By John Basher
It can all turn on a dime. Just ask David Vuillemin, who led the 2002 Supercross series until he crashed while riding in the SoCal hills for a photo shoot. The resulting shoulder injury kept him from winning the title that forever after that eluded him. Or talk to Ricky Johnson, who had the 1982 AMA 250 National Championship in his grasp. RJ made a poor decision to jump an obstacle that no one else was doing in the series finale at Colorado. The impact caused Rikcy’s front wheel to break. He lost the title to Donnie Hansen by just three points. Those are just two of the memorable triumph-turned-tragedy stories in racing. Even Ricky Carmichael, widely considered as the “Greatest of All-Time,” couldn’t avoid danger. RC blew out his knee at the Honda test track leading up to the 2004 Supercross campaign. The injury kept him from defending his indoor title.
Hindsight is 20/20. It would be hard to imagine at the very moment when Ken Roczen came up short on a triple at Oakland last year that it was the beginning of the end for K-Roc’s 2015 title aspirations. The newly-hired RCH Suzuki rider had won the Anaheim opener, and took two of the first three rounds. He quickly amassed a 12-point lead on Ryan Dungey. That’s when Kenny literally came crashing down. In desperation he cut inside of Chad Reed in a left-hand corner before a triple, he didn’t have the drive exiting the corner to clear the jump, but went for the triple anyway. Hanging in the air for what seemed like an eternity, Roczen finally came down from orbit and smacked his face on the handlebars.
To quote Ken Roczen’s boss, Ricky Carmichael, “Ken had the wind taken out of his sails when he cased the Supercross triple in Oakland. The wind was coming back and he started fixing the sails, but then Atlanta happened.” Carmichael was referencing the first stop in Atlanta, when Roczen got out of shape in a rhythm section and shot off the track. He slammed into a wall and injured his foot. He would re-injure it again the following weekend and sit out the rest of the series.
IN THE HEAT RACE HE LINED UP TO THE RIGHT OF JUSTIN BARCIA–A FORMIDABLE FOE WITH A HISTORY OF AGGRESSIVE RIDING. BARCIA GOT THE JUMP AND CUT OVER ON ROCZEN. IT’S NOT FAIR TO SAY THAT BARCIA HAD MALICIOUS INTENT, GIVEN THAT HE HAD THE JUMP AND THUS CONTROLLED THE FOUR FOOT PLOT OF LAND THEY WERE FIGHTING OVER.
Ken Roczen has been hot at Anaheim 1 over the years. He was a back-to-back A1 winner. Known for starting off strong, it wasn’t farfetched to think that Roczen would leave Anaheim with the points lead. He qualified seventh fastest, less than a second off Trey Canard’s lead pace. In the heat race he lined up to the right of Justin Barcia–a formidable foe with a history of aggressive riding. Barcia got the jump as the approached the first turn he began to move over on Roczen. It’s not fair to say that Barcia had malicious intent, given that he had the jump and thus controlled the four-foot plot of land they were fighting over. Barcia instinctively steered his JGR Yamaha left in order to make it around out the turn. Roczen clipped Barcia’s rear wheel and shot off to the right. A human pinball game ensued, with Kenny eventually running off the bike and tumbling for several yards off the track. He slammed his left shoulder into the ground and then was drilled in the back by Cade Clason’s front tire. It was ugly. Somehow he got up. More impressively, Ken didn’t show any signs of injury.
Roczen later explained his evening in a RCH Racing press release. “It was a very, very rough night for me. We started off in the heat race and I got cleaned out right away. My bike was just way too banged up to go on, so we had to get everything fixed to be ready for the semi. In the main, my start wasn’t that great. I was pretty far to the outside so that made it tough. On the restart after the red flag, I tried to cut to the inside and went down in the second turn so I had to come from dead last and pass guys one by one. I think it turned out to be a decent ride. We got up to fifth and salvaged some decent points.” He went on to state, “It’s a big confidence builder for the whole team to come from dead last and finish fifth. Obviously, it’s not where we want to be, but it is what it is for this night. Luck was definitely not on our side tonight so I’m glad to come out of here healthy. A lot of people crashed.”
Indeed, it all can quickly turn on a dime. For Ken Roczen, he should be pleased to leave Anaheim 1 with limbs intact. It could have been a sudden ending to his 2016 Supercross title hopes. Unfortunately Anaheim 1 proved disastrous for another Suzuki rider–James Stewart. It will be interesting to see how Kenny rebounds, and whether Stewart will be able to come back yet again from injury. Time will tell.