AMA Motocross At Glen Helen, 2009

I covered the AMA South Point Hotel & Casino Motocross National for the Riverside Press-Enterprise on Saturday, May 23, 2009 and came away thinking about how insanely devoted some motocross fans are to this niche sport.

I couldn’t walk 25 feet without seeing a young man or even male child with some sort of injury. Broken arms and broken legs were the norm though I even saw a couple of dudes sporting halos, the layman’s term for that medical implement used to support someone’s head after a severe neck injury.

Now, injuries are common in sports, even expected. But as my good friend, former colleague and contemporary J.P. Hoornstra illustrated, you will not see injured amateurs as spectators in any other sport. The whole idea of supporting an industry that has caused the supporter so much pain seems awkward and a little weird. I mean, what’s next? Dude in a coma being wheeled around by nurses? Seriously.

Anyway, there they were at Glen Helen Raceway in Devore (Ca.), sporting their red badges of courage with a smile and a Monster sports-energy drink in their good hand.

Speaking of Monster, I tried my first one EVER at the event. The drink was stocked elbow-deep in the ice chest at the media tent so I thought I’d throw caution to the wind and give it a go. And you know, it tastes like cheap fruity soda. The kind you get from K-Mart or Cardenas, the Mexican grocer.

This stuff has serious kick, though. I didn’t take but a half-dozen sips before I put it down. About two minutes later my chest got warm. About a minute after that my head fuzzied some. And the I felt like a wanted to run. Thinking that might be considered a tad odd, I just walked briskly to the AMA trailer to get race results.

Injuries and intoxicants aside, there were the usual winners and losers on the day. Ryan Villopoto swept the two 450cc class motos while Christophe Pourcel and Ryan Dungey each won one 250cc class moto. For as fascinating as the results are — and they are, um, fascinating — what’s more interesting to me are the personalities of the riders — especially because some of them are foreign. Pourcel, a Frenchman, had trouble understanding several reporters’ questions and resorted to sayingthe same thing over and over again.

To paraphrase: “I won zay chaum-pionship zo I think I know how to ride.” Which is true — Pourcel is the reigning FIMWorld Champion — but is obviously struggling with English comprehension and enunciation.

Another 250cc rider, Tyla Rattray (yes, that is a guy), hails from South Africa and sounds like countryman Ernie Els. He says things with a very laid-back tilt which makes him a real easy listen.

To paraphrase: “The intensity is uh-lot tuh-fer in Ah-merica. I’m not one huh-ndred puh-cent right now but I’m luck-ing to gettin’ beh-tah.”

I was also able to spend a few moments with 450cc class rider and Riverside native Josh Grant, who finished 2nd and 4th, respectively.

“I thought (the racing) was good. I had the break issue in the very first moto and put a damper on the lead that I had but overall, I felt good. I felt like my start were good and the bike was awesome. We made good changes all day long and that helped out. I’m stoked.”

What did you do to prepare for this weekend?

“We only had a couple of weeks since Vegas and we didn’t have that much time to get ready. For me, I didn’t really do that much outdoor testing during the Supercross season just because we were trying to make our bike better for the races that were coming up. We came in (to Glen Helen) kinda of wondering a little bit until practice and luckily we got to do the press day so once we did that and got a glimpse of what the bike would be like then we got a good idea.”

Grant, a graduate of Riverside King High School, is now based on the East Coast as part of the JGR Yamaha team owned by football coaching legend Joe Gibbs.

“I’ve been back in North Carolina since October. It’s nice. It’s way different that California. The pace is different. It’s a lot more mellow and I get time to focus on what I need to do.”

What are your expectations for the rest of this season?

“It keeps going the way it is it’ll goingto be good. Just gotta keep getting good starts and good finishes and not be inconsistentor getting DNFs. For me, that’s my goal.”

I then asked him about the level of competition in the 450cc outdoor class. This is Grant’s first season as an outdoor 450cc rider.

“I expected guys to be fast, for sure. Ryan (Villopoto) a good outdoor rider and he definitely rides pretty good here. I’ve got to go for it, really. He hangs it out andI’m a little more of a conservative guy who worries about style. I think if I start hanging it out a little more, I’ll be up there with him.”

Finally, I asked Villopoto, who won both motos without winning a single hole-shot, what he thought of his chances of going 24-for-24 in motos this year. It was a question that brought smirks and a few giggles from the riders and media gathered in the press tent. After all, only Ricky Carmichael and James Stewart have accomplished the feat.

“It’s not my main goal… to do the 24-and-oh. I’m just going to take it one race at a time and points is the main goal. I’m not out there chasing the (24-for-24) but maybe one day I’ll chase that down. Right now it’s just race to race and I’ll take what I can.”

Seems even motocross guys receive training in handling quote-thirsty media.

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