Welcome to a special Sunday edition of Kickstart, brought to you by yours truly. Self admittedly, it’s been a while since I attended a motocross National – the season opener at Fox Raceway to be exact – and I spent much of the day perusing the pro pits and chatting with friends about just what’s going on. While our man on the scene, Michael Antonovich, has taken over Kickstart duties, I thought it’d be fun to dust off my keyboard and jot down some of the things I saw at yesterday’s race… Stay tuned for Kickstart Pt. 2 later in the week!
As the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross National Championship paid its second visit to Fox Raceway, co-promoters Myron Short and Scott Mumford decided to mix things up by turning the track around, backward. While the basic layout was maintained, jump faces and landings were reshaped to accommodate the directional change. Opinions were mixed about the course, as some preferred its flow and tempo, while others disliked the reversed jumps.
Red Bull KTM's Maximus Vohland enjoyed a better showing at the second Fox Raceway National. The rookie led laps at the season kickoff but suffered from mechanical woes that kept him from posting the results he was capable of. This time around, the second-generation rider led the first moto for several laps before eventually crossing the line in seventh. "I was so hot that I was a ctually dizzy the last couple of laps," he told us. "It was really, really hot. I wasn't even sure that I would be able to line up for moto two." But line up he did, and a respectable 15th in the second go-round netted him 13th overall.
Preston Kilroy joined the Lucas Oil 250 MX Nationals after his great showings at Loretta Lynn's, and the BarX Suzuki racer continued to impress at Fox Raceway. After a first-turn crash in moto one that cost him his brakes, Kilroy soldiered on to 16th at the checkered, but he rebounded for 11th in the second contest for 15th overall. Kilroy says that he is satisfied with the results he's turned in since turning pro, but is hoping to crack the top 10 next weekend at Hangtown. We asked him is his National race bike is much faster than the "amateur" bike he raced previously, and he was quick to express how fast his newest RM-Z250 is!
Red Bull KTM's Cooper Webb has looked a lot more like himself the past couple of races. The new Supercross Champion ended up on the podium for the second week in a row, going 4-3 for third aboard his Carlos Rivera-tuned 450 SX-F.
FXR/Chaparral/Honda's Coty Schock was again impressive aboard his Honda CRF450R. "To be top 10 four weekends in a row is killer," said Schock. "After I finished sixth last weekend some people pointed out that it was easy since so many guys are out. But being in the fight is part of it, so to go 7-7 today was satisfying." News broke a couple of days before the Fox Raceway Two National, though, that the FXR/Chaparral/Honda squad would be closing its doors after the Hangtown series finale, leaving both Schock and his teammate Carson Mumford without rides. We've already heard rumors of both riders connected to Suzuki squads; Schock to the HEP Suzuki squad, and Mumford to BarX Suzuki. Fingers crossed that both guys find homes quickly!
Speaking of Carson Mumford, the native Californian was gobbled up in a first-turn crash at the start of moto one, but charged back to 13th. Mumford was again 13th in race two, and suffered one of those odd point breakdowns that saw him dropped to 14th overall. We were told that Mumford struggled throughout the day with an improper bike setting that was inadvertently installed in his machine.
Colt Nichols was on hand at Fox Raceway to support his Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha teammates. "Man, I have been struggling with a shoulder injury for a while now," he told us. "I took some time off but it just won't heal when I keep going out there and racing. Obviously, it prevents me from riding my best, so the team and I decided to sit out the final two and heal up for Supercross."
It's no secret that the Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha riders are competing with Kayaba PSF 1 air forks, tuned by enzo racing. There's a twist, however, as the team pressures up the air springs with nitrogen instead of plain air, as it is more stable and less prone to pressure buildup with added heat. Here, Ricky Gilmore fine-tunes the pressure in Dylan Ferrandis' fork.
Here's a better look at the trick mini nitrogen canister Gilmore used to add pressure to Ferrandis' fork.
We spotted HEP Suzuki's Brandon Hartranft getting his forearms loosened up before the first moto by Dr. Nick Crabrill of Life Solutions Chiropractic "I don't struggle with arm pump, really," said Hartranft, "But it is good to get as loose as possible before racing."
On the track, Hartranft enjoyed his best-ever 450 National finish in eighth. Earlier in the year, Hartranft was questioning his move up to the premier division, but as time has passed he's begun to look more and more comfortable and has abandoned thoughts of moving back to 250s in 2022. The New Jersey racer has resigned with the Twisted Tea/HEP/Suzuki squad for 2022 and is looking forward to improving on his Supercross showings.
Max Anstie missed last weekend's Ironman National due to the COVID-19 virus. but he looked strong at Fox Raceway as he raced to sixth overall aboard his Suzuki RM-Z450. "I haven't done anything for the last ten days, so it was odd," he told us. "I literally had only maybe four days where I felt I had a bit fo a cold, but the rest of the time was waiting. My wife was camped out on the other side of the house to avoid catching it, but I was stuck wondering how I'd do my cooking."
The Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha team uses a fleet of Yamaha pedal-assist YDX Moro mountain bikes to warm up before taking to the track. We've often thought it odd to hook an e-bike up to warm-up rollers, but obviously, the riders do not power them up before their pre-race pedals!
Christian Craig is another racer who missed the Ironman National. While many speculated that he was banged up after his big spill at Budds Creek, he hinted that the problem was in his lungs. Read between the lines, people. It was great to have CC back in action at Fox Raceway, and he turned in a solid fifth-overall performance. Craig is looking to end the season on a high note next weekend in NorCal.
Early last week, we caught up with Brandon Hartranft for the O'Neal National MX Update Show and when he commented on how pleased he was with his Suzuki RM-Z450, we pushed a little further, asking if the team's engine builders were still trying new things to coax more power out of the decade-old powerplant. Hartranft replied that the HEP squad had purchased lots of engine parts and technology from the JGR team when it closed its doors, but has also further continued to develop the powerplant in conjunction with Yoshimura.
SGB Racing/Maxxis/Babbitt's Kawasaki's Jordan Jarvis has been contesting most of this summer's 250 Nationals. At Fox Raceway, she sat in the staging area with her fingers crossed as the fourth alternate for both motos. Sadly, she did not get the chance to compete after all.
Caption contest? Rockstar Energy Husqvarna's Joshua Varize explains how deep the dirt in the back section of Fox Raceway was after the first practice session of the morning.
Justin Cooper told us that racing has been a struggle since his second moto crash at Washougal, as he's been racing with a badly-injured thumb. "I have been taking time off the bike during the week to heal, but that, in turn, has cost me my racing fitness," he said. "Somehow, I managed to win the first moto at Unadilla, but I was spent for moto two and it's been a struggle ever since. We have one race left and all I can do is go out there and give it my all and hope for the best."
Could Thor be the sport's most renowned canine? After winning the 2020 Thunder Valley 250 National, Justin Cooper took his pooch to the podium with him and it caused a social media storm of sorts. In fact, we assisted with a butt patch that J.Coop wore at the following round and hired Patched MX to create a caricature of Thor with a frosted donut in his mouth. Yesterday, we were stoked to see Thor back in the pits alongside Cooper's girlfriend, Jillian O'Grodnick.
As half of a moto brother duo myself, I always love a good brother-brother photo in the pits. AJE Motorsports' Mitchell Falk sat out the Fox Raceway National with an irritated nerve in his back, but his brother Hunter was hard at work as a mechanic on the Troy Lee Designs/Gas Gas team. Mitchell will let his back heal up and plans to be fit and ready to go for Supercross 2022!
It took until the third-to-last round for Jett Lawrence to get his red plates back, and it looks like - with one race left and a 23-point championship points lead - it may be his for good.
The crew at Fox Moto built the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team some one-off retro kits for the Fox Raceway National. Based on the kit Ricky Carmichael wore in 1998, the old-school graphics were printed on a modern-day Flexair chassis. We asked Jo Shimoda if he remembered RC flying the same colors and he said, "I was not even born! Ricky wore this in 1998 and I was born in 2002. It looks kind of old to me." Haha!
Before the start of the first moto, we saw Jo Shimoda and mechanic Colter Ahrens (wrenches for the injured Jordon Smith) doing some reflex drills. Ahrens holds a racquetball in each hand while Shimoda holds his hands just above, but not touching...
...when Ahrens lets a ball go, Shimoda would quickly try to catch it before it hit the ground. We watched for a few minutes and were surprised at how many Jo actually caught. "It helps with reflexes," Jo said. "Maybe that's why my starts have been better."
Austin Forkner's first moto at Fox Raceway was forgettable, as an early crash left him at the back of the pack and struggling to work his way forward. Forkner offset his moto one 15th with a solid ride in fifth in the final moto.
Aaron Plessinger has elected to sit out the final two races of the MX Nationals as he si still suffering from the effects of his spectacular loop-out crash at Unadilla. "My butt is okay," he said with a laugh, "But I have some gnarly pain in the side of my lower back that makes it impossible to ride at full speed." Plessinger was on hand early in the day to wish his teammates well, but we spotted him making a run for it before the temperatures got too gnarly.
Ty Masterpool continued to impress at Fox Raceway. 8-12 scores for 11th overall were credible, considering he had a big crash on the start straight, seconds after the gate dropped on moto two. Masterpool entered the race track in next-to-last place, ahead of only RJ Hampshire, who was also involved in the tumble.
A pile-up in the first corner in the first 250 moto claimed plenty of the top contenders, including Levi Kitchen, Austin Forkner, Carson Mumford, and Preston Kilroy.
It was great to see BarX Suzuki's Derek Drake back on the racetrack after he underwent heart surgery a couple of months ago to correct a birth defect that caused his heart rate to reach astronomical levels while exercising. We've seen Drake in action at our local SoCal tracks for a few weeks now, and cant wait to see what he can accomplish healthy and fit in 2022.
Honda HRC's Hunter Lawrence turned in quiet 6-6 scores for fifth overall. The elder of the Australian Lawrence brothers, Hunter has always been fine being somewhat overshadowed by his younger brother's outspoken personality. Both of the brothers debuted some extra-cool custom Alpinestars kits at Fox, and Hunter sported an awesome one-off Tagger Designs paint job on his SM-10 helmet.
The Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha team had some new AP Designs paint jobs on their Bell Moto 10s this weekend. It's great to see some added color and style to the traditionally all-back Monster M claw lids.
All of the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki riders sported a "Welcome Otto" butt patch in the first moto, a tribute to team truck driver Jim Shoffner's newborn son. "Its good to be back at the races," said Jim Driver, who took a couple of rounds off to stay home with his family. "The whole dad life thing is so much cooler than anyone could have ever explained that it would be. I guess you have to experience it to really understand!"
Initially, we saw the "Welcome Otto" patch on Austin Forker's pants. We asked if he and his girlfriend were new parents and he was quick to reply, "Heck no! I'd be shitting my pants if that was the case!" Haha!
The team all had their normal butt patches for moto two. We like Forkner's grim reaper design...
It was great to see Monster Energy's Communications Director Eric Johnson at the races yesterday! Highly regarded as one of. the sport's most talented writers, EJ has penned work for Cycle News, MXracer, Dirt Rider, Racer X, and more, through the years.
Alex Ray was running around Fox Raceway like a madman, as he has been filling in as Team Manager since having both of his wrists surgically repaired.
Big props to our buddy and SoCal neighbor Ryan Surratt, who's been earning points all summer in the 450 class aboard a privateer Husqvarna FC 450. Surry was 13th at Fox Raceway and sits inside the series' top 20, in 19th!
Magazine guy shoutout! Dennis Stapleton is a test rider for Motocross Action Magazine and Fox Racing, and at the age of 40, made the 40-man field at the penultimate 450 National of the season. "At this point, it's all about having fun and making memories," said Stapo, who always has his dad by his side as his race mechanic. Cool! Fun fact: Stapleton qualified for his first MX National in 2000!
Fast Freddie Noren returned to action at Fox Raceway and earned 10th overall aboard his privateer KTM 450 SX-F. A couple of months ago, we were stoked to have Noren join us in the Plus 25 Pro class at the Swapmoto Race Series TransAm Vet Classic!
After the races were over, we chatted with winner Eli Tomac about his riding style, which often differs greatly from his competitors. In one particular section where others patiently fed their bikes throttle, Tomac flew by with his throttle twisted to the stops. "I guess that's always just been my style," he said. "Hammer the throttle and modulate the power with the clutch!"
Ken Roczen had a forgettable day (for him) at Fox Raceway. The Honda HRC rider wrote on his Instagram account that he "has not been feeling quite right and it was noticeable yesterday." Roczen went on to say that he was badly affected by the high temperatures in SoCal, and that he actually vomited inside of his helmet towards the end of the first moto. All things considered, a 3-6 for fourth overall was quite impressive.
Jett Lawrence told us that even though there are only two motos left in the season, he is NOT thinking about the championship.
The excessive heat at Fox Raceway had riders resorting to a number of stay-cool tactics on the starting line. While the Lawrence brothers utilized ice vests (see previous photo), Justin Cooper has a wet rag soaked in ice water around his neck.
Jo Shimoda, focusing on closing out the series with another podium finish at Hangtown.
SoCal hero Joshua Varize was called up to fill in on the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team at the final two 250 National of the season, and he proved his worth with the first top-10 finish of his young career. Ninth overall, the rookie pro told us before the race that the bike was so fast that he was certain he'd holeshot. And he nearly did! Varize rounded turn one in second and ran inside the top five for quite a while before settling into ninth. Joshua's 9-9 netted him eighth overall, and all of SoCal was proud of its favorite red-headed son. An interesting note: while Varize adapted to the Husky's different bodywork and subframe, and super-powerful engine with ease, he ran his personal suspension from his privateer KTM 250 SX-F at Fox Raceway. "We will do some testing this week and maybe I'll be on the factory stuff at Hangtown," he said.
The Pro Circuit team used battery-powered Makita leaf blowers to keep its riders cool on the starting line.
The gate malfunctioned at the start of the second 250-class moto and racing was delayed for several minutes while the track crew did a test drop and remedied the issue.
It's a hairy situation over at Team 3D Racing...
The mother and son team of Kai and Jen Aiello was in action at Fox Raceway. There's no doubt that Kai was racing for his father - the late Rocky Aiello - as he piloted his Husqvarna FC 250 to 24th overall. #rideforrocky
Jett Lawrence made quick work of the field in the final 250 of the day, as he holeshot and established a sizeable gap on his competition on the first lap. "It's definitely wild that dreams are coming true," said Jett, in reference to his impending first AMA Championship. "But I have to stay on my toes. There are still two motos left and I have to execute."
Look closely at the middle of the photo and you'll see RJ Hampshire's Husqvarna flipping wildly through the air. Hampshire and Ty Masterpool tangled only a few feet out of the gate. According to Jo Shimoda, he was almost a casualty of the crash, too. "Did you see me off the line?" he said. "Right out of the gate. Masterpool smashed into the side of me and bounced the other way into Hampshire!"
Hampshire was last to remount and join the race, but after adjusting his levers he raced past 26 riders to cross the finish line in 14th. Combined with his moto one third, he was sixth overall on the day.
In our first slide of this installment of Kickstart we made mention of the reversed track at Fox Raceway. When chatting with winner Jett Lawrence after the race and asking him what he thought of the opposite layout, he said, "It was alright. The whoops were definitely on sale at CostCo, though..." Gotta love the young Aussie's candor and sense of humor. See you at Hangtown, and stay tuned for Kickstart Pt. 2 from Anton.
Donn Maeda is a 30-year veteran in moto-journalism, having worked at Cycle News and Dirt Rider before launching MXracer Magazine and TransWorld Motocross Magazine. Maeda is the Editor-In-Chief at Swapmoto Live and you can catch him on a dirt bike or in the saddle of a mountain bike on most days.
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