May 27, 2007

Hambone Watch, Round 6: Grand Prix of Japan

Our man on the FIM World Motocross Championship circuit, Team Swift Suzuki's Sean Hamblin, had a hell of a first moto, finishing in 8th place on the track in Sugo. But Sean had a tougher time in moto2, carding a 27th place finish after running as high as 11th, according to the FIM lap charts here. Hamblin still took away 13 championship points, and has climbed back into the top 20 in the championship standings, now at 18th place.

The story of the day, though, belongs to American Mike Brown, who took the outright second moto win in the MX1 class, which combined with his 4th place finish in the first moto gave him second overall on the day. Good job, or I should say "heckuva job, Brownie!"

May 25, 2007

Sean Collier... retired?

Just read this in Davey Coomb's RACERHEAD over at RXO. Sean was (is) a fast guy from Southern California that I used to watch crush the locals at tracks like Perris Raceway and Starwest a few years back. He was last racing with the Star Racing Yamaha team, and apparently, has decided to give it all up "... to be an actor or something." That's according to what I read at RACERHEAD.

Sean, do what you like. Just know that I, for one, appreciated seeing you ride when you did. Good luck and best wishes.

May 23, 2007

Hambone Watch: Between the Motos

Geoff Meyers of pulled off a nice interview with Team Swift Suzuki's Sean Hamblin. You can check it out here at RXO (Racer X Online).

Sean says he's gonna go for some podium finishes this year. That's the spirit, Sean!

May 19, 2007

My Outdoor Predictions: the War, not the Battle

In the grand tradition of JIT (Just In Time) manufacturing, here are my JIT predictions for the upcoming National Motocross Championships (a grand title, I must say, even without the sponsor attachments)...

450 class:
1) James Stewart
2) Tim Ferry
3) Davi Millsaps

Yep, you read that right. TIM FERRY beating "the best of the rest" to follow his teammate home for second place. This has already been Ferry's breakout, best-year-ever and I see no reason why it won't continue. I also do not believe the "Alessi Threat" will materialize into a top three finish, but I have no doubt that Mike will put in some electrifying rides this season... he might even podium Hangtown, because he definitely likes that track.

But Davi Millsaps? This kid is STRONG and I expect him to have a great year. I'm really excited about the 450 class; now on to the tiddlers...

250 class:
1) Ben Townley
2) Ryan Villopoto
3) Ryan Dungey

Yep, I think this is Mr. Townley's year as well. I also think that it will be a Battle Royale between Townley and RV all year long, and luck is going to play a big part of it. But I think overall we'll see Townley come close to dominating the series.

Back in third, I think Suzuki's new wonder kid, "the other Ryan", will continue to show the speed and determination he unleashed during the supercross season. If he can avoid injuries, I think he'll be able to give Villopoto fits for a few motos.

But enough of the BS pontificating... let's go racing!

May 17, 2007

My Supercross Wrap Up: I'm Late!

Do ya see that countdown clock over on the right border of this page? As I write this, it says there are only two days before the start of the 2007 outdoor national motocross championships! So before THE GREAT OUTDOORS kicks off, I thought I better revisit my predictions for the 2007 indoor motocross title chase.

Way back in January, after much deliberation and beer drinking, I posted this column and listed the following picks for the top five:

1) James Stewart, Jr.
2) Chad Reed
3) Kevin Windham
4) David Vuillemin
5) Tim Ferry

And here are the actual results, for the World SX Championsip:

1) James Stewart
2) Chad Reed
3) Tim Ferry
4) David Vuillemin
5) Michael Byrne

Finally, the results from the National SX Championship:

1) James Stewart
2) Chad Reed
3) Tim Ferry
4) Kevin Windham
5) Ivan Tedesco

So, I was ALMOST right with my predictions, eh? Overall, I have to really give praise and credit to Tim Ferry for exceeding my expectations... and probably everyone else's, as well!

But enough of that: Hangtown, here we come!

Annals of AMA Rule Making History: the Death of the Kickstand

In light of the recent revelations of how major decisions are made by our sport’s sanctioning bodies, I began to wonder about how some of the other rules came to pass.

Did you ever wonder how kickstands came to be outlawed on motocross racers? In all honesty, I have no idea how this rule came to pass, but I certainly have my suspicions.

Imagine the year is 1973. Motocross in America is on a roll, and the newly released silver & green-tanked Honda Elsinores are flying out of dealer showrooms and soaring around motocross tracks all over the country. Some of you young folk may find this hard to believe, but those motorcycles, every last one of them, came equipped with kickstands straight from the factory! That’s right, no need for lugging around bike stands and all that, just one quick flick of the ankle and the motorcycle would stand up ALL BY ITSELF.

Incredible technology.

And incredibly dangerous, apparently. It appears to be common knowledge that kickstands are banned today because they present a hazard to the health of motocross competitors… at least, the ones contesting events sanctioned by the AMA. At those “outlaw” tracks, you’re on your own, baby.

So maybe, back in the day before this common sense prevailed, racers raced with those dangerous pieces of steel hanging from their frames, and there was a spate of kickstand-related injuries. Imagine being the local AMA representative/referee at a racetrack one Sunday, and some kid in the 125 Novice class gets taken off in an ambulance because he had his lung punctured by someone’s kickstand. Or a chain-reaction crash caused a bunch of riders to go down because one guy’s kickstand deployed at an inopportune moment and high-sided him across the track. Just think of the pressure that AMA guy must have felt.

“Something must be done about these kickstands. It’s more than obvious that they are an unacceptable hazard to the health of our members.”

But what to do? Maybe they brainstormed a number of solutions. I can imagine that the first guy that suggested REMOVING the kickstands was shot down with the quickness: “Motorcycles have ALWAYS had kickstands. We can’t remove them! If we do, how will we ever get our bikes to stand upright without our help? No, a better solution must be found…”

And then one bright guy piped up, “I’ve got it! We need to invent a motorcycle that can stand up on its own! Then it won’t NEED a kickstand!” With that, an entire team of people set off to invent such a beast.

Thankfully, cooler (and smarter) heads prevailed, and the AMA settled on simply writing a rule that requires racers to remove their kickstands before they can set a knobby on the track. Yet even with this rule in place, it took the manufacturers a few years before they stopped putting kickstands on motocross bikes. But now, every motocross motorcycle sold today (unless it’s a KTM) is without the offending appendage.

And what happened to the team that wanted to go in the other direction? Why, they invented the All Terrain Cycle, or ATC, which eventually evolved into today’s quad racers.

(P.S. – none of the above is true. Well, some of it is…!)

Next in the Annals of AMA Rule Making: Why you’ll be disqualified from an AMA National if your footpegs don’t fold at precisely 45 degrees…

May 16, 2007

All About the Benjamins: Motocross Top Money Earners to date

One of my very favorite features of the twice-monthly Motocross Illustrated magazine is their “Earnings Leaders” column in which they list the top 35 money makers in American motocross. In the latest, May 29th issue, they list all dollars earned up to May 8th, which effectively means all the purse money paid out during the Amp’d Mobile Supercross series.

Surprising no one, of course, is the fact that James Stewart leads the way with his double championship, taking home a healthy $385k. What I find rather surprising is the fact that only ONE OTHER RACER cracked the $100,000 mark… of course that would be second place Chad Reed, who earned nearly $175k. Tim Ferry almost made it with $98k, but he’s the last rider to clear 90 grand.

The earnings drop off quickly after that, and another surprise that there are two riders in the top ten that did not make at least $50 grand. That’s for 15 races in the U.S.

Other shocking figures? How about this one: East Coast regional champion Ben Townley only made $14,650, putting him at 28th on the list. Yamaha of Troy’s Ryan Morais, who almost won the East title, DIDN’T EVEN MAKE THE LIST.

Two riders out of the entire list of 35 failed to crack the $10,000 earning barrier… one of them was Monster Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Chris Gosselaar, who finished 5th overall in the West. He only made $8,910 for his efforts.


Imagine how those guys with Supercross Only contracts must feel.

May 15, 2007

Hey, James Stewart!

Time to update your website, dude. That old 2006 World Supercross number one plate is, uh, last year's news.

May 13, 2007

Hambone Watch, round 5: Grand Prix of Germany

Well, after a top ten finish last week, it looks like our man at Team Swift Suzuki, Sean Hamblin, didn't do so hot at the circuit in Teutschenthal, Germany. Hamblin recorded 17th and 19th finishes respectively to notch a 21st overall, collecting 6 championship points in the effort.

Hamblin dropped out of the top 20 in World Championship points, sitting in 21st position with 41 points so far.

I don't have any details so far, but based on the lap charts available over at the Youthstream website, it appears Sean had it tough all weekend. During timed practice, he was only 30th fastest rider on the track, and that position held during the timed warm up. So, in a sense, you could say Hamblin improved from qualifying to race day.

C'mon Sean! Keep pushing!

May 09, 2007

Who owns this sport anyway?

I have been waiting a minute to unload on this 350 vs. 450 issue, because I wanted to see what everyone really had to say about it, and I didn’t want to act in anger. And perhaps anger is too strong a word to use, because I’m not really angry, but I am concerned… extremely so… that some people may be saying things without really revealing their true agendas. And that pisses me off, because it goes back to the question of who “owns” this sport of motocross, anyway? Is it the sanctioning bodies? Is it the manufacturers? Or is it the enthusiasts that actually foot the bill?

So today my mailman dropped off the latest issue of Motocross Illustrated (MXi, May 15), and not only does editor Steve Cox weigh in with his column, but another Steve, “The Factory Spectator” Bruhn of Mototalk and Racer X chips in HIS two cents in the “Open Mic” guest column at the back of the mag. Both Steves are talking about what the THIRD Steve, this time Whitelock of the AMA, has said during and after his meetings with the movers and shakers of world motocross. MXi goes even further by printing an article about the whole thing, with liberal quotes from Whitelock. If you have any interest in this topic at all, you really need to pick up a copy of this issue. However, I am about to get into some of Whitelock’s quotes right now.

Here’s the short take: the AMA and FIM have decided that 450cc four stroke motorcycles are too powerful for most professional racers to use; that 450s are destroying the whoops of supercross tracks; and that some action must be taken to gain “parity” in racing. Let’s take this one ridiculous argument at a time.

About the power, said Whitelock: “That’s our biggest problem, really. If everyone was James, we wouldn’t be faced with this problem. Sure, we’d have a racetrack problem, and we’d have a laptime problem, but the competition is bad because very few riders can ride the bikes to their potential.” Whitelock went on to say, “You can see it in the laptimes, and you can see it in the competitiveness, that the riders aren’t capable of racing these motorcycles. They are too brutishly powerful. It’s the same problem that we faced in the 500cc two stroke days.”

Now, I must ask, WHAT THE FUCK? I mean, I don’t have any personal animosity towards Steve Whitelock, and I never have. I know people who say he’s a good guy. All I really know about him is based on the words that come out of his mouth and find their way into the motocross articles I read. But I do have a problem with Steve Whitelock, and that problem is those words of his usually cause me to ask, again and again, WHAT THE FUCK?

First off, what is this “biggest problem, really” that he’s talking about? Surely he cannot be suggesting that by reducing engine displacement, everybody will suddenly be competitive with the best rider in the country. Surely he cannot truly mean that single-digit past champions and two-digit AMA professional racers are categorically unable to ride 450s to their potential. Surely he is not claiming that the reason the 500cc class was abandoned by his sanctioning body was lack of competition. But I swear that’s how it reads to me… maybe my reading comprehension is off?

By adopting the “450F = 250 two stroke” and “250F = 125 two stroke” rules, the AMA and FIM conspired with the factories to kill two stroke racing WORLDWIDE… they are solely responsible for the 450s of today, and you know what? They are GREAT RACING MOTORCYCLES. To compare them to the 500 two strokes of the late 80’s is really missing the boat. Today’s bikes are so much easier to ride, and race, than those killers of yesteryear. And yet, I recall watching David Bailey, Rick Johnson and Jeff Ward in a pitched, three-way battle at Virginia’s Lake Sugar Tree raceway on those 500s back in ’86, and I don’t recall the crowd being bored by any lack of competition.

But what do the riders of today say about this 450 power issue? The MXi article handled that with some choice quotes. One of the quotes was from privateer Forrest Butler of DNA Energy Drink/BTO Sports/Butler Bros. MX… he said, “…we’re talking about professional supercross with the best riders in the world. Every rider out there can ride the pants off a 450.”

Maybe Whitelock needs to meet more riders?

About whoop destruction, or “cupping”, this part of the issue was covered in Steve Bruhn’s editorial. Bruhn pretty much broke this whole story, when he traveled to the Spanish Grand Prix during a break in Amp’d Mobile Supercross action and covered the meeting of the “minds”, so to speak. According to Bruhn, everyone was crashing in the whoops at Anaheim 1. He went over to have a look (and take a few pics); Whitelock also walked over, and then Canadian Dusty Klatt went down hard. How they were able to discern that the “cups” were caused by 450s and not 250s is anybody’s guess. I’m still wondering how they figured out that Klatt’s crash was caused by track deterioration and not rider error…

In any case, if they REALLY believe that 100cc’s less displacement will result in less track destruction, why don’t they just take the easy road and drop all the way down to the already-existing 250cc displacement of the 250Fs? Well, here’s where it gets really, really weird. In the MXi article, Whitelock is quoted as saying that the AMA and FIM BOTH suggested just that… and the OEMs freaked! Said Whitelock, “They (the manufacturers) went into cardiac arrest. They were going to kill us.”

Imagine that: a representative from AMA Pro Racing said that Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha were going to “kill” them, if they instituted a rule limiting all professional supercross racing to 250 four strokes! NOW we’re getting somewhere, with respect to my original question: who owns this sport, anyway?

I have written in an earlier column that motocross, in this country at least, became a big time sport solely because the Japanese manufacturers realized that it would be a good way to sell dirtbikes. And they were right. Look at what happened to the dirtbike market when the 450 rule went into effect. All of a sudden, my beloved ’01 YZ250 drastically dropped in resale value, and everybody who wanted to be competitive at any level bought a new four stroke. Don’t get it twisted, AMA Pro Racing has been “berry, berry good” to the manufacturers, creating rule after rule in their favor (and changing or overlooking rules when necessary… fuel, anyone?) and pretty much playing the role of obedient lap dog. Oh sure, there’s always the occasional dust up, like that minor drama about Honda running Toyota Trucks stickers on their number plates during the Nationals last year. But now I’m suspecting that it’s all part of the charade to keep the motocross public distracted from seeing the collusion that’s actually taking place. And maybe collusion is too strong a word, but fuck it… I like strong words, if you haven’t noticed already.

Finally, this talk about “parity”… I think they actually mean “parody”, because so far this entire episode has been one bad joke, like a Saturday Night Live skit gone sour. Racing sanctioning bodies have tried to legislate this thing called “parity” since racing first began to use things called rules. “Let’s level the playing field, boys!” is the cry, and then great minds get together and come up with usually the most ridiculous things that men have ever conceived… usually with the intention of penalizing those who have achieved great things through hard work, dedication and innovation. I remember in another sport, the Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) Trans Am series (back in the ‘80’s again, what can I say?), when Audi introduced the Quattro coupe. At the time, it was UNTHINKABLE to run a four-wheel drive car against the likes of lightweight Corvettes and Porsches. Well, Audi kicked ass but GOOD for two straight years, causing the SCCA to enact rules to achieve “parity”. They put a substantial weight penalty on any team that dared run 4WD, and ended up running Audi right out of the series. Not a good move.

Now the AMA wants to figure out a way to write a rule so that James Stewart will stop winning by 55 seconds (on a 50 second course), lapping up to 4th place… and their bright idea is to put everyone on less powerful bikes. It makes you wonder how the job descriptions read over at AMA Pro Racing… “Analytical skills helpful, but not required…”

I know this has been long, but I’m just about done. Here’s my bottom line: as a motorcycle enthusiast and a dirtbike fan, I will buy the bike I want to buy, but it has to be available to buy, at a price I can afford. As much as I loved Jeremy McGrath, I didn’t buy my YZ because he was riding (and winning) on one… I bought it after talking to guys in my age range that actually raced them at my level and higher… and also because I couldn’t afford a KTM 520 at the time! So if the manufacturers really want to sell some dirtbikes, instead of manipulating our sport by pulling the AMA and FIM’s puppet strings, they might consider dropping the prices of their existing bikes and offering us fans more incentives to buy new. Personally, I wouldn’t mind a 350cc bike that was as light and nimble as a 125cc two stroke; actually, that would be pretty cool. But don’t piss on my head and call it rain, that’s all I’m asking.

May 08, 2007

Hamblin: "I have nearly the same speed as the champion..."

Now you're talking, Sean. Those words were found in this press release over at Racer X Online, noting Hambone's watershed 7th place finish at the Grand Prix of Italy.

Sounds like our man is gaining some confidence. I'm looking forward to what he does this upcoming weekend in Germany.

May 07, 2007

Great Interview with Mike Brown

Over at the Youthstream site you can read this interview of Mike Brown by Geoff Meyer, of

Brownie's been doing pretty good on the Grand Prix circuit this season, contesting the premier MX1 (450F) class. Mike is currently 9th in the standings after four rounds, and his worst moto has only been a 14th (his best a 7th). Seems he's been something of a holeshot machine, too, but he says arm pump has been keeping him from holding position.

Since Mike Brown is doing so well, one might wonder why I don't report on him regularly like I do with Sean Hamblin. Well... I just like Sean better, that's all, and I'd like to see him do well. Brown is a former National champion and a pretty nice guy. But Sean has yet to win a title, and as far as I'm concerned, if he could bring home a World Championship, well... wow. That'd be saying something.

May 06, 2007

Hambone Watch: Round 4 - Grand Prix of Italy

Congratulations to Sean Hamblin for his 7th overall at the Grand Prix of Italy at Mantova! The Team Swift Suzuki rider from America finished 10th in his qualifier on Saturday, then apparently turned up the heat to record 8th and 9th place finishes, respectively, in his two MX2 motos.

Even bigger news... Sean earned 25 championship points, with puts him in 18th place for the title after only 4 rounds.

Keep up the good work, Sean! Next week: Germany.

May 03, 2007

Here come Las Vegas *yawn*

Or as the kids on the internet are saying these days, "meh."

Here's the thing: NO ONE expected this year's supercross championship race to go down to the wire like last year. And that's simply because the only racer willing and able to do what it takes to actually challenge James Stewart, up and retired. By mid-season, Chad Reed seemed to be willing to experiment with crashing into Stewart as a means of slowing him down a bit, but that was obviously a faulty strategy from the start, and to his credit, he never seriously pursued it.

No one had any other solutions, so James piled on the points until he reached Seattle, where he iced the titles for good.

Now there's one more race to run, and it's going to be aired LIVE, and there's absolutely no reason to watch it.

Okay, check that... if you're a motocross fan, you're going to watch it anyway, because we just like to watch racing, period. But even if the titles were still on the table, the outcome would barely be in doubt. Unless James simply decides not to race, we know he's going to qualify with the fastest laptime in practice, win his heat and win the main. That is a foregone conclusion... the only thing to do is hope the production company's cameras show him for more than a few laps so we can admire his style and grace on the bike.

That, and maybe Ivan, Kdub and DV12 decide to give Ferry a run for third place money. But that might be asking too much. Those guys have their sights set on the outdoors already.

Now in the 250F Dave Coombs Sr. Memorial East/West shootout dealio, maybe... nah, Ryan Villopoto is gonna crush 'em all. It will be cool to see if the "other" Ryan, Ryan Dungey of Team Makita Suzuki, has anything for #51, but I sort of doubt it. In my mind the best outcome would be a tight three-way battle between all of the young factory hopefuls, Ryan V., Ryan D. and Team Yamaha's Josh Hill. That would be a great preview of the Nationals. But again, the titles are set, and there's more incentive to simply survive Vegas and move on to the outdoor championships healthy, rather than to get involved in a knock-down, drag out battle in Sam Boyd Stadium and risk getting hurt.

So the promoters are in a difficult spot: they have a race to sell, but all the racers have very good reasons to avoid racing. What to do? Well so far, they have attempted to put focus on the racetrack itself, issuing a press release that notes that the start straight for this race is, at 800 feet, the longest in supercross history. Um, okay, that's something. Honestly, the SPEED TV crew have a challenge on their hands, and I'm not particularly hopeful that they'll rise to the occasion.

But you better believe I'll be watching to see how they handle it.