It's no secret that northern Nevada motocross has reached a difficult point in its history. Event turnouts have been flat or down for years. Racetracks have been disappearing or struggling to stay afloat. Series have been rescheduled or even cancelled with alarming regularity.
It's understandable why newcomers to the scene might wonder: How did we get here? Why is there seemingly so much discord in northern Nevada motocross?
I have been involved in local motocross for more than 20 years and I'm not certain I can offer satisfactory answers to those questions. But what I can offer is an account of what I've seen since I arrived in northern Nevada in 1993 as an 80cc Junior.
The growth years
In 1993, the race scene here was pretty understated. Races primarily consisted of Friday night events at Carson City's Silver State Speedway, an occasional CMC Golden State or Trans Cal race at the same venue and, every now and then, an Over The Hill Gang or Old Timer's MX national at Fernley International Raceway.
There were periodic race circuits like the Dealer Challenge -- a series that pit riders and their sponsors against each other for a few races -- but there was no area championship or major series to really speak of yet.
By the late 1990s, however, it was clear the local MX was on an upswing. New events began springing up at places like Stead, and Fernley began to host more races too. Silver State endured some challenges during this era, but its final chapter was still to come. It wasn't long before contests like the 1997 Sandmaster Series were drawing strong turnouts and bringing more racetracks into the fray. (I even remember racing at Carson City's Fuji Park at one point around this time. Today it's a dog park.)
This momentum led to the creation of a sanctioning body that sought to unify the previously fragmented race scene. It was called MX West. While this sanctioning body had both critics and supporters throughout its life -- full disclosure, I was on its board at one point -- this much is undeniable: It presided over one of the most prosperous eras northern Nevada motocross had ever seen.
The high times
By the early 2000s, MX West had brought tracks such as Fernley, Stead, Winnemucca (both Calder Cycle Park and its successor), Lovelock, Silver State (now called Champion Speedway) and the Fallon Fairgrounds under its umbrella. It formed a Nevada State Championship Series that hosted rounds at most of these venues, as well as a Spring Series that typically kicked off with a huge event each February at Fernley.
I had become a reporter for Cycle News by this era and nearly every story I wrote contained some tidbit about how the turnouts were growing and each class was getting deeper and more talented. And this wasn't hype -- it was truly a remarkable time for local racing.
At round one of the 2004 MX West Spring Series at Fernley, the turnout reached the highest point I can recall: 612 entries. It took all day to get through those motos, but there was such a buzz around the pits during that time, hardly anyone seemed to mind.
A scene divided
But success often breeds competition, and it wasn't long before a rival sanctioning body, Sierra Motocross Racing Association (SMRA), arrived to challenge MX West. Sierra disagreed with MX West on a number of points, and since several of the founders of SMRA were also part of the Nevada Old Timers or the Reno Over The Hill Gang -- which at the time were the two clubs that promoted races at the popular Fernley circuit -- SMRA represented an immediate threat to MX West's dominance.
Regardless of which sanctioning body you preferred, it was clear that the emergence of competing race series in the area played a role in diminishing the mega turnouts that had marked the decade to that point. While MX West initially fought to compete with SMRA, within a couple of years MX West disbanded -- most of the major tracks in the era were leaning SMRA's direction by this point -- and left SMRA as the sole major sanctioning body in the area.
While 2006 and 2007 were still relatively decent years for local motocross, there was a storm brewing in the form of the financial crisis and the Great Recession that would follow. By 2008, this storm had hit with full force, causing northern Nevada motocross, which was already struggling with political discontent and disunity among its promoters at this point, to take a serious nosedive.
Effects of the downturn
There were a few reasons the economic downturn hit northern Nevada motocross especially hard:
Nevada was one of the states hit hardest by the housing crisis.
Many of the families in local motocross were in the trades, and the downturn in building cut sharply into many of their budgets. The high unemployment rate in the state meant alternatives were scarce.
The general costs of racing were on an upswing independent of the nation's financial woes. Pricey four-strokes had all but replaced two-strokes by this point, and the era of the 250f -- a high-strung race machine prone to costly engine failures -- had numerous families struggling to keep their children in equipment.
The political discord had already tempered race turnouts to some extent over the previous two years, which made it easier for some to simply continue staying away from the races in light of the economic troubles.
Still, local racing continued on a muted level as the nation wobbled through a unsteady economic recovery that, for the most part, persists to this day. Within the last few years, new venues like Exit 28 have arrived to breathe fresh life into the scene, and the Regional Motocross Association (RMA) -- a sanctioning body that sought to rival SMRA -- has made periodic attempts to hold its own series. However, its latest effort -- the RCH Series -- was cancelled, reportedly because of a lackluster turnout at the first round.
SMRA has continued to hold events since its inception, though it recently cancelled its 2014 Fall Series for a lack of venues. SMRA has promised it will return, but any way you slice it, its absence this fall is yet another troubling sign for local motocross. The same goes for the unsteady trajectory of the last series put on by Club MX775, which also faced a series of unreliable turnouts.
Searching for answers
The paragraphs above offer some insight into the question of how we got to this point. Yet they do little to answer the second question of why there is so much discord in the local scene today.
The simple truth behind the apparent enmity among promoters, sanctioning bodies and even riders is that most motocross people -- race organizers included -- are a competitive and independent breed, and very few of them have yet been forced into a corner. For years now, events have been able to squeak by, suffering losses that have been offset by occasional successes.
But given the dismal trajectory of the last few years, the era of acceptable losses may be coming to an end. To survive in this climate, race promoters and sanctioning bodies have to start seeing each other as allies rather than competitors (though of course, they remain both in the end). The time for going it alone and wishing ill on your competitors has passed, and any promoter who fails to see this likely won't remain a promoter for long.
Contrary to what many say, I don't believe promoters should do this for the good of local motocross. I believe they should do it for the good of their pocketbooks. Local motocross may not be a cash cow as it sits, but a year or two of good, unified efforts by some savvy promoters could change that in a hurry.
I've long suspected that most local riders care little for the drama surrounding the local race scene. I believe most racers simply want to contest well-run events and series at a number of worthwhile race venues. And the promoter who delivers that -- or, most likely, promoters -- will reap the benefits of awakening a rider base that stopped caring about local race politics years ago.
Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that SMRA was founded only by members of the Nevada Old Timers, instead of members of both the Old Timers and the Reno Over The Hill Gang.
I cannot remember an off-season so rife with rumors, half-truths and rider/team changes as this one. It has been absolutely insane.
Let's go over some of the big moves.
Troy Lee Designs Honda moving to KTM to become TLD/Red Bull/KTM
The TLD team will campaign next season on the pumpkins. The team infrastructure will remain the same, but some riders will not return to the squad. As of today, it looks like Mookie Stewart is out of a job. I have also heard that TLD will be marketing a new Red Bull signature line of riding gear, much like the Lucas Oil Honda gear they had a few years back. Should be cool!
Rockstar Husqvarna, formerly Rockstar KTM
Look, I'm a Euro nerd and and get all worked up for anything from the Austria manufacturer. They have Kiska Design to thank for their new look over the last few years and next year's bikes will be no exception. The team's inner-workings will remain the same, but Zach Osborne and Martin Davalos will join the squad on 250s while Jason Anderson rides the four-piftay.
This one is probably one of the most intriguing, because no one really knows what's happening with JS7. I have read that he is on suspension. I've also read that he will not receive a suspension. Who knows what to believe? We will see. GuyB from Vital MX wrote a summary of the goings-on and included a little morsel claiming Blake Baggett will ride for Yosh Suzuki. This should make Layne Kolbet very pleased.
Red Bull KTM
Ryan Dungey showed big-time heart in battling with the young gun, Ken Roczen, this summer. He is motivated and from what I hear, he's hired Aldon Baker to take him to the next level. Dean Wilson will come over from PC Kawi and should be top five at times. Mark that. He will also wear Ansr gear. Marvin Musquin remains and will look to build on the stellar second half of his 2014 season, and Justin Hill comes over from PC Kawi as well. Justin is a charismatic dude, just like his older bro, but everyone knows that Justin works harder. He has a West Coast 250 win under his belt. He could be a title threat.
Ken Roczen moves over here with his main sponsor, Red Bull, and his mega Fox deal. He's a perfect fit for this team as they definitely have an edge and Ken fits that perfectly. He will be the biggest star this sport has ever seen -- bar none. It's unclear who the second rider will be, though I have heard that Broc Tickle may be in if he has healed properly from his injuries.
Muscle Milk Honda
Trey Canard returns after winning four out of the final six motos of the outdoor championship. He will be good, and hopefully he can stay healthy. Cole Seely comes over from TLD Honda and will be a frontrunner, though he is more of a supercross specialist, it seems.
Here's hoping Justin Barcia comes back for this team and kills it. He is awesome to watch and will have a great team behind him. Weston Peick, the privateer hero, has landed a factory ride here after his summer with RCH. Peick deserves all of this, though he owes a lot to the moto media for getting his name out there. Good job, Weston!
Now, to address the elephant in the room -- Ryan Villopoto ...
Here's what I've heard and read:
1. He sold his properties and severed his relationship with trainer Aldon Baker.
2. He went on a tour of Europe.
3. He looked at houses and according to a source, bought a home in the Netherlands. All the fast guys in Europe train and live there, Cairoli included.
4. Villopoto wanted Tyla Rattray to be his teammate and Tyla was "let go" from his Husqvarna contract. He subsequently signed with Factory Kawi Europe.
5. Gautier Paulin, current factory Kawi Europe rider, is rumored to be going to HRC Honda Europe. This would jive because Max Nagl has signed with Husqvarna Europe, opening a spot for Paulin.
6. Steven Frossard was linked to Red Bull KTM with Cairoli, but then Tommy Searle was confirmed with KTM Europe. Steven now is rumored to be signed with SRT KTM alongside Jake Nichols. This opens the final spot for Villopoto on Factory Kawi Europe.
7. Villo will not be ready for the opener at Anaheim 1 due to his knee injury, but he could be ready for the first GP in March.
8. It has been speculated that Villo has to race the entire season next year to appease his sponsors, but with his knee, he won't be able to do the full U.S. circuit. It has been said that he does want to continue racing, but given his recovery, Europe is his only option for contesting a full season.
Given all of the above, I would say there is no question that Villo will end up in Europe. He will be in shape and he loves the outdoors anyway. His decision to go over there and compete with the best of the rest of the world is both brave and noble. I wish him all the luck and I will certainly be watching! Should be good!
If you've ever thought about risking your future (or your offspring's future) on a career in motocross, Ben Riddle's story is a worthwhile read.
Riddle, a former amateur prodigy and Suzuki factory rider, gave an interview to Racer X this week in which he detailed the struggles he's faced since his professional motocross career came to an end in 2003. Today, Riddle appears to be on a better path, but his story shows just how fleeting motocross fame can be.
Riddle hopes to make a comeback in motocross, but only to make the 40-man starting gate at an outdoor national. Given how talented Riddle is -- he won numerous amateur national championships in his youth, earning as much as $250,000 annually despite not yet being a pro -- it might be foolish to bet against him.
OK, full disclosure: I have no idea what's going on here. I mean, I know this is helmet-cam footage of Jonny Walker at the Erzberg Enduro, and that it highlights some pretty awesome riding. But I have no idea how he's navigating any of this. If I saw this video without knowing anything about this race, I would be confused why a man was blasting random lines through an Austrian quarry filled with bystanders who, in large part, don't seem to be expecting to encounter motorcycles at all.
Second bit of full disclosure: I didn't watch the full clip. But the first few minutes were enough to convince me that, as I have always suspected, off-road dudes are nuts.
Fast-forward to the 53-minute mark if you need your own confirmation.
I woke up Saturday morning to an Instagram post from Josh Grant that showed the absolute downpour at the Ironman motocross national in Indiana. An unusual parity can appear at a motocross national when rain and mud are involved, and given the close 450cc title fight between Ryan Dungey and Ken Roczen -- Dungey had made up 19 points to series leader Roczen in the three races prior to Indiana -- this development was all the more interesting.
In any form of racing, the start offers the single best opportunity to put yourself in a position to win. While I have only won a few races in my time, my wins only happened because I had a great start to go with the great pace I had that day.
With the way the weather and track were shaping up in Indiana, the start would be the biggest key to the race. Getting a good start in these conditions gives you a clear track, free of roost and other racers. It keeps the mud off your bike and your goggles, and keeping your vision clear is one of the biggest challenges at a race like this.
The start gate fell on the first moto and from my vantage point (the parts counter at Reno KTM, the best place to watch the races!) I saw that Roczen had a great start from his quality gate pick in the center of the line. Dungey, with an equally good gate pick, also had a great start, but the start straight curved to the right (a change from the normal left turn) so the guys had only their front brakes to slow them down.
This came into play as Roczen's gate got him more to the inside while Dungey had to drift wide. As Roczen entered the first turn out front, Dungey's drift led him into the heavy slop that had to be bulldozed off the track in order to get to a dryer base. Dungey slowed and almost went over the bars as the mud dragged his KTM 450 down and off the course.
As Dungey struggled to get back on the track, Roczen began turning his holeshot into a big lead. Dungey had a battle ahead of him, but by the end of the first moto, he managed to get into second place. Yet with Roczen winning, that meant Dungey had lost three more points to Roczen in the championship chase with only three motos to go.
Dungey could afford to lose no more points to Roczen in moto two. Because his first-moto ride was marred by the lack of vision caused by his horrible start, he had to get off the gate well. Unfortunately, the moto two start did not favor Dungey.
The gate dropped and Roczen had a similar start as the first moto, while Dungey was buried mid-pack. That was all she wrote for Dungey. He only managed a ninth-place finish as Roczen rocketed off to a second place behind Trey Canard. Roczen won the overall for the day with 1-2 scores and extended his points lead to 20 with two motos to go, getting back all the points he lost to Dungey -- plus one more -- in the previous three races.
Dungey has a big hurdle ahead of him at the Utah national this weekend. If anyone can do it, he can, and as we know from this weekend, anything can happen at these races. At this point though, it looks like the mud did Dungey in and Roczen played in it like his old GP days, effectively winning the title with a week left.
Still, Dungey and Roczen have put up a title fight for the ages this year. Indiana showed that Roczen put it to Dungey when he needed to, but Dungey may make things interesting again before it's all over. I can't wait for Utah!
It's hard to imagine anyone having a better attitude than Trey Canard. After numerous serious setbacks and injuries -- including losing his father in a tragic accident near the end of his amateur career and breaking his femur twice in 2011 -- Canard still appears nothing but happy and thankful to be racing his dirt bike for a living.
I broke my femur once six years ago, and most days I find a way to complain about it somehow. But Canard hasn't just moved on from his injuries. He's also found the strength to contend for wins every week on the world's most competitive circuit.
It was great to see that he took a moto win last week, and I predict that an overall win probably won't be far behind. Congrats, Trey.
Thinking about old racetracks has always given me chills. It's eerie to think that a place can for years hold motocross races -- some of the most raucous and vibrant events imaginable -- and then fall dormant and mostly forgotten in less than a generation.
Sometimes these places become victims of development and get paved over; other times they simply get reclaimed by nature. But whatever their fate, I feel a profound sadness whenever I consider areas that once echoed with the sounds of motocross ... but now sit silent.
The photo above is of the remains of Champion Speedway in Carson City in 2005, a few months after the track closed. The closure of Champion (which was prompted by operators who no longer wished to battle with contentious nearby property owners) was one of the sadder closures I've ever experienced, and it remains heartbreaking today given that the track was, last I checked, never really developed after the closure. Though the obstacles and infrastructure of the facility are long gone, the essential landscape remains as it was shortly after the last race ran there nine years ago.
Still, it's far from the only forgotten track I have a soft spot for. Also on my list:
DeAnza Cycle Park. This Sunnymead, California circuit is special to me because it was the first place I ever won a race. Years later, it closed after it was reportedly discovered to be the habitat of a rare bird.
The original Winnemucca track (Jungo Road). Though I enjoy its replacement in Winnemucca, this course had fantastic elevation changes and a unique mix of sand and loam. The layouts were always fun too. I have to admit I have no idea why this facility no longer hosts races.
Lake Huron. Though I only raced here once as a 60cc rider, that track seemed like a very big deal at the time, so its closure a few years after I raced there struck me as odd. Also, it meant I'd never get a chance at redemption there. (I didn't exactly light the place on fire during my first visit.)
Indian Dunes. OK, so I never raced at this historic Southern California circuit. It closed in 1985 when I was just 4. But I did ride my first three-wheeler there (with help from my dad), and I watched my older brother race there numerous times -- experiences that deserve much of the credit for sparking my interest in motocross.
The Alamotocross. So maybe this wasn't a great track in the strictest sense. Its dirt was average and the layout was as flat as a pancake. Yet I still have plenty of great memories from the short time it ran, and it was pretty cool to have a track not too far from downtown Sparks.
In the end, it's natural that motocross tracks come and go. There are numerous reasons why tracks fail and thereby recede into our memories. But as long as new tracks appear, giving us places to make new memories, there's no real reason to lament their passing.
Last weekend in Washougal, Washington, Marvin Musquin laid the hammer down on his competition and put together a dominant performance. The picturesque track must've played to Marvin's strengths, because he put together the ride of his season so far. He showed poise, speed, form and most of all, the killer instinct.
Marvin is a two-time MXGP 250cc class champion (2009-2010), and if you've been following the 250cc class over in Europe, you know that Marvin comes from a long line of notable champions.
If you know that, surely you've also heard of "The Bullet," Jeffrey Herlings.
Jeffrey was scheduled to make the trek across the pond to compete at the Unadilla national in New York in a little over a week. The hype surrounding the Dutch superstar was huge and the prospect of his presence was looming over the rest of the field.
When you consider some of the most formidable foreign riders to come to the U.S. in recent years, such as Ken Roczen (current 450cc points leader in this year's nationals), the aforementioned Marvin Musquin, Tyla Rattray and Christophe Pourcel, you have a who's-who of former 250cc GPcc champions. These guys competed or are currently competing in the 250cc class stateside. All of these men have enjoyed great success in the U.S. and won races, and Pourcel and Roczen have each won a 250cc regional supercross championship.
What does all this mean? Well, one of the big stories of the summer was Jeffrey heading to the U.S. to take a bite out of our American boys' rear ends. He had been hyping himself up, talking enough smack to make the target on his back an even bigger one than it already is, given that he was 250cc MXGP champion two years straight. The Bullet was in line for his third straight championship and ready to take on the best in the world just a few short weeks ago. Then, disaster struck ...
While racing at an 85cc charity race for his boss, Stefan Everts, Jeffrey over-corrected on a jump. He crashed and broke his femur. The Millville, Minnesota national was the week before the charity race, but he did not attend due to worries that an injury sustained there could affect his championship hopes. But Jeffrey was asked by Stefan to race the charity event like he did in 2013, as it looked to be a safe event for him to attend. It wasn't.
The entire world of motocross let out a collective gasp as the news spread that Jeffrey would have to postpone his trip to the U.S. and possibly miss out on his third-in-a-row championship. His teammate, Jordi Tixier, was second in the point standings at the time of Jeffrey's crash, and all he has to do in Jeffrey's absence is to score a fourth-place finish in all of the remaining motos and the championship is his. This is a disaster for Jeffrey on many levels.
Given the history of past champions in the U.S. and Jeffrey's raw talent and speed, he could've given our best a run for the money at Unadilla. He could've been up front and shown the world what he is made of.
Unfortunately though, we will have to wait another year for this, as his injury has put a bullet through the heart of race fans everywhere. Get well, Jeffrey!
This essay is by Clifton Kump, who has worked for years at northern Nevada motorcycle shops and today can be found behind the counter at Reno KTM.
"Cliffy, I'm getting everyone a new set of Shift gear,” Layne said after calling me into his office at the shop. “We are a huge dealer and they are giving us a few free sets and you do a good job, so pick one out!"
When he called me from my post at the parts counter, I figured he was going to bust my chops for putting Richie's (who today is the owner of Moto Source, your MOTO source!) Troy Lee Designs mountain bike gear out on the shop floor, but this time it turned out well. I picked the gold stuff and man, the fit was perfect ... if I could just lose about 20 pounds. Always wishful thinking. Layne made sure we never went without. Good dude!
In the motorcycle industry, there is a culture of "paying it forward." What that means is that when someone does a good deed for you, you repay the favor to someone else in the future. Never have I encountered this pattern more than in my years being involved with dirt bikes. You really do meet the nicest people riding motorcycles. Well, except Harleys – but we will leave that one alone. I don't need any trouble,haha.
I told Ray Sbriglia to meet me at my place so we could get my CR500AF off the godforsaken hill that Russ Pereira had decided I must climb. Russ is a hardcore dude who puts everyone who goes riding with him through Hades. It is all for the betterment of the people he rides with, as he cares about all of them, even though he has a crazy way of showing it. I am a better rider for having ridden with him.
Anyway, Ray was off early that day and told me that he would help me out and tow my bike off the mountain and down to his truck. I had never been a part of any motorcycle "towing," so what did I know? Apparently not enough, because simply Ray towed me off the hill and circled back to retrieve my chain and chain guide. After that, I simply coasted that pig down to his truck, save for the times he towed me up the hills.
Ray is a good man for doing that for me and I still owe him dinner for it. Ray paid it forward that day, as I'm sure someone had done for him in the past. Let me know when you're ready for that dinner, Ray.
"Hey Cliff, is Chester in? I need him to weld my radiator and get me outta here. We are going to Hangtown tomorrow. Think he can do it?" asked one of our customers.
"If anyone can, the mad scientist can,” I replied. “Lemme get the phone to him and you can ask him yourself."
Chester chatted on the phone for close to 15 minutes about the job. He then told the guy to bring it down to the shop (Reno KTM, your local KTM dealer!) and he would get it done. Chester busted out the welder and welding material, pressure-tested the radiator, worked his straightening magic and voila! -- that Chester-fied radiator was as good as new. Chester called the gentleman to notify him and charged him about a third of the price of a new radiator. We had another satisfied customer.
Chester does quality work for less than average. That's his way of paying it forward to everyone that comes to call at his shop.
Brandon, my nephew, came to me and says his Tao Tao (or whatever Chinese garbage bike he has) won't run. It's a pile, but it's his pile and he loves it just as much as I do my 350. He couldn’t care less that it's rigged together with duct tape and Bondo, with a mish-mash of stolen parts from various bikes in his garage. It's his and I could tell he was distraught about its inability to start.
I scoped it out, figured out he needed a new throttle cable and ran to the shop to find him one that would fit. Big Valley Honda (your local Honda Powerhouse dealership) happens to have quite an extensive inventory and some buying power to match. I found a cable in stock that would work (it was originally meant for an old two-stroke) and drove back to my brother’s house. I pulled off the tank and installed his new throttle cable. Brandon was happy as the bike roared to life. He ran inside to tell his pops that his old roach was fixed and that he was going riding.
In helping him out, I paid forward just one of the good deeds someone has done for me while motorcycling. I couldn't have been happier to do it. It was the least I could do.
The cramping between my shoulder blades felt like my spine was in a vice and the pressure was getting seriously unbearable. I had been told by Russ to chill out and not get too crazy on that day’s ride. Did I listen? No way. The day had brought a bizarre chain of events. Russ had just fixed the stator cover on my CR250 about an hour and a half before, after I had rode it into a rock. He JB Welded it and carved a frowning face into the damn thing. He is a smart aleck that way.
Fast forward to him loading my bike into my truck and hauling me to the ER – about an 80 mile drive from Nixon. Russ was on the phone with my girlfriend, telling her that I am an idiot, but he was hauling me back anyway and she should meet us there. I had broken my neck, but Russ was there to get me to the hospital safely.
Most motorcycle shops will go the extra mile to help a fellow rider, and so will the individuals you meet in motorcycling. Pete, the service manager at Reno KTM, repeatedly helps 50cc parents with their bikes out at the track. He knows how it is, as his son Chase is a local racer as well.
Brody at NMS/Reno KTM, Jerry at Moto Source and even the beautiful and talented Tina Bodden at Reno Motorsportswill go to great lengths to get you what you need. Go to your local OTHG or Club MX775 meeting and you will meet and mingle with people who have had favors paid forward to them and done the same for others.
There are examples like the ones above happening all over our sport, industry, hobby, passion – whatever you want to call it. There are always people willing to help out. That goes for your local shop, club member or dealer rep, be it Calvin from Western Power Sports, Tony Partsalone from Parts Unlimited or the aforementioned Layne, who today works for Tucker Rocky.
Many of us experience hardships in the pursuit of our passions, but when those moments strike in motorcycling, you can bet there will be someone around to pay it forward.