Art Eckman's Column: Bar-to-Bar Is it the love of competition? Maybe it's the extra experience in the saddle or the chance to be noticed by the factories? Could it be wanting to take advantage of the remote opportunity to experiencing that once...
Art Eckman's Column: Bar-to-Bar
Is it the love of competition? Maybe it's the extra experience in the saddle or the chance to be noticed by the factories? Could it be wanting to take advantage of the remote opportunity to experiencing that once in a lifetime thrill? Or maybe it's a little of all of the above. Why are so many 125 riders jumping regions trying to ride a season long schedule?
Last weekend at the Georgia Dome there were five 125 west riders who jumped on a 250 and made the big league main event. FIVE! That's one-fourth the field. Those five led by Sean Hamblin's seventh place all finished better than 14th, beating some seasoned veterans such as Ezra Lusk, Mike LaRocco, Damon Huffman, Larry Ward, Heath Voss, and others. The young set, not just James Stewart, is making their mark this year in a most unusual way.
Danny Smith who finished in 10th, and Hamblin were of course encouraged to fill factory Sobe Suzuki spots left by their depleted forces. But what about Andrew Short who rides for the Motoworld racing.com support team. He came from a 17th place start to finish in ninth. There was Tyler Evans who races for ECC Suzuki. His best 125 race was a tenth at San Diego. He finished the Atlanta 250 in 14th, after winning the semi qualifier.
Then there's last years 125 West champion Travis Preston, who is anxious for some big bike experience. He has only been on a four stroke Honda about four times. He was busy counting the times he shifted to the first turn and still ended up in 13th in his first 250 pro race.
Even though I don't expect a full time 125 rider win a 250 main with Ricky and Chad around, it's still making things interesting. Only twice since the 125 regions began in 1985 has the sport seen a 125 rider win a 250 race. It happened in back to back seasons on the same track, on the same brand of bike, by riders who both won the 125 west that year. Kevin Windham was the first to do it in 1997, crossing over to the east for the 250 race in Charlotte. The very next year John Dowd, also on a Yamaha, won at Charlotte the week before edging David Vuillemin out for the 125 west title.
It never seemed such a big deal to me seeing 125 east riders anxious to ride a 250 out west. A lot of the off season factory testing is done in California and the excitement of opening the season is too hard to resist. I've noticed at least eight 125 east contenders this year who got on a bigger bike to start the season out west.
The KTM factory wanted walking medical study Grant Langston to try the 125 east after casing a jump that jarred his cavities lose. Michael Brown was gunning for competition early for the experience as was Steve Boniface of France and Mexico's Erik Vallejo.
AmsOil/Chaparrel/ Honda's Michael Byrne and Mobile Boost/Yamaha of Troy's Ivan Tedesco were making serious efforts to show the factories that they belonged in the 250s. Byrne left the class in sixth place in the standings after two impressive fourth place finishes at Anaheim and San Diego to concentrate on the 125 east championship race.
School is still out whether it's a great idea for 125 east riders to begin the season early on 250's. It paid off recognition wise for Byrne but he's been buried at the start of his first two 125 rounds. Michael had to cut through 10 riders in Minneapolis and 12 in Atlanta to be able to land in fourth, 11 points off the pace.
Brown got injured in the 250s but his toughness has him in third place seven points out of the lead. Branden Jesseman didn't go west, waiting around six weeks to get started came out of the box relaxed and fast enough to open the season with a win. His second place in Atlanta has him just two points behind Brock Sellards.
Sellards leads the 125 east after an uneventful 250 experience. He failed to qualify for two out of six rounds on the western swing but is having the time of his career. He came close to a 125 east title back in 2000. Six second places had him in the lead in the until the last regular season race when Stephane Roncada edged him out for the number one plate. Adding to his frustration was the ill-fated radical surgery to lessen arm pump that proved to be a dismal failure. Before this season started it was Phil Alderton, the owner of Yamaha of Troy, who gave Brock a shot when no one else wanted to take a chance on him. Sellards was Phil's last pick for the team and became his first winner on the 2003 season.
For you trivia buffs it was Yamaha's fifth consecutive 125 win at Atlanta. (Sellards, Reed, Ramsey, Roncada, and Fonseca).
Count them. All toll there have been 18 riders this year who have been running for points in their region who have qualified for races in the other region. And this craze to run a full season is not restricted to those wanting to ride the bigger bike. It includes six riders who aren't in the top ten in their 125 region but have legally run without gaining championship points in the other region.
With the emergence of so many sponsored support teams it no longer becomes a matter of keeping riders in their half of the country to save families the expense of a national 125 supercross series. The last time I checked the 125 West's James Stewart is from Florida and what's Tiger Lacey from Wolf Creek Oregon doing racing in the 125 East the last couple of weeks. Maybe it's time for two regional titles for 125 privateers and inviting them plus the top twenty qualifiers during the regular season to the Dave Coombs memorial 125 shoot-out in Vegas.
Times have changed since Jeremy McGrath, Ricky Carmichael, Ezra Lusk, Damon Huffman, Brian Swink, Kevin Windham and others stayed in the 125 support class for more than one year before moving up to the majors. There was still the desire for prestige and monetary gains riding the bigger bikes but factory teams and parents wanted the youngsters to get more supercross experience and personal maturity in times gone by.
Today's generation wants it NOW. And I can't blame them. Especially when Chad Reed gets a two year deal worth $800,000 the first season and a million next year.
James Stewart has already spoken of his desire never to race in the 125s again. He wants to do battle with the best in the world. Plus he's the only rider RC claims really concerns him. Kawasaki has an interesting dilemma because 125 championships make for great marketing, but how do you hold that kind of talent back. You don't. Especially when all of supercross, including the fans, want to see more of the challenging tenacity and talent Chad Reed has brought to the table in his first full season of 250 action.
I would pay top money to see James Stewart become the sixth 125 west rider this season to saddle up for this weekend's 250 race in Indianapolis. Those words are down right outrageous coming from a media type -- someone who has flashed a press pass for the last three decades.