51Fifty started the 2016 season with former Geico Honda racer Zach Bell and Australian unknown Hayden Mellross. The MXA crew elected to test the Aussie’s race bike.

Building anything worthwhile takes time and a big chunk of change. Unfortunately, money doesn’t grow on trees, and no businessman is going to bet the farm on a venture that isn’t established. Even if that businessman owns a sweet potato farm that pays for his motocross venture, it is still foolish to put the yams up as collateral, banking on racing success. Unless that potato farmer is Carlos Vieira. Along with his farming interests, Carlos owns 51Fifty Energy Drink, and five years ago he started a Supercross team. While it is true that Carlos uses his race team to promote his energy drink business, Carlos isn’t all about the Benjamins. He is also a straight shooter who wants to give back to the community. His foundation is heavily involved in the Race for Autism, and Carlos donates a portion of the proceeds from every can of 51Fifty sold to raise awareness and support autism research.

With each passing year Carlos ups the ante on his venture—but with the financial oversight of a businessman, not just a fan. This business-like approach has made 51Fifty’s team manager Craig Monty extremely efficient at making every dollar count. Craig might not have the massive budgets of the factory teams, but this underdog team doesn’t use that as an excuse. They make the most of what they’ve got.

The 51Fifty team made a brilliant move in combining forces with Jamie Ellis at Twisted Development. Ellis’ dual-fuel YZ250F engines can stand toe to toe with the factory bikes. Hayden Mellross isn’t at a horsepower disadvantage.

This is the team’s second year aboard Yamaha YZ250Fs, as Yamaha backed the team in 2015. One  year ago we tested the 51Fifty race bike of then- rider Austin Politelli. To be frank, the bike didn’t hold a candle to the top teams’ race bikes. The time and resources to build a top-tier engine, especially considering how often it would need to be rebuilt,  just weren’t there. Although the bike suffered in the power department, that didn’t stop the team from breaking into the top 10 against the best riders in the world.

For the 2016 Supercross season the team took its year of YZ250F race experience and combined it with the knowledge of Twisted Development’s Jamie Ellis. MXA has tested Jamie Ellis’ dual-fuel YZ250F, and it is a virtual rocket ship. For 2016 the team had the personnel in place and the hottest YZ250F engine builder on the circuit. All they needed were riders to pilot the bikes to new heights. Craig Monty signed former Geico Honda racer Zach Bell and Australian unknown Hayden Mellross. Early in the year Zach was sidelined with a broken collarbone, leaving Hayden as the team’s only rider for most of the Supercross series. Thus, we elected to test Mellross’ YZ250F during the 250 West hiatus.

STI Racing is a big part of the 51Fifty program. They Kashima-coated the Kayaba forks and added their own secret sauce.

Hayden is a lanky 20-year-old from Australia. Before making his way over to the States he made a name for himself at a young age on the Australian Supercross circuit. He made the move to Florida in 2014 to be mentored and trained by former factory Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki rider Tim Ferry. Before the 2015 season started Hayden ended up breaking his leg twice within a span of three months. Not 100 percent, Hayden raced the 2015 AMA 250 Nationals and raced himself into shape, salvaging two 13th-place finishes before the series ended. Hayden’s growing potential, attitude and strong work ethic attracted interest from the 51Fifty team, and Hayden signed on the dotted line for the 2016 season.

To the naked eye the 51Fifty race bike of Hayden Mellross looks just like any ordinary Yamaha YZ250F; although, upon close inspection, you will see the attention hidden in the details. Here are a few highlights. The footpeg platform is from a YZ450F and modified to be 5mm lower to accommodate Hayden’s 6-foot frame. A larger-diameter TM Designworks bottom chain roller is used so the rear wheel can be adjusted all the way back for improved rear-travel stability. STI Racing beefed up the diameter of the shock shaft from 16mm to 18mm for increased rigidity. And, in the coup de grâce, Twisted Development installed its incredible dual-fuel second injector in the airbox (mated to a YZ450F airboot). That’s just a fraction of the list.

A Pro Circuit longer link was added to lower the seat height and stiffen the initial part of the shock stroke.

When the time came to test Hayden Mellross’ YZ250F, we couldn’t help but remember last year’s experience with 51Fifty’s YZ250F and Jamie Ellis’ Twisted Development superbike. Within one lap we were shocked by what a difference a year can make. The 51Fifty bike we rode a year ago was mediocre. Don’t get us wrong; we loved it, but that was because we could handle it. A lot of people wish they could get their greedy little hands on a factory machine; but, the truth is, if they got to ride a factory bike, they wouldn’t like it. Factory bikes are made for the fastest riders in the world. Fast riders prefer harsh suspension and rip-your-shoulders-out powerbands. When the MXA wrecking crew rides factory bikes, we have to grit our teeth, close our eyes and go for broke, which is exactly what we had to do when riding Hayden’s 51Fifty machine.

“This is a perfect formula for Supercross, where it is all about traction and momentum. This bike was fast, maybe too fast for our own good.”

The throttle response was instant. Most bikes react quickly, but the dual-fuel YZ250F engine is on a whole new level. It took some time before our heads stopped whipping back every time we hit the throttle. Once we got into the flow the quick response made us feel more connected with the bike. The YZ250F reacted to us rather than us reacting to the bike. As opposed to waiting for a potent hit in the midrange, Mellross’ bike jumps quickly off the bottom, then had a strong linear powerband from there on up. We like a strong hit on 250Fs, and the 51Fifty bike had that in spades, but the power was linear. It had such a broad powerband that the power stuck the tires to the ground like glue. This is a perfect formula for Supercross, where it is all about traction and momentum. This bike was fast, maybe too fast for our own good.

Both the chain guide and front roller are TM Designworks. There is a performance advantage in the large roller.

You may not know much about STI Racing suspension, but when you combine 51Fifty’s in-house suspension tuner with STI Racing, you get the knowledge of a man who has worked with James Stewart, Chad Reed and Grant Langston, and a fabricator of custom internal suspension components who is one of the only direct connections for Kashima coatings. The Brett Leef and STI Racing duo are a dynamic workforce and developed the 51Fifty team’s suspension components. This is a powerful team with the experience to cater to the riders’ needs and wants.

We knew going in that Mellross’ suspension was going to be super stiff. What we didn’t expect was that Hayden’s bike turned on a dime and had a perfectly balanced chassis. This made the bike comfortable and easy to ride. The suspension even had a somewhat plush feel over small chop, but after that it was stiff and dead-feeling.

STI Racing beefed up the diameter of the shock shaft from 16mm to 18mm to add rigidity for Supercross obstacles.

We were shocked by how far the 51Fifty YZ250F had come in one short year. This small team is making big strides to compete against the best on the circuit. Now that the bike is more than capable, thanks to Craig Monty, Jamie Ellis and Brett Leaf, all 51Fifty needs is a rider capable of putting it on the podium—that could very well be Hayden Mellross. If the team makes half of the improvements heading into 2017 that they made between 2015 and 2016, Hayden Mellross could be a contender. And, autistic children and sweet potato lovers could rejoice.

51fiftyaustin politellifour-strokejamie ellismotocrossTIM FERRYyamahayz250fZACH BELL