Motocross adapts in the age of COVID-19

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ProMotocross.com
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It is among the dichotomies of racing: Even while competitors battle for the top spot, when one has a need, others rally to help.

That has been the case between the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross and Monster Energy Supercross Series throughout their history, but it might be even more clearly defined than ever in their response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

As soon as it became clear that events needed to be canceled, Davey Coombs, MX Sports Pro Racing president, and Dave Prater, the senior director of operations, two wheel, at Feld Entertainment Inc. were on the phone discussing how best to get both seasons completed.

Supercross had completed 10 of its 17 events before the season was put on hold after the March 7 race at Daytona International Speedway.

MORE: Supercross executive explains how the 2020 schedule might unfold

“Our friends at Feld Entertainment were challenged because their series was put on hiatus when it was about three-fifths of the way through,” Coombs told NBCSports.com. “With us being supposed to run from May to the end of August, we volunteered, after talking to (our broadcast partner) NBC, to back up to the middle of June to try and give Supercross a window to fit in.”

Davey Coombs

At the time, no one knew how long the break in action would last. For that matter, it is still unclear when and how racing will continue. The immediate need for action at the time was pressing nonetheless.

Despite major differences in the style of racing, motocross and supercross share their stars.

Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen, Cooper Webb and the remainder of the field cannot be in two places at once. It is also not as simple as riding indoors one week and on an outdoor track the next. The muscle memory and physical toll required for motocross and supercross makes it incredibly difficult to switch back and forth between disciplines.

“(Supercross) had a really compelling season going and the vast amount of riders, race teams, sponsors and the fans wanted to see supercross conclude before we began the outdoor series,” Coombs said.

So everything possible was and is being done to achieve that.

When reports began to circulate that Monster Energy Supercross was exploring the option of finishing its season at a single location without fans, motocross shifted gears once more.

Instead of starting on June 13 at WW Ranch in Jacksonville, Florida, the series shifted the first race to High Point Raceway in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania, one week later. Just to open that window a little more.

As the date approaches, how racing looks during the pandemic is still in question.

Even if no other changes need to be made to the motocross calendar, the season is going to be unlike we’ve seen in recent years.

Riders already have to battle the grueling heat of summer, but they are typically done well before fall and winter storms crisscross America. The heat is part of what makes this an endurance sport. So is rain and the muddy conditions it creates.

Coombs inspects the track at Southwick.

“Given this year and all the sacrifices we’ve made and all the time we’ve spent indoors, I don’t think we will have as many complaints about the heat as we might in normal circumstances,” Coombs said. “Everyone is chomping at the bit to get back to their normal lives and get back outdoors and enjoy the sports, past times and hobbies that we have.”

After losing a few weekends at the beginning of their season, motocross might end under cooler conditions. And because they run in all weather conditions, there could be some interesting races at the end.

Adaptability is a word everyone needs in their lexicon.

“If we need to do a 10-race series, we already lost Hangtown, they’re not coming back in the fall because that race takes place in an (off-highway recreational vehicle) park in California, which means they only have access to it at certain times of the year, so we’re down to 11,” said Coombs. “So if the state of Florida or the state of Michigan doesn’t relax its social distancing rules, we will have to make some decisions about cutting down on the number of races we have.

“And we’ve already talked to the teams about that as well. It’s very possible this is not a 12-race series as normal, but fewer races. The reply I got was, ‘That’s absolutely fine.’ ”

Plans have been made and remade many times during the break. If motocross has to run some races without fans or with a limited number of fans, that is possible. It may not be desirable given the fan-friendly nature of the sport, but it is on the table.

And Coombs was quick to point out that given the rural nature of the venues associated with motocross, the series has practiced a form of social distancing all along.

Limiting contact between riders and fans also will be part of the new normal. Cashless transactions, additional handwashing stations and other health-related initiatives are already under consideration.

The good news is that as CDC guidelines evolve over the coming months, Lucas Oil Pro Motocross has time to adapt along with them.

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

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