The parody of this season parlays into the perfect script. Three riders, James Stewart, 19, Chad Reed, 22, and Ricky Carmichael, 25, have a combined 14 AMA National Championships. The next tier, Travis Pastrana, 21, Jeremy McGrath, 33, and Mike LaRocco, 33, add another 11 for a total of 25. Never before has a supercross season been composed of such accolades.
The cast represents three generations of racing: teenagers, 20 year olds and 30 year olds. Stewart, of Haines City, Fla., is the youngest of the bunch but is unproven in the 250cc class. He has dominated the 125cc division since he entered the professional ranks in 2002. This summer he surpassed Ricky Carmichael’s all-time 125cc win record, becoming the winningest 125cc rider. In addition, he became only the second rider in history to win both the 125cc Eastern and Western Regional THQ AMA Supercross Series championships.
His youthful approach to racing has been considered cocky by his competitors, but in his interviews it’s more than apparent that he has the confidence to race with these guys.
“Sometimes, I think people confuse cocky with an 18-year-old kid who is doing what he loves and is having a lot of fun doing it,” said Stewart.
It may take more than confidence to adjust to the 250cc class, just ask Carmichael, whose first two years in the 250cc ranks were less than successful. His go-for-broke riding style didn’t work well on
the 250cc machine indoors which usually resulted in nasty crashes and poor results.
“I wish I could have stayed in the 125cc class for one more year to gain some more experience,” said Carmichael. “Those first few years in the 250cc class were tough on my body and my results.”
He’s offered some advice to Stewart’s 250cc début.
“If he thinks it’s going to be a cakewalk and he is going to kick all of our asses, it’s going to be different,” said Carmichael.
“I’m not going to say that I will beat them, because I don’t want to go in like that,” said Stewart. “But what I do think, is that I’m working real hard right now (during the off season) to prepare myself to battle each week. Everything else will fall into place.”
Carmichael understands the pressure of being the next big thing; he’s the one who basically retired Jeremy McGrath after removing him from his throne.
“I can see why there might have been some tension between me and Jeremy (McGrath),“ said Carmichael. ”Everybody was saying I’m going to beat him and it took me so long to do so it’s definitely frustrating but at the same time it is motivating to basically just stay on top and try to beat these guys. It’s fun; it’s what I need at this point in my career. I enjoy it. It’s what keeps me waking up every morning and practicing.”
While the move to the 250cc class was difficult for Carmichael, Stewart wants to showcase his rookie 250cc season the same way Jeremy McGrath did in ’93. McGrath won the 1993 250cc supercross championship as a rookie and followed up with an additional three-in-a-row.
“I think the move up (to the 250s) is based on each individual rider,” said Stewart. “People ask me that Ricky question (about Carmichael’s first years in the 250cc class), and it is true, he struggled for a while. But there’s also the story about Jeremy McGrath, who won his first season, and won big time. I like to think about that story.”
Carmichael sat out the entire 2003-2004 supercross season due to a knee injury and used the time off to re-evaluate his career. A three-time 250cc supercross champion, Carmichael lost the last six supercross races against Reed in 2002 but walked away with the THQ AMA Supercross Series championship.
“The time away from racing was actually good for me,” said Carmichael. “Of course I didn’t want to get injured, but the time away from racing let me breathe a little bit. I started racing a full-time professional schedule in 1997; that’s a long time to be racing non-stop.”
At the Maxxis U.S. Open, which is considered the all-star race of motocross, the highly anticipated Carmichael/Reed showdown was a cat and mouse game with both stars crashing on the second night of competition. Reed earned the victory but more importantly, Carmichael’s confidence was elevated.
“Even though I didn’t win and made some stupid mistakes at the U.S. Open, I feel very confident on my new bike,” said Carmichael. “That race was more about being smart and learning than anything. As I get older, I am still learning a lot and that’s very important when you race at this level.”
Reed, the reigning 250cc THQ AMA Supercross Series champion, is responsible for defending his first AMA National championship. Winning 10 races last season, Reed’s championship was overcast by Carmichael’s absence and the fact that Kevin Windham, who has never beat Carmichael indoors, beat Reed five times in ’04.
“I think it’s nice to know that there’s somebody to wake up and think about and to train a little bit harder that day,” said Reed. “It’s a lot of fun; I enjoy it. I enjoy going to the races and knowing that you have to be on your game. It just makes it that much more enjoyable for you to win.”
The only catch to this season is that there can only be one winner and the taste of defeat is hard to swallow.
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