Take Two – The Light Shines Through In Phoenix, And A New Round One Is Born…

TAKE TWOThe Light Shines Through In Phoenix, And A New Round One Is Born… By Ryan Cooley, Photos By Garth Milan
For the majority of riders who call the AMA Supercross series their home for the first four and a half months of the year, preparation begins well before the drop of the gate at Anaheim 1. In fact, for most, 2005 Supercross preparation started on the Monday morning following the Glen Helen National back in September. Over three solid months of blood, sweat, tears and seemingly endless days, all to see how they’d stack up against the best of the best come January 8th in Anaheim, California-all to be shut down by some uncharacteristic Southern California weather. Mother Nature spit down a curse that allowed a few with good fortune to slide through, but for the majority, the freak pounding rain soaked their round one dreams. Whether cut from the program before it even began, or plagued with misfortune the whole night through, a number of guys headed east on I-10 looking for a new beginning in the Valley of the Sun. And when the roof was cracked open at Bank One Ballpark, the light finally shone through…
REDEMPTION
Round one of the 2005 AMA Supercross series may not have unfolded the way many had envisioned thanks to the rain soaked Anaheim track, but despite the muddy mayhem that unleashed, the racing action was still plenty entertaining. Well…at least for the spectators, but a number of riders would surely disagree. After the muddy circuit laid claim to a handful of top contenders, redemption was undoubtedly the theme heading into Phoenix.
As the defending 125cc West Coast champion, having won seven of eight races in ’04, Ivan Tedesco was clearly looking for better than an eighth place f inish at Anaheim, and subsequently headed into Phoenix looking for a fresh start. “I am actually approaching Phoenix like it’s the first round. Last weekend really sucked for quite a few guys, but it was still a race, and you’ve got to deal with it. I am 12 points down right now, so I’ve got to get on it and win as many races as I can.”
Broc Hepler, one of the favorites to challenge Tedesco for the 125cc West title, is also a strong mud rider thanks to his Pennsylvania upbringing, and finished the night in 18th place at round one. We spoke with Broc briefly on Saturday morning in Phoenix to find out how his poor round one finish has affected his outlook on the rest of the series. “At the start of the season I just wanted to be consistent because there are a lot of fast guys on this coast, but now that I am this many points down I’ve got to be pretty much wide open. If there’s a need and opportunity, I am going to be taking risks if I have to. I definitely want to win.”
Ivan and Broc are just two of many who rolled into Phoenix with something to prove. Defending 250cc Supercross champ Chad Reed had all sorts of trouble at Anaheim, and found himself sitting in 16th place when he left Angel Stadium. Despite having bike problems that were greatly responsible for his poor result, Reed has accepted his Round One fate and is looking to move forward. “What happened last weekend is what happened… We have a lot of open stadiums to go, and it’s possible that it could happen again. I enjoy riding in the mud, and I was riding okay, but I had some problems and wasn’t able to get the results last week.”
SEAT TIME
With a fresh new start on the minds of many, putting in some dry laps before entering Bank One Ballpark was goal number one. The soggy SoCal weather finally shaped up early in the week leading up to round two in Phoenix, but the damage was already done. With Supercross test tracks flooded and out of commission, a number of riders and teams, including Reed and Team Yamaha, Tedesco, Paul Carpenter and Nick Wey, just to name a few, headed out to Arizona early to get some dry laps under their belts. “I came out Monday night with my teammate Paul (Carpenter) and rode Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday out here in Penix,” Ivan told us. “It was good to finally get some riding in. It’s been pretty tough lately with all of the rain.”
To further help the cause in Phoenix, the AMA extended Friday’s practice sessions from the usual two to three. The third was added to help give the riders a little extra time to adapt to a dry Supercross track-a rarity for most lately. The added session was a nice bonus for the teams who are still tinkering with last-minute setup solutions like Monster/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Sean Hamblin. “I just finally broke in my race motor on Thursday, and we’re actually having some trouble with it, so the extra time is nice. It was ready before Anaheim, but I didn’t want to destroy it in the mud, so here we are, working out the bugs.”
HEARTBREAKER
Among the most notable riders seeking a better result in the desert-perhaps you’ve heard of him-was Team Kawasaki’s James “Bubba” Stewart. After winning his first-ever 250cc start in his heat race at Anaheim, Bubba struggled with multiple mud-induced crashes in the main event and could only muster up a fifth place finish. Not half bad, given it was his first 250cc main event ever, but Bubba wasn’t satisfied and arrived in Phoenix looking for vengeance.
Sadly, and before the racing program even got under way on Saturday evening, disaster struck Bubba. In a rhythm section that James had been fast, smooth and consistent in all day on Friday, he made a small mistake and came up short upon landing during his second practice session on Saturday. Bubba lost control of his factory Kawasaki and KO’d himself as he smacked the Phoenix soil. After spending nearly five minutes on the ground before being aided onto the Asterisks Medical mule, the rumors as to the severity of his injuries started to fly. Via an official press release issued by Kawasaki later in the evening, we learned that Bubba suffered a broken left forearm, but no other details were known at the time. It’s since been reported that James’s injury will require surgery, and as a result he will most likely miss the remainder of the Supercross series.
The loss of Bubba certainly opens the door for those chasing the title, but if you think any of his competitors are pleased to see him out, you’re dead wrong. “I think to be relieved you’d be a pretty poor person,” said Reed. “We’ve all been in that position and we all know how it feels. Your hopes are so high and you’re so hyped, and something like that comes up and bites you… It sucks!” RC offered similar sentiments during the post-race press conference… “Like Chad said, you’d be a fool to wish something like that on somebody, and it’s a shame. Our sport needs all of us out there. It needs the hype. And that’s what everyone wants to see. If I were James, I’d try to look on the bright side and say, ‘It happened now, but at least I’ll be ready for the outdoors’, rather than having it happen at Seattle or something and you lose the 250cc Supercross title, and you’ve ruined yourself for the Nationals.”
Before his crash, Bubba looked awesome! Quick and consistent, Stewart posted the fastest overall lap time of the weekend, and was more than deserving of the preseason hype that surrounded him. If not for a split-second miscalculation, the dynamic of this entire series would be far different. Bubba will be missed…
DEPTH
Although James did in fact have the fastest lap time in practice, he was followed very closely by his top competitors. RC, Reed and Kevin Windham were all within about a half second from one another before heading into Saturday night’s program. “A lot of people wanted to make this the first race, and every lap counted this weekend,” said K-Dub. “I was watching the watch, and it’s almost to the point where we weren’t learning the track, we were trying to beat each other. I guess we should adopt some sort of new points system where we can earn points in practice (laughs).”
The depth of competition in ’05 is absolutely amazing. If you could have gathered up enough strength to pan your eyes off of the “big four” during Phoenix’s 250cc practice sessions, you would’ve also seen Jeremy McGrath, Mike LaRocco, Travis Pastrana, Sebastien Tortelli, Ernesto Fonseca, Heath Voss, Nick Wey, David Vuillemin, Michael Bryne, Tim Ferry, and the list goes on-all battling for the lowest lap time. This is truly a special year, and the sellout crowd of 49,822 in Phoenix knew it.
With Bubba out of the mix, the 250cc heat races went just as one might expect. Ricky blasted out of the gate on his factory Suzuki in heat one, leaving the rest behind to battle for second. At the wave of the checkers he was 11.5 seconds ahead of Heath Voss in second, and nearly 21 seconds ahead of David Vuillemin in third.
Heat race number two was a little tighter at the finish, but the result was as expected. Jeremy McGrath and Chad Reed battled side by side in the first turn, but Reed made quick work of the “King” and motored away. Anaheim winner Kevin Windham moved up quickly after a so-so start, and got by McGrath on the second lap. K-Dub began to close the gap on Reed for a short time as the two pulled away from the rest of the field, but Reed proved to have the speed and cruised on to win by a comfortable four-second margin.
With the first “real” 250cc main event of 2005 in the starting gate, the anxiety that filled Bank One Ballpark was electric. When the gate finally dropped, the standing Phoenix crowd went nuts as RC once again rocketed into the lead aboard his RM250. Ricky narrowly collected the $1,500 holeshot dough in front of K-Dub, and with those two up front and Reed sitting in fifth place at the conclusion of lap one, the race was on. RC and Windham pulled a quick lead, and K-Dub was giving Ricky all he wanted for the first few laps. After a bobble from Voss that nearly took him and Reed out, Chad struggled to make the pass for the third spot, and when he finally did, RC had already opened up a nine-second gap. Ricky rode incredibly well and continued extending his lead, never to be challenged. K-Dub put in a solid effort to hang with Ricky, but it was clearly Ricky’s show. RC pumped a fist in the air over both triples on the last lap in celebration, and cruised in with a cozy 10.5 second gap between himself and Windham. Reed began slowly closing in on K-Dub, but never got close enough to challenge him. Reed was definitely glad to improve over his Anaheim 1 performance, but he also knows that third place is not going to bring home a second championship. “Ricky doesn’t change from week to week,” said Chad. “He gives it his all from race to race, and I knew he was going to be strong. I didn’t see a difference this week. He gets good starts and he’s strong in the main event. I wasn’t there at the start and I wasn’t able to put down laps with him at the beginning. I have to be better next week.”
K-Dub, meanwhile, was stoked to back up his Anaheim win with a strong second behind Ricky, but he did make it perfectly clear that he’s in the series to win races, not get second. When asked about the points lead that he’ll continue carrying into week three of the series, K-Dub jokingly said, “I’ve never had a 250cc points lead, and now that I have one with 14 rounds left, I think it’s really time to kind of cruise and protect it (laughs). Seriously, though, we’ve got so much time left, and so much can happen, so we’ll just take it one race at a time.”
After a huge fist pump over the finish-line double, RC proceeded to drop his bike on the center of the start straight to celebrate. With more AMA professional wins than anyone in history, it was awesome to see Ricky that elated over yet another victory. “Around lap 13 or 14, I knew I had it and I just had to stay smooth. It seemed like it took forever. We’re really happy, though, and the guys from Suzuki deserved it. We’ll take this momentum into next week.” After the criticism received from switching brands in the off-season, RC wasld have gathered up enough strength to pan your eyes off of the “big four” during Phoenix’s 250cc practice sessions, you would’ve also seen Jeremy McGrath, Mike LaRocco, Travis Pastrana, Sebastien Tortelli, Ernesto Fonseca, Heath Voss, Nick Wey, David Vuillemin, Michael Bryne, Tim Ferry, and the list goes on-all battling for the lowest lap time. This is truly a special year, and the sellout crowd of 49,822 in Phoenix knew it.
With Bubba out of the mix, the 250cc heat races went just as one might expect. Ricky blasted out of the gate on his factory Suzuki in heat one, leaving the rest behind to battle for second. At the wave of the checkers he was 11.5 seconds ahead of Heath Voss in second, and nearly 21 seconds ahead of David Vuillemin in third.
Heat race number two was a little tighter at the finish, but the result was as expected. Jeremy McGrath and Chad Reed battled side by side in the first turn, but Reed made quick work of the “King” and motored away. Anaheim winner Kevin Windham moved up quickly after a so-so start, and got by McGrath on the second lap. K-Dub began to close the gap on Reed for a short time as the two pulled away from the rest of the field, but Reed proved to have the speed and cruised on to win by a comfortable four-second margin.
With the first “real” 250cc main event of 2005 in the starting gate, the anxiety that filled Bank One Ballpark was electric. When the gate finally dropped, the standing Phoenix crowd went nuts as RC once again rocketed into the lead aboard his RM250. Ricky narrowly collected the $1,500 holeshot dough in front of K-Dub, and with those two up front and Reed sitting in fifth place at the conclusion of lap one, the race was on. RC and Windham pulled a quick lead, and K-Dub was giving Ricky all he wanted for the first few laps. After a bobble from Voss that nearly took him and Reed out, Chad struggled to make the pass for the third spot, and when he finally did, RC had already opened up a nine-second gap. Ricky rode incredibly well and continued extending his lead, never to be challenged. K-Dub put in a solid effort to hang with Ricky, but it was clearly Ricky’s show. RC pumped a fist in the air over both triples on the last lap in celebration, and cruised in with a cozy 10.5 second gap between himself and Windham. Reed began slowly closing in on K-Dub, but never got close enough to challenge him. Reed was definitely glad to improve over his Anaheim 1 performance, but he also knows that third place is not going to bring home a second championship. “Ricky doesn’t change from week to week,” said Chad. “He gives it his all from race to race, and I knew he was going to be strong. I didn’t see a difference this week. He gets good starts and he’s strong in the main event. I wasn’t there at the start and I wasn’t able to put down laps with him at the beginning. I have to be better next week.”
K-Dub, meanwhile, was stoked to back up his Anaheim win with a strong second behind Ricky, but he did make it perfectly clear that he’s in the series to win races, not get second. When asked about the points lead that he’ll continue carrying into week three of the series, K-Dub jokingly said, “I’ve never had a 250cc points lead, and now that I have one with 14 rounds left, I think it’s really time to kind of cruise and protect it (laughs). Seriously, though, we’ve got so much time left, and so much can happen, so we’ll just take it one race at a time.”
After a huge fist pump over the finish-line double, RC proceeded to drop his bike on the center of the start straight to celebrate. With more AMA professional wins than anyone in history, it was awesome to see Ricky that elated over yet another victory. “Around lap 13 or 14, I knew I had it and I just had to stay smooth. It seemed like it took forever. We’re really happy, though, and the guys from Suzuki deserved it. We’ll take this momentum into next week.” After the criticism received from switching brands in the off-season, RC was just as pumped to win for Roger Decoster and Team Suzuki as he was for himself.
TURNAROUND
What a difference a week made in the 125cc West! Just as in the premier class, the competition runs deep, making a perfect race the necessary ingredient for each and every victory. After a mediocre heat race result thanks to a poor start, Broc Hepler studied the race tape intently, received a few starting pointers from team coach Ricky Johnson, and proceeded to wax the field in the main event. N’Iceman grabbed the holeshot and rode away with it, finishing a full eight seconds ahead of Tedesco when the checkers flew.
Like it did to many, a dismal night at Anaheim lit a fire under the usually tame Hepler, and he came out swinging with some newfound, anger-motivated speed. “I switched over to a black helmet tonight to help motivate some anger out on the track,” Broc told us. “I expected to win last weekend in the mud because I’m an East Coast guy, but I just made too many mistakes. This week, I got off to a good start and I didn’t make many mistakes; that’s what it’s going to take.” Behind Hepler in second came defending champ Ivan Tedesco. Hot Sauce put in some fast laps, but after a slow start could never find the extra speed needed to catch Hepler up front. “We all work very hard, and second place isn’t what you want,” Ivan said. “But I’m happy with it for now.” Ivan left Phoenix with a little spring in his step-not because of his second place performance, but because of what happened behind him…
Anaheim winner Nathan Ramsey went down while passing Ryan Sipes for the third spot. After picking himself up off the dirt, he struggled to get his KTM restarted, and by the time he did, last place was all he could muster. So after rolling into Phoenix with the points lead, Nate Dawg left in sixth place, 10 points behind new leaders Ivan Tedesco and Ryan Sipes. “I wasn’t expecting to come out of here with the points lead, or tied for it,” Ivan said, “but Nathan had some bad luck and that’s the way it goes.” Hepler came into Phoenix sitting in 18th place with a mere three points to his credit, but with the win and Ramsey’s misfortune, Iceman moved all the way up to fifth place overall. “I don’t even know what the points are right now,” Broc said after the race, “but I think no matter where you’re at, the championship’s always up for grabs. I had a bad week last week when I should’ve done good, and Ramsey had a bad week here in Phoenix. I think you’ve just got to hope for the best because you don’t know what will help you or hurt you.”
The points turnaround in Phoenix helps to drive home the simple fact that the competition runs deep, maybe deeper than ever, in 2005, and no matter what the current state of the championship race, anything can happen on any given weekend. was just as pumped to win for Roger Decoster and Team Suzuki as he was for himself.
TURNAROUND
What a difference a week made in the 125cc West! Just as in the premier class, the competition runs deep, making a perfect race the necessary ingredient for each and every victory. After a mediocre heat race result thanks to a poor start, Broc Hepler studied the race tape intently, received a few starting pointers from team coach Ricky Johnson, and proceeded to wax the field in the main event. N’Iceman grabbed the holeshot and rode away with it, finishing a full eight seconds ahead of Tedesco when the checkers flew.
Like it did to many, a dismal night at Anaheim lit a fire under the usually tame Hepler, and he came out swinging with some newfound, anger-motivated speed. “I switched over to a black helmet tonight to help motivate some anger out on the track,” Broc told us. “I expected to win last weekend in the mud because I’m an East Coast guy, but I just made too many mistakes. This week, I got off to a good start and I didn’t make many mistakes; that’s what it’s going to take.” Behind Hepler in second came defending champ Ivan Tedesco. Hot Sauce put in somme fast laps, but after a slow start could never find the extra speed needed to catch Hepler up front. “We all work very hard, and second place isn’t what you want,” Ivan said. “But I’m happy with it for now.” Ivan left Phoenix with a little spring in his step-not because of his second place performance, but because of what happened behind him…
Anaheim winner Nathan Ramsey went down while passing Ryan Sipes for the third spot. After picking himself up off the dirt, he struggled to get his KTM restarted, and by the time he did, last place was all he could muster. So after rolling into Phoenix with the points lead, Nate Dawg left in sixth place, 10 points behind new leaders Ivan Tedesco and Ryan Sipes. “I wasn’t expecting to come out of here with the points lead, or tied for it,” Ivan said, “but Nathan had some bad luck and that’s the way it goes.” Hepler came into Phoenix sitting in 18th place with a mere three points to his credit, but with the win and Ramsey’s misfortune, Iceman moved all the way up to fifth place overall. “I don’t even know what the points are right now,” Broc said after the race, “but I think no matter where you’re at, the championship’s always up for grabs. I had a bad week last week when I should’ve done good, and Ramsey had a bad week here in Phoenix. I think you’ve just got to hope for the best because you don’t know what will help you or hurt you.”
The points turnaround in Phoenix helps to drive home the simple fact that the competition runs deep, maybe deeper than ever, in 2005, and no matter what the current state of the championship race, anything can happen on any given weekend.