Gambling At The “World’s Richest Motorcycle Race”

(you gotta) lay it down to pick it upIt’s only fitting that the Maxxis US Open is held in Las Vegas, the gambling Mecca of the universe. For a race that’s not a part of a championship series, and takes place at a time of the year when team spots and contracts have already been filled and Supercross testing has only just begun, many believe that it’s more of a gamble than it’s really worth. Well…that is unless the thought of $100,000 lining your piggy bank sounds nice. Outside of the cash purse, though, what do two guys as highly regarded and decorated in the sport of Supercross as Ricky Carmichael and Chad Reed have to gain or lose from a weekend in MGM Grand’s Garden Arena? In a single, self-assuring word… Confidence.

THE STAKES

If you’re Ricky Carmichael, you’re not just heading into the US Open with a mere two weeks of testing time with your brand-new team on your brand-new bike, you’re also juggling in the back of your mind the fact that you’ve lost the last eight straight Supercross races (last year’s US Open included) to rival Chad Reed. Sure, RC just came off of another amazing undefeated outdoor series, laying absolute waste to anyone and anything in his sight, but Supercross is a whole different animal, and Ricky knows it. “I’m excited to race Supercross… Last year here was the last time I raced it, so I’m looking forward to just getting out and racing. I’m definitely looking forward to the challenge… We’ve all got good contracts and this and that, but I think Suzuki has a great Supercross bike. Everyone knows that’s what everybody wants to win, and that’s what sponsors love. No matter how many outdoor titles you win, everybody remembers Supercross.”

After wrapping up the ’04 outdoor National championship at Steel City in September, Ricky expressed his thoughts about his incredible career thus far. “This championship means a lot to me, especially given the fact that it comes after my knee injury. So this one is definitely cool, but I am not going to be totally satisfied with my career until I’ve reclaimed the Supercross title. Not being able to defend my championship and race Chad this year has been the biggest disappointment of my career.” In the same breath, however, RC is quick to give props to Chad Reed, who has without a doubt stepped up his program and raised the bar in Supercross, but he’s also quick to remind us that there are reasons that the 2003 Supercross series ended with him losing six straight. “I have reasons why I think that took place (getting beat by Reed), and I’m trying to do something about it… I think the engine on the Suzuki is really good, and people know that. As the race wears on and the track gets worse, it’s easier to ride. The bike has a lot of bottom-end, and last year I really didn’t have that.”

So in a nutshell, Ricky showed up at the 2004 Maxxis US Open searching for not only the reassurance that he’d made the right call by going with Suzuki, but he also needed to put a gauge on what it will take to beat Reed indoors in ’05.Chad Reed’s objectives at the US Open were ultimately not that much different than RC’s. Sure, Chad is the defending AMA Supercross Champion and thus confidence shouldn’t be a factor, but keep in mind that he’s never beaten Ricky Carmichael in any series. And to top it all off, he’s coming off of an entire summer of getting his butt kicked by the redhead outdoors, so a little boost heading into his pre-Supercross preparation period would be nice. There would be nothing better for Reed’s confidence heading toward Anaheim than to win the US Open.

THE GAME

So with 100 grand and the next three months of pride and peace of mind at stake, RC and Reedy lined up side by side in the starting gate at night one’s main event. Ricky began his Suzuki career with a holeshot, but it didn’t take long before Reed started to apply pressure. At the beginning of lap five, and much to the crowd’s surprise, Ricky actually appeared to pull over, allowing Chado go by. The two continued to pound out 20 more laps, and by the race’s end, Chad took the checkers a mere three seconds ahead of RC. “I was basically holding him up at that point,” said Ricky of the pass. “You know, he followed me all summer, so I’m going to follow him for a while. I showed him plenty of stuff over the summer. He’s the guy right now, so I might as well learn… I wish I could have given him more at the end, but I will be back tomorrow night.”

Chad, as you might expect, was pumped to ride up front again, especially with Ricky back in the field. “It’s just like old times,” he said from the podium. “I chased Ricky early and once I passed him, it sure was nice to be chased up front. You have to be on your game out here because there is another night of racing. I’m going to be ready for tomorrow.”

Before the start of Saturday night’s main event, both riders did their homework and made some setup changes to their bikes. At the drop of the gate it was once again RC who got the jump and came out of turn one in the lead. Reed quickly made his way into second, and the race was on. When the leaders made their way back into the arena to start lap two, however, Reed was no longer among them. “We changed some things with the bike a little bit and I grabbed a handful and lost traction,” Chad said of his lap one crash. “It was my fault, and I just had to put my head down.” While Chad was charging his way through the field and back to second place, Ricky was busy carving out an eight-second gap between himself and the others. With Chad now back in second, many thought that he’d slowly chip away at Ricky’s lead, but for about ten laps, the opposite actually took place. RC proceeded to pull away, eventually opening up over a ten second lead at one point in the race. What a difference a day makes, huh?!?

Just when it looked like RC had the race and the US Open championship all but locked up, however, disaster struck. “I knew that (Chad) had fallen, and I tried to put a distance on him. On about lap 13 or so, my clutch started acting up a little bit and I was having to adjust it. It was going from tight to loose, and tight to loose, and when I got up in that turn and went to power out, there was nothing there.” Ricky went down in a 180-degree corner when his clutch failed to activate, and his down time was enough to let Chad pass for the lead. “I knew something was wrong,” Ricky said. “The clutch was still going from tight to loose and when I came out of the turn that I fell in and tried to do the triple right after, the clutch just broke. I had a clutch break on my 450 practice bike last year, so I kind of knew what was going on. But it’s a motorcycle, and things are going to break, and I just got the raw end of the deal.”

THE PAYOFF

Chad went on to take the second night win along with the US Open championship, $100,000, and the confidence he was looking to gain as he looks ahead to Anaheim 1. “I knew where Ricky was, but I was watching my pitboard, and slowly my times were coming down and his were staying the same. Unfortunately, he had some problems, but I felt after he fell that it was a fair race and it worked to my favor.” Once again beating Ricky two nights in a row at the US Open, mission accomplished for Chad.

Although not able to finish Saturday night’s main, the ride left RC inspired and much more confident about his decisions going into next year’s series. “It was awesome for me tonight. My speed was good, and Chad got into second pretty quick, but I pulled away,” RC said. “When you’re out there winning and you’re trying your hardest, but the guy behind you is catching you, you can’t really get too pumped to win like that. So tonight gives me a lot of confidence. I’m really happy with what my team did with the bike, but it is a bummer to break. I felt bad for the team more than anybody. I feel great, though, and had a 100 percent turnaround from yesterday. I’m really looking forward to the challenge at Anaheim.”

So in the end, although probably not scripted the way they’d each hoped, both Ricky and Chad left Las Vegas with confidence and smiles on their faces. And sure…the safe bet may have been to not play the game at all, but as they say in Vegas, “You gotta lay it down to pick it up.”

Pro Circuit 125cc Overall Results
1. Greg Schnell, Rancho Cucamonga, CA, Honda (1-1)
2. Troy Adams, Brooksville, FL, Kawasaki (3-2)
3. Thomas Hahn, Belpre, KA, Honda (2-3)
4. Josh Demuth, Dallas, TX, Yamaha (6-5)
5. Brett Metcalfe, Murrieta, CA, Yamaha (4-8)
6. Josh Summey, Richardson, TX, Yamaha (5-10)
7. Michael Blose, Richardson, TX, Yamaha (7-9)
8. Eric Nye, Corning, CA, Yamaha (14-6)
9. Matthew Lalloz, Murrieta, CA, Honda (13-7)
10. Davi Millsaps, Cairo, GA, Suzuki (9-12)

Alpinestars 250cc Overall Results
1. Chad Reed, Dade City, FL, Yamaha (1-1)
2. Nick Wey, Dewitt, MI, Honda (5-2)
3. Mike LaRocco, South Bend, IN, Honda (3-6)
4. Heath Voss, Mico, TX, Yamaha (4-5)
5. Ernesto Fonseca, Murrieta, CA, Honda (6-4)
6. Ricky Carmichael, Havana, FL, Suzuki (2-11)
7. Sebastien Tortelli, Lake Elsinore, CA, Suzuki (10-3)
8. Damon Huffman, Valencia, CA, Honda (9-7)
9. Keith Johnson, Albuquerque, NM, Yamaha (12-8)
10. Kyle Lewis, Henderson, NV, Honda (7-13)e at Anaheim.”

So in the end, although probably not scripted the way they’d each hoped, both Ricky and Chad left Las Vegas with confidence and smiles on their faces. And sure…the safe bet may have been to not play the game at all, but as they say in Vegas, “You gotta lay it down to pick it up.”

Pro Circuit 125cc Overall Results
1. Greg Schnell, Rancho Cucamonga, CA, Honda (1-1)
2. Troy Adams, Brooksville, FL, Kawasaki (3-2)
3. Thomas Hahn, Belpre, KA, Honda (2-3)
4. Josh Demuth, Dallas, TX, Yamaha (6-5)
5. Brett Metcalfe, Murrieta, CA, Yamaha (4-8)
6. Josh Summey, Richardson, TX, Yamaha (5-10)
7. Michael Blose, Richardson, TX, Yamaha (7-9)
8. Eric Nye, Corning, CA, Yamaha (14-6)
9. Matthew Lalloz, Murrieta, CA, Honda (13-7)
10. Davi Millsaps, Cairo, GA, Suzuki (9-12)

Alpinestars 250cc Overall Results
1. Chad Reed, Dade City, FL, Yamaha (1-1)
2. Nick Wey, Dewitt, MI, Honda (5-2)
3. Mike LaRocco, South Bend, IN, Honda (3-6)
4. Heath Voss, Mico, TX, Yamaha (4-5)
5. Ernesto Fonseca, Murrieta, CA, Honda (6-4)
6. Ricky Carmichael, Havana, FL, Suzuki (2-11)
7. Sebastien Tortelli, Lake Elsinore, CA, Suzuki (10-3)
8. Damon Huffman, Valencia, CA, Honda (9-7)
9. Keith Johnson, Albuquerque, NM, Yamaha (12-8)
10. Kyle Lewis, Henderson, NV, Honda (7-13)