Welcome to Racerhead, coming to you from high above the Lone Star State as we fly into Texas early for the “fifth” round of the 2023 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship. Tomorrow night we will be watching the Houston Supercross, a race that’s been part of the schedule almost every year going back to 1974, the very first year for the AMA Supercross Championship. Back then the race was held in the Astrodome over two nights, with a total of four motos added up to decide the weekend winners. (More on that later.) This time around, Houston is coming after an amazing set of West Coast races—two at Anaheim, one at San Diego, all three sold out. Of course Oakland was rained out and postponed until February 18, at which point the series will catch up its designated “rounds” to actual races held. (This is apparently a sore spot for Matthes.) So we break out of the Motel California earlier than usual, but everyone goes back straight from the Tampa round that races next weekend.
We’ve seen an amazing series so far. It seemed like defending 450SX Champion Eli Tomac was already on the march after wins in the first two rounds, only to see him trip up at Anaheim 2. Same goes for Jett Lawrence, who seemed like he might dominate the 250SX West Region after two rounds, only to suffer a couple of costly spills at A2, the first “Triple Crown” of ’23. Both still hold the red plates, though Lawrence will get to sit this weekend (and next) out as the series moves east and the 250SX East Region begins. But don’t be surprised if you still see “Lawrence” at the top of the results from Houston and Tampa as older brother Hunter gets his chance to shine. We will also see Haiden Deegan roll out again, only this time for real, as his family and Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing have decided to go all-in already on the kid’s professional career. He will join Jordon Smith and Nate Thrasher (as well as Justin Cooper, who is making his 450SX debut)on the team’s East Region flank as they take on Hunter Lawrence and his own rookie stablemate for Honda, Chance Hymas. And then there’s the big question mark that is Red Bull KTM’s Tom Vialle, the two-time MX2 FIM Motocross World Champion from France, whose supercross skills are basically at an unknown level at this moment. I guess we’ll all get to see tomorrow night!
HoustonKTM Junior Supercross
Saturday, February 4
Both Cooper and Vialle’s names came up in a press release on Wednesday from Infront Motor Sports in Europe on the decision to move the 2023 Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations in Ernée, France, from its October 21–22 date to October 7–8. The move was welcomed by pretty much everyone—riders, fans, teams, media, etc.—as it put the event closer to the end of the AMA season, while also shortening MXGP by a couple weeks. It was necessitated by the late change of date for the new SuperMotocross World Championship (SMX) Finals, which were originally set to end on October 14 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, but had to be moved all the way up to September 23 due to a change in the NCAA football calendar for the USC Trojans, the main residents of the Coliseum. That full month of extra prep and training that any U.S.-based rider hoping to participate in both SMX and the MXoN might be a huge consideration in their decision. Infront knows fans want to see the very best riders from all over the world in the annual Motocross of Nations, so they worked with the organizers in France, as well as Feld Motor Sports and MX Sports Pro Racing (co-organizers of the new SuperMotocross World Championship), to make the change of date. It seemed to go over well with just about everyone on either the AMA or FIM side … at least until Justin Cooper posted yesterday that he’s not available to ride if he’s selected for Team USA, because he’s already made plans to get married that weekend—and he’s already invested $100,000 in the ceremony. Ugh. Beyond that conflict, hopefully the change will allow for guys like Vialle (who sat out last year) to be able to return to the race and ride for his home-country fans, if chosen.
It sounds like we’ll be seeing Jeffrey Herlings back on track, too, as the multi-time MXGP World Champion is finally ready to line up behind a starting gate again after missing all of 2022 with a foot injury. Herlings is set to return to the starting gate this weekend at a Spanish National at La Mancha. “The Bullet” also just signed a two-year contract extension with Red Bull KTM to race MXGP through 2025. It would be great to see Herlings and Eli Tomac meet up again at least one more time in the MXoN, as injuries and absences have robbed us all of more showdowns between these two.
And that leads me to one more thing before we get into all the news of the week. Suzuki-mounted Ken Roczen—Herlings’ old rival from their youth in Europe, and now one of Eli’s many rivals here—seemed to have an uphill battle on his hands when he started the ’23 season with a late off-season change to the RM-Z 450. Well, if you’ve been watching the results, Roczen has been going uphill in Monster Energy AMA Supercross—in the results. So far, #94’s finishes have steadily improved: 5-4-3. Be nice to see him in there at the end of the season racing against Jeffrey again, not to mention Eli—especially if he keeps on this upward trajectory. The year has barely started, and it’s already delivering.
Now We’re Talking (Jason Weigandt)
You couldn’t have scripted a better scenario for the series than Anaheim 2, with Eli Tomac and Cooper Webb going from 1-2 at the first two races to off the podium at the third. Meanwhile the three contenders who most needed a boost—Sexton, Anderson, and Roczen—got to the box.
“The first two races I didn’t even feel like I was part of the battle,” Sexton said. “I mean, the first one I was good but I got passed late in the race. Then last weekend was just a disaster for me. Coming into tonight I knew I had to stop the bleeding because Eli hadn’t lost a heat race or a main event.”
Sexton looked much faster than he did at the first two races, Roczen was probably the most improved, and Anderson simply stayed off the ground, which he did not do at the first two races. I’ve always said round three is where you first start to really see what everyone has, so if you’re Anderson, Sexton, and Roczen, you can write off the first two and say the season starts now. Usually, the best rider emerges between rounds three and five (that’s when Tomac got the points lead and then started winning last year). That makes this weekend’s Houston race a really big deal. Can’t wait for Friday press day, when we’ll start rolling out more content to get you ready.
Mookie Out (Matthes)
Man, sometimes we have seasons where riders stay relatively healthy, and then there's others that the injury bug strikes. Three rounds into the season we have two of the big stars for the Austrian group out for a while. First it was Marvin Musquin, and now Malcolm Stewart will be out for the year due to a knee injury. I had heard coming into the year that it was an injury he hoped he could manage and rehab around, but seems that that didn't work. Huge bummer for Stewart. It was the last year of his contract, as well, and he looked like he was going to finally win at least his first 450SX main, but I could see him being re-signed there.
Meanwhile, we turn to what Rockstar Energy Husky wants to do now. They have shown a propensity for fill-in rides, whether Shane McElrath last year, Dean Wilson one year, our guy Phil one year, and so on. So one would think the logical choice would be Joey Savatgy, who's been a top-ten privateer to start the year, but I'm not so sure he would do that. He wants to go FIM World Supercross Championship (WSX) racing with this Rick Ware Racing team, he hasn't had a great time with the steel-framed bikes (as he mentioned on the PulpMX show) and generally, these fill-in rides don't pay awesome. Other than Savatgy, who could they get?
No, don't say James Stewart like one of our callers on Fly Moto: 60 Show said. Please no. James’ time as a racer is long gone as a racer…
… but that would be cool!
Video Hero (Jason Weigandt)
Really proud of our mega-moto-obsessed group over here at Racer X—we’re really pushing hard to make sure we get you the info you want in the places where you want it. Of course the Racer X Illustrated magazine is where it all started, and we’re pretty proud of this website you’re reading right now too. Over the last few years, though, YouTube has become a real hub for news and info, and we’ve been upping our game in that aspect. This is why we invented the Weege Show, our Season Preview videos, our Best Post-Race Show, and more. Then two years ago we brought on Kellen Brauer, already well-established on YouTube with his Start Your Systems channel, to bolster our efforts. Now we have Tom Journet, of Team Fried-fame, on as a full-time shooter, and early this season we’ve added Donnie “Roto Moto” Southers to our video team. This week we really got going in full force, with news videos on Chase Sexton, Eli Tomac, and Ken Roczen, a guide to 250SX East, and some really cool tours of factory motorcycles hosted by Kris Keefer. Plus we managed to keep the website humming while we handled all this! Onwards and upwards. I’m always proud of our team here, but this week, well, it was even better than usual.
By the way, if you’re wondering what in the world was going on with those green lights on Phil Nicoletti’s bike when he was—surprise!—leading last Saturday night, check out Kellen Brauer’s Anaheim 2 Race Examination below.
Pro Perspective (Jason Thomas)
The first round of the 250SX East Region series is upon us. It's a long wait for this group, watching the rest of the racing world get underway. It does give time to improve from the feedback of their teammates, though. If the team entered the season with a very strong conviction for a particular setup that also happened to be wrong, the East riders were able to miss that learning curve. The East riders also have more time to prepare, and we usually see those who had off-season surgeries or injuries end up in the later-starting series. Another variable is the first-timers, a la Tom Vialle. His lack of SX experience will be a story in and of itself as the two-time world champ in the MX2 class makes the jump to America. The extra month of riding, and also being able to experience the races in person, will help to dim the bright lights of NRG Stadium.
Most of all, the riders are all just antsy by now. They are sick of sitting around on Saturday nights while everyone else is doing their thing. Racers usually don't care to watch—they want to race. For them, the wait is finally over. Friday gets the feels going, the nerves start ramping, and all is well in the world again. They say that to a hammer everything looks like a nail. The same could be said for racers. Whether it's a stoplight or the gate drop on Saturday night, everything looks like a race. Thankfully, they get the real thing in 24 hours.
Another interesting tidbit for Houston will be the professional SX debuts of riders like Haiden Deegan, Talon Hawkins, Chance Hymas, and Caden Braswell (last year’s AMA Nicky Hayden Horizon Award winner at the Monster Energy AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch). These riders have been setting the amateur scene on fire for the last few seasons but will now jump into the deep end of the pool against seasoned veterans like Team Honda’s Hunter Lawrence. For a rider like Hymas, he knows what he's up against, as he practices daily with Hunter. If I were Hymas and going into this first round a bit green (er, red), I would latch onto the back of the #96 and hang on for dear life. If he can simply do what his teammate is doing, things will go really well. That’s likely more difficult than it sounds, but leaning on Hunter’s experience can help speed up the learning curve. In any case, a learning curve it will be. There are not many occurrences where riders launch into their first supercross and find instant success (unless your name is Adam Cianciarulo). For the rookies, maintaining composure if things are going sideways and understanding that taking lumps is a part of the process will go a long way toward their long-term success.
At the other end of this rookie surge are the veterans. Besides Hunter, two-time 250 Pro Motocross Champion Jeremy Martin will make his debut for the Muc-Off/FXR/ClubMX Yamaha team, Justin Cooper will race his first 450SX race and his first SX since he won his title in ’21, Jordon Smith will make his debut for the Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing team alongside Cooper and Nate Thrasher, and Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GasGas rider Michael Mosiman is hoping to rebound after a back injury ended his season last summer. And, as Davey mentioned, two-time MX2 World Champion Tom Vialle is making his AMA debut for Red Bull KTM and is a big question mark—we’ve never seen him race supercross.
And then there’s the decimation that’s hit Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki. Jo Shimoda and Seth Hammaker, proven race winners, are both out, so the team had to turn to a replacement rider for this weekend in the veteran Chris Blose, who, at 35, is getting the best seat he’s ever had on a team of this caliber. With Alex Martin now retired, Blose could be the next Troll Train.…
Bikes of Supercross (Keefer)
Kellen Brauer and I scoured the pits at A2 last Friday to shoot some badass factory machines. We’ve started rolling them out already, and with these videos I really wanted to take a different approach than I did in years past. Being that these factory mechanics don't get enough credit for how much work they put in, I ask a lot of them if they like to ride on their own time, as well as questions like which part of their machine is their favorite and which area of the bike their rider is pickiest about. A couple of my favorite moments include when Jordan Troxell (Colt Nichols’ mechanic) gives me crap about being old and not being able to feel my way around a motorcycle anymore, and Carlos Rivera (Cooper Webb's mechanic) talking about how Steve Matthes wasn't a real mechanic in his day. Besides having a good time bantering with the mechanics, you actually get a feel for what each rider likes in his machine and the ins and outs of each race build.
Bikes of Supercross isn't all about the factory guys, though, as I walked around the pits to talk to the real heroes of our sport—the privateers—and what their machines are all about. We’re going to call this video "How The Other Half Live," and I can guarantee you'll be able to relate to at least one of these hardworking privateers. My personal favorite is Alex Nagy and his 2020 CRF450R. Alex is the epitome of a privateer who puts all of his money back into his racing and has the bare minimum to get by for each race he attends. He also doesn't ask for help and just loves to race his dirt bike. You'll have to wait for the full video to see all the details, but it’s worth the watch. Shout-out to Kellen for busting all of these out! I hope you enjoy them. They were fun to make!
Houston History (DC)
Tomorrow night’s race will mark the first Houston SX following the passing of the event’s founder, Allen Becker, who left this world in December at the age of 90. Becker was one of the founding fathers of supercross, and a giant in the live sports and entertainment business. Way back in 1966, he met me a fellow Houstonian in Sidney Shlenker and together they started a promotional company called PACE, which stood for Presentation, Associations, Conventions, and Exhibitions. This was happening just as the Houston Astrodome, the self-proclaimed “8th Wonder of the World,” was opening for business. PACE started primarily as a concert touring business, but Becker had heard about a motorcycle flat track race that had taken place in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Meanwhile, the Astrodome was holding events like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, where they covered the entire stadium floor with dirt for several weeks.
So Becker and his partner decided try promoting a motorcycle race in the Houston Astrodome. The building was much bigger than Madison Square Garden, and the dirt left over from the livestock show could be utilized to run a real dirt track race. In 1968, the first AMA Grand National Championship Flat Track and TT races were held inside the dome. The first race went over well, with an announced attendance of 31,000 fans.
Fast-forward four years. Another concert and event promoter, Mike Goodwin, had the idea of putting on a nighttime motocross race inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The 1972 Superbowl of Motocross became what we now know as supercross. Two years later, Becker decided to do the same thing inside the Astrodome, hiring Gary Bailey to come to Texas and build an indoor motocross track. He also teamed up with Daytona International Speedway’s Jim France (who had begun hosting “stadium motocross” races on the speedway’s infield in 1971) to call their two races a series. They called it the 1974 Yamaha/AMA Super Series of Stadium Motocross. Today, that series is Monster Energy AMA Supercross.
For the next several decades, the Astrodome race was one of the pillars of what we started calling AMA Supercross. Early winners included Pierre Karsmakers, Jimmy Ellis, Jimmy Weinert, and Bob Hannah, all series champions in the 1970s. Throughout the 1980s, Houston winners would include Mark Barnett, David Bailey, Jeff Ward, Rick Johnson, and more. The Astrodome would host races through 2002, with the last winner being Ricky Carmichael.
In 2003 the race moved to the brand-new Reliant Stadium, as the Astrodome had become ancient by modern stadium standards. The first winner? Yamaha’s Chad Reed. It would run there through 2015 before the stadium underwent a renovation and became today’s NRG Stadium. The Houston round hasn’t always been held, as some years Monster Energy AMA Supercross spread out, but in 2021 Houston really stepped up, hosting the first three rounds in a pandemic-slammed schedule. The winners? Justin Barcia, Eli Tomac, and Cooper Webb, respectively. Houston was not on the schedule in ’22, but the race that the late Allen Becker—one of the true founding fathers of supercross—started way back in 1974 will run in 2023.
What About #54 (DC)
Ever since I was a kid growing up watching the sport, I have been fascinated by rider numbers. Things like who was the best rider ever for each particular number, or what number has won more AMA Supercross and Pro Motocross races than any other. (Almost certainly #1, but maybe #4?) What's the highest number to ever win a professional race? (I’m pretty sure it's #971 Larry Ward.) Back when I used to collaborate with Andy Bowyer on the old Racer X Number Cruncher, I wondered which riding digit was the lowest to have never won an SX/MX race at the top level. And I’ve watched that number over the years as it's gone higher and higher.
For a while it was #47, but then Rockstar Energy Husqvarna's #47 Jalek Swoll won the High Point National two summers ago. I also remembered #49 Martin Davalos and #50 Malcolm Stewart winning 250SX races on successive weekends a few years back. Ryan Villopoto and Andrew Short both won with #51, and then Ivan Tedesco won his first 250cc SX in 2003 at the old Pontiac Silverdome wearing #52. And then in 2012 Ryan Sipes won the Seattle 250 SX on a Star Racing Yamaha.
And that brings us to #54, the lowest number (I believe) that has never won an AMA Supercross or Pro Motocross National in any class. Mike Brown came close when he was #52 on a Peak/Pro Circuit Honda CR125 way, way back in the early nineties, but that's it—no one has managed to win a major race with #54, going back to 1972 and the birth of AMA Pro Motocross. Last year the #54 was supposed to go to the aforementioned Davalos, but he retired, so there was no chance of it moving up. Now the number will be on a supercross rookie, as Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing's Nick Romano will hope to make his 250SX debut in an upcoming East Region event on the #54 YZ250F. If he wins a race in 2023, the "lowest" winless digit will move up again, but what number is next to have this dubious distinction?
Some numbers that it won't be—in other words, higher numbers that have won before—include #62 (Gaylon Mosier '79), #63 (Chuck Sun '80), #64 (Colt Nichols '21), #66 (Jim Weinert '72), #68 (Matt Walker '02), #69 (Jimmy Gaddis '93), #70 (Ricky Carmichael '97)....
Electrics in England (DC)
There's been an ongoing conversation about where electric bikes might begin competing against current ICE motorcycles ever since the ill-fated Alta was on its way to the production line. Now, with the Stark Varg getting closer and closer to full public release, the conversation is heating up again. The British version of the AMA, the ACU, has decided to give the Varg a shot soon in the British Motocross Championships, which led to the release of this video announcement by Stark's director of testing, two-time FIM World Champion Sebastien Tortelli.
Our friend "MX Geoff" Meyer of the popular European website MXLarge.com recently had a chance to speak with British promoter Gareth Hockey about the notion that Stark electrics will be on their starting gates soon in both MX1 and MX2 classes. Meyer sent along this bit of a much longer interview that you will find over at www.mxlarge.com:
MXLarge: No doubt the sport is changing, tracks are closing and many problems with the noise issues for our sport.
Hockey: I see us in five years’ time being all electric and why can’t we be in the middle of Birmingham or London. If we can take our sport to places like that, without the noise being an issue. It opens our World (motocross) right up.
MXLarge: Obviously Sebastien Tortelli mentioned that the ACU in England have accepted that Stark Varg bikes can race in ACU events. Does that mean British championship races already in 2023?
Hockey: Not this year. We have looked at it and spoken with the other manufacturers. Last year I tried to push to have Sebastien Tortelli over for the last round of the British championship as a wild-card rider on the Stark Varg bike. A lot of technical issues didn’t work, but to be fair to Stark, they have answered all those question to the ACU and the rules and regulations are now just about in place. That is for us to integrate the Varg Stark bikes into the British championship in 2024. If I can find the way to get one (Stark Varg bike) into a British championship round this year, just as a demonstration type of thing, we would do it. Stephen Clarke has two ordered and expects to have them very soon and he would be a good rider to have racing one. Of course, I also have to work with every other manufacturer on this.
End of an Era (DC)
Earlier this week came the news of the demise of one of the standouts in the FIM Motocross World Championship paddock. Hitachi KTM, helmed by Roger Magee, closed its doors before the ’23 season even got started. The team, which was based in Northern Ireland and Belgium, was preparing for competition in the MX2 Grand Prix class and the British Championships.
According to the press release, "The decision has been made after the team suffered cuts to their racing budget for 2023. Weeks and months of work to recoup investment and find new partners ultimately proved fruitless and with the international ‘pre-season’ period for MXGP about to get underway Magee and his staff have had to make a difficult call."
Created in 2005, the Hitachi KTM team won their first of 13 British Championship titles in 2008. Among the team alumni are Stephen Sword, Gordon Crockard, Shaun Simpson, Elliot Banks-Browne, Ben Watson, Graeme Irwin, Adam Sterry, and Conrad Mewse.
“There have been many stories and it has been a long road since we started the team to help the Simpson family back in 2005," explained Magee in the press release. "In almost twenty years we’ve had some amazing success. I’m not sure if I could ever have imagined the project to run as long as it did and with so many achievements. The team was built on passion and went through some very tough times but this latest obstacle has been too much to jump over on this occasion. We did all that we could to maintain our plans for 2023 but we had to take a decision before the season came any closer... I’d like to thank my family and all of those who have helped and believed in the team. It’s been one of the most memorable episodes of my life.”
Hey, Watch It!
Kawasaki's Science of Supercross took a look this week at the race van:
Dirt Shark's 2023 series "Red Plate" is an epic series centering on Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing's Eli Tomac's season, as he defends his AMA Supercross Championship and contemplates what comes next. Check it out:
Head-Scratching Headline/s of the Week
“Cook County woman charged with stealing $1.5M in chicken wings from school district”—Fox 5 New York
“Ravens QB Huntley to Pro Bowl after 2-TD year”—ESPN.com
“Brazilian Navy says it will sink ‘ghost’ aircraft carrier at high sea”—CNN.com
“NBA YOUNGBOY: I Hate My 'Murder' Raps ...CONVERTING TO MORMONISM SOON!!!”—TMZ.com
“Quebec's beloved Fred la Marmotte dies on Groundhog Day”
It starts off with:
“A child attending the event was called in as an emergency replacement and predicted winter will continue.”
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!