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....]

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