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Observations From 2018 Monster Energy Cup

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RedBud Track 'n Trail Buchanan, MI Motocross of Nations Motocross of Nations

The 2018 off-season marches on with the latest edition of the Monster Energy Cup this past weekend in Vegas. This race has always tried to be different from the 17 rounds of Monster Energy Supercross and they’ve mostly succeeded in that goal. It’s not as anticipated as a regular round of supercross and doesn’t get all the riders to show up, but it does draw plenty of big names and is something unique. It’s different in many ways and I suppose that’s good, but my personal level of interest for this race isn’t at the level of any of the regular 17 races. 

The MEC has always been about showcasing the Amateur All-Stars and the Supermini classes as well as just one 450SX Class. Originally it was thought that some of the best MXGP riders would come race but that’s only happened with one guy (Tim Gajser last year) and he crashed out early. So the track is pretty basic because it was first made for European riders and then made so that the Supermini guys can jump 90 percent of the things out there. And in my opinion, this hurts the race. Ditch the Supermini’s, add in a 250SX Class (it’ll be like another East/West shootout and we ALL love those, plus, the original intent of seeing 250 riders jump up and battle the 450 guys in one class rarely happens), keep the Amateur All-Stars and make the track a little better/more difficult. That’s what I’d do! 

For the third time in history and second year in a row, someone won the million-dollar prize for sweeping all three main events. Eli Tomac followed up Marvin Musquin’s sweep last year with one of his own. There really was no question on whether Eli was the best rider all night long. He cruised to the first two main event wins and then worked through some fast riders in main number three to take the win. After a not so stellar debut of the 2019 Kawasaki KX450F at RedBud, this was more like what Team Green was hoping for.

Back-to-back million dollar winners.
Back-to-back million dollar winners. Rich Shepherd

Uhhhh yeah, about that third main event win. You all saw his new teammate Joey Savatgy let up and point to let Eli go by, right? I have to say, this fell somewhere around 50 percent of the people on my timeline thinking it was a BS move and Joey/Eli/Kawasaki/the sport sucks crap and 50 percent of the people thought it was fine, Savatgy was cool to do that and it was for a million bucks, so whatever.

Like I said back when Musquin helped Ryan Dungey at the East Rutherford 2017 supercross, I’m fine with teammates helping teammates out. That’s why you pay millions to go racing if you’re an OEM. If pulling over and letting teammates by starts at round one or two then I’ve got an issue with competitive balance of the sport but late in a race or near the end of a season, hey, that’s life. Deal with it.

If you’re Savatgy and you hold off Tomac for the win in the third race that gives you second overall, are you that stoked when you get back to the truck? With camp Tomac just staring holes in you at your first race for the team? If it was for the overall win or for your first ever 450SX win, then I get it, but this was the win in a ten-lapper exhibition race. Good move, Joey! 

Bob Hannah did it to help David Bailey and before that, he did it to help Broc Glover. Larry Ward and Mike Larocco did it to help Guy Cooper and so on and so on. It’s life in motorsports, you know?

Speaking of Savatgy, nice work by him. So many internet “experts” aren’t a fan of Kawasaki signing him for a 450 clot and assume he’s a placeholder for Adam Cianciarulo to get that spot in 2020 but all day long in Vegas, Savatgy was impressive. Great starts, just a small tick off the elite guys in speed and all in all, a great start to his 450SX career.

Joey has no pressure on him in the 450 class like he had in the 250 class the last few years where things headed south since “the pass” at Vegas SX in 2017. There has been lots of talk about 250 champs turned 450SX rookies Aaron Plessinger and Zach Osborne and how they’ll do next year. Maybe we need to throw Savatgy into that mix?

Savatgy finished third overall in his 450 debut.
Savatgy finished third overall in his 450 debut. Rich Shepherd

Back to Eli. He looked amazing and he should win the 450SX championship in 2019. Just as he should’ve won the 2017 and 2018 titles. He’s the fastest man in the class, that’s pretty much all I have to say about him.

The Kawasaki guys have never been happy about Musquin pulling over for Dungey in East Rutherford and I get it, nobody wants to see that when it’s done to you. But as I said, this is what’s been done in motorsports for years and it always will be done. I think Musquin’s quote to Weege, “They can’t talk about it [team tactics] anymore I guess!” was funny. I suppose that’s true. 

Ryan Villopoto came back to race this event and that was cool. I’m not sure anyone thought Villopoto would do as much racing as he’s been doing since he retired but he’s the people’s champion (as he likes to say). Racing 125 All Star Races and Red Bull Straight Rhythm on two strokes is one thing; lining up at the MEC on a 450 is another. He was eighth fastest in practice and should’ve finished ninth overall but for the second time in his career, he forgot to take the Joker Lane in his last main and was docked five spots resulting in a 13th overall. 

During the day he told me that he felt he needed more horsepower in his bike, it was stock except for a hi-compression Pro Circuit piston, and although he liked it going in, against the full factory machines, he felt like he was getting pulled. Also, remember they didn’t have the metal starting grates back when he was racing, so although he practiced on one at the Yamaha track, he wasn’t great on the grate. 

“Everything was pretty good, just really struggled off the grate,” he told me after the race. “That’s the first three gate drops I’ve ever had off the grate. I was just struggling with the bike to leave the gate. My reaction seemed okay, but the RPM’s would fall down. It’s a stock bike with a PC piston in it. So the RPM’s would fall and then it would automatically end up wheelying because I couldn’t keep the RPM’s up and maybe spun it off the deal.”

“I think I did my job on the side of everybody was pumped to see me back out there regardless of the finish.”

And…

“I achieved that with just the media and the fans and everybody just loving seeing me behind the gate again.” 

And…

“I’m the best retired racer ever.”

Never change RV, never change. 

It was cool seeing him back out there and the fans loved it. The new “RV since he’s retired” has been a lot of fun to hang out with. He even did our live PulpMX/Racer X Podcast Show on Friday night and hit it out of the park. 

Chad Reed came out to race for Autotrader/Yoshimura Suzuki at the MEC and this was also very interesting for me. Last year, due to injury and then not being able to ride enough to get in shape, his year was a disaster. Then he raced the Ironman National and looked pretty good but it was a disaster in terms of weather so that didn’t give us a good read on whether Chad was back or not. Read that and weep about Reed. Ok, I’ll stop now. 

The buzz around Chad has been good this off-season. He’s been up at JGR a lot, riding well, and I heard he’s been the about the same speed as Justin Hill, although fast lap to fast lap, Hill’s got him covered but Justin can’t be as consistent as Chad. Still, that’s pretty good so the #22 coming to MEC was another interesting subplot for us observers of the sport.

So where we at with Reed now that the event is over? Jury’s still out bro. Sorry. He wasn’t good in practice nor in the first main event, and in the second one he says he got some mud stuck in his rear brake and got stuck under the tunnel jump.  In the positive ledger, he got third in the last main, his endurance looked good, and his starts were on point. The track definitely didn’t suit him and his skills, he needs whoops and tricky rhythms to shine and this was the exact opposite of that. 

Will Reed and JGR figure out a deal for 2019?
Will Reed and JGR figure out a deal for 2019? Rich Shepherd

“The track’s way too fast. I hate going that fast. I haven't raced in a long time, although I did Ironman and whatever but it was a mud race and blah, blah, blah,” Reed told me after the race. “So I just think that I always come here coming off of a summer off, blah, blah, blah. Not to use that as an excuse, but just for me, I lack that drop the gate, go racing [intensity]. You can’t cheat. There’s no shortcut to that.”

I hope the deal with Reed and JGR gets done or the MEC might’ve been the last ever time we see Reed racing in the U.S. As he told me, “I’ve never been in a van. I’m not that desperate to go racing.” While I think Reed will ultimately ride for JGR in SX in 2019, it’s not done yet, not by a long shot. As far as whether Reed can get top fives again or even podiums, I still have questions after watching him this weekend. Dammit, I wanted a resolution, but we don’t have one yet.

Ran into retired PulpMX Show co-host/LeBig USA columnist/Dylan Ferrandis trainer/coach David Vuillemin at the MEC and what do you know? He’s added coaching Marvin Musquin to his life. Aldon Baker is still doing the training for Marv but DV going to help Marv with line selection, mental aspect of the sport, and riding technique. I should’ve known something was up when DV sent me a text last week asking me what a good rate would be to work with a top 450 guy but that he wouldn’t tell me who it was!

DV’s been plenty critical of Musquin’s whoop technique in columns on Pulpmx.com over the years but here’s the thing: they have a unique relationship where Marv’s looked up to DV since he was a kid and doesn’t take things personal. I would bet a TON of money that whoop technique/speed (something that is really the only weakness for Musquin) is the NUMBER ONE thing that DV will help him with. I can’t wait to see how this works out come Anaheim 1.

So Tomac won a million bucks and also, because he won a sweepstakes with nine other people and then grabbed the most money in a phone booth, SX fan Jesse Hebert was also awarded a million bucks for Tomac sweeping the event. Which is awesome. We had Jesse on the PulpMX Show this past Monday and he was still in a state of shock I think about this win.

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Not to be a Debbie downer here, (who, me?) and while it’s awesome that two million dollars were given out, I hear that unlike in past years, this money wasn’t insured, and Feld Motor Sports is out the two mill.  Just spit-balling here but could we maybe put a million into the supercross purse? Wouldn’t that be a better spot? Or maybe just start another privateer fund where anyone on one of the six OEM teams isn’t eligible but everyone else is? One million works out to 58K per race, take out 12 factory riders for the six OEM’s and that’s $5882 extra for each privateer or semi-factory supported rider in the main.

I’m just saying, if all the money is coming directly from Feld and isn’t part of an insurance package, I just think the riders in the 17 rounds should benefit from it rather than a fan. I get it, posting a one-time $1 Million prize generates a lot of attention and publicity, and MEC got some outside media interest the last two years thanks to the Musquin and Tomac wins. But you can do a lot with all that money. That’s just me.

By the way, this is my yearly reminder that in 1998 Eric Peronnard started the U.S. Open of SX in the MGM Grand Garden arena and put up 100K for the winner and it trickled down from there. The current supercross promoters purchased the race from Eric two years later and the purse, outside of the one million for sweeping all three mains, remains the same. Inflation has no doubt hit the ticket prices and everything else in life but apparently, not the purse for this race.

A few other news and notes from the Cup:

- Cooper Webb debuted on his new Red Bull KTM ride and to be honest, didn’t really shine. He wasn’t terrible either but KTM Cooper looked a lot like Yamaha Cooper. But to be fair, he hasn’t been on the bike much and it was far from a real supercross. So, like Reed, we wait to see if Webb can take a big step from 2018 to 2019.

- Malcolm Stewart lined up for his second race with Smartop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts Honda and hoped it would be as successful as his first race—which was a win at Montreal. Mookie was very fast up the dragon back as most of us could have predicted. He almost got a podium in the last main and all in all, rode pretty well. Still no deal (yet) with MCR and Stewart for the 2019 SX season though. Mookie’s going to be doing the full European tour this winter though.

Malcolm and MCR are still working to find a deal for 2019.
Malcolm and MCR are still working to find a deal for 2019. Rich Shepherd

- Josh Grant came out with support from Kawasaki and made the podium in main event two in a nice ride. JG got sixth overall on the night which is good. I’m not sure what he’s going to do for 2019, I know he asked for a Husqvarna for this weekend’s Straight Rhythm so maybe he’s got something cooking there? I know H.E.P. Suzuki was trying to get him but couldn’t get Josh interested enough in their program. PREDICTION: JG doesn’t get anything solid for 2019 but fills in with a factory team at some point when injuries strike.

- Nice work by Max Vohland on his Supermini win at the MEC. Kid killed it and has great style at that. Also, Jo Shimoda won the Amateur All-Stars race despite pressure from a number of riders that all looked to be pretty evenly matched.

Thanks for reading, good times in Vegas and thanks to those people that came out to the live PulpMX/Racer X Podcast Show the night before the race. It was awesome to have RV and Damon Bradshaw there also. Email me at [email protected] if you want to chat about this or anything else when it comes to the MEC.