And that’s it for another summer at some of the best tracks in America. The 2023 Ironman Motocross was perfect ending to the eleven-round Pro Motocross Championship, both literally and figuratively, as thousands of fans enjoyed the sunny August weather to see outcome of the 250 Class title and the domination of the 450 Class.
We're impressed by the steady stream of creative graphic kits from SKDA. The Down Under designers "whitewashed" the Muc-Off/FXR/ClubMX bikes for Ironman, a clean look completed with a matching GUTS Racing seat and accented with the blue front-end plastics from Acerbis.
Colt Nichols didn't get a lot of time on the track at Ironman, as his time was cut short by a 450 Moto One crash that twisted up the KX450 and tweaked his wrist, but he says he'll be good to go for the SMX series. Nichols will be with MADD Parts Kawasaki for the three races, a deal that was worked out between the rider, Bubba Pauli's independently-operated effort, and Rick Ware Racing, which is Nichols' primary supporter through the rest of 2022 for the WSX series. "Rick was in a position where we were trying to piece something together for a while. He wanted to help me at a pretty big scale for this whole thing, but he has a lot of other teams going on and was really cool with me going to figure out my own program." Nichols explained to us on Friday. "Derek Rankin was taking a job at MADD Parts for next year as Crew Chief. He was hitting me up, they are on Kawis, and I was already on a Kawi, so everything fit together well. I paid to get this engine done from Mitch so it would match my WSX bike, just to keep everything the same, but this is the MADD Parts chassis and their suspension. They sent an engine, suspension, and ECU to California. I had Mitch do the engine, Dave Cruz do my suspension like he did at Washougal, and Mitch mapped the ECU for Pro6 fuel. Everything is pretty close to what I have at home, and there are a few things that are new, but overall, it's a really cool program with Derek and Taylor Muto involved." Watch Nichols' segment toward the end of the Pre-Race interview video and Pauli's Privateer Power feature for more details.
Alternate Life. Ironman was one of just two rounds this summer when only the original 40 fastest riders in the 250 Class from Timed Qualifying and the LCQ filled the gates during both motos, with the other being Hangtown. The overall results for Spring Creek/Washougal/Unadilla show that 41 competitors participated in the afternoon action, Fox Raceway/High Point/RedBud/Southwick/Budds Creek all have 42 listed, and Thunder Valley had a season-high of 44.
We've noted how the energy and turnout of this summer's crowds was on another level through these recaps, and during Friday's pre-race press conference, a stat shared by Jason Weigandt partly explained why: 150,000-plus spectators attended rounds one through ten of the Pro Motocross Championship, which roughly averages out to 15,000 fans per event. For those unable to see the action in person, footage of the Nationals was broadcast to 133 countries through the international SuperMotocross VIDEO PASS and in America through NBC's assorted channels and Peacock streaming service.
Jorgen Talviku's time in the US with the SC Sporthomes Husqvarna squad had its share of highlights, including a 14th result in 250 Moto One at Southwick, 26 points scored through five rounds (which ranked him 29th in the championship), and this half-bike blast he got over the field when the gate dropped at Ironman. The Estonian racer's summer ended with 19-16 finishes for 19th overall.
Ryder DiFrancesco made the most of his time in the lead during 250 Moto One: the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki rider flew around the clear track on Lap Two in 1:49.692, which was his personal best and the second-fastest of the entire field (eventual winner Jo Shimoda went quicker, with a 1:49.343 on Lap Three). Ryder D's pace waned as the race continued, and he ultimately finished in ninth, but you know, "We can work with speed."
Stilez Robertson told us that he spent an entire month circling the turn tracks on Star Racing's property and at MTF as part of his comeback from an ankle injury. "I didn't get to touch another track, but it was part of fixing my weaknesses," said the Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha rider. "It was just me and my mechanic back there in the woods. There was a schedule of riding; Swanie would have me doing different things, and it really helped me. It sucked, I'm not going to lie because you see everyone riding the main track and having a good time, but I was back there going two miles an hour and sweating. It took a lot of discipline because it was so tempting to go out on the outdoor track and ride for a lap, but it was really good for me. Swanie was a good help, showing me the end picture."
Ironman Raceway has tried various routes and obstacles over the past decade, including gigantic up-down-up jumps on Godzilla Hill, a few different first and second turns, and extensive shortening to the back straightaway (rewatch Jessy Nelson's GoPro footage from 2014 to see a very muddy first lap around a very long track). A technical, off-road-inspired expansion that crossed a creek and went through the woods was demoed on Friday afternoon but got left out of Saturday's race course (a lack of camera equipment was cited as the reason).
Rookie against rookie. Haiden Deegan and Tom Vialle come from very different backgrounds but found each other on the track multiple times this summer during their first run on the Pro Motocross Championship. Deegan's end-of-season stats show an average qualifying position of 5.9, three holeshots, 49 laps led, three moto wins, two overall victories, a 6.5 average finish, and a fourth-place rank in the championship. In contrast, Vialle averaged a 9.5 in qualifying, one holeshot, 14 laps led, one moto win and overall victory, a 9.6 average finish, and was sixth in the championship. We're already excited to see how they do against each other in year two.
Jalek Swoll finished ninth overall in the championship standings. It was a rough start for the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider, as he came back from an arm injury and took another hit at the opening round, but he scored points in 19 of the 22 motos contested, including 11 finishes in the top 10. However, the other half of those results were often outside the top 10; Swoll went 6-14 at Unadilla, 3-12 at Budds Creek, and 11-5 at Ironman.
1/800 at 3.5 and 200 ISO. If anyone reading this has a hook-up at Sony, we've loved shooting with the A9 and the original 70-200mm 2.8 combo over the last few years, but it's about time to re-up, and we've got an eye on the latest versions of the body and lens, plus the soon to be released 300mm 2.8.
Jo Shimoda was on a roll since Southwick. The Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki rider's results from the first moto at the sand round to the end of the season were 6-1-2-3-6-7-3-3-7-3-1-1, which put him third in the championship and down just six points to Justin Cooper.
We followed Justin Cooper through every lap of 250 Moto One, from the carnage that collected him in the first turn to his charge for a 13th-place finish. The Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha rider needed to stay within a few positions and six points of Lawrence to take the title fight to the last moto, but instead finished eight spots behind and allowed Lawrence to score an insurmountable 12 points.
Parts and pieces in Red Bull KTM's trackside UTV.
Jett's eleventh and last holeshot of the summer.
Monster Energy Kawasaki will be the same but different next year, with Jason Anderson and Adam Cianciarulo continuing their time in the factory team aboard the latest iteration of the KX450.
Were you one of the 150K+ who saw these battles in person? If yes, which race did you attend? If not, why?
We were following a bunch of point battles at the final round, including the hotly contested "High Ranked Rider In Van" that came down to Jerry Robin and Jeremy Hand. Robin was so determined to keep his place in the top 20 that he sped up the recovery from an infection in his elbow and seeded himself in with the 19th-best lap in Timed Qualifying.
With the Canadian outdoor series done, Jess Pettis made his annual trip to America and raced in the 450 Class at Ironman. The Red Bull KTM Canada rider is incredibly quick, as shown by his tenth-place finish in Moto One, but his tough luck in the States continued with a pile-up at the start of Moto Two that badly damaged his bike and forced a DNF.
Things were going okay for Jerry until the lack of riding and a busted wheel caught up with him during the motos, and he ended the weekend with 38-35 finishes for 39th overall. But it wasn't all bad, as the points he tallied early in the year were enough to hold off Barcia and Kullas for 18th in the championship.
WSX competitors Shane McElrath, Anthony Rodriguez, Colt Nichols, and Josh Hill lined up at Ironman. McElrath, Nichols, and Hill are now locked in for the three SMX rounds, thanks to their 18th-20th rank in the combined points, but we'll have to wait until the starting lineups are posted to see if Rodriguez will be allowed to race the LCQs, since he was 51st in 250 Class points and 56th in 450 Class points. As for WSX, expect to hear an update on the series' schedule and its financial partners in the coming weeks.
It's been a few years since Jacob Baumert lined up for a National. The Kentucky racer made the trip to Ironman, was 40th in Timed Qualifying, and finished fifth in the LCQ, but lined up for 450 Moto One as an alternate and finished 33rd. Not bad for a six-year gap between attempts.
If you do go back and watch that Jessy Nelson GoPro from 2014, you'll remember that the famous scrub jump used to be the finish line. Imagine seeing this style, lap after lap, across the scoring stripe...
Jeremy Hand might have come up just short in the previously mentioned battle for "Best Real Privateer" against Jerry Robin, but we'd say this year was a massive success for the Ohio racer. Hand did eight rounds, scored 65 points, lined up on a two-stroke at Washougal, had a personal-best finish of 11th in 450 Moto One at Unadilla, and ended the summer with 16-16 results for 16th overall.
Ride through the ruts or over them? Choose your own adventure.
"Come on, Anton! Take his picture!" Shoutout to homie in the ice blue Oakleys for holding the camera as I hoped the fence, the guy in the tie-dye Unadilla shirt for recognizing and calling me out, and my wife and baby for spending the weekend at the track.
Tucker Freight Lines was the title sponsor of the Ironman National, but the Iowa trucking company had more on the track than just some banners. Leo Tucker, son of company owners AJ and Sauny Tucker, raced into the afternoon's 250 Class motos with a fourth-place finish in the LCQ and went 33-31 for 33rd overall. Thanks to the Tucker family for supporting the sport, and congratulations on the results.
This v-shaped speed bump in the long back straightaway wasn't as gnarly as the steep walls used at Red Bull Straight Rhythm, but it worked just as well at reminding riders to check up and ready themselves for the drop into the hole.
Bicycle aficionado Erick "Big E" Bartoldus had BMX icon Bob Haro do a sketch for one of Yoshimura's newest t-shirts. If you'd rather rock a skater print, you're in luck, because the pipe shop also commissioned a cartoon from Steve Caballero. Both are available through yoshimura-rd.com.
Haiden Deegan turned the finish line lane at Ironman into the Mulisha Compound 3. We, like many, spent a considerable amount of time in 250 Moto Two by the triple or scrub single and were captivated by his commitment to doing the leaps all the way to the white flag. It was pretty bitchin'.
Jo Shimoda's overall win at Ironman kept Kawasaki's 41-year run of winning a race every season alive, a streak that started in 1982 with Jeff Ward. This was Shimoda's first-ever 1-1 result outdoors.
Commissioner of Motocross Roy Janson presented Hunter Lawrence with the Gary Jones Motocross Cup, which recognizes every 125/250 outdoor champion since the class' formal organization in 1974. Marty Smith is the first name listed on the base, as he and American Honda won back-to-back titles with the CR125M Elsinore. The Commissioner role was made especially for Janson, who serves as "liaison between MX Sports Pro Racing and the various entities that constitute the overall structure of the AMA Pro Motocross Championship, including AMA Pro Racing, the event organizers that comprise the championship calendar, and the community of commercial entities that participate in the series." Roy's been a part of the paddock since the 1960s, first as a professional racer and then as an event organizer, followed by executive positions with the AMA, PACE Entertainment, Daytona Motorsports Group, and MX Sports Pro Racing.
Congratulations to Hunter Lawrence for enduring an eventful summer and earning the 250 MX championship. The Team Honda HRC rider faced all of the highs and lows that happen in the small-bore division, including mechanical failures and wild first-turn crashes, but he managed to stay near the top through all eleven rounds and clinched the number one plate with one moto to go. He'll race the CRF250R a few more times (SMX and likely MXoN) before stepping up to the CRF450R full-time in 2024.
How often will these three be on the podium together next year? There are more than a dozen guys ready to stake their claim in the 250 Class now that Lawrence and Cooper are both on their way out, and we expect it to be an all-out war between Shimoda-Deegan-Vialle-Kitchen-Hampshire-Vohland-Lopes-Forkner-DiFrancesco-Hymas-Brown-Swoll-Hammaker-Beaumer-Bennick in 2024.
Haiden checked off another box on the "Teenage Sensation To-Do List" when he tossed his jersey into the crowd and started a nine-man tussle over scraps of fabric and sleeves.
If you've got a moment, watch the overhead footage of 450 Moto Two's start back a few times, because every replay reveals another detail of the chaotic gate drop. You'll see how Stephen Rubini was one of the first to flinch, which got Jett Lawrence, Garrett Marchbanks, and Jason Anderson to all creep forward, and how Harri Kullas smashed into the gate on the other side of the doghouse and caused Bryce Shelley to completely botch his launch.
We caught the start of Dylan Ferrandis' high side through the eyepiece of our camera, a fast side-to-side get-off that sent the Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha rider body-first into an awaiting berm. Seeing him take the impact, get to his feet quickly, knock the visor up to see oncoming traffic, and find a Frogger-like route off the track was impressive.
His wife Nastasia was standing on a nearby hill when the crash happened and sprinted over immediately after he was out of harm's way. Props to the couple for their commitment to racing because in the years we've known them, they've maintained a detailed and focused approach that's produced a list of wins and championships.
Grant Harlan, the Pro Motocross Championship's 10th-best 450 Class rider. "I was pretty happy with my summer. I had a couple Motos I wish I could get back, like Hangtown I struggled a little bit, Southwick Moto One, and a couple where I had tip-overs and gave up a lot of points. I'm a little bummed about it, but overall, the summer as a whole and on top of Supercross, it's been a good year so far."
Last mention of Jett's stats: 329 laps led, 1.1 average qualifying position, 11 holeshots, 1.5 average start, 1.0 average finish, 22 moto wins, 11 overall victories, 550 total points.
We appreciate Jared Lesher's dedication to mixing gas and keeping an engine in the revs this year. Ironman wasn't the two-stroke mounted privateer's best, as he went 36-29 for 35th, but his YZ250 garnered as much attention as the factory bikes when it rolled up at six motos this summer.
Ironman was Garrett Marchbanks' birthday weekend, and the Muc-Off/FXR/ClubMX rider celebrated with 7-8 scores for sixth overall. Marchbanks has been at it for a while now, first as a Main Event-winning teenager on Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki and lately as a 250-450 rider with ClubMX, so it's easy to forget how young he really is: the six-year pro just turned 22.
No disrespect to Bryce Shelley, a racer we met at the ClubMX rig and featured in our Budds Creek interviews, but his line choices in the closing laps of 450 Moto Two halted Chase Sexton's last big attack on Jett Lawrence. Also not saying it would have changed the outcome of the race; we just wanted to see what Chase had left to work with.
Damn, dude, he really did it. A few months back, well before the season's first race, I thought about how it must have been to watch Ricky and James go undefeated and, given the current competitive level, how unlikely it could be to see it happen again. So, yeah, having a front-row seat for 18 of the 22 wins was one of many highlights of this summer and my working career. Congratulations, Jett.
Do it for Dale.
Another congrats to Christien Ducharme, as Jett's motorcycles have been flawless for well over a year, with the last mechanical DNF being 250 Moto One at RedBud last summer. The duo has been together since their amateur days at AMSOIL Honda.
Shredded grip tape, dirty knobbies, individually cut stickers, titanium fasteners, stitched seat covers, and celebratory mufflers. It's easy to get caught up in the details of a race bike.
We'll draw this installment of Kickstart to a close with a look at the left side of the handlebars on the podium motorcycles, starting with Chase Sexton's CRF450R and its half-waffle grip with two foam donuts, one on either side of the flange.
Jett Lawrence likes the comfort of a single donut with the half-waffle/half-diamond tread of the tapered ultra-tacky grip and has a notch cut in the flange for the clutch lever to fit into.
Aaron Plessinger is a simple man who likes half-waffle grips and a single donut with the foam facing out.
These three never placed outside the top 10 this summer and finished on the podium 42 times (22 for Lawrence [duh], 15 for Sexton, five for Plessinger).
Respect for just popping the top just enough for some air to flow in, not going all the way.
And that's a wrap on summer at the races. A sincere thank you to everyone at the track each weekend who helps make things happen, from the MX Sports staff and the endlessly working track crew, the teams and riders, our friends in the media tent, and the fans along the fences who tell us how much they enjoy the content.
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.