This weekend the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship takes to Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino, California. The iconic track has been a part of the championship for years, well minus an absence due to disagreements between the race series and race track, but American motocross wouldn’t be the same without the massive hills and countless ruts. In 2001, Glen Helen was the starting point for what was then called the Chevy Trucks AMA Motocross National Championship and while it didn’t seem so crazy at the time, that June weekend was a special moment in the sport. Four-strokes had arrived, a new dynasty was in the making, and the 125 title was wide-open for a number of young riders.
As a nod to that long ago weekend and the one that is quickly approaching, we decided to re-watch the ESPN coverage on all four motos via The Motocross Vault. Fifteen years later, there are certain things that we remembered and others that we’d forgotten about.
– This was a very big year for the four-stroke in motocross, with Yamaha fielding thumpers in both classes and Honda having Ryan Hughes aboard a works CRF450R (the team told us that the bike was probably worth over a million dollars). The technology in the bikes at that time was cutting edge, but now with fuel injection/exotic electronics/lightweight materials, they seem archaic.
– The 125 class was loaded with talent from the around the world, the GP scene in particular. Grant Langston and Mike Brown came to the US and continued their World Championship rivalry from the year prior, while Ernesto Fonseca, Rodrig Thain, Steve Boniface, and Shane Watts filled out other spots in the roster.
– Speaking of Watts, isn't this the race when he burned down the rear tire on the concrete and completely smoked out the starting gate? Watts was one of a kind.
– Where would Michael Brandes have finished if not for the Mike Brown takedown?
– Sure, the layout Glen Helen changes each year with Jody Weisel's direction, but certain sections of this track are almost unrecognizable compared to 2016. Those lanes seem incredibly narrow, too.
– Langston's Zulu Warrior M2R helmet was so sick. Same for Pastrana's Pro Art Works Shoei.
– What are the top three finishers in the 125 class doing now? Langston is a commentator for the television broadcast of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, Brown is in what's said to be his final year of professional motorcycle racing with Husqvarna's off-road program, and Travis Pastrana has achieved worldwide recognition with his insane Nitro Circus stunt show. Who'd have predicted any of that?
– Oh, that pit reporter? That's Davey Coombs and he's now the man in charge of the entire National Championship with his family company, MX Sports.
– By this point in his career, Ryan Hughes had achieved success in the United States, sustained numerous concussions, and spent the prior years racing the GP World Championship (the Honda profile in the second moto shows how incomplete his new house was at the time). Coming back to Factory Honda was a huge and welcome change, so swap asked him to keep a diary of the National race. In the entries he shares every high and low point of the weekend, which you can read at http://motocross.transworld.net/features/crf450r-ryan-hughes-race-day-diary/
– Ricky Carmichael came into this race as the man to beat. The Chevy Trucks Factory Kawasaki rider had just ended Jeremy McGrath's reign in Supercross with a staggering thirteen consecutive wins and the 2001 series championship, an unthinkable feat at the time. Glen Helen didn't go exactly as planned for RC, as he clipped a hay bale while in the lead and then tumbled down the side of a steep cliff early in Moto One (an image that still seems terrifying). After remounting at the bottom of the hill, he fought back from nearly last to finish in eighth place, despite a second separate crash. A win in Moto Two helped him salvage fourth overall on the day.
– Remember all the hype around snowboard/mountain bike pro Shaun Palmer and his intentions to race the 250 class? With some help from Honda and very impressive skills, the 555 made the forty-rider field. Unfortunately, his day came to a sudden halt as he sliced his finger open on a piece of chain link fence during the first moto. "I pretty much wasted three months of my life for nothing."
– Check out some of the long-gone sponsors: THQ, ecko, Speed Stick (they really liked moto back in the day), No Fear, Chevy, DKNY.
– John Dowd was another rider aboard a four-stroke: KTM's hulking 520. Yikes.
– David Vuillemin was a bit under the radar, then led early moments of the first moto before a flat tire forced him into the work area. He managed to score a single point in the moto with a twentieth place finish, then claimed seventh in the second moto. This put him twelfth overall on the day.
– Those Woody Woodpecker graphics on the Factory Honda bikes.
– David Bailey was an excellent commentator and saw things that would have gone unnoticed by most.
– There were a lot of people lining the fences that Sunday afternoon.
– Who do you think would have predicted Tim Ferry for the overall with 2-2 scores?
– Photographers standing at the top of jumps? That doesn't happen now.
– John Tomac was the hook-up for Ryan Hughes and mountain bikes. Years later, Hughes helped Tomac’s son with coaching and training.