Story by Pete Peterson
Round 2 of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship will go down in the sport’s history as one of the toughest mud races the riders ever faced. The day inside Oracle Park started with a sloppy, wet track; then rains throughout the night transformed it into a tangle of deep ruts, heavy mud, slick areas, and thick goo that could stop a bike in its tracks. Red Bull KTM’s Chase Sexton got an incredible jump off the gate but as the pack charged into the muck it was Progressive Insurance ECSTAR Suzuki’s Ken Roczen who emerged with the Holeshot. Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Jason Anderson, Phoenix Racing Honda’s Dylan Ferrandis, and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Malcolm Stewart crashed hard together on the start, ruining their chances of a podium finish. Up front, Roczen stalled his bike on the first obstacle and Sexton took over the lead and Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Eli Tomac slipped into second place. The winner of Round 1, Team Honda HRC’s Jett Lawrence, was off pace and had some crashes that relegated him to a ninth place finish. Roczen sliced through the pack and re-emerged in third place at the checkered flag. Twisted Tea Suzuki’s Shane McElrath surprised fans with a fourth place finish, and Red Bull KTM’s Aaron Plessinger took home fifth place. Ferrandis recovered from the start straight crash and fought back to sixth place.
Chase Sexton timed his launch off the gate for the San Francisco main event perfectly. He managed to keep the bike upright through the inconsistent start straight slop and emerged with the lead after the first rhythm section. From there Sexton showed his speed from previous years melded with a new consistency. On a track that took down most riders, it didn’t take down Sexton when the points were on the line. Sexton entered the 2024 season on a new team and a new bike, and admitted he wasn’t fully up to speed at A1. After the San Francisco win he told the press that he and the team had found new fork settings (during mid-week testing on dry test tracks) and was riding better than he ever has. The big question going into Round 3: Was Sexton’s win in the mud attributed to the extreme conditions, or is there a new Chase Sexton with the championship-winning speed of last season and a new consistency?
Eli Tomac’s 2023 championship bid ended abruptly with a ruptured Achilles tendon while leading the championship by 18 points. He didn’t want to finish his career on that moment, so he came back to try to earn a third Supercross title. His camp and fans weren’t too worried after a lackluster ride at the opening round; Tomac’s championship years (2020 and 2022) both started slowly, not with a podium. He also reported later that he rode tight at the opener. The “real” Eli Tomac showed up at Round 2. He said in the post-race press conference that he, similar to Sexton, found some different bike settings during the prior week’s testing and was feeling much more comfortable on the bike. Has Tomac gotten his flow back, and will he let it all hang out and take the win when the track conditions look more like a traditional supercross?
Ken Roczen is not having good luck exiting the first corner but his recovery in San Francisco was impressive. At A1 he crashed and bent up the bike. At San Francisco – after grabbing the Holeshot – he stalled his bike down the first rhythm lane and the pack roared past. Sometimes a go-for-broke approach helps in the mud, and it benefitted Roczen. He was going faster on alternate lines outside the main race line as he re-passed nearly every rider. Once he reached third place, he said later, he settled into the position rather than push hard for more. Roczen traditionally is a strong starter, and more so aggressive and effective on the opening laps of a race. Can he bring back his talent for getting up front early and turn that into a 2024 win?
Aaron Plessinger, a strong mud rider, had a lot of eyes on him at San Francisco. He didn’t win, but he did start the season with two top-five results for the first time in his career. Fans love Plessinger’s down home style and carefree approach to life. They shared Plessinger’s heartbreak last year in Detroit when he came within half a lap of earning his first 450SX Class win. Plessinger has the experience, and so far in 2024 has shown he has the speed to keep the leaders close. When will Plessinger get a great start and reclaim the win that slipped away in Detroit? And will one win lead to more, to make “the cowboy” a contender for the title?
One week prior, Jett Lawrence made history by winning his first 450SX Class AMA Supercross race. In San Francisco he got lapped by Chase Sexton. The first two rounds could hardly have been more different for the rider who swept every moto of the AMA Pro Motocross season and won the inaugural SuperMotocross World Championship last summer – both as a rookie. In the thick mud inside Oracle Park, Lawrence showed perhaps his first sign of imperfection since moving up to the 450SX Class. He qualified fourth, which some might count as bad for him, and he committed several mistakes – with crashes – during the night’s racing. Looking at the big picture, he still sits in second place and he’s only seven points out of the championship lead. But in a sport where momentum can turn quickly in both directions, will Lawrence rebound strongly from the poor showing in San Francisco? And might he push too hard to re-establish dominance and finally show a sign of his rookie experience?
Cooper Webb beat Jett Lawrence the weekend before in their Heat Race and looked to have the speed to catch and challenge the rookie in the Main Event. A crash ended Webb’s chances at A1, but he looked like the likely rider to challenge for the win at Round 2. The rain and mud threw everything up in the air, and Webb didn’t benefit from it. For a rider who’s made a career, and won two championships, with strong charges late in the race, Webb went the wrong direction in the conditions at San Francisco. He now sits eighth in the points with two disappointing rides in the first two rounds. Webb doesn’t lack mental resilience. Will Webb show up at Round 3 with the same speed, and confidence, that he showed at Anaheim 1?
Insights from the legends of the sport
Ron Lechien, 1980s-1990s era – “[[Laughs]] Well, what a mess, first of all. But I really do respect the mud races. Obviously I had a few in my day, and it’s unbelievable how tough they are, especially supercross. Outdoors is one thing, but just with the jumps and the ruts down the backsides of the jumps, yeah, [a muddy supercross track] not for the faint of heart… I’m glad to see Sexton get the win and Tomac bounce back. I feel bad for some of the guys that had troubles but man, it’s just such a crapshoot when you get into a mud race like that… [regarding Jett Lawrence] I can’t tell if maybe it got in his head a little bit or he was trying too hard. Usually in the mud, the harder you try the worse it is. And he might have got in a spot where he was trying a little too hard and once it goes south, it goes south. He definitely didn’t have a very great weekend but he still got some points and I don’t think it’s the end of the world, for sure.”
Jeff Emig, 1980s-1990s era – “The most important element to a nasty mud race like that is attitude. You have to ‘want to be there.’ Some riders go to the event and all they see and think about are how bad the conditions are, and what can go wrong. The riders that win are looking at a race like San Francisco with a positive attitude and they see an opportunity. Focus is obviously something that each rider tries to come into each and every race with, but man it sure ramps up when it rains like that. When you’re on the starting gate and the 30-second board goes up, that’s when you need to have nothing but positive thoughts running through your mind. You tell yourself, ‘I can do this, I can win.’ And I guess the last part of the attitude element is convincing yourself that there’s ‘no pressure.’ It’s hard to do. I would say racing dirt bikes, for a living, is supposed to be fun, so if you look at the event from the perspective of the little kid inside you, you’re thinking to yourself, ‘How lucky am I? This is the greatest thing in the world that I get to do for work.’”
Ryan Villopoto, 2000s-2010s era – “I think that not a lot was answered on who’s going to come out as a force to be reckoned with. Anaheim 1 with all the hype around it, I think a lot of guys were kind of getting through it. You can always lose the championship from that race but you can never win it, right? And then it goes to San Francisco and we have a complete mudder. We see Jett falter, and Chase end up on top, which I think is a good builder for him, but it wasn’t dry, it wasn’t an all-out – I know he’s stoked on the win, and it’s really good for Red Bull KTM, it’s good for Chase, but he needs to do that in the dry. [Asked for a pick to win San Diego] I don’t know if I can make a pick, but I’m looking to see what and how Jett rebounds from this mud race. Is he typical Jett, where it rolls off his shoulder, and says, “Hey, it’s a mud race. It is what it is. I rode [poorly], I’m going to win San Diego.’? Basically he has won everything he’s entered up until this point. But I am looking for Chase to keep that momentum and confidence that he got out of that win in San Francisco, even though it was a mud race. Also Eli’s second place, those are good builders for both of those two to hopefully keep that momentum rolling and then, like I said, see how Jett rebounds from San Fran.”
The San Francisco round delivered unpredictable racing and also kicked off the 2024 program that continues the partnership that Monster Energy AMA Supercross has formed over several years with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Fans who want to help this great cause can text “SUPER” to 785-833 or click this link to contribute and get a great “Love Moto Stop Cancer” t-shirt.
Round 3 hits Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego on Saturday, January 20th. Gates open at 10:30 AM local time for Fan Fest. Opening ceremonies and racing continue the new, earlier schedule and kick off the action at 8:00 PM Eastern time (5:00 PM local time).
To see all the action on TV or via streaming, every round is shown live on Peacock. Coverage can also be found, for select races, on NBC, USA Network, CNBC, NBCSports.com and on the NBC Sports app. CNBC will air an encore presentation of every round. For international viewers, full season coverage can be had through the SuperMotocross Video Pass (supermotocross.tv) with both English and Spanish commentary.
Each Monster Energy AMA Supercross event also pays points toward the year-long SuperMotocross World Championship. The new SuperMotocross series combines points from all 17 rounds of the Supercross season, all 11 rounds of the summer’s AMA Pro Motocross season, and three SuperMotocross playoff races scheduled for September. Coverage of all 31 rounds is available live on PeacockTV.
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