Loretta’s. To many, this week in August is the epitome of motocross racing, as it brings the best riders in the country/world together for three motos across that determine the rank of 42 riders in each class. Motorhomes, trailers, trucks, and tents cover nearly every inch of the Tennessee property, so golf carts and minibikes are the preferred mode of transportation for the public to get around from their campsites to the creek for an afternoon swim or to vendor row for some last-minute parts.
This was my first visit to the Ranch. I had read about it for years, Believed The Hype, heard about the post-race protests, and followed the talent that the place has produced. Seeing it in person was quite the sight, even if it was to be a much different vibe than normal.
I don’t know how it could be much bigger, though. Like everything outdoors this year, attendance was apparently way up in light of the COVID-19 crisis and there were people in every viewing area from the first moto all the way to the checkered flag of each race day. Between watching the marquee classes, I cruised the pit area to catch up with industry friends and meet the riders that we’re set to see in pro racing for years to come. Yes, Loretta’s is a high-pressure situation for some, but the long breaks between certain races allow for ample hang-out time.
There are so many riders to talk about from Loretta’s and I know we didn’t touch on all of them, or some nearly enough. If you don’t see something below, don’t fret, because we have more interviews and images coming in the next few days.
Can you name them all? Going to Loretta Lynn’s was our first glimpse at some of the talent that will join the pro ranks in a short time, maybe even as soon as this weekend. We follow the amateur races a fair bit and know the standout names in the classes, but the time spent at the track was a crash-course.
Luca Marsalisi made some noise early in the week when he won Moto One of the competitive 450 B division. It wasn't a one and done ride from Marsalisi though, because he backed it up with a second-place finish in Moto Two, but only mustered a 19th in Moto Three, which pushed him back to seventh overall. We like how a rider from Yonkers, New York, is sponsored by "Deep South Kawasaki."
Reynolds returns to the Ranch. Jett Reynolds missed the amateur national in 2018 and 2019 due to injuries, but the Team Green Kawasaki rider came back on a big bike and was one of the fastest riders in 250 B and Schoolboy 2. Reynolds rode on the limit in his early motos, to the point that he was visibly out of sorts at times and had a hard slam while jumping through the 10 Commandments in 250 B Moto Two that put him in a tough spot for the rest of the week. Beaten up but still in the hunt for Schoolboy 2’s overall win, Reynolds gritted out a second-place finish in Moto Two and kept his shot at the title…
It’s hard to overstate the importance of a good performance at LL and there are riders in every class that push through injuries or issues. Chandler Baker is a kid we met a few months ago at Justin Brayton’s big race in Iowa so naturally, we watched the EBR Performance/Altus Motorsports/Yamaha rider closely. During pre-race chat in the staging area, Baker explained he had suffered a recent shoulder injury, that it had popped out of place multiple times, and was a major pain. Despite the issue, Baker still lined up for both Pro Sport classes and scored a 10th place result in Moto One of Open Pro Sport.
Devin Simonson had an up and down week. The North Carolina racer’s custom painted helmet caught our eye on the starting line of the Pro Sport classes and we watched him score an impressive fourth-place results in 250 Pro Sport. Unfortunately, Simonson had a wild crash over the second infield leap on the opening lap of Wednesday’s Open Pro Sport and his bike was landed on by another rider. The impact damaged Simonson’s bike to the point it wouldn’t restart and he took a long walk back to the campground. The week ended on a good note, though, because Simonson finished ninth in the last 250 Pro Sport race and ended up seventh overall.
Although it wasn’t as diverse as year’s past, there were some international entries in a handful of classes. Chilean Benjamin Garib and his family spend much of their time in the US, particularly in Southern California, and he was a front-runner in both SuperMini divisions. Garib got great starts on his EBR Performance KTM and beat some of the factory flyers to the first turn to score four top-five finishes in six motos. His “bad results” were a pair of DNFs in SuperMini 1, but 4-3-3 finishes put him third overall in SuperMini 2.
The Guru. Tony Alessi is one of the first people that comes to mind when we think of about the Ranch, as the stories of his attention to detail during Mike and Jeff’s days played a part in the famous-infamous perception of amateur racing of the early 2000s, so it was a treat to see him standing next to the starting line again. The SmarTop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts/Honda Team Manager helped Luke Kalaitzian line up in the 450 B and 450 B Limited classes, an unexpected deal that came up after Alessi saw the Southern California rider at Glen Helen. Hit the homepage to watch an interview with Alessi that explains Kalaitzian’s signing, what it takes to win at Loretta’s, and what he thinks will happen at the upcoming pro race.
As for Kalaitzian, he held his own against Matt Leblanc and the rest of the B Class on the MCR bike. Per Alessi, Kalaitzian is a two-stroke specialist and the four-stroke he raced at his qualifier was a 2015 Honda CRF450R that he borrowed from riding coach Kyle Lewis (yes, that Kyle Lewis). With Lewis and Alessi in his corner, Kalaitzian claimed a few holeshots and led laps in the 450 B and 450 B Limited races. Keep an eye on this one in the next year or so.
The battle Leblanc and Kalaitzian had in Wednesday’s 450 B Moto was one of the better duels we saw during the week, as they stayed within a few seconds of each other in the opening laps and traded a few crafty passes. The action came to a head in the Storyland section, when Leblanc’s clean pass forced Kalaitzian to check up and the Star Racing rider rode on to the win. It looked like a rematch was in the works in the final moto of the week on Friday, but it came to a quick end when Kalaitzian clipped Leblanc’s rear wheel in the turn before the mechanic’s area.
Last thing on Kalaitzian. The bike he was on was pretty close being identical to the CRF450R that Malcolm Stewart rode in Salt Lake City, including an XPR engine and other assorted parts. What was missing? The factory Honda wheels and brakes and the Showa suspension, all things that are to be used only by the pro team in Supercross.
How beat down with these same sections get when it’s a field of pro riders only on 250 and 450 race bikes? We’ll see soon enough.
Wednesday evening’s final race was a historic event, as it was the first-ever gate drop for the Mini E class, a special addition that comes from the electric minis now made by KTM and Husqvarna. We waited around to see it for ourselves and nearly missed the start because there were no loud revs before the gate dropped.
This mini bike could end up being the mini bike that thousands of riders begin their riding careers on. Much like the indestructible Z50, the electric motor’s reduced maintenance schedule will be practically idiot proof and it really is quiet enough to be ridden almost anywhere. We’re very excited to see the growth of this segment and have already worked out a special event with KTM-Husqvarna to race them at this year’s Mini Major. More details to come…
JR Reyes was another two-stroke specialist at the Ranch. The Monster Energy/Seven MX/Rock River Yamaha rider took third overall in both the Schoolboy 1 and 125cc classes thanks to 3-3-3 and 3-4-4 finishes, respectively, and is poised to move to the four-stroke soon. Reyes has raced two-strokes all around the world, including an attempt at an EMX round in Europe last year.
Speaking of Reyes, he received some guidance from Malcolm Stewart through the week. Malcolm spends every summer at the race and takes time to help out the riders that are sponsored by Seven and lead Monday's sighting laps for each class.
With Stilez Robertson now in the Pro tent, Talon Hawkins has become the next amateur in line at the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing team. It’s cool to see Husqvarna making use of their two-stroke models and the parts made by their sponsors, plus the way they us the available classes as a way to safely get Hawkins comfortable in high-pressure situations that come in the elite divisions. Hawkins finished second overall in Schoolboy 1 and fourth overall in 125cc.
There were some big questions about this bike ridden by Matti Jorgensen in the 125cc Class, especially because it comes as hype about GasGas coming to the US is reaching an all-time high. Although the bike was registered as “Other” on the entry list, we were told it really is a year-old a KTM with red plastic and special graphics. But it sounds like you’ll hear about a GasGas presence in racing very soon…
Kaeden Amerine is a kid we first met at one of the early Mini Major races, as he was part of the talent flown in by the Seven MX crew. Amerine has grown up and become a top-five B Class rider and during the week at the Ranch, he finished fourth overall in 250 B, an overall that came thanks to a second-place score in the alsrt Moto, and fifth overall in Schoolboy 2. Add the Kansas racer to your short list of amateurs to watch in the next few years.
The postcard shot.
Maximus Vohland is the real deal. The Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/KTM rider won all six Motos of the Schoolboy 1 and 125cc class, a clean sweep on his two-stroke, and built even more excitement around his pending move to the four-stroke. Vohland's riding style is textbook and his height makes it look even more effortless.
Star Racing’s next A Class contender. Matt Leblanc was one of the riders that picked up both of his titles at Loretta’s, 250 B and 450 B. Consistency proved to be key for Leblanc, because while his competition crashed out, he scored wins and top-five finishes. Leblanc knew that he had the titles practically in hand going into the last 250 B race of the week, so he settled for a fifth-place result and picked up a number one plate on his way out of the B Class.
Meet Nick Romano, the other up and comer in the Star Racing squad. The New York native is only 15-years-old, so he still has plenty of time left in the amateur ranks, but he’s on a fast path to being a pro racer. Romano’s week at the Ranch was mixed, because he finished in the top-five more often than not, but his 12th place in 250 B and a smoked clutch caused DNF in Schoolboy 2 ended any chance of a title.
We hope these two, plus Dilan Schwartz, have a rematch on Saturday at the National. The group traded moto wins in the Pro Sport classes, showed their strengths (Gonzales – starts, Robertson – endurance, Schwartz – speed) and their weaknesses (Gonzales – ability to fend off attacks, Robertson – not getting buried at the start, Schwartz – opening lap issues). The 30-minute motos and the intense race pace will be big changes, but all three said that they can handle it.
Robbie Marshall might have raced the two gnarliest and most diverse classes at Loretta’s: Open Pro Sport and 25+. One moto the New England native was going bar to bar with the future of the sport, the next he was in battle with speed veterans that know every fast line around the flat piece of property. Marshall was in contention for the 25+ title until a DNF in Moto Two put him out of the running, but he bounced back to finish fifth in the final moto for 13th overall in the class and ended up eighth overall in Open Pro Sport. Respect.
One expensive mini.
Custom painted helmets are alive and well at amateur events.
Nate Thrasher found his flow midway through the week and the charges that the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/KTM rider put in were exceptional. Thrasher has become one of the guys in amateur racing, something that started in his last mini years and has continued in his move to the 250F.
Matthew Curler is one of the kids that came to the race with little hype but posted good results, with a third overall in 450 B and fourth overall in 450 B Limited. Standing up in a turn, good style, fingers on the levers. Yeah, he knows what he’s doing.
Wish you could scratch and sniff this shot,
Big air comes stock. Levi Kitchen was the first rider we saw huck the massive sand roller after the beach section and it was impressive to see, especially because Kitchen was a B Class rider on what was essentially a stock bike. By the end of the weekend, we saw Hymas and Gonzales do the leap too. Was it faster? No clue, but it was damn cool.
Like we said a few lines above, Dilan Schwartz’ strength is his raw speed. The BarX Suzuki rider has become known for his big rides when the matter most, like the breakout win in 250 Pro Sport Moto One, and he always found a way to the top-five. Starts were the one thing that Schwartz needs to get sorted out, because he’ll soon have even more fast riders to deal with. By the way, Schwartz was one of the many riders that kept Suzuki bikes up front at LL. Say all you want about their dated models, but when in the right hands, they can be competitive.
What separates the elite amateurs from the others? The way they find new lines around the track. Things like doubling over braking bumps, instead of just blasting into them, was a technique used by guys like Mason Gonzales, Stilez Robertson, Chance Hymas, Levi Kitchen, Dylan Schwartz, and so on. Little things like this saved them lots of time and energy.
Josh Varize had a quiet, but good week in his Pro Sport races, particularly the 250 Pro Sport division. The Southern California racer went 6-10-6 for sixth overall, a solid showing for the Orange Brigade KTM rider. With many of the top guys moving on to Pro racing, next year could be Varize’s time to shine.
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JJ. Jordan Jarvis completely dominated the Women class and picked up her third title at the Ranch. Jarvis joined the SGB/Maxxis/Babbitt’s Kawasaki for 2020 and will pit alongside our guy Alex Ray this weekend at the Pro National, where Jarvis will aim to race the 250 Class.
Props to Gage Linville. The MTF rider did double duty by riding a two-stroke in the 125cc Class and then got on a four-stroke for the Schoolboy 2 Class. Linville fared better on the premix burner and went 2-2-2 for second overall, but that’s because a DNF in the final Moto of Schoolboy 2 after earlier 6-7 rides dinged his overall result to 17th overall.
Everyone knows how important an engine is in the SuperMini Class. So, to get a holeshot over some factory bikes says a lot about the EBR KTM that Collin Allen was on.
Kaed Kniffing’s results proved that he is more than just a social media star. The Southern California rider had a rough go in the Open Pro Sport races, but 8-13-14 finishes in 250 Pro Sport put him 12th overall in the class. From what we’ve seen, Kniffing has had an eventful year and has switched up a number of things in his program (bike, gear, practice spot) before going to Loretta’s on a Monster Energy-Seven backed Yamaha. For those of you completely out of the loop on AM racing, Kniffing is the kid on the minibike in the Monster Energy Doonies videos, and another year in A Class could be a big help.
And that’s a wrap on Ryder DiFrancesco’s minibike career. The Team Green Kawasaki rider closed this chapter of the baby book with a clean sweep of the SuperMini 1 and SuperMini 2 classes over teammate and close competitor Gavin Towers. What’s next for Ryder D? He’ll get on the new Kawasaki KX 250 as soon as Pro Circuit gets one in their shop and built for his move to the B Class.
Jyrie Mitchell caught our attention last week. Another one of the kids we had never heard about before pulling into the Ranch, the racer from Bermuda struggled in his first Motos of 250 Pro Sport and Open Pro Sport, but pulled things together mid-week with top-10 finishes in the remaining Motos to finish sixth overall in Open Pro Sport and eighth overall in 250 Pro Sport. Mitchell had a racer’s nightmare in his last ride of the weekend when his lap got splashed by race gas from the top of the tank and he “cooled himself off” with a cup of water as soon as he got off the track.
One of our own. Rene Garcia repped SML on the track in Open Pro Sport and College, two quick classes, and capped off the amateur race with a seventh-place finish in the last race of the College class. Garcia’s plan is to stay back east and line up for the opening round of the National, the first of his Pro career.
You never know who you are going to see at the Ranch. We spotted Ivan Tedesco, Ricky Carmichael, Kevin Windham, Malcolm Stewart, Matt Walker, and Matt Bisceglia all wandering the property at one point in the week.
It had been a while since we last saw Matt Bisceglia. Now based in South Carolina, Bisceglia is working as a trainer and coach at the South of the Border facility. We’ll have an interview with MB about his new gig on the site soon…
027 – Lil Red Dog. Evan Ferry put in his time on minibikes and yeah, he rode the hell of the little Husqvarna in the six motos. Starts were a problem throughout the week for the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna rider, which meant that he had to come from deep in the pack more often than not. His efforts earned him a set of second place rides in SuperMini 2 and second overall in the class, plus 4-5-2 finishes for third overall in Supermini 1. Ferry will soon move to the 125cc spot that’s now held by Hawkins.
Amateur riders, expert race craft. Jett Reynolds knew he needed to get Nate Thrasher behind him to keep a shot at the Schoolboy 2 title and as soon as the gate dropped, Reynolds blocked the line and forced Thrasher to check up as they charged towards the first turn.
Chance Hymas went into the last Moto of Schoolboy 2 with a shot at the title. A poor start and off-track excursion on the opening lap made for a few tense moments, but a hard charge to catch Romano and a runaway win was enough to score his first championship at The Ranch. Hymas has been working with Jake Weimer, as he’s also an Idaho guy, and has a wild riding style that’s loose, fast, allows him to make quick passes. The plan now is uncertain, because he could be bumped up to A Class by Team Manager Ryan Holliday for 2021…
Mini parts, big money.
Didn't see the press release for the collab Rick and Morty gloves from FLY Racing...
Michael Antonovich has a wealth of experience with over 10 years of moto-journalism under his belt. A lifelong racing enthusiast and rider, Anton is the Editor of Swapmoto Live and lives to be at the race track.
Great write-up and photos! It should be noted that attendance was far-less than normal though. I live just 33 miles from the Ranch and go every year. I was surprised at how NOT crowded it was compared to normal.
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