After a what seemed like a month two-week break, the AMA Nationals started back up with round nine at the historic Unadilla, New York circuit. The hype was heavy on this one, a rider that hasn't been seen in a long time was racing, it was going to be his first AMA outdoor on his bike and he was out to see how he was going to stack up against the man in American moto right now, Ryan Dungey a.k.a. The Dungenator.
Nope, I'm not talking about James Stewart, I'm talking about the MX Panda, Clement DeSalle! The Belgian was coming over for his second U.S. National and was going to ride for the same team as Dungey as he's a member of the factory Suzuki team over in the GPs. It should be quite an improvement, machine-wise, than his last time here when he borrowed a Honda and threw some suspension on it. Remember when he raced Washougal last year he finished an impressive fourth in one moto?
But more on that later. I can honestly say that for me, Unadilla was the first time in a while where I was truly excited before the gate drop in the first moto. And the reason why was, in all seriousness, because Stewart was back. His L&M Yamaha team came out for their first National in two years because James wanted to race and earn his way onto Team USA for the upcoming MXDN in Lakewood, Colorado.
Since hurting his wrist at round two of the Supercross series, Stewie was pretty much out of sight for much of the year as his pesky wrist was not healing that quickly. Once it did, he got back on the bike and came out to the Nationals to see what he had. And it was pretty much assumed that he would have quite a bit because the last time he raced the Nationals, he went 24 for 24.
He can say what he wants about coming back because he missed the fans, the competition and he felt like he owed it to his sponsors but I truly believe that if the MXDN was not held on American soil, we wouldn't see the number seven racing the Nationals. That's not to say that all the above reasons are not true, it's just that the primary reason for James racing is he wants to be on Team USA and he was promised that if he came out, he could ride himself on (or off) the team starting at Unadilla.
More on that later.
So, what happened? Well Stewie was the fastest qualifier in practice and everyone knew that it was, as they say, on. We were going to see the top two guys go at it. Dungey and Stewart had never raced against each others in the outdoors (and to add to the juicy drama, these two used to be riding buddies before having a bit of a falling out) and the excitement was electric, everyone in the pits was talking about what was going to happen. This was drama at its finest and not any amount of dumb TNT TV promos declaring that their show is actually "Drama at its finest" was going to convince me that this wasn't the biggest story going in motorsports.
The gate dropped and Ryan Dungey grabbed the holeshot, set his sensors to "destroy" and rode off with the win. In true Dungenator form, he simply worked the field once again. Stewie started fifth or so, moved into second and definitely gained on Dungey a little bit before dropping it in a corner and getting passed by that pesky Panda, Clement DeSalle.
Second moto out, DeSalle shot into the lead by passing Andrew Short and he looked really great as he rode around the now rocky, rutty, and rough track. It took The Dungenator a good 20 minutes to get by and win the moto. Yawn, another 1-1 day for Ryan and I would say that he showed us once again that his unbelievable season isn't just due to everyone else getting hurt, he's truly stepped it up to the legend status.
But Clement DeSalle almost won the damm race and that would've been cool also. The GP rider who has won some GPs and by all accounts is an up-and-coming rider over there (although with him winning here but yet basically getting smoked by Antonio Cairoli over there, the potential for a Vitalmx.com message board melt down with GP vs. AMA riders talk was very high) showed that he has the right stuff to compete over here at the highest level. Remember, though, that the AMA Nats are a long 24-moto series and for a guy to come over with no pressure, a good bike, pumped to be there, he's got a bit of an advantage over the regulars. I'm just saying…
Check out this interview I did with him (and Brett Metcalfe and Larry Brooks) HERE.
As far the number seven goes, well, he certainly sounded winded on the podium for the first moto and he got a real crappy start second time out (for those that don't believe confidence has anything to do with starting, here's exhibit A) and moved up a bit (but not that much) and then when he got passed by Mike Alessi, James called out "No mas" and pulled ‘er in for the day. There weren't really any excuses made by his team manager or himself, he wasn't as ready as he thought he was and to me, the bike did not look very good out there.
I asked Larry Brooks to not get mad at me, and then actually said that I thought the bike didn't look very good to him. Then I braced for the punch to the head (anyone who knows LB knows that he's an emotional, intense kind of guy and for him to punch me wouldn't be that far out of line) but thankfully, it didn't come. Larry agreed with me on that and said that they would be sending some parts to James in Florida to try (I hope those parts include a shock and two forks) and they would get back at it.
So what about the MXDN? Well I wrote a little story about the team HERE and needed a quote from team manager Roger DeCoster about the selection of the team. He texted me back that he couldn't talk about it but that there would be a five man team selected at Unadilla and from there, the three riders would be chosen in a little while. This was on August 4. Obviously the men picked would be Dungey, Short, Canard, Stewie and one other 250 guy (rumors were it was Jake Weimer). So that made sense and I wrote about it but then, according to Brooks, on August 10th, he was told that James didn't make it and that the team was Dungey, Short, and Canard. On the record during my interview with him he was putting on a good public face, but I can tell you that he wasn't happy about the sudden reversal of the plan.
And you know what? I don't blame him one bit. Look, I don't care who's on the team because they're going to win anyways (remember, I'm Canadian and can't refer to Team USA as "we're" but trust me, with the year in and year out total ineptitude of the Canadian MXDN team, I'm trying to get over the "I'm Canadian" thing ASAP) but I did think that it was a shame that Short wasn't going to be selected. He had worked hard all year, it was his home track and he certainly deserved to go. No one would ever say that Shorty doesn't deserve to go, it's a great story and I'm happy for him. James has been there twice and won. No harm, no foul if Stewie doesn't get selected.
But I feel that it's just that someone should have told team L&M that. Like I said, I believe (and I have it on good authority) that the only reason the team is there was to get on the MXDN team. It's a win-win for American motocross fans. Stewie comes out and does his thing, hopefully kicks ass, gets on the MXDN team and becomes an American hero again. Or Dungey wins and we all freak out.
Now for a little history lesson that happened years ago to another guy in another sport that may or may not have anything to do with what happened. In 1998, the Canadian Olympic hockey team was heavily favored to win gold in Nagano, Japan. The General Manager (Bobby Clarke) selecting the team put his own player, Eric Lindros on the team and immediately made him captain. Lindros was certainly one of the best players on the team but he was young and was now going to walk into a dressing room with Wayne Gretzky and others and start barking orders?
The only reason Clarke put him on the team was because he wanted to make him into a captain, he wanted Lindros to be the man. It didn't work. The team blew up, didn't even medal, and the main problem was leadership. Clarke was trying to put a round peg into a square hole.
Could some of the reason James is off the team is because DeCoster is the manager of Team Suzuki and The Dungey is his star rider? I'm not in any way saying Ryan had anything to do with this but perhaps DeCoster didn't select James because he wants this team, racing in America, to be Dungey's team? Because as we all know, there can only be one alpha dog on a team these days (sweet Jesus, can you imagine the '84 Honda team of Bailey, Hannah, Lechien, and O'Mara being around in these days?) and perhaps DeCoster wants to jam Dungey into that position to help him down the road.
I don't know for sure, but it's something to think about, right?
So what happens now?
Well I would believe that option A is James pops back into the ground hog hole and disappears for another eight weeks. He may release something that says he's not ready to compete at the level he wants to be at or something to the effect that says he's done racing the Nationals.
Or option B is that he works his ass off and comes out to prove DeCoster was wrong to do what he did. A motivated, angry James Stewart could be scary out there. You know that his bike will work better at the next track because it's sand and that's what James can practice on in Florida.
Team America better hopes it wins in Colorado or the doubters line (and DeCoster's reputation will take a hit as well) will be very, very long.
Trey Canard is on a roll right now, he's won three Nationals in a row and closed up the points on Christophe Pourcel. Thanks to the tutelage of Tim Ferry, Canard has been brimming with confidence and his technique has been right on the money also. I would think that Ferry has probably been responsible for a good 97.7 percent of Canard's recent wins.
Just kidding and to be honest, I do think the general media has given the Dog a little too much credit for Canard's recent success. No, serious. Trey is the one that is out there riding the bike and showing the speed but it's funny how just the littlest things with these riders make all the difference in the world right? Ferry's helped, no doubt about it but let's give the real credit where it's due.
And I think Timmy would be the first guy to say that. I just don’t want the guys head to get any bigger than it is lately.
The first moto of the 250 class was absolutely epic. Pourcel dominated here last year and didn't get the greatest start. He absolutely knifed through the pack with some epic passes, it was quite a show and once he got to the front I, and most others, thought it was over.
Only Pourcel did a very un-Pourcel like move and crashed hard in the back. He rode off the track and lost some valuable points. Out front it was Justin Barcia showing that he was the man in front of his home track fans. A long time ago, Barcia was a NY state local before heading south like so many others (except for Martin Davalos, he headed north) and rode his usual berserker style out front. Soon Trey Canard made his move on his teammate and was in the lead. That's a big 25-point gain right there when Trey won the moto. But it wasn't until Barcia went down while right on TC that the moto win was a sure thing.
In fact, the GEICO Honda team swept the top four spots in what was a happy moment for them. The team that started out in a small New Hampshire building has grown to be this massive operation and when the finishing order went Trey Canard, Blake Warton, Justin Barcia, and Eli Tomac I thought to myself, good for those guys. The big green monster known as Pro Circuit has been having unbelievable success the last few years and sometimes, the Factory Connection team gets a little overlooked.
Right now in the 250 class, if you're not on the green monster or red riders team, you're not going to do very well. In fact, at Unadilla, the teams had seven riders there and swept the top seven spots. In Washougal, there was eight guys racing and they took the top seven spots. The week before that at Millville, the two teams took seven out of the top eight spots. You can see there is a pattern here right? Oh where have you gone Broc Tickle and Austin Stroupe, the only two riders capable (in my opinion) of getting into the mix? Oh yeah, they are both injured.
There was some drama as Barcia went in and took out PC's Dean Wilson with an aggressive pass in the first moto. It wasn't really that bad, Wilson had to know that the high-revving Barcia was right on him and he left the door open. Justin made the pass and Wilson, unfortunately, went down. The Pro Circuit guys were definitely not happy about the move but what they seemed to forget is that Pourcel, in his incredible move to the front, did the exact same thing to TLD Honda's Cole Seely not too laps before.
Was it dirty? I say no way. It was aggressive and if there were any ghosts of Unadilla lurking around, they would've just nodded and said, "That's the way we did it in our day sonny."
Let's take a look at some results from the thriller in ‘Dilla.
1 38 Trey Canard Shawnee, OK, US Honda CRF250R 1 2 47- The points lead is right there for Canard. This is shaping up to be a great last six motos.
2 17 Justin Barcia Ochlocknee, GA, US Honda CRF250R 3 5 36
3 108 Dean Wilson Glasgow, GB Kawasaki KX 250F 6 3 35- If not for going down, Wilson would've had a better day but still, 6-3 scores for third overall? Not too shabby really. I spoke to Dean after the race and he didn't seem upset or anything like that. I think he just wanted to talk about girls, really.
4 28 Tyla Rattray Durban, ZA Kawasaki KX 250F 5 4 34- Ratters came from outside the top 15 to fifth. Good, solid ride.
5 21 Blake Wharton Pilot Point, TX, US Honda CRF250R 2 9 34- I heard this weekend that Wharton has a solid offer to do sx and then GPs next year. I think the GP's are now starting in April again though but I'll wait for the amended PR. They are really good at those.
6 243 Eli Tomac Cortez, CO, US Honda CRF250R 4 6 33
7 377 Christophe Pourcel Marseille, FR Kawasaki KX 250F 38 1 25- I've devoted too many words to the MXDN/Stewie thing but here's where I'll tell you that Pourcel's second moto ride was awesome. He really grinded it out and reeled in Canard from way back. He showed that he's still the man until further notice.
8 577 Martin Davalos Quito, EC Yamaha YZ 250F 10 8 24- I've been hard on Davalos here and there but for right now, he's the best of the rest and is a solid top ten in the points.
9 31 Matthew Lemoine Collinsville, TX, US Suzuki RM Z250 8 12 22
10 49 William Hahn Decatur, TX, US Honda CRF250R 14 11 17- Wilbur returned from an injury to put ina good ride. He wasn't really happy on his ride but I say, good job!
11 585 Travis Baker Temecula, CA, US Yamaha YZ 250F 16 10 16- Baker was solid once again. This kid's got a great future ahead of him. He seems really happy all the time also.
12 200 Cole Seely Newbury Park, CA, US Honda CRF250R 9 18 15
13 341 Nico Izzi St. Claire, MI, US Yamaha YZ 250F 7 20 15
14 36 Darryn Durham Butler, PA, US Honda CRF250R 33 7 14- DDT had a strong second moto. I'm sure his biggest fan, Tim Ferry, was right there with his shirt off waving him on.
15 87 Les Smith York, SC, US Honda CRF250R 15 15 12
16 61 Vince Friese Cape Girardeau, MO, US Yamaha YZ 250F 17 14 11- Friese came together with teammate Baker in the first moto, but they ironed it out afterward.
17 613 James DeCotis Deabody, MA, US Honda CRF250R 11 27 10
18 185 Killy Rusk Aztec, NM, US KTM 250 SX-F 12 21 9
19 175 Phillip Nicoletti Cochecton, NY, US KTM 250 SXF 39 13 8
20 603 Tommy Weeck Menifee, CA, US Honda CRF250R 13 37 8
21 211 Tevin Tapia Federal Way, WA, US KTM 250 SXF 18 17 7
22 50 Alex Martin Millville, MN, US Honda CRF250R 27 16 5
23 972 Michael Picone Hernando, FL, US Honda CR250R 26 19 2- The Dade City King came out to a National and scored some points. You could hear Jason Thomas screaming even though he was in Mexico.
24 167 Ryan Mills Clintondale, NY, US KTM 250 SX-F 19 38 2
25 90 Willy Browning Pleasantville, OH, US KTM 250 SX-F 20 39 1
26 370 Drew Yenerich New Lenox, IL, US Yamaha YZ 250F 21 23 0
27 64 Taylor Futrell Clinton, NC, US KTM 250 SXF 22 26 0
28 92 Michael Willard Thornville, OH, US Honda CRF250R 28 24 0- Willard didn’t have a very good day and just like me, he drove through the night to get to the last round of the Canadian Nationals in Walton, Ontario. His day went crappy there also as he blew up his KTM 350 early in moto 1 and sat out on the day.
29 330 A.J. Catanzaro Middlefield, CT, US Kawasaki KX 250F 29 25 0
30 348 Jason Brooks Niantic, CT, US Kawasaki KX 250F 23 31 0
31 698 Derek Hall Stuart, FL, US Honda CR250R 25 32 0
32 678 Nicolas Myers Cairo, GA, US Honda CRF250R 24 34 0
33 126 Hunter Hewitt Pilot Point, TX, US Suzuki RM Z250 37 22 0
34 140 Johnny Moore Madison, MS, US Honda CRF250R 31 28 0
35 521 Kyle Gills Wiggins, MS, US Yamaha YZ 250F 30 30 0
36 244 Ryan Zimmer Raleigh, NC, US KTM 250SX 32 29 0
37 673 Jonathan Six Aurora, IL, US Honda CRF250R 34 33 0
38 731 Steve Roman Apollo, PA, US Yamaha YZ 250F 35 35 0
39 449 Dakota Kessler Farmingdale, NJ, US Yamaha YZ250F 36 36 0
40 520 Tony Gallo Valley City, OH, US Honda CRF250R 40 40
1 5 Ryan Dungey Belle Plain, MN, US Suzuki RMZ 450 1 1 50
2 463 Clement DeSalle Courcelles, US Suzuki RMZ 450 2 2 44
3 24 Brett Metcalfe Mannum, AU Honda CRF450R 5 3 36- Ho-hum, another day another podium for Metty. He's helping himself out for next year and I interviewed him and admired him for being honest about the silly season and not just saying the usual BS, "I don't ever think about," like others do.
4 29 Andrew Short Smithville, TX, US Honda CRF450R 4 5 34- Shorty rode pretty well this weekend and just missed out on the box. He's still second in the points.
5 41 Kyle Regal Kemp, TX, US Honda CRF450R 8 6 28 Regal rode awesome and with this kid, he's on or he's off. This weekend, he was definitely on.
6 101 Ben Townley Taupo, NZ Honda CRF450R 7 9 26
7 55 Kyle Chisholm Valrico, FL, US Yamaha YZ 450F 9 8 25- The Chiz rode great all day and is in a battle with Regal and Sipes for top privateer in the series. No matter what happens, he always finds himself around teammate Sipes.
8 23 Justin Brayton Ft. Dodge, IA, US Yamaha YZ 450F 11 7 24
9 33 Josh Grant Riverside, CA, US Yamaha YZ 450F 6 14 22
10 10 Thomas Hahn Decatur, TX, US Suzuki RMZ 450 10 11 21- Hahn was quiet, I can honestly say I didn't really notice him.
11 7 James Stewart Bartow, FL, US Yamaha YZ450F 3 35 20
12 14 Kevin Windham Centerville, MS, US Honda CRF450R 39 4 18- KW ate poop big time in the first moto and honestly, with him being a part-timer and everything else, I didn't think we'd see him for the next one. To his credit he lined up and rode strong. The team replaced his clamps, bars, radiator, front wheel, subframe, silencer, and plastic after the demo derby.
13 27 Nicholas Wey DeWitt, MI, US Kawasaki KX 450F 12 12 18
14 800 Mike Alessi Victorville, CA, US KTM 350 SXF 13 13 16- Mike had another tough day. I did see a KTM 350 outside their trailer which means that they have a practice bike now. Maybe that will help things. Or it could possibly hurt things.
15 46 Ryan Sipes Vine Grove, KY, US Yamaha YZ 450F 17 10 15- Sipes went backward in the first moto and that's pretty rare to see. Afterwards I asked him if it was a bike problem and he said no. Turns out it was a Ryan Sipes problem.
16 43 Steven Clarke West Midlands, GB Suzuki RMZ 450 16 16 10
17 26 Michael Byrne Queensland, AU Yamaha YZ 450F 15 17 10- Byrner is getting back up to speed and I think we'll see better things here shortly. It was only a year ago that he was making the box in these things.
18 292 Austin Howell Red Bluff, CA, US Suzuki RMZ 450 18 15 9
19 712 Matt Moss Sussex Inlet, AU Suzuki RMZ 450 14 32 7
20 58 Weston Peick Wildomar, CA, US Yamaha YZ 450F 36 18 3
21 241 Derek Anderson Arvada, CO, US Kawasaki KX 450F 29 19 2
22 42 Ben Evans Boise, ID, US Kawasaki KX 450F 19 23 2
23 251 Joshua Clark North Franklin, CT, US Honda CRF450R 22 20 1
24 774 Robby Marshall Stow, MA, US Kawasaki KX 450F 20 33 1
25 88 Ricky Renner Lakeland, FL, US KTM 450 XC 21 21 0- Now Ricky Renner knows the full pain of sweating your balls off, working super hard, and finishing one spot out of the points in each moto.
26 606 Ronnie Stewart Easton, PA, US Suzuki RMZ 450 23 22 0
27 687 Garret Toth Carlisle, PA, US Suzuki RMZ 450 24 24 0
28 557 Jay Weller Montgomery, NY, US Suzuki RMZ 450 26 26 0
29 873 Jack Carpenter Trumansburg, NY, US Kawasaki KX 450F 25 27 0
30 702 Cameron Stone , US Kawasaki KX 450F 27 31 0
31 408 Paul Lamb North Hampton, NH, US Kawasaki KX 450F 31 28 0
32 652 Dustin Pipes Fresno, CA, US Suzuki RMZ 450 35 25 0
33 209 Heath Harrison Silverhill, AL, US Kawasaki KX 450F 32 29 0
34 987 Matthew Babbitt Cayuga, NY, US Kawasaki KX 450F 34 30 0
35 597 Mitchell Dougherty Whitesboro, NY, US Honda CRF450R 28 36 0
36 261 Jacob Morrison Waream, MA, US Honda CRF450R 30 37 0
37 201 Cameron Rodriguez Apple Valley, CA, US Honda CRF450R 38 34 0
38 236 Sean Kranyak Bakerfield, CA, US Yamaha YZ 450F 33 40 0- The owner of the "M" in L&M made the field but had a rough day. Not as bad as his dad though, who, while watching, got a rock in his eye and had to go to the hospital.
39 801 Jeff Alessi Victorville, CA, US Yamaha YZ 450F 37 38 0
40 122 Daniel Reardon Queensland, AU Yamaha YZ 450F 40 39 0- Reardon hurt his shoulder and pulled out for the day. Looks like he'll be out for a little while.
Guess who else showed up? Jason Lawrence, that's who. The mysterious one was there to debut his new sponsor ARMA Energy Nuts (I swear I'm not making that up) and after reportedly oversleeping and missing practice, he put in a solid four laps of timed practice, qualified, and then pulled out with an ankle injury. I asked his team manager what was up and he said he didn't know and that I should ask him.
Which I didn't.
In a joke that I'm stealing from my Twitter account, do you think that Jason's energy nuts sponsor showed up to see Lawrence ride and then when he didn't start either moto said, "Ah, nuts"?
Thanks for reading this column, I appreciate it. I boned you guys after Washougal and didn't get one done because I was super busy. That was the first race "Observations" that I missed in four years and it kind of hurt. Kind of like when your girlfriend asks you to join in with her and her friend and you pass to watch “Scrubs.” Eventually, you end up regretting it and that’s where I’m at right now. Anyways, thanks for reading and if you want to chat, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org