As the clock ticks down toward a new season of Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, the entire industry is buzzing with excitement as we await the first gate drop of the year. Each year we anxiously await what feels like the “first day of school” and this year was no exception. Heading into 2019 has been particularly interesting to keep up with because of all the changes, not only to the classes, but to Monster Energy Supercross as a whole. For the first time in recent years, there was a mass exodus from the 250 class as numerous riders moved up to the Premier class, including the 2017 champions, Aaron Plessinger and Zach Osborne. Joining Aaron and Zach are Joey Savatgy, Justin Hill, and Malcolm Stewart. Unfortunately, Zach Osborne broke his collarbone only days before the season opener, sidelining him for a few weeks. But even with Osborne sitting out the first few rounds, Anaheim 1 presented fans with an incredibly stacked premier class and some open doors in the 250 Class.
Who would emerge victorious after the first gate drop of the season? Only time would tell, but for these 80 riders lining up at the opening round of Monster Energy Supercross, they would have to worry about more than just first race jitters as the rain started to fall right around the 2nd time qualifying for the 450 A group – and it kept falling throughout the entirety of the race. Now rain isn’t unusual on/around the season opener, but very rarely does it actually rain during the Night Show and even though it was pouring, it didn’t scare away the fans. They sat covered in plastic ponchos and sharing umbrellas with neighbors to make sure they didn’t miss a moment of the action-packed first race of the 2019 Monster Energy Supercross season. This edition of the Fast Five could probably be more like the “Fast Fifteen”, but without further ado, here’s a look at the five most talked about and memorable moments of the 2019 season opener – #FansEyeView edition.
5. Privateer Carlen Gardner Wins LCQ
Monster Energy Supercross is an interesting sport in the sense that not all athletes are competing on the same level of equipment. Of course, if you’re reading this article, you probably already know that privateers and small team riders are operating without nearly the same level of resources as their factory colleagues. But don’t let that fool you for a second when it comes to the amount of effort they put in just for a chance at even making a night show. For what they lack in resources, they make up in heart. Gardner, who hails from Paso Robles, CA, finished 12th in 450 Heat 2 and with only the top 9 transferring directly in to the Main Event, that meant he’d be headed to the dreaded LCQ.
Although he did not transfer directly into the main, keep this in mind: the 2 riders just ahead of him who also narrowly missed qualifying of the Main Event included privateer Angelo Pellegrini and then legend of the sport, Chad Reed. The finishing positions ahead of Chad Reed were Cooper Webb, Justin Hill, Vince Friese, Marvin Musquin, Eli Tomac, Justin Bogle, Blake Baguette, Malcolm Stewart, and winning the heat was Justin Barcia. When nearly your entire Top 10 are guys that could potentially podium on any given day, we can say with confidence that this is easily the most stacked premier class in recent years, which means it’s going to be even more challenging for privateer and small team riders to qualify for a Main Event.
When the gate dropped on the 450 LCQ, Carlen Gardner got out front early and never looked back – even in the pouring rain. He was able to navigate the incredibly difficult track conditions and maintain the lead from gate drop to checkered flag. His LCQ win marked qualifying for his third ever Premier class Main Event. He would continue on with a valiant effort in the 450 Main Event, even after experiencing one of the sketchiest moments of the evening where he slid out at the base of the over/under bridge. Trying to hold on to as many positions as possible, Gardner regained his composure and got his bike restarted at the base of the very steep over part of the bridge. As he traversed up the bridge, Gardner nearly lost his bike at the top in the slop. Luckily no one was hurt and Gardner would go on to ultimately finish 17th in the 450 Main Event.
4. Chad Reed Lines up for His 18th Consecutive Anaheim 1
By all definitions of the term, Chad Reed is an absolute legend in this sport. He showed up on the scene more than 18 years ago and even though he’s the most experienced rider on the line by far, he still shows up with as much heart as that young Aussie kid who made his pro debut two decades ago. In fact, Reed’s inaugural pro start happened on January 16, 1999, which is prior to when some of our current 250 class riders were even born!
The 2019 season opener was a special one for Reed for a multitude of reasons, including the four historic records he broke that evening. Thanks to our SX Research Department (@sxresearchdept), we learned that on January 5, 2019, Chad Reed lined up for his 18th consecutive Supercross season opener – a record previously held by Mike LaRocco at 17. As he was introduced on the jumbotron, the weight of his emotion in his voice was felt throughout the entire stadium as he basked in the moment, knowing that this was likely his final Anaheim 1 of his career. He would race hard through the rain and maintain his typical “Speedy Reedy” flow through the whoops to finish 9th in the incredibly competitive 450 premier class. His 9th place finish would be the 205th Top 10 finish of his career – to put that in perspective, he has more Top 10 finishes than most riders have starts, with the exception of two riders. Reed also became the oldest rider to start in a Premier Class Main Event at 36 years, 9 months, and 21 days. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny the impact he’s had on the industry and that we’ll be writing about him in the history books for decades to come. It will be great to see what he can accomplish with the JGR squad this year and if it does end up being his final year of racing, hopefully he gets to cap off this incredible journey by breaking even more records, cementing his place in moto history as an absolute legend.
3. Colt Nichols Lands on the Top Step for a Career-First Win
Colt Nichols has been one of the “riders to watch” since he stepped on the Supercross scene in 2015. It was only 10 races into his rookie season where he found himself on the podium as the 2nd place finisher in Oakland in 2016. While he was bit by the injury bug hard in 2017 and 2018, he arrived to the season opener in 2019 healthy and ready to roll.
From the moment the gate dropped on the heat races, it was clear that Colt Nichols was going to be a force to be reckoned with at Anaheim 1. Through the rain, Nichols trudged through the middle of the pack up to 2nd place in his heat. Then in the Main Event, the gate dropped and it was full steam ahead. Nichols launched to an early lead and then when others started to have trouble in the wet conditions, he managed to do the seemingly impossible and create a 9.5 second gap on second place.
2. Grandpa Earl is Still Faster Than You
If you’ve paid attention to the interwebs in the off season, then you’ve probably seen “Grandpa Earl” throw down some fast laps and school all the “kiddos” at Fox Raceway. In the video, Grandpa Earl shocks and surprises some big names with is mad style and incredible speed for an “old guy”. Plot twist – Grandpa Earl is actually Dean Wilson and guess what? Factory ride or not, he’s still faster than you and he proved that on Saturday night at Angel Stadium.
It’s been a minute since we’ve seen Dean-O line up for a gate drop due to an unfortunate ACL injury that occurred just before the 2018 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship Series, causing him to miss the duration of the Pro Motocross season. Even though during that time his contract with Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing also came to a close because they were unable to support a three rider effort, that didn’t stop him from continuing to put in the work to be ready for the start of the 2019 Monster Energy Supercross season. He’s put together a “privateer” effort that still includes support from some of his previous factory sponsors and showcased immense speed on Saturday night in Anaheim.
The 22 riders on the line for the 450 Main Event were all after the same goal: a great start so that they could position themselves in front of the traffic. This is the goal every single gate drop, but in the rain it becomes even more important to get out front early. Dean Wilson was focused, prepared, and ready to show the world that he’s not about to be forgotten. Wilson rocketed to the front off the super slick start in the rain and took a commanding early lead. He would maintain that lead for almost the entirety of the Main Event, before barely getting edged out by ultimately Justin Barcia, Ken Roczen, and Eli Tomac. Even though he finished just off the podium in 4th, this was a great return to racing in the states of the number 15. He’s built an incredible support team and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the season unfolds.
1. Justin Barcia wins First 450 Class Supercross Main Event in 6 Years
Justin Barcia can be easily be described as a renaissance man of the sport. Near the end of 2017, there was industry chatter that Monster Energy Cup might be the finish line for “Bam Bam”s racing career. By that point he had put together a privateer Honda effort, but you could tell he didn’t quite have the same zest for the sport he had shown in the past. Just before the start of the 2018 season, however, an unfortunate injury for Davi Millsaps (that ultimately led to his earlier than planned retirement) is probably the best thing to happen to Justin Barcia in a long time. During that off-season time frame, Justin spent ample time working on improving his mindset and reigniting the fire in his soul. Barcia was offered a fill in ride for the injured Millsaps, that ultimately turned into a full year ride, that eventually led to a signed contract extension with the team through 2019 and beyond.
Right out the gate in 2018, Bam Bam scored a third pace finish during the season opener just a year ago. He backed that up with another third place finish the following week in Houston. It’s clear that Barcia has been steady on the rise since accepting that fill-in role with the factory Yamaha team with a renewed sense of pride and passion in his dedication to the sport. When the gate dropped at Anaheim 1 in 2019, Barcia had to put his head down and trudge through the sloppy conditions. He started the race in fourth place and was gaining ground on the riders ahead of him with every lap he completed. As the gap shortened, he was able to make decisive moves that put him at the front of the pack with about 6 laps remaining in the Main Event. Even through the pouring rain, the packed house watched with bated breath as time elapsed and the white flag waved. With only one lap remaining, Justin Barcia had carved himself a 3.05 second lead over Ken Roczen and was the first rider to the checkers! A win at Anaheim 1 is perhaps one of the most coveted of the season and for Barcia it was of particular importance because it had been nearly 6 years since his last Monster Energy Supercross victory. Bam Bam is back and I think it could be said that the entire industry supports the revival.
The opening round of Monster Energy Supercross is always a wild ride and this year certainly held up to expectations. It’s going to be an exciting year in the Supercross world and it will be interesting to see in the coming weeks who emerges as front runners in the two classes. More “Fast Five” action will be headed your way next week to showcase the most five memorable moments from Round 2.