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Matthes Report

A Matthes Report: Cooper Webb

Steve Matthes on surprising 450SX champions.

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It’s amazing really… Cooper Webb is your 2019 Monster Energy Supercross champion. Let that sink in for a moment, yeah? Here is what Webb told us on the PulpMX Show after the Monster Energy Cup about being teammates with Marvin Musquin:

I’m not in a situation where I’m the guy right now. I said, ‘If anything, you are the championship contender. Sure, I want to be there, but right now it’s a situation for me to learn from you, on and off the track, and be the best teammate I can be. I hope that me and you are battling at supercross and going for wins, but you have won a lot of races. You are a championship contender.’ I said, ‘For me, I need to get to the point of winning the races first.’ I’m here to learn. I’m sure there’ll be days that are going to be tougher than others and who knows? I might beat him and he might beat me.”

Yeah, he didn’t take long to learn! Webb won seven races this year to take the title pretty easily really. He basically had it clinched with a race to go and it’s a very unexpected title win, that’s for sure. We were all scratching our heads wondering if Webb could rebuild himself after two years of injuries and mixed results at Yamaha.

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Congrats to Chase Sexton of the GEICO Honda team and Dylan Ferrandis of the Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha team for their titles by the way, great stuff by both of them. Condolences to the thousands of Adam Cianciarulo fans on that heartbreak that we all watched.

We have seen some very unexpected titles in the sport’s history and Coop’s win got me thinking if we had ever seen any other win that was more unexpected. After breaking it all down, here is my list of most unexpected 450SX titles ever. Onto the rankings…

6: Last season it was Rockstar Husqvarna’s Jason Anderson capturing an unlikely 450SX title after the main challengers, Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac and KTM’s Marvin Musquin, both missed a race early on with injuries. Anderson won only four races and none after round ten and, before we knew it, he was the champion. Coming into the year, Anderson had won two career 450SX races so there was some hope he could blossom into what he did but for his first title he did a fair bit of managing.

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5: In 1982, Honda’s Donnie Hansen won the title by the narrowest of margins over Suzuki’s Mark Barnett. Hansen hadn’t even won a 250SX race before he took the Anaheim opener in ’82. Hansen wasn’t looked at as ready to win a title this year, it was Barnett or Bob Hannah or even past champion Mike Bell that were all thought as better choices for the title. Hansen won four races, Barnett had some mechanicals and that was it. Hansen was a very unexpected 1982 250SX champion.

4: 2019 450SX title winner Cooper Webb. I put him here because he was an all-timer in the amateur ranks and he did win three 250 titles. McGrath’s title win in ’93 was like that also in that he dominated 125SX for two years, he, like Webb, was a champion.

3: Like Ryan Dungey, Jeremy McGrath was a very accomplished 125SX rider going into his rookie year in 1993 on factory Honda. He was thought to have a good chance to capture a title one day but he would have to watch his teammate Jeff Stanton, Yamaha’s Damon Bradshaw, Kawasaki’s Mike Larocco and Mike Kiedrowski for a year or so before he would challenge for a title. Well, throw that out the window as MC won the third race of the year and then walked to his first of many 450SX titles. Bradshaw and Stanton never won another race after this 1993 season which if you had told someone that in mid-year of 1992, they would’ve called the cops on you. McGrath would then never really stop winning for another nine years.

2: In 2010, Suzuki’s Ryan Dungey was moved up to the big class (450SX) after a great 250F career that included a SX and MX title. He was looked at as great future champion after he got his feet wet in his rookie year. Then pre-season favourites Chad Reed and James Stewart both got hurt early on, Kevin Windham continued to be off and on, Davi Millsaps continued to not train and Dungey and Ryan Villopoto (in his second year) grabbed the mantle from the vets. RV won more races but got hurt himself near the end and poof… The 450SX title went to a rookie kid that barely had won anything as an amateur.

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1: In 1989 an unheralded workhorse type of rider was snatched from factory Yamaha to Honda with no wins of any type since turning pro. Jeff Stanton had showed some promise here and there on Yamaha’s and had podiums indoors and out, but Honda was really hiring him to ride shotgun for his buddy Rick Johnson. Stanton rode with Johnson in the off-season, got a much better bike in the Honda from the Yamaha he was used to and when RJ crashed late in Atlanta 1989 while leading it was Stanton getting his first professional win. He then proceeded to win the next three 450SX titles and become an all-timer. It came out of nowhere and was something no one saw coming so, for the reasons being that he hadn’t won anything as a professional in the previous two years and then became a 450SX title winner, it’s number one on our list.

Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: KTM Images/Simon Cudby

Matthes Report

Matthes Report: Daytona

Predictions from Steve Matthes!

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The 2021 Monster Energy Supercross series riders and teams just had their first week off of the season this past and when the halfway flag gets thrown this Saturday night at Daytona, we’ll officially be halfway through the 450SX series.

Here are some random predictions on some random things in regard to both the 450SX and 250SX classes.

– It’s been a while since we saw anyone not named Cooper Webb or Ken Roczen win a 450SX main event but we may finally get someone different this weekend. Now, don’t hold me to that because the top two riders in the points have been so good. This is Daytona though. This is something different for the guys and we know how good Eli Tomac is down at the speedway. I’m not going to stamp a Tomac win but it says here he will be more competitive this weekend than he has been. Good vibes will be hanging in the air for ET and even if he does not get a start, he can make it work there. I predict a strong performance for Tomac this weekend with either a win or a runner-up ride.

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– Honda’s Chase Sexton makes his return to racing after a crash in Houston while leading the 450SX main. The #23 will be a boost to the series and I think he’ll do something memorable this weekend. I do not know what exactly; maybe win a heat, lead some laps or podium the whole thing? I’m not sure but Sexton will make a splash. You watch!

– Jason Anderson has been getting progressively better since his awful opening round and subsequent finger injury. Now, how much his improvement had to do with the harder packed Orlando track is something we’ll see. I think he’s on the right track to be top five or on the podium at Daytona.

– Marvin Musquin is very good at Daytona – he’s had some hell of good rides there with a couple of 450SX podiums and a win in 250SX. It’s been a hot and cold season for Marv, but he’ll be hot this weekend.

– Dylan Ferrandis was great at Orlando 2 but had just an eleventh to show for it after he had to pull into the mechanics area for mid-race repairs. On this track, with more of an outdoor-ish feel to it, I think Ferrandis really shines. I predict a top five for the Yamaha rider. Yeah, I said it.

– I predict Justin Cooper wins the 250SX West main event. Boring, right? I know. This series is his to lose now with Jeremy Martin out with a shoulder injury. Cooper was not even at one hundred percent at Orlando 2 and he did that. Wait until he gets an extra week of prep for this one.

– I’m not sure what Star Yamaha team owner Bobby Regan said or did to rookies Nate Thrasher and Jarrett Frye in the time since Orlando 2 but I guarantee you it was not good. I’ve heard many stories about how Regan has talked to riders under the Star tent and with both kids underperforming at their first ever supercross, I predict they both come out with better performances than what we saw in Orlando. How much better? I do not know, just better.

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– Garrett Marchbanks does not win this main event like he did last year but he does end up on the podium, which is a good result for him and his team.

– Troll Train will shine this weekend and redeem himself after KO’ing himself last race. That’s what “we” do.

– I think Martin Davalos will fall down at some point in this weekend’s main event. I hate being a negative Nancy here but he’s done it in every single race this year but one. I cannot see how Marty gets through a rough and tumble Daytona track where things change every lap without making a mistake but maybe this is exactly what Marty needs to stay on two wheels!

– I predict that Kyle Chisholm will continue to Chiz, because Chiz will always Chiz. In fact, he might have some extra Chiz happening because he is usually pretty solid at Daytona.

– This one is not tough to predict but Ken Roczen will continue his great season with another great ride. Hey man, I can’t be wrong if I just predict stuff like this!

Thanks for reading!

Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: Align With Us

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Matthes Report

Matthes on: Alex Nagy

Feel-good story from Orlando.

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There are a lot of cool stories in the pits in the course of a year of Monster Energy Supercross but let’s face it, these days with COVID-19 still affecting everything, things still suck. Although the racing in Orlando was cool, in terms of some fans being there, it’s still not supercross, you know?

In Orlando, we had a cool story going on though. Privateer Alex Nagy made his first ever main event via his third in the 250SX LCQ. Nagy is a privateers privateer, you know? There are guys that are what you would call privateers but they are on teams and sometimes have expenses covered  some guys get everything paid for but not factory help at all and we still call them privateers. The word “privateer” has changed a ton over the years for sure, but there is one thing that’s not in doubt and that’s that Alex Nagy is a privateer.

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Nagy had lined up for 132 races and had made 118 night shows, most of them in the 450SX class. The 250SX East series has been wrecked with injuries so that definitely helped Nagy’s case, but he’s also been riding very well. In Orlando, we saw history!

“I honestly haven’t even kept track of how many night shows or how long,” Nagy told us after the race. “My first year of racing supercross was in 2013, and I did that on a 250. Then every year after, I’ve been in the 450SX class. This is kind of like my first time back in the 250SX class. I’m glad I was finally able to capitalise on a good coast to ride and be able to put it in the main finally.”

Look, once he made the main the rest was gravy, right? Nagy rode pretty well in the 15-minute main event though to end up with a fifteenth on the night. That’s pretty decent for a guy who’s not used to racing that long. Nagy got six points toward ditching his three-digit number and getting one of those two digits that the cool guys get.

Surely Nagy was going to reward himself with some sort of extravagance for his efforts, right?

Nope.

“I’m going to spend the night here. I spent the night here last night. I spent the night in the van the night before, and I’ll probably spend the night in the van tomorrow night too,” he told me. “It’s kind of funny because even in Indy I stayed in the van. I didn’t run it, didn’t use the heat in it and didn’t have a heater. I just had four sleeping bags and I just ground it out.

“Honestly, it sucked. It was cold waking up in the morning. Then when you are kind of cold and then you’ve got to put cold clothes on or cold gear on, that was rough. Like I always say, you don’t even really think about it. It’s just in the past.”

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Nagy spending the time in freezing cold Indianapolis sleeping in his van for rounds four through six is next level. Hey, he loves the sport and it shows!

This is a part of the issue I have with the MXGP series. Yes, there are wildcards out there that some riders can get but it’s not easy to show up at an MXGP and race like it is for riders over here in SX and MX. That’s one of the things, in my opinion, that make motocross great. A guy can get a bike, modify it a bit and line up with the world’s greatest riders. Talent is the separator, not money spent. Nagy has spent time riding in the winter down in California but unfortunately not this year. His program is, how we say, pretty loose!

“I didn’t even have an off-season because I was in Illinois the whole time. All I did was ride. I would ride with a track that was half snow, and then two jumps of dirt. That was all I did. I wasn’t in California. This was the least prepared I’ve been going into a year, and I did the first round on a 450 and was able to get in on it which was sweet. I was stoked on that, to make the night show.

“Then I wanted to do a 250 the whole time, but I didn’t get the bike that I’m riding until the night that I left for Houston. I pretty much just had a brand new 250. I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ll race the 450 at the first one and then switch the suspension over.’ I broke the bike in in the parking lot. The first time it ever saw dirt was the practice at Houston 2, which is pretty funny.”

The thing about that is he broke the bike in around the pits and he hadn’t ridden the bike on a track until the first practice at Houston 2! The bike had stock bars, stock grips, a stock head pipe and suspension modified last year. Yet, somehow, five rounds later he’s in the main!

Nagy’s now going to race the much-more competitive 450SX class while the 250SX East series is on hold and I don’t like his chances to make the main there. However, Alex Nagy will be out there sleeping where he can and practicing where he can. Nagy’s enjoying his life and now he’s got that main event on his record. We need more Alex Nagy’s in the pits.

Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: Align With Us

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Matthes Report: Ken Roczen

A look at Ken Roczen’s triumphs.

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It’s not too hard to imagine that, although Honda HRC’s Ken Roczen just grabbed his second win in a row in the 2021 Monster Energy Supercross series, he should actually have four wins. He passed Houston 1 winner Justin Barcia a couple of times in the first main of the year and, of course, we all know that lapper Dean Wilson cost him another win.

It’s not a stretch to imagine Roczen with four wins out of five races to start the season and his current points lead being even bigger, right? He has been amazing and on it right from the first round and it’s cool to see; having Roczen healthy, happy and fast in SX is a good thing for the sport.

One of the things I was wrong about, and boy there’s a lot, was Kenny’s adaption to the all-new 2021 Honda CRF450R. The bike barely shares anything with the 2020 model and I’ve seen plenty of riders and teams at the highest levels struggle to figure out new models. The most recent Kawasaki, for example, wasn’t easy for Eli Tomac and the Team Green guys to get a handle on right away. The 2009 Honda. The backwards-motor Yamaha – there could be a book written about trying to get that bike set-up and working right.

The point is that with data acquisition teams are able to get improvements done to the bike but it usually takes a year. Then of course parts and 2021 Honda 450 bikes themselves were late getting to the USA only adding to my thought that this might be a year where the team and Roczen are constantly learning. The fact that Tim Gajser was on it all last year in the MXGP’s probably helped a bit but SX is quite a bit different from MX as we all know.

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We had Roczen on the PulpMX Show on Monday and I asked him about the bike.

“There’s always little things that could be better, but I think ultimately it comes down to the stock bike has to be good from the get-go to be able to start off and not have huge problems,” Roczen said. “Our previous bike was not quite like that – it was a very difficult bike to set up, especially for all different kinds of conditions. We are in a super good spot.

“My bike is very raceable, especially in the conditions that we have had. It’s been rough. It’s been rutty and tacky. I think it will just be that much better even when it gets a little bit more hard-packed. I think we have had the most difficult conditions. I think everybody would agree with that. We are just solid.”

Honda’s had former SX/MX winner Trey Canard aboard to help with the testing the last couple of years and there’s no doubt that he has been a huge help to the team as far as getting a base set-up down so that the team does not waste a lot of time with Roczen testing. He’s able to just focus on himself.

“I’ve said this a few times; this bike is not a revolutionary bike. Honda has done this in the past with big steps like the dual mufflers or the aluminium frame and, although this bike is different, it’s not so different from the previous model. We were never so far off with this bike; it was pretty good the first day we rode SX. We could race it like this. It gave us a good head start on things

The biggest thing for me is there is less rigidity in this frame. At the end of the mains when the ruts are choppy and bumpy, you have to be perfect. This bike makes a difference and the rider can sustain a hard effort. These guys are going fast the whole time. The power is also more usable in more ways.”

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The new “thing” for the factory teams is having someone like Canard, or Ryan Morais at KTM, who is still a great rider, knows how a bike works and can eliminate some directions that the team wants to try. I’ve been there as a mechanic and spent some long days at the test track trying clamps, bearing races, cams, pistons etc. and trying to get through what works and what doesn’t. The riders themselves don’t really enjoy those days. The quicker you can get the testing over, the better. The riders can then focus on putting in laps and getting themselves ready for the season.

“I think the last three years, I’ve learned a lot. At first we would come up with something and he [Roczen] didn’t like it or he didn’t win. The wins for me as a test rider were hit and miss. I’ve gotten to know him better,” Canard says about specifically testing for Roczen.

Yeah, maybe I was off on my take of him figuring out a new bike or maybe Canard has been such a massive help that they have overcome those usual new bike blues. Either way, Roczen looks as good as ever here to start the series. I wondered if Canard himself was surprised at how good the #94 and the new Honda 450 look so far?

“I’m not surprised at how good he looks. The last year and a half, his health has been a struggle. Even the races he did win, it seemed to me he wasn’t happy with the way he rode. He came a long ways since we started SX – we started a bit late due to the nationals going longer. When he took that time off this past summer, I got a sense he would get things sorted and he did.”

That’s the understatement of 2021 so far.

Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: Align With Us

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