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Hangtown: Season opener preview

2004 AMA Chevrolet Motocross Championship Set to begin All-time winningest rider, Ricky Carmichael looking for fifth AMA 250 Motocross title PICKERINGTON, Ohio (May 7, 2004) -- Ricky Carmichael is set to return to racing for the first time...

2004 AMA Chevrolet Motocross Championship Set to begin
All-time winningest rider, Ricky Carmichael looking for fifth AMA 250 Motocross title

PICKERINGTON, Ohio (May 7, 2004) -- Ricky Carmichael is set to return to racing for the first time in seven months on Sunday, May 16, at the 36th Annual Hangtown Motocross Classic, the highly anticipated opening round of the 2004 AMA Chevrolet Motocross Championship held at Prairie City SVRA Park just east of Sacramento. Carmichael, 24, is coming off of major surgery this winter to repair a torn ACL knee ligament. In addition to coming back from injury Carmichael will also ride a four-stroke powered Honda CR450F for the first time after riding two-stroke motocross bikes his entire career.

Carmichael is the winningest rider in the history of motocross and he has won a championship every year since his first full year as a professional in 1997. He'll be attempting to win his fifth straight title in the 250 class this year. The Floridian understands that coming back from this type of injury is not going to be easy.

"Coming back from such a long layoff is going to be tough," admitted Carmichael, the winner of the last two Hangtown Classics. "I'm fortunate to have great people working with me to help me make a solid recovery and I expect to be competitive by the time the season kicks off."

Some experts feel that the injury could even be a positive thing for Carmichael. "I think this injury will actually force Ricky to focus even more in his training if that's possible," said former AMA champion and TV commentator David Bailey. "He wants to prove to everyone that he can comeback and be even stronger. The one thing his competition should never do is count Carmichael out."

Adding even more intrigue to Carmichael's return is the fact that this season will be his last with Honda. In a surprise announcement last month, Suzuki revealed that Carmichael will be riding yellow when the 2005 AMA Supercross season begins next January. This unexpected revelation came out before this year's supercross championship was even decided and sent the industry reeling as each of the major teams scrambles to set their teams for next year. How this will affect Carmichael's bid for another AMA Motocross title remains to be seen.

Perhaps Carmichael's biggest competition this season will come from Yamaha's Aussie ace Chad Reed. The 22-year-old Reed is fresh off earning his first THQ AMA Supercross Series title. He followed Jeremy McGrath and Carmichael as only the third rider to win ten AMA Supercross races in a single season.

"Winning the AMA Motocross Championship is something I definitely want to accomplish," said Reed, the third-ranked rider in the 250 class last year. "I'm happy that I won the supercross championship, but that doesn't mean I will be any less eager to do well in the nationals."

Factory Connection Honda's Kevin Windham is another key player in the championship picture this season. Windham was the only rider to beat Carmichael last year and he is a former winner at Hangtown. Windham, a 26-year-old veteran racer from Mississippi, is coming off two dominating victories in the closing rounds of the THQ AMA Supercross Series.

"I've been focusing my training for some time now for the outdoors," Windham said. "I'm happy with how things went in my return to supercross and I'm hoping that will carry over to success this summer."

Last year's 125 champ Grant Langston is moving up to the 250 class this season. The likeable South African is hoping to bring KTM its first AMA 250 Motocross title.

James Stewart is the pre-season favorite in the 125 class. The 18-year-old Kawasaki rider who hails from Florida, missed last year's Hangtown National after injuring his shoulder in the final AMA Supercross round of 2003. Stewart won the 125 round there in 2002, his rookie season. Stewart is riding a seven-race winning streak in the 125's dating back to June of last year.

Hangtown fans will be rooting for local favorite Steve Lamson in the 125 class. Lamson is tied with Hall of Famer Mark Barnett with a record of four 125 class wins at Hangtown. Another rider to watch for will be AMA 125 West Supercross champ Ivan Tedesco. The New Mexico native broke through to win all but one of the West Region Supercross rounds and is riding a wave of momentum coming into the AMA motocross season.

The Hangtown Classic is one of the oldest and best-known motocross events in America. It pre-dates the formation of the AMA Motocross Championship and was one of the earliest of motocross races when the sport made its way from Europe to the U.S. in the 1960s. The race will be shown tape-delayed on ESPN2 beginning at noon (EST) Sunday, May 22.

For ticket information call (800) HANGTOWN or visit www.hangtownmx.com.

For immediate post-race results, points, live transponder scoring, in-depth series and rider information, regular columnists and much more, log onto www.USMotocross.com.

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Series AMA
Drivers Ricky Carmichael , Kevin Windham , Chad Reed , James Stewart