PRO TAPER PRESENTS MXA’S MID-WEEK REPORT #36 BY JOHN BASHER

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#WHIPITWEDNESDAY

Guillod_WhipRider: Valentin Guillod
Location: Charlotte Motor Speedway
Date: September 3, 2016
Photographer: John Basher
Camera: Canon 5D Mark III
Lens: 70-200mm f/2.8
Focal length: 200mm
Exposure: 1/1600 sec.
F-stop: 5.0
ISO: 250

MXA VIDEO: 2017 HUSQVARNA TC125

TWO-STROKE SPOTLIGHT: DANNY GONZALEZ’ 1974 HONDA CR250 ELSINORE

Elsinore_4This week’s featured bike was a no brainer. Credit to Mark Alcorn for building this beautiful 1974 CR250 Elsinore for Danny Gonzalez. In Danny’s words:

“I thought you might like to feature my Elsinore. The bike was built by master craftsman Mark Alcorn from Northern California. I race this bike regularly with CALVMX and it is unbelievably fast and handles awesome. The bike started as a 1974 Honda Elsinore CR250, and the only thing stock on it is the gas tank. The following mods were done:

Elsinore_2
“Fork:  Husqvarna tubes mated to Maico rods and Race Tech Emulators, lower legs are turned down and coated.

“Rear: Karl Landus custom fabricated the swingarm (a copy of a factory Honda coke bottle swingarm). Race tech custom shocks.

“Engine: Side Cases are custom two piece design. Long rod motor with a custom cylinder spacer plate and custom modern V-force reed setup. A 1978 Honda CR250 cylinder was used and ported to go along with the reed setup. It was topped off with a repurposed Husqvarna head made to look like a period porcupine head custom bell housing and custom quick release high flow air cleaner. There’s a big Mikuni carb. I don’t know the make of the pipe, but I topped it off with Bassani sticker.

Elsinore_1“There’s also a polished stock tank, factory look translucent plastic topped off with a custom gripper seat that mounts with one bolt under the seat. I raced this bike in June at Mammoth Motocross and got seventh racing against some pretty fast guys. A shout out goes to Mark Alcorn, who builds these no-expense-spared rolling masterpieces.”

If you would like your bike to be featured in the “Two-Stroke Spotlight,” please email me at [email protected] All I ask is that you give a breakdown of your bike and a detailed description of the thing. Please also send a few photos of your steed. By submitting your bike for the “Two-Stroke Spotlight,” you agree to release all ownership rights to the images and copy to MXA. Please don’t email me spam or try selling me beachfront property in Arizona. Happy submitting your smoker!

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MXGP OF THE AMERICAS: WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

_SOU7066By John Basher

I was probably more excited than most to hear that the Grand Prix series was coming to Charlotte Motor Speedway for round 17 of the MXGP series. Having moved ten minutes away from the racetrack recently, the MXGP of the Americas was literally in my backyard. Short of buying a double-wide and setting it up in the woods beyond the Speedway’s fence line, this was the closest I’d ever get to a track. What’s ironic is how MXA and Youthstream (mostly just Giuseppe Luongo) have butted heads for many years. Just last year I was called into a private meeting with Mr. Luongo at the Valkenswaard GP. I left that encounter with the feeling that we would never see eye to eye. And then the Charlotte USGP took shape.

Now that the MXGP of the Americas is over with, maybe we can agree on a few things. I’m not saying that I drank the Giuseppe juice, but it’s hard to knock a race that attracts (forcibly or voluntarily, depending on who you talk to) top-level riders in the U.S. and abroad. Charlotte set up as a prelude to the upcoming Motocross des Nations, whether by chance or pre-planned by the powers at Monster Energy and Giuseppe Luongo.

I like the Charlotte Motor Speedway folks. They’re professionals through and through. They aren’t ignorant to the fact that they’ve never held a motocross race before. For that reason, they invited me in and showed me their inner sanctum. Instead of acting like know-it-alls, Lenny Batycki and his group asked questions about everything from media needs to transportation shuttles to catering. It was nice to be heard.

Despite the fanfare and excellent treatment of the media, I’m not blind to the fact that the MXGP of the Americas was without problems. There were several issues, actually. Ticket prices were too expensive. Artificial lighting wasn’t bright enough during the second motos. For some reason unbeknownst to me, Youthstream believes in using four-foot-tall (or maybe they’re five feet tall?) billboards around some of the corners, essentially blocking sight lines to parts of the track. The paddock was too tight. Those four things stood out to me.

Conversely, there were a lot of great things about the Charlotte USGP. For starters, the Dirt Track had the infrastructure to handle a crowd of fans. Thanks to running water, toilets that flushed, a huge grandstand and an assortment of food options, the event had the feel of Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas (minus girls with two-tone hair and drunk people stumbling around). Viewing options were plentiful. Quite a few spectators chose to wander down along the fence line surrounding the dirt track to get a closer look at the stars in action. As for the track, Brit Justin Barclay came up with an exciting design. Yes, the track was narrow in places. Yes, the dirt wasn’t always good. No, it wasn’t a natural track. However, it was very good for what it was.

If you weren’t at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday or watched it on television, you’re probably full of questions regarding the event. Maybe I can answer some of those questions for you.

HOW WAS THE TRACK?

_SOU8108It was better than Lake Elsinore and Miller Motorsports Park, and probably Qatar and Thailand, too. The soil, which was a clay base, would have probably been as hard as a pool table had it not been for Mother Nature gracing Charlotte with the outside rim of Hurricane Hermine on Friday. A good soaking was what the dense clay needed. Had it not been for all the moisture, it would have been infinitely difficult for Justin Barclay and his track crew to keep the circuit watered without turning it into an ice skating rink. I have to give the track crew credit for walking the course at least four times to hand pick up as many rocks as possible. That’s commitment to a cause.

As for the layout, it was too narrow in spots. Many riders complained that it was difficult to pass on. You needn’t look any further than the second 450 moto, where a freight train of riders played follow the leader. No one could make a move without getting off the main line and tempting fate on the marbly outer edges. However, that shouldn’t matter much to the fans. And speaking of motocross fans and their opinions, I had to laugh when I heard that people were complaining the track wasn’t rough enough. Any track looks smooth when you’re not standing on the course. Trust me when I say that the track was anything but smooth.

DID THE CHARLOTTE USGP TRACK RUIN THE IDEA OF TRADITIONAL MOTOCROSS?

_SOU8190That depends on your definition of  “traditional.” If you think a traditional motocross track has jumps, berms, off-camber and challenging terrain, then the Charlotte USGP track was nine-tenths traditional. If you think a traditional motocross track is supposed to be etched out of a hillside or valley, with natural terrain formed from shifting tectonic plates, then the Charlotte track was anything but traditional.

There are two basic ways of thinking when it comes to motocross tracks. The progressive crowd doesn’t mind man-made tracks, as long as they are situated in locales that offer amenities (paved pits, running water, toilets that flush and other creature comforts). These same people would rather sit and watch races than traipse around for miles trying to set up camp at the biggest jump or most far-reaching corner of the track. As for the traditional crowd, they believe motocross is a sport among nature. These folks press up against the fences and howl in excitement when getting roosted. They favor historic circuits like Unadilla and Washougal — tracks ridden by past heroes and now circulated by a new crop of talent.

What do I believe in? Before the Charlotte USGP came along I was vehemently against man-made tracks. I was at the Miller Motorsports Park dust bowl in 2013. Delirium set in halfway through the 100-degree-plus day at Lake Elsinore in 2012. I vowed never to return to those man-made debacles. Watching the Qatar, Thailand and Mexico MXGP rounds made me feel fortunate that I didn’t have to cover those atrocities Youthstream referred to as motocross tracks. Simply put, I saw all of the bad in man-made tracks. Then Charlotte Motor Speedway came along and changed my perception.

Billed as a “SuperCourse”–a marketing term if I’ve ever head one–the mile long track was laced with the usual motocross fare, but was also very unique. The start featured a slight drop a few feet out of the gate, heading 90 yards straight toward the Dirt Track grandstands. Then it made a sharp left, followed by a long banked turn normally reserved for Speedway bikes and buggies. Charlotte’s SuperCourse was a mixture of Supercross, motocross and dirt track. It was one flaming hoop short of belonging in the circus. The riders seemed to like the track for the most part, and the spectators were into it. Comparing an idea like the SuperCourse track to the hallowed grounds of, say, Red Bud is like comparing apples and rutabagas. Is there a place in motocross for both? Yes, I believe so. 

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WHAT ABOUT THE LIGHTING?

_SOU8948That was my big concern after seeing the race schedule, given how the second motos weren’t going to kick off until 8 pm. Then I thought about how Charlotte Motor Speedway holds hundreds of events per year, quite a few of them at night. They have a Ph.D in course lighting…but not in lighting a motocross track. Truth be told, the track wasn’t lit up well enough. It had the brightness of the Daytona Supercross at the far corners. The overhead lights were pretty good, but on-track lighting was rather dismal. I’m not sure how Eli Tomac and friends were able to go quasar-fast (especially through the whoops and into the rutted pit before the scrub single) without seeing much. Maybe their eyes are better than mine. What I do know is that Charlotte Motor Speedway and Youthstream will need to up their artificial lighting output should the event come back and be held at night.

WHICH CLASS PRODUCED BETTER RACING?

_SOU8567The 250 class, far and away, was the more exciting bunch. Cooper Webb, Jeffrey Herlings and Austin Forkner put on a show worthy of prime-time television. You could have let those three loose on the track and forgotten about everyone else, because they were in another world. Jeffrey Herlings caught and passed Cooper Webb in the first moto, which seemed to deflate the American crowd. In speaking with a French photographer between motos, he said something to the effect of, “Now that Jeffrey Herlings has the 250 title wrapped up, he’s not going to ride conservatively.” I thought to myself, Oh boy. It’s going to crush Cooper Webb’s dream of winning his last-ever 250 race in front of his home crowd. And then? Cooper Webb came out swinging like a prize boxer right before the bell rings. He mowed down the field. When Webb passed Herlings with about six laps to go, I thought the grandstands were going to buckle over from an impassioned crowd jumping for joy at the potential for victory.

I’ve never worked for a newspaper and I’m not very good at generating witty headlines, but I came up with something that effectively summarizes what happened on Saturday night. “Herlings Caught In Charlotte’s Webb.” That very well may be the best headline I will ever come up with.

WOULD THE RACING COMMUNITY HAVE COLLAPSED IF U.S. RIDERS DIDN’T WIN THE CHARLOTTE USGP?

_SOU8951No, not at all. Jeffrey Herlings was gracious in victory, as well as defeat. The American fans seemed to understand that it wouldn’t have been a total loss had Herlings won the overall in Charlotte. The kid was all smiles on the podium and was kind enough to shake the hands of Cooper Webb and Austin Forkner. Jeffrey was jovial at the post-race press conference. He stated that European riders joke on the starting line and talk to one another before the motos, while American riders look like they want to kill each other. He then commended Cooper and Austin on pushing him to ride harder than he had done all season long.

What of Eli Tomac? The best way to describe Tomac on Saturday was that of a bounty hunter. He was there to do a job — whether he liked it or not — and earn his paycheck his pay. He did just that, smoking the 450 field on his way to earning bragging rights and a bonus from Monster Kawasaki. How big is the bonus? It’s hard to say, but know this about the “Bounty Hunter.” He shares his spoils. Not many Pro riders give a percentage of their bonus winnings to their mechanics, but Eli is different. He helps those that help him, which is why his wrench, Brian Kranz, was a bit more chipper than normal after the checkered flag waved.

THE CHARLOTTE MOTO CRISIS: YOUTHSTREAM VS. MX SPORTS…WHO BLINKED FIRST?

_SOU8442MX Sports owns the rights to running the AMA National series here in the U.S., while Youthstream controls the FIM MXGP series in Europe and abroad. It’s no secret that there’s no love lost between the two sanctioning bodies, particularly after Giuseppe Luongo tried buying the rights to the AMA Nationals some years ago. With Youthstream holding two Grand Prix rounds in the U.S. — one almost in MX Sports’ backyard and another at Glen Helen, where MX Sports holds Nationals , but has a love/hate relationship with the track — it could be construed that Luongo is trying to take a piece of the pie. Without getting too deep into it, suffice it to say that the relationship between MX Sports and Youthstream is about as good as the one between Kayne West and Taylor Swift (or Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono for you older readers).

One thing we do know is that MX Sports isn’t allowed to hold AMA Nationals at tracks that have Supercross seating numbers (by mutual agreement). Which opens the door for Luongo to come into other American stadiums and hold “SuperCourse” races just like Charlotte or the Monster Cup if you are looking for a comparable race . It should be noted that the Charlotte Dirt Track’s seating did not meet the spectator seating threshold set by the Supercross Supercross promoters.

In event promotion, success is generally measured by the number of tickets sold. Without bodies through the turnstyles, a motocross track might as well be a dirt lot. Was the “USGP of the Americas” successful? That depends on whether you believe press releases. Youthstream boasted a weekend crowd attendance of 15,500, which would make the take larger than all but probably the Red Bud and Millville National this year. That’s a big number for a first-time event. Was the spectator count accurate? It’s hard to tell without sitting down and looking at an enlarged photo taken of the area around the Dirt Track and counting heads. Even so, we think that the number is slightly inflated.

It’s too early to tell what ramifications, if any, will come of Youthstream entering the homeland of MX Sports and holding the Charlotte MXGP. Additionally, the real yardstick of success is yet to be determined–whether Luongo will ante up by returning to Charlotte in 2017. What I do know is that the cold war between MX Sports and Youthstream won’t be over any time soon. Can’t we all just get along?

DID MONSTER ENERGY REALLY FORCE SEVERAL OF THEIR SPONSORED RIDERS INTO COMPETING AT CHARLOTTE?

_SOU8112

Yes. Was it right? That answer depends. One one hand, the riders signed their contracts and cashed the checks. Did they read the contracts? Did they take the money with the idea that they could just skip out at the end of the season, as Chad Reed did at the last minute, without consequence? The riders aren’t innocent victims. They have agents and lawyers. If they took Monster’s money, then what are they complaining about? Are you a businessman, or do have compassion for professional racers?

On the other hand, strong-arming Eli Tomac and Pro Circuit Kawasaki into racing the Charlotte USGP was a stroke of genius by Monster. Without Tomac and Austin Forkner racing, the event wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting. American spectators want to see American racers face off against Europeans. Call it ethnocentrism, but most U.S. fans believe that Uncle Sam’s boys are faster and stronger than the stars of MXGP. They’ll pay the price of admission to watch Eli Tomac blow the doors of Tim Gajser and company. Had it not been for a strong contingent of U.S. riders, the event would have lacked pizzazz. Monster Energy’s reputation took a hit for goading Eli Tomac into racing the USGPs, but that has been forgotten since Tomac and the big green ‘M’ logo on his jersey blazed around Charlotte Motor Speedway.

On the third hand, U.S. motocross fans should be none too pleased that Tomac isn’t racing the Motocross des Nations because his plate is too full. Tacking on two non-points events in a series he has no stake in after racing 17 Supercrosses and 12 Nationals obviously didn’t sit well with Eli Tomac. He had to draw a line in the sand — his words, not mine —so he elected to clip the MXDN (or did Team Kawasaki look at their budget and nix paying the big budget to send Eli to Maggiora?) The question remains as to whether there are too many races on an increasingly bloated schedule. Roger DeCoster believes there are. An event promoter will argue otherwise.

DID WEATHER RUIN THE USGP OF THE AMERICAS?

Charlotte_Track_WaterloggedThis is how the track looked on Friday while Hermine blasted the Charlotte area.

Quite the contrary. The outskirts of Hurricane Hermine blew in Thursday evening before Friday’s practice sessions and qualifying races, consuming Charlotte air space for the better part of a day. Youthstream wisely canceled Friday’s events, given that many riders had made the trip across the pond with one race bike that needed to last for two rounds. Racing under adverse conditions would have destroyed equipment. Instead, Youthstream condensed the schedule to one-day by cutting out qualifying races and using timed practice for gate pick.

MX Sports has been using a one-day National race format since 2009. Preferred by the vast majority of riders, the single-day idea has been a success in the AMA Nationals. It has yet to be embraced in MXGP. Maybe that will change after the deluge on Friday. A light went on in the collective minds of the GP think tank. Why spend an extra day racing dangerous qualifiers and having riders spend unnecessary time on a track that everyone can learn in a few laps? Youthstream should run the EMX classes the day before the GP classes when applicable, and have one-day GP events at flyaway races.

WILL YOUTHSTREAM RETURN TO CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY?

Eric Peronnard_Charlotte 2016Thanks to hard working gentlemen like Eric Peronnard (above), there’s a chance the MXGP series will return to Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Time will tell, but judging by the spectator attendance and generally favorable impressions by the riders, it’s not out of the question. From my perspective, everyone involved did their best to make the USGP of the Americas a successful event. Charlotte Motor Speedway and Youthstream had most of their bases covered. MXA was treated well, which isn’t always the case. As a photojournalist, I know an event is good when I put down my camera and watch the racing as any diehard motocross fan would. That’s exactly what I did in the final 250 moto. You win this round, Giuseppe Luongo!

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QUOTE OF THE WEEK: AUSTIN FORKNER

_SOU7230_LR“I didn’t hear anything about being on the team [U.S. MXDN team]. I figured that I wouldn’t get picked, because I’m the new kid. Everybody thinks that rookies are going to be inconsistent. Honestly, I’ve been one of the more consistent guys this year. I finished seven points out of third in the 250 National Championship. Making the team never really crossed my mind though. All my friends, after they saw the picks, they told me that I should be on the MXDN guy. I didn’t know what to say.”

Click here to read the interview from the enlightened rookie.

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