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SUPERCROSS: Art Eckman's Bar-to-Bar column 2003-03-26

Art Eckman's Column: Bar to Bar - A rookie's delight (St. Louis) Add another race to the list of wild and wacky if not down right strange happenings in this home of the suds they call Bud. Nowhere else can you find such unusual supercross ...

Art Eckman's Column:
Bar to Bar - A rookie's delight

(St. Louis) Add another race to the list of wild and wacky if not down right strange happenings in this home of the suds they call Bud. Nowhere else can you find such unusual supercross drama.

The very first race in this shrine to antiquity, his highness, Jeremy McGrath saw his 13 race win streak shockingly discontinued. Two years later Ezra Lusk, whom Ricky Carmichael recently labeled the cleanest rider on the planet, slammed the all time"Mr. Clean" Jeremy McGrath to the dirt prompting another unparalleled act - Mac losing his temper.

That same year in the 125's Kelly Smith had to be physically restrained after Ernesto Fonseca landed on him about 200 yards away from what would have been his very first supercross win.

Back in '97 Stephan Roncada won his very American 125 supercross here in St. Louis, and last year Chad Reed became the very first Aussie to win an American 125 supercross title.

This year we were dealing with unparalleled facts even before qualifying. Yamaha factory rider Tim Ferry who has been fighting flu symptoms all season long withdrew leaving only four factory team riders left to race the 250's. David Vuillemin was having his T5 checked out by his doctors in France. Even though Travis Pastrana told us that he hoped to be back for the final two supercross races of the year (Salt Lake & Las Vegas) he was there to only sign autographs and smile. Roncada, Tortelli, Ramsey, the list of the missing seems endless.

Who would believe a few months ago that 125 West riders showing what they can do in a few 250 races would be qualifying in the top eight. The floodgates have opened for privateers coming out of the woods to make a few bucks. There were more than 30 riders trying to qualify in both the 125 and 250 races. In exhausted trances they were throwing down one bike to mount another all day long.

Despite all the opportunity for those with triple digits, what was suspected to be a yawner of a 250 main event featuring Ricky on a roll to his third consecutive title, turned out to be one of the best races of the season.

Someone counted six lead changes in the first five laps. Chad Reed and Ricky Carmichael traded honors on the official lap count with Chad leading the first, Ricky the second, Chad the third, Ricky the fourth, and Chad the fifth. It wasn't until the sixth lap did the breath taking spell end. One of the mechanics next to me yelled," Ricky's down." With "RC" getting back into the action in fifth place, Reed knew he had to pour it on if he had any hopes of breaking the defending two time champion's four race win streak. With a little more than half the race to go, Carmichael passed Danny Smith for second place, but Reed held his poise at a comfortable pace to win his third race of the season. Three of the four factory musketeers stood on the podium with Carmichael's Honda teammate Ernesto Fonseca taking third place behind Ricky. Ezra Lusk was the lone factory fiasco or at least the unlucky one. Number eleven in your scorebook got an 11th place start and finished in 11th.

Several fans said afterward that they would have loved to see Reed and Carmichael fight it out for all twenty laps. I'm not so sure with these two personalities that it's possible. For these two to be so much faster than the rest of the field they have to ignore the boundaries that rule the forces of nature.

Both have said how much fun it would be to have a 20 lap sustained back and forth engagement but with Reed and Carmichael, after the greatest race in the history of supercross, the loser would not be thinking about how much fun he had.

After the sortie in St. Louis, Ricky, despite his brilliant comeback, once again shouldered the total blame. We heard some familiar phrases he used earlier in the season saying, "I made some stupid mistakes, I have to clean of my act, I got my butt kicked."

Reed and Carmichael are starting to understand each other. Chad in his usual monotone was a gracious winner and Ricky even noted an ounce of respect for Reed's performance. It seems the more these two go one on one on the track the more each is willing to express esteem. They both won at St. Louis last year, but this year's track was more like Pontiac, which didn't suit either last year's 125 East champion or the 250 guru.

Reed was quoted earlier in the week that he thought the title chase was over, but it was obvious from last Saturday night's performance his will to win races has not diminished. He realizes that down by 22 points with five races left, and Carmichael's ability to fight back to the podium when not running away with a race that his chances are slim however he's focused correctly, and when this season has concluded he'll be able to look back and realize that it was an incredible beginning.

Reed has put together an extraordinary rookie 250 season. Three wins, Five second place finishes, and one third place. His worst finishes - two sixth what's important now is building on his success.

Carmichael with lightening efficiency turned things around after a disastrous rookie season, while Travis Pastrana with a similar unfavorable entrance in the 250's hasn't. Both were plagued with serious injuries. Neither won a race. 19th and 20th place finishes dragged both riders to a 16th place in the final standings. Travis Pastrana's premier into the 250's was a little better with three podiums (two second places) but as we've witnessed he's been unable to come back into the contending ranks.

Reed's rookie season will be mostly compared with David Vuillemin's 2000 season. It was the best since Jeremy McGrath's unprecedented 10 win championship supercross display in 1993.

With still five races left on the 2003 schedule Chad has three wins to David's four. He has nine podiums to David's 12. Reed has made the podium in all but two races (both sixth place finishes) while Vuillemin missed the podium four times during the 16 race schedule with a sixth, fifth, and two fourth places. Vuillemin finished that year in second place 35 points behind Jeremy McGrath in the final standings. Jeremy wrapped up the title with still Las Vegas on the schedule. Vuillemin trailed by 25points with five races left in 2000, while Reed trails by 23.

While statistics are very similar their riding styles are not, and that's what is making Reed's campaign this season so much fun for the fans. Vuillemin and the champion he was chasing rode with a smooth flow. Their beautiful technique appeared like slow motion compared with Reed and Carmichael's aggressive, fishtailing, winner take all attitude. It leaves us breathless. And when the two get decent starts the anticipation of an electric experience is present in the first ten seconds. This great rivalry isn't going away anytime soon.

Bring on Houston.

-cce-

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About this article
Series AMA , Other bike
Drivers Ricky Carmichael , David Vuillemin , Travis Pastrana , Jeremy McGrath , Ezra Lusk , Ernesto Fonseca , Chad Reed , Kelly Smith