We know that Pro Motocross is known for featuring some of the gnarliest riding terrain that pushes riders to the limit to complete two 30 minute + 2 lap motos in the middle of the summer heat. Thunder Valley is certainly no exception, and as the only track on the circuit that is located in an area of much higher altitude, it introduces an entirely new set of challenges for the riders on race day. This year, Round 3 of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship Series took us back to Lakewood, CO for another exciting race at Thunder Valley Motocross Park. At the higher elevation, the air is thinner, the horsepower pushed to its max capacity, and the motos more extreme, making it the perfect setting for some guaranteed thrilling racing.
Thunder Valley delighted us with some career firsts, long-awaited and sought after triumphs, career best finishes, and yet another “changing of the guard” for the points leader in the 250 class. Here’s a look at five of the most talked about and memorable happenings from Round 3 of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship!
5. Privateer Brandon Scharer Earns Career First Top-10 Overall
It’s no surprise that we typically see the privateer riders hovering somewhere around the middle of the pack when it comes to finishing order. They typically have far fewer resources than their factory sponsored colleagues and even frequently drive themselves to the races, perform their own bike maintenance, acquire their own sponsors, and rely heavily on family and friends as their prime source of support during the season. The one thing that privateers have a leg up on, however, is their ability to completely design their own program. Sure, they likely have to work that much harder to make the connections in order to create opportunities, but in the end, it’s something they have created from the ground up. Privateers have my utmost respect for the amount of hard work and dedication they put in to getting to the races and competing at the highest level of the sport without nearly the resources as some of their competitors.
For privateer Yamaha rider, Brandon Scharer, the grueling Thunder Valley MX track proved to be his most successful outing yet – not only for the season, but also of his career. Brandon travels the country chasing his racing dreams with fiancé and self-named “Fake Mechanic”, Falan Vandermeer. Together, their teamwork really does make the dream work. During Moto 1, Brandon didn’t get off to the most idea start when he was logged in 27th after the first lap, but that didn’t stop him from putting in an impressive charge for the duration of the moto. He clawed his way from nearly the back of the pack all the way up to 14th place. As the gate dropped on the second Moto, Brandon found himself in a much more desirable position off the start where he was logged in 11th. He would ride decisively and pass for his way up to 9th place by the end of the Moto. This 9th place finish was the best Moto finish of his career! Paired with his 14th place finish during Moto 1, the hard-charging privateer was able to earn his career first Top 10 Overall Finish with an overall finishing position of 10th. It is these moments that are not only incredibly triumphant for privateer riders especially, but also being to turn heads of teams who may be looking for a fill-in rider. Scharer is an incredibly hard worker, and it’s awesome to see that hard work starting to pay off and to see him finish inside the Top 10 – a place he’s worked for many years to arrive at! The small pieces are certainly starting to come together for the #73 and we look forward to seeing him progress throughout the rest of the season.
4. Eli Tomac Finally Wins in Front of the Home Team
Eli Tomac is one of the few riders in the series who hails from the state of Colorado. While living and training in the higher elevations can only be helpful to his program, Tomac hasn’t had the most successful outings at his “home” track in recent years. In fact, the last time he started off the season with a perfect 1-1-1-1 finishing record heading into Thunder Valley, his perfect record was smashed into smithereens by the time second moto rolled around. It was 2015 and his early rise to the top of everyone’s “Championship Contender” list was destroyed almost as fast as it was built when he injured both shoulders while leading Moto 2. Tomac’s championship dreams were crushed when his season came to an abrupt end in front of the home team.
Flash forward to 2018, where Eli Tomac once again held a dominating perfect Moto record heading into the Thunder Valley race. I don’t think that anyone can reasonably argue that Eli Tomac is not undeniably one of the fastest men on a dirt bike on the planet and it seems to be that virtually no one is capable of stopping him. However, I’m sure that must run through his mind that it was his home race that tarnished his perfect record last time and I can only imagine what kind of mental toughness it takes to block that out once you’re on the line. During both Motos, Eli Tomac engaged in an absolutely thrilling battle with Ken Roczen, Justin Barcia, and Blake Baggett, waiting patiently to make very calculated moves that would ultimately move him into the lead. While it certainly makes it easier to get out front early on in the race, it really only matters where you cross the finish line. Based on how Eli is riding this year, I’m convinced he must play a lot of “Mario Kart” and knows just where to find that extra “star power” late in the moto. Without fail, Tomac has plotted his precise late moto launch into the lead in nearly every moto of the season. He managed to increase the points gap between him and his competition as he logged yet another 1-1 perfect score in Thunder Valley, FINALLY getting that overall win in front of the home team.
3. Rookie Justin Cooper Earns First-Ever Moto Win and Career First Overall Podium
Monster Energy Yamalube Star Yamaha Racing rider, Justin Cooper, has been turning heads since he stepped on the Pro Motocross scene. In his pro debut at Unadilla in 2017, Cooper finished 2nd in Moto 2 during one of the gnarlier mud races we’ve seen in years. Unfortunately, he was injured early in the 2018 Monster Energy Supercross season, so it’s been some time since we’ve seen the rookie. However, with the time off from Supercross, Cooper was able to focus all of his efforts on preparing for his first complete Pro Motocross season. Although only three races in, Cooper has found himself upfront in many of the motos, for at least the first part of the race. It’s understandable that the two 30 minutes + 2 lap motos take some getting used to in order to be fully prepared on a fitness level, but Justin Cooper is adapting quickly.
In Thunder Valley, Cooper got off to an incredible start in Moto 1. He would take an early lead and then engage in a battle with the #17 of Joey Savatgy for the majority of the moto. A game of cat and mouse would see the two riders exchange leader position multiple times throughout the race. Much to Joey’s disappointment and Justin’s advantage, Savatgy ended up encountering bike trouble late in the moto. As Savatgy sullenly walked off the track and back to the pits, unable to finish the first Moto, Cooper was able to hold off the rest of the field in order to claim his career first moto win! To make his victory even more impressive, Cooper has dealt with illness all week and even finished the first moto with a fever, he later revealed in the post race press conference. Fighting through illness for the remainder of the day, Cooper finished the second moto in 8th place. Although not the most desired finishing position after winning the first moto, moto math can certainly work in your favor depending on how your competition finishes. Luckily for Cooper, his 1-8 finish was able to give him a 3rd place overall on the day. Thunder Valley is always a tough day of racing, and to come away with a career first overall podium at such a gnarly track is no small feat. It will be great to see how the rest of the season progresses for the young Yamaha rider as his fitness levels and experience increases.
2. Ken Roczen, Back on the Box
Ken Roczen is no doubt, a fan favorite for many reasons, and at Thunder Valley the roar of the crowd boomed as Kenny led six laps during Moto 1 and seven laps during Moto 2. He engaged in a fierce battle with Justin Barcia, Eli Tomac, and Blake Baggett during all “three” motos on Saturday. Ok, not three motos entirely, but the 450 class had to battle through THREE gate drops after Kyle Chisholm had an unfortunate injury during the first moto. The race was red flagged after the #11 got knocked out. In an effort to always provide the safest conditions possible for the entire field of riders, the race was stopped in order to provide Kyle with the proper medical care from the stellar Alpinestars Mobile Medical Unit staff. Luckily, Kyle did not sustain any serious or season-ending injuries.
Kenny was leading the race in the first part of Moto 1 as well as the second part of Moto 1 after the restart. Kenny was also able to hold onto the lead during many laps of Moto 2 as well. The crowd was absolutely enthralled by the battle that unfolded between Tomac, Barcia, Baggett, and Roczen. Although Ken Roczen was ultimately passed by Eli Tomac late during both Moto 1 and Moto 2, Kenny was able to finish 2nd in both motos for 2nd overall on the day. We know that Ken is young, scrappy and hungry, and won’t stop until he’s once again a champion, but the season is certainly off to a great start! This 2nd place finish is the first time we’ve seen K-ROC on the box since his dominating 2016 season, but now that he’s once again tasted success we can expect this to light a fire under the #94.
1. Another Changing of the Guard for the Red Plates in the 250 Class
The 250 class is especially competitive this year. At only three races into the season, we’ve already seen three separate riders gain control of the Red Plates and the points lead in the race for the championship. The class is so competitive that I believe we’re bound to see a plethora of unique Moto winners before the season ends. I personally believe there are at least 10 riders in the 250 class who are capable of winning at least a moto, if not an overall. Thus far, we’ve already had three separate overall winners.
In Thunder Valley, a former champion 250 rider finally made his return to the top of the box! It’s been a slightly tumultuous road the past couple seasons for former two-time Pro Motocross champion, Jeremy Martin, but 2018 is off to a great start. Coincidentally, his fiercest competitor this season has been older brother, Alex Martin. Something about banging bars with your brother makes for some extremely competitive racing. The fans absolutely loved to watch the Martin Brothers battle unfold in Colorado. It was big bro, Alex who held the lead for the almost half of Moto 2, but little bro, Jeremy, was calculating the perfect time to make his move and shut the door on Big Al. Jeremy had finished Moto 1 in 2nd place and he knew that his best bet for taking the overall would be to finish Moto 2 in 1st place. After his perfectly executed pass, J.Mart began to pick up the pace even more to ensure he’d walk away with the second moto win. When the checkers flew, J.Mart was more than 8.6 seconds ahead of A.Mart. Jeremy not only claimed the overall win in Colorado, but much to his surprise, also moved into the lead in the points chase and was awarded the Red Plates. This is the first time since 2015 that J.Mart has come into control of the coveted Red Plates and the excitement on his face showed what a long journey it’s been to get back to this point. Plus, Jeremy is a training partner of Eli’s there in Colorado. Team Cortez came out on top in both classes in Lakewood!
This upcoming weekend is our first weekend off of Pro Motocross before the series heads east to High Point Raceway in Mount Morris, PA.