Features 16 Feb 2012

The Matthes Report: 6

Pulp MX's Steve Matthes checks in from the U.S. every single Thursday, presented by Fox.

The West Coast Lites series just saw a dramatic swing in points this past weekend in San Diego when Eli Tomac crashed out in the whoops.

The GEICO Honda rider had been looking silky smooth like Skippy peanut butter up until that moment he went over the bars.

The earplugs that he wears to help him deal with the noise might have cost him a few points as he couldn’t start his bike after the fall and couldn’t hear the track workers telling him that his muffler was packed with mud either.

In any event, he DNF’d, the guy in second (Dean Wilson) won the race and bingo, bango – Wilson’s in the points lead.

And with that, it’s an eight-week break for the guys and the east coast starts this weekend in Dallas or Big D as we call it here stateside.

The owner of the Dallas Cowboys football team has built what might be the nicest stadium ever with an 873 foot (or something like that) hi-def screen so it’s always a good time to head to Dallas.

Barcia was a picture of consistency last year and walked home with his first professional title. Image: Simon Cudby

The big guys with the big expectations divison:

The main guys going for this title will be, in my opinion, the defending champion GEICO Honda’s Justin Barcia, Pro Circuit’s Blake Baggett and KTM’s Ken Roczen. I really believe it boils down to one of these three guys.

Baggett held the points lead last year for a bit before crashing his way to fourth in the points. He did win two races but he was also inconsistent in the fact he didn’t qualify at Jacksonville.

Baggett’s going to be smarter about his riding this year and although he’s pretty quiet on the outside, inside lays an aggressive guy who takes his profession pretty seriously.

And then there’s Roczen. The German is in his first full year of being here in America and he won one supercross race last year (although it was the Las Vegas west round and practically no one remembers it because it was overshadowed by what was going on with the east/west shootout and the title chase) so we know he’s got the speed.

As he said right here last week, doing the west series was preferable to him because he knew the tracks and the stadiums but a broken arm forced him to go east.

Roczen’s going to come into Dallas without the amount of time on the bike that the other two contenders have but that’s alright, he’s too young to know what he doesn’t know. Kid Rocz will be a player.

And then you have the defending champion Justin Barcia who even himself admitted that he might not have won the title if he didn’t hurt his wrist in the second round of the series in Atlanta last year.

He learned how to slow down to go fast, to save his wrist and in the process, he smoothed out and wasn’t prone to his usual erratic behavior. Barcia was a picture of consistency last year and walked home with his first professional title.

Justin’s got Jeff Stanton in his corner this year and that should help him more with the mental side than the riding ability side because Barcia can flat out ride a bike.

The guys who can win a race but it won’t be a surprise division:

Other riders that should be on the box and maybe even grab a win include Barica’s teammate and first year rider Justin Bogle as well as Baggett’s teammate and first year on Pro Circuit’s Darryn Durham.

Both riders have something to prove in the fact that Bogle has to show being the next big thing in amateur moto was earned and Durham, who was a total privateer last year, has to prove to people that owner Mitch Payton made the right choice in getting him on the team.

I don’t want to discount either guy but let’s face it, on the teams they’re on, you have to be a top five guy just by showing up on the weekend and it’s up to these two to show they can take the next step up.

One of the riders that could surprise because he’s got speed is Star Racing’s Kyle Cunningham. Now a veteran of the series, Kyle has always got the tracks down quick and he’s a great jumper. But he’s a crasher folks. It’s that simple, he can’t keep it on two wheels but there’s hope.

Last summer Cunningham seemed to figure it out in the outdoor nationals and he ended up with a career best finish. He was consistent and using the words ‘Kyle Cunningham’ and ‘consistent’ was akin to saying ‘Steve Matthes’ and ‘diet’ in the same sentence.

Cunningham won’t win the series but if he wins a race, no one should be surprised.

Kid Rocz will be a player on the east. Image: Hoppenworld.com.

The guys who have the best hair in the class division:

Rockstar Suzuki’s Blake Wharton was sort of the forgotten man last season on the GEICO Honda team. He’s a past supercross winner and he was riding with two bad shoulders for the entire series. Immediately after the supercross series, he got both his shoulders fixed and laid low all summer.

He switched to the Suzuki and let’s hope he has a better time on the yellow bikes than his west teammates. Wharton doesn’t even have a national number due to the surgeries he’s endured so I imagine at Dallas, there will be a lot of people wondering who that guy is. He’ll be in the top five most times and he’s got that awesome hair as well.

Malcolm Stewart is a lot like his brother James. He’s talented, figures out the rhythms right away and is also black. I threw that last one in there to see if you’re still paying attention.

Unfortunately for Malcolm, he’s also got that Stewart gene in there that says you’re going to hit the ground a few times because that’s what he did last year, his first as a pro. Stewart switched to the JDR/J-Star KTM team for this year and it will be interesting to see how he adapts.

Last year I trumpeted the term ‘Mookie Fever’ because, like James, Malcolm ‘Mookie’ Stewart was exciting to watch no matter where he was.

My fever is going to be running high this year even though James recently told me that Malcolm didn’t like me for whatever reason. I don’t care, I can’t quit Mookie. And the hair? Yeah, it’s gnarly also.

Other riders that you should get to know division:

GEICO’s Jimmy Decotis won’t start the series due to injury but he’ll be good when he does get back into the swing of things.

Alex Martin may be the smallest guy out there (him and Decotis battle that out. Both guys are like Gnomes) but he was great last year and back on his same team this year which should help.

Lance Vincent was one of the top privateers last year before filling in on GEICO and seeing his results go downhill for some strange reason. He’ll be on an Ohlins KTM team and looking to get the magic back.

Matt Lemoine is my bet for ‘guy who figures it out and takes the next step up’. He’s on a Kawasaki this year and will be a solid top 10 rider.

JDR/J-Star KTM’s PJ Larsen was really good at the beginning of the year but then got hurt and disappeared. He needs a bounce back year like Kings of Leon need another hit.

One rider I’ll be watching will be first year pro Canadian privateer Cole Thompson who’s hitting the east series as a full privateer on a Honda.

Thompson could have gotten a small salary up in his homeland and been a hero but instead chose to battle it out in the world of American Supercross. That’s admirable and I hope he does well.