Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Monday, January 23, 2006

Aged like fine wine…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX, AMA Superbikes, AMA Supermoto, MotoGP, Other Forms Of Racing, WSBK

So I, like most of the official motorcycle press, spent a lot of time last year heralding the new guys that were joining the sport of bike racing. Guys like James Stewart, Ben Spies, Max Neukirchner, and Marco Melandri got more than their fair share of bits and bytes at the beginning of the season. However, as it turns out, 2005 was a good year to be one of the old folks. Despite many current racers being considered near retirement age, the old guys generally stuck it to the youngsters last year. What is really amazing is that this trend was pretty consistent across all disciplines of motorcycle racing.

First off, the sports of Supercross and Motocross have always been considered a young man’s sport. They are two of the most physically intensive sports in the world and the combination of jumps, ruts and crashes can exact a harsh toll on the body. The top news story at the beginning of the 2005 AMA Supercross season was the 19 year old sensation James Stewart. However, at the end of the season, it was the seasoned veteran Ricky Carmichael, at 25 years old, who swept both premier AMA Supercross and Motocross classes. In SX, 23 year old Chad Reed was second overall but the runner-up in the outdoor series was Kevin Windham who is two years older than Carmichael. Impressive stuff for guys on the second half of their twenties but the real surprises are found just a little further down the championship points listing.

As I pointed out in a blog posting last season, old timer Mike Larocco embarrassed most of the factory teams by bringing his privateer Honda home in 5th place in championship. Not bad for a then 33 year old. Even 34 year old Jeremy McGrath turned in some strong riders in his one-off appearances in ‘05, showing that the King of Supercross can still teach the youngsters a thing or two.

John Dowd at Washougal

Want to really blow your mind? Take a look at the AMA Motocross points table for 2005. Despite competing in the most physically demanding form of dirt bike racing, 40 year old John Dowd managed to snag 7th overall in the AMA Motocross division aboard his privateer Suzuki! This guy was born in 1965, turned pro in 1988 and was the 1998 West Coast 125cc Supercross Championship…the year Dowd start racing in the Pro ranks James Bubba Stewart was two years old and Chad Reed had just turned six. For a little perspective, remember that Reed finished the ‘05 season in 8th, 15 points *behind* Dowd, while Stewart finished up in 12th a staggering 135 points down on the vet. Lets all say it together now…”JD is the man!”

Alright, so the more experienced riders did well in the premier class. Surely the young guys made their mark in the entry level 125 classes. I mean, there has to be a whole hoard of teenagers out there just waiting for their chance to race with the twenty-somethings, right? Well, sorry to disappoint but the stats don’t bare that out either. The 125 champs, Grant Langton (1st in 125 SX East and 4th in 125 MX) and Ivan Tedesco (1st in SX West and 1st in 125 MX), are both already in their twenties. Langston was 23 last year and and Tedesco a year older. Not exactly ready to hand up their riding boots but not representative of a youth movement either.

Fortunately, things in the dirt world aren’t totally bleak. James Stewart looks to have turned around a miserable ‘05 and is riding strong this year and starting to live up to the hype. The teenage Alessi brothers seemed to have knocked the edge off their egos and are steadily improving as riders. Ryan Sipes, who had some strong showings in the 125 class last season, is just barely breaking the twenty mark. The two Ryans, Villopoto and Mills, are still in their teens and both are riding well so far in this year’s Supercross Lites class. Hopefully these are the guys that can step it up and run with the grey hairs. Frankly, I think they will have to if they want to justify their getting a factory ride in the year couple of years.

Okay, lets shift gears now and look at my personal favorite: Road racing. Its generally understood that road racing is an environment where older and more experienced riders can be competitive against the young up-and-comers. Still, the stats for 2005 have to be a little disappointing for the folks that are looking to the younger generation for the next big thing. Of the four championships crowned in the AMA series, three of them went to riders who are in their thirties. Matt Mladin won his *sixth* AMA Superbike title while at the same time celebrating birthday number 33. His 32 year old teammate Aaron Yates topped the ultra-competitive Superstock class to put a third championship trophy on his mantle. Miguel Duhamel, the elder statesman of the AMA series, brought home his seventh AMA title by winning the Formula Xtreme class despite being just a couple years shy of forty. Even Tommy Hayden, the relative spring chicken of the 2005 AMA champions, isn’t exactly representing the youth movement since he was 27 when he sewed up his second straight AMA Supersport title. This trend towards old riders is generally true across the entire AMA Superbike paddock with only a handful of riders under the drinking age and all of them eligible to vote.

Okay, lets look a little further afield. 2005 World Superbike Champ Troy Corser was 34 when he lofted the title trophy last summer. In fact, the WSBK paddock has more riders over the age of 25 than they have riders under that age and the series appear to be skewing their average even higher in 2006 with ex-GP castaways like Alex Barros, Troy Bayliss and Max Biaggi rumored to be racing there. It is nearing the point where WSBK teams should drop sponsorship from youth oriented companies like Corona or Koji and switch over to old foggie brands like Geritol and Metamucil.

Alright, since I mentioned the topic of MotoGP up there I’ll admit that things are looking better in the Grand Prix paddock. While seven time World Champ and 2005 title winner Valentino Rossi isn’t exactly a rookie at 26 he’s also a decade years younger than some of his competitors were in ‘05. Things really start to look up when checking the stats of second place Marco Melandri (23) and third place Nicky Hayden (24). The outlook is even brighter when checking the age of the new comers to MotoGP for ‘06 as Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner and Chris Vermeulen are all under 25. Finally, things are downright heartening in the 250 and 125 classes were the average age on the podium is regularly under 20.

Alright, how about a couple more quick examples of how old age and experience is overcoming the exuberance of youth? In the world of AMA Flat track racing, it has been Chris Carr who has dominated for the past half decade. The younger riders in series look up to him as a mentor and, at 37, its a good thing they do because he is old enough to be their father.

Finally, as a sign of respect, I’ve saved the oldest for last. Logic would dictate that a rider that is 44 years of age shouldn’t be able to win at anything in competitive motorcycle racing. Yet the legendary Jeff Ward did just that in 2004 by tying up the premier class in the AMA Supermoto series and it was only a stalled bike in the final round that prevented him from winning it in 2005 as well. In fact, the past three seasons have netted Ward one Supermoto championship and two second place finishes…not bad for a guy who won seven AMA Motocross championships in the 80s.

I want to see the various forms of motorcycle racing grow and thus I’m always looking at the young guys to see who will be the next big thing. However, for 2006, I have to say “Viva la Veterans!”.

[image from the web site.]

Friday, January 20, 2006


Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX

The drought in my blog postings seems to have coincided with the start of the 2006 AMA Supercross season so I’m already falling a little behind in commenting on what is happening in the deafening and dirty world of indoor motorcycle racing.

Well, the first sound to roll out of the arena this season has been the thundering sound of four strokes. Just as the big thumpers swallowed the motocross season in one big gulp in ‘05 they have now turned their appetite to supercross. Everyone has known that the two strokes where soon going to puff their last cloud of blue smoke but a few people have undoubtedly been surprised by just how fast this wave of cam shafts and overhead valves has descended upon the supercross landscape.

Bubba whipping the Kawi four stroke

The second sound, immediately following the first, was a deafening shattering sound when James Bubba Stewart crushed the year long reputation he’d gained as being immature. Stewart’s legacy from the ‘05 Supercross and Motocross seasons where that he was blindingly fast but unable to control his emotions and that he was destined to crash his brains out long before he’d win any titles. (I myself put those same criticisms on this blog and still stand by them based on what I saw last year). However, Stewart showed up at the Amp’d Mobile World Supercross opener in Toronto and flat humiliated the assembled masses. No small feat since both Ricky Carmichael and Chad Reed, the current superstars of supercross, were in attendance. In fact, Bubba was so on his game in Canada that he crashed on the first lap but still went on to smoke the field by 5 seconds. Since one win, especially a win after a crash, doesn’t set the record straight Stewart when on to the second round at Vancouver and did it all over again. James is fast, incredibly fast, but also seems to have his head in gear as well.

With the tinkling echos of the exploding Stewart image still coursing through the paddock, the next sound was the huff and puff of the rest of the field trying frantically to up their game. In particular, both Ricky Carmichael and Chad Reed left Canada with a angry look in their eyes. I have a feeling their trainers got a phone call early Monday morning after the Vancouver races telling them not to make any plans for the next few weeks.

Around mid-December the sounds again changed and this time it was a big whump sound followed shortly thereafter by a lot of cussing. That was when Kevin Windham got launched off his Honda while training and broke his arm. The accident was bad enough that Windham is probably out for the first half of the 2006 SX season. If you listen careful, you can hear the sickening sound of the life leaking out of Windham’s professional career. 2006 seemed like a make or break year for the likable Honda rider. He already had SX experience on the four strokes, he’s earned a strong (if distant) second to Carmichael in the outdoor series and he had the hopes and dreams of Big Red resting on his shoulders. Its gonna take a second miraculous comeback for him to recover from this accident…

When the starting gun cracked off a shot in Anaheim for the first official round of the AMA Motocross series, it was again Bubba that was making the most noise. Carmichael lead early but then went into the dirt and Stewart decided not to hang around in second while RC was dusting himself. He again flew to the front and won the race in fine style. However, both Reed and Carmichael were in touch this time around so the other message that was loud and clear is that they had both gotten the hurry up message from the Canadian rounds. If the race at Anaheim did anything it was to convince everyone that they better get the 2006 Supercross rounds programmed into Tivo. We won’t want to miss a single round.

Then, bang, things exploded again last weekend when the second AMA round burst into Phoenix. In a reversal of the Anaheim race, it was Stewart who crashed out during the race and Carmichael that looked dominant. Reed ran up front early in the race but a big incident in which the Aussie spectacularly crashed but somehow missed the hitting the ground part. This handed the lead to RC while Reed got the bike pointed back in the right direction and got back up to speed. Bubba charged from the back of the pack to third with Chad hanging onto second. The big wins put Carmichael and Stewart even in points but Reed’s consistent second places have him only one point behind. Exciting stuff.

The top three riders weren’t the only ones making noises. First up was the sound of stiff joints and geritol bottles being cracked open as Iron Man Mike Larocco picked up where he left off in ‘05 by smacking the youngsters around. He took the finish line jump at Anaheim in fourth place behind Stewart, Reed and Carmichael. Then, as a followup lesson to the whippersnappers in the field Jeremy McGrath stuck it to them in Phoenix by finishing in fourth (again behind Carmichael, Reed and Stewart). The Rock kept it in the top ten with an eighth at around two. Maybe its because I have a head of grey hair or maybe its because I’m stick of hearing cocky little punks talk smack in front of their factory semis while finishing outside the top ten but I think it is awesome that these older racers are doing so well. It is time the younger factory riders catch the clue that even if they aren’t good enough (yet) to run with the front three they damned sure better make sure they’re fast enough to beat the guys who are eligible for the vet class. Besides, the roar of the Phoenix crowd when Showtime McGrath and his ring-ding two stroke went to the front on lap one brought back some great memories.

That’s still not it for the soundscape that is the 2006 Supercross series. Another distinctive tone was the forehead slaps from the AMA officials when they realized that these big, powerful four strokes where faster than the current track designs allowed. In Canada, the front guys weren’t carrying much corner speed but would just slam the bike into the corners on the brakes, get the bike back upright and then still have enough acceleration to go from a dead stop to nailing a big triple in just a few yards. By the third race at Anaheim the track layout seemed to have gained back some complexity but then some of the riders complained it was too tough. Hopefully, the designers can find a way to build tracks that are challenging for the four strokes without being so dangerous that riders are getting hurt. The deep trenches in the Phoenix whoops seemed like a good design, as did the rhythm section in Anaheim. In fact, I think even the dry, dusty track surface at Phoenix added another level of complexity that was good for the competition.

Thank you sir, how about another? Well, maybe some moaning is what we should be talking about. That moaning being the sound of the rest of the field after being handily spanked four races in a row. Last year, it seemed pretty obvious that the depth of talent was rising in the 125 class (now called Lites) while it was shrinking in the 250 class (now just called Supercross). Well, now it is easy to see why that is happening…the front three are so far ahead of everyone else on the track that even crashes aren’t keeping them off the podium. Sponsors have to be questioning why they are shelling out bucks to put their name on rider’s bikes when those bikes are never getting any camera time. In fact, the guys at the back of the field are probably more sponsor friendly because they are getting lapped twice and thus offer up twice the opportunity to show up on TV. Meanwhile, the Lites class is chock full of talent and is already offering up close racing and a variety of fast guys. The cha-ching of sponsorship change may soon be falling into the coffers of Lites riders rather than those in the supposed premier Supercross class.

One thing I don’t want to hear this season? The ambulance. With Windham already out, the field of potential race winners has shrunk 25%. With the front three all riding on the ragged edge (and all three having fallen or nearly fallen a few times already this season) is seems like the danger level is well into the red. There is a barely controlled intensity to the riding right now and just a little bad luck could result in a season ending crash. Lets hope these guys ride hard, but safe, this spring so we can enjoy the competition all season long.

Okay, that does it for tonight. The next sound you hear is the last byte of data falling into the bit bucket as I sign off. Have a good, and silent, night.

[image from the Discover Today’s Motorcycling web site.]

Monday, October 31, 2005

October \’05 Odds and Ends…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX, Other Forms Of Racing

As the race seasons come to a close I find more time to delve into interesting stories and thus fewer items to put in the monthly “Odds and Ends” postings. This may be the last one until the road race season cranks back up next year. Nonetheless, there a are a few things that happened in October that didn’t get the time they deserved so here is this month’s catch up.

First, with the major race seasons all coming to a close, Fall represents a small window of opportunity for big name racers to get out and show their stuff in other forms of racing:

Troy Corser at the Trace Superbikers event

Newly crowned World Superbike champion Troy Corser, along with Ex-Harley roadracer and seven time dirt track champ Chris Carr, headed to Mettet, Belgium this month to participate in the Trace Superbikers super-motard race. This race is split between a “pro” class with supermoto regulars and a “stars” class with special guests like Corser and Carr. It shows just how popular Super Motard racing is in Europe that a star-studded event like this can exist.

Just across the channel that same weekend a bunch of stars like World Superbike regular Pierfrancesco Chili, British Supermoto champ Christian Iddon and British Supersport rookie Craig Jones all showed up at Mallory Park in the UK for the Moto 1 event. This is a very cool cross-genre motorcycle challenge that involved separate trials, multi-vehicle “pentathlon”, supermoto, motocross and roadrace events. Its a sign of just how popular motorcycle racing is in England that such an amazing event can get started. A further sign of that support is that it is sponsored by Dunlop and attended by many of the big national stars from the various national motorcycle racing series.

Even more exciting is that a “best of the best” event is coming to the US this year thanks to Red Bull. They are sponsoring the Last Man Standing competition which is a cross-discipline event to be held in Texas this November. This four stage event is set-up to run over a 40 mile enduro circuit. Nearly all the best National level Enduro, Trials, Cross-Country, Hare Scramble and Desert racers will be showing up. At the end of each stage, half the contestants are removed. The first two stages are run during the day, the second two at night (and in reverse). At the end of the final lap, a single rider will be crowned as the winner. This is a great idea and I hope that more events like it are spawned which may eventually bring in Motocross, Supercross, Roadrace and Supermoto riders. Kudos to Red Bull for again spending some of their corporate bankroll to promote motorcycle events.

Another end-of-the-season event which always draws an interesting list of participants is the annual Macau GP. This event challenges the Isle of Man’s reputation as the most dangerous motorcycle race in the world but has nonetheless been in existence for 52 years. The majority of the focus is on the car races but motorcycles also race around the 3.8 mile track that is laid out on city streets which are lined with armco. The names on the entry list read like a who’s who of real road racing: Michael Rutter, John McGuinness, Stuart Easton, Ian Lougher, Steve Plater and Adrian Archibald are all Isle of Man stars. Pere Riba is an ex-GP rider. Canadian (and ex-AMA Supersport champ) Steve Crevier is attending as are American roadracers Jeremy Toye and Mark Miller. The Macau GP has a long tradition and is an exciting event but a dangerous one as well. Best of luck to all those attending.

On rider who has had enough of danger is three time British Superbike champ (an ex-GP and ex-WSBK racer) John Reynolds. After enduring a season in the British Superbike series in which he suffered to horrible crashes with serious injuries he has decided to retire from the sport. The 2004 BSB champion started his title defense with a crash in the preseason that seriously damaged his leg. After healing up and re-joining the series at the halfway point he then had another crash which left him with multiple injuries including broken ribs, a punctured lung and a broken collarbone. Those old bones don’t mend as fast as they used to and Reynolds has thrown in the towel. He is a fantastic rider and can rest comfortably on his many laurels. He will long be remembered at race tracks around the world.

One road race track that won’t be around to remember any racers is Pikes Peak International Raceway which has been bought by ISC and permanently closed. ISC, who own many of the NASCAR tracks around the country, are slowly purchasing race tracks simply to shut them down and remove competition. I am definitely no fan of PPIR, in fact, I’m not particularly sad to see it go, but I must say that the method of it’s demise does leave a bad taste in my mouth. Hopefully, the new Miller Motorsports Park in Utah will be so impressive that all us Coloradans will soon forget PPIR ever existed.

While the AMA’s road race program is taking a hit their Supercross program is getting a huge shot in the arm. Hot on the heals of last month’s announcement that SpeedTV has signed up to broadcast the entire Supercross series comes news that CBS is set to co-televise six of the rounds. Having a major broadcast network on board is a huge coup and should help boost the popularity of Supercross even more. With the season set to open in just a little over a month and with all the major players healthy (Carmichael, Reed, Windham and Stewart) the series should be ready to capitalize on all this TV exposure.

Another bit of TV related news which ties back to the first item is the rumor that ESPN is working on creating a new supermoto series in the US for 2006. With the pr0 AMA Supermoto series slowly growing and the new amateur NASMOTO series taking off it is hard to tell if adding another series is going to help or hurt. What will help is getting some TV coverage of Supermoto racing on a major sports network like ESPN. (Then again, given that ESPN dropped their AMA Supercross coverage it seems that their interest in motorcycle racing is fickle at best.)

Something which has already benefited from TV time is the Long Way Round series which aired on Bravo last year. Now the US version of the DVD is finally being released and should be on shelves this December.

Well, I think that about does it for the month. The other major news as consisted of new bike announcements and silly season news but I’m covering those topics in other posts. This will be the last “Odds and Ends” posting for awhile. I hope you have enjoyed them.

[image from the Roadracer X web site.]

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

September \’05 Odds and Ends…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX, AMA Superbikes, MotoGP, WSBK

Well, another page of my MotoGP calendar needs to be turned over and that means it is time for another of my monthly Odds and Ends “catch up” postings. September has been really busy, especially with both silly season and new bike announcements trickling out, so I’ll have to skip a few things just to keep this post from being too long.

Rossi checks out the Ferrari F1 car

First up, is a news item about newly crowned ‘05 MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi. No matter how talented the guy is on the track his real talent is his ability to constantly keep his name in the news. He has monopolized the headlines for most of September as people focused on what he was already doing in 2005, questioned his 2006 plans and speculated about what he would be doing in 2007. For 2005, he has been winning races but has also now had two controversial accidents. The season opener at Jerez with Sete Gibernau and now one with Marco Melandri at Motegi. I’ve covered all this in my MotoGP blog entries but the overriding message is that Rossi continues to keep people guessing. As for 2006, I covered Rossi’s re-signing with Yamaha in my August Odds and Ends posting so that isn’t new news but who will be sponsoring the Italian superstar’s Yamaha has been the topic of endless speculation. Rossi is currently sponsored at Yamaha by Altadis’ Gauloisis cigarette brand but has apparently asked to be run without tobacco sponsorship on this bike in ‘06. The most likely reason for this, other than a possible dislike of tobacco companies, is that he is still flirting with racing a Ferrari F1 car in the near future. The best way to avoid problems with Philip Morris, the long time sponsor of Ferrari, is to make sure he has no contractual obligations to a competing tobacco company. What colors Rossi will be running next year is yet to be decided but the rumors continue to pop up on motorcycle racing news sites. Finally, there is the constant speculation about Vale becoming a F1 driver in ‘07. Again, the flurry of rumors continued all through September. First, Ferrari sent out a press releases claiming Rossi was basically signed as a test rider in 2006 then Rossi responded with a harsh public statement saying no such thing had been signed and finally Ferrari sent out another message which back pedalled considerably from their earlier claims. Presumably Valentino’s manager has been frantically fielding phone calls from Yamaha, Ferrari, Altadis and Philip Morris all month long and I suspect the actual situation probably isn’t clear to any one of these people yet. All the while, Rossi’s popularity is growing ever stronger and his name is showing up in news reports the world over. We’ll see if October brings any answers…

The rest of silly season has been so completely dwarfed by the Rossi story that very little has made the news. It seems that most of the 2005 championship winners (or likely championship winners when you look at the two international series) are already tied up for 2006. In the AMA series, Mladin (Suzuki), Yates (Suzuki), Duhamel (Honda) and Hayden (Kawasaki) are all staying put for at least another year. The biggest news in the AMA paddock has been Eric Bostrom’s move from Ducati to a Supersport/Superstock ride with Yamaha which, in my opinion, seems like a waste of his talent. The MotoGP silly season has been excruciatingly slow to play out this year and many of the top riders are still unsigned for next year. Leading that list is Sete Gibernau who may be back with Movistar Honda or may be riding for Ducati. Max Biaggi will almost certainly stay with Honda but probably won’t be in Repsol colors. Whether he ends up with the Movistar or Camel team is probably dependent on where Sete ends up. Bayliss and Barros, both teammates at Camel Honda, are unsigned for next year as is Suzuki’s Kenny Roberts Jr. It also appears that Yamaha’s Ruben Xaus, Ducati’s Carlos Checa, Kawasaki’s Alex Hoffman, and all the smaller teams riders like Shane Byrne, James Ellison, Franco Battaini and Roberto Rolfo are without contracts for next season. It seems pretty late in the year for this many teams to be without a signed rider but that may be because the current season still has four races to go. I expect all of these riders to have clarification within the next month. As far as World Superbike goes, it seems certain that Corser will be back with Suzuki next year. However, both Ducati riders, Regis Laconi and James Toseland, appear to be up in the air. Likewise, most of the Yamaha riders (Haga, Pitt, Abe, Gimbert) are still looking for jobs. Honda is rumored to be moving Chris Vermeulen to MotoGP so that opens up a seat at Ten Kate, though presumably his teammate Karl Muggeridge will stay on another year. Who knows what is happening with Kawasaki. Again, I suspect a lot of the WSBK riders will be confirmed in the next month but in the meantime you can always follow who is going where on my silly season web page.

Speaking of the AMA series, a tentative 2006 race schedule has already been announced. Combine this early release of dates for next year with the long term commitment that the AMA Pro Racing board announced earlier this summer for the superbike class rules and you’d almost get the idea that they have been listening to the criticism that has been leveled at them for the past decade. These efforts to get things nailed down early and with more solidity mean that teams can better plan and prepare for the upcoming year. Even better than the AMA’s promptness in this regard is the content of the proposed ‘06 series: As late as February of last year there were only nine circuits listed on the ‘05 schedule while the tentative ‘06 schedule already shows 11. Only three ovals are on the list (Daytona, Fontana and PPIR) while the remaining eight rounds will be at true road race tracks. This year the AMA raced at the same three ovals (and eventually at VIR to make ten rounds) so I’m glad to see that the new addition to the schedule is a venue with a true road race track. Racing at more places that don’t just cram a flat infield into a NASCAR oval will help make the sport safer and will keep the racing more interesting. It is only a baby step but adding one new track is definitely a step in the right direction. Now if only they can find a series sponsor!

Speaking of the new road race track the AMA announcement shows a mid-June date for the inaugural Superbike race at the Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City, Utah in 2006. Even better, this is currently slated to be a doubleheader round so it increases the races on next year’s calendar by *two*. I’m excited about this news for two reasons, the first of which is simply that its close enough that I can actually attend which means I should hit three AMA Superbike races in ‘06: Miller Motorsports Park, PPIR and Laguna. Second, the AMA adding another event in the Rocky Mountain region means that they can now seriously consider dropping PPIR event off the schedule in the future. Its a crappy track for road racing and losing it from the ‘07 AMA schedule wouldn’t be much of a loss. Lets hope the clock has started ticking on how much longer the AMA guys will have to suffer through going round and round the PPIR merry-go-round.

Another bit of exciting AMA Superbike news as the announcement at the Kawasaki dealer show that Team Green would be racing the ZX-10R in Superbike next season with Tommy and Roger Lee Hayden as their riders. This again is great news for the sport because it gets the premier superbike class that much closer to having full participation by all the major manufacturers. Additionally, it puts two of the most talented riders in the series into the top class in the series which again increases the excitement of the racing. Both riders deserve a shot at the top prize in AMA road racing and I’m thrilled to see they are getting their shot. Kudos to Kawasaki for taking up the challenge. Now if only Yamaha was so brave.

Also on the domestic front the AMA Pro Racing board made news this month when they handed down fines to motocross riders Mike Alessi and Matt Walker after the Tedesco/Alessi/Walker incident earlier this month at Glen Helen. At issue was an accident in which Alessi appeared to intentionally take out 125cc championship rival Ivan Tedesco but ended up taking himself down as well. Alessi then stood on Tedesco’s still running bike to prevent him from being able to continue the race. Meanwhile Tedesco’s teammate Walker doubled back on the track to knock Alessi of the Kawasaki so Ivan could get back underway. The AMA decided that because of his actions Alessi needed to take a $5,000 hit to his wallet, as well as a disqualification from the entire Glen Helen round and a 12 month probation. Finally, and perhaps the most painful, is that Alessi is also taken out of the running for the AMA Pro Racing Rookie of the Year award. Walker was deemed to have also acted in a way that negatively affects the sport and was given a $2,500 fine, a disqualification from the second moto at Glen Helen and a was put on probation for next year’s Supercross and Motocross seasons. I have mixed feelings about the reprimand for Walker but I’m thrilled to see Alessi get such a heavy penalty after acting so immature. Bravo to the AMA for taking action on this.

Shifting gears completely, let me mention two completely unrelated things to close out this month’s Odds and Ends.

First, Yamaha did an initial announcement of their new bikes earlier this month and included in that a quick photo of the ‘06 FJR1300 sport touring bike. Then all the info associated with the FJR was removed from their web site which caused all sorts of rumors to start flying around the net. Well, at the Paris Motorcycle Show today the European model FJR was officially announced and the mystery was finally revealed: the 2006 FJR will be released with a semi-automatic transmission. This means it will have a conventional gearbox but will use electronics to handle the shifts without the rider having to use a shift lever. It remains to be announced if this auto tranny will be available on US models or not. This will be the first production street bike since the old Hondamatic and Moto Guzzi Convert to have an automatic transmission so this is pretty big news from a technology stand point. However, as a rider I have zero interest in such a thing as shifting gears is a fundamental part of the motorcycle experience for me.

Finally, I wanted to mention that a new motorcycle movie about New Zealander HJ “Bert” Munro has been released Down Under called The World’s Fastest Indian. I doubt this movie will make it to US theaters but it should eventually be available on DVD some time next year. If you haven’t heard of HJ Munro he build Indian motorcycles in the pre-WWII era as land speed racers. Like John Britten, who came along much later, Munru hand build most of his bike’s parts in a little shed in on the south island of New Zealand and was a real innovator at a time when the application of technology to motorcycles was still at a relatively early stage. His story is a fascinating one to anyone interested in the people who pushed the limits of motorcycles during the infancy of the sport. I think it will make a nice addition to my library of motorcycle movies so I hope the DVD does make it to the US so I can buy a copy. Maybe it will inspire me to finally buy that welder for the garage I’ve been dreaming out…

That’s it for this month. Thanks for reading.

[image from the web site.]

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

August \’05 Odds and Ends…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX, MotoGP

Time to do another catch-up, this time a few updates about what has been happening in August that hasn’t warranted a full length write-up.

I think the biggest bombshell for August was the news that Valentino Rossi has signed a one year contract to continue racing in MotoGP with Yamaha in 2006. After a summer of rumors and press leaks claiming that Rossi was going to make the jump to Formula One car racing with Ferrari, suddenly Rossi is solidified in MotoGP for another year. This is great news for Dorna and the FIM both of whom will have the greatest living motor sports personality in their series for another season. It is also great news for Yamaha who will have motorcycle racing world’s greatest rider with their brand name smeared across the side of his bike in 2006. In contrast, this is devastating news for the other riders who were either hoping to sneak in one more shot at a GP title in 2006 before retiring (Biaggi, Gibernau, Barros, Bayliss, Checa) or the youngsters who are hoping to get their big break (Melandri, Hayden, Hopkins, Elias, Pedrosa). Expect the news for the 12 months to again center around Vale.

Speaking of Formula One, immediately after announcing his MotoGP extension Rossi then spent two days testing the Ferrari F1 car. It appears that this is still a pretty serious interest for the Italian though obviously not for next year. Rumors have now shifted to a possible link between Rossi and Ferrari in 2007. Perhaps Rossi is hoping to get a gig with the Italian powerhouse in ‘07 either as a full time driver or a tester. If that happens it will be a birthday, Easter, and Christmas present for the prototype cage racing crowd as they have struggled with boring racing carried out by boring personalities for years. Rossi would make a splash in the F1 world like tossing a elephant into a kiddie pool. Whether he can be competitive a whole different story…he has only been a few seconds off the pace in testing but finding those last few ticks of the stop watch is the difference between a good driver and a race winner. Still, just imagine an Italian driver in an Italian car racing in Italy where F1 racing is tremendously popular…the only thing better would be having him race a Ducati in MotoGP…

Speaking of Italians, it seems as if yet another Italian motorcycle company is struggling. Over the past half decade we’ve had Ducati’s woes (before being bought by American company TPG), Moto Guzzi’s woes (before being bought by Aprilia), Laverda’s woes (before also being bought by Aprilia), Aprilia’s woes (after running out of money and then being bought by Piaggio), MV Agusta’s woes (after being rejected by Piaggio and bought by Proton) and Bimoto’s multiple woes (the latest being resolved after being purchased by a group including members of the Ducati family). Well, the latest Italian motorcycle company to take a dive is Benelli which has apparently shut down production of all their models. Benelli, one of the oldest of the Italian manufacturers, was out of business for a long time after going under in the ’60s but revived in the 1990s. Now it looks like they are again having money problems and unless they can pull out of their nose dive the awesome looking TNT naked bike and innovative Tornado Tre sport bike seem doomed. It is also unfortunate since Benelli is one of the few companies in the past couple of decades that has been willing to go head-to-head with the Japanese in World Superbike racing. Lets hope they somehow manage to resolve their financial crisis and that Benelli continue to make their interesting motorcycles.

One rescue that has already taken place is that of the AMA Supercross series which has found a new home with SpeedTV after being cut loose from ESPN2. This appears to be a move for the better since it seems that Speed is going to make Supercross their flagship motorcycle program as opposed to jamming it in between semi-pro volleyball matches and bass fishing. Supposedly this is a multi-year contract so hopefully this will keep Supercross’s TV status assured for the foreseeable future. It remains to be seen what will happen with AMA Motocross TV coverage which is currently being shown on OLN.

To continue with the TV thread, how about the three Hayden brothers (Tom, Nicky and Roger Lee) who have been making regular appearances on the boob tube. First, Nicky was on the Today show back in June. Then in August all three brothers were on Leno and this past weekend all three were showcased on NBC’s Jeep World of Adventure Sports TV show. With MotoGP growing in popularity world wide all of this TV exposure will hopefully help give the sport a shot in the arm here in the US. I think this is quite possible not only because the sport is incredibly exicting but also because I can’t imagine better spokes persons for the sport than the three Hayden brothers. All three are talented, all three are very professional and all three are just plain nice guys. Keep those cameras rollin’.

One sport that could use some more press is the AMA ‘05 Endurocross race which is scheduled for November 19th at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. This sport is the bastard child of an unholy union between Enduro racing and Supercross. Its a fiendishly difficult track that includes many of the challenges commonly found in an Enduro race but built into a tight track that can be assembled inside a sports arena. In the same way that Supercross has shrunk the size and quadrupled the popularity of motocross the AMA is hoping the same will happen with Endurocross which brings the excitement of technical trail riding into a more physically concentrated location. Seems very cool to me and I’d love to see it get more press.

A final view of the KTM powered Team KR machine

Rossi’s 2006 plans isn’t the only MotoGP news this month. Another bomb that was dropped was KTM suddenly deciding to drop their support of the Team Roberts KTM/Proton project. KTM had been supplying engines to Team KR, as well as footing the bill for the top spec Michelin tires and covering the salary for rider Shane Byrne. Their abandonment of the project has left Kenny Roberts and this Team KR squad up the creek. For Brno last weekend they rolled out last year’s hand built V5 and brought in hired gun Jeremy McWilliams but teething problems with the motor ended their weekend early. It will be a miracle if they can scrap together the parts and funding to run the rest of the season. I had been forecasting that they would certainly be out of MotoGP by 2007 since KTM would be unlikely to build the 800cc motor necessary to meet the ‘07 rules but it looks like things are fizzling out even sooner. If anyone has $20 million or so to invest I think keeping Team KR in the MotoGP game would be a great investment…

With the 800cc rule solidified in MotoGP all the manufacturers are starting frantic development on motors to match the new format. Hot on heels of the press release of the displacement change came rumors that Honda is planning to built a V3 for the 2007 series. As with most bike rumors, only time will tell if that is true. If it is true expect Honda to go all out with a V-5 engined, RC211V based production superbike bike so that they can get some real sales benefit out of their investment in their MotoGP program. If a Hayden replica will be made just point me where to put down my deposit right now.

In lieu of buying a MotoGP based V5 sport bike then I wouldn’t mind picking up something from an auction of 130 classic bikes previously owned by Gilbert Tiger which will take place in Colorado Springs, CO on September 16th. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for 1960s era single cylinder bikes so the BSA and Ducati bikes in the collection look particularly nice. Still, I don’t think any of these will end up in my garage since I’m still struggling with the choices available for when I finally buy a new sport bike much less trying to get rid of something else to make room for a vintage bike…

My final August Odds and Ends item is the great news that money for a new motorcycle fatalities study has been tucked away in the 2005 transportation bill that was recently approved by the US Congress. Given that motorcyclists have been forced to use the ancient Hurt report which was done twenty five years ago as the basis for all discussions resolving around bike safety, a more modern examination of motorcycle accident statistics is long overdue. It will undoubtedly take many years to gather all the necessary data to get meaningful results but once this study is complete it promises to have far reaching impacts which will hopefully help with rider training, design of safety gear and a better focus of legislative action as it relates to motorcycles.

[image from the Team KR KTM/Proton web site.]

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Speed to the rescue…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX

Back in May, my “Odds and Ends blog entry” was lead off with the news that ESPN had decided to drop their coverage of the AMA Supercross series. OLN was quick to pick up the TV contract for the 2005 Motocross series but it was unclear about whether they would also be showing this coming Supercross season. Well, now the answer is clear as SpeedTV today announced that they have signed a five year contract to televise the AMA Supercross races.

Carmichael flying high

With Supercross popularity continuing to rise, thanks mainly tothe personalities of riders like Ricky Carmichael and Bubba Stewart, it is fantastic to see such a commitment from Speed. It is also interesting to see that the AMA is now marketing the television rights to the Motocross and Supercross series separately. This highlights the issue recently mentioned on Motorcycle Daily about how Supercross as far outstripped Motocross in prestige. This is further illustrated by the recent press releases explaining how riders like Chad Reed and Bubba Stewart are skipping motocross races in order to be ready for the upcoming Supercross season or the news that factory star David Vuillemin has signed a Supercross only contract with Team BooKoo for the 2006 season.

Now it really isn’t all that surprising that Speed would be interested in picking up the TV rights for Supercross. First of all, they have been airing the thirteen episode TV show “The Reality of Speed” which chronicles the lives of the five riders on the Samsung Wireless Sprint team throughout the 2005 Supercross season. Good stuff and a much better use of their air time than some of their other crap like Texas Hardtails and NASCAR Nation.

Speed has also been watching as viewer ratings for their motorcycle coverage of MotoGP have risen this summer. It is hard to quantify exactly what their stats are but it does appear that the numbers for MotoGP are equal to, if not higher than, some of their bread-n-butter car racing programming. While the NASCAR-centric programming directors may not be interested in motorcycle racing I’m sure the accountants are quickly becoming big fans. Speed already has the rights to MotoGP (and its support classes of 125GP and 250GP), World Superbike (and World Supersport), AMA Superbike (Supersport, Superstock and Formula Xtreme), AMA Arenacross, FIM Motocross and FIM Enduro. Quite an impressive line-up of two wheeled racing (’course, they have also reduced Two Wheeled Tuesday to a half-hour, added Biker Build Off and the aforementioned Texas Hardtails so things are all wine and roses).

I’m excited that Supercross not only has a home again but also that it is a more appropriate home than it had previously with ESPN. Now my concern is the impact on their current motorcycle programing because of Speed’s commitment to to show the entire Supercross series 250 races with next day coverage and same week coverage for the 125s. (Hopefully, they will have more appropriate names by this winter!). With some of the roadracing support classes like World Supersport and 125GP currently being televised as much as a month after the race, it will suck if those get superceded with the new SX races. This may even be part of their plan given the wording in Speed’s press release that says “THQ World Supercross GP/THQ AMA Supercross Series will be positioned as the premier motorcycle property on SPEED Channel”. (Sounds like Speed has placed their vote on whether Ricky Carmichael or Valentino Rossi is the greatest of all time!)

Oh well, at least what was once on the way to becoming NASCAR-TV is now becoming Motorcycle-TV. That’s a change I can deal with!

[image from THQ World Supercross web page.]

Monday, August 15, 2005

Bin it or win it…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX

As I mentioned in my my Odds and Ends posting for the month of May the much anticipated show down between the “Big Four” (Carmichael, Stewart, Reed and Windham) that never really materialized in the Supercross season was delayed until the Motocross season. Well, with that season nearly over, it seems that the news is just a re-run of the SX story: Ricky Carmichael is truly the best there is.

Chad Reed struggled (he’s a better SX than MX rider anyway) and Kevin Windham couldn’t quite make the leap necessary to run with RC. But the big news, just like in SX, has been Bubba Stewart. Unfortunately that news is also the same as was told last winter. Stewart is amazingly talented and very fast but crashes have ruined his season. In fact, Stewart ended his Supercross season early because of a crash and then picked back up in the Motocross series with two crashes in the first moto at Hangtown. He then pulled out of the second moto (depending on who you believe the reason for the early retirement being either crash related injuries, dizziness from the heat or being tired from lack of physical conditioning.) A 12th overall finish due to 6-30 finishes was a less spectacular splash that everyone was expecting from the rising star diving into his rookie year in the 250 class.

Stewart at Hangtown

Sadly, the following seven rounds haven’t really been much better for the Kawasaki rider. Another crash at Mt. Morris while still managing 2-2 finishes. The mystery that is Bubba grew even bigger at Southwick where he pulled out of the first moto feeling light-headed and failed to start the second. Was this a health problem? A bike problem? A political battle with Kawasaki? Lots of questions but no answers. Budds Creek offered another chapter to the saga with Stewart bouncing back to card 2-3 moto finishes for third overall. He also had a coming together with RC in practice that kept the rumor mills churning. This was mirrored at Redbud where he again got 2-3 results but this time had a run-in with Windham in the second moto. This mid-season string of podium finishes looked good but the streak came to an end at Unadilla where JBS made a mistake over a jump while dicing for the lead and landed on Carmichael. He was carted off with a possible head injury and thus missed the second moto. This injury kept him out of the following races at Thunder Valley and Washougal as well, though strangely enough he was rumored to have ridden and crashed while practicing pre-race at Thunder Valley. His return was scheduled to be this past weekend at Spring Creek but a pre-race practice crash at Glen Helen put him yet again on the injured list.

As of round 9 of the 12 race series, he has some pretty interesting statistics in his rookie 250 MX season: 6 podiums (four seconds, two thirds) in seven race finishes (the aforementioned podiums plus the 6th in the first moto at Hangtown). He either pulled out or crashed out of three motos and then didn’t start eight motos. Finally, he had fairly high profile run-ins with both Carmichael and Windham though none of them appear to be clear-cut cases of dirty riding. Going into next week’s race at Broome-Tioga, Stewart currently sits eleventh in points a staggering 326 points behind championship leader Ricky Carmichael.

What’s it all mean? Well, there is no doubt that Bubba has been at a great disadvantage all season long to be riding the Kawasaki KX250 two-stroke against the big four strokes that all his competitors are running. It is worth noting that his teammate, the hard riding Michael Byrne, is also riding the KX and his best finish of the season is fifth. (Bryne finished fifth in the second moto at Washougal and his best overall finish has been sixth, which he did on three occasions: Hangtown, Unadilla and Washougal). Stewart’s six podium finishes look good in comparison. Less flattering for Bubba is the fact that Bryne’s consistent riding have him eighth in the title fight versus Bubba’s eleventh. Staying on the bike clearly pays dividends given the AMA points structure.

This is really the crux of the matter. Why is Bubba crashing so much. The theories are numerous: First, that he’s just a “win it or bin it” type rider. This line of reasoning would certainly seem to have been validated based on the recent Supercross season. Bubba was clearly the fastest rider every time he was on the bike and after Orlando seemed to acknowledge that he could afford to slow down and still win. (Then again, he crashed two races later at the Silverdome while leading, handing the win to Reed). Regardless of how fast he is, he finished his inaugural Supercross season in tenth place, 238 points behind eventual winner Carmichael and appears to be doing the same in Motocross.

Another idea is that Stewart doesn’t have the physical endurance to run the more strenuous motocross races, especially with a two moto format, and is just tiring out. I don’t know what Stewart’s physical conditioning routine is but it is obvious that Ricky Carmichael has set the bar pretty high in this regard over the past few seasons. I doubt anyone trains harder than RC. Since most of Stewart’s crashes have occurred in the first moto, and often early in the first moto, there really isn’t enough data to draw any conclusion on this. However, to beat RC straight up will require a rider of incredible stamina…only time will tell if Stewart is training to this level or not.

For another angle, one can always consider the “injury begets injury” idea. Stewart started the season with an injured thumb after a practice crash at the Supercross final in Vegas. He then had two crashes at Hangtown followed by another at round two at Mt. Morris. Not the best way to start the season. It is quite possible…perhaps even likely…that the Hangtown crashes were caused by the injured thumb. Perhaps the Morris crash was caused by lingering effects of getting slammed at Hangtown. These could then have cascaded throughout the season. If so, Kawasaki may be wise to scratch the rest of the MX season and focus on having a healthy rider for the first race on the ‘06 Supercross calendar. Then again, avoiding (or coping with) injury is part of the playing field. Carmichael, Reed and Windham have all had crashes this year but have won despite them. Its a theory but its not an excuse.

Finally, there is always the bike question: As if there isn’t enough mystery in the Team Green camp these days the question of when the new 450 four stroke will debut has still not been answered. At the beginning of the season it seemed a sure thing that it would break cover before the end of the season but time is quickly running out. If Bubba is having to over-ride the KX then there are only a few options. One, see if someone can get into the kid’s head and explain that a top 10 finish on an inferior bike is better than consistently crashing out while trying to run up front. Two, keep him off the bike until the four stroke is ready for prime-time. Three, release the four stroke early and take the lumps that come with developing a new race bike squarely in the public eye. Even if the new bike causes crashes while its being developed, its no different that what’s already happening on the two-smoke.

Perhaps only seeing Stewart ride the 450 will truly answer the question of whether he can run with RC or not. It is also the only way to tell if the incredibily talented James “Bubba” Stewart’s entire career will be defined by the all-or-nothing “win it or bin it” philosophy or if, like Carmichael in the ’90s, Stewart can mature beyond that to become a dominant force in both Supercross and Motocross.

[image from Martin Mosley’s photo gallery web site.]

Monday, July 25, 2005

Glad to be wrong…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX

Well, I’m glad to say I was wrong. In my posting last week about the Colorado round of the AMA Motocross series I said didn’t seem that Thunder Valley was ready to host a national. Well, I’m glad to say that I was wrong.

I headed down on Sunday with my co-worker Michael, his brother Dave and his friend James. Because most of Rooney Road was closed, Michael had forecast that traffic coming into the track via Alameda would suck. We came over Dinosaur Ridge instead and breezed right up to the parking area. It was 8:30am and there was already a 2+ mile long line of cars backed up on Alameda. Whew, good call.

The first thing that was obvious is that the track and the city of Lakewood had put a lot more thought into this event that I’d anticipated. Parking was plentiful, though packed to the gills, and there were hired buses to shuttle people to/from the remote parking areas. There was a motorcycle only parking area in the Dinosaur Ridge parking area but it was in an uneven field which wasn’t particularly flat. This made for a lot of unstable bikes. Its a minor nit to pick but a better motorcycle parking area would have been appreciated!

Another issue that was immediately obvious was that the vendor area wasn’t ready for the massive turnout. From what I could see there were only three food booths and that meant hour long lines for any lunch or drinks. I packed in some snacks and a water bottle but was unable to refill with H2O once I ran out of water. This was potentially the worst problem at the track since 100 degree heat and limited water supply could have been a deadly combination. Fortunately, the cloud cover cooled things off a bit.

Vendors aside, the track itself was a revelation. Michael and I rode down to the track on Friday at lunch so we’d already gotten a peek at the track improvements but once we got inside on Sunday it was even more impressive. First, the track was laid out so that you could walk to nearly everywhere in the infield and all around the outside of the course. There were a few new sections added to the track and a massive amount of dirt brought in to improve the entire circuit, changing it from dinky to national caliber. In most sections, the fresh dirt was two to three feet deep and, unlike the majority of Colorado, soft and loamy rather than hard and rocky. Best yet, the track staff were equipped with water hoses to keep the place damp and tractors to groom out the ruts. Overall, it was a class A facility.

Ricky at Thunder Valley

The racing was class A as well. I’d have preferred it had been tighter racing but it was awesome to watch Ricky Carmichael at the height of dominance. RC just ran away with both main event motos, with the duplicate finishes continuing when Kevin Windham was runner up and Chad Reed rounded out the podium in both races. While Windham put up an admirable defense in the second race, the writing was on the wall after seeing how easily Carmichael had run away with the win in the earlier moto. Ricky was blazing fast in the early laps, seemingly on the verge of crashing all through the rough stuff, then cranked it back down to a smooth consistent pace once he had a gap over Windham. Windham tried to hang tough and was clearly pushing the whole race but ultimately lost time on each lap. Reed was well off the pace and its a miracle he made it through 30+ laps without getting thrown off the bike…make that a double miracle because he still managed two third place finishes. Chad was clearly not comfortable running the times of the front runners.

By the time the second set of motos started, the track was horribly rutted. The braking bumps coming down from the highest point on the track looked like a wicked mogul run at a ski resort and regularly had the fast riders up on the front wheel…fantastic saves were the norm. The knarly track affected the lighter, less powerful “125″ class (actually four stroke 250s) the most. There were some spectacular crashes in the 125 class, including front-runner Grant Langston who got kicked off during the second moto. One person that didn’t have problems with the ruts was Ivan Tedesco. He blazed to wins in both motos with a sizable margin of victory in both. Ex-local boy Andrew Short netted two second place finishes and was clearly the crowd favorite. I was worried that Short would throw it away because he had Tedesco in sight both times and the throngs of fans were urging him to go for it. Thankfully, he put in a very mature ride to earn his two podium spots. Langston lead early but faded back to eventually finish third after being challenged by Short. In moto #2, Alessi took up the fight with Short while Langston crashed and spent the race trying to salvage points. Alessi looked strong the whole race but Short was ultimately stronger…just not strong enough to catch Tedesco. The rough track made passing difficult but unlike the bigger bikes Short made things interesting by providing a bit of dicing in the battle for second.

It is my understanding that Thunder Valley has a two year deal to host an AMA motocross event here in Colorado. With 22,000 fans showing up this weekend, it would seem that this could easily become a run-away success. There are still a few things that need to be sorted out, parking still needs some help and more food vendors are a must, but overall the event was fantastic. Perhaps if I forecast a failure again next year, it will turn out to be even better.

[image from my photo collection.]

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Rinky-dink Colorado tracks, part II…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX

Colorado in general and Denver in particular is a sports crazy place. Football, hockey, baseball, basketball, soccer…even indoor football and lacrosse seem to have huge followings. It seems like the entire place turns blue and orange during football season (whenever that is…I can’t keep track of which damned stick and ball sport happens when!) Likewise, don’t even think of driving through downtown just after a baseball or hockey game as the interstate will be jammed. Why is it then, that there seems to be so little support for motor sports here? The closest national level roadrace track is 90 miles away in Fountain, Colorado? Worse yet, why it is such a dumpy little track even by NASCAR oval standards?

Thunder Valley MX Park

Well, chalk up another question… This year the AMA motocross series is returning to Colorado have a 20-something year absense. The event is going to run this coming weekend at the Thunder Valley MX Park in Lakewood, Colorado. This track is a nice local MX track. Its carved into the side of a hill and, until recently, was owned by the city of Lakewood who provided it as a resource to the community. Nice work and a great place to go ride motorcycles. What it isn’t is a national caliber track…certainly rinky-dink when compared with the classic tracks on the AMA MX schedule. Why can’t Colorado provide something better?

This morning, I was ready to turn this blog entry into one of my rare rants. Railing (futilely, as always) against the craziness of the world but mainly just embarrassingly admitting that once again the best stars of the various forms of motorcycle competition will be laughing behind our back at Colorado’s sad state of affairs when it comes to race circuits. However, before I could summon up all my righteous indignation, a co-worker pointed out a link on the Racer X web site that showed some “secret” photos of the work that has been carried out at Thunder Valley over the past week. While this hasn’t turned the place into another Budd’s Creek overnight, it has added significant length to the track as well as increased the complexity of the place. I don’t know if the plans to make these last minute improvements have been in place all along or if they are a last minute addition based on the feedback offered from the factory teams which tested at the the circuit over the past couple of months. Either way, I am now reserving a bit of judgement about just how inappropriate the place is for holding an AMA national until I see it for myself. (Which, BTW, I plan to do Friday at lunch in hopes of scoping the scene out before heading down on Sunday for the race).

This desperate lunchtime scouting foray leads to another issue that apparently hasn’t been addressed…access to the park. Again, Thunder Valley seems like a perfectly adequate local track. Riders can park close to the entrance and the smattering of fans that may show up for a local MX race can easily filter in or park along the nearby access road. But an AMA national is a whole other beast. Even Pikes Peak has trouble dealing with the fans that show up for an AMA Superbike race and road racing isn’t nearly as popular as motocross. While I’m reluctant to throw out an prospective attendance figure, after all this is the first time the AMA has raced here in two decades, I still suspect the number will be in the thousands. The current plan is to force all the attendees into the track via a single road: South Rooney which is off of Alameda. This seems like a prime fustercluck in the making! Even if the crowds naturally enter the track over the course of a few hours on Sunday morning, you can be sure everyone will try to leave all together once the second moto is over. Nearby E-470 and I-70 can handle a lot of traffic but that doesn’t matter if all of it has to funnel through a single two lane road to get there. Then there is the whole question of parking. I’m not sure the city of Lakewood or the track owners are really ready for this event as there aren’t huge parking areas available in that area…Add in record setting temperatures, along with the last minute news that Bubba Stewart is sitting out the race due to injury, and things are bound to be interesting. Lets hope for a lot of patient fans this weekend!

The recent improvements at Thunder Valley notwithstanding, I still wonder why Denver can spend who knows how many metric crap-loads of cash building a baseball stadium in the middle of downtown and another pile building a huge arena for hockey games, why can’t just a little money get slipped into the budget to build a decent motorsports facility with multi-use tracks (roadrace, oval and MX for example) and with decent highway access?

[image from the Thunder Valley MX Park web page.]

Thursday, May 19, 2005

May \’05 odds and ends

Author: site admin
Category: AMA MX/SX, AMA Supermoto

So things have been happening so fast in the motorcycle racing world that I’m falling behind in getting out the news while still maintaining my one post per day format. As a result, I’m going to cut back on how much I say on each topic for today and try to get out a lot of information in an effort to get caught up…

OLN TV logo

First, after what as been the most exciting Supercross series in years ESPN decided to drop their option to cover the upcoming AMA motocross season. So don’t tune into ESPN2 this summer if you want to watch Bubba, Ricky, Chad, Kevin and all the others duke it out. Fortunately, OLN snapped up the contract and will be televising the series in its entirety. More good news is that OLN is rumored to be getting David Bailey to handle their announcing duties. Based on what I’ve heard when he’s announced the Daytona Supercross on SpeedTV David should be better at color commentary than ESPN’s Cameron Steele or OLN’s Jerry Bernardo. The bad news is that OLN plans to show the motocross races one week after the event rather than showing them live or tape delayed the same day. The current schedule is to show the 250s on Saturday one week after the race and then the 125s will be shown the Thursday after that. The first race at Hangtown in Sacramento will be shown on May 29th. Tune in and support OLN!

Speaking of dirt bike racing, I never got a chance to give a review of the AMA Supercross finale from Vegas. Neither the much anticipated mano-a-mano battle in the 250s or the east-west comparison in the 125s really materialized. In the 250s, Stewart crashed in his heat race which jammed his thumb and he chose to skip the race. With Bubba out, I think Ricky decided to play it safe rather than risk an injury that would put him behind for the outdoor races. Kevin pushed too hard and crashed out while leading. The result was a big win for Reed, hopefully boosting his confidence for the upcoming motocross season. A big crash in the first lap of the 125s put a lot of the front runners at the back of the pack, so the Langston/Tedesco/Ramsey/Hansen/Walker/Millsaps/Grant battle didn’t happen. Millsaps got the win, somewhat redeeming himself after early season crashes took him out of the east coast 125 championship battle. Like the first race of the season, the anticipation for Vegas turned out to be more exciting than the actual race. Now its time to look forward to the opening of the motocross season this coming weekend…

One person that will be missing the AMA Motocross series is Suzuki rider Sebastien Tortelli who broke his wrist in a practice crash just before Vegas. This is too bad for two different reasons. First, Tortellli has always been a better outdoors than supercross rider. He did well during the SX season, finishing seventh, so looked to be ready for a strong season on the motocross tracks. Second, his job during the SX season was to develop the four stroke RM-Z450 which both he and Ricky Carmichael will be running in the outdoors. Now Tortelli won’t have a chance to benefit from all the development work he did throughout the Supercross season. Hopefully Sebastien can return for the last few motocross races.

Back on the asphalt, the support classes for all the roadrace series have eclipsed the premier series, the only possible exception being the MotoGP series. I’ll try to do some postings in the future that review how these series are developing but I will encourage roadrace fans to tune into the World Supersport, 250 and 125GP races and the AMA Supersport and Superstock races on SpeedTV when they are shown on Tuesdays.

A press release that raised my eyebrows this past week was a message from Yamaha announcing that Doug Henry will be racing a pair of factory supported Graves Yamahas in the AMA Supermoto series. Last season it seemed like the AMA Supermoto series stalled out after a first year growth that surprised and excited many of us fans. This faltering seemed even more clear when the first round of the ‘05 season was cancelled dropping the season to only seven rounds. Having Yamaha join KTM in the series as factories with supported teams should help add some much needed prestige this season. Lets hope they can get Honda enticed into fielding a full factory supported team and get supermoto growing again.

In the MotoGP world, Tony Elias has now joined the injured list after breaking his wrist and leg in a testing accident on Monday. He will miss the June 5th MotoGP race at Mugello. The list of who is healthy in the MotoGP paddock is pretty short these days. Its even worse if you think of the mental beating that everyone has taken by Rossi. Those bruises to every other rider’s confidence could be more damaging than any back or wrist injury.

The sad news coming out of California this morning confirms everyone’s worst fears that Team M4 Emgo Suzuki rider Vincent Haskovec has been paralysed after his accident at Infineon Raceway. The Team Hammer web site posted an official announcement. This is sad, sad news not only because Vincent was a popular rider but because he had taken a big step forward this year as a rider and was a genuine contender for the Superstock title. Add in that he was the top non-factory Honda rider in Formula Xtreme and its easy to see how big a hole his absence from the paddock is going to create. My best wishes go out to Haskovec for a speedy recovery to full health and that he has all the support he can get for the rocky road that lies ahead for him.

I think that’s enough for my first effort at catching up. Tomorrow I’ll post my review for this weekend’s AMA race at PPIR.

[image from the OLN TV web site.]