Heavy is the crown that comes with being labeled as “The Next Big Thing” (TNBT). It’s the label attached to the best and brightest amateur racer. People are quick to judge, eager to bestow so-and-so with the title of being a future champion. Motocross isn’t unlike any other professional sport in that regard. Enthusiastic fans want to buy in on the ground floor and believe their prized horse is the next Ryan Dungey or Ryan Villopoto (both of whom weren’t considered TNBT). A knowledgeable and passionate lot, they like to predict the future. Whether the focus is on lap times, amateur titles won or depth of competition, motocross typically breeds a very small collective of winners. These few perform superbly on the biggest stages, from Loretta Lynn’s to the Mini Olympics and the rest of the major Amateur Nationals. As they say, the cream always rises to the top; the wheat separates from the chaff (insert your favorite idiom here).
There’s a difference between “The Next Big Thing” and a once-in-a-generation talent. Ricky Johnson was phenomenal. Josh Hill? The now-retired 26-year-old won a 450 Supercross (Minneapolis 2008), but he didn’t find the same success in the Pro ranks as he did during a celebrated amateur career (nine Loretta’s titles). A rash of injuries and poor decisions did Hill in. For one reason or another, amateur stars like Ben Riddle, Greg Rand, Nico Izzi, Brian Gray, Billy Payne, Blake Wharton, Mike Alessi and so many others didn’t turn out to be the greatest racers the sport has ever seen. However, success is measured in different ways. Blake Wharton earned a decent living from racing, and now has a budding musical career. Mike Alessi is still racing, so it’s possible for him to win a title – something that has eluded him for over a decade.
“FEW HAVE RECEIVED AS MUCH FANFARE FROM SUCH A YOUNG AGE AS ADAM CIANCIARULO. ADAM WAS TOUTED AS ‘THE NEXT BIG THING’ BACK WHEN THE PINT-SIZED KID WITH TOO MANY VOWELS IN HIS NAME WAS ON PEE-WEES. EVEN RICKY CARMICHAEL SPOKE HIGHLY OF THE FELLOW FLORIDIAN. TALK ABOUT BEING THRUST INTO THE SPOTLIGHT.”
Few have received as much fanfare from such a young age as Adam Cianciarulo. Adam was touted as “The Next Big Thing” back when the pint-sized kid with a too many vowels in his name was on pee-wees. Even Ricky Carmichael spoke highly of the Floridian. Talk about being thrust into the spotlight. The great thing about Adam is that he never generated hype. He did his job, and he did it well. Adam won 11 Loretta Lynn’s titles during a celebrated amateur career and became the winningest mini-bike rider in the history of the prestigious event. Cianciarulo was on fire. He was also growing. Adam was rather small when I snapped the above picture of him at Racetown 395 in February of 2012, but he hit a growth spurt the following year.
It’s an understatement to say that Cianciarulo’s professional debut at Hangtown in 2013 was highly anticipated. Unfortunately he came down with a nasty bout of salmonella poisoning on the eve of Hangtown that sidelined him until Budds Creek. The illness didn’t subside until the 2013 Nationals were over. Still, he scored a podium finish in the first moto at Utah and showed promise. The following year Adam came out swinging in Supercross, winning his first Pro Supercross the first time out (Indianapolis). He backed it up with two wins in the next four rounds and was well on his way to earning the 250 East Supercross title. Then disaster struck. Adam popped his shoulder out in practice at the Toronto Supercross and did it again in the race. He went under the knife to repair the damage. Surgery went well, and Adam looked poised to come out strong during the 2015 Supercross series (rumors had him racing the 250 West). Then he crashed during the offseason Geneva Supercross race and injured his left shoulder again. That was it for Adam’s 2015 Supercross campaign.
Cianciarulo raced into shape during the opening rounds of the 2015 AMA 250 Nationals. He scored his first outdoor podium at Lakewood and would have peaked by the latter stages of the series. A crash changed that. Adam sustained a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder while preparing for Red Bud and went under the knife again. That was all she wrote for the 2015 Nationals.
Out of a possible 54 races in the past three years that Cianciarulo was scheduled to race, injuries kept his front wheel away from the gate in 34 of those rounds. If you’re into statistics, Adam competed in 37 percent of the races since the National series in 2013. It’s obvious that Cianciarulo has the speed to win titles. The question is whether he can remain healthy in 2016.
So much buzz about the affable “Next Big Thing” has fallen off after a rash of injuries. It could be exactly what the doctor ordered (aside from staying away from the emergency room, of course). Adam is the type of rider that lets his results do the talking. Will he be the next Ricky Johnson, or will he fade into obscurity like so many hot shot amateurs who couldn’t live up to the billing? I don’t think Cianciarulo cared what anyone thought back when he was a minicycle ripper, and he certainly shouldn’t care now. He will find justification in attaining his goals. I’m pulling for him.