PHOTOS AND COPY BY JON ORTNER
With REM Motocross canceled due to mud layering the track from the week’s heavy Southern California rain storms, my Saturday morning was freed up. Sunrise at the ocean is always a great way to start an off day from racing my YZ450F. My friends over at Wave Front Surf Shop in Ventura had asked me to photograph their Fowler “Fountain of Youth” surfboard.
By midday, the surfboard photographs were shot, photo processing completed, and the images delivered to the guys at Wave Front Surf Shop. From there I hopped on the 101 freeway and aimed my van towards Anaheim—a three hour drive from my Santa Barbara art studio. With the A2 Supercross scheduled as the third round of the 2019 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championships, my interest was really piqued. Not only was I meeting good friends to watch the very best Supercross racers in the world on Saturday night, but I was also signed up to compete in Sunday’s Supercross Futures race.
The Supercross Futures event is the advancement platform for amateur racers to earn the necessary points to get your AMA Supercross license—and race on Saturday night instead of Sunday day. There are 26 different classes during Sunday’s event,. There are classes for rider from four-years old on 50cc bikes, through plus forty-year old riders on 450cc bikes. The ultra-swift 250SX Futures Pro class racing was serious as four heats of 20 riders were whittled done to the top 22 by the time the main event rolled around. These racers are the next in line to make the step up to the AMA Supercross Championships—with valuable advancement points being earned towards next year’s big show.
I hadn’t planned on racing Sunday’s amateur Supercross, but Troy Lee coaxed me into the idea of riding. Suiting up at Anaheim Stadium stirred up a lot of amazing memories for me. There is a quote from supercrosslive.com that describes racing Supercross Futures as “the start of an incredible career pursuing and competing in a sport followed by millions of fans. And its something that all riders will remember long into the future.”
That statement is fantastically true to me! My first amateur Supercross was in 1979. It was my very first year of racing and I finished sixth overall in the 125cc Intermediate class. That was a good result against a long list of great riders. In fact, Factory Yamaha’s Erik Kehoe won that race. Erik’s career followed a spectacular path after that first Anaheim Stadium win, with amazing factory rides, sensational motocross and Supercross success, and then leadership roles with managing some of the world’s most powerful race teams. Today, he is the HRC Honda team manager.
Erik Kehoe went on to become an factory star and that first Anaheim Supercross was the start of my passion for riding and racing motorcycles. Since that day, I would get the opportunity to race professional motocross and Supercross all over the world. From AMA Nationals and Supercross, to the FIM Central and South American Championships, to Supercross and Hardcross races in Puerto Rico, Germany, Spain, France, Belgium, Italy and more. With SCORE Championships on amazing Baja 1000 teams, to over a thousand wins in local, regional, national and international events— including Best in the Desert, WORCS, and the club championships with AME, CRC, CMC, Golden State and Trans-Cal, Florida Gold Cup, Winter Olympics, and in more recent years, REM Motocross, I know that every racing career has to start somewhere. For me it was Anaheim Stadium. And, perhaps, that will be true for some of this year’s Supercross Futures field.
For me, falling down during the first lap of Sunday’s Over-40 Expert main event, after moving into second place, meant that I had a long charge from 20th place back to fifth place by the end of my four laps. And, once again another motocross legend won my race, former Factory Kawasaki Supercross star Jeff Matiasevich.
Reflecting on my 40-year span of racing in Anaheim Stadium, it is fascinating to reflect on then and now. In 2019, the money and technology infused into the sport is hard to wrap your head around. My first time racing at Anaheim, 40 years ago, there were no semi trucks in the pits, not even for the big name factory stars. Now, there are amateurs riders, some on 50s, 65s and 85s with semi trucks to pit out of. They have mechanics, trainers, a fleet of bikes and sponsors. The tire companies and gear companies line up to sign 12-year-olds to long-term contracts. My how the times have changed.
Back in 1979, a truly elite factory-backed race team possessed a 14-foot box van. The rest of us were in pickup trucks and cargo vans.. and, of course, we were in awe of the stars in their factory box vans! I am still in a cargo van, and my next vehicle will be a cargo van, just with a few less miles. And, I will tell you something about racing then and racing now. The thrill and excitement of being a 17-year-old kid racing beneath the lights of Anaheim Stadium all those years ago was an experience impossible to put in words. I was unable to sleep the night before. I felt ill and nervous as I headed to the starting gate. That feeling never went away, even as an AMA Pro. Being in awe of the amazing riders around you and riding the very same layout as the greats of the sport is something that lives with you forever. The Supercross Future was a very toned down version of the night before’s track. The jumps and rhythm sections had drastically reduced in the name of sanity and safety for the masses.
An amazing benefit of being a “mature” athlete, is witnessing the new generations of Pro riders, and the second and third generation of riders whose fathers I once raced against. In the 250SX Futures Pro class Braden O’Neal’s father Keith and I were teammates in the Central & South American Motocross Championships, and we toured Europe together, racing Supercross in Spain, France, Italy and Belgium back in the 1980s. Braden’s grandfather, Jim (founder of O’Neal USA) and I teamed together for numerous wins in the SCORE Baja Championships. Max Lee (winner of Sunday’s LCQ 250SX Futures) is the son of Troy Lee (founder of Troy Lee Designs). Troy and I battled in the Pro class back in the Saddleback and Indian Dunes days. Plus, we teamed together at the Baja 1000 in 2010 (and to this day I proudly wear Troy Lee Designs’ gear and helmets). Former AMA Pro Rich Taylor (of X Brand goggles fame) also has an amazing presence with his sons, Richard and Zach, with Richard ripping in the 250SX Futures. Of course, I wear Rich’s X Brand goggles.. seeing is believing!
Talking about line selection, suspension setup and track conditions with these young bucks is a privilege in itself. Looking in the eyes of these 250SX Futures competitors is looking into the eyes of the future. Whether these young riders make it to the top echelon of glory, fame and wealth or simply open doors to the possibilities of riding, racing and making friends in motorcycling that will last a lifetime…the sport will positively impact their lives.
When Supercross Futures comes to a city near you, be sure to sign-up early (bring a boatload of money) and experience what few in life ever can. Feel the energy of a stadium full of people and watch your heroes the night before, then be your own hero the following day on a track that is tough enough to impress and thrill you. The race experience on Sunday was as seamless as possible, from enrollment to sign-up, to the excellent track preparation, to the checkered flag. With almost 900 entries it is easy for a race program to get messed up, but Sunday’s program ran like clockwork.
I have saved a few special trophies over the years from various Supercross events, Baja Championships, AME and REM Motocross Championships. My plaque on Sunday for fifth in the Over-40 Expert class will find its way onto my collection.. a perfect bookend to the trophy I won in this very stadium, some 40 years ago.
SUNDAY’S SUPERCROSS FUTURES PHOTOS