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Monday, January 31, 2005
Updated: May 14, 3:22 PM ET
Morgan Qualifies First in SnoCross Prelims

By B.J. Smith
EXPN.com

The Winter X SnoCross field was narrowed to 16 riders from its original 30 Monday night, and all the major players are on call for Tuesday night's finals. Heavy favorite "Air" Blair Morgan and young-gun Steve Martin stomped victories in both heat races to advance. Tucker Hibbert went 3-2 and defending champ Mike Island posted 2-1 in their respective heat races to secure spots on the final line.
Blair Morgan doesn't just whip up on the entire SnoCross field. He looks darn good doing it.
Notes and Quotes

  • Looking back to one year ago, it's hard to forget the violent practice crash that took Steven Martin out of contention. The night ended with a compression fracture of his T-6 and T-7 vertebrae. This season, Martin returned from the injury, winning his first Pro WSA National in Winnipeg, MB, CAN in December.

  • During Monday's practice session, Martin was struck with déjà vu when he went over the bars and crashed hard for the second year in a row. The sled flipped forward and pile-drove Martin's 5'5" frame into the ground. He crawled away from his sled and sat on the side of the track for the rest of the session.

  • Speaking of injuries, here's how important the Winter X Games are to the SnoCross community: Justin Tate attempted to qualify with three broken ribs. Levi LaVallee suffered a torn ACL at a race in November and opted not to have surgery in order to continue competing through the season and DJ Eckstrom was landed on in a race a few weeks ago at Cantebury Park in Shakopee, MN. A carbide stud punctured his right ring finger and ripped off his nail. Eckstrom was the only of the three cripples to qualify into Tuesday's program.

  • T.J. Gulla suffered a broken left hand at the Jan. 22 race at Michigan International Speedway. He¹s at the X Games, but not riding.
    Last year's champ Michael Island boosts over the 105-foot super kicker. Island qualifed third into finals.
  • During heat race number six, the track's lights blew out in the corner after the finish line, leaving that area of the course under heavy shadow.

    The stories to follow in SnoCross at Winter X Nine:
  • Can Blair Morgan regain his gold medal? "It's going to be good," he said. "I haven't had a very good year so far. I've only won two races out of eight. We've had a lot of different winners this year and everyone is riding really well. But this is the one that's important. This is the biggest race we'll do all year."

    Tucker Hibbert has only raced one SnoCross final since March of 2003, and that was at Winter X Games VIII. The critics are calling a podium at best, but no gold medal. Can he prove them wrong? "I've done about eight total days of riding coming into this event," Hibbert said. "This year, I think it's pretty wide open. I see a lot of new guys who are going fast. It's pretty open as far as who can take this thing home. I feel real confident that I can bring it home. I think I got what it takes to get the gold for sure. I proved tonight in qualifying that I can come from behind and catch up. Hopefully I won't have to worry about that in the main."

    Who can forget Mike Island's, "I'm going to win this bitch," prediction from last year? "Everyone steps it up at the X Games," Island said. "The riders are all dying to get a holeshot out here. That's what it's all about, an X Games holeshot. Last year's win didn't change me a whole lot. It was just something cool that happened in my career. I just keep trucking from here."