Saturday night marked the season opener for the 2016 Monster Energy Supercross season, and it definitely did not disappoint—unless you’re like me and a fan of Bubba Stewart, the poor guy getting knocked out cold in the .gif above. There were tons of crashes, passes, and even a mid-race fight! Here’s what went down and why you should be excited for the rest of the season.
Tensions were high as I got to the track early on Saturday morning. Even with Supercross legend Ryan Villapoto retiring before last year and Stewart sitting the year out after being suspended for an Adderall prescription - last year was an incredible year of racing.
This year is set to be massive, with Stewart back, several riders on new teams, and some of the young guys really stepping up. Watch this video of some of the mayhem:
This year’s 250 class season (it’s like JV and they race bikes with 250 cc engines) looks to be the opposite of the premier 450 class, with Cooper Webb just absolutely demolishing people. He doesn’t get the best starts and seems like a super great kid, so he’s really easy to root for as he mows down the people who get out ahead early in the race - but that’s about all we need to say about the 250's.
The 450 class heats were actually far less exciting than in years’ past. They’re often my favorite races, because the top four riders advance to the main - so the battle between the guys in 4th-6th often gets super close and heated. This year, with an absolutely bonkers track, some rain, and nerves at an all-time high, the races often started with a bang and some crashing - but didn’t have the nail-biter finishes that made Supercross my favorite form of racing.
Remember how I said this year was stacked? When it came time for the gates to drop, Eli Tomac, Trey Canard, Cole Seely, Jason Anderson, James Stewart, Chad Reed, Justin Barcia, Ryan Dungey, Justin Bogle, Dean Wilson, and Ken Roczen lined up and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see any of their names atop the podium post race. (Yes, I know many of you reading this aren’t familiar with those names, but that’s how many good guys there are this year.)
I was pumped as Stewart almost took the hole shot through the first turn and was at the front of the pack, until Ryan Dungey t-boned him in a bowl turn early in the race and knocked him unconscious. The race was red-flagged and stopped until they could get Bubba up and off the field, and then re-started. To me, the hit looked far more intentional than the one that started the Friese/Peick fight, but that’s not Dungey’s style and it seems as if he must have missed the landing of the previous jump slightly and been late on the brakes. Either way, not a good start for my man Bubba.
The second race saw Cole Seely, who took third overall last year in his first season on the 450s, take an early lead - only to be chased down by both Jason Anderson and Ryan Dungey. Cole is a super nice guy and has some incredible talent, but is often criticized for the reasons people used to criticize Dungey for not really having the “fuck you, there’s no way you’re beating me” mentality. I was really hoping he’d be able to hold on but, by mid race, it was pretty evident he didn’t stand a chance.
Anderson, who also moved up to the 450 class last year, gave the new Husqvarna team their first Supercross win ever after passing Seely with six laps left to go. Anderson, who lives next door to and trains with Dungey, is incredibly fast and his skill and his participation in a new team is a huge reason why this season is so deep because he isn’t taking a spot on an established team.
Dungey, who actually went down in the fourth lap, came back with an incredible performance, passing Seely in the final lap to take second place. After winning last year’s season, Dungey proved his win was not just in the absence of some great riders, and he looks better than ever.
Behind the top three, the fourth through eighth battle was actually great for most of the race as well. Dungey was in the mix for part of it until he got by the group of Reed, Roczen, Barcia, and Tomac who were all dicing it up.
Like I said, no matter where you looked on the track, there were massive talents duking it out.
On Sunday morning, we shared this video of riders Weston Peick and Vince Friese crashing and Peick popping up and pummeling Friese. While I’ll never say that Peick responded well, it does seem that Friese’s riding style needs some... um, adjustment. Friese put both Dean Wilson and Peick into the blocks in the first heat, and then took out Peick in the second semi race.
I met Peick late last year when he and I were both filming a new Tacoma video (he’s the one doing the badass tricks while I’m dicking around on an ATV) and I didn’t leave with a great impression. While he may not be a saint, I can empathize with his frustration even if I don’t agree with how he handled it.
The Players (And Some Help Picking Sides)
Whether you’re a longtime fan, watched Saturday’s race because I begged you, or might in the future, there are a ton of people to keep track of. I know that, for me personally, some back story or info on the players always helps me choose sides, so let’s see if I can be of some help to you.
Old man Chad Reed is back for the 2016 season. He’s been a Kawasaki guy for a while and ran his own team, but this year shut that down to focus on some racing. He’s with Yamaha now which he announced this three days before the start of the season, making news as Yamaha’s first factory team since 2010.
Reed has always been polarizing, but I’ve been a big fan since last year’s press day when he called out the journalists in the room for asking some really stupid questions. He’s Australian, he’s grumpy, he’s old, he has some cute kids, and he’s still fast, and he rode great this weekend. I love him.
James Stewart is my favorite racer. Have I mentioned that yet? No? Maybe once? Ok, sorry. He’s incredibly naturally talented, although was often criticized for not putting in the work or taking things as seriously as other riders. I watched him come back from 14th place in Toronto in 2014, where he made the other riders look like 250 class Last Chance Qualifier riders.
When he’s on, he can’t be beat, and I love watching him will his way to victories. His nickname is “the fastest man on the planet.” What’s not to love?
The New Guys
As I mentioned earlier, both Honda’s Cole Seely and Husqvarna’s Jason Anderson are in their sophomore season and looking incredibly fast. They both took well to the bigger bikes and longer season from last year’s rookie season, and are wasting no time proving that they’re forces to be reckoned with.
Suzuki’s Ken Roczen, like James Stewart, in another incredible talent who’s fun to watch because you can see him push things to the absolute limit - even if that means he ends up on his head sometimes. He came out strong last year, winning two of the first three races, but finished 12th overall last year.
Ryan Dungey finally looks like the racer worthy of his acclaim. As KTM’s main guy, he’s always sort of lacked that aggression or will power needed to make great passes or chase people down. He won last year by consistently being good, and sometimes great. However, if this season’s opener is any indication of what’s to come, I need to shut my damn mouth because he rode like a complete badass. The guy who made a name for himself for out-working, out-training, and then sitting in fourth and not passing people is gone and Ryan Dungey is here to take another title.
Honda’s Trey Canard broke his back racing Supercross, but returned last year with some impressive riding. He might the sport’s nicest human and have the world’s best attitude, but he rides like he doesn’t take any shit from anyone. I’ve always found Dungey boring and thought Canard would fall into the same category, but I actually love watching him ride. If anyone deserves to do well and has the skill to back it up, it’s Canard - now if only he can just quit the bad luck.
Justin “Bam Bam” Barcia made a name for himself as one of the most aggressive riders in the sport, but in the past few years seems to have lost an edge. His Yamaha is mid pack pretty consistently, and he went through the entire 2015 season without a win. Great social media content and videos- but possibly no longer a great racer.
Eli Tomac just joined the Kawasaki team, and is another name to watch. To me, he’s always been one of those guys you sort of forget about until he makes everyone else on the track look slow in a race or two. He quietly finished second overall in the 2015 season and is consistently, like Dungey, a very good rider. Unlike Dungey, he also rides with some gusto - just not as much as the Roczens or Stewarts of the world.
So Now What?
Bubba’s condition is still day to day, and Suzuki is unsure if he’ll be able to ride in this weekend’s San Diego round. After week one, Dungey looked the scariest to me, with Anderson, Tomac, and Roczen all looking pretty scary as well. I wish I had more faith in Cole, but I found myself screaming “don’t you dare Seely this one!” mid race, which sums that up pretty well.
You need to watch it.
Top photo credit Monster Energy Supercross