Words and Photos by Krystyn Slack (@freestylephotocross)
Round 6 of Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship was held in the larger-than-life AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, home of the Dallas Cowboys – and you know how the saying goes, “everything’s bigger in Texas!” Texas lived up to its reputation and gave us a massive track, two whoops sections, big upsets, and big wins. This also marked the last round of racing for the Western Regional 250SX competitors before the break and we give the Eastern Regional riders an opportunity to race their first Monster Energy Supercross race since the finals in May of 2016. It was predicted that the 2017 season would be legendary in the making and worthy of epic historical retelling in the future. As each round has elapsed, it is evident that we won’t be crowing a champion until the clock strikes midnight and time has run out on the 2017 Monster Energy Supercross Season.
The 250SX Heat Races kicked off early in the afternoon as the “Night Show” began at 3:30pm in Texas. In familiar fashion, the #38 of Shane McElrath got an early lead and won Heat Race 1 with ease after an incredible jump off the gate. The victory marked his 3rd Heat Race victory of the year and the 7th of his career. Followed closely behind Shane was the #6 of GEICO Honda’s Jeremy Martin and the #23 of Yamalube Star Racing Yamaha’s Aaron Plessinger. We are no stranger to seeing the #6 of Martin perform exceptionally well during qualifying practice and the Heat Races. Unfortunately, the former Yamaha rider has not yet carried that momentum through to a Main Event and has been absent from the podium thus far this season. Although, J.Mart is probably best known for his skills during the outdoor season, it is still surprising that we have yet to see him make a podium appearance during Supercross this year – especially with his success during the qualifying sessions each week. Another notable finisher in Heat 1 was the #59 of Noah McConahy who has been filling in for the injured Tyler Bowers on the 51FIFTY Yamaha team. Snagging Noah as a fill-in rider for Bowers has proved to be an excellent choice by the Yamaha team as Noah is producing results and improving each week on the new bike – a great opportunity for the former privateer. Bradley Lionnet – another fill-in rider who was picked up in place of the injured Zac Commans on the PHNX Racing Co Rockwell/Nuclear Blast Records Kawasaki team – started off the night running most of the Heat in a transfer position. But sadly, luck was not on the side of the #321 in Texas. After being docked 4 positions for accidentally jumping on a Red Cross Flag, Lionnet himself would find himself in need of the same Red Cross Flag during the final laps of the race after casing the Thor Triple in the end zone – ultimately resulting in a broken jaw after slamming his face into the bars. Heat Race 2 in the 250SX class showcased an epic battle between teammates Justin Hill and Austin Forkner. Austin would take the holeshot and the lead for most of the Heat Race, followed closely behind by the #46 of Justin Hill. The two Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki riders would engage in a great game of cat and mouse that kept us on the edge of our seats the entire Heat Race, with Justin Hill ultimately taking the win after a last lap pass on the #24 of teammate, Austin Forkner – placing both riders in a great gate position for the Main Event.
Next up on the evening would be the Heat Races for the 450SX class. Due to the abnormally early gate drop, sunlight was a factor that had to be considered. As the sun set, the light entering the huge windows in the west side end zone was both majestic to look at, yet blinding to the riders off the start and entering the second whoops section. The sun didn’t seem to hinder reigning champion Ryan Dungey, however. He would launch into an early lead after grabbing the holeshot and led all 8 laps of the Heat Race to claim, surprisingly, only his 1st Heat Race win of the year – but 44th of his career. Perhaps those Oakley Prizm lenses really do the trick, especially in very difficult lighting conditions. Followed by Dungey would be his teammate, the #25 of Marvin Musquin, the #4 of Rocky Mountain ATV/MC KTM’s Blake Baggett, and the #14 of Team Honda HRC’s Cole Seely taking the remaining transfer positions. The tricky, rutted, but slick track conditions proved to be challenging for most riders, and unfortunately completely unforgiving to others. The #526 of Colton Aeck got landed on, hard, at the landing of the 75-foot triple – resulting in two broken vertebrae, a few broken ribs, and a broken shoulder. The initial impact also left Aeck with zero feeling from the waist down. However, feeling thankfully began to return to the Honda rider and he is expected to make a full recovery. Heat Race 2 was equally as eventful for the 450s. Mike Alessi took the holeshot, with Justin Bogle close in tow. As these two battled for the checkers up front, strange things were happening in the race behind them. Podium finishers from Round 5, Eli Tomac and Cooper Webb, got tangled together when Tomac surprisingly over-jumped one of the rhythm sections and then landed on Webb. Neither rider was injured, but the crash definitely docked valuable time while the two were vying for a transfer position directly to the Main Event – an accomplishment Eli Tomac has been able to check off the list in all of the five rounds thus far. However, for Round 6, Eli would have to make his first Semi appearance of the year after finishing in 11th. Webb miraculously muscled his way to the final transfer spot – finishing only 4.189 seconds behind Justin Bogle, who captured his 2nd career Heat Race Win. Further back in the pack, in one of the most bizarre crashes of the night – the #47 of Malcolm Stewart tucked the front end heading into a left-hand turn just before the finish line, causing his rear fender to rocket directly toward the face of Jason Anderson, which then caused Anderson to loop out his motorcycle and send it to a completely separate section of the track – leaving Anderson to run after his race bike before finishing the Heat. Luckily, neither rider was injured, but the strange misfortune would send both Malcolm Stewart and Jason Anderson to the Semi.
The 250 LCQ, 450 Semis, and 450 LCQ also gave us some great racing to watch. Some notable finishers in the 250SX LCQ included the #58 of Chris Alldredge in first place. After being out much of the season thus far with an injury, Alldredge was able to earn a spot in his first Main Event of the year. The #87 of Chris Howell and the #448 of Broc Shoemaker also earned their first Main Event appearances this year. For the 450SX Semis, Chad Reed would take the win in Semi 1 and Eli Tomac would take the win in Semi 2. This would be Eli’s first trip to the Semis all season, but the Semi win would still give him a decent gate pick come Main Event. Other notable events for the middle races of the evening would be a 450SX LCQ win for the #12 of Jake Weimer. Weimer, who has been filing in for the injured Justin Barcia on the JGR Suzuki team, has made some great progress this season and has been an excellent fill-in rider during Barcia’s time away from the bike. His LCQ win would be the first for 2017 and the 6th in his career. The #981 of Austin Politelli also secured a transfer spot to the Main Event by way of LCQ – earning his first trip to a Main Event in 2017.
Heading into the last Main Event gate drop before the break for the Western Regional 250SX riders and only one point behind the #46 of Justin Hill, Troy Lee Designs Red Bull KTM’s Shane McElrath was looking to build some momentum and ideally regain the points lead and red plates while in Arlington. After securing the holeshot (his 2nd Main Event holeshot of the season) and, at one point, a 4.2 second lead, the momentum was definitely headed in the right direction for the #38 of McElrath. The two-time winner this season and previous points leader – until his 3rd place finish in Oakland left him only one point behind Justin Hill – was ready to capture his third win of the season. He was well on his way to that third victory until just about two minutes remained in the 15 minute + 1 lap Main Event. Near the last turn before the finish, Shane would pull off the track with about 2 minutes remaining in the race. There was no crash, but McElrath could tell there was something wrong with his bike – and these riders know their machines inside and out. Until this point, Shane had regained the points lead. However, this unfortunate mechanical issue would drop him from the lead all the way to last place. This shocking turn of events allowed Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Justin Hill to move into the lead and capture his 4th win in a row – a finish that would leave him 25 points ahead of McElrath. Hill’s teammate, Austin Forkner, would finish just behind Justin in 2nd place – his career best. Rounding out the podium would be the #23 of Aaron Plessinger – an impressive finish, considering he was logged as 12th off the start. Aaron may not have the best starts in the field, but one thing is for certain, that he has the manpower and speed to run up front. His third place finish moves him into 2nd place in the points standings as we head into the break, just 21 points behind Hill.
The series of unfortunate and peculiar events that had shaped Round 6 in Arlington continued well into the 450SX Main Event. As it turns out, there was a full moon the day before racing began – I’m not saying that made for a weird night of racing, but if you believe in that kind of stuff… We dropped the gate on the 450SX Main Event not once but twice in Texas. The original start was immediately red flagged after the first turn as the #10 of Justin Brayton was knocked briefly unconscious just before the SupercrossLive.com holeshot marker. Luckily he was able to walk to the Alpinestars Medical Team on his own accord, but would be done racing for the evening. As fewer than three laps were completed by the leader, a complete “clean slate” restart took place. These red flag complete restarts are a complete blessing for some and a complete curse for others. In the first gate drop, Cooper Webb would’ve been credited with the Holeshot. But the complete restart would result in the #25 of Marvin Musquin taking an early lead and a season-worst start for reigning champion Ryan Dungey, who was scored in 13th after the first lap. Texas-sized drama continued to unfold throughout the duration of the Main Event. In the restart, Cooper Webb was recorded with a respectable 3rd place off the start, but shortly after would find himself with a flat rear tire that caused him to return to the mechanics’ area, making him the second rider of the evening with mechanical issues. But it doesn’t stop there – Eli Tomac would jump the triple and then completely dump his front end, all on his own. Tomac would then be the THIRD rider of the evening to pull into the mechanics’ area. It appeared that he was having trouble somewhere in his front wheel. In an effort to fix the problem, Eli’s mechanics opted to cut the front brake line, which meant he would complete the rest of the Main Event sans front brake. A few laps later, Chad Reed would become the fourth rider to enter the mechanic’s area. Chad wouldn’t even be the final rider to run into mechanical problems with the bike, as the #4 of Blake Baggett pulled off the track shortly after Reed. It’s almost as if we were holding a NASCAR event instead of a Supercross event with all the activity in the mechanic’s area. With chaos behind him and a clear track ahead of him, it made for smooth sailing for leader Marvin Musquin. Cool, calm, and collected, Marvin took the holeshot and never looked back. As the time ticked down, Musquin maintained a comfortable lead over his competition. So close, but just shy of his first victory in Atlanta 2016, Marvin has been on the hunt for his first career 450SX victory and has certainly put in the work along the way. As the white flag flew, the #25 Red Bull KTM rider found himself still in the lead with one lap and less than a minute of racing left. For the first time in his career, Marvin Musquin would light the candles in the premier class, claiming the long-awaited, well-deserved and very emotional first victory. Without a doubt, the industry as a whole, echoes sentiments of congratulations to the Frenchman, who is the first French rider to capture a win in the premier class since David Vuillemin in Indianapolis in 2002. Other notable 450SX finishers include the 3rd place finish, and first podium appearance of the season, for the #21 of Jason Anderson. This podium was hard-fought and certainly earned. After recovering from injury he sustained during his run-in with Vince Friese back in Round 3, Anderson was hungry and ready for a run at the podium. Round 6 also marked a career best finish of 5th for the #15 of Dean Wilson. With only two weeks on his new Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing team, it’s apparent that DeanO is adjusting quite nicely to the new setup.
Yup, “everything’s bigger in Texas” sure is right on the money – big drama, big upsets, big racing, and big wins. Round 6 brought us some of the most exciting and bizarre racing we’ve seen all season. We now head into a Western Regional break and give the East Coast 250 riders their time in the spotlight. Join us this weekend as we travel north to Minneapolis, MN to the US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings.