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Matthes Report

Matthes on: 250SX East

Steve Matthes on the 250SX East class.

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Tampa was the kick off to the 250SX East series and while the 450SX guys are approaching halfway, there was a sense of optimism and excitement for the 250SX teams and riders. Going in, I think most reasonable people would think the defending champion, GEICO Honda’s Chase Sexton, and Monster Star Racing Yamaha’s Shane McElrath were slight favourites over a pack of past race winners like GEICO Honda’s Jeremy Martin, Rockstar Husqvarna’s RJ Hampshire and Monster Pro Circuit’s Jordon Smith. After that there are rookies, veterans and tweeners like PC’s Garrett Marchbanks.

We saw McElrath have a dominant day in Tampa with setting the fastest time, winning his heat by eighteen miles and then checking out to grab the win. It was Shane’s third opening round 250SX win and erases what was a so-so SX season for him last year before he sat out the second half. We have seen the success of the Star Yamaha team over the last few years with rider after rider winning titles and races aboard the bLUcRU machine so it’s not hard to picture Shane going on a run here and getting his first professional championship.

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Some other thoughts on the 250SX East opener…

– Chase Sexton finished second and looked pretty good at that. He seems to have filled out a bit as well. The one thing I hear over and over is that the riders on GEICO Honda are so much happier with their motorcycle than last year. “We have a new (motor) guy, Ryan Cox. I tell him, ‘You are a blessing to this team’ every time I see him,” Sexton told me afterwards. “It’s not that we had the wrong parts. We were doing it in the wrong sequence. Last year I was honestly beating my head against the wall every race.”

Both Sexton and Hunter Lawrence were not stoked with the lower-end power of the all-new CRF250R last year but looking at Christian Craig and Jett Lawrence in 250SX West, it seems that power isn’t an issue for the red guys this year. Sexton’s a great rider but he’s not great enough to let McElrath grab the holeshot and check out like that early and still win. Starts might be the deciding factor between these two and I’ll go with the Yamaha.

– Jeremy Martin hadn’t raced a Monster Energy Supercross round in almost two years so finishing third  making a little mini-run at Sexton in the main event even  was a win for Martin. Jeremy hasn’t found supercross as easy as motocross but maybe taking a break from it, looking at his skills/programme a different way might make him a better supercross rider. This third had to feel like a win for J-Mart right?

– Jordon Smith ran as high as second in the main event before dropping back. He got passed by the two GEICO guys, his teammate Marchbanks and Hampshire as well. I had heard that he wasn’t 100% coming into the race and that buzz proved to be correct. Or at least I hope so!

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– The surprise up front was probably Marchbanks, he rode from outside the top five to a fourth before dropping back a bit but getting it back when Hampshire crashed. Garrett passed veterans Smith and Hampshire to get into the mix and he looked way better than perhaps any time last year (outside of when he podiumed in the mud in San Diego). Big year for Garrett in the last year of his contract with the PC guys.

– The most improved rider was Joey Crown of the Club MX team. He hadn’t ever made a main event before (last year was his rookie year and he didn’t do all the races at that) so to ride into a qualifying spot from a ways out in the heat was good. Then running top seven in the main event for a long time was downright impressive! Joey was the surprise of the main event and I think he’ll keep it up if I’m honest. He’s got skills and is comfy with the bike. Good work for Crown.

– Team PulpMX’s RJ Hampshire (serious, he runs a sticker!) didn’t get the start he wanted but I was anxious to see how he would do. New bike, new team, new trainer and Hampshire took a bit too long to get going in the main event even, as I say, getting passed by Marchbanks. Sure enough he got going and moved up later on in the main, even getting close to Martin at one point. He set the fastest lap of the main event as well. That’s the good. The bad is he crashed in the whoops and lost two spots late in the race.  Some good, some bad from Hampshire on the new ride and, as of now, the jury is out on RJ’s change.

“We just kind of grinded, did what I could to be good for tonight. Struggled all day,” Hampshire told me afterwards “Really I just told myself all week: ‘I got fifteen minutes plus one.’ That’s all I need. You can tell, that was it. I was going for it. I feel like I’m not a fourth-place guy so I’m not going to settle for fourth. Like you said, I felt like I was riding good. Had a good lap time. Just one little mistake.”

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Some other quick hitters…

– We always overlook Kyle Peters but he went out there and did Kyle Peters things in getting into the top ten. Seriously, we need to talk about him more than we do.

– Josh Hill’s first 250SX in, what, eleven years went probably about as well as can be expected. Hill didn’t get a good start and fought hard to get near the top ten but was thwarted by a huge battle with Cedric Soubeyras late in the main event. I wonder what Josh’s expectations were for this series and if he met them?

– Jimmy Decotis made two podiums last year but came into the opener nursing an injury from a practice crash. He looked terrible in practice but gutted out a top ten in the main event.

– Nick Gaines looked to be better than he was last year so that’s awesome for him while I expected more out of Enzo Lopes.

– Jalek Swoll of the Rockstar Husky team and Jo Schimoda of the GEICO team had the ultimate highs and lows out there. Swoll didn’t make the main event, which had to sting while Schimoda ran up near the top five before falling and ending up tenth. Hopefully both kids understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and won’t be too down from their rides, especially Swoll.

Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: GEICO Honda

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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 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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