Words and Photos by Krystyn Slack
Anaheim Two: The Night that No Will Forget
For the third round of Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, we traveled back to Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Whether the opening round, or in additional Southern California rounds, Anaheim traditionally brings with it more intense battles and usually more intense drama than some other stops on the circuit. As luck would have it, Anaheim 2 was no exception.
The evening once again began with Jeremy Martin lining up for his Heat Race with the pole position, having qualified fastest during practice in the 250SX class. Heat Race 1 got off to a familiar start with the #38 of Troy Lee Designs Red Bull KTM’s Shane McElrath grabbing the holeshot. However, the #23 of Star Racing Yamaha’s Aaron Plessinger quickly made the pass for the lead, where he would remain for the rest of the Heat Race, claiming his first Heat Race victory of 2017 and is 3rd Heat Race victory on his career. In Heat 2, we would see the #24 of Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s rookie, Austin Forkner, launch to the front of the pack off the gate. Austin grabbed the Holeshot and an early lead in the Heat. Forker may be a rookie, but he races with the skillful maturity of a rider much more seasoned and accustomed to supercross racing. He listens, learns, and adapts – as is evident of his weekly progression thus far. Austin would go on to claim his first ever career Heat Race win in Anaheim, with teammate Justin Hill and GEICO Honda’s Jeremy Martin following in second and third respectively.
It didn’t take long for the Anaheim excitement and drama to unfold in the Premier Class. Probably the most talked about rider of the evening was the #47 of Malcolm Stewart. After winning the 2016 Eastern Regional 250SX Championship, Malcolm found himself without a ride for 2017, that is, until less than a week before Round 3 began. Thanks to Ride365.com stepping up as the title sponsor for his newly formed Suzuki team, Malcolm Stewart will be back for the remainder of the 2017 season. Anaheim 3 also marked his first race aboard a 450. With only minimal hours on his race bike, one would expect only a decent ride from the younger Stewart brother. However, Malcolm lined up looking as if he hasn’t even missed a beat (or laps) and finished second place in his Heat.
However, news of Malcolm’s return quickly faded from the spotlight after the notoriously aggressive Vince Friese t-boned the #21 of Jason Anderson during a passing move, causing not only Anderson to go down, but for the #25 of Marvin Musquin to get tangled up as well. Friese has held a pretty long-standing reputation of being an instigator on the track with his debatably unnecessary aggressive passing moves. Anderson is also no stranger to riding aggressively, but tonight Friese tested Anderson’s patience to a breaking point. The two got involved in a heated argument heading back to the paddock, resulting in Anderson shoving Friese and Friese’s mechanic shoving back, causing Anderson to be thrown from his bike in the tunnel. This is certainly not the first time Friese pushed the buttons of riders on the track. Some may argue that aggressive riders are bad for the sport, but I would argue the opposite. Of course, you don’t ever want to see things turn physical between riders, but you can’t deny that some heated rivalries typically make for great racing. Not engaged in any of the heated battles behind him, Ken Roczen took an expected win in Heat Race 1 for the 450SX class. Thus far in the season, Roczen has a perfect season, winning every Heat Race and every Main Event he’s entered.
The 450SX Heat 2 also showcased some unexpected and noteworthy events. As the night of racing heated up, the defending champion, Ryan Dungey, would go down in the first lap of Heat 2 after connecting with the #3 of Eli Tomac. Dungey is hailed for being one of the most consistent riders on the track in either class and is known for making smart racing choices. Unfortunately, even the most consistent of riders have misfortunes that cross their paths. No injuries occurred, but the throttle housing was damaged in his crash, making it extremely unsafe for Ryan to continue riding. He would pull off to the track and head back to the paddock with his mechanic, Carlos Rivera, to repair the bike and get ready for to race a Semi, something very unusual for the champ. Dungey’s misfortune made for an easy Heat Race win for the #18 of Davi Millsaps. He was followed closely by his teammate, the #4 of Blake Baggett, with Eli Tomac rounding out the top three for Heat 2.
With only 5 minutes + 1 lap for each of the Heat Races, you’d think there wouldn’t be enough time to create that many notable events prior to even the start of the Main Events – but it’s Anaheim, and in Anaheim anything can happen. When the gate dropped on the 250SX Main Event, we would see the rookie, Austin Forker, grab the holeshot, but a decisive move by teammate Justin Hill would move him into first place. Hill would maintain the lead for the entire 17 lap Main Event, claiming his 3rd career SX victory and his first of the season. On the podium, Justin recalled to Fox Sports Pit Reporter Jenny Taft when asked how he felt about his first win of the season, “Hey, I thought I could do it! Now I did do it. Let’s do it again.” Justin looks to carry his momentum through to next weekend in Glendale, AZ. One “fast guy” we’ve yet to see on the podium, however, is the #6 of GEICO Honda’s Jeremy Martin. Martin is consistently very fast in practice, but has yet to make his statement in a Main Event. An unfortunate first lap entanglement with Phil Nicoletti and Hayden Melross would score him in 21st after the first lap. Evident of his speed and skill, though, is the fact that Martin continued to work his way through the pack and finished the night in 10th place. Other notable finishers include the #338 of Ryan Surratt who not only made his first Main Event of his career, but finished 17th. The Rookie, Austin Forker, also had his career-best finish, just shy of a podium appearance, in 4th place.
The 450SX class brought with it equally as exciting racing. Cooper Webb rocketed into his best start of the season, claiming his first 450SX Holeshot. In the longest podium drought we had seen from Webb, the 450 Rookie is ready for his time back on the box. He is learning, evolving and improving with each week of racing and matching the speeds of more seasoned Premier Class riders. It definitely won’t be long before we see him make his first career 450SX podium appearance. Although Webb was first to cross the chalk, it would be Ryan Dungey who quickly took the lead and maintained it for the entire 22 lap Main Event. What we constantly see from Dungey is the adapting to his competition while maintaining a stern calmness to his riding. After a terrible start to the evening, the Champ we are used to seeing presented himself during the Main Event where he would ultimately take the checkers for the night. Absent on the line, however, was the #21 of Jason Anderson, who was disqualified from the remainder of the night program after his run-in with Friese during his Heat Race. He would only be disqualified from racing in Round 3, but even missing one round of racing has the capability to really shake up the points standings. Speaking of a shake up, one of the most notable events of the night, one that everyone has been talking about since Saturday night, is Ken Roczen’s visually spectacular crash that took place nearly half way through the Main Event. Kenny was recorded in 7th after the first lap, but managed to work his way up to third place, looking as comfortable and as fast as ever on his Honda HRC race machine. Most unfortunately, the way the track deteriorated on the evening made for an extremely sketchy section of the track that ended up claiming the current points leader in the most unfortunate of ways. Ken was launched in to the air, feet off the pegs, making a bailout absolutely necessary to avoid even more catastrophic damage. He hit the face of the jump and he hit hard. Immediately upon impact, Kenny was grabbing onto his left arm. We would later learn that Ken suffered a compound fracture of his left radius, and a dislocated wrist and elbow on his left side as well. Not only was Kenny out for Round 3, but with the number of surgeries still ahead for Ken, he’s done for the season as well, and possibly for the year. The sad fact of our sport is that injuries happen, but injuries like this are wished upon no one. It’s so unfortunate to see a rider with so much championship potential have those hopes absolutely shattered before they even really got rolling. Headed into Round 4, defending champion Ryan Dungey will regain the points lead and red plates. Other notable finishes of the evening include the first podium appearance of the season for the #14 of Team Honda HRC’s Cole Seely with his third place finish. Cooper Webb also had his best finish of the year in 4th place.
Things could potentially shake up even further as we head to Glendale, AZ for Round 4 of Monster Energy AMA Supercross. For the first time on the circuit, we will be visiting a covered football stadium – which means for the first time all year, as we won’t have to be concerned with inclement weather, we will actually see riders ride an untimed qualifying practice before attempting to throw down a fast lap and qualify for the night show. That extra time on the track could really give riders like Webb a chance to be more calculated in his line choices and how he approaches the track, potentially making room for his first podium appearance on a 450. Three rounds down, fourteen to go!