plessinger likes Ironman, but is simply liking a track enough to boost a rider to the podium? Was there something about the track that suited Plessinger's style, and was there something about the podium crowd that suited his post-race celebrations?
It definitely can make a big difference. Sometimes tracks aren’t necessarily your favorite, but the results always come out well. Other times, riders love a track and they do really well there. I think that’s the case for Plessinger and Ironman. He loves the track, rides it well, and that feeds into an even better result. His celebration with the crowd post-race was all time. He fit right in with the raucous crowd and matched their energy in every way. It was arguably my favorite moment of this series thus far.
Ryan Dungey and Christian Craig battled at Ironman, with Craig edging Dungey for fifth. When they're battling are they aware how close in points they are (Craig holds fifth by three points over Dungey) or is it just a matter of two guys wanting to do as best as possible no matter what?
I would guess they do know the points situation, but I don’t think it’s changing anything in their approach. These two are both champions in their own right and as competitive as they come. Racers show up to race, especially when you’re talking about the elite levels. For Dungey, he doesn’t want to go backward and is still fighting for that elusive podium. For Craig, he is still establishing himself in this 450 class and doesn’t want to be beaten by a semi-retired racer, even if it’s a legend like Dungey.
Following over a handful of motos in a row without a win, Jett Lawrence got back on track with a moto and another overall win. While some thought it was a drought for the Honda HRC rider, Jett had the points lead and did not have to push the limits and just take what was available. We all know how good he is on the track, but how does this mindset from an 19-year-old show how mature he is mentally for his age?
I have thought on this quite a bit over the last few weeks and I don’t know that I fully buy the “I’m just settling for the points and staying calm” talk. His Unadilla Saturday was anything but that. I think his racecraft is extremely mature for a 19-year-old, but I think the lack of winning was weighing on him. He has made a few comments that made me think he’s annoyed with the whispers of others. Winning this weekend was more of a, “I told you guys,” than anything else. Having said that, I do believe he could push more, win more, and also crash more if he wanted to up the ante. I believe he’s been frustrated with the lack of leading and winning (he didn’t lead a lap for six motos straight), but I think he’s also been trying to remain mindful of the big picture. Tough ask for a teenager.
What's the deal with Nate Thrasher? We've seen out-of-nowhere rides from him in the past and he was at it again at Ironman, where he led laps. Was it just another weirdo Thrasher moment or was there something about the track that suited him?
There’s no predicting what Thrasher will do! He’s been better as of late, putting in a solid weekend at Budds Creek before this breakout at Ironman. He didn’t go on to win like in Atlanta and Salt Lake City, but I was certainly ready for that one-off hero race. I do like seeing him flashing at the front, though. He needs these types of rides to solidify that upward trajectory.
It was finally time for Haiden Deegan to go pro. What'd you think of his debut performance?
I wish he hadn’t decided to try that silly jump with two laps to go and nothing to really gain, but kids will be kids, right? I firmly believe he had Friday’s Scouting Combine in his head when he was eyeing it up, as Chance Hymas and Evan Ferry both narrowly pulled it off. The trouble is, the jump wasn’t the same. My advice here would be when you see the leaders of the race and multi-time champions not executing a tricky jump, there’s a reason. Everyone knew that jump was technically possible under the right scenario but clearly the risk/reward wasn’t favorable. I chalk it up to inexperience mostly.
Outside of that, I was very impressed. He looked the part and was easily capable of top-12 finishes. He was there to learn and dip his toe into the water. He probably got more than he bargained for on that front, but I do think he will be much more prepared based on Saturday’s learning moment.
RJ Hampshire is doing really well lately, including Ironman. Is it really a product of bike improvements or did bikeimprovements result in a mental edge for Hampshire that's allowed him to push harder?
It sounds like they have taken steps forward with the chassis and suspension. That motorcycle is all new for 2022 and globally, everyone has been challenged on both the 250 and 450. It doesn’t matter if it’s a KTM or Husky, in America or Europe, riders on those brands have struggled to find comfort. This challenge is not unique to new-generation models. The 2002 CR250, 2009 CRF450, the 2010 YZF450, the 2013 CRF450, and these 2022 KTM/Husky’s are all ones that jump out to me. They will figure them out and likely will push the envelope even further forward because of it, but it’s frustrating for results in the early days of development.