Does it surprise you to discover that some riders have been racing Supercross' 125 support class for a decade? It should, because the 125 class was started in 1985 to help develop talent for the 250 class. In the ensuing 15 years, however, the 250 turnout has gotten smaller, while an underclass of 125 specialists have milked the system. The original intent of the 125 East and West Supercross series was to allow riders to get some experience before moving up-not to stay in the 125 class until their Social Security checks started coming in.
As hot as the racing is in the 125 class, it's still second-tier stuff-just a step above arenacross. With diminishing 250 turnouts (a few years ago there were four heats of 250 riders, now there are only two), the 125 class gives the 250 stars a breather between heats, semis, LCQ and the main. For the fans in the stands, the 125 class is half-time entertainment (not unlike the Pee-Wee race). It fills the time until Jeremy comes back out. There's no shame in that and no one is putting the 125 riders down, but they are and always will be a side show to the 250 main event.
WHY DO THEY STAY
IN THE 125 CLASS?
So, why aren't any of them moving up? There are two reasons.
The end-all be-all reason: With the exception of a few stars on the fast track (Ricky Carmichael, Kevin Windham, Damon Huffman and Ezra Lusk) most 125 Supercross riders refuse to move up. They are content to be 125 support class riders. With the factory teams anxious to win anything (even something as pedestrian as a 125cc support class) a good rider can make 100 grand a year by aspiring to be the leader of the duds. If this same rider moved to the 250 class, he might not make the grade.
The idiotic AMA rule reason: Nobody moves up because the AMA's advancement policy is useless. Only a few riders have ever moved out of the 125 class and they fall into two camps:
(1) The hand-picked stars of the future move out of the 125 class because a factory team makes them an offer they can't refuse. Ricky Carmichael's reported $800,000-a-year Kawasaki contract was enough to encourage him to step up to the 250 plate. These hand-picked heirs move up because they can make more money in the 250 class and are guaranteed contract security while they pay their dues (which takes about two full seasons).
(2) The poor saps who have been snagged in the AMA's old advancement point system move out because they are caught in a speeding trap. Examples abound. Jeromy Buehl got moved out of the 125 class because he raced a 250 Supercross-and even though he didn't qualify for the 250 main event, the AMA counted the race as though he'd won it. Mike Brown was injured for most of the 1995 125 series, but he healed up in time to race the last two rounds of the 125 East. He won both of them and got moved up. If he'd stayed home, he'd still be racing the 125 class today. Instead he was banished to Europe, where he intends to stay until he's eligible for the 125 class again (in 2001). Tim Ferry earned one point too many in 1997 and was forced out of the 125 class. He tried to get back in, and came close to getting his points retabulated, but in the end he was forced to go the privateer route in the 250 class (first with Team Noleen and currently at Team Chaparral).
After Ferry, Brown and Buehl got moved up, the rest of the 125 riders wised up. They started counting their points, skipping races if it would mean getting kicked out of the class-and in the end the AMA was forced to come up with a new advancement system.
THE NEW AMA 125
For 1998, the AMA rules were rewritten to state that a rider would point out of the 125 support class if he earned 100 points a year for three consecutive years. A win at a 125 Supercross pays 25 points. That means that a rider would have to win four out of the seven rounds to get 100 points. On the average, only four riders on each coast earn 100 points per season.
If a rider fails to earns 100 points in any given season, the clock is set back and three years start over. A rider has to earn 100 points for three seasons in a row for it to count. Additionally, should a rider win the 125 East or West Championship in his third consecutive year of earning 100 or more points, he gets a fourth year.
Many people falsely believe that after winning two 125 Championships a rider has to move out of the class-not true. Former Champions Mickael Pichon, Ricky Carmichael, John Dowd and Kevin Windham could race the 125 support series if they wanted to.
At the end of the 2000 Supercross season, the first three years under the new rule will have passed ('98, 99 and '00). So, who's going to be moved up by the AMA? No one! Not a soul.
Is anyone close to moving up? No. Casey Lytle was the closest, but he failed to earn 100 points this season, so he gets three more years in the 125 class (and four if he wins the crown in 2003).
The next closest rider is Team SplitFire's Nick Wey. He could be forced to move up in 2002, unless he wins the 125 East, in which case he wouldn't have to move up until 2003.
WHO MIGHT MOVE UP
Travis Pastrana is not going to waste his career in the minor leagues. Expect Pastrana to start pushing Team Suzuki to let him ride the 250 class (at the very least the 250 outdoor in 2001 and 250 full time in 2002). Anybody else? Perhaps Tallon Vohland (Tallon raced his first 125 Supercross in the '80s).
Who won't move up? Everybody else. It's no secret that there are more sponsored 125 rides than there are qualified riders. The explosion of support teams means that riders with marginal skills can get paid to race the 125 class. In fact, there is often a bidding war for riders who don't have a ghost of a chance of winning a race. This boom economy means that everybody who isn't anybody can make a living in the 125 class-while only fast guys make money in the 250 class.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
It means that it doesn't work. The whole AMA advancement system is a joke. Any rider who doesn't want to be moved out of the class won't be. All he has to do is sit out a couple of races every three years to earn another three years of eligibility. If you don't think that a rider would do that, think again.
The AMA needs to reformulate the advancement system-if they want it to work as a feeder system for the 250 class. If they don't care about the quality of the 250 field, then they can do what they do best-nothing. Pit analysts believe that if the top eight 125 riders moved to the 250 class, at least five current 250 factory riders would be fired by the end of the first season, and within two years, those 125 riders would pack the top ten in the 250 class. But this would only happen if they moved up.