By John Basher
PHOTO OF THE WEEK, PART 1
Ryan Villopoto, Chad Reed, Trey Canard and Kevin Windham are absent from the Nationals, but guess what? James Stewart and Ryan Dungey aren’t. Hangtown proved that Stewart is a much happier man on a Suzuki, and Dungey is ready for a title fight. I expect that both riders will be as close to each other all summer as they were in this photo. And remember when Dungey used to stay at Stewart’s house? Ahhhh, memories.
MINI-VIEW: JEFF WARD
Jeff Ward (left) and Kyle Chisholm talk line selection before Hangtown. Don't they know that it's not polite to point?
Jeff Ward the only rider to win the National Minicycle, 125 National, 250 National, 500 National, Supercross and Supermoto Championships (although Mike Kiedrowski did win the 125, 250 and 500 National crowns). Not to mention Jeff's Indycar victory in Dallas and his second in the Indianapolis 500. Jeff Ward is legendary. He’s also a team owner. Ward and co-owner, Mike Kranyak, signed Josh Grant and Kyle Chisholm to the roster before the Supercross series. The team’s brightest spot came in New Orleans when Grant finished second place, but Ward hopes for more. Here’s what Wardy had to say after the Hangtown opener.
MXA: Jeff, why did you decide to start your own race team?
Jeff: I worked with Troy Lee and his team for a little while. We went Supermoto racing, and he also helped me in Indy Car. Then I worked a little bit with Troy’s race team, which gave me a different perspective. My life and my heart is in motocross, and I’ve always wanted to do something. I figured it was time to do something on my own and challenge myself. Ironically, I decided to start my own team at about the same time that L&M Racing was trying to figure out what they were doing. I made a few calls and met with team owner Mike Kranyak. He wanted to keep going in the racing scene, and we decided to partner up. For me it was a dream come true, because they had already put together a championship winning team. That saved me some headaches of getting a shop all set up. We brought in a couple of sponsors really late in the game. Kawasaki is a big player, because of my relationship with them. We got everything up and running pretty quickly. We just need to keep getting better and better.
Recently I spoke with one of your riders, Josh Grant. He basically said that the sport is moving forward because of guys like you, as well as Jeremy McGrath, are starting up teams. You’re investing back into the sport.
Mike Kranyak is a big part of it, too. We were fortunate enough to sign Josh. Even though he has been dealing with injuries he has the speed to run up front. We look at this team as giving a guy like Josh the chance, all while not putting too much pressure on him. He is slowly coming along. The main goal of any team is to win races and championships. It’s a building year for us. We’re trying to position ourselves so that we can be the team that wins championships down the road.
Josh Grant, founding team rider.
What are the ideal character traits that you look for in a rider?
I want to work with a guy that has heart and wants to win. There are a ton of different personalities out there. Some work and some don’t. Essentially it comes down to putting everything on the line and wanting to win. A guy always needs to have the natural speed and ability to ride a motorcycle, but all of those guys are fast. However, it’s the work that you put in during the week and the willingness to devote your life to racing that makes the difference. There aren’t a lot of people that are willing to do that. I’m looking to find one of those guys.
You could have saved money by foregoing the Nationals, but instead you’re forging on throughout the summer. Why?
I love the outdoors. The Nationals show where the tough guys are. I grew up racing motocross. It was my biggest talent. I have a passion for the Nationals, and Mike Kranyak also wanted to do it. Plus, it’s important being a new team to have our name out there. Supercross is great, but the core fans are the ones who ride those same outdoor tracks. It’s good for our sponsors and gets them more exposure. It also keeps our riders on their toes. You can’t get away with riding the Nationals without putting in serious effort. By the way, I was super excited being at Hangtown! It was the most excited that I’ve probably been this year, because I was out there and right in the middle of everything.
What has been the one kernel of knowledge that you have picked up now that you’re a team owner?
I knew that there’s a lot of responsibility that goes with this job. Fortunately the right people were hired before I even stepped into the role. I have to give Larry Brooks [former part-owner of L&M Racing] credit for putting together the people that he did. When I raced Indy Car, there were between 14 and 18 people working on a single car. Everyone had to pull their own weight. There couldn’t be a weak link. It’s the same thing with a motocross team. If someone doesn’t do his job then it doesn’t work. We also have to make things fun. If you don’t enjoy going to work then things aren’t going to get done. The biggest challenge for me is sponsorship. You have to get the sponsorships and then also keep them happy. There’s a lot of juggling that goes on. I have to keep the team properly funded and make sure that the riders have what they need.
Kyle Chisholm, known as "The Chizz."
I don’t think that a lot of people realize the commitment that goes into keeping a sponsor satisfied.
Oh yeah, there’s a lot to it. The one thing about us having a privateer-type team, compared to the factories, is that we don’t do a lot of things with dealers. We can pick and choose our sponsorship obligations a little bit. There’s greater flexibility, but there’s still a regiment that we need to follow. It’s tough to pull our riders away from training, riding, or when they have a day of rest. There’s a fine line. My goal is to make everyone happy.
You seem very hands-on with the team.
I like being around with the team. I was at all but three Supercross races. The reason I missed those three races was because my kids were racing the World Mini Grand Prix and they also had to do Loretta Lynn qualifiers. I’m going to almost all of the Nationals. I like being at the track.
What approach do you take in offering advice to Josh and Kyle?
I’m not the type of guy that tells them what they have to do. I watch other riders and try to find the best lines so that I can give them feedback. They are so busy getting ready for a moto, but I can watch the moto before and give them helpful suggestions right before they go to the line. Being in this situation makes me think of going to the Motocross des Nations, which were some of the best times in my life. Roger DeCoster, the team manager, would provide insight. That was super cool to me. Back when I was racing there wasn’t really anyone of my caliber that would help me, because the sport was still too young to have an older generation. Roger was the first guy of a high caliber to help top riders. That’s what I try to do for Kyle and Josh. I never tell them how to ride or whether their style needs to be changed. They got where they got to because they know what they’re doing.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK, PART 2
Hate isn't a strong enough word...looks like a border fence.
So the stinkin’ yellow track marker stakes that I so vehemently detest are back again this year...and they’ve brought along their big brothers. That’s right, MX Sports has invited stupid big plastic barriers to the party. They’re ugly. They stick out like a sore thumb in photos and video. They also don’t prevent riders from jumping over them or cutting corners. So basically they don’t do anything. Awesome.
MINI-VIEW: IVAN TEDESCO
While most of the 250 riders were nervous, Tedesco chills out on the starting line. He's probably thinking about getting his AARP application in. Or growing a mustache. Either way, Ivan doesn't worry.
It was only a few weeks ago that Ivan Tedesco decided to fill-in for the injured Darryn Durham (or was it to replace Tyla Rattray?) on Mitch Payton’s Pro Circuit Kawasaki team. Immediately the moto message boards blew up about the news. It was obvious that quite a few people were strongly opposed to the idea of Tedesco, the 2005 AMA 250 National Champion, returning to the class.
What are my thoughts on the pairing? It’s an awesome idea! How could anyone have a problem with Ivan racing the 250 Nationals? Now 30 years old, “Hot Sauce” won the title when he was 23 years old. He hasn’t raced outdoors in a few years, and he adds depth to a stacked 250 class. If Tedesco had won a 450 National title then I’d be on the opposing side, but he hasn’t. The 250 National title is a true championship, consisting of the same amount of races as the 450 class. Many riders have cemented themselves in the 250 class for years, so what’s the problem with Tedesco coming back and racing seven years later? That’s right. There isn’t a problem.
MXA: What were your expectations heading into Hangtown?
Ivan: To be honest, I really didn’t have any expectations. I know what I’m capable of, but I didn’t exactly know how I’d stack up. I only had two weeks on the Pro Circuit Kawasaki before Hangtown, and my fitness isn’t where it needs to be just yet. I went to Hangtown with an open mind, and I tried not to ride over my head. It turns out that I finished fourth overall, which I’m pretty happy with.
Looking through the photos that I took from Hangtown, every shot that I have of you shows that you’re really charging forward and being aggressive. Throughout both motos were you saying to yourself, “Stay aggressive. Don’t let off the throttle.”?
For me, it’s just so easy to ride a 250 four-stroke aggressively. Believe me, I want to ride a 450 the way that I ride a 250. I’ve tried doing that, but the 450 has put me on my head. With the 250 you can hang it out more and not get bitten. Now that I’m back on the 250 I can really have some fun with it.
Ivan said that Hangtown was the roughest track that he's ever raced. That's saying something, since he's been racing since the dawn of time.
What did you think about the pace of the 250 class after being away from racing that class for 6-1/2 years?
The pace was intense! I expected the pace to be like that, because for the past couple of weeks I’ve ridden at the local tracks with the kids. They haul the mail. I knew that their speed would be crazy, and with it being the first round I figured that everyone would want to prove what they have. In that first moto I struggled for the first few laps after getting a good start. I was trying to run the pace, but I made some poor line choices. By the time I settled down the front guys were gone.
What did Mitch Payton say to you after the race?
He was stoked! The whole team was awesome all day. Everyone was trying to keep me calm and prevent me from getting too excited. I love the atmosphere at the team, and I got along really well with everyone. Hopefully we can keep things going and I can have some success this summer.
You had mentioned that you’re still a bit out of shape, but that will come in no time. Can you win a National?
I would like to think so. Obviously that would be nice, but it’s a stacked class. Only time will tell. I’m going to put my work in and give it everything I have every weekend. Hopefully I’ll get a couple wins. If not, then at least I know that I tried.
Okay, no more old jokes. Ivan Tedesco deserves to race the 250 Nationals. He rips!
What did you think of the Hangtown track?
The track was gnarly! I don’t know if it was because I haven’t raced the Nationals in a couple of years, or the track really was that rough, but it was difficult. What made it especially hard was the fact that the 250 class was the last moto of the day. It was definitely one of the roughest tracks that I’ve ever raced in my career.
HANGTOWN NATIONAL PHOTO GALLERY
Want to see some photos from Hangtown? Click the photo above!
HANGTOWN VIDEO RECAP
THOUGHTS ON HANGTOWN
Believe it or not, James is jumping over a set of braking bumps in this photo. Just kidding.
James Stewart was, without question, the happiest man in the world on Saturday night. After sweeping both motos (the first moto he did so in dominant fashion), James was back to his winning ways. His riding style was effortless and he looked super comfortable on the gnarly Hangtown track. It was surely a sight to see him double jump braking bumps and stand up nearly all of the way through deep rutted corners. James was firing on all cylinders Saturday. Will it continue at Freestone? And in an ironic twist, the Yoshimura Suzuki team was pitted directly across from Stewart’s old team, JGR.
Dungey is off to a good start.
Ryan Dungey should be happy with his performance at Hangtown. He didn’t get a good start in the first moto, but methodically worked his way up to third. Lining up next to James Stewart on the start line before the second moto, Dungey came out third. He might have beaten James if not for taking a long time to get around Mike Alessi and dealing with lappers. Shoulda, coulda, woulda. He should be excited heading into Freestone–a track he does very well at.
Davi Millsaps and the Nationals go together like oil and water. In all honesty he has the ability to win races and compete for the title. Just keep those legs away from the ruts, Davi!
Davi Millsaps doesn’t like racing the Nationals. He’s a tall guy, and those deep ruts don’t favor long legs. Davi has had a long string of bad luck outside, but maybe that will change this year. He rode with vigor in the first moto and had the JGR guys going crazy when he finished second. A crash on the second lap in the second moto put him way back, but he still moved up.
Jake Weimer’s results aren’t indicative of how he rode. Weimer came from waaaaay back in the first moto to finish 10th. After working so hard I figured that his goose would have been cooked for moto two, but he finished sixth. He’ll taste podium pie before too long.
A three way tie for third place? That happens. However, the fact that not even the announcers knew who finished third was downright embarrassing. If the announcers couldn’t figure it out, then how would the spectators know? MXA has said it before, and we’re going to say it again, change to the Olympic scoring system.
We hardly knew ye, Dean Wilson. The defending 250 National champion had his shoulder pop out mid-moto. The series will desperately miss Dean. I don’t think his competition feels the same way. Get better, Deano!
Close your eyes and picture a 250F throttle stuck wide open. That's the sound that Justin Barcia's (20) Geico Honda is making in this photo.
Justin Barcia’s valves are getting a workout once again. “Bam Bam” isn’t scared to tickle the rev limiter at times when everyone else is relaxing their throttle hand. It’s fun to hear, but I feel bad for that Honda CRF250 engine of his.
Baggett's "Chupacabra" nickname is crafty, but I prefer "The Closer." Stamp it.
Blake Baggett demoralized the 250 class at Hangtown (and I’m sure he would have done serious damage against the 450s if allowed). Mitch Payton doesn’t have a full team of riders, but he might not need to hedge his bets on another 250 outdoor title. If Baggett remains consistent then it could be a long summer for Barcia, Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen and the boys.
Ken Roczen put in two great motos. After a so-so Supercross season, Kenny was definitely excited to get the Nationals started. He doesn’t have any previous experience on the National circuit, but it appears that he’s a fast learner.
Here's proof that Jessy Nelson crashed. Look at that left-side radiator. No matter, this kid is legit.
Another rider who suffered from the “my results don’t show how well I rode” was Jessy Nelson. The rookie bounced off the dirt a few times in the first moto and still managed to finish 13th. A second moto start crash, caused by Wil Hahn, put Jessy behind the eight ball. Look for big things out of this kid. I heard that the Troy Lee team didn’t tell Jessy that he was riding Hangtown until a few days before. Talk about getting thrown into the fire!
FREESTONE NATIONAL FORECAST
Seeing that weather prediction makes me cringe. After Josh Lichtle’s passing due to heat stroke at Red Bud last year I pay close attention to the weather. My hope is that any rider suffering from heat exhaustion pull off instead of chancing it. And, as Eli Tomac can attest, heat can affect performance for weeks or even months. Stay safe.
HEAL UP, SCOTT WILLIAMS!
A friend and fellow REM racer, Scott Williams, took a digger on Sunday. In his maiden voyage on a pristine 2006 Yamaha YZ250 Scott got a little buck wild over a step-down double. He hit the deck hard, resulting in a broken upper arm, chipped bone in his wrist, and enough bruises to look like Manny Pacquiao used him as a punching bag. Heal up, buddy!