Racer X Redux: DaytonaFriday, March 11, 2011 | 3:40 PM
Daytona is crazy. It’s longer, tougher and gnarlier than anything else on this tour. It will beat you up. It will put the pressure on. And I’m just talking about being a journalist! No week except for Loretta’s in August can compete with Bike Week for wall-to-wall racing and craziness, as well as sheer volume of work and fun, and also for sheer lack-of-volume of sleep. If you’ve really done Bike Week and or Loretta’s right, you’ll find yourself desperate to sleep somewhere, anywhere. In a car. On the ground. Or in someone else’s car parked on someone else’s ground. And on Tuesday night, I was back up against that wall again. At about 2 a.m., I wheeled into a South Carolina rest area and took a nap. My mad dash home was going to come up short.
By the time I woke up and got back on planet earth on Wednesday, we were way behind on Racer X Online features, so the team spent the next two days catching up. Today is reserved for Yoshimura ReduX—the full Bike Week edition.
(Note: I didn't even bother to proof this and the rest of the Motown staff is on the road to Indy, so see how many errors you can spot.)
The week, of course, starts with Saturday’s Daytona Supercross by Honda. This is the full Bike Week experience rolled into one for the riders—it’s tougher, longer and gnarlier than anything else on this tour. I’m guessing it doesn’t really rank high on the fun meter, but that’s why they get paid the big bucks (at least some of them).
When the going gets tough, Ryan Villopoto just lets the bike work underneath him, corrects it, and rides away without incident.
This year’s race was exceptionally hard, with longer lap times resulting in a 26 minute main (about five minutes longer than last year). I know the fans have been pining for longer laps and tougher tracks this year, but Daytona once again proved that tougher and longer doesn’t always mean better in regards to racing. The Lites race was pretty mundane, and the SX main was pretty much without a battle too. In fact, sans for James Stewart’s over the bars moment, you didn’t really have much going on out there. Late in each main, you could tell the riders were way tired. Battling and passing were not even close to a priority. They were just trying to hang on and get over the obstacles without wadding it up.
I got to see this up close, because the Daytona people are cool (dumb?) enough to let me announce the race every year. I haven’t announced anything besides “look, she’s learned to crawl!” since the last AMA MX in September, so my vocal cords were ripe for am old-fashioned blowout. And, I got to stand on the infield and bench race with a good group of fans up along the fence. The press box in a stadium just isn’t the same.
The Daytona people usually let me lead opening ceremonies. I stand on the landing of the finish line jump and wait for the riders to complete their wheelies, stoppies and high fives, and then do some interviews. This year, Stewart, Villopoto, Reed, Dungey, Canard, Windham and Short were part of the opening. A funny moment took place when Stewart rode out. Reed had just completed his intro, and there was a giant parking spot next to his bike for Stewart to ride up and do his interview. Instead, Stewart saw Reed and hung a right, wedging himself into the six-inch space between Andrew Short and a tuff block. I don’t think these two are friends anymore.
I also learned that Kevin Windham is the field general of opening ceremonies. He was running the Peyton Manning offense out there, first yelling to me “Hey, let’s have everyone move their bikes up on this jump more so the fans can see us better.” Then, when the interviews were over, he asked, “Do we have time to take a hot lap?” The official script I was holding did not allot time for a lap, and the Lites riders were already on the gate for their heat race. But Windham wanted to do a lap and get the crowd fired up! He yelled to the other riders. “We’re taking a lap! Let’s go!” and they rolled out.
KW gets the offense together and plans out opening ceremonies.
Trying to pick a winner out of this year’s crop of SX talent is not easy. And as I’ve said before, you can’t even use the old formula of picking the rider most adept in rough, sandy, tiring conditions, because Villopoto, Dungey, Reed and Stewart have all been training on that terrain, in Florida, for quite some time now. But Stewart found an ace in practice. He blitzed the first session, like usual. In the second session, he just cruised around all slow—23rd fastest. Then, with about two minutes left, he cruised up to the Gator Pit obstacle. This was a small roller that bounced riders into a pit. Then they would hit a curb bump and jump into a wall jump. A few riders experimented with a faster technique—Nico Izzi was all fired up in Lites practice and jumped from the roller onto the curb, clearing the pit. But this put him straight into the wall jump, so all he could do was launch off it and jump straight up into the air. I don’t think it was any faster, and he was taking on hard landings.
Anyway, Stewart came up to it while cruising, rolled the roller, dropped into the pit, and suddenly grabbed a handful of throttle and launched from the curb all the way over the wall. And it looked easy. For him, this wasn’t even a dunk, just a routine lay up. It was nothing compared to his Anaheim 2 quads. It looked so easy, I questioned my own sight. “Did Stewart just jump over that wall?” I said to no one in particular. “Yeah he did,” said Mike LaRocco, standing next to me in the tower. Then Stewart stopped in the mechanics’ area and rode back to the pits early. He was 23rd fastest in that practice.
This dude was there. Remember this dude?
In the heat races, Ryan Dungey grabbed a holeshot with Ryan Villopoto right behind him. Finally, we were gonna’ see if The Dunge had the stuff to really fend off one of the contenders and get a win-even if it’s just a heat race. RV went after him, they battled side-by-side, but Dungey just refused to lose and held Villo at bay. Then he started pulling away. This was the Dungey we were supposed to see this year! Until his bike quit, and he cruised into the mechanics area, done. His chain was still on, this time, but something was wrong.
He returned to win the LCQ. He had a bad gate pick in the main but pulled off a good start anyway, until Andrew Short and anyone else inside of him decided to make things happen. Shorty moved past a bunch of riders in turn two, and Dungey got shuffled to the back. You have to wonder, if he had won that heat race and had a good pick for the main, if things would have been different.
Meanwhile, Stewart was gone up front. He calmly pulled the wall jump out on the last lap of the heat race. Then in the main, he straight pinned it from the start and made everyone else look like they were on a different track. He also jumped the wall. When he’s really on, Stewart can make anyone look slow on the first lap. He’s out there nailing jumps and blowing up turns three seconds into the race, while mere mortals are taking a few moments to settle in. I’ve seen him do it to Ricky Carmichael, even. For real, I think only Jeremy McGrath has even been able to be so fast and so precise on the very first lap of a supercross race.
After a few laps, Villopoto settled into second and started hitting his marks—I saw him make a few mistakes in a rhythm lane on the first lap and that was all Stewart needed to get away. No we were going to see if RV’s fitness and toughness would be enough to get back to James later in the….Wait Stewart is down!!!
(The cool part was, I actually got to yell that instead of tweet it.)
Yup, right up there on the Stewart trademark list with the “he’s jumping something no one else does” and “his sprint speed is ridiculous” comes “he just crashed totally out of nowhere.” Really, how many times have we watched Stewart go from totally in control to totally over the bars in a nano-second?
Villopoto rode past and took the win. Reed was second and Dungey third. Stewart put in a miraculous charge to finish ninth. He was easily a quarter lap behind anyone else by the time he got up, limped over to his bike, fell while trying to swing his leg over a smashed rear fender, and finally got back going. It was pure grit and determination at that point, just like the comeback from a vicious first turn crash here two years ago.
By the way, don’t even go nuts on this “medics should have stopped him” thing. Name me the precedent for a trackside medic figuring out if a rider is concussed within two seconds, and then tackling that rider and holding him down so he can’t get on his bike. It has never happened before. We’ve seen bigger crashes, and no one has ever questioned the medics for letting the guy get back on the track. We only ask because it’s Stewart, the lightning rod for attention. Can you imagine the case the Stewarts would have had if he indeed wasn’t hurt, but the medics had not allowed him back onto the track? I think that could be grounds for a lawsuit right there. They made the right call.
But, the hits keep coming. It occurred to me that this is Stewart’s sixth year in the premiere division of supercross. Six years is actually a long time in this game. Six years is enough to take a rider from rookie to veteran. But in six years, Stewart is still making the same mistakes he did when he started, so what’s to make us think it will ever finally stop?
Years ago, Ricky Johnson summed up Stewart's riding style like this: "He rides way further over the bars than anyone else. Riding with that kind of momentum means you're going to go really fast. But when something goes wrong, you're going over the bars in a hurry." Hmmmm....
Those types of troubles are not going to happen to Villopoto. He rides so gently nowadays. When he makes mistakes, his style allows him to gracefully recover without even coming close to crashing. He doesn’t crash, he doesn’t even make spectacular saves. Late in the race, the Daytona track was super gnarly and just kicking bikes all over. Anytime RV’s Kawi got out of step, he just adjusted with his legs and put it back down on the ground without drama. He looks the least on the edge of anyone out there. And now he has a big points lead, and the experience to keep it. Yes, every week the big story from the race starts with a tale about someone else. But Ryan ends up the winner. I think he’s okay with that.
Remember Ricky Dietrich? He's going to race outdoors for Valli. Told me he could have kept doing WORCS for Kawasaki, but he'll always regret not at least giving moto a try. He also tried Daytona and admitted there was no way he was going to hold off Dungey or Byrner to qualify through the LCQ. See you at Hangtown, RD.
That track was so brutal, though. Too brutal, in my mind. You’re just never going to have good racing and action late in the game when it’s this rough. The top riders are as fit as humanly possible and they all looked whipped when it was over. They’re not weak, they’re just trying to run 100-meter dash style for 26 minutes, and that’s enough to sap the strongest of athletes.
In Lites, Dean Wilson was up against trouble just like Stewart. He was down early and found himself way, way back in last. He also bashed his clutch perch and spent about three laps banging on the thing to get it back to where he could reach it. I was amazed to see him get all the way back to eighth—aided by the fact that, again, late in the race most of the riders were just trying to survive, while Dean was still desperate for points and willing to tempt fate.
In Houston, Matthes and I watched Lites practice from the press box and declared Blake Baggett the fastest rider in the class. I think Barcia and Wilson, as the more established names, had a little more force of will to just make things happen and win the races at first, but now that Blake has one, he’ll be every bit as tough to beat. As any good Lites series should, this one will come down to who gets the best starts and makes the least mistakes.
And don’t count out Ryan Sipes. The guy HAS to win one of these at some point. He fell while chasing Barcia for second, but if it all falls his way, he can beat these kids on any given night.
Before practice I saw Ian Trettel standing along the fence looking at the track. I asked him about his broken collarbone, and he told me a plate and ten days of therapy with Dr. Ting had him back to 100 percent. He said he wasn’t concerned with results or points, anyway, he just wanted to have fun and learn in his rookie year. A few minutes later, I saw his Suzuki flipped upside down on a pretty simple jump. He never got back up. Ian is still in an induced coma in a Daytona hospital. Please, please, get well soon, Ian. He’s a great kid. And as is often the case in these situations, everyone who saw him crash said he was just cruising around, not even pushing the pace early in practice.
My vocal cords were so shot that I sounded like I had been smoking—so much so that, on Sunday night, I actually, truly, really had a dream that I had become addicted to smoking and couldn’t stop myself from buying a pack at the store. Things actually went pretty smooth considering how much racing we crammed into one day. I don’t have much space here, so if I find some time next week I’ll piece together a feature on the web with some of the highlights.
As far as the lowlights, I had my “Stewart over the bars” moment in the one of the Supermini classes. On our entry sheet, we had Cooper Webb and Adam Cianciarulo listed. I was all pumped up to watch these two battle. Webb grabbed the start and a Kawasaki moved into second. I started hyping up the battle over the mic. Then DMXS Radio’s David Izer told me “Dude, Cianciarulo isn’t even here. That’s not him.”
Huh? I had even seen his bikes in the pits. He was on the entry sheet. What happened?
Kevin Kelly then said, “Yeah man, Cianciarulo is up at my track in Georgia practicing right now. He’s not here.” Why did Kevin not tell me this? “I like seeing other people screw things up sometimes,” he said. And by the way, apparently some local bought AC’s old bikes. That’s why I saw his machines down in the pits.
Later that night, we were all bench racing, and Mitch Payton told me ,“If Cianciarulo’s dad finds out you told all of Daytona that Cooper Webb was pulling away from Adam, he’s gonna’ kick your ass.”
I then explained how that error was simply my Stewart over the bars moment. I announced awesomely all day, made one big error, then got back going and continued with the awesome performance. With that, Mitch called it a night and left.
Bradshaw tried to disguise himself Richard Kimble stye with hair die, but I knew better.
David Brozik photo
The next day featured RC University. These guys named Ricky Carmichael, Jeff Emig and Jeff Stanton were teaching how to ride or whatever. Who cares? Damon Freaking Bradshaw was there! He wasn’t even riding. His trademark blonde hair was now dark. He had sunglasses, a hat and a hoodie on all day. It may not have even been him. But I didn’t care, we needed to bench race.
I talked to Damon all about his old days living and training in Charlotte. Way different back then—no one had tracks in the Southeast, whereas today there are full-on compounds in every direction. Damon told me he spent $75,000 having John Savitski build him a supercross track, and all it did was rain, so he just stayed in California most of the year. A few years back, Damon’s brother leveled the track and turned it into a horse farm. I need to find the address and go there—would be just like the SoCal guys who look at what used to be Saddleback Park through a fence and remember the old days.
After chatting with Damon, I once again felt like lighting a cig.
After RCU, I was supposed to drive two hours south to the Can-Am GNCC opener at the River Ranch. But Bike Week, being Bike Week, got the best of me. We ended up eating and drinking over at Mr. Spears camp (that’s Mr. Spears as in Britney Spears dad Jamie, who is a huge fan of the sport and comes down to Daytona and Loretta’s ever year. I’m not joking about this—even he recognizes how fun these two weeks are). Then someone suggested we go to Friendlys across the street for ice cream. Yeah, we were out of control. I then texted Emig who told me he and some friends were next door. We headed that way and the bench racing began. We hung with a guy who looked exactly like Christophe Pourcel, so we coined the nickname Impourcel and talked about “what ifs.” By about midnight, Daytona had taken me out.
But I was back up at 6 a.m. for the drive down to the GNCC. Awesome seeing all my old friends there. Mike Brown led most of the race until Charlie Mullins found a ridiculous level of reserve and tracked him down at the 2:45 mark (that’s two hours and 45 minutes into the race. GNCCs rule.) And Chris Bach got third on a Beta. A Beta! I bet he would have won if he was on an Alpha. Rimshot!
I had to get out of there—my new house in Charlotte was 11 hours away, which meant I would get home at about 2 a.m. at best. Then I hit Orlando traffic. Then not sleeping much for the previous three days became a factor. So I hit the rest stop.
See you down there next year. Bring a bike.
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