Steve Matthes Observations from A1
By Steve Matthes
Photos by Simon Cudby


I'm back! More importantly, real live racing is back and now we have something to talk about during the week instead of promoters, old races, message boards and other outside noise that seemed to dominate this off season. I also don’t think you can draw any conclusions from this first Monster Energy AMA Supercross race in regards to where the guys stand; it was just too hard to really try and go fast, the track was so treacherous. Anyways, I was there and this is what I observed....

The track was a mess early in the day and with the predicted rain everybody was bracing for an Anaheim 2005 par deux, but it never happened. The rains didn’t come and I thought that the track reminded me a lot of San Francisco last year; it slowly got better as the night went on. They did hold off on practice until the last possible moment and I think that was a wise decision.



 

Apparently partying all summer just works for some people ...  


Chad Reed came out and showed everyone that he’s really lost nothing after sitting out all summer. But then again we knew that anyways after the U.S. Open and Bercy, right? He rode a smart race and did 20 consistent laps for the win (besides that little stall). He is also way out in front for quote of the year when he said at the press conference: “I partied all summer and had a great time.”

 

Are we seeing a more mature James Stewart?  

 

James “Stewie” Stewart fell in the first turn and it was on after that. I figured that he would challenge for the lead anyways but couldn’t close the gap on Reed. Y’know, he had some sketchy moments out on the track when he was coming through the pack (like landing on two tough blocks off the finish line) but for the most part he rode steady and in control. Maybe it’s a sign of new maturity. After all, you can’t win the title in the first race, but you can sure lose it, right?

I hung out at Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) for a bit, even got a tour of the new rig and I have to say, it’s one of the most impressive teams out there and that includes the factory guys. Talk about having all of your poop together! But really, did we expect anything else? They had a full-on NASCAR in the pits that would’ve had Andy Bowyer drooling. 

Now, anyone who has read this column before knows that I am a big fan of  JGR’s Charles “Josh” Summey, I think he’s really going to be a top ten guy in SX/MX but not on this weekend. Josh struggled in the slop and failed to make the main. When we were text messaging on Sunday he told me he “rode like puddin’” Whatever that means, this week will be better for the 24.

Summey’s teammate, the much maligned Josh Hansen made his 450 debut  and it was a mixed bag really. He did good by making the main but then fell on the second lap and finished 20th. He was near the top ten when he fell and I happened to be watching him and he laid there for a long time before getting up. Not sure what the deal was with that but again, I’m not going to draw any conclusions from this race.

 

The battle for the Lites opener was between these two riders.  

 

Team Makita/Rockstar Suzuki’s Ryan Dungey won the Lites class after what was a great 5 rider battle early on. He looked great in the heat race, great in the main and he is such a nice kid that I can’t help but cheer him on. As I get older (34) I am turning into one of those crusty old men that always talk about how dumb the younger generations are. Dungey “and Dragons” gives me hope.

Sat next to The Icon, David Bailey during the main events and it was interesting to hear his take on the guys and what’s going on in their heads. He did say that Dungey’s new trainer Johnny O’Mara has nothing but the highest praise for Ryan and doesn’t need to be anyone’s trainer, but he chose to work with Ryan because he really feels that Ryan could be one of the best someday.

Jason Lawrence finished second and it would’ve been a great battle had he not fallen while challenging for the lead. Him and Dungey are going to be going at it all season long. Bailey had good things to say about Lawrence but when I asked him about the Hannah comparisons he just laughed and said that Bob was pretty quiet until he realized that he could kick everyone’s ass, then became the showman that he was. I  think his point was that Jason has to win first before his act takes full flight. It might not be too much longer until Jason does start winning. His trainer? Ryan Hughes.

 

Is Red Dog destined to be third? 

 

There are three things that are for sure in this life: death, taxes and Tim Ferry will probably get third. Red Dog rode well and he put in solid laps for the last step on the box. He did this without once jumping the triple after the finish! How do you get third in a supercross and not jump the triple? It was a sketchy section all night—Reed cartwheeled there during practice when he went off the side of the landing jump—and the 450s didn’t consistently start jumping it until the main but Windham and Stewie were airing it out from the inside. Red and Grant Langston were really going at it, GL would make up time by doing it right in front of the big one-five but Timmy still wouldn’t jump it. He said that he didn’t want to if he didn’t need to and it appears he was right. That’s what the experience of one million races gets you.

How about Cernic’s Kawasaki’s Jeff Gibson? He almost won his heat!  Didn’t do that well in the main but he almost won the heat! Just thought I’d point that out.

Heath Voss and Paul Carpenter both missed the main. Which is quite a shocker until you see the results and they finished 14th and 13th in the main. How did that happen? Well, due to the AMA letting each rider in the top ten have two provisional entries into the main, Voss and Carpenter both used theirs to get into the show. I hate this rule and  promise to stop ranting about it in 2008 because apparently the AMA doesn’t read Observations.

Team Yamaha’s Broc Hepler was racing his first supercross in two years and didn’t have a good night. He endoed in his heat and got off lucky. In the main, I never really noticed him until he was getting lapped (?!?). He’ll do better next week—he has to.

Jason Weigandt has a blog, he barely updated it ever and I got on him about it. He did start to do better but fell of the wagon when I stopped bagging on him. It went weeks, WEEKS, without being updated. Well, he’s back, kinda, so I implore you guys to check it out at  www.theweege.blogspot.com/.

 

Is Matthes to thank for Brayton's podium finish?  

 

Last year I wrote that I didn’t think Mitch Payton was staying awake at night wondering how to beat the MDK/KTM team after what I thought was some dubious rider signings. MDK manager Danny Paladino came up to me and thanked me for writing that and mentioned that he copied what I wrote and gave it to his team members. Well, one of his signings, Justin Brayton, got third this weekend and rode awesome. He looked good, the bike looked good and if I had anything to do with them beating both of the PC bikes, you’re welcome Danny. Congratulations to the MDK team on their great achievement. Now about that Billy Laninovich signing….

Butler Brothers/DNA Energy drink Jason Thomas had a decent night going until bike problems stopped him on lap 12. Jason has a smaller stature then a lot of riders and when the track is muddy, it’s harder for the little guy to dab his feet. He was running 12th for a while in the main, and he should come away feeling really luck after the LCQ when 
Antonio Balbi cross rutted and flew off into the other lane, just narrowly missing Jason. JT said that the track was deceiving as it looked good and you had some traction but yet it was still hard to string together combos.

Eric McCrummen was around a few years ago and didn’t do very much, he kind of disappeared for the last few years but came out and won the Lites LCQ in an impressive ride. He seriously looked like he was on a dry track as he was a lot better then the other racers. But then he went on to finish 20th in the main.

Daniel James Reardon had an almost storybook beginning to his supercross career. The Australian led the Lites main for a while before dropping back and finishing fourth. He also had the holeshot in his heat race before sliding off the track. Pretty good race for the first time and I think he’ll be a player in the upcoming races. Going to the U.S. Open and that Reno AX obviously helped get him used to racing here.

As I was watching Langston and Ferry pass each other back and forth, I have to admit that I was waiting for GL8 to eventually fly off the track spectacularly, like Greg Albertyn when he was #8. He has had a hard time holding it together for twenty laps without making mistakes in the past, and going by the track conditions I thought it was only a matter of time. But to his credit, he rode smart and steady and showed that he might win the “best of the rest” contest.

There had to be some nervous people in the Hahn household when brothers Will and Tommy were running 4th and 5th in the Lites loc. Y’see, only the top four make it which meant that it was possible that: A.) One Hahn misses the main. B.) One Hahn tries to take out the other and they both fall, and both Hahns miss the main. C.) They both make it in.
Luckily, option C happened and they went onto get 6th (Tommy) and 10th (Will).

MDK/KTM rider Nick Wey debuted his new pumpkin rocket this weekend and he did pretty good I think. Remember people, he hadn’t raced in like forever after hitting his head during the nationals last summer. Then he took time off, lost his linkage, lost a kickstarter and gained a battery. All in three months! He came from almost dead last in his heat to qualifying position, and in the main he was fifth for a few laps before stalling the Katoom in a rut. I watched him closely because I wanted to see if the “NYK” style was any different on a KTM and the good news is he looks like the same rider to me.

As I write this on Monday afternoon, I have been waiting for David Vuillemin to sign onto AOL Instant Messenger so I can ask him what happened to him on the weekend. It was muddy and he is a mud master.  But all he could do was an unspectacular 10th after running sixth or seventh for a while. He was debuting the new Rockstar Suzuki EFI 450 and everything seemed to be lining up for Le Cobra. I think that he is seriously behind the eight ball with his training and riding as he was more banged up then a lot of people realized this off-season. Maybe 4 or 5 rounds in will be a better indication which way his season will go.

Hart and Huntington was another new team that showed up this weekend, they have a big sponsor in Rockstar Energy drink and a celebrity owner in Carey Hart. Their pits and bikes looked professional and Troy Adams made them proud by qualifying for the main. Troy had some problems once he got in there but judging on what I saw two months ago in Florida, Adams has some speed. On another side note, did you know that this column’s sponsor Merge Racing is doing the engines and suspension for H&H?  In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I do work for Merge so therefore when I tell you the bikes pretty much ripped off Adam’s arms and handled like it was riding on pillows, you 
shouldn’t believe me.

From the “Where Did He Go?” file, Fun Center Suzuki’s Chris Blose got a ninth in the Lites class. Pretty good really, I know that he has struggled with injuries for the last few years and I’m pumped to see him do good. Why? I dunno, he always seemed like a good kid on the “Reality of Speed” show a few years back. (Actually Matthes, it was Michael that was on Reality of Speed but that's okay, I'm sure Chris is a good kid too)  Anyways, remember Josh Woods 
got on the box at the Anaheim mudder a few years back, so we’ll see what Chris has got this weekend at his hometown race in Phoenix.

Finally, hats off to Dirt Wurx for rescuing that track—it could have been an absolute mess, but they did a fine job of working the tarps and Live Nation’s tight scheduling helped out as well. The weather won’t be a problem this weekend in Phoenix. We may see a whole new group of riders near the front in the results, especially in the Lites class.