Art Eckman's Column: Bar to Bar - The Young and the Restless (Salt Lake City, UT) I think it's appropriate we head to the season's final supercross in the land of fantasy - Las Vegas. This season has had the characteristics of a long running...
Art Eckman's Column:
Bar to Bar - The Young and the Restless
(Salt Lake City, UT) I think it's appropriate we head to the season's final supercross in the land of fantasy - Las Vegas. This season has had the characteristics of a long running soap opera. After witnessing the same exact order of finishes on the podium for five consecutive races you might label it, "As the World Turns," but after the penultimate round in Salt Lake City it definitely has taken on the emotional tone of "The Young and the Restless."
Springing from the ashes of an injury riddled season, we've witnessed a two time champion and a first year 250 rider steal the spotlight with some of the most competitive leader racing we've experienced in two generations. This has not simply been a comparison of skills and racing talent. It has become a battle of egos as well. Salt Lake City proved to be a perfect preface to the final chapter this season.
While Ricky Carmichael believes his 25-point lead after Daytona lulled his championship effort, Chad Reed simply went about the business of messing with Ricky's head. Reed admits that a few first year mistakes led to a couple of sixth place finishes putting him out of the title chase for a few rounds. Then the Aussie proved he's just as fast as the two-time defending champion who is accustomed to habitually running away with the title at this time of the year.
To Carmichael, the shock doesn't set in immediately. It grows until; "Bang" Daytona is Ricky's last win. He is not getting great starts and when he does he's being passed. After two races of crashing to a disadvantage he suffers his first loss without going down. He's losing time in the whoops. He's riding not to lose big. A real hurt comes when he has a back and forth, bar to bar, 20 lap battle with his new found rival and still loses.
"RC" begins searching. He's been taught that winning is the only thing but he now must realize that the title is the most important priority. He focuses harder on the practice track while Chad is professing he's playing golf every day. His Honda team begins adding to the urgency by contemplating changes to the bike. Quietly, Chad Reed stalked Carmichael's season earning the sixth longest win streak in supercross history. One big mistake and a dream becomes a nightmare.
Going into Salt Lake, Carmichael is requiring a psychiatrist that someone like Tony Soprano could trust. He does the next best thing. He rehires his former confidant and coach, Johnny O'Mara. For the first time in at least a year and a half the two take the track walk together. The proven supercross champion and what some might call the best motocross rider in history wisely turned back to one of those who got him there.
It is at the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains that all the talk of clean riding and a new found respect for his adversary turned into a steaming madness.
The soap opera atmosphere continued when a former friend of Chad and Ricky, Tim Ferry, returned after being sidelined four races by illness, and got the hole-shot. The contenders came out of turn one in fourth and fifth. Instead of an exclusive Reed/Carmichael battle up front it became a threesome. At one time all three were bar to bar.
It was lap three when Carmichael shot by both Yamaha's into the lead. Then the race took on an aura of the 80's where if you left yourself open you could possibly find yourself on the ground. That kind of racing disappeared during the McGrath era, but equal lap times and much bigger money has brought it back.
Reed's front tire to rear tire aggressive block pass put Carmichael down. Later Ricky claimed Ferry cut in front of him as well. "RC" makes the claim that the only reason Ferry came back from his mystery illness was to help out Reed. The two had to be separated at the races end to stop the shouting and pushing fracas. The heat of the battle had Ricky claiming that his friendship with Ferry disintegrated when he started winning and Ferry didn't. "He was jealous', claims Ricky. 'Ferry isn't even a red head anymore showing up looking like he'd been dipped in an oil drum."
About the hard Chad Reed pass, Ricky says, "They are desperate and they'll do whatever they have to do to beat me. I can race that way. I will remember, but Las Vegas is not the place. I have too much at stake."
In one season we have gone from racing the track to dusting off a combative style of man and machine against man and machine. Unlike the 80's, there isn't the depth of field with five or maybe even six riders who could win. With only three or four factory riders in the field, and the injured David Vuillemin stating at the post race press conference he has no plans to interfere, it has been proven with five consecutive second places that Ricky can cut through the field for a podium with little concern. Still he must finish fifth or better if Reed makes 1st to place his third consecutive number one supercross plate in the trophy case. (Only #4 goes on his bike.)
Let's not forget that little issue of money. Not counting personal contract bonuses for wins and final placement in the standings, the difference between first and second place in the AMA points fund and the race purse is almost $68,000.00.
As if the Dave Coombs Sr. 125 East/West Shootout won't provide enough thrills, (a champion hasn't won the Shootout and a championship in the same year for the last four seasons) expect an exciting retro eighties 250 final chapter to the supercross version of, "The Young and the Restless", live in person, or on sxgp.com and next day coverage on ABC's Wide World of Sports.
Finally, while only 10 points separates Reed and Carmichael for the 250 championship, Keith Johnson holds only a 10 point lead over Ryan Clark in the challenge for the THQ World Supercross GP rookie of the year honors. Not counting purse winnings, AMA point standings and Clear Channel privateer bonus money, the difference between World GP Rookie of the Year and runner-up would be $12,500 in cash plus a new Nissan Frontier pickup.