January 27, 2006

Sparkplug 37

You’re probably thinking “It’s about damn time!” Yeah, I've been "slacking in my pimping," as the kids say. Sorry for last week’s brain fart, it happens to the best of us (and the rest of us). This week’s topic is kind of wide-ranging, but the general topic is the fantastic supercross season that has just gotten underway.

Last Sunday, after watching the CBS coverage of A2, I received a phone call from my good friend Mark from Maryland. He and I used to be riding buds, but now he’s a fair weather mx fan at best, despite the fact that he lives basically next door to the famous Budds Creek facility. Anyway, Mark called me because he was still buzzing from seeing that awesome battle between RC and James, and he was now convinced that a “conspiracy” existed to deny James the 2006 supercross title. Mark went on and on about how “convenient” it was that a Suzuki rider (Rockstar Suzuki’s Mike Brown) happened to be on the ground at just the wrong place for James.

When I pointed out that Mike Brown was also involved in Stewart’s first-turn crash in Phoenix, that set my friend off even more!

Personally, I think it was just racing. I don’t think there’s a plan to deny Stewart anything, but there is a plan in the works… to make the racing more exciting by making the tracks easier. And that’s another subject that has received a lot of attention in the supercross world this week.

Just about everybody who’s anybody has said that the layout at A1 was technical, maybe too difficult. Certainly the whoops got everyone’s attention… between practice sessions, I saw both Roger DeCoster and Erik Kehoe walk the section to see if any decent changes had been made. I didn’t see the Phoenix track, but everyone said the A2 track was “too easy.”

Well, not everyone. Andy Bowyer, in his Thursday Rev Up over at Racer X Online had this to say:

“I think the track was a genius effort in creating the more four-stroke-friendly courses of the future. This isn’t BMX, and this isn’t freestyle motocross. In my opinion, we do not need “courses” for better action; we need “racetracks.” Spice up last week’s track just a little bit more and I think the Dirt Wurx crew will have it dialed.”

But Rick Carmichael DID think the track was changed to affect the competition. Here’s what he said in his interview with Steve Bruhn over at RX :

“If they want it to be where NASCAR is, NASCAR is good because there are 10 guys that can win. No one wants to watch a race where you know who is going to win. You want it to be a five-way battle. Unfortunately, it does suck for some of the top guys and take some of the advantages that you may have had away.”

So just when you start thinking, hmm, maybe there IS a conspiracy… Carmichael shuts that noise up by adding:

“But in the end, the best guy is always going to win. If the track is easy, then go faster.”

Ah, go faster, that’s all you have to do. And try not to have a brain fart when you encounter a rider down on the track, that’ll help, too.

So that’s what the “go fast boys” (as my friend Lliam likes to call them) have to say about this issue, but you’re probably wondering “What the heck does Pdub think about these tracks??” Well, brace yourself, here it comes: LiveNation and the AMA and DirtWurx can do whatever they like with the tracks, but it won’t make the racing any more competitive than it already is. The great racing and excitement that we’ve seen at all of the rounds so far is due to one thing… well, actually three of them. And their names are Carmichael, Reed and Stewart. Nobody else is in the same league. Sure, Tedesco and Larocco and McGrath and sometimes even Vuillemin can turn laps that are CLOSE to what the “Big Three” are running, but none of those guys can actually BEAT the “go fast boys”, not straight up. Although I think Ivan is getting really, really close.

So it doesn’t really make any difference if the tracks are so easy that even I could ride them, James and Chad and Rick will still run away from the pack. Heck, on the most “technical” track of the year, the leaders lapped up to tenth place. And let’s not forget that when Mike Brown fell on the “easy” A2 track and “caused” James to fall, he was being lapped for a SECOND TIME. Hmmm. Maybe if the powers-that-be really want to make the racing more competitive, instead of fooling with the tracks perhaps they should look at some rule changes, like black-flagging riders after they’ve been lapped?

P.S. - Props to my friends on MotoDrive for their suggestions for this week's topic! Yawl ROK!

January 25, 2006

Whatchoo Talking About, McGrath?

Donovan Mitchell posted a great little interview with the King of Supercross, Jeremy McGrath over at Racer X Online (read it here), but what tickled me was this quote by MC:

I think between Ivan and myself, if we can find a half a second each lap,
we might have a chance at third.

Ahem, did I just hear Chad Reed get called out?

Now, I like Jeremy very much, but the last time I checked the lap charts, Chad had him covered by much more than a half-second. So is he being serious, or is he just adding a little fuel to the fire that's already consuming Speedy Reedy? Either way, the next round is going to be spectacular!

January 20, 2006

Where's Sparky?

Wow, talk about full disclosure! I'm just gonna man-up and admit it: I FORGOT to write a column for Sparkplug today! Yes, I know, that sucks, I suck and it sucks. All of that. My bad.

On the other hand, I'm stoked that I am going to A2 tomorrow, so I'm not too upset about the whole thing. You, however, will just have to get over it...!

January 18, 2006

Townley Injured and Out: That Didn't Take Long

Just heard that New Zealander Ben Townley has injured himself in supercross practice. Here's the write up courtesy Racer X Online.

It was and still is a fairly common opinion that Townley has got the goods to win the outdoor 250F championship here in America, as long as he can survive his very first supercross season. Looks like he couldn't even survive supercross PRACTICE. Yikes.

Tough luck, Ben. Get well soon, heal up completely, and don't worry about it. We'll see ya at Hangtown.

January 17, 2006

Carmichael Needed That Win

By now, even if you’ve only been paying a little attention to the Amp’d Supercross series, you probably know that Rick Carmichael piloted his fourstroke Suzuki to it’s first ever supercross win, and RC’s first win since, well, since too long ago. Despite the fact that Mr. Carmichael is the defending National supercross and World Supercross champion, before Saturday night he had not won a main event since… St. Louis ’05! Can that be right? Hard to believe, but true.

So, we can all excuse Mr. Carmichael for getting more than a little excited as he crossed the finish line in Phoenix. Heck, I was excited for him! It’s just funny to think that even the greatest motocross racer of all time needs the confidence-boost of a win every now and again. His mechanic’s pit board said it all: “Didn’t Forget.” What did it mean? Maybe “Didn’t forget to turn on the gas”? “Didn’t forget to make dinner reservations at Outback”? Perhaps “Didn’t forget to lock the motorhome on his way into the stadium”… no, of course it meant that RC proved that he “Didn’t forget” how to WIN.

Go on with your bad self, Mr. Carmichael. And YOU… if you miss A2, you’re going to miss something special!

January 13, 2006

Sparkplug 36

The first race, if by “first” you mean “first American round”, of the season is usually full of unexpected developments, some pleasant and other not so. Here is my quick list of “things that surprised me” from this weekend's exciting race at the Amp'd Mobile Supercross in Anaheim.

1) The “killer whoops.” From the stands they didn't look that bad, but they collected just about everyone at some point during practice. It was so bad that they sent a bulldozer out to alter them a bit before the second practice, and later Team Honda's Eric Kehoe and Team Makita Suzuki's Roger DeCoster were seen walking through them to check out the changes. That one section was the hot topic of the night... and it turned out to be the deciding factor in the fight between the “Big Three.”

2) Ryan Villapoto getting out front and leading the 250F main for ten laps, and ended up finishing second to Andrew Short. The kid looked like an RC clone out there, cutting quick and consistent laps as if he had been doing it all his life. He made it very hard to believe it was his supercross debut.

3) Jason Lawrence fading into oblivion in the LCQ and not qualifying. He seemed sharp in practice, and his Rockstar Suzuki sported some of the tightest graphics out there, but apparently looks aren't everything.

4) Grant Langston coming from dead last to finish a points-salvaging fourth place in the 250F main, turning the fastest laps of the class.

5) Mike Alessi's overall performance. He looked good at the start of his heat, but was nowhere to be seen in the main.

6) Chad Reed qualifying out of his heat after getting knocked down at the start. He made it all the way back to second place! And his speed was no fluke; he would eventually turn the fastest lap of the night in the main.

7) Mike Larocco ran strong all night. He had a little trouble in his heat, but won his semi in style, and then held off Carmichael for a number of laps in the main!

8) A surprisingly strong Ivan Tedesco ran very well in his heat until Michael Byrne looped out in front of him. When the two were re-matched in the semi, Ivan came out on top, winning his very first 450F semi. Then in the main he got a second place start and stayed there for a good number of laps before his inexperience led to a small mistake and killed his momentum.

9) Ernesto Fonseca's main event holeshot. How long has it been since we've seen Ernie out in front?

10) RC blowing his lead in those aforementioned “killer whoops.” It was a very rare mistake by the master of consistency.

11) The “King of Supercross”, Jeremy McGrath, finishing outside the top ten, which speaks more to the immense talent in the 450F class than to any lack of speed on his part. Ladies and gentlemen, we have an exciting season of racing ahead of us this year!

January 09, 2006

Seeing is Believing

Sometimes you just have to see things with your own eyes. Most of us “saw” what happened in Canada via Speed or the CBS Preview, but we didn’t really “believe” what we laid eyes on. And we heard all of the talk, which some would even go so far as to call excuses: “I didn’t train to peak in Canada”, “These rounds are for training purposes”, “The real championship starts in Anaheim.” And all of that talk served to pump up the hype for A1.

Well now A1 is over, and James Stewart is sitting on a three-race win streak. Not only did he win at what the CBS announcers erroneously called “the birthplace of supercross” (that would be the L.A. Coliseum), but he did so after a mid-pack start, having to come from behind both of his main rivals. And he did so despite the fact that Chad Reed managed to set fast time for the night. Check out the great race reports at Transworld Motocross Online and Racer X Online for the details, if you haven’t already. It was a fantastic race!

So a lot of people left Angel Stadium buzzing about what they just witnessed, and more than one industry pundit is talking about the “torch being passed.” Is it now officially James Stewart time? I don’t think one race will tell, but I do think that if he pulls off the win in Phoenix in a similar manner, meaning another come-from-behind, chase-them-down-and-run-away victory, the sound you hear will be the pounding of the first nail in the coffin containing the title hopes for Carmichael and Reed.

Personally, I would like to see this championship chase go all the way down to the wire in Vegas.

January 06, 2006

Sparkplug 35

And now, in honor of the beginning of the great American stadium motocross championship series, better known now as the Amp'd AMA Supercross series or something like that... here is my pick for the title winner:

James Stewart, Jr.

Now, for the few of my readers that actually know me, my prediction should come as no surprise. After all, I erroneously predicted that James would win both indoors and outdoors in 2005. To the uninitiated it may seem that I have “Stewart Syndrome” or a “Bubba Bias”, even though it is not true, and he no longer wishes to be called by that nickname. I have actually come to my conclusion using solid evidence. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have proof that what I am foreseeing will actually come true.

What is this proof? Well, it consists of a number of things:
– Stewart's performance in Canada certainly tells us a story. One simple fact of that story that has been overlooked is that James took his KX450F to a major win in its maiden voyage. That says something about both James speed AND his steed. Two wins in Canada might not mean anything, points wise, for the American championship, but it certainly indicates that Kawasaki has provided James with a potent tool for the job.

– Stewart's performance at the Anaheim press conference appeared to strengthen the storyline started up North. He sounded relaxed and confident yet modest, and he gave every indication that he has changed from a “win every race” strategy to a “win the battle not the war” approach.

– Finally, Rick Johnson said so! Well not in so many words, but during his Wednesday night appearance on must-listen DMXS radio, the ex-Bad Boy noted that the fourstroke seems to force James to ride in a more relaxed style, and it apparently works for him, judging by his wins in Canuck-land.

So I'm picking James to win all the supercross marbles this year. But I am in no way suggesting that this will be an easy title for him or a boring season. I think Rick Carmichael will take James to the wire this season, with the championship being determined at the very last round in Las Vegas. And I also believe that Chad Reed will be surprised by a very strong challenge for third overall by the newest entry to the class, Ivan “just get the Tabasco sponsorship, dammit” Tedesco. Yep, you heard it here first.

Remember, I like Speedy Reedy a lot, and I think he will win a round or two this year. But I also think that Tedesco will get on the podium more than once, warming Roger Decoster's heart while giving Chad heartburn.

As for the rest of the field, I think we will see standout performances by Tim Ferry this year, as I do believe (and hope) he'll have a small chip on his shoulder for being kicked out of the factory circle. We'll see. And we'll also see how all-around good guy David Vuillemin gets around on that Honda oil burner. DV may make a podium, but I don't think he has a win in him this year. Finally, I cannot forget Michael Byrne. I don't know if Burner will be on the Kawi thumper, but if he is I am sure it will only help him go even faster. He may end up challenging Ivan for fourth overall.

So those are my picks for '06. And here they are again, in easy to swallow table form:

1) James Stewart
2) Rick Carmichael
3) Chad Reed
4) Ivan Tabasco
5) Michael Byrne

See you at A1!

January 05, 2006

DMXS Radio Rocks Uncontrollably!

Last night, Kevin Kelly and David Izer hosted Larry Maiers, Bob Hannah, Bevo Forte, Rick Johnson and Roger friggin’ DeCoster! I listened to it today, between spreadsheets, flowcharts and phone calls, laughing my ass off the entire time! Bob and Bevo unleashed a torrent of unbelievable stories from the past, with Maiers egging them on and the DMXS guys barely maintaining their sanity… barely. Rick Johnson checked in with his views on the four stroke revolution… What a show! Check out the DMXS archives here.

Bob Hannah called Alessi a “damn monkey” for that Glen Helen incident. Wow!

Bob was more than funny, he was also inspirational. He said, “I’m naturally lazy. The work ethic I have today I learned it…”

2006 Supercross Preview by YZThumpa!

This has got to be the best SX season preview I've read so far, written by MotoDrive regular "YZTHUMPA". Check it out; it's hilarious but dead on! I can't wait to read his regular race reviews this season.

January 04, 2006

Grant Langston is selling wolf tickets!

Langston racing issued an interesting press release yesterday (which you can find here at Racer X Online), with the headline “Langston shoots for Grand Slam”. In it, they list Grant’s considerable achievements in the world of MX: 125 World title, his AMA MX and SX championships, even his victories in the 2000 MXdN and his 2002 Prince of Bercy crown.

But what is a “Grand Slam”?

The press release goes on state that all “Langtown” needs to do is win the West 125 SX title in order to be the only rider in history to win every major 125 title. To which I say, “not so fast, Slick Rick…”

Now, I’ve never met Grant, but I hear he’s a nice fellow. I met his uncle at A1 last year, and he was very nice. I saw his father at Perris Raceway about 5 or 6 years ago, and he too seemed like a nice guy. So Grant is probably a good guy as well. And he is undeniably fast on the bike. But I have to admit that he’s not the best decision-maker in the sport. In fact, Grant has a history of making questionable decisions. Let’s review:

- While on the way to scoring KTM’s first ever supercross win, Grant decided to do a little showboating and crashed on the last lap.

- While practicing at Glen Helen one day, I don’t really know what happened, but somehow a woman he was passing crashed and got very hurt. I’m not saying it was his fault, and again, I don’t know the details, but the anecdote points to a possible bad decision.

- With the overall win already sewed up, he went for the second moto win at Hangtown last year and ended up badly tweaking his ankle and probably arguably killing his shot at a second AMA outdoor championship.

And now, Langston racing starts talking about possible Grand Slams. But the problem is that not only did Langston NOT win a 125 title last year, but the class does not even exist this year. Okay, sure, the AMA called the 250F class the “125” class in 2005, but Langston won the title on a 250F. My point being that he CANNOT claim a 125 grand slam with two of the titles being gathered on 250cc bikes. That just makes sense.

So good luck this season, Grant Langston. There is no doubt in my mind that you are a serious contender for another 250F title in supercross this year. But lose the crazy talk, okay? Your great achievements on the 125 are already well noted.