FLASHBACK FRIDAY: SHAE BENTLEY’S AMA 125 SX TITLE
Most professional racers spend their entire careers searching for their defining moment—a race where things come together in a serendipitous way. Only the very best are able to turn hard work into good fortune. More often than not success is earned through dedication rather than luck. Such was the case with 2000 AMA 125 West Supercross Champion Derrick “Shae” Bentley.
A Georgia native, Bentley had a successful Amateur career despite having the misfortune of racing at the same time as Ricky Carmichael. Shae won three Loretta Lynn’s titles, including the 85cc (9-13) Modified class against Nick Wey, Travis Pastrana, Danny Smith, Justin Buckelew, Clint Bowyer (the NASCAR racer), Branden Jesseman and Ricky Carmichael. His transition into the Pro ranks was swift. Aboard a privateer Tecate-sponsored Kawasaki KX125 and wearing number 583, Bentley holeshot his first Supercross race at Indianapolis but crashed in the whoops while leading.
INJURIES KEPT HIM AWAY FROM THE RACE SCENE IN 1999, THOUGH THE SETBACKS DIDN’T STOP PRO CIRCUIT’S MITCH PAYTON FROM BELIEVING IN THE YOUNGSTER.
Injuries kept him away from the race scene in 1999, though the setbacks didn’t stop Pro Circuit’s Mitch Payton from believing in the youngster. Payton had supported Bentley in the latter stages of his budding Amateur career, so it was natural for Mitch to sign the likable teen to Pro Circuit’s racing effort. In those days Pro Circuit was far and away the premier program in the 125 class. For Shae Bentley to land such a sought-after ride after finishing fifth overall in his rookie Supercross season was a blessing.
Entering the 2000 racing season Mitch Payton assigned Bentley to the 125 West Supercross series. Shae was pitted against David Pingree, Greg Schnell, Jiri Dostal, Rodrig Thain, Casey Lytle, Chris Gosselaar, Justin Buckelew, Travis Preston, and his teammates, Billy Payne and Tallon Vohland. At that time Pingree and Schnell were the seasoned veterans, and pit pundits had predicted that the title would fall into one of their hands. Meanwhile, Shae Bentley was an afterthought due to his absence from racing the year before.
David Pingree won the Anaheim opener, while Shae Bentley finished fifth. Journeyman Tallon Vohland won the second West event, while Bentley crashed and thought he broke his wrist. X-rays came out negative, but the costly DNF buried Shae in the point standings. However, the Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider rebounded by finishing third and second in the next two rounds. Meanwhile, Greg Schnell emerged victorious in San Diego and Casey Lytle won in Phoenix. Shae Bentley finally reached the top step of the podium in Supercross at Houston on February 5, 2000. It was the defining moment of his career up to that point. Little did he know that more fortune would soon follow.
There were five winners through five rounds of the 2000 AMA 125 West series. Who would be the first repeat winner once the series returned to action following a seven-week break? Shae Bentley. The Georgian outlasted Greg Schnell in Minneapolis, while David Pingree was caught up in a first-turn crash that resulted in a bent front brake rotor. Pingree only salvaged a 15th, and his nine-point lead turned into a 10-point deficit. Shae Bentley was in the driver’s seat heading into the final round.
A champion would be crowned in Irving, Texas, on April 8, 2000. The question was whether Bentley could seal the deal, or would the far more experienced Pingree somehow overcome the odds. Shae went down in the first turn, along with half the field. Bentley rode with vigor and reckless abandon as he worked up to seventh by race end. Greg Schnell took the win, while David Pingree finished second.
Immediately after the race an ESPN reporter interviewed Bentley about the events that transpired during the race. Shae was at a loss for words. He then replied, “I don’t know. I just had the worst luck. I gave it my all, and I couldn’t do anything. I did my best. That’s all I can say.” Meanwhile, the AMA was tabulating the points in order to determine the 125 West Champion. There was an excruciating pause, followed by the broadcaster letting Shae know that he had, in fact, won the title. The Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider began screaming and crying. He yelled, “Yeah, baby, I freaking won it! Yes!” Bentley won the title by two points over Pingree, and Schnell was six points adrift. It was a fitting end to a wild series.
Those few months were the most successful times of Shae Bentley’s career. He would never again finish a complete season during his eight years of racing. Injuries plagued the soft-spoken Southerner, and a broken ankle at Daytona in 2005 was the final straw. No matter the ending, no one can take away the 2000 AMA 125 West Supercross title from Shae Bentley.