The wait is over: Ken Roczen wins Hangtown Classic

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The wait is finally over. Recovering from major injuries in the past two seasons to both arms and a general sense of malaise this year, Ken Roczen won Moto 1 of the Hangtown Classic and finished second in Moto 2 to take the overall victory in the season opener for the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship.

It was Roczen’s first win since the January 2017 Monster Energy Supercross event at San Diego. Since then, he’s come agonizingly close with second-place finishes on a dozen occasions.

Roczen wanted to win in grand style with both Moto wins, but he lost the lead to Eli Tomac early in Moto 2. Once that happened, he kept the big picture in sight and settled into a comfortable pace – or at least as comfortable as possible on the heavy track. Tomac stretched his advantage in that Moto to more than 20 seconds at the end.

“I think we’ve got more in the tank,” Roczen told NBC after the race. “With these conditions out here, I’m very happy with a second (in Moto 2). I had to back down. I had a couple of big moments and it was just super-sloppy out there.”

The quest for a third consecutive Hangtown victory came up just a little short for Tomac.

“I was able to flow (in the mud),” Tomac said after the race. “I was feeling good. I had some good lines picked out. Ken got by me early on there and I was able to get back in the flow. … I almost came off the bike once or twice – or maybe I did even once, like full side saddle, but overall I’m happy to get that win.”

Tomac won Moto 2, but he was forced to overcome a disappointing first Moto in which he finished fourth. Winning Hangtown has been one of the keys to Tomac’s recent success in the MX championship hunt, but he will take consolation in knowing that he made up a big deficit during the afternoon.

Returning from an injury early in the Supercross season, Jason Anderson (2-5) served notice that he is back and ready to challenge for the MX title with a third-place overall finish.

Zach Osborne (5-3) and new 450SX champion Cooper Webb (3-6) finished fourth and fifth overall.

In Moto 1, the rain was pretty much all that Roczen had to battle. He took the lead on Lap 1 and never looked back as he set the tone for the afternoon. Roczen pulled away to a more than 15-second gap at the end as the battle for second heated up.

At one point in this Moto, Anderson was under attack from Tomac. As soon as Tomac faded from his back bumper, he was reinvigorated and chased down Webb.

Webb did not want to give up the position and the two swapped the spot and bumped a couple of times in the final laps, with Anderson taking the advantage in the final lap.

Webb was forced to settle for third as rain started to change the track conditions.

“It got difficult when the rain came down,” Webb said on NBC Sports Gold after Moto 1. “It got super slippery. I kind of struggled there at the end, made a lot of mistakes and let Jason catch me. I was able to get him back, made another mistake and allowed him to get by me.”

Webb’s difficulty was heightened in the second Moto with his sixth-place finish.

For a brief moment, it appeared Webb would pick up where he left off in Supercross. He earned the holeshot in Moto 1, but immediately fell back as Roczen sliced past to take a more than one-second lead on Lap 1.

Tomac’s trouble in the first race started early. He got a terrible start and was seventh on Lap 1, advanced two spots on Lap 2 and climbed to 4th on Lap 3. But he was 13.3 seconds behind the leader at the time and noticeably out of rhythm. When Tomac unsuccessfully tried to pass Anderson on Lap 8 the die was cast. He finished just off the podium in fourth.

Osborne held on for fifth.

450 Moto 1 Results
450 Moto 2 Results
450 Overall Results
Points Standings

With heavy rain muddying the track, Adam Cianciarulo won the second Moto and took the overall victory for Round 1 of the 250MX season. It was just the boost he needed after crashing in the final round of the Supercross season and losing the 250SX West championship in a heartbreaking finish.

“For kids out there that see us – and we go through such peaks and valleys – the most important shot is the next one,” Cianciarulo said on NBC after winning the overall. “You got to get back up and fight.”

The winner of Moto 1, Justin Cooper, had trouble on the start of the second Moto and fell back as far as fifth. He gained a position back to finish fourth in the Moto and was second overall.

Colt Nichols earned the hole shot in Moto 2, but lost the lead quickly to Cianciarulo. He finished third in the Moto, which combined with a fifth in Moto 1 for third overall.

Dylan Ferrandis (3-5) finished fourth with Chase Sexton (4-6) rounding out the top five.

Several leaders from Moto 1 had trouble in Moto 2. Michael Mosiman (who finished seventh in Moto 1) and Sexton (fourth) both went down on Lap 2. RJ Hampshire (sixth) went down on Lap 3. Hampshire finished sixth overall with Mosiman seventh.

Alex Martin had the feel-good ride of Moto 2. After finishing outside the points in Moto 1 (23rd), he grabbed the second-place finish in the second and would not let go. He was 16.4 seconds behind Cianciarulo.

In Moto 1, Cooper jumped out to an early lead and rode to his second career Moto win – making it look easy all the way. A battle for the lead developed momentarily at the 22-minute mark, but as soon as Cianciarulo caught the leader, Cooper hit the afterburner and rode into the sunset with a 1.89-second advantage at the checkers.

Cianciarulo could not ride easy, however. On the final lap, he was being chased down by the riders heatedly deciding who would finish third.

Ferrandis – the 250SX West champion – got off to a slow start and was outside the top five for the first six laps in the first race. He moved up to fourth with three minutes remaining on the clock and was grabbed third as the pair came within sight of the flag stand, passing 250SX East champion Sexton in the very last corner.

Nichols rounded out the top five in Moto 1.

Derek Drake made his Pro Motocross debut. He was deep in the field on Lap 1. But he steadily worked his way up from 19th, slicing through the field and cracking the top 10 with the clock running down and three laps remaining. Drake earned the position by passing fellow rookie Ty Masterpool.

Hunter Lawrence might well have had the gutsiest performance of the Moto. He went down on Lap 7 while battling for sixth and got tagged by another rider – whose foot peg ripped a hole in the seat of his pants. He slipped past Masterpool on the final lap to finish 11th. Lawrence finished 12th in Moto 2 and 11th overall

Masterpool wound up 12th in Moto 1 and 14th in Moto 2 for a 14th overall.

Mitchell Falk went down on Lap 2 and walked off the course holding an apparently injured shoulder.

250 Moto 1 Results
250 Moto 2 Results
250 Overall Results
Points Standings

Points Leaders

450MX
Ken Roczen (47 points) (1 win)
Eli Tomac (43)
Jason Anderson (38)
Zach Osborne (36)
Cooper Webb (35)

250MX
Adam Cianciarulo (47 points) (1 win)
Justin Cooper (43)
Colt Nichols (36)
Dylan Ferrandis (36)
Chase Sexton (33)

Overall Top 5s

450MX
Ken Roczen: 1
Eli Tomac: 1
Jason Anderson: 1
Zack Osborne: 1
Cooper Webb: 1

250MX
Adam Cianciarulo: 1
Justin Cooper: 1
Colt Nichols: 1
Dylan Ferrandis: 1
Chase Sexton: 1

Moto Wins

450MX
Ken Roczen (Hangtown I)
Eli Tomac (Hangtown II)

250MX
Justin Cooper (Hangtown I)
Adam Cianciarulo (Hangtown II)

Next race: Fox Raceway at Pala, Pala California, May 25

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

NHRA: Antron Brown takes major step toward team ownership

NHRA
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There will come a day that when three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown wants to talk to his boss, he’ll need to look no further than in the mirror.

The New Jersey native announced Tuesday that he has begun to lay the groundwork to own his Top Fuel team, eventually branching out from Don Schumacher Racing.

“It’s definitely exciting, but at the same time, it’s also nerve-wracking because the buck stops here right now,” Brown told NBC Sports. “Now the coolest part is you get to help and drive and motivate and push the team forward, to make decisions and leave a legacy behind for my family.”

Brown will continue racing for DSR this season while beginning the transition to eventual sole ownership of the new AB Motorsports in the future. Even when he officially leaves the DSR camp as a hired driver, Brown and his new team will retain a technical partnership with the Schumacher organization.

Moving toward team ownership is just a natural evolution for Brown, who previously ran his own Pro Stock Motorcycle team from 1998 until joining DSR in 2002. It’s also a move that potentially may lead other current drivers to start thinking about their own futures.

It’s no secret that many of the biggest names in drag racing – both drivers and owners – are getting up in years. John Force will soon turn 72, while Schumacher is 75. They’re among several others in the sport who are making contingency plans for their teams to continue to operate once they’re gone – and Brown wants to do his part to help the sport grow and flourish.

“When you’re able to have ownership, you’re looking at the talent coming up,” Brown said. “You’re able to reach down and see and give other people opportunities that you had. When I came to race for Don Schumacher at DSR, he’s given all these people at his place this opportunity to drive.

“But what happens when the Don Schumachers, the John Forces, the Connie Kalittas go? You lose all the owners of our series, so who’s next in line to take over that lineage or carry that torch? It’s a necessary means for the future for the upcoming people.

Antron Brown’s plans to become a team owner were embraced by his current team owner, Don Schumacher. (Getty Images)

“I’ve been in this sport for over 20 years. This is the next evolution of my chapter, the next page of my book. What am I going to do when I decide to hang the helmet up one day? I want to be there to bring that new crop of drivers and talent up and help mold them to be the best version of themselves to carry the sport forward and to share with them what was shared with me over all my years in the sport, from Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Big Daddy Don Garlits, Mark Oswald and Don “Snake” Prudhomme, all the people I looked up to.”

While Brown will start as a single-car team once he transitions to ownership, he hopes to eventually build AB Motorsports into at least a two-car operation, with his Top Fuel dragster and a Funny Car.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The path to eventual ownership began nearly a year ago when Brown and Schumacher discussed the future.

“Me and Don had a heart-to-heart talk,” Brown said. “When I told him what I wanted to do, Don said, ‘Antron, I know this is what you want to do. I’ll support you in this.’

“That’s a cool experience when you have a gentleman that has done everything in this sport, from over 350 national event wins, 17 world championships – and I’ve done three with him – and is in every motorsports hall of fame there is.

“What is he going to do next? He’s making the sport better by pushing people like myself to do what I’m doing now. No matter how long it takes, I know I have him on my backside, pushing me to get to that point.”

Like father, like son: Antron Brown and son Anson, who is following in his father’s drag racing footsteps. Photo: Antron Brown’s official Facebook page.

His family’s future also figured into Brown’s decision. His oldest son, Anson, soon turns 16 years old and is heavily involved in NHRA’s Jr. Dragster program, as are Brown’s other children. It’s likely his son some day will follow in his father’s footsteps.

But don’t think that the elder Brown, who turns 44 in March, is ready to hang up his firesuit just yet.

“I’ll stop driving when I feel I’m not capable to drive no more and I’m not having fun no more,” he said. “That’s nowhere in the near future. I know I’m going to drive for at least another 15 years.”

Heading into this season, Brown will retain current sponsorship from Mac Tools and Toyota, as well as associate sponsorship from Hangsterfer’s on his 11,000-horsepower dragster. Global Electronic Technology also has signed on as a new associate sponsor in a multiyear deal.

“It’s no secret this has been a goal of Antron’s for a while now, and I’m happy to be able to provide the tools and resources needed for him to be able to successfully branch out on his own,” Schumacher said in a team media release. “It’s important for me to see my team members grow.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Brown burst upon the NHRA scene atop a Pro Stock Motorcycle in 1998, earning 16 wins over the next 10 seasons. He joined DSR in 2002 and made the switch to Top Fuel in 2008.

Since then, Brown – who now resides in suburban Indianapolis – has gone on to become one of the winningest drivers in Top Fuel history with 50 national event victories, as well as three championships between 2012 and 2015.

That performance recently earned him AutoWeek magazine’s Top Fuel Driver of the Decade.

Brown also announced Tuesday he is reuniting with former crew chief Brian Corradi, who returns to the team after spending the last two seasons as co-crew chief for 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force. Corradi will share crew chief duties for Brown with NHRA veteran Mark Oswald.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When he won his first title in 2012, Brown became the first African-American world champion in Top Fuel history. He hopes his move to ownership will continue to grow NHRA’s already significant focus on opportunities for minorities and females in the sport.

“I think it’s important across all spectrums, period,” Brown said. “I think a lot of fans see me, and they can relate to me because I am them. I came from a good, hard-working family in Chesterfield, New Jersey, which is right next door to Trenton.

“Everybody in my family from my great uncles to my grandpop made their own way, had their own businesses, from swimming pool to paving to septic tank businesses.

“One thing my grandpop said to me is the world is wide open. He said, ‘Son, you can have anything you want in this world, as long as you put the effort and put the work towards it.’ If people can resonate with my story from where I came from and where I’m heading, I hope it gives them this energy, this ray of hope that ‘if Antron Brown can do this, so can I.’

“That’s the only way for motorsports to grow. It’s for the young ones to get interested in it and I want them to know the opportunity is there. All they have to do is take it.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Brown will be among more than 30 Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers who will take part in this weekend’s annual preseason “spring training” test at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, in preparation for the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals Feb. 6-9 in Pomona, California.

Follow @JerryBonkowski