Glen Helen Raceway has long since been touted as one of the most grueling and intense tracks in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship Series. Not only is the track massive in terms of elevation changes, but riders have also expressed concerns in recent years over the size of the jumps that are built for the National. Glen Helen is already an intense matchup for riders on testing days, but add in the massive booters that are built for race day and the track goes from intense to potentially very dangerous. This year, however, enough riders came forward to share their concerns with the massive jumps that MX Sports head honcho, Davey Coombs, met with the track builders at Glen Helen in order to create a track that was not only exciting and challenging, but safe as well. Based on the responses in the post race press conference, it seems like riders were much more at ease with how the track turned out with regards to jump sizes.
Glen Helen Raceway played host to Round 2 of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on May 26, 2018. More often than not, riders are treated to an abrupt introduction to the heat of summer as Glen Helen typically hosts temperatures in the high 80’s and even 90’s – making the already demanding track even more demanding for two 30 minute + 2 lap motos. This year, however, much to the surprise of fans and riders alike, the weather was absolutely phenomenal with overcast skies and a light breeze that carried on throughout the day. I’m certain the relief from the extreme heat played a significant role in how racing unfolded and allowed riders to push even further beyond their limits, contributing to an incredible day of extremely competitive racing. Here’s a look at five of the most memorable moments from Round 2 of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship.
5. Alex Ray Makes Factory Yamaha Debut
Former privateer, Alex Ray, is a rider that has accomplished what many would deem improbable, at best, as he made his factory debut under the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing tent at Glen Helen. For all riders, the dream is to land a gig with a factory team, but as we all know, the positions available are incredibly limited and it really takes the stars aligning (and plenty of hard work and dedication) before the possibility turns from dream to reality. The path to a factory ride, however, rarely begins on “Privateer Island” – a place A.Ray has spent a large chunk of his professional racing career. Although his journey has been anything but ordinary, one thing is for certain, Alex Ray has the heart of a warrior and more tenacity than many riders combined. Even through the barrage of racing incidents that could easily get his picture listed under the definition of “cattywampus”, nothing could stop A.Ray from putting in absolute maximum effort in every single race he’s lined up for.
Maximum effort and a ridiculous tolerance for pain, both mental and physical, has given Alex an edge when it comes to opening eyes of teams looking for a potential rider. It was right around Toronto Supercross in 2017 where Ray got his first opportunity to venture off the island, where he landed a fill-in ride for Cycle Trader Rock River Yamaha. He would continue to show Team Manager, Christina Denney, that he was the right pick for the team as he continued to put in the work and rode for the team for much of the 2018 Monster Energy Supercross season, even scoring his career best Supercross finish at the Las Vegas Finals. All of his hard work also caught the eyes of the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing team who gave him the opportunity to pilot a factory machine as a fill-in for the injured Cooper Webb. Privateers may be severely limited in resources, compared to factory riders, but they certainly don’t lack heart. A.Ray has used that heart and dedication to propel him forward and give him an opportunity to live out a dream that every professional Supercross/Motocross racer holds dear, the change to race for a factory team complete with all the bells and whistles. Glen Helen marked his factory debut where he finished 19-12 for 18th overall, his career best Pro Motocross finish.
4. Glen Helen Strikes Again for Christian Craig
In the wake of Cole Seeley’s devastating injury at the 2018 Tampa Supercross, Christian Craig was brought up to Team Honda HRC for the entire Pro Motocross season as Cole’s fill in. Christian has always performed well on the 450 and it made perfect sense to pilot the other 450 race steed under the Team Honda HRC factory tent. The season got off to a great start at Hangtown with a holeshot in the first moto of the year and then Craig would ultimately finish 8-8 on the day for 8th overall.
Lining up for Glen Helen, the day started off on another good note with Craig logging the 6th fastest qualifying time. The start of the first moto was also ideal as Christian Craig launched himself into an early lead and what should’ve been a holeshot. Unfortunately, the good vibes came crashing down hard on the #32 Honda rider. With less than a lap under his belt, Christian went down hard. As he tried to walk back to his bike, he heard the dreaded “pop” in his knee and knew immediately what that meant – likely a torn ACL. Professional athletes are definitely more in tune with their bodies than the average Joe, and unfortunately, with injuries being such commonplace in professional racing, they are usually pretty spot on with their injury diagnoses as well. Craig was spot on with his initial inventory, as an MRI confirmed Sunday that his ACL is torn and will require surgery, causing his season to come to a screeching halt. For a guy who works so hard, it’s heartbreaking to see his season be ripped out from under him, especially so early on in the series! And if this pop of bad luck wasn’t enough, this is the third year in a row that Glen Helen has delivered an unfortunate injury blow to the #32. Even though the circumstances are disappointing, Craig always maintains a positive attitude and we know we’ll see him back even stronger. In the meantime, now he is able to fully focus on the near arrival of his second child, and first daughter with wife, Paige Craig. Wishing Christian all the best on his recovery!
3. Blake Baggett Needs to Get a Grip – Or Does He?
As the gate dropped on the second 450 Moto, the near full gate rocketed up toward the steep Talladega Turn at Glen Helen Raceway, followed by the hairpin turn toward some of the steepest and most menacing hills in all of Pro Motocross. When you’re holding ‘er wide open to attempt to make it to the top of a very steep incline, the last thing you want to happen is to find yourself on the ground, for many reasons – 1. It’s terribly difficult to regain momentum or even start your bike on an incline that steep, causing you to lose plenty of time and positions, and 2. For everyone else behind you who is unable to stop or slow their momentum, you’re now sitting in an extremely dangerous position. Unfortunately for Blake Baggett, near disaster struck as he suddenly found himself on the ground, and then immediately got himself and his bike run over by a parade of bikes. Shockingly and thankfully he wasn’t injured in the wreckage. At that point, there was nothing Baggett could do except wait for the entire field to pass him by in order to give him a free track to try and restart his bike and recompose himself so that he could charge hard for the rest of the 30 minute + 2 lap moto.
To make matters worse, Baggett’s left grip got completely ripped off in the carnage. The team prepared for the inevitable grip change in the mechanics area to replace the grip as quick as humanly possible, because there is no way any person can ride a 30 minute + 2 lap moto on one of the most grueling tracks in the series missing a grip. But then again, El Chupacabra isn’t human – nope he’s a mythical creature capable of feats beyond our wildest imaginations. In typical El Chupacabra fashion, Baggett shocked us all and decided to just ride it out, full send mode. I can’t even imagine how challenging it must be to navigate clutch use on that track without having the normal ergonomics you’re used to, not to mention how slippery that side of the bars must have been. Gripless and in almost dead last place, Baggett put his head down and went on the charge of a lifetime. Section by section, Baggett was picking of riders right and left and ultimately finished in 9th place in the Second Moto. His 5-9 finish was good enough for 7th overall. El Chupacabra is hungry for more though, and we can expect to see Baggett in way higher finishing positions as the season progresses.
2. Ken Roczen Scores First Pro Motocross Podium since 2016
The story on the forefront of everyone’s mind for most of 2018 has been the return to racing for former Pro Motocross champion, Ken Roczen. It’s easy to see why Kenny is a fan favorite, and it’s not just his skill on a bike, but his personality off the bike as well. Of all the athletes I’ve had the privilege of telling a small part of their story, there is no one quite as unique as Ken Roczen. Without question, Kenny is one of the most mentally tough athletes I’ve ever seen. You can see the focus in his eyes – his mental game is incredibly sound. Anyone can overcome the physicals obstacles with enough work, but few can maintain a level of mental toughness that Roczen continues to exhibit.
Round 2 of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship was off to an incredible start for Roczen. After his teammate had an unfortunate crash very early on in the first lap of the first Moto, Ken was able to move into the lead where he would remain for nearly half of the Moto. Shockingly, there are still plenty of skeptics and naysayers out there who are convinced that any glimpses of Roczen’s former self are merely that, glimpses into what once was, and not a reflection of what he is sure to be again – a championship contender. Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac were engaged in a battle royale for the first half of the moto on one of the gnarliest tracks on the circuit. The crowd erupted into thundering cheers and applause every time the #94 and #3 passed by them on the track. As the two battled for position, the cheers grew even louder. Ken would hold off Tomac for the entire first half of the moto – a feat that would be considered impressive for any rider on the track, but especially for Roczen. Kenny would ultimately finish the Moto in 3rd after a late charge by the #25 of Marvin Musquin. The energy was absolutely electric as Roczen crossed the finish line, where for the first time since 2016, he found himself on the podium. Given the amount of heart and dedication Kenny puts into his racing, you’d expect him to be overjoyed by his performance. But instead of immediately focusing on the celebration of such an accomplishment, the very first thing he said when he pulled off the track was, “How’s Christian? Is he ok?” It’s no wonder that Ken Roczen sits atop so many lists as a “fan favorite” – not only is he an incredible competitor, but an incredible sportsman.
1. Career-First Pro Motocross Red Plates for the Outstandable Aaron Plessinger
In motocross, a good start is a pretty key ingredient to a good moto – or at least certainly makes it easier to do well with a clear track in front of you and not having to claw your way from mid-pack. Aaron Plessinger would probably be the first to tell you, though, that “good starts” aren’t quite as ironed out as his riding skills. However, when he does find that secret sauce for a good start, look out!! No doubt that Aaron is incredibly skilled and fast in almost any riding condition, but add in a good start and he’s down right dangerous to his competition.
Aaron led Moto 1 from gate drop to checkered flag, completely dominating the field. During the second Moto, Plessinger started in 5th and was ready to defend his first Moto win and charge toward that second Moto win to earn the max 50 points on the day. Alex Martin lead the first four laps of Moto 2, but Plessinger was able to make the pass on lap 5 to move into the lead. He would remain in the lead for the remainder of the moto, taking the checkers. A minor “bike temporarily caught in fence” incident by current points leader, Zach Osborne, paired with Plessinger’s 50 point earnings for his perfect 1-1 finish on the day put him in a tie for points with Osborne. For the first time in his Pro Motocross career, Aaron Plessinger was presented with the Red Plates.
This weekend we head to Thunder Valley in Lakewood, CO and the “home” race for Eli Tomac. Will his dominating streak of a perfect season continue at Round 3 or will we end up with some surprises? Stay tuned!