Endless Summer

Hangtown Sets the Tone For What Could Be a Long, Painful Summer… Unless Your Last Name Ends In Carmichael, Of Course

In Bruce Brown’s epic 1966 surf documentary, two surfers travel the globe in search of the perfect wave and an endless summer. Ahhh… Endless Summer… Even the name sounds nice! But if we fast-forward 39 years and change the focus to motocross-the sport’s elite may end up begging for the exact opposite. You see, if the season opener at Hangtown as well as the sport’s recent history is any indication, the rest of the 250cc class is in for a long, seemingly “endless summer” of their own. Whether riding green, red, yellow, two-stroke or four-Ricky Carmichael is a motocross machine, and he kicked off the summer of 2005 in the same way he concluded that of ’04-laying waste to everything in his path, most notably his colleagues.

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The 250cc class wasn’t the only thing I had my eye on as Swap and I rolled our gold Ford Taurus rental toward the Prairie City OHV area on Saturday morning for practice. Also catching my attention was an African American gentleman wearing a Tasmanian Devil-print button-up shirt and swinging a set of nunchakus as he crossed the street in front of us. “Did you just see what I just saw?” Swap asked. “I think so,” I replied. After a bit of disbelief and a good laugh, we continued down the road, but the morning definitely picked up a new vibe-a good vibe, and we couldn’t wait to get to the track.

THE BUILDUP

Once Swap and I got the nunchakus out of mind, we proceeded to have a quick conversation about the 125cc class. With a talent pool deeper than any year either of us could think back to, we were both pretty excited to see how their season would kick off as well. With crafty veterans like Ryan Hughes, Mike Brown and Grant Langston facing off against the young blood of Broc Hepler, Mike Alessi, Josh Grant and others, we knew it was going to be a special weekend all the way around. But let’s get real. With Ricky starting over on a brand new bike after turning in another perfect 24-0 series last summer, Bubba making his 250cc National debut, Chad Reed’s amazing ability to get faster every time he rides and K-Dub’s smooth and precise outdoor prowess-it didn’t take long for our conversation to find its way back to the premier class.

In its first major challenge, could RC’s RM-Z450 last an entire National moto? Bubba might have more raw speed than anyone on earth, but can he put it all together for 35 minutes? Will the pressure get the best of him? And what about that two-stroke KX250? Can it hang with the burly 450s? These are just a few of the questions that ran through my head as I bogged my way through the freshly watered Hangtown infield to observe the first practice of the day. When the 125s hit the track, I was pumped for sure, but when the big boys rolled out for 250cc practice number one I couldn’t fight off the goose bumps. At the end of the day, we were stoked that the practice sessions went off without a hitch. Swap snapped some great photos, all of the top contenders made it through the day intact and everybody who was expected to be fast was exactly that-fast. The only thing that really surprised me on Saturday was the man who sat atop the lap time chart at the end of the day. Chad Reed, not RC or Bubba, set the fastest time of the day. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t surprised to see that Chad had stepped up his program, but the outdoors belong to Ricky. Don’t they? Swap settled me down and assured me that it was only practice and that things would be quite a bit different come race time. Late and in a hurry, we jumped in the Taurus and headed to the airport to pick up our slithery Art Director Luis “El Cobra” Rodriguez.

RISE AND SHINE

Bright and early, Swap, “El Cobra” and I arrived at the track to catch all of the practice and qualifiers. For the three of us, the day stted off great. The Taurus ran like a champ, the McDonald’s was settling nicely and we were all prepared for a day of blistering sun and action-packed racing. For Chad Reed, on the other hand, the day didn’t start quite as he’d planned. A gnarly get-off on one of Hangtown’s downhills during the first of two practice sessions left Reedy with a concussion that he wasn’t quite able to rebound from. Number 22 still raced, but he later commented that the crash changed the dynamic of his entire day. “It was just the cards I was dealt this weekend with having my big crash… All I can do is go home and regroup for next weekend. It’s going to be a long summer,” said Chad after the race. Whether or not Reed had the stuff to hang with Ricky for two 35-minute motos will have to be decided another day.

MAYHEM

When the first 125cc moto loaded the gate at 1:00 sharp, it was tough to predict a winner. The class is stacked, and there are legitimately about six to seven guys who have the speed to win races. When the gate finally dropped, Amsoil/Chaparral/Honda’s Josh Grant put his CRF250R out front, with his amateur rival Mike Alessi close in tow. Grant immediately extended a small lead, but by lap five he’d been caught and passed by a charging Broc Hepler. “Iceman” checked out once in the lead, and went on to win the moto by nearly eight seconds over Monster Energy/Pro Circuit-Kawasaki’s Grant Langston. Langston was forced to work his way through the field after a mediocre start and stalling his bike early in the moto, but his speed and determination spoke volumes for his ’05 goals. Ryan Hughes was also impressive as he charged his way forward, but while closing in quickly on Mike Brown who sat in second at the time, Ryno went down in a corner, and eventually had to settle for fifth. At the checkers it was Hepler, Langston, Brown, Short and Hughes…

After seeing Hepler pretty much dominate all of moto one, I expected the same out of him in moto two. When the gate dropped this time around, the top two from moto one had flip-flopped. Alessi led Josh Grant into the first turn, and the two quickly opened up a gap. Hepler didn’t get the best of starts and ended up going down midway through lap one while passing in traffic. After battling from deep in the pack, Iceman ended the moto in fifth and third overall for the day.

The real story of moto two developed between Alessi and Langston. Langston threw a pass on Alessi for the lead early in the race, but went down in a rut just two turns later. Remounting and beginning his charge from some 30 seconds down, Langston showed the Hangtown fans what he’s all about. Digging deep and making up a deficit that seemed insurmountable, LL Cool G found himself only 4.5 seconds down as he crossed the white flag and began the final lap. I know, 4.5 seconds is still a lot to make up in just one lap, but after seeing the last 10 that Langston had just laid down, there was no doubt in my mind that there would be a battle before that lap was over.

Heading into the final corner, Langston stuffed it inside on what looked to be a pretty aggressive move. Both riders went down, but somehow Langston managed to keep his bike running. With a dislocated left ankle facing in the wrong direction, Grant quickly remounted to win the moto, as well as the overall. Alessi, exhausted and no doubt frustrated, couldn’t get his thumper restarted, and eventually finished the moto in 15th. “The last two laps, I started getting tired because of the two practices this morning, and the qualifier and first moto,” Alessi said after the race. “It started wearing on me for sure, and Langston was catching me rapidly. I thought I had it… I don’t know where he came from. He was a freight train that last lap… I don’t want to say that he ghost rode his bike into me, but it seemed like that for sure. I never saw him, just the bike coming into me.”

We later learned from Langston, and then confirmed via video footage, that he caught his foot in a rut midway through that last corner. Not only was that the cause of his dislocated left ankle, but it was also responsible for pulling him off the back of the bike, resulting in the additional contact made with Alessi. No matter what your opinion of the last corner contact, though, both riders rode an amazing race, and I personally can’t wait to see how the rest of the series unfolds.

DOMINANCE

All the hype in the world doesn’t seem to mean a damn thing to Ricky Carmichael. The anticipation leading up to each and every new series can be somewhat overwhelming for some, but consistently, year after year, RC shoots down the hopes and dreams of all those hoping to step up and challenge. “Obviously the media likes to hype it up for the fans, and the fans want to see it, so there’s a lot of talk,” Ricky said. “And being that Chad beat me the last half of the Supercross season, even though I won more races than anybody else, people are quick to forget. But it’s good to have that hype-it’s fun, and it’s good for the sport.”

Not only was RC up for the challenge at Hangtown, but as he has in the last four-straight National season openers, RC made his competition look silly. It’s difficult to explain in words just how dominant Ricky’s performance truly was. Jump for jump, corner for corner, RC flat-out spanked his colleagues all day long. His moto wins at Hangtown were his 28th and 29th straight; it was his fourth-straight overall win at Hangtown, and his fourth-straight opening round win. And while his competition limped back into the paddock looking like they were running on their last drop of fuel, RC looked calm, cool and collected-like he could jump back out and do another 35 minutes with ease. The man’s a machine, and it’s no doubt going to be a long summer for everybody else.

Now you know the result, but here’s how it all unfolded… Reed and Fonseca had a slight edge on Ricky as they rocketed down the start straight in moto one, but within a corner, RC had established himself as the early leader. As the tight group filtered into a corner at the top of the first of many Hangtown uphills, an overzealous Fonseca hit the back of RC’s rear tire and caused a chain reaction as he went down. “I caused that crash,” Ricky said later. “It wasn’t intentional… But I think Ernie just came in a little hot, and it was just a chain reaction after that.” Claiming Reed and Windham, the crash was enough to allow RC to immediately slip away. K-Dub was forced to pull off the track to replace a broken shift lever, and as a result could only muster up a 21st place finish at moto’s end. RC checked out, winning the moto by 47 seconds in front of an impressive Reed who worked his butt off to get back up to second. Vuillemin took the third spot, and Travis Preston, in his first ever 250cc National moto and his first National, period, since Steel City in 2002, cruised in for a solid fourth. What about Bubba? He had a moto he’d rather forget. After battling back from a poor start, James crashed twice, but still managed to squeeze out a sixth place finish by the time it was over.

Realizing of course that some of the heavy hitters had their fair share of problems in moto number one, there was still something in the air that let you know that RC had them all covered. I don’t know what it was exactly-maybe the fact that he’d won 28 straight heading into moto two-but you just knew. With a clean start and all four of the class favorites up front by the end of lap one, it was on! Ricky led the charge after holeshotting the moto, and Reed, Windham and Bubba followed. What more could the Hangtown fans ask for? This was the race that every motocross fan on earth was longing to see. True to form, RC put the hammer down on his RM-Z and slowly started creeping away from the pack. K-Dub got by Reed for second and began distancing himself, and then Reed began stretching it out a bit over Bubba before he eventually pulled off thecaught his foot in a rut midway through that last corner. Not only was that the cause of his dislocated left ankle, but it was also responsible for pulling him off the back of the bike, resulting in the additional contact made with Alessi. No matter what your opinion of the last corner contact, though, both riders rode an amazing race, and I personally can’t wait to see how the rest of the series unfolds.

DOMINANCE

All the hype in the world doesn’t seem to mean a damn thing to Ricky Carmichael. The anticipation leading up to each and every new series can be somewhat overwhelming for some, but consistently, year after year, RC shoots down the hopes and dreams of all those hoping to step up and challenge. “Obviously the media likes to hype it up for the fans, and the fans want to see it, so there’s a lot of talk,” Ricky said. “And being that Chad beat me the last half of the Supercross season, even though I won more races than anybody else, people are quick to forget. But it’s good to have that hype-it’s fun, and it’s good for the sport.”

Not only was RC up for the challenge at Hangtown, but as he has in the last four-straight National season openers, RC made his competition look silly. It’s difficult to explain in words just how dominant Ricky’s performance truly was. Jump for jump, corner for corner, RC flat-out spanked his colleagues all day long. His moto wins at Hangtown were his 28th and 29th straight; it was his fourth-straight overall win at Hangtown, and his fourth-straight opening round win. And while his competition limped back into the paddock looking like they were running on their last drop of fuel, RC looked calm, cool and collected-like he could jump back out and do another 35 minutes with ease. The man’s a machine, and it’s no doubt going to be a long summer for everybody else.

Now you know the result, but here’s how it all unfolded… Reed and Fonseca had a slight edge on Ricky as they rocketed down the start straight in moto one, but within a corner, RC had established himself as the early leader. As the tight group filtered into a corner at the top of the first of many Hangtown uphills, an overzealous Fonseca hit the back of RC’s rear tire and caused a chain reaction as he went down. “I caused that crash,” Ricky said later. “It wasn’t intentional… But I think Ernie just came in a little hot, and it was just a chain reaction after that.” Claiming Reed and Windham, the crash was enough to allow RC to immediately slip away. K-Dub was forced to pull off the track to replace a broken shift lever, and as a result could only muster up a 21st place finish at moto’s end. RC checked out, winning the moto by 47 seconds in front of an impressive Reed who worked his butt off to get back up to second. Vuillemin took the third spot, and Travis Preston, in his first ever 250cc National moto and his first National, period, since Steel City in 2002, cruised in for a solid fourth. What about Bubba? He had a moto he’d rather forget. After battling back from a poor start, James crashed twice, but still managed to squeeze out a sixth place finish by the time it was over.

Realizing of course that some of the heavy hitters had their fair share of problems in moto number one, there was still something in the air that let you know that RC had them all covered. I don’t know what it was exactly-maybe the fact that he’d won 28 straight heading into moto two-but you just knew. With a clean start and all four of the class favorites up front by the end of lap one, it was on! Ricky led the charge after holeshotting the moto, and Reed, Windham and Bubba followed. What more could the Hangtown fans ask for? This was the race that every motocross fan on earth was longing to see. True to form, RC put the hammer down on his RM-Z and slowly started creeping away from the pack. K-Dub got by Reed for second and began distancing himself, and then Reed began stretching it out a bit over Bubba before he eventually pulled off the track due to dizziness. Ricky finished the moto some 26 seconds ahead of Windham, and that was after slowing his pace considerably on the last few laps.

James Stewart is unquestionably the first guy who comes to mind when you ponder the idea of RC losing a moto, but for now, those thoughts will have to wait for another day. Bubba threw down some pretty fast lap times on Saturday, but come Sunday, nerves, or possibly a bit of a flu bug, got the best of him. John Ewert, Kawasaki’s Public Relations spokesperson, briefly addressed the press after the race to fill us in on Bubba’s condition. “The reason James pulled off the track, basically, is that he got light-headed and a little bit dizzy. He felt he was better off to just pull off rather than risk any unfortunate circumstances that could have potentially occurred. He obviously exerted a lot of energy in the first moto after crashing twice and then moving back up into the top ten (sixth).” It’s way too early to count Bubba out, as there’s no doubt that he has the skill to win races. But based solely on what was witnessed at Hangtown, James has some work to do.

AFTERMATH

As if the day wasn’t heart-wrenching enough for all of RC’s challengers, at the post-race press conference, Ricky discussed the fact that his bike wasn’t even setup to his standard, and that things can only get better for him in weeks to come. “We’re going to keep getting better,” said RC. “I think the other guys have a lot of time on their bikes-especially Chad. That bike’s been the same for a long time. And Honda has a lot of experience with their aluminum chassis. So I think we’re going to keep getting better and better. We have some ideas of where we need to improve just from this weekend.” Ricky also commented about the fast lap times that were put down on Saturday by the other guys. “I really didn’t have much pressure this weekend other than that the guys were riding fast yesterday-trying to prove a point. But I knew that when race time came, that’s when I needed to show up.” And show up he did. Ricky laid down the gauntlet for another potentially “endless summer” for everybody else…

2005 HANGTOWN NATIONAL OVERALL RESULTS:

250cc Class

Ricky Carmichael (1-1)

Chad Reed (3-3)

David Vuillemin (2-4)

Travis Preston (4-5)

Juss Laansoo (5-8)

Michael Byrne (9-6)

Ernesto Fonseca (12-7)

Heath Voss (10-9)

Kevin Windham (21-2)

Jean Sebastian Roy (14-10)

Jeff Dement (13-11)

James Stewart (6-30)

Tim Ferry (7-35)

John Dowd (8-34)

Ryan Clark (15-16)

125cc Class

Grant Langston (2-1)

Mike Brown (3-2)

Broc Hepler (1-5)

Ivan Tedesco (8-3)

Josh Grant (7-6)

Danny Smith (12-7)

Paul Carpenter (13-8)

Akira Narita (10-11)

Mike Alessi (6-15)

Matt Walker (38-4)

Andrew Short (4-29)

Steve Boniface (14-12)

Ryan Hughes (5-35)

Brian Gray (11-17)

Billy Laninovich (9-19)

the track due to dizziness. Ricky finished the moto some 26 seconds ahead of Windham, and that was after slowing his pace considerably on the last few laps.

James Stewart is unquestionably the first guy who comes to mind when you ponder the idea of RC losing a moto, but for now, those thoughts will have to wait for another day. Bubba threw down some pretty fast lap times on Saturday, but come Sunday, nerves, or possibly a bit of a flu bug, got the best of him. John Ewert, Kawasaki’s Public Relations spokesperson, briefly addressed the press after the race to fill us in on Bubba’s condition. “The reason James pulled off the track, basically, is that he got light-headed and a little bit dizzy. He felt he was better off to just pull off rather than risk any unfortunate circumstances that could have potentially occurred. He obviously exerted a lot of energy in the first moto after crashing twice and then moving back up into the top ten (sixth).” It’s way too early to count Bubba out, as there’s no doubt that he has the skill to win races. But based solely on what was witnessed at Hangtown, James has some work to do.

AFTERMATH

As if the day wasn’t heart-wrenching enough for all of RC’s challengers, at the post-race press conference, Ricky discussed the fact that his bike wasn’t even setup to his standard, and that things can only get better for him in weeks to come. “We’re going to keep getting better,” said RC. “I think the other guys have a lot of time on their bikes-especially Chad. That bike’s been the same for a long time. And Honda has a lot of experience with their aluminum chassis. So I think we’re going to keep getting better and better. We have some ideas of where we need to improve just from this weekend.” Ricky also commented about the fast lap times that were put down on Saturday by the other guys. “I really didn’t have much pressure this weekend other than that the guys were riding fast yesterday-trying to prove a point. But I knew that when race time came, that’s when I needed to show up.” And show up he did. Ricky laid down the gauntlet for another potentially “endless summer” for everybody else…

2005 HANGTOWN NATIONAL OVERALL RESULTS:

250cc Class

Ricky Carmichael (1-1)

Chad Reed (3-3)

David Vuillemin (2-4)

Travis Preston (4-5)

Juss Laansoo (5-8)

Michael Byrne (9-6)

Ernesto Fonseca (12-7)

Heath Voss (10-9)

Kevin Windham (21-2)

Jean Sebastian Roy (14-10)

Jeff Dement (13-11)

James Stewart (6-30)

Tim Ferry (7-35)

John Dowd (8-34)

Ryan Clark (15-16)

125cc Class

Grant Langston (2-1)

Mike Brown (3-2)

Broc Hepler (1-5)

Ivan Tedesco (8-3)

Josh Grant (7-6)

Danny Smith (12-7)

Paul Carpenter (13-8)

Akira Narita (10-11)

Mike Alessi (6-15)

Matt Walker (38-4)

Andrew Short (4-29)

Steve Boniface (14-12)

Ryan Hughes (5-35)

Brian Gray (11-17)

Billy Laninovich (9-19)