Words and Photos by Krystyn Slack
Round 5 of Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship took place at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, CA. Oakland is always a toss up for how the race is going to go in terms of weather – last year it was rainy and muddy, this year it was sunny and almost warm. Round 5 also marked the first day race of the season. Whether it’s TV programming or stadium location that switches up the usual “Night Show” to a daytime gate drop, it always throws a weird wrench into the equation. As the season continues to unfold, the fans are treated to exponentially greater racing week after week. Here’s a look at five of the most memorable moments from Oakland.
5. Justin Hill Makes His Return to the Podium
Reigning 250SX West Coast Champion, Justin Hill, has had quite the different start to the 2018 season than his 2017 season. Last year, momentum picked up quickly for the 250SX rider as he emerged as a title contender almost immediately. This year, however, Hill is getting adjusted to a new team and a new bike. And while he’s consistently posted fast qualifying times, the pieces of the puzzle haven’t quite fallen into place – that is until we arrived in Oakland. Justin certainly knows how to navigate a rough and technical track and that’s exactly what he got in Oakland. He raced a smart race and waited for just the right moment to make moves from his 7th place start. As the race clock elapsed, Justin was able to move into 3rd place and create a decent gap between the podium finishers and everyone else. He mentioned in the post race press conference that starts have been key this season and that just being able to “see the top guys” off the start made all the difference in his confidence and ability to separate himself from the pack. Justin would maintain his 3rd place standing through the checkers and landed on the box for the first time since last season.
4. Blake Baggett also Returns to the Podium
Blake Baggett is one of those 450Sx riders who has been inching toward his “time to shine”. He muscled through an incredibly painful injury during the 2017 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship Series that left his right thumb practically dangling off his hand for almost the entirety of the series. He muscled through that injury and continued to race and be competitive, even though he practically had to glue his hand to the throttle to even hold on. He had surgery in the off-season and spent the months leading up to the first gate drop of 2018 recovering. With not much time on the bike and an introduction of a new KTM machine just before the season, Baggett hadn’t completed quite the preparation one would hope to log before jumping over to race pace. However, Baggett is a warrior and is determined to ride his best race, and in his mind, that means fighting for at least podium positions. On a track that evolved into a beast of a ride for most riders, El Chupacabra was able to ride a smart race, avoid mistakes that many competitors were engulfed by, and carry his speed directly to the podium where he finished in 3rd. This confidence boost could be a real turning point for the #4 if he continues to get a good jump off the gate.
3. Aaron Plessinger Claims Third Victory of the Season
Aaron Plessinger is starting to emerge as a title contender in the 250SX Western Regional Championship. As the track began to break down and evolve throughout the course of the day, it was clear early on that it would be a very Plessinger-friendly type of track. Only, in Oakland, AP was dealing with the dreaded flu that has been going around. For most riders in this situation, still lining up to race when feeling like absolute garbage would mean attempting only to salvage any points they could so as to not completely derail their championship hopes. But Plessinger is different – somehow after a 6th place start, AP managed to find some hidden strength within him to not only salvage points, but lead almost half of the Main Event on Saturday night. How he remained focus and able to maintain race pace for the entire main event, all while passing five riders for the lead is some sort of Jedi mind trick very few riders would even attempt. Upon taking the checkers in Oakland, we didn’t get to see the spectacular dance moves we’ve come to love from the #23 because he left absolutely everything on the track. Where he found the inner strength to not only finish one of the gnarliest races in recent history, but to pull off a win when he was so sick is beyond me. If Aaron Plessinger isn’t already on your favorite riders list yet, he should be after this race!
2. Oakland was one of the Gnarliest Supercross Tracks in Recent History
Oakland is often one of those races that is unpredictable – weather and dirt conditions are always factors that play into how the night will evolve and who will emerge victorious. During Press Day, maybe of the riders were excited to see that the track would likely break down into something rutted and technical come Saturday night, which are pretty unusual conditions in California. Well, the track definitely broke down into something rutted and technical, but it also just flat broke down into one of the gnarliest most carnage-inducing tracks in recent history. Opinions on the track were mixed – some riders said it was a lot of fun to ride, others not so much. But one thing that everyone agreed upon was that this particular track was not only the toughest track this season, but also the most brutal Supercross track many of them had ever ridden in the history of their pro careers – this rang true for even veteran riders like Josh Grant and Chad Reed. Race lines through the whoops were anything but consistent and one tiny mistake could cost you not only positions, but also your night. Watching from the stands looked absolutely brutal and riders had to be prepared for new lines, huge ruts, and surprise soft spots every single lap on the track.
1. Ken Roczen and Jason Anderson Battle it out in the Main Event
It was a most unexpected game of cat and mouse between the #21 of Jason Anderson and the #94 of Ken Roczen during Saturday’s Main Event. Ken Roczen got off to a second place start behind his teammate, Cole Seely, where Jason Anderson found himself in 6th off the gate. After qualifying fastest earlier in the day, it was great to see Cole out front. In fact, Cole led 11 laps before a tiny mistake led to a tip over that cost him not only the win, but a podium finish as well. As mistakes were happening on the track right and left, Jason Anderson was waiting patiently to make his move. This new patient and calculated El Hombre is quite the change from the wide-open and aggressive “just send it” Anderson of the past and it’s really serving him well. After Cole’s mistake, Kenny took his second place start and turned that into a first place ride for the second half of the Main Event. If you weren’t watching Saturday, you missed out on the greatest Main Event of this year thus far. The crowd was loving the fact that Ken Roczen was out front. Would this be the night where he finally reclaims the top step of the podium? It was certainly headed that way until a miniscule mistake on one of the many treacherous rhythm sections sent Jason Anderson flying right past Kenny. I think no one in the stadium expected that, especially Kenny. He would regroup and keep racing, passing Anderson for the lead. Tiny mistakes continued to happen throughout the last two laps where the leader exchanged hands between Anderson and Roczen multiple times. At the white flag, both riders hit the finish line at nearly the exact same time. The energy of the crowd was electric. The cat and mouse game would continue right up until the last turn where Jason Anderson would ultimately come out victorious as he crossed the finish line 0.839 seconds ahead of Ken Roczen. What a race! Ken Roczen will have to wait until San Diego to try and snag that first win, but he’s certainly inching closer. As for Anderson, he is rising to the top as an unexpected title contender and is now the second rider to claim victory number two on the season and maintains the red plates for another week.
Join us this weekend as we head to San Diego for one of the most anticipated races of the season, military appreciation night at Petco Park.