PulpMX's Steve Matthes checks in direct from the US every Thursday, presented by Fox.
Seven races down, ten races to go and Rockstar Energy Racing’s (the team really doesn’t want us media types use the word Suzuki as they’re not getting any help from the OEM) Davi Millsaps has a twenty-one point lead in the 450SX class.
It’s a total shocker to anyone in the paddock as Millsaps, in his sixth year in the big class, wasn’t seen before the year as being in contention for this crown. It’s been an amazing run with two wins (his most recent in San Diego) and only one race off the podium, simply put-Millsaps is a new man. Incredible, astounding, rejuvenated, motivated-whatever word you want to use that indicates excellence is appropriate here.
There’s no precedent for what Millsaps is doing, think about it – what rider has made a leap to title contender form also -ran in his sixth season? David Bailey had a couple of so-so years as a pro before getting on Honda and winning the motocross and supercross titles in his second year on red but really, he was an up and coming star no matter what.
In his initial stint in the 450SX class, Millsaps raced four years at factory Honda (2007-2010) and although there were some race wins here and there wasn’t anything like we’re seeing now. In fact, upon leaving Honda there wasn’t anyone there that shed a tear over Davi leaving, it was thought that he was another high-talent, low-work kind of guys that we see all the time in the sport. Millsaps has the talent but the motivation wasn’t there for one reason or another.
But things started to change last year. Yes, a lot of the field was out with injuries but Millsaps, now on JGR Yamaha, was riding well. There were a few races that he and only one or two others would jump a certain section, he charged through the pack a few times, knocked out some podiums and ended the year second in the points. But with the injuries that saw so many “top” guys out, no one was thinking Millsaps was on the verge of, well, anything.
JGR wanted to keep Davi and he wanted to stay but the team wouldn’t go into a multi-year deal for the #18. Millsaps, coming off a solid season under his belt and experiencing life with his first child with wife Brittney, wanted some security. The JGR team was certain that Davi needed that year-to-year contracts to stay motivated, they’ve seen him take the easy way out too many times and figured they’d see it again. Little did they (or anyone) know that this Millsaps was a different dude.
With the help of long-time friend turned coach Ezra Lusk (a retired rider that no one would accuse of not putting in the effort during his career) Millsaps is lean and cut. The laps and work have been put in and his starts on the Suzuki, well they’ve been a huge help.
There’s no better indication of his changed mentality when at Anaheim 2 his bike blew up in the heat and forced him to the LCQ. Once there he easily qualified but his gate pick was far outside. Surely this would be the race that the old Millsaps would’ve packed it in. The odds were steep that he could make much happen and mentally, the “old” Davi would’ve packed it in.
But this wasn’t the same old Millsaps. He went to the gate 19th, grabbed a great start and came around after one lap in fifth. From there he finished fourth and minimized the damage on what could’ve been a bad night. It’s the results on the worst races that determine the champion- not the nights when things are going your way. Nothing told me that we were dealing with a different Davi than that night in Anaheim, California.
Will he win this championship? It’s obviously way too early to say for certain but know this, with a nineteen point lead and with his skills, this is going to be a real challenge to all those riders behind him that are still thinking he’s going to fold. Because right now, Davi Millsaps is cooking up one hell of a story.