Southwick: Where to begin with this one? It was a weekend of firsts, that much is for sure, and when combined with what’s always a wacky round of the series plus some truly crummy weather we end up with an epic event. Let’s look back at what really happened.
First things first, and that’s all of the first timers that went into the history books at Southwick. Let’s start with: Matt Goerke. Not only was his 2nd moto win his first ever, but so was his overall – in either class. Goerke’s been substituting for an injured Josh Hill over the past few weekends and has shown great promise (fastest qualifying time at Unadilla, for one) but had thus far failed to deliver. Everyone knew Matt would be good at the ‘Wick though, since he’s used to getting very little traction while both wheels float around for something to dig into (read: he’s a sand man). When he busted out the 2nd best qualifying time of the morning, his confidence was high and his 6th place moto 1 result doesn’t reflect just how effectively he was slicing through the pack to get to that point thanks to his far-outside gate pick. Of course luck was on his side in the 2nd moto when Reed threw away the moto and overall with a gnarly crash near the finish line with about 10 minutes to go, but that in no way diminishes how good Goerke looked out there. In what may be looked back as Yamaha’s only idea that beared fruit since Stewart won the Supercross title, picking Matt Goerke as a fill-in has certainly paid off for Big Blue.
Another first was Justin Barcia’s first moto win and overall win. Southwick isn’t exactly a home track for the New Yorker (who’s been down at MTF in Georgia since… forever), but he did race here quite a few times as an amateur and he knew what he was in for. Combined with the week of practicing he put in with local hero John Dowd, and the recipe was set for success for the youngster, as he capitalized on a big mistake by Ryan Dungey in the first moto to take a convincing win. The 2nd moto didn’t start out nearly as good for him though, as his gate was slow to drop and he was stuck for what seemed like forever (along with Broc Tickle) before he got going again in last place. That bad luck turned around almost immediately as he went by Dungey, Wharton and Pourcel all laying in the first turn. He ended up behind Dungey at some point as the #10 worked his way from nearly last to 14th by the end of lap one, but the rookie hounded him until finally getting around with a few laps to go to cross the line in 3rd, and that was good enough for the overall win.
Haven’t had enough firsts yet? OK, add Tyla Rattray’s 2nd moto runaway win to the list. The current FIM MX2 World Champion finally nabbed a holeshot, and was finally able to land on the top step of a U.S. National podium. It was an impressive ride for sure, and even with Brett Metcalfe breathing fire down his neck for the first half of the race, the Styla put his head down and kept the hammer down to open up a solid gap on the Aussie, winning by a tasty 13 seconds by the end. Together with his 6th in moto 1, Tyla improved on his Glen Helen result by taking 2nd overall on a wacky day of 250 class racing. What’s even more interesting is that 3 of the top 4 tied in points at 40, between Rattray, Metcalfe and Dungey.
The final first we can come up with is somewhat of a bummer for some, especially fans of the French Superman Christophe Pourcel. In what, as far as we can remember, is the first engine failure this season for the Monster Pro Circuit team, points leader Pourcel’s bike just plain quit while heading up one of the ‘Wick’s sandy hills while he was chasing teammate Austin Stroupe. It was sad and a little bit sickening to see a 17 point lead simply disappear like that, and it was clearly on Pourcel’s mind as he walked somewhat calmly from the track, his head hung in disgust. Chris’ nightmare of a weekend continued as he went down in the first turn for moto 2 and stalled the bike, unable to get it started for quite a while as the pack sped off without him. He did get back up to 11th to score 10 points, but that was 30 fewer than his rival Dungey was able to put together, which means he’s now 13 points down with only two motos left to race in the series. If team tactics were ever discussed in the PC conference rooms during the week, we’ll bet it happens this week as the team heads into Steel City. It should be interesting!
But look, we’ve gotten this far and haven’t even mentioned what the track was like. Having camped at the track Friday night we know full well how much rain came from the heavens and trust us – it was a lot. As the grey skies turned slightly brighter with the sun rising behind it, it was clear that things might get ugly. The temperature was low-to-mid 50’s, and AMA Pro decided to cut the practices in half (one 20 minute session), just like they did last weekend at Budds. Upon inspection of the track, it really didn’t look all that bad, no doubt due to the fact that it’s sort of a sandy surface and drains off fairly well. We’re going to go out on a limb here and call Southwick “not really” a sand track, because – at least on this day – it really didn’t seem like one. They never dug into the surface to try and make it deep, so what it ended up as was a pretty solid base covered with a very fine, shallow layer of sand/silty-type soil. Add to that the decision to knock out many of the ruts and braking bumps in the two fast sections of the track toward the front, and what we ended up with was a slick, rutty, sort of sandy track with mud that stuck like silt, but was rinsed off with the rain that fell from the sky almost constantly. Sound complex? It was. We’re told that the local races normally get no grooming and the track gets dug deeper into the surface so it’s more like an actual sand track, but as it stood this day, it was more like a silt track than anything else. Interesting, unique and brutal, Southwick rarely disappoints.
That’s precisely why the old Dog comes out to show the new kids some of his tricks for the ‘Wick, and this time John Dowd pretty well took the kids to school. With Reedy out of that 2nd moto, everything got a lot more interesting as Goerke kept a great pace while the factory Honda duo of Short and Tedesco seemed to be heading backwards. Dowd made his way past them in short order (no pun intended) and set out after Michael Byrne. While the Byrner held him off for a couple of laps, Dowdy wasn’t giving up once he got past and set his sights on Goerke out front. He seemed to gain on him in the back section each lap before losing it again in front, but there were a whole lot of fans yelling and screaming at him for motivation, but he really didn’t need it. He got close but wasn’t quite able to pull off a win and you know what? It didn’t matter. This 44 year old retired factory rider put in a strong podium ride at his only race of the year, and blew a lot of people’s minds in the process. Unbelieveable performance? You bet it was, but it also illustrated a lot of other things about the current state of AMA Pro Motocross racing. What it showed us is really an endless debate (as evidence by the never-ending message board rambling all week). Does this show us what a bunch of wimps are out there in the 450 class pulling in big salaries on factory bikes? No. Does it show that the big stars were faster and worked harder back in the day than they do now? No, it doesn’t. What it does show is that Dowdy beat a few of the remaining factory riders (that aren’t already out with injury) in one moto on his home track – a track that has offered a distinct home track advantage since it was introduced to the circuit decades ago. The Junkyard Dog was pretty fit and sufficiently motivated to 1) take advantage of Reed’s DNF (without which he wouldn’t have ended up on the podium, 2) take advantage of a few hard crashes by an ailing Ivan Tedesco to wear him down in the 2nd moto, 3) take advantage of the questionable health of Andrew Short in the 2nd moto, 4) to get around Michael Byrne who was well aware he didn’t need to beat Dowd for points or for the overall position and 5) beat Davi Millsaps because… well we don’t really know about that one. But hey, taking advantage of the situation which unfolds in front of you is part of what makes a person successful, so full props go to John Dowd on an amazing race and for motivating the huge 40+ MX crowd in this country to try even harder every weekend.
Another local yocal (and we use that term with the utmost respect) who really emphasized how much a home track advantage helps here was Robby Marshall. Now make no mistake, this kid’s fast everywhere he rides but he’s never showed promise anywhere near like he did here last weekend. We went down to watch the press day “practice” that a dozen or so riders were able to partake upon and this guy was blazing fast and beautifully smooth to watch on the (then) dry track. He seemed noticeably faster and more adept at the tricky surface than even Dowd, who was also on the track with him. Needless to say, right then and there we picked him to pull off an upset podium – a prediction that very nearly came true in the first 450 moto. Marshall tucked in behind the Aussie freight train of Reed and Moss out front and absolutely matched their pace for the entire moto, even getting a wheel in on Moss a few times to get into the 2nd spot. As those two went at it, Byrner snuck up behind him and possibly applied a bit of pressure to force Marshall into a mistake and crash, pushing him back to 5th at the finish. He followed that up with a solid 7th in moto 2 for 7th overall which will result in a Suzuki contingency take-home paycheck of exactly… zero dollars. Nevertheless, congrats on a great ride for Robby Marshall, you’ve kept the home track advantage alive and well for another year at the ‘Wick.
There were a few other remarkable rides put in by privateers (Ok maybe that’s stretching the definition a bit) that are worth mentioning. First and foremost, how about that Taylor Futrell? North Carolina native Futrell has absolutely lived up to and probably even surpassed the hype he received by ‘those-in-the-know’ since his debut at Budds last week, and he really put an exclamation point on that at Southwick. A couple of great starts lead to him running well within the top 5 for both motos (even running 3rd for much of the 2nd) before succumbing to a few much more seasoned riders later in the race. His 7-7 finishes were good enough for 5th overall though, and that’s a great ride for a privateer on his own bike. Hell, that’s a respectable ride for a factory guy on a factory bike.
Also in the 250 class as a rookie, Blake Baggett’s crummy luck in the first turn continued in the first moto when he went down and got up in last. He put on a solid charge during the rain-soaked moto to come in 15th at the flag. The 2nd moto was also solid as Blake came from 16th to 8th, going home with a commendable 10th overall on one of the gnarliest races of the season (and probably his career).
The ladies made their way back into the mix at Southwick too, for what was their 7th over 8 rounds. This time, Jessica Patterson made quick work of the field as she rode Trey Canard’s ridiculously fast (and actually de-tuned for her) Geico Powersports Honda CRF250R to double moto victories after pulling both holeshots. For the first time this season, JP sort of looked like a guy in a girl’s race for a while, but Honda factory rider was able to reel her in a little bit in each moto toward the end to finish up 3-2 for 2nd overall. JP’s now won the last 3 motos, although the title is out of her reach unless something major happens to Fiolek (who’s 41 points ahead going into the finale this weekend), JP has clearly kicked it up a notch in the last few rounds and will be right there if something bad DOES happen to Fiolek. Making her return to the series after injury was Tarah Gieger, who rode strong for 7-3 finishes and 3rd overall.
That about wraps it up for Southwick, and we now have exactly 2 motos in each class to look forward to before the season ends this weekend in Delmont, PA. We’ll have practice photos, race report and the final What Really Happened right here for you at motocross.com, so be sure to check back.