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September 30, 2014

MXdN recap

Sadly, the Motocross des Nations (I still refuse to call it Motocross of Nations) didn't go to the Americans this year, though the team of Ryan Dungey, Eli Tomac and Jeremy Martin put up a valiant fight in Latvia and salvaged a podium finish in the end.

While it wasn't necessarily surprising that the French team took the win, the fact that it was only their second-ever win -- in an event that has been happening since 1947 -- is pretty astonishing. There have been numerous great French riders over the years, so it's hard to believe they've not taken the top spot more often.

But in any case, Gautier Paulin and company clearly earned it this year. You can check out the highlights below.

September 24, 2014

Pastrana is not slowing down

If you haven't seen this yet, prepare to have your mind blown. Yes, there are airbags involved in some of it, but everything is still next-level big.

September 17, 2014

Vital MX checks out the new YZ250

OK, so the 2015 Yamaha YZ250 isn't a complete redesign. But Yamaha still deserves kudos for updating the venerable pre-mixer's looks. 

However, this footage of a brand-new two-stroke ripping a beautifully prepped Glen Helen will make whatever you're doing right now seem a little lamer in comparison. You've been warned.

September 10, 2014

How we got here

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.

September 04, 2014

Silly season 2014

By Clifton Kump
 
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.

Yoshimura Suzuki

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.

RCH Suzuki

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.

JGR/Toyota Yamaha

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!

September 03, 2014

The other side of motocross fame

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.  

August 27, 2014

1 hour and 39 minutes of crazy

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.

August 19, 2014

His name is Mud

By Clifton Kump

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!

August 13, 2014

Some kind of dedication

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.

August 06, 2014

The tracks of yesterday

Champion SpeedwayI was flipping through an old copy of Racer X today and came across a column by Davey Coombs that focused on forgotten motocross tracks. In it Coombs wrote about some of the long-gone tracks of his youth and also mentioned a site that catalogs what's happened to defunct racetracks across the U.S.

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.