Welcome to Racerhead, and Happy post-Thanksgiving, Happy Black Friday, Happy Mini O's, Happy USA-versus-England, and all of the rest of the things that seem to be going on right now. The Mini O's are winding down after a solid week of racing at Gatorback MX Park outside Gainesville, Florida. They spent the first part of the long week doing supercross and will finish up on the motocross track. Our colleagues at RacerTV.com have been streaming all of the races, live and free, and you can tune in right now, right here, for day six of the event:
More on the Mini O's in a moment. There was sad news out of Europe yesterday when we found out the great Andre Malherbe had passed away. Malherbe, the three-time 500cc World Motocross Champion in the 1980s with Team Honda HRC, as well as basically the 125cc "World" Champion in 1973 and '74 aboard a Zundapp (in the days before the 125 class received world championship status from the FIM and was only a European Championship). After Andre's magnificent runs in the 1980s, when he battled with the likes of Brad Lackey, Hakan Carlqvist, Georges Jobe, and his Honda teammates David Thorpe and Eric Geboers, he went into the deserts of Africa to race the notorious Paris-Dakar Rally. It was there in 1988 that he suffered a horrific crash that left him a quadriplegic. No matter, he remained a strong voice in European racing, with the help of his close friend Jean-Claude Lacquaye, himself a former GP racer. A few years back the two posed for this funny shot that represented a modern take on the moment in the early 1980s when Jobe basically jumped over Malherbe when he launched the “bomb hole” at the British 500cc GP at Hawkstone Park.
Malherbe had that funky, straight-up European style, as his generation was the last to come along without supercross being a thing in Europe. But besides that, he was the epitome of eighties motocross cool. He was photogenic, a fierce competitor, rode full-works HRC RC500 Hondas, and occasionally showed up at GPs in his Ferrari! Upon his passing, some of the world's best riders of the era—Rick Johnson, Jeff Ward, his teammate Thorpe—posted their condolences for Didi. Sadly, he now joins other great 500cc champions of the 1980s that we lost far too soon: Jobe, Geboers, Carlqvist, and now Andre Malherbe. He was 66 years old. Godspeed.
Turning to the 51st Annual THOR Mini O's, they are having another record crowd at one of the oldest continuously running events in all of amateur motocross. The event goes back to 1972 and used to include flat track, TT, and hare scrambles racing. A young Jeff Ward of Southern California, along with Tennessee hot shoe Gene McKay, helped put the event on the national map, where it's remained ever since. I wrote a history of the event a couple years back that you might enjoy if you're interested in the roots of these big races.
And like all amateur races of the past few years, it had to have some drama involving the Deegans. Yes, Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing's Haiden Deegan is down there racing, and he's been putting on quite a show. The problem some are having with his presence is the fact that he rode the last two rounds of the 2022 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, specifically the Ironman National and the Fox Raceway finale. So he's a pro, right? Not technically. Deegan just took advantage of the rules that allow young riders to dip their toe in the pro waters of professional racing, a chance to see where they fit in, as well as allowing team managers to get a better idea of where a kid stacks up. Deegan is obviously signed already to a contract when he does go full pro, but he's still allowed to race in amateur and pro-am events. While the rules have changed over the years, it's usually the case that top prospects can still do specific classes in these big amateur events. Back in 1990, a Kawasaki Team Green kid named Jeremy McGrath raced Loretta Lynn's after he had already notched his first 125 supercross main event win (Las Vegas). Deegan will be pro soon enough, but in the meantime, why shouldn't he be allowed to race 250 and 450 Pro Sport (and 250 A) at the Mini O's? Haiden's not the only rider who raced nationals this season who’s down there racing this week—but he is the only one named Deegan, and that's sure to bring the drama.
Here's a link to Mini O’s Supercross results (we’ll have full motocross results when that wraps over the weekend).
So Happy Thanksgiving again and let me throw this over to Weege for a quick update on that big, ongoing, off-season story….
Roczen Yellow Again (Jason Weigandt)
Seems everyone is rooting for Ken Roczen to ride a Suzuki in 2023, and that (from what I’m hearing) includes Ken Roczen himself. When Ken left the Paris Supercross with a solid win on his Genuine Honda CRF450R and spoke highly of the team, it appeared likely he would join forces with that squad in the U.S. as well. That team is owned by Australian Yarrive Konsky, but does compete in the U.S. as the Firepower Honda team, managed by Martin Davalos. Ken seemed ready to sign with Genuine Honda, but he did have an offer from HEP Motorsports Suzuki, and he owed that Suzuki team a test session. Well, turns out Ken really, really liked the bike! By last weekend, we heard Ken to Suzuki was the most likely scenario. There was one sticking point, though: Ken wants to keep his Red Bull sponsorship, but to do that, he can’t race a bike with other beverage logos on it. HEP is sponsored by Twisted Tea. What to do?
We’ve heard the team has spent the last week exploring the option of a second team semi just for Ken, so he can have a truck and bike covered in Progressive logos but not running Twisted Tea. The rest of the team riders will pit out of a Twisted Tea rig. Committing to a second rig just to land Ken shows just how serious this team is! No one has announced anything yet, but I think this is by far the most likely scenario.
I also think this creates the most buzz. Everyone remembers Ken’s roots on a Suzuki as a kid, and then his return in 2015–2016 with Soaring Eagle/Jimmy John’s RCH Suzuki, which culminated in a dominant Pro Motocross summer in 2016. Everyone likes to joke that Suzuki hasn’t updated its bike in decades, but a new-generation RM-Z450 debuted in 2018, so this is not the same bike Ken raced in ’16. Well, apparently, Ken really likes this one too! This creates the real wild-card scenario of the season, because we won’t see many big team switches or rookie debuts in 450 supercross this year. (Christian Craig moving up to the 450s with Rockstar Energy Husqvarna is about the only major move.) We will see a lot of movement for ’24, but Ken has owned the off-season this year, and a lot of people are going to be very enthusiastic to see him in familiar colors at Anaheim. That includes Ken himself!
Jeffrey Herlings (DC)
While everyone is waiting to see where Roczen ends up, now would be a good time to check in on his childhood rival, Jeffrey Herlings. As you probably recall, the Dutchman missed the entire 2022 season with a broken heel, having crashed during a preseason photo shoot. He’s gone through several surgeries since, but he’s back on the bike and ready to get back out there in MXGP, as he’s just a couple wins away from Stefan Everts’ all-time wins record. Our friend MX Geoff Meyer caught up with Jeffrey this week for a conversation about his rehabilitation, the coming 2023 MXGP season, his hopes for a contract extension with Red Bull KTM (his contract is up next year), and what the rest of his future has in store.
At one point, MX Geoff asked Jeffrey about the rumors that swirled last spring that he might have come to America for the 450 Nationals, and Herlings said that was true, but he just wasn’t ready.
“Yes, I did. I just didn’t make it,” Herlings told Meyer. “I was back on the bike on the second week in May, but two weeks to prepare wasn’t going to be enough. At that time, I had already missed eight of the MXGP races and I then decided to get my other foot fixed, because I knew the season was done anyway. My ultimate goal would be to do a few more seasons here in Europe and then end my career racing a year in America. I would love to finish my career with one year of outdoors. It is a short series, and just one day and I am a big fan of that. It is a pity by then Eli [Tomac] will probably be finished racing, but at the same time there will be some new guys coming in.”
Rob Andrews' The Inside Line (DC)
Before we get into the marketing-speak of my friend Rob Andrews' excellent book The Inside Line, let me say that it's the best book I have ever read about motocross that was written by an actual racer. It's been out for a few years now, and I still go back and check it out from time to time, dipping into a favorite chapter like his lap around Namur, the time he entered the Motocross of Nations for Great Britain on a Kawasaki KX125 he bought out of the classifieds, and his trip to America for the 500cc U.S. Grand Prix. It's really good stuff and an excellent gift idea for motocrossers of all ages. Seriously. This should be required reading for Andrea Leib's On Track students!
Okay, here's the copy and a cool video Rob sent along:
Rob Andrews’ book The Inside Line is a critically acclaimed sports autobiography like no other. Travel deep inside life as a factory pro during the 1980's glory days of 500cc world championship motocross, and experience what it was really like to be behind the start gate during the most memorable and revered era of grand prix racing.
Take a couple of minutes to watch this short video and see for yourself why ‘The Inside Line’ has been described by reviewers at Trustpilot as, "The best book ever written about motocross."
You can purchase your copy at theinsidelinebook.com
Also, the aforementioned David Thorpe also has a new book out about his career, which included three 500cc World Championships. I have not finished it yet, but it’s been a really good read so far! It’s also available before Christmas and you can order yours right here.
Big Bore Pumpkin (Kris Keefer)
If I had to save a four-stroke or a two-stroke from a burning building, 99 percent of the time I would save the four-stroke! However, this 2023 KTM 300SX came along in the summer months over in the green rolling hills of RedBud and changed my outlook. Recently I had the chance to take delivery of my 300SX test bike here in California and it blew my mind. A two-stroke with a fou-stroke soul? Stop it! but, seriously this is what this bike is like to ride! You can lug it around like a four stroke as well as get enough rear wheel traction to be able to jump a double from the inside without breaking rear wheel traction. It definitely is a fun bike to ride. Check the video out right here if you're on the fence about a two-stroke like I was. I mean I grew up on two-strokes, so you would think I would like them more, but four-strokes have advanced so much and have allowed for us to ride harder, with less energy, that it was always tough for me to come back to a pre-mixed machine. Not anymore!
Moto Verte's Histoires de Champions (DC)
And I can't believe I just missed seeing this book on the newsstands over in France! It's called History of Champions: 1980-1984, featuring David Bailey on the cover. It was spearheaded by the great French journalist Christian Batteaux of the Moto Verte family, and it includes interviews with many of the great champions of the time, in regard to Europe and primarily France, including U.S. superstar Bailey (the first King of Bercy) and Dutch sand master Kees Van der Ven (multi-time Le Touquet Beach Race Champ) and Belgium's multi-time 500cc World Motocross Champion Andre Malherbe (who sadly passed away yesterday). Believe me, I will be looking for it online and definitely next year when we return for the 2023 FIM Motocross of Nations in Ernée. Congratulations, Christian!
Hey, Watch It!
2023 Yamaha YZ450F Bike Intro 2.0 | Keefer & Matthes at Glen Helen Raceway
Club MX training: Episode 5 w/ Jeremy Martin giving you a tour of his digs:
And here's another series Club MX called #ClubLife
HEAD-SCRATCHING HEADLINE/S OF THE WEEK
“Village in French Alps demolishes its ski lift because there's no snow left”—CNN Travel
“‘Avatar 2’ Is So Expensive It Must Become the ‘Fourth or Fifth Highest-Grossing Film in History’ Just to Break Even”—Variety.com
“BOT THE DOG: Your next dog could be a robot as scientists work to strengthen bond between humans and machine pets”—The U.S. Sun
"Harrison Ford Will Be De-Aged to Fight Nazis in ‘Indy 5’”— The Hollywood Reporter
“South Carolina scored so many points they ran out of fireworks”—SEC Network
“We now know what Budweiser will do with the beer it can’t sell at the World Cup”—CNN Business
American Flat Track is having a big sale
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!