Colt Nichols’ 2021 Monster Energy AMA Supercross 250 East title was not only the realisation of a dream, but also a fitting reward for all his hard work, persistence, patience and sacrifice.
Words: Edward Stratmann | Lead Image: Align Media
Having previously battled away on privateer outfits and been on the periphery of a factory ride since turning professional before earning his shot at Star Racing Yamaha in 2017, all his toils eventually paid off.
Although earning the Star deal was a massive leap and he still put in some terrific performances, injuries scuppered his chances to truly stamp his mark until that memorable championship arrived in 2021.
Upon reflecting back on that campaign, and his first win at Houston 3 served as a real catalyst to kick start his push to glory. After claiming third and second at Houston 1 and 2 respectively, Nichols’ rise to the top step unquestionably filled him with the belief and confidence he needed to go and reign triumphant.
Beginning his night in unsatisfactory fashion by getting tagged and going down in the first turn of his heat race, it was admirable how well the Oklahoman recovered to salvage third under the circumstances to progress comfortably into the main event.
Entering the all-important race knowing a win was a must to bridge the gap to title rival and teammate Christian Craig, Nichols jumped out of the gate smartly to sweep around the opening turn in second behind only Craig.
Resuming their duel from the previous week, the stage was perfectly set for a battle royale for supremacy between the pair. In the early runnings, though, there was no doubting Craig adjusted to the conditions quickest, with his elite whoop speed especially ensuring he gained the initial ascendancy.
To his credit, however, Nichols hung in there, and remained composed while he studied the track, picked up on some lines of his colleague and assessed the situation while he settled into the race.
Despite Criag jumping out to a two second advantage four minutes in, the #64 kept his adversary in his sights and maintained calm, making sure to ride his own race, knowing he typically excels in the latter stages of races.
Building steadily and growing into his rhythm with every passing lap, he then reeled off three consecutive heaters to get to the rear wheel of Craig. But there was no easy way past his colleague due to Craig holding the upper hand in the whoops that allowed him to keep gaining the separation he needed to keep Nichols at bay.
Undeterred at not being able to make the move, there was much to admire about how Nichols remained unfazed and persevered. Biding his time intelligently and negotiating the troublesome lappers expertly, it wasn’t long until he was ready to launch an attack.
Ramping up the urgency with seven laps to go in an attempt to make a pass stick on the smooth, technically gifted and polished Craig, who was riding with poise and efficiency, he still struggled to get the job done.
Even though he endured a few sketchy moments in the whoops, it was impressive how he stuck at his task, as his persistence eventually paid off when he blasted past Craig with less than three minutes on the clock. Craig immediately retaliated, though, by getting him back in the whoops, leaving Nichols needing to produce some more heroics in the closing stages to secure victory.
And this is precisely what he did by retaking the lead in the double tabletop section with one minute remaining. Crucially, Nichols carried his speed into the whoops to ensure Craig couldn’t swiftly breeze back on by.
From here, the race was in his control, as he subsequently put his head down and didn’t panic to put some distance between he and Craig to ultimately claim a pulsating victory, which also happened to be his first win in two years.
Cutting a delighted figure after the race, it was clear how relieved and ecstatic he was, explaining: “I was really just trying to be patient tonight. Our Star Racing Yamaha’s took off like rockets and we were one and two. It felt just like a normal day at the Yamaha test track with me and Christian trading laps.
“I was just trying to be patient. I knew where he was a little bit faster so I tried to pick up on a few lines. It was fun man. I haven’t won a race in a while, so that felt good. A few guys crashed out today so I wanted to put myself in a good position and I’m just really glad we did that.
“I believe in my ability and know what I can do if I can come in and get a good start and come in healthy and I was able to do that this year. It feels good. Three-two-one in Houston, I can’t really complain. Move onto Indy and try to keep it moving.”
Giving him the momentum he needed to really breathe life into his season, he then duly won the next two rounds to cement himself as the man to beat, on his way to bagging the coveted crown.
By the numbers, the fact he not only won three races but also finished on the podium at every round underlined the tremendous consistency and maturity he rode with.
“It’s been a road, man. That’s for sure,” he stated following his landmark achievement. “Definitely wasn’t the path that I thought I was going to do, but it was the path that was meant for me. Built a little bit of character on me. It felt pretty good. Didn’t really hit me until I was rolling through the rhythm there at the end. 250 East Coast supercross champion, that’s a pretty damn cool feeling. It’s something I don’t want to forget. I want to come back and try to do that again next year. That’s going to be the goal.”
Although his 2022 was ruined by injury when he suffered a devastating double arm break at Anaheim 1, Nichols will be eager to recapture his sensational 2021 form in 2023, as he makes the huge step up to the 450 class with Team Honda HRC.
Whatever happens in his exciting future, that memorable performance at Houston 3, as part of his magnificent title campaign, will be fondly remembered by Nichols as a key turning point along his road to the championship.