The first thing a factory rider does when he pulls into Glen Helen Raceway is look skyward. What’s he looking at? A bird? A plane? No, it’s super hill. Towering over the track is Mount St. Helen, one of two incredible hills that defined the SoCal track. If you stood back and watched the riders you could see them mouth the words, “Holy cow!” Yet, as impressive as the Glen Helen’s twin peaks are, the riders have come to fear the track’s devilish layout. The serpentine, three-minute course mixes hard pack, loam, sand, uphills, downhills, quasar straights and the wildest assortment of step-ups and step-downs ever planted on this planet.
This is the Coney Island amusement park of motocross tracks. It’s a thrill-a-minute ride that manages to test every ounce of sinew and metal that the factory teams can throw at it. How does MXA know? We designed it. Jody spent almost two months laying the 2000 Glen Helen National track out, testing different corner combinations on the MXA test crew, using events like the World Four-Stroke Championships as test runs, changing jump angles on a weekly basis and making sure that the fans can stand so close to the action that if they don’t feel the tire’s roost, they’ll feel the bike’s wake.
The opening round of the 2000 AMA National Championship series is important in of of itself, but it’s equally important that it put a period on the end of the Supercross season and a exclamation point on the start of the motocross season. After 16 weeks of eight-minute heat races, cool evenings and humidified air — Glen Helen is about livin’, lovin’ and racin’ in the real world.
Let the MXA wrecking crew take you up the slopes of Mount St. Helen–this is what happened at the 2000 season opener.
AMERICA FOR AMERICANS
What are the odds of an American winning the AMA 250 National Championship? Not good. We better hope that Ricky Carmichael, Kevin Windham or Mike LaRocco can fight off the foreign hordes. If our boys can’t defend American honor the title will stay in African hands (Albertyn) or have to be inscribed in French (Vuillemin and Tortelli).
Stephane Roncada’s 125 victory at Glen Helen was just more escargot for the home-grown talent to swallow.
DAYTONA OF THE WEST
After Ricky Carmichael won the Glen Helen 250 National pit pundits were slapping themselves on their foreheads and saying, “I should have known that Ricky would win. After all he won Daytona!” And it was true. Daytona and Glen Helen had some things in common. (1) They were both rough, choppy and rutted. (2) They favored an all-out attack. You couldn’t coast and go fast. (3) The strongest man won.
THE IRON MAN OF MX
Greg Albertyn is made of iron. Not just his will to come back from injury, but the ferrous rod in his broken femur. Racing with the rod is a daring move. Although the rod inserted in his femur aids in recovery, it is a time bomb in a rider’s leg. Should Albee crash hard enough to bend the threaded rod, the bone around it will shatter into a million pieces. Pieces that all the king’s men couldn’t put back together again.
Albee left Glen Helen with more points this year (with a broken leg) than he earned last year — and last year he ended up winning the 250 National Championship.
GIVE IT ALL YOU’VE GOT
Ricky Carmichael gave Glen Helen everything he had. We don’t mean during the two motos on Sunday, but all week long. Glen Helen held special Pro practice sessions on Thursday and Saturday before the National. Ricky rode both practice sessions as hard as he could. He stayed out for almost every lap and hammered. He was intense. It showed and it paid off.
THE COBRA GETS A SHARK ATTACK
David Vuillemin threw it all away in moto one. In a couple of daring laps, the Cobra knifed his way to the front of the 250 pack, blew by early leader Kevin Windham and looked like he was going to win the first moto. However, it only looked that way for a couple of turns before a rough, rutted and nasty straight sent him helmet first, a Shark helmet, into the ground. By the time he had dusted himself off his chances of the overall were long gone.
WINDHAM KEEPS ‘EM GUESSING
Kevin Windham did the same thing this year that he did last year at Glen Helen! Kevin set a blistering pace for the first few laps, managing to open up a full straightaway lead on his pursuers, only to mysteriously fade from contention. Last year Kevin poured it on, looked like a sure thing and then blew up. This year he poured it on, looked like a sure winner and suddenly slammed his CR into reverse. Luckily for Kevin, he stopped the first moto bleeding at sixth place and came back in moto two for a respectable third (for fifth overall).
SERVED UP ON A SILVER PLATTER
Sebastien Tortelli was the favorite to win the 250 class at Glen Helen. Why? Because last year he decimated the pack and Glen Helen’s incredibly rough layout (winning from the front in moto one and the back in moto two). This year, Tortelli was in position to win again. He stalked Ricky Carmichael for both motos. Tortelli waited for Ricky to fade. He was ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness. Unfortunately, when frailty reared it’s ugly head it was Tortelli who displayed it. The Frenchman had to let the Floridian go. RC cracked him like an egg.
DOCTOR D SERVES UP HUMBLE PIE
Factory riders can’t get beat. At least not by privateers. It’s bad for the ego, damaging to future employment hopes and the source of incredible ribbing. So, imagine what happens when a bunch of factory riders are forced to deal with a 37-year-old privateer who was just out joy riding for the weekend. It’s hang your head time.
Doug Dubach, the World Vet Champion, spent his day at the Glen Helen National mixing it up with the factory boys. He ended the day as the top privateer, first four-stroke and a constant thorn in the sides of Larry Ward, John Dowd, Damon Huffman and Shayne King. In a crowd filled with local vet racers, Dubach was a hero.
SUPERCROSS VERSUS MOTOCROSS
Jeremy McGrath has nothing to prove. He is a seven-time AMA Supercross Champion. The greatest Supercross rider that ever lived. Maybe the greatest motorcycle racer of all-time. But, he isn’t the greatest motocrosser (the kind done in the great outdoors). Sad, but true. For Jeremy, Glen Helen was his last race of the year, for everybody else it was the start of their outdoor season. It was do-or-die time for the losers of the Supercross crown and a parade lap for the winner. Jeremy rode hard and put his bike away wet, but he wasn’t a contender for the win. Jeremy’s 5-7 kept him near the fray, but not in it.
THE CODE OF GLEN HELEN
The Glen Helen track demanded two things:
(1) Stamina. With lap times hovering close to three minutes, ocean wave-like sand whoops, square-edge bumps that were deeper than most small children and a roller coaster layout, Glen Helen devoured the weak, chewed on the fit and left teeth marks in the strong.
(2) A good start. Immediately after the high-speed first turn the pack rocketed up and down two massive hills. Not just hills, mountains! These hills were higher than anything on the National circuit. One uphill was so big and long that a nitro-burning Top Fuel dragster would have been the hot ticket. Some teams set up special timing equipment to time which bikes were the fastest from the bottom to the top (Shayne King’s KTM 520SX was the fastest bike, while Kevin Windham’s CR250 was the fastest two-stroke). If you weren’t in the top ten at the start, you would still be at the bottom of the first hill when the leaders were at the top.
VIOLATING THE CODE
Mike LaRocco will not be the 250 National Champion unless he sticks to the code. He constantly violated “Rule Two of the Glen Helen Code” — good starts. Although he got a good start in moto one, he got knocked down before the first lap was two turns old. From last place he passed 31 riders–unfortunately, there were 40 in the race. His second moto start was better (you can’t be worse than 40th, even if you are aimed in the wrong direction on the gate), but a 9-6 won’t get the job done — no matter how fit you are.
DAMON HUFFMAN SEARCHES FOR LOST LUCK
It’s no secret that Damon Huffman is struggling. He’s looking for a way back to the top and it keeps eluding him. At Glen Helen, Damon rode hard to no avail. He made mistakes, never got wound up and when it looked like he had a chance to crack the top ten he got whacked by a bizarre incident.
After a forgettable first 250 moto, except to Team Suzuki management, Damon started to get in the groove in moto two. He was pursuing Mike LaRocco over a step-down by Glen Helen’s Tower turn, when LaRocket clipped a hay bale and sent in spinning onto the track. Whack! Damon plowed it. Stunned, embarrassed and angry, Huffman had to accept the fact that when moto karma deserts you, the ground will always accept you.
EZRA LUSK, TIM FERRY AND JOHN DOWD
These were the walking wounded —Lusk, Ferry and Dowd (Albee belonged on the list but obvious nobody told him he was hurt).
Ezra missed the Supercross season and trained for the National opener. It will take him a few races to get up to speed. Tim Ferry has become the most famous freestyle rider in the sport. Maybe infamous is a better word. During the Supercross series Tim tried to do a no-footed cancan and failed. He broke his wrist, missed the rest of the indoor season and came into Glen Helen with only two weeks of riding under his belt.
John Dowd hurt his back two weeks before Glen Helen and rode gingerly. This was not a track for a geezer with a back problem. Dowd is living out a string of injuries with no healthy time between problems. That makes it tough, but John toughed it out for the points.
ANYONE CAN WIN THE 125 CLASS
When the second 125 moto went off the line there were five riders who still had a shot at winning. Roncada, Johnson, Pastrana, Lamson and Vohland. Compared to last year when Ricky Carmichael was a one-man army, this year the army had a lot of soldiers.
Roncada won because he was skilled at everything that Glen Helen demanded. He got goods starts, powered up the hills, chose good lines in the ruts, survived the numerous traps, never faded and had his eye on the prize. The other four lost because they lacked at least one of the above traits.
RONCADA BEATS THE RAP
Make no bones about it, Stephane Roncada wasted the last three years. He should have been winning races, series, titles and fans. But instead, he watched too much TV, played too many video games, ran too few miles and, even though he was often the fastest rider on the track, didn’t have a clue about what success in motocross entailed.
He was, in the kindest terms, a French sissy. No more! Something woke this kid up! At the point in the Glen Helen race where the old Stephane would have surrendered (something the French are famous for), he dug deep and kicked out the jams. Viva la France! He won. He deserved to win.
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
It’s a shame that Travis has risen to fame so fast. Not that it isn’t a just reward, but all of a sudden he’s expected to win. People forget that this was his first-ever 125 National. Think about it! We were impressed with Justin Buckelew, who, also in his first-ever 125 National, made the top ten. So, its strange that people were disappointed that Travis didn’t win. He will win. It’s better that he didn’t win Glen Helen. It would be too much, too soon and too fast. Let him enjoy his learning curve. Feel a podium, a runner-up spot and then the joy of victory. He’s a kid — he shouldn’t have to be an icon right out of the womb. However, Travis could have won. But he fell down one time too many.
HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL FOR LAMMIE
Two months ago Steve Lamson showed up at Glen Helen’s Saturday morning REM race and got smoked by the Vet Pro’s. The next week he was back. This time he beat the Vet Pro’s, but it was close. Week after week Lamson struggled to come to terms with his new Honda CR125 and the rigors of racing after six months off. The locals who saw him at REM doubted that the two-time 125 champ could make much of a dent in the 125 Nationals (even with back door help from Team Honda). Surprise! Lamson had the kind of day that he can build on. His 4-3 came about because of good starts and perseverance. Not as fast as the kids in the class, Lammie didn’t make any mistakes, capitalized on the ones that Sellards, Johnson, Pastrana and Ramsey made and stood on the third step of the podium.
NOTHING’S AS FAST AS A BENTLEY
At least not at throwing up. After he clinched the 125 West Supercross Championship he looked like he had put the years of injury and heartbreak behind him. Not so. Some kind of intestinal ailment forced Shae to sit out the opening 125 National of 2000. No points and no happiness.
FONSECA, JOHNSON, LYTLE AND BRANDES
Ernesto Fonseca was the only rider to fail to make it up the massive uphill. Stuck on the side of the hill with 20,000 people watching, the Costa Rican bulldoged his YZ125 halfway down the hill before waddling it to the top in first gear. His day was over from that point on.
Casey Johnson could have won the 125 class. His second place finish in the first moto set up a duel between him and teammate Stephane Roncada. However, the same ruts that got Vuillemin in the 250 class, claimed Casey.
The other Casey, Casey Lytle was down on his luck. His mechanic quit in a feud with the team and nothing went right for Casey at Glen Helen.
Michael Brandes got a second place start in the second 125 moto and tried to put himself in the lead over the giant downhill ski jump. Perhaps “Wide World of Sports” could use Michael’s endo instead of the hapless Latvian ski jumper they’ve been showing for 25 years. It was a successful pass! Brandes’ FMF Honda CR125 took the lead, but Michael wasn’t on it at the time.
CHICCO WE HARDLY KNEW YOU
Before the season started the buzz was that three-time 125 World Champion Alessio Chiodi was going to win the 2000 AMA 125 National Championship. Chicco, as he is known in Italy, wanted to move to America, win the 125 National title and then move to the 250 class. Unfortunately, a post season crash in Italy hampered his ability to prepare, the AMA production rule took his works Husqvarna away from him and Chicco got a late start on testing (which he did in Pennsylvania instead of So Cal where he could have trained against his competition). The result was a bad day at Glen Helen. Chiodi’s 21-35 is obviously not representative of the affable Italian’s talent. He was not a player and couldn’t even pass the privateers he was racing against.
HEROES OF THE PACK
Here are the heroes of the day–just not the heroes from the front of the pack.
Greg Schnell: Greg is going to get a real deal in 2001. He has done wonders with his Motoworld Yamaha shop ride. Seventh overall in the 125 class is just the start.
Rodrig Thain: It’s tough to be the least known of all the foreign invaders, but this French kid has a killer instinct and the time to learn the ropes. He was eighth overall in the 125 class.
Akira Narita: The best Japanese rider we’ve seen since the days of Akira Watanabe. He isn’t the typical out-of-control kamikaze pilot or a do-it-by-rote Japanese racer. He’s got some tricky moves. Narita went 20-16 in the 250 class for 17th overall.
Robbie Reynard: It’s easy to discount Robbie as a mid-packer, but he’s been hurt most of his career. In the second 250 moto he made Jeremy McGrath’s day a little tougher. He never closed the deal on Supermac, but it was the closest he’s ever been to Jeremy (unless you count getting lapped).
Justin Buckelew: Pastrana may have overshadowed Justin, but that’s what happens to hot kids from the mini class. Pastrana’s buzz will be passed down to Bobby Bonds and eventually to Mike Alessi. Not being the flavor of the month is the best thing that could happen to Justin. Pay your dues, earn what you get and you’ll appreciate it more. Justin was impressive, had sweet lines and belongs in the big time.
NOT WHAT EVERYONE EXPECTED
The first race of the year isn’t as important as the last. Lots of riders win the first race, get full of themselves and are knocked off their high horse by a guy who DNFed round one. Maybe that will be true of these riders—who have seen better days. These are the guys who suffered on the slopes of Mt. Saint Helen.
David Pingree: Not making the top 20 has got to hurt.
Jason McCormick: His 37-30 score looks more like the Packers versus the Bengals.
Brandon Jesseman: He must relive the one good day he had over and over in his mind. It was three years ago.
Mike Craig: You gotta feel for a guy who has to race with a broken bone at every race for two years.
Larry Ward: His complaints about his KX250 would sound better if Ricky would stop winning on it.
Shayne King: It’s more painful when you start every moto near the front, but end up 15th overall (and aren’t even first four-stroke).
PUTTING SUPERCROSS BEHIND
Nobody, but nobody was talking about the 2000 Supercross season. It is, in the minds of all the teams, ancient history. Since the indoor champ doesn’t contend for the outdoor title and the eventual outdoor champ will not be an indoor champ, its bad taste to even mention Supercross. So nobody does. The outdoor Nationals are the last chance to save a job, get a pay raise, catch the eye of a talent scout, pay off a sponsor, get some press, show off your new Mercedes or style for a while.
The outdoor fans are more rabid, more involved, more determined and more likely to race, buy a bike, tell a friend or come back to the track the following weekend.
It’s agreed that Supercross is entertainment, darn good showmanship—but the AMA Nationals are what the sport is all about. Motocross is what lingers, not just throughout the summer, but into the long winter. All that suffering on the slopes of Mount St. Helen has its just deserts.
RESULTS: 2000 GLEN HELEN 125/250 NATIONAL
San Bernardino, California
1. Ricky Carmichael (Kaw)…1-1
2. Sebastien Tortelli (Hon)…2-2
3. David Vuillemin (Yam)…4-4
4. Greg Albertyn (Suz)…3-5
5. Kevin Windham (Hon)…6-3
6. Jeremy McGrath (Yam)…5-7
7. Mike LaRocco (Hon)…9-6
8. Ezra Lusk (Hon)…7-9
9. Robbie Reynard (Suz)…11-8
10. Timmy Ferry (Yam)…8-15.
1. Stephane Roncada (Yam)…1-2
2. Tallon Vohland (Kaw)…5-1
3. Steve Lamson (Hon)…4-3
4. Travis Pastrana (Suz)…3-4
5. Casey Johnson (Yam)…2-12
6. Nathan Ramsey (Kaw)…7-8
7. Greg Schnell (Yam)…13-5
8. Rodrig Thain (KTM)…9-11
9. Justin Buckelew (Yam)…15-7
10. Brock Sellards (Hon)…6-16