Saturday, August 2, 2008
By Brian Kamenetzky EXPN.com
The 2008 Men's Moto X Racing competition is wide open. Literally. None of last year's finalists return to this year's competition, so fans are going to get a brand new podium, whether they want it or not. The racing should be tight and competitive, but with all that dirt and noise, sometimes it can be hard to focus come the final. It's best to have your thoughts sorted out beforehand, so with that in mind, here are five things to watch for in Saturday's comp:
• First Run Back: Type "Jason Lawrence" and "trouble" into your Google machine and the search engine spits out enough reading material to occupy the most avid lover of the digitized word for weeks, emerging only to soak in the wealth of YouTube footage on the same subject.
Freebird! Lawrence gets sprung.
The latest scrap for the extremely fast, extremely volatile 21 year old apparently involved some booze, jail time, a trashed rental car, a $25,000 fine, and the suspension of his license by the AMA (that's the American Motocross Association, for any confused would-be doctors) through the 2008 season. X Games marks the first race for Lawrence since his latest punishment, and after nearly a month without competition he's promised to release some frustration on the fieldhopefully not literally. Lawrence was a major player in April's Moto X World Championships, and should be again in Saturday's final.
• Old Man McGrath: Last year, Ricky Carmichael was the racing legend du jour in the Moto X field, and crushed the competition on his way to a gold. This year, McGrath wears that mantle. His seven AMA Supercross championships and 72 career Supercross wins speak for themselves, except technically, McGrath has been retired for the last five years. Technically. McGrath pops up in races here and there, tests for Honda, and never strays too far from a bike. He'll say he's riding at X Games "for fun," and during Friday's seeding session McGrath was middle of the pack, but really, are you going to be the guy who counts him out? On Saturday, McGrath will have the crowd on his side, and a lot of moto's whippersnappers looking to take him down.
Grant gets acquainted with a legend, mid air.
• The Course: "It's definitely a lot different than a Supercross," says Josh Grant. "I think the jumps are a lot deeper and taller. They didn't build the same exact track we race every weekend." All the obstacles are there, with the triples, whoops, step on, and step offs, making the course far more technical and challenging than last year's version. But the coolest feature is a 75 foot triple step-up with a take off consisting of five freestyle ramps fused together to create a ginormous kicker, one as wide as the track itself. By the way, if you chose 2,310 in your "Length (in feet) of the X Games Moto X Race Course Office Pool," congratulations, you're a winner.
• If You Can't Root for Him, You're a Bad Person: Looking for your sentimental choice? You could do worse than Jeff Alessi, the 19 year old from Victorville, CA. In 2006 he shattered his feet in an accident and was told he would never ride again. Often, he'd show up to and leave the track in a wheelchair, racing in between. The recovery has been tough physically and mentally, made tougher by losing his factory ride. Now he's a privateer, paying his own way in a ludicrously expensive sport. He's earned some good karma, to say the least.
No Ricky means Yes everybody else.
• Champions and Josh's: Despite missing all six of the riders who ran in last year's final, there's no shortage of hardware in the 2008 field. Beyond McGrath, Lawrence, Travis Preston, Nathan Ramsey, Eric Sorby, Antonio Balbi, and Josh Demuth have all won major circuits in different classes around the world. Mix in the veterans with young guns, and this year, at least, the standard cliché of "anyone can win" actually rings true. Want even more fun? With five, an unscientific poll makes this the heaviest Josh field in the history of X. Demuth, Grant, Hansen, Hill, and Summey. Even better, all have a legitimate chance to medal.