December 30, 2008

2008 was some kind of great year for all things Motocross, no doubt... the finale.

Okay, had to take a breather there. Back to moments in motocross:

4) Two words: Ashley Fiolek. I admit, I did the dumb thing and didn’t go to see her ride this year, but did she have a year or what? To “warm up” for the Women’s National Championship, she decided to fly overseas to try on a round of the Women’s World Cup… and she finished third! Then she came home and duked it out with Jessica Patterson (while riding with a fractured wrist, no less) to win the title here. Now, I didn’t follow women’s motocross fully this year, so I know I’m leaving out some important parts of this story, so for you WMA fans, please forgive… I don’t mean to slight any of the other great women on the circuit. I admit to losing my mind over Fiolek in 2008!

For 2009, I understand Team Red Bull Honda is bringing Ashley under the big tent at the Nationals where they’ll be running WMA events (I think it should be all twelve rounds). Wow, male and female PRO racers pitting out of the same truck, signing autographs under the same awning at the same race… it’s about time. And it’s no surprise to me that American Honda is the team leading the way.

5) Okay, you know I couldn’t get much further without mentioning “the streak.” You know what’s funny? Going back and listening to some of the SPEED coverage of the races… it seems like at every round, Ralph what’s-his-name would start up with the old “I know it’s too early to talk about a perfect season…” meme. And I will admit that by the time the circuit finished the first two rounds of the series, I was thinking that Stewart was going to pull it off. After James won the third round, I suggested that he think about putting on a different show for the fans… something other than complete annihilation of the competition. And for a moment there, Stewart seemed less concerned with leading every lap of every moto, and a couple of guys got a few laps led in there. But the domination continued relentlessly.

And just as relentlessly, Ralph what’s-his-name continued to wonder aloud if it was too early to talk about another perfect season… the answer, Ralph, is “Apparently not.”

6) Saturday Night Live, under the lights no less! The Thunder Valley Raceway round in Colorado had it all: live webcast coverage for first motos of both men’s classes AND the WMA class, and then SPEED aired the 450 class second moto live on cable. Welcome to the 21st Century, American Motocross! So glad you could join us!

Now, I didn’t see any of this, so I have no opinion on how it all worked out. I’m just glad they put it all together and made it happen.

7) Seven has to go to Number 7 for going “Unde7eated”, a monumental task no matter how you look at it. He rode the entire season with a huge target on his back, and the “Man who broke the Seven Streak” would have been highly celebrated indeed. Alas, no other rider in the world met the challenge, and over the course of a hot summer and brutal conditions, the young James Stewart won 24 National motos in a row. Phenomenal. And then…

8) Team switching and ship-jumping. I believe Chad Reed struck first (or was struck first, depending on whom you ask) when he and L&M/San Manuel/Yamaha parted ways. Reed landed at Makita Suzuki, Stewart went to L&M, Kawasaki put all their chips on “Monster” Villopoto, and…. then the economy collapsed. Good thing those guys signed contracts, huh?

9) Who owns this sport anyway? First, the AMA decided it had enough of the race promotion business, and they put the properties up for bid. Well this caused all manner of wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst the moto internet mob as for a while it appeared to be a toss up between the guys currently running the outdoor series (the National Promoters Group) or the guys currently running the World Championship (Youthstream). So everyone (or perhaps just I) was thrown off when AMA sold the whole bundle to the Daytona Motorsports Group. Then we were all gobsmacked when DMG turned around and renamed the new entity “AMA Pro Racing” (wtf?) and licensed it to NPG (which formed a new entity called “MX Sports”). So I think that’s right now: MX Sports is running the nationals for DMG.

And recently, MX Sports signed a deal with NBC/MTV and another group, so rumors are picking up about enhanced television coverage for 2009. CBS Sports, it appears, is outta the National picture (but they’re still in there for Supercross. Oh well. Maybe another season will help Ralph improve.).

10) And the final motocross moment for me for 2009 is the Quick Study. James Stewart’s first official rides on his new Yamaha were the biggest, most-hyped-up arenacrosses on the planet, the U.S. Open and the Paris Supercross. And he won both in grand style, nearly winning the $100k jackpot at Vegas for the Open, and then wowing the French fans both on and off the course for the entire time he was in France, finally reaching out to his large and growing international fan base.

So that’s what turned me on about motocross in 2008, and I am fairly excited about the new season, which starts in just a few days. Surprisingly, I’ve yet to buy my “A1” tix (I guess I’m waiting for them to “mature” or something…), and I don’t plan on making that stop at “Dave and Buster’s” on Friday night, I guess I’m just not feeling it all yet. But by the time I drive in the parking lot gates on Saturday and eventually park my azz in those plastic bleacher seats to watch the fastest supercrosser racers in the world practice for the first race of the year, I will be fully jazzed about it all! It’s already starting to happen!

Happy New Year to all!

December 28, 2008

2008 was some kind of great year for all things Motocross, no doubt.

Oh, you doubt? Fine, I needed a reason to list my personal favorite moments in motocross from the previous 11 months… let me know if any of this jogs yer memory. Of course, I have to start with Supercross; American motocross starts the year off racing indoors, with the sport massaged into potent commercial “extreme” entertainment by the owners of the trademarked term “Supercross.” Nowhere is the traveling race series more “circus-like” than when it’s immersed in its city-to-city stadium "tour", and now that the series is owned by a company known for its real circuses, well… step right up, ladies and gentlemen, for the greatest show on wheels! /P

Supercross moments:

1) There was the sort-of return of James Stewart at “A1”, the local nomenclature for the first round of the season at Angels Stadium in “Disneytown”, my nomenclature for the city of Anaheim. James was a question mark before the race, after he suddenly scratched at the ’07 U.S. Open, but all was forgiven as soon as Stewart hit the track. He easily dominated practice and his heat (when is the last time anyone beat him in a heat race?) and only a first turn crash kept him from completely dominating the entire weekend.

And only a knee surgery kept him from completely dominating the entire series? Probably. But Stewart’s bowing out at “A2” to have the surgery was the best decision, although it upset many.

2) There was the return of the Supercross title to Chad Reed. At “A1”, Reed took advantage of Stewart’s first-turn mishap to quickly take a commanding lead. And if it weren’t for a fired-up Kevin Windham stepping up (up, apparently, is the way to go) as well as a heartbreaking did-not-finish at Daytona, that one race would have been an accurate "tell" of Reed’s second Championship season. Stewart’s departure clearly opened the door wide for Reed, who publicly worried about someone other than his fellow racers trying to derail his seemingly inevitable title.

But don’t think for a moment that Chad Reed didn’t earn this Championship. Reed clearly rode with heart and determination all season long. I won’t forget hearing the fatigue and pain in his voice during his post-race interview in Detroit, where Reed rode with internal injuries suffered in a horrific practice crash. Chad Reed is all about indoor motocross, and he was not going to miss such a clear shot at a second Supercross crown.

3) Let’s not forget the return of “Kdub. Kevin Windham finished second to James in his heat at “A1” and came back to finish fifth in the main after a first lap tumble. Then he got on the podium the next week with a third in Phoenix. Excuse me? Windham caught fire in ’08 like never before, and for a long moment it looked like the big bike title he’s never won, having been denied by Carmichael for so, so long… wow, it coulda been Kevin’s year. At least he had the good sense to ride like it was...

4) JLaw winning a title. The terms “good sense” and “Jason Lawrence” are a combination that needs to happen more often. In the Western region of the class comprised of motorbikes with engines displacing no more than two-hundred-and-fifty cubic centimeters, Jason Lawrence started the season off right by topping the timing tower at “A1” practice. But then he couldn’t get comfortable leading his top rival Ryan Dungey in the main, so he let him by…! At least, that’s what I remember reading at the time, but I can’t find the interview now.

Dungey put it down bigtime at Anaheim, and looked like he was gonna go all “Villopoto” on the West Region. But Jason somehow got his mojo working, reeled off three wins in a row (including his first ever SX win in the mud in San Francisco) and rattled Dungey’s confidence enough to grab the title. I believe Ryan Dungey has some unfinished business with Mr. Lawrence.

5) The emergence of Mr. 200 Percent. I admit I paid Trey Canard less than zero percent attention prior to 2008. I think I kept confusing him with Josh Grant, another freckle-face. But TC stepped it up BIG TIME, winning his first-ever supercross and in the process beating the “Monster”, then "only" two-time National Champion Ryan Villopoto, himself fresh from beating everyone in the world (INCLUDING Ricky Carmichael) at the unbelievable ’07 MX des Nations. For lesser riders, that night in Atlanta would have been a career night, but Canard turned it into a career season.

To be fair to Villopoto, he suffered a dnf that night in Atlanta, after breaking his bike in a first turn crash; those lost points could have made the difference in the title chase. Still Canard had a dream supercross season (and a nightmarish outdoor one).

Five is enough Supercross for now, here are the moments in Motocross:

6) JLaw winning the first moto of the year… OVER a healthy (but caught in fast traffic) Villopoto. I still smile at the images I can remember of that blue Yamaha singing through the hills of Glen Helen as Lawrence took that surprising wire-to-wire win. But lightning didn’t strike twice for Jason that day and he was lucky to salvage a spot on the podium with his fifth in moto 2.

7) Mike Alessi deciding that HE was gonna be “next.” “The M” made his intentions clear at Glen Helen: the road to the title was going through Alessi-city. Mike forced the pace on James Stewart right out of the gate, winning the race to the first turn (but not the second). The only problem was that Stewart apparently had no problem with the pace, and once Alessi established himself as the guy who was going to put up the most fight no matter what, James made sure to commence butt-kicking as quickly as he could.

Stewart reacted with this holeshot in the second moto, going inside at over 60mph maybe, taking the line, the holeshot and the win. That didn’t deter “The M”. He kept giving Stewart fits at the start of each moto, until his horrific crash at the Red Bud round (Racer X Films talked to him about it after he recuperated).

8) JLaw getting kicked out of the “sport.” Honestly, I didn’t see that coming. I pretty much bought into Jason “this year I’m racing, dude” Lawrence from the moment I sat my azz in those plastic bleacher seats at Angel Stadium and watched the fastest supercross racers on the planet practice for the first race of the year. So I felt personally let down when the kid imploded or exploded or derailed or capsized or whatever metaphor you want to roll with, and I even fell for his apology letter and all of that, and even said those kicking him out were being “tragically shortsighted”… yikes, what a drama queen, huh?

So Yamaha dropped him, then they dropped Yamaha of Troy, then YOT changed and they still sponsor JLaw.The X Games sure wanted him, though he didn’t do much there. I think they’d like to see more of him overseas, but I also think that’s true for any American regional SX champion.

So, double-you-tee-eff, Jason? Double-you-tee-eff are you going to do in 2009? Double-down on that solitary 250F Title or what? Duke it out with Dungey for the outdoor crown, or do you plan on adding more items to your rap sheet? How about more combinations of the terms "Jason Lawrence" and "good sense?"

[to be continued....]