January 25, 2009

Houston makes three wins in a row for Stewart

James Stewart put his L&M Racing/San Manuel Band of Mission Indians/Yamaha on the top step of the winner's rostrum last night in Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, after having to deal with Mike Alessi and Ryan Villopoto in the opening laps of the 450cc main event. Photo and race report by Swap/Transworld Motocross.

After the disaster at the opening round, Stewart has reeled off three straight, uncontested wins in a row, and that quick 75-point infusion has moved him to only 9 points behind points leader Chad Reed, who again finished second at the race. Villo hung in there to grab his first-ever 450cc podium finish.

Stewart told Swap after the race, "No matter who is leading the points, everybody is trying to beat me, so I need to keep my game tight and stay focused."Link

January 24, 2009

Tedesco: Is it getting "hott in hurr?"

Two things cool with this shot, and the first is the fact that Ivan Tedesco, big number 9 for factory Honda, has set FOURTH fastest practice time on the 450cc racebikes in Houston. Maybe Hot Sauce is feeling it tonight. This guy has got the championship titles that prove he knows what's up on a supercross track, but it's been some time since he's threatened to get on the podium. His time was about a half-second behind Ryan Villopoto, and just a click faster than his Honda team mate Andrew Short... that's fast company.

The other cool thing is the look, of course, with Ivan rocking the Fox gear as hard as anyone. Photo from Swap's Houston practice gallery at Transworld Motocross. TWMX is kicking butt.

"When the East is in the House, oh my god, DANGER!"

Swap and Transworld Motocross are bringing the goods from tonight's supercross in Houston, TX, like this cool shot of Pro Circuit's Austin Stroupe setting fastest lap in 250cc practice.

January 18, 2009

Hambone brings the funny

The ever-resilient Sean Hamblin has not only earned an "injury-replacement" ride on the Factory Yamaha team for the MESS this year, but he has decided to "blog" about each race over at the Vital MX forum. The best part is that we're getting to see a side of him that only his closest friends and family have seen: this kid can write AND he's funny!

Sean got the call after A1, where Yamaha's oft-injured Broc Hepler took a digger. Hamblin hit the circuit running at Phoenix, where he failed to make the main. But he made it last night at A2, and raced to 18th in the big show, earning his first championship supercross points in a long, long time. Get down, Sean!

Three races in, 12 points down

(pic by GuyB/Vital MX)

So here are the top three finishers in the 450 class at the MESS at Anaheim the second. San Manuel/Yamaha's James Stewart earned his second win in a row, putting him fourth in the championship standings, now just 12 points behind his rival, new points leader Chad Reed of the Rockstar/Makita/Suzuki team. Reed finished second after coming from waaay back in the pack. Geico Honda's Kevin Windham got on the the podium for the first time this season with his third place finish.

And here's the funny part of this photo: the guy on the left rides a yellow bike, the dude in the middle rides a blue one, and the other guy rides red. Yet none of them are wearing gear featuring their team's official colors. What's up with that? And what's up with Reedy's horizontal stripe monstrosity? Bleh!

January 17, 2009

This is (part of) Supercross

40,000+ people need something to do before the racing starts, so why not throw a concert in the parking lot? This was the scene on the Jagermeister Mobile Music Stage in the Anaheim pits: Fat Wreck Chords recording artists "Strung Out" rocking out in the sunny Southern California weather. The drummer for Strung Out, Jordan Burns, has deep roots in motocross, having created the MotoXXX freestyle motocross video company and racing team. Here's the rest of this story from Vital MX. Pic by GuyB, of course.

This is (also) Supercross

Supercross is much more than just the night program. The timed practice sessions have their own drama, and it provides the spectators another opportunity to see great riders ride... which is what the whole thing really is all about.

GuyB (Steve Giberson) of Vital MX captured this great photo of Honda Red Bull's top racer Andrew Short in practice at Anaheim 2. Short is holding down third place in the championship points, and this must be his best series start ever.

This takes a great sense of humor to pull off

(photo by GuyB/VitalMX)

This is too funny! James Stewart and friends put this together for tonight's parade lap at Anaheim. To me, this is the type of fun stuff that can help make 2009 the best year for supercross ever, so I hope they keep it up.

January 16, 2009

This is Supercross

Check out this fan footage of the opening fireworks at the first round of the Monster Energy Supercross Series. They've been doing these pyrotechnic/laser shows for years now, and in person, they're pretty cool. But is it really what indoor motocross is all about, or is it just "Supercross?"

January 11, 2009

The MESS in Phoenix: it's all good now

(photo and race report by Guy B/Vital MX)

From what I can tell from various media reports (and after watching the AMA's live lap timer with one eye), it appears that last night's 450 supercross main was a barnburner, even though San Manuel/Yamaha's James Stewart led every lap, because Rockstar/Makita/Suzuki's Chad Reed kept him honest by staying close the entire time. You can see the whole thing on SPEED tonight, should you so desire.

So James got his first supercross win on his new ride, and worked his way into the top ten points standings. Chad improved from last week's third place finish, and the surprising Josh Grant put his Spike Energy/Joe Gibbs Racing Yamaha on the box for third. Grant continues to lead the championship points race, but now has only three points over the defending champion Reed. Meanwhile, James is 18 points behind Grant and 15 points back of Reed and has his work cut out for him if he really wants to win the title. Basically, Stewart will have to "run the table", win every round and hope for misfortune to hobble his rivals. Not exactly in the driver's seat, is he?

What's interesting about the GuyB photo above is how Stewart and Reed are giving each other the thumbs up for a great race. I'm sure they had a blast, because close racing is fun, yet at the same time, part of me cannot help but think about the business of this sport. I know these guys are acutely aware of their roles in the enterprise of supercross... they did what was expected of them, and no one could ask for more. They put on the "show" that everyone wanted to see, and I suspect that as this season unfolds, we'll see more of this formation flying.

January 07, 2009

My Day at the Big A: Anaheim 1, 2009

(photo by GuyB/Vital MX)

So this was one of those years when I didn't roll with my regular "crew" to see the races, and events further conspired to keep me from getting to the stadium early enough to cruise the pits and gawk at all the new iron. After getting robbed in the parking lot ($20, up from $15 last year), coughing up almost $50 for a 200-section seat and then coughing up $10 for the program (weren't they $5 last year??), I got seated just in time to see the second set of timed practice sessions, and it turned out to be pretty entertaining, despite the light rain that fell throughout.

My first surprise was seeing Jason Lawrence. Usually when a rider wins one regional championship in Supercross, he tries to win the other... but it seems 2008 West region champ Lawrence wants to wear the number one plate. I say good for him... and for us.

The second surprise was seeing Trey Canard. Again, I thought he'd defend his East region title, but I later learned that he was "forced" to race the West series due to injuries to his Geico Honda team mates. Trey was looking pretty fast in practice, and ended up with the third-fastest time.

Along the third-base line there was a gnarly rhythm section that led to a triple jump, and there was a small single right before the triple that the riders had to contend with. It was giving a lot of the top guys fits, and it took a while for some of the lesser names to even make the triple. For a lap or two, JLaw seemed real tentative, just doubling it, but then he came around and hit it for real, throwing a whip and grabbing a tearoff just to add style points. He had the track nailed, and he set fastest time to prove it.

When the 450s started practice, there seemed to be a bit of a cat-and-mouse game, as the fastest of the fast (James Stewart and Chad Reed) did not immediately post fast times, instead they sort of circulated at opposite ends of the track for a few laps. Then Reed got on the leaderboard with second fastest time, and shortly thereafter James "quadded" the rhythm section before the triple... something no one else had done yet in that session... and took the top spot. Stewart's fast time stood until the closing minutes of practice, when Reed followed him around for a fast lap and set fast time right before the checkered flag flew. I bet that chapped James' hide!

I had noticed after practice and while waiting for showtime to roll around that all the pre-show microphone hucksterism was gone. There were no sponsor interviews, no incessant babble about stuff you should buy… there was only music, played at a relatively low volume, no less. I think this is definitely a positive step in the right direction by FMS, and I both applaud and thank them for cutting that out of the program. Some supercross videos would have been nice, though. They didn’t even take that time to hype up the night’s live broadcast.

I was in my seat by 6:45. When 7 o’ clock rolled around, nothing happened. It wasn’t until 7:05, according to the stadium clock, that Terry Boyd addressed the crowd for what I believe was the first time of the entire day. Terry immediately threw it to Rob Buydos, who went into crowd-warm-up mode, breaking out the hotties with the t-shirt guns to stoke the crowd. One of the women apparently needed on-the-job training in gun operation, but at least she didn’t kill anyone in the lower sections.

Bribing the crowd to “make some noise” with cheesy t-shirts and muted tits ‘n ass? Will this ever play out? God, I hope so. I must be getting old...

Then they played Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”, except instead of the whole song, they just looped the title over and over… while they brought out a “color guard”, accompanied by a company of casually-dressed cadets from nearby March Air Force base. The cadets placed their hands over their hearts and started saying something, but since they weren’t mic’d, no one could hear them. I’m guessing they recited the Pledge of Allegiance, but I can’t guess why and for whose benefit they did so. I know I didn’t need to be reassured of their allegiance to the flag. At least the announcers had the good sense not to try to lead the audience into doing the same. Then the National Anthem was sung by... Mrs. Eric Kehoe? Really? Whoever she was, she sounded great.

Then they introduced the top riders with the “riders in the stands with the normal people” trick, except instead of being dressed like normal people, they were dressed like, well, riders of course. Which means they looked like intergalactic stuntmen in their shiny new riding gear. Trey Canard was first, and he even faked a quick dance step to get the crowd going. Next time, Trey, put a little more heart in it and they’ll be eating out of your hand.

And then they got to the Big Four. They rolled a pretty cute video about Chad Reed, Kevin Windham and James Stewart as three little boys on bmx bikes, and they have to welcome a “new kid” to the neighborhood… Ryan Villopoto. The video ended with them walking into Anaheim Stadium, and then the lights went up on the small circular stage in the middle of the infield… and the four kids were standing around the stage, staring at each other like a 4-way showdown. Then the lights faded to black, and when they came back up, the kids were gone, replaced by the actual racers. It was a pretty cool trick, actually, and my hat is off to FMS for trying something new here.

Finally, the announcers talked to each of the Big Four, and then they went off and did the most lukewarm hot lap I’ve seen in a while. Or maybe I wasn’t paying attention or something, but the crowd didn’t seem into it either. We were all wanting to see the first race!

And the heat races did not disappoint. Ryan Dungey had to be pissed, as I’m sure he didn’t want his season to start by having to make the main from the LCQ, but his bike quit on the first lap, causing him to crash. Jake Weimer went to win the first heat. Jason Lawrence and Canard battled for a bit, but TC made a mistake and fell, allowing Lawrence to take the relatively easy win.

Watching Ryan Villopoto go wire to wire for his first 450 heat race win was pretty cool, though I spent most of my time watching Chad Reed recover from his off-track excursion and come from way back to finish fourth.

I was pretty sure James Stewart had only managed maybe a top 5 start as they headed into the first turn in the second 450 heat, but somehow James accelerated through the very inside of the turn and surged into the lead as the pack exited the first turn. And then he was gone. Josh Grant kept close, and watched James nearly endo on the triple on the second lap, but the lead gap quickly grew after that. So the buzz in the crowd around me was like, “Uh-oh, did we just see a preview of the main? James getting the holeshot and checking out?”

For the 250 main, for me at least, it was all about Dungey and Lawrence. And since they both had problems at the start, it was about watching them work their way through traffic. Meanwhile, Pro Circuit’s Jake Weimer dominated the whole thing, winning his second supercross. I think he’s happy with his new ride. Dungey fought his way onto the box, finishing third, and Jason worked his way into fourth by the time the checkered flag flew. Yeah, he was docked a position for cutting the course, and I saw the whole thing and think that both Jason and the referees did the right thing. How about that?

And then it was show time: the 450 main. James pulled the exact same start he had in his heat and jumped into the lead coming out of the first turn, but Josh Grant and Reed were close behind. Reed quickly dispatched Grant and soon passed Stewart, who was making a bunch of mistakes. James settled down and it looked like he was going to be content to pressure Chad for all 20 laps, but he saw an opportunity and went past in the whoops.

What was interesting was that the crowd seemed to be against Chad Reed from the start; during the opening ceremonies, there was a smattering of boos when he was announced. But when he passed James a big cheer went up from the crowd, like, “Finally! Someone to race with this guy!” And then an even bigger cheer went up when Stewart re-passed Reed. The crowd was getting into the great racing, for sure.

So it looked like it was setting up to be an epic duel between 7 & 1 when suddenly Reed went down and took James down with him. For a long moment, James lay face down in the dirt, not moving. There was pandemonium, yellow flags everywhere. Reed got up and going in third place; Stewart got up and in trying to get off the track, pushed his bike in front of an oncoming rider (Kevin Windham) and THEY both went down. Everybody in the stadium was on their feet.

I have since seen the SPEED coverage of the incident, and it’s pretty clear that James took a shot to the head in the fall and got up slowly and unsure. He was still in a daze, and was struggling with basic decisions, like, “stay on the track or push off to the side?” And the flagmen and officials could have been a little more proactive about getting him herded off the course safely; instead it seems they let him do what he wanted, and that ended up costing him and Windham the race. James definitely should have looked before he moved, and I think the fact that he was dazed had a lot to do with that bad move.

Josh Grant inherited the lead with a big gap on Andrew Short. Grant kept the lead and there was no suspense, until he collected a tuff block cover in his rear wheel with 2 laps to go. The crowd got behind him and willed him to a popular win. Josh Grant presented Joe (and Cody) Gibbs his first supercross win!

After his crash, James stormed off the track, throwing his helmet down in disgust after his Yamaha failed to restart. While I don’t think he was fit to ride, I think walking out was yet another bad decision on his part. If you watch the SPEED coverage, you’ll see that Erin Bates tries to get James to talk about it as he’s walking out, and then he gets stopped by his team manager and father, and it looks like they don’t want him leaving the stadium floor.

At the end of the night, all I could think was that this first race has set the table for an absolutely electrifying supercross season. James decision to take the dnf could seriously haunt him come May, as he is now down 18 points to his toughest rival, the man wearing the number 1 plate, Chad Reed. FMS has got a tiger by the tail for real; here's hoping they make the most of it.

January 04, 2009

A beautiful MESS

The 2009 Monster Energy Supercross series (MESS) started off perfectly last night in Anaheim, as the unexpected happened not once, not twice, but over and over and over...

And the racing was incredible, as evidenced by this great Guy B photo of Chad Reed and James Stewart dogfighting through the chilly night skies. Vital MX has the goods, as always. I will post my thoughts a little later.

January 03, 2009

And now... Supercross!

Enough with the chit chatter about anon, it's time to put it on the track! And look who's finally got the 'nads to set aside their "permanent" number and rock the Champion Digit! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Supercross Champion of the World (and America and Australia) Chad Reed!

Seriously, this bike looks good, don't it? All thanks to Guy B and Vital MX (in advance, no less) for this season's best shots... to date!

FMS cancels Xmas, er, Supercross Live webcasts

I was done for the night, and was just starting to get fired up about going to Anaheim Saturday night for the first supercross of 2009. So I fired up my web browser and cruised over to read the first Racerhead of the year at Racer X Online, and DC hit me with the news in only the third paragraph:

The bad news, apparently, is that if you don’t have Speed TV or live somewhere outside the U.S., you won’t be able to tune in to Supercross Live! on your computer, as Feld Motor Sports made the surprising move of stopping the live webcast as a result of the economic downturn.

And yes, I actually blinked when I first read that. I'm still blinking, but that's only because blinking is normal. But I blinked the first time because it struck me that for the first time in a loooooong time... I won't be able to listen to supercross races on my computer at home... and this is my best computer yet, dammit!

Seriously, this news fails to compare to the horrible situation in Gaza right now, but damn, it's not good news. And by that, I don't mean, "man, this sucks 'cause I love supercross and I live in Rhode Island and I can't afford cable, so the only way I get to follow the sport is on the web" not good news, but I mean this decision by FMS shows a troubling lack of either foresight, money or both.

And apparently the races WILL be available on the internet to people outside the U.S. So it looks like FMS pulled the plug on Supercross Live, the entity that pretty much invented the supercross webcast, as opposed to canceling ALL internet coverage of the sport. And I guess Supercross Live had the lock on U.S. internet coverage, which would explain why Davey Coombs also wrote:

I hope that the decision is only temporary and that a suitable replacement (emphasis mine) or sponsor for the shows can be found, because come next week in Phoenix, I will be a couple thousand miles away, sitting in front of my computer, hoping to hear what’s going on in my sport.

I also hope that FMS reconsider and put the show, or any show, back on the internet. If this company has not yet figured out how critical the internet has become to building this sport, they better get their analysis going in a hurry. FMS might think all they're doing is chopping off some "low-hanging fruit" -type expenses, when they're really cutting off a vital lifeline.

2009 supercross TV schedule announced: only one event covered live, and that's TONIGHT.

So the first race of the MES (Monster Energy Supercross) professional indoor motocross national championship is just hours away. The company producing the race series, FMS (Feld Motorsports), issued a press release from the near future dated January 3rd, 2009 at 2:21am (very strange) announcing the upcoming television schedule.

I imagine the strange timing of this public relations info is because this year's schedule seems to be a definite rollback from previous years. Still, the writer of the blurb does a decent job of stressing the remaining positives, i.e. this year the 250F class will finally get "next-day aired" coverage. Only the opening round of the season will be delivered live, but only on SPEED, not CBS. CBS is in for "9 hours" worth of "original programming" as they like to call it.

And yes, it will include the same announcing team of Erin Bates, Jeff Emig and Ralph Sheheen (see, I know his last name). Ah, same as it ever was...

What goes unsaid until the very last sentence of the press release is the news that SPEED has just closed a "new long-term deal" with FMS. Oh really? Of the deal with his "new partners", Rick Miner, SPEED SVP of Production & Network Operations says it " ...will ensure the continuing process of developing exciting and innovative coverage of some of the network’s most popular motorcycle racing.”

I'd like to hear more about this "long-term" arrangement. How many years? Is CBS locked in, or will they be able to partner with another network? Things that make you go "hmmm..." indeed.

And call me what you will, an unreasonable stickler for nerdy, wordy detail or whatever, but I think it's unfortunately revealing that the word "motorcycle" ... in a press release about a multi-million dollar television package for the world's premier motocross racing series, no less... appears only once, and it is the next-to-last word in the entire release. Could be due to a stunning lack of inspiration or a head cold; who knows? They were clearly lathering on the lipstick to this pig of a television schedule and they did the best they could. Must be hard to get good help, I guess.

Most telling of all? CBS not giving up any "live" airtime for this sport this year. Of course, Ken Hudgens explained why live television coverage of West Coast supercross doesn't work last year, so what am I thinking? Stupid me, expecting something for nothing.