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Steve Matthes' Observations From Hangtown

Sep 09, 2023

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Round two of the AMA Pro Motocross Championship took place at Hangtown, the fabled circuit in Northern California. I’ve said this before, but there's no track that's come as far since I’ve been doing the circuit as Hangtown. It didn't used to be anyone's favorite place but the Dirt Diggers have done serious work there to now make it a very good race track.

Well, maybe not this year. A few years ago, the motocross promoters discovered that not ripping the dirt up as deep and watering the crap out of it produced some pretty good racing. Over the years the desire to have chocolate cake tracks with no dust gave us, the fans, a version of a "rut-cross," where there were 15 ruts coming into a turn. Just pick one to go in. The riders all used the exact same tire, we had the same conditions week to week, and yeah, Bob's your uncle. Well, due to some weather stuff, Lakewood years ago didn't get the usual ripping and the usual ruts, and we had some great racing. The riders told me the joys of being able to criss-cross the track, move around in the turns and all in all, "we" started seeing some new prep being done.

Me? I like it. I think motocross should be all different surfaces. You should need different tires throughout a season, you should have the hard pack, the loam, the sand, the mud, etc. It's what makes motocross great, ruts behind the gate also errr, I guess just a grate. Whatever. The thing is, this past weekend at Hangtown, well, the mark was missed a bit.

The track was left alone more than in past years, there were no rice hulls brought in, and it was left au natural, which brought out the Hangtown of yesteryear. Well, maybe not that bad, but it was hard packed, a bit dusty choppy, and everyone I spoke to said it turned out very one lined. Because there's tons of off-cambers and hills, there became a main groove where the riders swept in and out of the turns and wanted to keep momentum up. So, it was a bit like a road racing course out there. You didn't want to get out of the main line because there was nothing out there to bounce off or get traction from. It was a bit of a follow the leader track. Outside of Grant Harlan on Twitter, no one I saw was super pumped.

But again, I like the general idea of leaving the tracks alone a bit. Rut-Cross isn't great either, it didn't work in Hangtown because of the nature of the track, but let's not lose focus here! Let the riders move around out there and sweep in and out of turns! Lots of rain in Thunder Valley this week so we’ll get a soft Lakewood facility methinks, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater here.

Okay, here are some general up and down thoughts on stuff…

Well, he did it again. Won both motos, led every lap and is two-for-two to start his 450MX career. Yes, it's too early to talk perfect season, but it won't be for much longer. The Jett's win margin wasn't as great this weekend but I’m sure he was just taking what the track was giving him. When Aaron Plessinger and Cooper Webb got close to him in moto two, he immediately set his best lap and opened up the lead again.

The Jett ties Jeff Ward to the best start in a 250/450 career winning his first four motos and best as I can tell, Wardy led every lap at the first round like Jett did while Wardy led every lap but about seven at the second round so technically Jett's ahead of him at this point. Jeff Ward went 3-2 at his third ever 450MX national, while I’m thinking Jett will set another record when he wins Lakewood this weekend.

Dylan made mention on his social media that his result wasn't what his riding indicated and that means, although he got second overall, he wasn't the second-best rider on the weekend. And I would agree on that, he's hanging in the fight, but in moto two he was a ways back in fourth. Plessinger's crash helped him though.

Shoutout to the Star Yamaha 450 side of things for helping me some with old Titanium bolts on my 1990 YZ project bike. I mean, Tomac's not there, what else can they possibly do?

Props to Coop because he got dropped in moto one badly and rebounded to a very-much-in-the-fight-third (he got second with AP's crash). That's a nice improvement in the course of an hour and also overall, this was an improvement from Pala as well.

Well, he had an eventful week one with three crashes, and this week he again showed speed and would’ve had second overall if not for a crash in the second moto in which he broke his clutch lever. I really believe Aaron is the second-best guy right now but, breaking news, you can't crash. Also, ICYWW Aaron did not like this track at all.

This team is where it's at right now. We got a guy who's 32 years old racing in the USA for the first time (Jose Butron) getting a top five, while his teammate, Lorenzo Lucurcio, is racing motocross for the first time in almost three years and he's crushing it also. Lorenzo told me the last time he was at Hangtown he didn't score points. He's also currently sixth in points after two races. The team is owned by a Czech guy and the guys’ bikes are close to stock, but they have a sweet-ass name and they’re kicking ass! It's the talk of the pits!

Marshall Weltin is a very good outdoor rider—he's better outside than inside and should be firmly in the top ten right now in 450MX. Except he's not. He's gone 31-15-15-37 through four motos. He’ll turn it around, but right now, he's got to be kicking (get it?) himself for not getting some while the getting is good.

After a horrible start to his season in 250s, Garrett Marchbanks is pulling a "Ty Masterpool" and moving to the 450 class. Wait you’re saying, didn't he ride 450MX last year and do pretty well? Why yes, but he lost some weight this year, was apparently riding very well in the pre-season stuff after missing all of SX, and hopes were high. Well, Garrett and the team are packing it in and we’ll all soon see him inside the top ten in 450s and life will be much better for him and the team.

Speaking about Masterpool after round one, he posted that it was too difficult to keep up on the 250F maintenance and he's moving to 450s. He also could’ve posted "The 450-class depth is weak and 450s are cheaper to maintain," and we all would’ve gotten it. Well, Ty came from outside the top 20 in moto one to seventh and backed that up in moto two. Masterpool's career will one day be studied by MX historians, but for now, he rode great in his first 450MX national.

We’re four motos in and the top ten in points is a Privateer Island Paradise! Jerry Robin! Wild Cat Racing! Masterpool! Derek Drake! Romain Pape! Cris Prebula! All these guys and more have been riding well and getting career high finishes at that. What a time to be alive. Who's going to be the Gavin Gracyk, Coty Schock, Ryan Huffman, Alan King, or Brian Myerscough of this summer? IE: the guy the fans are gonna scream, "Just give him a factory bike!!!"

The veteran had a round two much like his round one. In the first moto he didn't get a great start, got better as the moto went on, took advantage of others’ mistakes, and ended up on the box. Second moto he took off with the win to get the overall. The two rounds were very similar in how they went, and it's also got him a ten-point lead after two rounds. He did exactly what a title favorite should do out there.

Much better than Pala and, his starts were much better than Pala. That is not a coincidence folks. Sure, he's got to be a bit bummed to be passed and dropped by Hunter in moto two, but this is a good result for Cooper. Oh, he also got the 734th career pole position of his career.

Like Levi Kitchen last year, a Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing rookie grabbed the lead in moto one and took off for his first career pro win. This time it was Deegan in an impressive show of speed and fitness. Cooper got close to him late in the moto but to me, I always thought he had enough to hold on. He's in great shape and we know he's got the speed (although he didn't show it in qualifying at Hangtown). The first of many for Danger Boy, and he's second in the points as well.

I mean, why not just keep it rolling for the Star Yamaha guys? This kid has been showing impressive speed through four motos and he's improved from his short stint last year over here. I mean, what's the difference between Farres, who had trouble being up front in EMX over in Europe last year, and two-time MX2 World Champion Tom Vialle right now? Not much. Maybe Vialle gets the slight edge, but Farres has been impressive. Wait until this weekend at elevation when Star Yamaha qualifies 1-2-3-4. Crazy world we’re living in right now.

Okay, here's the down part of the Star Yamaha team and it's The Chef (Sorry Mitchy). Levi's been "okay" to start the year. So maybe a (DOWN) isn't entirely fitting here, but much more was expected of him this summer. It's early, no need to panic, but the Chef's starts haven't been great, and he's just been a guy so far. He’ll do better but right now, it's just okay.

We hoped Hampshire would figure out his starts and he told us on the PulpMX Show how much he loved his new motor settings (they’re running that second injector, is what I heard). Well, it didn't translate to Hangtown, RJ didn't get starts, and he did his RJ thing where he charges hard and catches a lot of guys late but even that wasn't enough. 5-5 on the day is okay, but every little point lost isn't great. He needs to get better starts this weekend.

Our guy J-Mart, two-time 250MX champion, had an interesting story going this year. The veteran trying to get himself back to his old level on a privateer team. First round wasn't great but first turn crashes held him back. This week, crap start in first moto and he charged hard to 13th. Second moto he finally was up front off the start, and then, well, we all saw what happened. That was gross. He's got a long recovery ahead of him and you do have to wonder if we see him back on the track again.

Read: Jeremy Martin Update Following Hangtown Motocross Classic Crash

Swoll's been hurt for a while and has been grinding away waiting for the outdoors to start. So far through four motos, we’ve seen some good and some bad from Jalek. A crash in the first moto of the season looked like he might have reinjured himself, but he rebounded in moto two. At Hangtown he got starts, but yeah, had issues again with crashes and truthfully, looked a little winded at times. He'll get better, but he's got to stay on the track and rack up those motos.

I mean, Maximus is from Northern California and his dad won at the home track a couple times. The Vohlands are Hangtown royalty! This is a big year for Vohland also, as he's looking for a contract for next year. Hangtown wasn't good for him. I mean, like Kitchen, he was okay, but one would hope he’d be top five or better on a track he knows well. Like Levi, starts did him in.

Thanks for reading, we’re on to round three this weekend at an underrated track/facility in Lakewood, Colorado! Email me at [email protected] if you want to chat about this or anything else.

Hangtown Motocross Classic