The sacred turf of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles was covered with plastic, plywood and 550 loads of dirt to play host to round three of the 2011 AMA Supercross Championship Series.
Within a stone's throw of downtown LA, the stars were bound to come out and play. Several Hollywood-types were spotted in and around the pit and VIP areas throughout the night, not the least of which was Fergie (from the band Black Eyed Peas), who even made it down to the podium to congratulate the race winners.
(photo: Scott Hoffman)
Superstar celebs that made an appearance who actually got their start in the Supercross series also made a showing, and by that description we could mean only guy: Travis Pastrana.
Pastrana was on hand to announce (in a way only he could pull off) his recent agreement with Waltrip Racing to contest rounds of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He did so by doing donuts in the start straight in his new Boost Mobile-backed Toyota Camry, and of course the crowd went berserk.
Furthering the sense of "special" about where this round brought the series, the top three in the Supercross class standings -- Ryan Villopoto, James Stewart and Ryan Dungey -- all wore custom made and authentic Los Angeles Dodgers jerseys during opening ceremonies. As if the crowd wasn’t already psyched up, this even further endeared them.
But of course the night was about racing, and the more than 41,000 fans on hand were served a helping of ferocious battles that will likely go down as some of the best racing in the sport’s history. The Supercross battles between four of the top five (Chad Reed wasn’t part because he crashed out early and was playing catch-up) was everything a fan could want. With multiple lead changes between a cast of ideal adversaries -- the two Ryans, the rejuvenated Stewart, and the hot rookie Trey Canard -- that was spiked with a crash by the leader Stewart that turned it all upside down.
It was the heir apparent, Villopoto, who came out on top, doing so in a manner that left little question whether he had the speed or stamina to keep up the pace for the duration. After running down Stewart along with Dungey, Villopoto pushed the #7’s pace until a mistake allowed him to get by for the win. It was then that Stewart had to push back through Canard and Dungey to try and make a run at Villopoto that ultimately came up short.
It always takes a few rounds for momentum to be established in a series, and this year the momentum seems to be spread evenly between both Stewart and Villopoto. Stewart can argue that had he not made a mistake and crashed, then Villopoto would never have gotten by for the win. On the other hand, Villopoto’s hasn’t yet lost a main event that he himself hasn’t crashed in. What was clear is that the #2 rider seemed very much "on his game" in LA, while Stewart says that he himself was riding poorly. Herein lies what will make this a championship run for the ages, as these two will likely duke it out every weekend for the next 13 weeks.
This goes without even mentioning the potential of wildcards such as Dungey, Canard and Reed being thrown into the mix. How do you know that a series is bound to be a great one? When two of three “wild cards” are multi-time former or current Supercross series champions (Reed and Dungey). Rockstar/Makita/Suzuki’s Dungey appeared to be struggling last weekend with some bike setup problems, but according to our talks with team personnel, it was not until Thursday that Dungey admitted after watching the films of the Phoenix round that perhaps it was he himself having trouble just as much as it was the bike.
With Reed, he seems to always find himself on the bottom of a pileup while the leaders put up their first few blistering laps in the main event, and he’s stuck playing catch-up. Reed’s shown he is very close on speed and stamina, and he’s certainly not lacking in desire, so he’ll factor in at some point -- how much so remains to be seen.
The Lites class was dealt a curveball in LA, as a relative unknown in a class full of big names took home a convincing win. TroyLeeDesigns/Lucas Oils/Honda’s Cole Seely put in an amazing ride in the main event, leading every lap on his way to his and the team’s first victory in their history. The win was made a bit easier when two-time series winner, Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki’s Josh Hansen, stalled his bike on the first lap as a result of a failed block-pass attempt on none other than Seely. Stuck in the pack and in dead last, Hansen was able to get his way back up into the top five by race end, helping solidify his points lead in the western region Lites class.
Coming in as the runner-up was another newcomer to the Lites podium, Geico Powersports Honda’s Eli Tomac was beyond elated about his result. Brought completely to tears after his interviews, Tomac displayed emotion befitting of a future champion, as many have predicted he will someday be. Tomac earned his finish the old-fashioned way though, and after much of the 15 laps with both Ken Roczen and Broc Tickle breathing down his neck, it was the last lap that showed his true grit. Eli hung tough in an intense final lap battle between himself, Tickle and Ryan Morais - which saw Morais beating out Tickle for the final podium position (and leaving Monster/Pro Circuit Kawasaki with no podium finishers in the Lites class for the first time in a long time).
Heading into round four, the series makes another stop at a new-for-the-series venue -- the Oakland Coliseum. Just across San Francisco Bay from the usual location, the new site should have a fresh load of dirt and even more local love than last weekend. As the front-runners begin to distance themselves from the field, everyone else will continue to look for mistakes or off-nights to make a jump for a win. Look for Dungey to be that man in Oakland, as his hunger and desire for wins have already become legendary with multiple championships to show for it thus far. Once again broadcast on CBS Sports this Sunday at Noon EST, be sure to check in here at AMASupercross.com for live timing, practice photos, and the mid-week report later in the week.