Hangtown Countdown

By Steve Cox

With an extra week off for the teams and riders to prepare for the Nationals following a largely predictable Supercross series — although not without its controversy — there were a lot of questions to be answered. Chief among them: Would Ricky Carmichael be able to return to his winning form after missing the first series of his career because of an off-season knee surgery?The easy answer is, yes.

In the following pages, we’re going to count down the top notable items from the 2004 National Season Opener. Enjoy!

MOTHERS REJOICE

It’s an easy thing to forget now that the race has taken place, but this was the first year in a really long time that motocross fans with families didn’t have to juggle Mother’s Day with a trip to Glen Helen, or choose between celebrating one or the other.

In the past, it was fun to listen to stories of what fellas had to buy for their wives in order to get the okay to go watch the men race outdoors. Last year, we heard stories of purchasing diamond tennis bracelets and trips to salons for their “better” half just before Glen Helen (which can significantly increase the price of a weekend at the races). Some husbands even went so far as to trade chores such as changing diapers for a month. Thanks to the AMA’s reorganization of the schedule (after much prodding), fathers can have their cake and eat it too, spending time with their mistress (the AMA Nationals) at a later date.Thanks, AMA!

This helped the teams solve a few sticky points as well. First off, with more time to test, they could enter the outdoor series with a bit of a renewed vigor. In addition, the series now begins and ends in California, where most of the teams are headquartered.

FOUR-STROKE NATIONALS

Gone forever are the sounds of 40 buzzsaws leaving the start line together, as James Stewart was basically the only 125cc contender with a choice of bikes who actually chose to ride a two-stroke. The only other contenders on two-strokes were the KTM125 SXs of Ryan Hughes and Brett Metcalfe—as the orange 250cc four-stroke isn’t in production yet.

In the 250cc class, every single factory-supported rider was aboard a four-stroke if they could’ve been, as Team Yamaha’s Chad Reed, David Vuillemin, and Timmy Ferry were all aboard YZ450Fs, Honda’s Ricky Carmichael was on a CRF450R, Heath Voss remained aboard his YZ450F (and his Mach 1 Yamaha teammate Ezra Lusk, if healthy, would’ve ridden the same machine), Grant Langston was on a KTM 450, and on and on.

The only factory riders on 250s were Suzuki’s Sean Hamblin and Nick Wey, and Chevy Trucks Kawasaki’s Michael Byrne. And one of those may be four-stroke-mounted soon enough, as word on the street leading up to Mt. Morris was that Hamblin was testing the RM-Z450 prototype that’s being raced in Europe. Neither Suzuki nor Kawasaki have used up their one-year four-stroke prototype exemption from the AMA production rule yet.

HAMBLIN HAULS

Team Suzuki’s Sean Hamblin had a bit of a disappointing Supercross season, but don’t forget it was his first full 250cc SX season, and he’s only 21 years old. Coming into Hangtown, Hamblin laid waste to the Prequel field at Glen Helen — a field that included (even if for just one moto) 125cc National Champion Grant Langston.

At Hangtown, Hamblin moved through from a so-so start in moto one to grab a strong fifth at the finish. The only people who beat him were the four-strokes of RC, K-Dub, Reedy, and DV. Hamblin was plain on the gas in the first moto, outclassing all other two-strokes on the track.

In moto two, Hamblin got a better start and ran fifth behind the same four guys for most of the race before succumbing to the charging Damon Huffman (on a Blackfoot Honda CR250R) due in part to some gnarly hand blisters. Still, his 5-6 score was good enough for fifth overall and top two-stroke.

LANGSTON STILL WOUNDED

Red Bull KTM’s Grant Langston returned from tendonitis surgery, but he should’ve taken more time off. “I’m gng to try and race and see how it goes,” Langston said as he iced his right hand after practice. “The doctor’s advice to me was to take two months off, but there’s not much worse than not starting the season, because you start off behind. I’m hoping that I can finish, and then with the weekend off heal up some. Unfortunately, it doesn’t allow me to train and ride like usual. I don’t know how my fitness is, but I think that my speed’s all right. We’ll see how it goes. If it’s impossible to ride on the track, maybe I’ll take some time off and come back for the last couple of Nationals, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to avoid that.”

LL Cool G dropped out part way through the first moto and didn’t return for moto two.

DNQ

A whole bunch of notable 125cc pilots didn’t even make the motos at round one, including Michael Brandes, Tim Weigand, Bobby Kiniry, Josh Summey, Brian Gray, Justin Buckelew, Richie Owens, Kevin Johnson, and Teddy Maier. Does that mean there still are some fast local guys in California? (Well, many of those riders are from California.)

BLACKFOOT IN FORCE

With the Canadian Nationals starting soon, the Blackfoot Honda team was on hand at round one of the down-south series to use it as a warmup. Both umpteen-time Canadian National MX Champ Jean-Sebastien Roy and his teammate Damon Huffman were conspicuously two-stroke mounted (both on CR250Rs in the 250cc class), and both were contenders—especially in moto two.

Roy pressured Hamblin for fifth in moto two, even passing the Suzuki speedster, and after Hamblin fought him off, Huffman came up and passed his teammate, then made a pass stick on Hamblin for fifth in the moto—and first two-stroke that time out.

“I raced the two-stroke last season with Blackfoot in Canada, and that’s what JSR and I are riding again — the two-stroke,” Huff Daddy said. “So I’ve been on it a few days now, and I’m still getting used to it, and that’s why we’re here at Hangtown, for a little more testing and a little more getting used to it. We’re just trying to prepare for the first Canadian National in June.”Also competing for Blackfoot was former Red Bull KTM replacement rider Ryan Morais, who finished ninth overall in the 125cc class, scoring his first career National points in his first career AMA National on his CRF250R.

DAVI’S DREADFUL DAY

Suzuki’s Davi Millsaps had a hard time of it at his first AMA National, spending a lot of time on the ground and finishing out the day with only one point, from his 20th-place finish in the second moto on his factory RM-Z250.His teammate (and fellow RM-Z250-mounted rookie) Broc Hepler, however, was the third rider in the battle with Roncada and Stewart in moto two and finished third on his way to fourth overall.

Hepler’s home race is Mt. Morris, held two weeks after Hangtown.

RED DOG RETURNS

Team Yamaha’s Timmy Ferry made his long-awaited return to racing at Hangtown, even though he admitted it was pushing it for him to return that soon. “I’ve only been riding a couple weeks now,” said Red Dog. “In the first moto, I did all I could to hold on, but the pain was just too severe as the laps wore down.” Red Dog ran as high as 10th in the first moto before dropping off the pace. Not wanting to overdo it, the future father dropped out. “We have another weekend off before the next race (at Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania), and I will try to use that time to work my wrist back into race shape,” said Ferry.

JOSH GRANT IS FOR REAL

If you look at Hangtown’s results and expect that to tell you the story, you’ll be missing a big part of it. Josh Grant’s maiden race for the Amsoil/Chaparral/Honda team was something to behold.

“This bike’s a lot better suspensionwise,” Grant said of his Factory Connection CRF250R in comparison to his amateur racebike. “I was a little stiff in first practice, but second practice was really good. I’m ready to go. Until the gate drops, I’ll have some nerves, but after the gate drops, adrenaline will take care of that.” That it did.

The youngster got his third holeshot of the weekend (having nailed both qualifier holeshots on his way to winning those races) to start the first moto, and then he promptly pulled away to a massive lead during his three laps up front. Then, just after Stewart moved into second, he fell over in a corner and couldn’t immediately restart his bike.

After restarting his machine, he rode for a few laps before retiring and preparing for moto two. In the second moto, he got his first non-holeshot of the weekend, but methodically worked his way up into the top five before he overjumped a downhill double and landed in the flat, smashing his chest into the bars and dropping out of the race.

Expect great things from this rookie.

BUBBA IS HUMAN

After seeing his performance last summer (winning the last 14 motos of the year) people can’t be blamed for thinking that James Stewart, still in the 125cc class, would have a chance at putting together a perfect season in the 125cc class, just like fellow Floridian Ricky Carmichael did in 2002 in the 250cc class.

Although Bubba won both motos at Hangtown, and did so by a decent margin both times, it was the second time in as many races that Stephane Roncada gave him fits before Stewart ran off to win. As crazy as this may sound, the fact that he didn’t win by 30 seconds or more is considered a failure by some.

“You know, I actually got a really good jump today in both motos, but I sunk down in the sand,” Stewart said of his starts. “The last couple of weekends, with Vegas and everything, have been four-stroke tracks, so I don’t know. I feel like I’ve got a good bike. I got arm—pump all day. The first lap of the second moto my hands cramped up, so I wasn’t feeling my bike a lot. Hopefully we can get it fixed before Mt. Morris.”

Apparently arm—pump isn’t new for Bubba at Hangtown either. “Last time I raced here (in 2002) I got arm—pump, but this was the worst ever,” Stewart said.

DA DO RONRON

Pro Circuit’s Stephane Roncada, like David Vuillemin, is a Frenchman with tons of speed and a reputation—deserved or not—for not training very hard. And just like Vuillemin, not many people were picking RonRon to take on Bubba yet again—like he did in Vegas. But that’s exactly what he did. In the first moto, Stephane didn’t start very well, but as the race wound down, he found himself in second and holding steady a few seconds behind James Stewart.

Moto two was the one people are still talking about, however. Roncada grabbed a good start and moved to the lead right away, and before the field reached the green flag at the finish line, Bubba was all over him. “In the second moto, I got another good start, and after he passed me the first time, I tried to make it a race,” Stephane said. “It was really fun for me, and it was a good challenge.”

Roncada and Stewart traded the lead at least eight times in the ensuing laps, and Roncada wasn’t backing down. Basically, no one thought going into the weekend that Stewart would have a challenge this early in the series—if at all. But RonRon had his Pro Circuit KX250F singing up and down the Hangtown hillside, and it seemed like Stewart was doing everything he could to fight him off.Roncada is banking on winning a race this summer. “It’s going to be really hard,” RonRon said. “My bike’s running really good outdoors. I’d like to win a race, he said.”

Stephane is even running the beard he had in Supercross. He says he won’t shave it off until he wins an overall.

“It’s been two weeks now. I’m running it.”

In between motos we spotted RonRon dining on a chili dog and a Dr. Pepper. Amazing!

REED IS SERIOUS ABOUT MX

Throughout the end of his first National title run in this year’s THQ/AMA Supercross Series, Reed kept emphasizing that he was serious about the Nationals this year.

“The last couple years, I came into the Nationals wanting to win everything,” Reed said. “Obviously that didn’t happen, so I got sort of discouraged. That it did.

The youngster got his third holeshot of the weekend (having nailed both qualifier holeshots on his way to winning those races) to start the first moto, and then he promptly pulled away to a massive lead during his three laps up front. Then, just after Stewart moved into second, he fell over in a corner and couldn’t immediately restart his bike.

After restarting his machine, he rode for a few laps before retiring and preparing for moto two. In the second moto, he got his first non-holeshot of the weekend, but methodically worked his way up into the top five before he overjumped a downhill double and landed in the flat, smashing his chest into the bars and dropping out of the race.

Expect great things from this rookie.

BUBBA IS HUMAN

After seeing his performance last summer (winning the last 14 motos of the year) people can’t be blamed for thinking that James Stewart, still in the 125cc class, would have a chance at putting together a perfect season in the 125cc class, just like fellow Floridian Ricky Carmichael did in 2002 in the 250cc class.

Although Bubba won both motos at Hangtown, and did so by a decent margin both times, it was the second time in as many races that Stephane Roncada gave him fits before Stewart ran off to win. As crazy as this may sound, the fact that he didn’t win by 30 seconds or more is considered a failure by some.

“You know, I actually got a really good jump today in both motos, but I sunk down in the sand,” Stewart said of his starts. “The last couple of weekends, with Vegas and everything, have been four-stroke tracks, so I don’t know. I feel like I’ve got a good bike. I got arm—pump all day. The first lap of the second moto my hands cramped up, so I wasn’t feeling my bike a lot. Hopefully we can get it fixed before Mt. Morris.”

Apparently arm—pump isn’t new for Bubba at Hangtown either. “Last time I raced here (in 2002) I got arm—pump, but this was the worst ever,” Stewart said.

DA DO RONRON

Pro Circuit’s Stephane Roncada, like David Vuillemin, is a Frenchman with tons of speed and a reputation—deserved or not—for not training very hard. And just like Vuillemin, not many people were picking RonRon to take on Bubba yet again—like he did in Vegas. But that’s exactly what he did. In the first moto, Stephane didn’t start very well, but as the race wound down, he found himself in second and holding steady a few seconds behind James Stewart.

Moto two was the one people are still talking about, however. Roncada grabbed a good start and moved to the lead right away, and before the field reached the green flag at the finish line, Bubba was all over him. “In the second moto, I got another good start, and after he passed me the first time, I tried to make it a race,” Stephane said. “It was really fun for me, and it was a good challenge.”

Roncada and Stewart traded the lead at least eight times in the ensuing laps, and Roncada wasn’t backing down. Basically, no one thought going into the weekend that Stewart would have a challenge this early in the series—if at all. But RonRon had his Pro Circuit KX250F singing up and down the Hangtown hillside, and it seemed like Stewart was doing everything he could to fight him off.Roncada is banking on winning a race this summer. “It’s going to be really hard,” RonRon said. “My bike’s running really good outdoors. I’d like to win a race, he said.”

Stephane is even running the beard he had in Supercross. He says he won’t shave it off until he wins an overall.

“It’s been two weeks now. I’m running it.”

In between motos we spotted RonRon dining on a chili dog and a Dr. Pepper. Amazing!

REED IS SERIOUS ABOUT MX

Throughout the end of his first National title run in this year’s THQ/AMA Supercross Series, Reed kept emphasizing that he was serious about the Nationals this year.

“The last couple years, I came into the Nationals wanting to win everything,” Reed said. “Obviously that didn’t happen, so I got sort of discouraged. This year, though, I just want to be in the battle every moto. I just want to be in there. I figure, if I’m in there every week, the championship may come.”After two motos, Reed’s mission is accomplished, so far. Coming from a bit behind, Reed actually passed Kevin Windham for second partway through the moto, although Windham fought his way back by right away and took the spot for good. In the second moto, Reed rode his YZ450F into third, around Windham, and caught Vuillemin for second before running off the track and nearly crashing and settling for third.

“I think the weekend went pretty well,” Reedy said. “I went 3-3, and I wish I could’ve done better than third, but I was riding a new bike and we’ve been putting a lot of time on it. The four-strokes are nice here, and I’m just going to keep working each week. I want to make it up progressively week after week.”

DV DOES MX

Looking around on moto message boards and talking with people in the pits before the race, we basically never heard the name David Vuillemin mentioned when the questioning moved to who would be in contention for the win at Hangtown. “I was surprised with David Vuillemin today,” Carmichael said after fighting off the Frenchman – twice. “After he faded in the first moto I didn’t think he’d last in the second, but he was right there keeping me honest.”

Le Cobra got two great starts, including a second-moto holeshot, and he gave Carmichael fits both times out. In the first moto, DV pressured Carmichael for the first half of the race before fading pretty hard to fourth, behind runner-up Kevin Windham and teammate Chad Reed.

As Vuillemin pressured Carmichael for the second-moto lead, we were all expecting a similar result. However, the fade never came and he held on for a strong second. “You always learn from Ricky; he’s the King of motocross, so it’s fun to be behind him,” Villy said of chasing the champ. “I was kind of proud to be that close to him for that long. We had different lines and we had different bikes, but I was comfortable and I’m really happy about the bike. Nobody expected me to do well in the outdoors because I kind of struggled in Supercross, but it’s good for me.”

Vuillemin wasn’t outwardly optimistic about being able to stop the RC freight train, though.

“I’ve never been 1-1 in my life,” DV said. “I think Ricky, Kevin, and Chad, in the same championship, it’s going to be hard, but you never know. If there’s a lot of mud, then maybe.”

THE KID IS BACK

Everybody’s an expert. Some had Kevin Windham dominating Hangtown (where he ended RC’s moto-win streak at 26 last year), and others had Chad Reed showing his newfound outdoor speed by taking his first 250cc National win at round one. However, none of those people asked Ricky Carmichael what he thought.

“I did what I wanted to do—no questions about it,” RC said after dominating both motos (again). “It was awesome, just awesome. There should be no ifs ands or buts about it, because those guys all had their chance to reel me in. It was good today.”

The result of his two-moto romp on his new mount—the potent CRF450R—was his 97th AMA National MX/SX win. That’s right, he’s just three short of the magic number. But he is nearing the end of his career, at the ripe old age of 24 (insert sarcasm here).

“I wish I could’ve raced indoors with Chad, but, you know, I had an injury, and I’ve had a great career, so I can’t complain,” Carmichael said. “As bad as I wanted to win today and make a statement to all the people (none of the riders) who have talked so much crap about things and jump to conclusions, and the lack of respect that I get, I had a lot to prove.”

Imagine that. Nearing 100 wins, working on his 11th National Championship, and he had a lot to prove. “This is just self-motivation,” the champ said. “If I have to prove myself to anybody else, it’s never going to happen. I’ve done a lot for my fans, my sponsors, my sport—everything—and coming back from this injury was a personall goal of mine. I did it for myself.”

Windham, Reed, and company may be in for a long summer.

“Well yeah, if I have anything to say about it!” RC said. “I am just so happy to be back racing and being a part of what I have always been a part of. I have always loved racing and being at the track, but being away with my knee injury has sure taught me to appreciate it even more.”

s year, though, I just want to be in the battle every moto. I just want to be in there. I figure, if I’m in there every week, the championship may come.”After two motos, Reed’s mission is accomplished, so far. Coming from a bit behind, Reed actually passed Kevin Windham for second partway through the moto, although Windham fought his way back by right away and took the spot for good. In the second moto, Reed rode his YZ450F into third, around Windham, and caught Vuillemin for second before running off the track and nearly crashing and settling for third.

“I think the weekend went pretty well,” Reedy said. “I went 3-3, and I wish I could’ve done better than third, but I was riding a new bike and we’ve been putting a lot of time on it. The four-strokes are nice here, and I’m just going to keep working each week. I want to make it up progressively week after week.”

DV DOES MX

Looking around on moto message boards and talking with people in the pits before the race, we basically never heard the name David Vuillemin mentioned when the questioning moved to who would be in contention for the win at Hangtown. “I was surprised with David Vuillemin today,” Carmichael said after fighting off the Frenchman – twice. “After he faded in the first moto I didn’t think he’d last in the second, but he was right there keeping me honest.”

Le Cobra got two great starts, including a second-moto holeshot, and he gave Carmichael fits both times out. In the first moto, DV pressured Carmichael for the first half of the race before fading pretty hard to fourth, behind runner-up Kevin Windham and teammate Chad Reed.

As Vuillemin pressured Carmichael for the second-moto lead, we were all expecting a similar result. However, the fade never came and he held on for a strong second. “You always learn from Ricky; he’s the King of motocross, so it’s fun to be behind him,” Villy said of chasing the champ. “I was kind of proud to be that close to him for that long. We had different lines and we had different bikes, but I was comfortable and I’m really happy about the bike. Nobody expected me to do well in the outdoors because I kind of struggled in Supercross, but it’s good for me.”

Vuillemin wasn’t outwardly optimistic about being able to stop the RC freight train, though.

“I’ve never been 1-1 in my life,” DV said. “I think Ricky, Kevin, and Chad, in the same championship, it’s going to be hard, but you never know. If there’s a lot of mud, then maybe.”

THE KID IS BACK

Everybody’s an expert. Some had Kevin Windham dominating Hangtown (where he ended RC’s moto-win streak at 26 last year), and others had Chad Reed showing his newfound outdoor speed by taking his first 250cc National win at round one. However, none of those people asked Ricky Carmichael what he thought.

“I did what I wanted to do—no questions about it,” RC said after dominating both motos (again). “It was awesome, just awesome. There should be no ifs ands or buts about it, because those guys all had their chance to reel me in. It was good today.”

The result of his two-moto romp on his new mount—the potent CRF450R—was his 97th AMA National MX/SX win. That’s right, he’s just three short of the magic number. But he is nearing the end of his career, at the ripe old age of 24 (insert sarcasm here).

“I wish I could’ve raced indoors with Chad, but, you know, I had an injury, and I’ve had a great career, so I can’t complain,” Carmichael said. “As bad as I wanted to win today and make a statement to all the people (none of the riders) who have talked so much crap about things and jump to conclusions, and the lack of respect that I get, I had a lot to prove.”

Imagine that. Nearing 100 wins, working on his 11th National Championship, and he had a lot to prove. “This is just self-motivation,” the champ said. “If I have to prove myself to anybody else, it’s never going to happen. I’ve done a lot for my fans, my sponsors, my sport—everything—and coming back from this injury was a personal goal of mine. I did it for myself.”

Windham, Reed, and company may be in for a long summer.

“Well yeah, if I have anything to say about it!” RC said. “I am just so happy to be back racing and being a part of what I have always been a part of. I have always loved racing and being at the track, but being away with my knee injury has sure taught me to appreciate it even more.”

personal goal of mine. I did it for myself.”

Windham, Reed, and company may be in for a long summer.

“Well yeah, if I have anything to say about it!” RC said. “I am just so happy to be back racing and being a part of what I have always been a part of. I have always loved racing and being at the track, but being away with my knee injury has sure taught me to appreciate it even more.”