As Davi Miilsaps announced his retirement today from professional racing, I couldn’t help but to think back to the incredible summer he spent racing in Canada in 2016. Millsaps has had such an long and storied career and I hate to see it come to an end because of an injury. However, with a great family at home and many years ahead of him to enjoy life, today Davi Millsaps was forced to call it quits due to the head injury he suffered while testing during the off-season. In honour of Davi and his awesome career, I decided to write about the summer he spent racing in Canada.
Cypress, CA — After a lot of careful thought and consultation with his doctors and family, Monster Energy/Knich/Yamaha Factory Racing’s Davi Millsaps has made the decision to retire from supercross and motocross racing. The announcement was made today by Davi on his social media channels.
“After being injured while testing last fall, I had hoped to return to racing this year,” Davi said. “But after consulting with my doctors and talking things over with my family, I have made the difficult decision to retire from racing. As it was, I had already planned to retire at the end of the year, but unfortunately, I had a big crash, which changed my plans. I definitely wanted to go out on my own terms, but my neurologist wouldn’t clear me to ride, so I was essentially forced to call it quits after 27 years of racing. I’m officially retiring today, but I’ll still be around the sport I love.”
Davi is planning to do a Lap of Honor for the fans at the Atlanta Supercross on March 3. “Atlanta is where I won my very first 450SX main event,” Davi said, “And, I’m the only Georgian to ever win a 450SX race in Georgia, so it’s fitting for me to conclude my racing career in Atlanta. Also, my family and friends will be able to be there to see me do my lap. It’s definitely going to be emotional, but it’s the right thing for me to do.”
A two-time Monster Energy 450SX Championship runner-up in 2012 and 2013, Davi tallied five 450SX wins and 35 450SX podiums in his career. He was also the 2006 250SX East Champion, 2014 Monster Energy Cup winner, and 2016 Canadian National Motocross Champion.
I’m not sure about you but I certainly remember the day that the news came down that the KTM Thor Racing Team had hired Davi Millsaps for the 2016 CMRC National Series. At the time, Millsaps was racing KTMs on a Supercross-only deal for the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC factory supported race team, but he had been injured and had no plans for the upcoming summer. Seeing as he was also one of KTM USA’s cherished test riders, the story goes that they didn’t want him sitting around all summer doing nothing, but instead wanted him in race shape for the busy fall SX testing season. North of the border, the KTM Thor Racing Team wanted nothing more than to win both the 2016 MX2 and the MX1Championships. With Cole Thompson as the title favourite in the MX2 class, the team needed an MX1 teammate to race alongside rookie MX1 rider Kaven Benoit. So, with all of that in mind, a deal was reached between KTM Canada and KTM USA to bring Davi Millsaps to Canada for the summer of 2016.
The first time I met Davi Millsaps was at the KTM USA SX test track in early April of 2016. KTM Canada had flown a few of us down to California to cover both the West Coast Orange Brigade Camp as well as the KTM Thor Racing Team photo shoot. At the time, the news that Millsaps was coming to Canada wasn’t quite official yet, but the entire industry knew that it was happening. As we were sitting at the test track in the warm California morning sun, James Lissimore was working his photography magic while Cole Thompson, Kaven Benoit and JSR were busy getting ready for the big photo shoot. Off in the distance we heard the faint sound of country music coming from a fast-approaching, large pickup truck. As the truck came to a stop and shut its engine off, there was a brief moment of silence prior to the driver’s side door opening and the larger-than-life figure of Davi Millsaps jumping out. As his MX1 Championship run was at the nationals later that summer, Millsaps’ first moments with his new team and the Canadian media that day was truly unforgettable.
Due to the fact that he was still not cleared to ride, Millsaps was only there that day to get a head shot and to meet his new teammates. In talking with him it was clear that he never minced words and he basically said whatever he wanted. When asked questions, his answers were direct and to the point, but you could also tell that he was guarded and not completely trusting of the media. He asked us all about the Canadian tracks and what the people of Canada were like. When I asked him if he was going to be healed up and ready to race in two months time, he reply was blunt and with a small grin, “Oh, I’ll be ready.”
Well, fast forward two months to the opening round of the 2016 Rockstar Energy Drink MX Nationals in very hot Kamloops, BC, and Millsaps certainly was ready. Right from the first gate drop his aggression and speed surprised even our most experience riders. He would go on to win that day. When I interviewed him after the race, I asked if the heat bothered him in either moto? Millsaps gave me a look that I would come to know very well that summer as he replied, “Hot? That wasn’t that hot today, I’ve been doing motos in California in 90-95F so today was cool.” That response was classic Millsaps as all summer he appeared to sweat confidence.
On the track, his first lap aggressiveness still has me shaking my head. He quick sprints to the lead was something to marvel at each weekend. He made it clear early in the series that if you were going to beat him then you had to do it in the first few laps, because after that he was usually long gone. Off the track, it took a few rounds before he let his guard down and became a much more relaxed version of himself. For instance, when Colton Facciotti leaned over and wished him good luck prior to the opening moto of the year, Millsaps didn’t know what to think. Not that he didn’t appreciate Colton’s sincere well wishes, it was just that after years of racing in the USA, he wasn’t used to it. As the summer went on and Millsaps became more comfortable, you would often see him talking to other riders and joking around sometimes moments before the start of a moto. However, once the gate dropped, he was still as ruthless as any rider that has ever raced on Canadian soil. His riding was solid, his factory KTM 450 was the best bike on the track, his fitness was great, and his line choice and race craft was (at the time) far better than his competition. Simply put, that summer Millsaps not only won the 2016 MX1 title, but he also made every rider and team who was trying to beat him each and every weekend better. As cutthroat as he was on the racetrack, it was cool to see his genuine side as well. When his teammate Benoit finally beat him and won the Deschambault National, Millsaps was the first to congratulate him and to tell Benoit that he knew he could do it. I believe that the somewhat relaxed nature of Canada and the Canadian nationals really helped to bring that side of Millsaps out. When all was said and done, he loved his time here and he was glad it happened when it did.
I will leave you with my favourite Millsaps story from the summer of 2016, a story that shows just how much more relaxed he became throughout his time in Canada. The story begins just after the riders meeting at the final round in Barrie, Ontario when Millsaps needed just a few more points to clinch the title. Seeing how his teammate Cole Thompson had already won the MX2 championship, and Millsaps winning the MX1 was all but a done deal, I wanted to put them both on the next cover of MXP Magazine. The James Lissimore photo that we needed for the cover shot would have to be done at the end of the day as both riders would have their new #1 plates on their bright orange KTMs. When I told Millsaps what we wanted to do after the final moto, he gave me “that” look and said, “So you want me to race two motos, get undressed, and then get dressed again to go out for a photo shoot?” Of course, I said yes that was about it, him and Cole doing a jump together for the camera. After some thought he agreed to do it. However, he made me promise to buy him a bottle of Captain Morgan’s Rum. No problem I said, and I wished him good luck! As it turned out, Millsaps obviously did win the title, but it wasn’t without some drama as he jumped off the track in Moto 1 and fractured his wrist. No one, including Millsaps knew that his wrist was broken at the time, but to his credit he did do the photo shoot and it turned out to be one of our best covers ever.
Later that evening, I mean much, much later, like 9pm later, my phone rang while my family and I were driving home from the race. On the other end was Kaven Benoit who told me that he had someone who wanted to talk to me. He then passed his phone to a very celebrated (if you know what I mean) Davi Millsaps who yelled, “Palms, where is that Captain Morgan’s you promised me?” Well, obviously I didn’t know he meant that he wanted it that day, I mean it was a Sunday and like him, I’d been at the track all day. I told him that I couldn’t get it to him until a later date, and that by the sounds of it he didn’t really need it. It was a very funny end to a great summer of watching Millsaps win our premier Canadian title, I wished he would’ve come back and defended it last year again, but things just didn’t work out. As he heads into retirement today, I can’t help but just be thankful that we were able to watch Millsaps race on Canadian soil and take home his one and only outdoor Championship. His name is now on the list of so many great riders that have travelled north to race our series and enjoy our Canadian hospitality. Best of luck in the future Davi and thanks for the all of the memories!