BAY AREA BIKERS – Forget Rice-a-Roni: SX is the new San Francisco Treat

By Steve Bauer

When Clear Channel Entertainment announced the addition of San Francisco to the schedule for 2003 it was met with a fair amount of skepticism across the board. The eclectic City by the Bay is well-known as a haven to liberal politicians, artists, and intellectuals, words not often used to describe the demographic of the typical motocross fan.

When the smoke cleared and the last lowboy left town last year the event was declared a rousing success. SBC Park, (formerly Pacific Bell Park) had hosted their inaugural Supercross race to rave reviews from everyone; the fans loved seeing RC doing flat whips in the same tight confines that Giants slugger Barry Bonds lays wood on the ball. At least some of the riders and their families took advantage of the diverse number of cultural and recreational activities that the Bay area offers, such as guided tours of Alcatraz prison and helicopter rides.

A change of scenery was just what the doctor ordered after four shows in Southern California and another in Arizona, and it was with a breath of fresh air that the 2004 THQ AMA Supercross Series headed north, its participants emotionally drained and in search of safe refuge. It was hard to believe that just six weeks earlier hardly anyone knew the names of Steve Whitelock and Jason Ciarletta. In just over a month the series had played host to enough drama and tragedy to last a lifetime.

THE RACE

Carving through traffic in a style reminiscent of his hero, Jeremy McGrath, factory Yamaha rider Chad Reed showed Northern California Supercross fans why he is the clear favorite to win his first AMA 250 Supercross Championship this year. It was just another day at the office for the transplanted Australian as he chalked up his third win of the year.

David Vuillemin rode his most inspired race of the year, first passing, and then pulling away from veteran Honda rider Mike LaRocco in the closing laps of the 20-lap main event to take the second spot on the podium behind his teammate. “I am happy with the way I rode tonight. I lasted 20 laps and had to charge the whole way,” said Vuillemin, noting that LaRocco is known for racing hard to the end. For his part, LaRocco didn’t seem too pleased with third place, following a decent start (fourth). “I had the start and I just didn’t go out there and make things happen. I made mistakes,” said the Indiana native.

The most significant incident of the evening, however, occurred on lap four of the main event when LaRocco’ s Factory Connection/Amsoil/NoFear Honda teammate, Kevin Windham, went down hard and remounted in last place. Undaunted, Kevin shook it off and charged hard the remaining 16 laps, salvaging fifth-place points for his efforts. Though Windham clearly has his eye on the championship, it won’t be easy for him as he dropped another nine points behind Reed, who left the City by the Bay with a 30-point gap over DV, with LaRocco and Windham tied for third just two points behind the Frenchman.

Suzuki rider Nick Wey put in his best ride of the year, finishing fourth ahead of K-Dub and Suzuki teammate Sean Hamblin, still riding sore from recent crashes. Following Hamblin across the line was KTM’s sole 250 rider, 2003 125 National Motocross Champion, Grant Langston, who’s locked in a duel with Moto XXX Honda rider Damon Huffman for the THQ World Supercross title. Huffy finished a strong eighth, followed by the Mach 1 Yamaha of Heath Voss. Michael Byrne, the lone Kawasaki entry, rounded out the top 10.

BAM! DAMN!

Byrne and Langston were involved in a controversial on-track incident that underscores the fallibility of the new hard-line policies being implemented by the AMA in their combined efforts (along with the manufacturers) to curtail the frequency of rough riding incidents and consequently reduce the number of injuries.

The incident in question occurred on lap two of theain event, when (Crispity, Crunchety, Peanut Buttery) Butterfinger Holeshot Award winner Byrne was passed as he exited one set of whoops by an aggressive Langston going to the inside of a fast right-hand turn leading into another set of whoops. Langston drove it in hard and looked like he was going to T-bone the lanky Aussie. Somehow, he was able to hold his line and railed the turn without contacting the Kawasaki rider, save for a possible elbow nudge. As Grant tells it, “We passed each other back and forth a couple of times on the first lap. He passed me over the triple, and I came down the whoops on the inside of him. We were practically side by side, so he knew I was there and that I had the inside for the turn. We came out of the whoops and into the turn really hot, and I threw it sideways as hard as I could so I didn’t hit him. He basically ran into the back of my bike and fell over. We watched it on video a hundred times, and there is no way I took him out.”

Byrne appeared to panic slightly as he entered the whoop section, possibly because (from the replay) it looked like he was headed into some TuffBlox that were put on the track to keep a particular line from getting worn down. “He came down the whoops on the inside of me with his feet off the pegs, wide open. Then he basically just ran me straight into the TuffBlox,” said Burner. “I mean, when I make a block pass, I usually leave the guy enough room so that he doesn’t crash.” In any event, Byrne hit a TuffBlock and went down pretty hard, remounting in 17th place. Watching the replay from the floor of the stadium it appeared that no contact had been made.

Clear Channel Entertainment’s Director of Supercross, Todd Jendro, announced during the post-race press conference that Langston had been docked five seconds for rough riding by the AMA. Most of the journalists and press attending the conference assumed (wrongly) that Langston had been involved in an incident with LaRocco, because Mike had complained about how difficult it had been to get past Langston. “(Trying to pass Langston) definitely frustrated me a little bit and put me off my game,” said LaRocco, “I just don’t want to be around him.” It was later determined that the penalty was indeed a result of the altercation between Langston and Byrne.

The five-second penalty would mean a loss to Langston of two race positions and four championship points, so KTM immediately appealed. The next day team manager Larry Brooks posted a request on Mototalk, a public internet forum, for any video of the incident that he could use in Grant’s appeal.

CONSPIRACY?

Because the AMA did not release a statement regarding the incident, and with Kevin Windham’s appeal hearing scheduled for the Tuesday after the race, conspiracy theorists began to get to work. A popular theory was that the AMA had taken the action against Grant to bolster their case against Windham, as though by penalizing more riders it makes it acceptable. Others figured that it was done to make up for their own inaction at Anaheim 1, when Langston executed the single greatest payback/takeout in moto history against Tyler Evans. While that may or may not make sense from an ethical standpoint, it would never hold up at a hearing because it’s not a logical argument.

JUSTICE

In a surprising decision on Tuesday, February 10, a three-member appeal board voted 2-1 to overturn the 10-point deduction assessed against Kevin Windham by AMA Pro Racing MX/SX Series Manager Steve Whitelock for an incident involving fellow rider David Vuillemin at Round 2 of the series. To say that the Honda camp was happy would be an understatement. Chuck Miller, Race Teams Manager for American Honda, said that upon hearing the good news, he told Kevin that he felt like they had “just won the championship”, and Windham responded by saying, “Maybe we did.”

Though most agreed that there were more reasonable options available for penalizing incidents of rough riding than deducting hard-earned championship points, few pundits predicted prior to the hearing that the AMA board would reverse the penalty. The conventional thinking was that to do so would be seen as undermining the authority of the AMA’s newly appointed National Racing Director Whitelock.

Miller, J.C. Waterhouse (Factory Connection team manager), and K-Dub had made the trek to the AMA’s Ohio offices with little more than three letters of support (from undisclosed sources), Kevin’s version of the incident, and high hopes… When the dust settled they were in second place and back in the running for the title, just 22 points behind Reed.

(Editor’s note: As this was going to press KTM America announced that the AMA had decided to immediately drop all charges of rough riding against Grant Langston. What message has been delivered to the riders over the last several weeks remains to be determined, but you can bet that the racing will be consistently better and the riders much less likely to knock each other down.)

e we did.”

Though most agreed that there were more reasonable options available for penalizing incidents of rough riding than deducting hard-earned championship points, few pundits predicted prior to the hearing that the AMA board would reverse the penalty. The conventional thinking was that to do so would be seen as undermining the authority of the AMA’s newly appointed National Racing Director Whitelock.

Miller, J.C. Waterhouse (Factory Connection team manager), and K-Dub had made the trek to the AMA’s Ohio offices with little more than three letters of support (from undisclosed sources), Kevin’s version of the incident, and high hopes… When the dust settled they were in second place and back in the running for the title, just 22 points behind Reed.

(Editor’s note: As this was going to press KTM America announced that the AMA had decided to immediately drop all charges of rough riding against Grant Langston. What message has been delivered to the riders over the last several weeks remains to be determined, but you can bet that the racing will be consistently better and the riders much less likely to knock each other down.)