Features 8 Aug 2013

The US Report: 31

PulpMX's Steve Matthes checks in direct from the US every Thursday, presented by Fox.

Well that’s it. The last off-weekend for the AMA nationals has come and gone. The series is nine rounds deep and now it rips off three in a row (Unadilla, Miller Motorsports – an all-new facility – and Lake Elsinore) to complete the series that, if I’m honest, has lost a bit of its intrigue with KTM’s Kenny Roczen crashing and DNF’ing a moto at Millville.

It’s hard to imagine GEICO Honda’s Eli Tomac losing his now-big grip on the 250MX title (although with teammates Wil Hahn suffering two mechanicals and Justin Bogle one, perhaps there is some chance disaster strikes) without a total meltdown on his part. And in the 450MX division, Kawasaki’s Ryan Villlopoto has this thing on lockdown and that’s probably even IF a mechanical problem happens. He’s been that good this season.

But with all that in mind, there was still some stuff happening on the week and here are some thoughts on that:

Eli Tomac is now a clear leader in the AMA Pro Motocross' 250 class. Image: Simon Cudby.

Eli Tomac is now a clear leader in the AMA Pro Motocross’ 250 class. Image: Simon Cudby.

The annual X Games event put on by ESPN went down in Los Angeles this past weekend and as far as moto is concerned, there was one event that was interesting. The Moto X competition was held on the floor of the Staples Center Arena. This event was basically an arenacross (29-second lap times) with a metal ramp to dirt landing in the center. It had a very short start that was chaotic at times and a pretty basic track. Chad Reed signed up as did Josh Hill, Justin Brayton and it was also the return of Jason Lawrence to pro racing.

In the end Brayton (who was fastest qualifier) won with a dramatic last-lap pass on Hill to take the gold medal and the (rumored) $60,000 first place prize. Reed fell in the first turn- most riders did at one point or another – and worked up from last to fourth.

The race was seen by a lot of eyeballs here in America and that’s certainly great for the sponsors of the top three riders but in my mind ESPN could help the sport of Supercross/Motocross by televising one of the 17 rounds of Supercross or 12 rounds of Motocross. But yeah, that won’t happen so we’ll have to live with some sub-par tracks, quirky format and being treated as an after-thought by the folks at the worldwide leader in sports.

Josh Hill of the RCH team rode Supercross for the team this year and two years after crashing horribly while getting ready for the X Games Speed and Style event (an event that combines racing with tricks) was back at X (although thankfully NOT in Speed and Style). Hill didn’t win but he came close and he showed speed all day in LA. Remember his 2013 Supercross was another false start for him and many didn’t think he’d ever make it back. But through a lot of hard work he did come back and even won a heat race this year.

An in-form Josh Hill is confirmed to race Supercross in Australia. Image: Simon Cudby.

An in-form Josh Hill is confirmed to race Supercross in Australia. Image: Simon Cudby.

The second half of the year saw Hill put in some great rides and seemingly make it back from where he once was-which was a promising young kid with talent although at times a bit misguided off the track. Hill’s deal didn’t include outdoors with RCH and his contract is up for 2014 (although it looks like he’ll be back) but for now, he’s off to Australia to race the SX series there. Just don’t close the door on the #75, he’s looking better and better.

Last week was the annual Hot Prospects Race otherwise known as Loretta Lynn’s Amateur nationals outside of Memphis, Tennessee. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this in whatever country you’re in reading this but amateur motocross in America is a BIG deal. The kids and parents are chasing the (almost) impossible dream and it’s a big profit maker for the tracks and sanctioning bodies to hold races all over the country.

The system we have here rewards the kids with support, travel money and bikes and parts beyond their wildest dreams. Of course that’s only for the select few that have picked up GEICO Honda or Team Green rides. The reason why Loretta’s is so prestigious over, say, the other 50 races that run all year round is that it’s very hot in Tennessee in August and the motos run for 20 minutes compared to four or five laps for most amateur races.

The entries are capped and there is a series of area and regionals a rider must compete in to make it to Loretta Lynn’s. Also, the track is used just once a year so there’s no one that has it wired. It is truly the fairest system and toughest test for the amateurs and if you win one of the big classes at Loretta’s (250A and B Stock and Modified), you’re definitely looked at as someone that could make it in pro MX.

Loretta Lynn's is the proving ground for up and coming racers. Image: MX Sports.

Loretta Lynn’s is the proving ground for up and coming racers. Image: MX Sports.

With that in mind the big winners at the Ranch this year were GEICO Honda’s Matt Bisceglia who dominated his classes as well as Aaron Plessinger who also swept his class. Bisceglia, the Horizon Award winner for best racer of the week, is going right into the GEICO Honda truck for this weekend’s national and should run top ten while Plessinger was a huge surprise for being so good at motocross as he’s also an off-road rider.

When you’re one of the top riders at Loretta’s it’s proven that you can immediately step into the pro ranks and run the pace. This has changed a lot over the years as I can remember top amateur riders like Timmy Ferry and Jimmy Button were barely able to break the top ten straight out of the ranch. When Damon Bradshaw finished fourth at his first ever national it was a huge deal – that just didn’t happen.

Compare that to James Stewart, Ricky Carmichael, Mike Alessi, Josh Hill, Ryan Villopoto, Trey Canard and others who were on the podium shortly after debuting as a professional. The amateur motocross scene is perhaps one of the biggest things to change in motocross in the past 10 to 15 years. The money, the support, these kids have trainers, they do pro-length motos, they are all homeschooled (a big sigh here…) and the parents often quit their jobs to take junior racing.

Of course they hope it pays off in the end but for most of them, it won’t. The teams are snatching up kids as early as the 60 class to try and groom them into being professionals and the days of a Jeff Stanton coming out of amateurs with really no hype are long, long over.