With two rounds left to run in the 2008 Toyota AMA Motocross Championships, it has now become a battle for second in both the Motocross and Motocross Lites classes, as both Team Monster Energy Kawasaki's James Stewart and Monster/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki's Ryan Villopoto have wrapped up their respective titles in the MX and MX Lites classes. With near perfect weather, a track that was prepped to perfection, new rookie racers, and veterans returning to action, round 10 at Spring Creek MX Park in Millville, Minnesota, had a lot to talk about besides the championships. So, without wasting anymore of your precious time, lets get into it.[slideshow=5400]
It goes without saying that the biggest news of the weekend was the fact that both titles were wrapped up by Stewart and Villopoto, so that's where we'll begin this week's Kickstart.
For Stewart, the title meant a lot. Since moving up to the premier class, injuries, bad luck, and Ricky Carmichael have hindered the speedy Floridian racer from attaining the only title that he had yet to win. After rehabbing from a knee injury in SX this year, Stewart returned to action at Glen Helen ready to take home nothing less than a championship at the end of the season. After taking the title in the first moto at Millville, James ran a number one on his jersey for the second. "It was cool (to win), so I kind of wanted to celebrate in style," Stewart said. "The guys at Fox came up with the idea to run number one on my back, and I ran it. It was cool and it was a good day. The first moto was a little tougher, because I was actually a little nervous watching the gate on the line, but once I got out there, I felt good." Having already wrapped up the title after the first moto, one would think that James would take it easy in the second, however, that wasn't the case. Stewart jumped out to the early lead and never looked back, winning by just over a minute. "When I got to the halfway point, it said 33 or 34 seconds on the pit board and I still felt good, so I just decided to see where I could end up. I just started to put consistent laps in, and I think I was making up time in the sand whoops, because about halfway through, I found a really good line. I was just trying not to lose time, and it was pretty cool.
In the Lites class, fellow Kawasaki rider Villopoto took home his third consecutive National Championship. For RV, however, his title didn't come as easily as Stewart's did, as a crash in the second moto forced the Washington native to work his way back up from 24th on the first lap. The fall also cost RV the overall victory, which went to previous round winner Ryan Dungey. "I came down on that first downhill and I was charging hard," Villopoto began about his second moto crash. "I hit the brakes, and I think I hit a wet spot, because before I knew it, I was laying on the ground and rolling down the hill—it was super fast."
With the title already his, the next question on everyone's mind is if he will ride a 450 at the last two rounds, just to get his feet wet. As it turns out, RV has other plans. "We were talking about a KX125 for Steel City," RV said. "But no, I'm not going to ride a 450 this year. I was actually just talking to Mitch about a 125 back at the truck—just for Saturday practice, just to do it."
Leading off the riders returning to action from the injured list this weekend was Red Bull Honda's Ivan Tedesco. After repeatedly injuring his ankle in the early rounds of the series, Hot Sauce decided to take a little time off to let it heal up properly. In the first moto, a second-place start saw the New Mexico native run up front for the early laps, but eventually fade to seventh by the end. In the second moto, a first turn pile-up nabbed him, forcing him to work his way back to the front.
Another factory rider that has been out is Team Yamaha's Broc Hepler. But unlike Tedesco where he was injured racing, a preseason test crash that saw him injure his shoulder was the cause of his absence, and since then, he hasn't raced a single national. We caught up to the always-friendly rider before his debut ride for not only the season, but in the MX class as well.
What exactly happened when you crashed, and what have you been up to since being out of action?
It was about a week before Glen Helen. I just went down and I broke my arm, but it was really close to my elbow, so it made for a tough injury. I got screws in it, and it really tightens up the elbow when you have to keep it immobile for so long. It was really tough, but I've just continued to do therapy—even this week I've still been doing therapy—just to make it as strong as it could possibly be to make a comeback.
Have you had a full season yet where you haven't been hurt?
My rookie year in '04 was a good year. I need to get back to that year, and that's what I need to do for next year.
Is there anything that you could account for the number of injuries you've had since turning pro?
I don't know, maybe just trying a little too hard once and a while. Maybe I try a little bit too hard sometimes. That would be my only concern, I guess—maybe I need to tone it down every once and a while.
It is pretty amazing, though, that when you get injured and take a couple months off, you return and are right back up there. How do you do that?
Well, I think it's because I've been out for so long I have to show that I still have my speed. Each time I need to make a strong comeback and go as hard as I can.
What was it like jumping up to the 450?
It was actually easy. I just got on the thing, and I was lucky that I got Grant Langston's set up. I just jumped on his bike to try it out one day and I was like, "Holy cow, this is awesome!" I didn't really have to do much testing, because it was already set up and worked well for me, so that was kind of a relief.
Why did you and Yamaha decided to have you move up to the 450 class?
I didn't have a really good year last year because of my injury, but our goal at Yamaha was always to get me to the premier class. (Jason) Lawrence and the Yamaha of Troy guys were doing pretty good (in the Lites class), so for a while there we thought they would have that class covered. It kind of went downhill (for them), but I guess that's the way that anything goes.
How long have you been back on the bike?
I've probably been riding three weeks fairly hard. I feel pretty good, but I wasn't able to do many motos until this last week when I started working really hard on that. While I was hurt, it was just an elbow, so I was able to ride the stationary bike inside and keep some cardio up. Hopefully it won't get too warm so I can last out there (laughs). As long as the humidity stays down it will be good. I walked the track and they cut the whoops halfway down, so that will help me actually.
Where do you expect yourself to be this weekend at Millville?
It's tough to put a place on it. I mean I just want to go out there and ride as good as I can, because I've never raced a 450 before. Those guys are fast too, and it's hard to put a number on it, because I don't know where my speed is at right now. I've just been staying back in Pennsylvania and haven't really ridden against anyone except my lap times. I don't even know where I'm at until I go out there in practice.
Have you done any other testing besides the initial time you had before you got hurt?
No, I only really practiced on the 450 a week before I got hurt, and then just started riding it at home. I really haven't done any other testing on it other than about two days. Like I said, though, it was a good set up and I didn't think it was a big concern to go out and test.Gavin Gracyk was back in action.
Finally, one other rider that was back on the track was Gibb's Racing/Yamaha's Gavin Gracyk. Gracyk has had an injury-plagued outdoor season so far, but finally is near 100 percent.
While there were a few riders that returned to action this weekend, there were still a few others that were either put on the sidelines or already there. One such rider that we ran into was Team Geico Powersports/Honda's Trey Canard. After having an up and down national season, Trey broke his femur at Washougal a few weeks ago and is on the mend. He was on hand to check out the races and show some support for his team. We caught up with him on Saturday…
Just take us through what happened to you…
It happened at Washougal on the last lap. I came around and a lapper didn't notice that he was getting lapped. I came around, and I think he finally realized that I was there and tried to get out of the way. I just hit his back tire and that was the end of it. It was a stupid little crash, but unfortunately sometimes that's how it goes.
It's your rookie year, so is it disappointing to have this happen to you already?
It could be a lot more disappointing. I could be in the points chase or at least in a decent position. I mean it is a bummer to break my femur, but it could have gone in a lot of other hard ways, and it could be a lot worse. I know that I always come back stronger from my injuries, and it's definitely going to make me a better person in a lot of ways since I have to wait and not ride. You don't realize how much you love something until you can't do it, so I'm hoping it makes me a better rider when I return. That's all I can really hope for.
Was it a pretty scary injury?
It was really scary. When I got up and tried to move, I felt it wiggle around and I kind of went into shock. Surgery and being in the hospital for so long just isn't fun, but I know that's part of it and that's really been my first overnight stay in the hospital; I've been pretty fortunate. It definitely will make me think of myself as being very fortunate, not take anything for granted, and just work that much harder.
Did you have a roommate in the hospital?
No, my mom just stayed with me and I had some cool nurses in Portland. That's about it, just hanging out with the Morphine drip.
How long until you're back to 100 percent and will they take the rod out?
They said that if it's not bothering me, then I should keep it in. But if it starts to bother me, then I'll get it taken out. It's going to be a pretty long road, but the brace did save my knee, which if that had been injured, it could have been six to eight months. I'm not going to worry about it too much and just take the three months that they said I'll have and try to make myself better. I'll just stay in the gym as much as I can and just do a lot of rehab.Blake Wharton (right) did the best out of the many amateurs making their pro debuts this weekend.
Along with the veterans returning to action, there were also a lot of new faces out on the track, as this year saw perhaps the most rookies competing in their first national following this year's Loretta Lynn's Amateur National. Some of the rookies there included PJ Larson, Michael Hall, Blake and Tyler Wharton, Ben Lamay, Nick Friese, and many more. Of those rookies, though, the Wharton brothers had perhaps the best weekend with Blake running near the front of the pack in both Lites class motos to finish an eventual fifth overall, while Tyler took home the Muscle Milk award for the biggest improvement from moto one to moto two in the Motocross class. Before racing got underway, we spoke to Blake to find out his thoughts on his first-ever national. "You pretty much expect a lot of the stuff," Blake said of the race. "The track is a little sandier than I thought, but you know that it's going to get rough and there are going to be fast guys. I'm just going to go out there and try to get a good start to set myself up for a good moto. Since yesterday (Saturday), I feel a little more comfortable on the track. A little more time on the bike and a little more time on the track helps, but it's going good so far."
We delivered this month's new October TransWorld Motocross to cover boy Rockstar/Makita/Suzuki's Ryan Dungey, and he was pumped. Don't forget to check it out soon when it's on newstands in the coming weeks. As for the racing, Dungey took his second win in a row aboard his RM-Z250. "It definitely feels good. Washougal was my first win, but the tracks are two different tracks. Ryan (Villopoto) goes really well here, and he showed it today. He made that mistake in the second moto, though, and I was able to take the win from him. It feels good to get another win." As for which win was easier—Washougal or Millville—Dungey had this to say. "I think this week was easier. The second moto of Washougal, Ryan was on me the whole time, and I really had to be on my game. This week in the second moto, I got out to the lead and tried to not lose much time. I just had to ride to the checkers."
The Millville track this year saw a few changes done to it, however, nothing major other than shortening the always-dreaded whoop section. Of the top-finishing riders in both classes, all had only good things to say about the rough track. Ryan Dungey reiterated what the MX class riders said before him in the post-race press conference. "Yeah, they've been making the tracks a little smooth lately, but I was really pumped on how the track was this weekend," Dungey said. "I thought that we would go out in the second moto and it would be really flat, but they did build us monorails everywhere. Those were pretty intense—you almost had to duck your head, because you were going so fast. The track was rough, and I think it was probably the roughest one yet."Albertson signing autographs for the fans.
One rider that there was a lot of buzz centered around leading into the race was privateer turned factory rider Jimmy Albertson. After earning a spot on the Red Bull Honda team for the remainder of the season, Jimmy crashed while practicing last week, injuring his shoulder and forcing him to sit out Millville. According to Jimmy, though, he will be back for the final two races of the year at Southwick and Steel City. "It was kind of one of those bitter sweet things." Albertson said of his new ride. "I've really been working really hard this year, and I kind of fell into an opportunity to get a Factory Honda ride, which has always been a big dream of mine to be on a factory team. Practice was going really well, and I was looking to get on the podium, which were my expectations set for myself because the bike really was giving me that much of an edge. Things were going really well, and I was out there practicing and pushing it and I ended up crashing and injuring my shoulder." According to Jimmy, he will be back in action next week at Southwick and Steel City.
That's about it from Millville. Be sure to check out the accompanying photo gallery at the top of the article for more behind-the-scenes photos and new tidbits from throughout the weekend. Also, come back this time next week for everything you will need to know about the happenings at the sandy Southwick facility!