With the Monster Energy Supercross season opener just one day away, that oh-so-familiar vibe is back. It’s a special time of year for many reasons. The arrival of the season opener at Anaheim lands directly after the holidays when the New Year is upon us. All of the storylines are fresh, and whether you want to throw rocks at the notion of resolutions or not, things just feel revived and invigorated.
A1, as we know it, is special. The initiated can close their eyes and feel the cool January air inside Angel Stadium of Anaheim where many find themselves searching out seats in the sunshine and staying out of the shade in an effort to stay warm during the early afternoon practice sessions. The crisp air juxtaposed with the adrenaline of the new season is a memorable sensation. There is an edgy vibe throughout the pits as riders and mechanics begin the arduous 17-round stampede of the championship. Some have new bikes, gear and entirely new teams altogether. For them, the sensations are multiplied.
We are on the cusp of what should be a truly exceptional championship. While Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey has dominated Monster Energy Supercross for two seasons, the competition has regrouped and aims to take him down - the Alpha being HRC Honda’s new recruit Ken Roczen. The German showed up for the Monster Energy Cup with only a couple of weeks aboard his new red machine and was hands down the fastest man until a crash removed him from contention. Such was the case in 2015 when Roczen began the season on fire only to bow out of the championship by way of a gruesome slam in Oakland. In 2016, he simply didn’t get going early enough in the championship as Dungey won and finished on the podium with impressive regularity.
Toward the end of the 2016 championship however, Ken was arguably the faster racer. In the Pro Motocross championship, Roczen won virtually everything while Dungey suffered a neck injury and was forced to the sidelines. Dungey made the podium at the Monster Energy Cup, but wasn’t the man we saw win nine 450SX main events in 2016. Was he holding back with no points on the line? Perhaps.
Behind Roczen and Dungey comes Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac, the 2016 MEC Champion. With a year of racing and testing aboard the Kawasaki, Tomac has a lot of eyes on himself to win in 2017. In addition to his MEC victory, Tomac also destroyed the competition at the two USGP rounds.
Behind the big three is a wrecking crew of talent. Racers like HRC Honda’s Cole Seely and Rockstar Husquvarna’s Jason Anderson have tasted 450SX victory champagne and Red Bull KTM’s Marvin Musquin will likely join the fraternity in 2017. There is also a strong duo under the Monster Energy Yamalube Yamaha tent with two-time Monster Energy Supercross Champion Chad Reed and two-time 250SX Champion Cooper Webb. And both racers will have chips on their shoulders heading into the season. Webb is as feisty and aggressive as they come and it will be very interesting to see how he adjusts to life in the premier division. Insert names like Trey Canard, Josh Grant, Justin Brayton, Weston Peick, Davi Millsaps, Blake Baggett, Mike Alessi and Vince Friese and you have an ultra-stacked 450SX Class for the new year.
There is much to break down and bench race about, but this column is about the feeling that we’ve all been waiting for. It has all led up to that moment when we drive into Angel Stadium on race day. The sight of the team haulers all organized in the paddock and the smell of race fuel sets forth a series of events that lead into the first gate drop of the season.
There is a moment of about 30 minutes before opening ceremonies when the pit area changes. Handshakes and small talk stops. Mechanics warm up the engines and the racers retreat to their haulers to put on their gear. The fans make their way to their seats and when the stadium is filled to capacity, there is just a feeling in the air that cannot be rivaled. It’s showtime. They turn down the lights and music begins to pound from the stadium speakers. All the big names are introduced and the first heat race of the season pushes to the starting line.
There are 17 instances of this throughout the championship, but there is nothing like that first time. There is nothing like A1. Gate drop is coming.