What a day, what a day! My Atlanta Supercross experience began Friday morning, when I flew from Los Angeles out to Chicago. The reasoning? A meeting with the DeCal Works crew was in order, including a tour of their facility (about an hour outside of the Windy City) and a fine dinner. How does this all point to Atlanta? By way of private jet, of course.
Last year I had the opportunity to travel like the rich and famous do in a Citation 7 small jet with Ron Joynt (the owner of DeCal Works), his brother (Ken) and several of Ron’s employees down to Dallas for the Supercross race. It was a great experience, and I begged Ron to bring me along again. Thankfully Ron agreed, and we decided that the Atlanta round would be best. Why? After six straight races on the West coast, the Supercross series was about to have a change of scenery, not only in climate, but also in riders. Atlanta is the opening 250 East race, meaning that there was fresh blood, unproven talent, and the return of Ryan Villopoto to racing.ÿ
Ron, Ken, Ken’s girlfriend, myself, and four other employees took to the friendly skies at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, shot down to the dirty South, and landed at a private airport only 15 minutes from the Georgia Dome after an hour and a half of flight time. A limo picked us up and swept us off to the Supercross, where we were directly dropped off in front of the pit area.ÿ
I had never attended the Atlanta race before, but I was told beforehand that the first round of the 250 East brings the most number of fans to a Supercross race all year. That assumption was true, because thousands of fans were packed like sardines as they filed through the pit area. It was great to see that the people of Atlanta and the surrounding cities support Supercross in such a big way (the total attendance was reported at 67,429 enthusiastic fans). Like my friend Ben Bridges said, who’s a Georgia native himself, “You’ll never see this many southern boys and girls flock to a race like you will the Atlanta Supercross.” He wasn’t lying.
There was tremendous buzz surrounding the pit area, with talk surrounding Ryan Villopoto’s return and whether he was healthy, Kevin Windham possibly routing Chad Reed once again, who could possibly put the pressure on RV2, and how the rookies (Nico Izzi and Trey Canard) were going to fare in their first Supercross race. Of course Ben Townley was missing from the lineup, and while he’s going to return at Glen Helen, he’s playing it smart by keeping his eligibility in the 250 Supercross class for 2009 (having one year to defend his title).ÿ
Immediately several questions were answered after the first two full practice sessions were complete. Trey Canard and Nico Izzi were legitimate threats to sneak in a top result (Canard qualified third fastest, while Izzi qualified fifth). Also, Pro Circuit newcomer Branden Jesseman was going fast, and his teammate, Ryan Villopoto, was second fastest. Josh Grant took the top spot. In the 450s, Kevin Windham fueled the fire under Chad Reed’s Thor leathers last weekend in Houston when K-Dub took the win. Reed capped off qualifying with the fastest lap time, followed by Josh Hill, Windham, Davi Millsaps and Tim Ferry. It should be noted that there were 32 entries in the 450 class, which was tied for the lowest number of entries at a race this year (matching last week’s number of entries at Houston). Chris Gosselaar, who was racing the 250 West coast, trekked East to take advantage of the AMA’s new rule. He was the only 250 to 450 transplant this weekend.
Between practice and the night show, I was fortunate to attend a press conference with James Stewart. Before I say anything, I have to give James credit for calling a press conference and keeping the media informed on his injury and progress instead of shutting the world off. In the 15 minute press conference Stewart informed me that he had a complete ACL replacement, using part of his hamstring as the replacement. James also eluded to the possibility that if he does miss the opening round at Glen Helen he thinks that he can still win the 450 title. I, for one, am not betting against him.
No one could have predicted what would have happened before the gate dropped in the night show. The track, which was said to be designed by Stewart but apparently wasn’t even comparable between Bubba’s drawing and the actual finished product, was tough. Two walls were added, one right in the middle of the whoop section, and sand was laid down through the first turn. Lap times were in the 51-second range for 450s and 52s for 250s. There was also a monstrous triple that had 250 riders sweating and 450 riders thinking twice about. The biggest complaint that I heard about the track was that it didn’t flow well and that riders couldn’t get a rhythm going. I could see that happening when you have to slam into several six foot tall dirt walls.ÿ
Rookie Trey Canard won the first heat race, battling shortly with new KTM recruit Ryan Sipes, followed by teammate Martin Davalos. In the second 250 heat Josh Grant led the way, but made a slip up when he jumped a triple when the red lights were blinking, signifying that riders had to roll the jump for safety reasons. Grant, who was committed to doing the jump, saw the flashing lights at the last second and backed off the throttle, but it was too late. He came up dangerously short on the landing, leaving a nice CRF250 case print on the triple. Although it was a mistake on Grant’s part, the AMA made the right call by penalizing Josh. The Honda rider was knocked back to second, while Nico Izzi inherited the win. Who would have imagined that two rookies would have won the heat races?
In the 450 heat races things continued to remain interesting. Kevin Windham made quick work of the competition, beating Andrew Short, Josh Hill, and Troy Adams. This is the heat race where things turned ugly between Travis Preston and Eric Sorby. Let’s just say that these two riders probably won’t be exchanging Christmas cards this year. In the second heat race Chad Reed wanted to establish his dominance once again, but Davi Millsaps had other ideas in mind. “The Duke” poked and prodded at Reed, showing him a wheel every chance that he could, but Chad motored on. Millsaps finished just over four seconds behind at the finish, followed by Tim Ferry and Jason Thomas.ÿ
In the LCQ races Ben Coisy took the win (after crashing in his heat race while running towards the front), while Heath Voss held off Nathan Ramsey for the win in the 450 LCQ.ÿ
And now for the 250 main event. Trey Canard took the holeshot and effectively said goodbye to the 21 other competitors. Behind him Ryan Sipes was trying to follow the vapor trail left by Trey. Privateer Chad Ward ran in third after the first lap, but the freight train of Tyler Bowers, Jake Moss, Martin Davalos and Nico Izzi came through. Ryan Villopoto was mired in the middle of the pack after a poor start, and things only got worse for the 2007 West coast champ. While following Bowers over the tricky wall section, Bowers bobbled, messing up Villopoto in the process. He crashed, and Josh Grant made contact with Ryan shortly after. Villopoto made it off the track, but didn’t return. He finished 22nd.ÿ
Up front Trey Canard was extremely solid, riding like a seasoned veteran while 67,000 screaming fans were yelling for him. After 15 laps in the book, Canard emerged with his first Supercross win in as many starts. Martin Davalos rode very well to take second place, followed by Ryan Sipes. It should also be noted that Canard had a photo of him and his father taped to the inside of his chest protector with a note that said “Carry On!” and defined tradition. It was a great message, and on the podium Trey dedicated his win to his father.
In the 450 main event Chad Reed was fastest to the first turn, followed by Davi Millsaps, Nathan Ramsey, Andrew Short and Kevin Windham. It looked to be a repeat of the second 450 heat race, in which Reed inched away from Millsaps. However, the same wall obstacle that bit Villopoto also bit Reed, who went down in a tumbling mess. Millsaps went by, as did Ramsey, Windham, Short, Ferry, and five other riders. For the next 15 laps Davi Millsaps raced his way into the record books, claiming his first win and leading a Honda podium sweep (with Windham in second and Short in third). Points leader Reed finished sixth, losing seven points to K-Dub. Reed still leads the chase by a full race (25 points).ÿ
The Atlanta race was by far the most interesting of the series to date, chock full of crashes, fresh faces, and first-time winners. It also didn’t hurt that I was able to fly in a private jet almost to the track and fly back out to Chicago from the race 20 minutes after the checkered flag was waved. An hour and a half later I was resting comfortably in my hotel room, awaiting my trip back to Los Angeles in a rattle trap tin can, err…I mean, commercial airliner. There’s nothing quite like getting a true taste of the sweet life. DeCal Works, same time next year? Count me in!
For photos of the race, please check back tomorrow. And don’t forget to look at the Atlanta photo gallery, which will be up soon.
1. Trey Canard?Hon
2. Martin Davalos?KTM
3. Ryan Sipes?KTM
4. Jake Moss?Yam
5. Tyler Bowers?Yam
6. Branden Jesseman?Kaw
7. Josh Grant?Hon
8. Nico Izzi?Suz
9. Kyle Chisholm?Kaw
10. Ben Coisy?Hon
1. Davi Millsaps?Hon
2. Kevin Windham?Hon
3. Andrew Short?Hon
4. Tim Ferry?Kaw
5. Nathan Ramsey?Yam
6. Chad Reed?Yam
7. Josh Summey?Yam
8. Paul Carpenter?Hon
9. David Vuillemin?Suz
10. Jason Thomas?Hon