For someone new to the sport, it might seem like the entire Monster Energy AMA Supercross series takes place in the Southwest. Fortunately for the rest of the moto-starved country, that is not the case. For round seven, the series finally heads East-ish to Dallas, Texas. Last week in San Diego, Ryan Villopoto reclaimed the points lead in the premier class and now leads by three points over Chad Reed. James Stewart fumbled in the whoops, and may very well have taken himself out of the championship chase. Eli Tomac also crashed in the whoops during the West Lites main event, and in doing so, tightened up the points chase by allowing Dean Wilson to runaway with the win. But the West riders now take a long break as the East riders have their opening race in the Lone Star State.
The East Lites series, like last year, is set to have a field of some very fast and talented riders. Some are rookies, some veterans, and one is the defending champ. Here are my top five major players:
Justin Barcia is going to be a very tough competitor. The guy who has come to be known as Bam Bam is not afraid to get physical, and his aggression and attitude harken back to the early days of American motocross. Last year he found a way to calm down his mid-flight over revs and work on his timing and patience. It was not a flawless series for the GEICO/Honda rider, but he prevailed in the end with a number one plate. There has not been much word from the Barcia camp in the off-season, and from a rider of his caliber, that usually means he has been putting in the hard work to come out swinging in Dallas.
Last year, Blake was a revelation both indoors and out. The former amateur star had a mixed start to his professional career back in the 2010 when he managed to win the Houston round of Supercross. When he broke his arm at Budds Creek, it ruined his momentum and took him out for the remainder of the year.
When Baggett returned to racing for 2011, he was put on the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team and began to deliver almost immediately. A few top three results before decimating the rest of the field at Daytona set Blake apart as one of the few riders who would be a threat at every round. Although the championship eluded him in Supercross and the Nationals, Baggett has proven to be one of most fit and fast riders on the track on any given day. El Chupacabra will be ready to come out of the dark on in Texas.
What can be written about the German wunderkid that has not already been put into ink? Beyond his accomplishments (youngest rider ever to win a World Motocross GP at 15 years old; 2011 FIM World Motocross MX2 Champion; 2010 and 2011 Motocross of Nations MX2 Champion), Roczen represents a new generation of riders. His style is a near carbon copy of James Stewart's, his attitude is that of a German Travis Pastrana, and his desire to win at the highest level rival's that of Ricky Carmichael and Stefan Everts.
Last year, Ken arrived on American shores with minimal Supercross experience. By the time the series ended in Las Vegas, he was a constant podium threat and actually won his first main event that very night. The Red Bull/KTM star was supposed to ride the West Lites series but broke his arm only a few weeks before Anaheim I. Now with only a few weeks of riding under his belt, he is will be facing some stiff competition in the East. At all of 18 years old, he will probably not hold back much from the series start. The biggest threat that Roczen brings is that he, like Barcia, knows how to win a championship points battle.
Some riders use their strength to ride. For others it comes down to attitude. For Durham, there is no hiding his natural ability on a motorcycle. Where others can make a section look scary, exhausting, or even easy, Darryn will make it look fun. The Pennsylvanian has been riding the East series for several seasons now, but he's had very little success. In his rookie season, he had a decent factory supported ride, but lost it at the end of the year. No big teams picked him up in 2010 or 2011, so he was forced to go the partially-supported privateer route. But he continued plugging away and finally found his stride in the 250 Outdoor Nationals. Aboard off-the-shelf equipment, Durham showed that he could run the pace of the top riders in the world at several rounds of the tour.
This was enough to gain the attention of the most successful team in 250 motocross: Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki. Durham, like Roczen, had a preseason injury that delayed his training. Now Durham should be healed up and ready to take on a championship run. Considering what he accomplished as a privateer, it would be a safe bet to keep an eye on the number 35 machine when the gate drops in Dallas.
Professional careers rarely go as planned, and for a while, it seemed that Cunningham's was moving in the wrong direction. With a similar path as Durham, Kyle was a top amateur racer who was awarded a factory supported ride in his rookie year with the now defunct Yamaha of Troy team. But it was not the best of years and he was forced to go it alone in 2008. He pushed and struggled and by the time the Nationals were over, he had finished seventh overall for the year as a privateer. Since then Cunningham has regained favor with factory supported teams and he most recently joined the Star/Valli/Yamaha effort in 2011, delivering some excellent rides along the way.
Coming into 2012, Cunningham is looking stronger and faster than ever. Sporting the number 19 machine, Kyle will be there every weekend. If he can get win number one out of the way, he could very easily become a championship threat.
Justin Bogle - The Okie is the latest graduate of GEICO/Honda's amateur-to-pro-team program, and he has already produced results. A sixth overall wasn't too shabby in his pro debut at the Unadilla National in 2011. He then capped off the season by leading almost the entire last moto of the year at Pala before settling for second. Justin has been putting in the laps around Southern California's Supercross practice tracks all winter long and is looking very fast and comfortable. Bogle will be a threat right from the start.
Kyle Peters - Peters is another graduate of an amateur-to-pro-team program, but in this case with Star/Valli/Yamaha crew. Kyle had a minor injury that delayed his pro debut until the final two rounds of the 2011 Nationals, and the results were not quite what he was looking for. As another Loretta Lynn's stand out, Peters certainly has the talent and speed to run up front. Whether or not he has adapted to the tight confines of Supercross remains to be seen but we will see soon enough.
Be sure to check out the Dallas Supercross live on SPEED beginning at 8:30pm EST.