It is round ten of seventeen this weekend in the 2019 Monster Energy Supercross series and it's the most unique round of the series in Daytona, Florida. Held inside the infield at the massive Daytona Speedway (a NASCAR track), the supercross used to be massively different from the other rounds and while it's more "supercross" than ever before it's still pretty unique.
The track gets chewed up pretty good and has seemingly endless black sand, which makes for huge braking bumps and deep corners. It's also been way tougher than a regular race due to the length of laps but now it's just twenty minutes plus one lap like the others so, while it's still more fatiguing than a regular race, there is not a huge difference. The jumps are more consistently built than back in the day and there are more normal obstacles. It's still tough, folks. Trust me on that.
Guys like Eli Tomac and Blake Baggett have excelled at the "new" Daytona in the past because, I believe, they combine their already great MX skills to the course to get around it the best. They are both in great shape (duh) and they both rip indoors and out, but what they are good at is adapting to the track. If you do that at Daytona then you can be successful.
The track changes lap to lap, the bumps develop differently in the course of a main event and what was a golden line one lap can turn into something that works like garbage two laps later. The smart riders realise that hammering through the inside ruts that are two-feet deep may seem shorter, but it is way slower. Baggett and Tomac can adapt quickly and take a "motocross" mindset to the race. They can also use the bumps to "hop" over a rut or a big braking bump and save time and energy.
Jeremy Martin, another MX guy, ended up on the 450SX podium two years ago and that's not a coincidence. Cole Seely has had some great rides at the speedway and it's because he's creative and able to think outside the box. Although he does not have the raw motocross speed that ET and BB4 have, he's got the same ideas out there and it's helped him. You have to sometimes take the longer outside line at Daytona and it'll be faster. You definitely have to change your lines during your race or it'll bite you. This race is usually pretty interesting and I think, this weekend, it'll continue to be that way.
The Troy Lee Designs KTM guys, like all teams, came into the season with high hopes. With Shane McElrath and Jordon Smith, they had a couple of podium and title contenders. In Mitchell Falk and Sean Cantrell they had a couple of younger guys who are learning on the job. Falk is expected to be one of the next kids to get some good results.
It's always amazing to me how brutal our sport can be. I mean, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent by TLD to get ready for the year. We are halfway through the Monster Energy Supercross series now, with a twelve-round Lucas Oil Pro Motocross series beckoning, and just about all the team's hopes and dreams have been crushed. We have such a low attrition rate in the sport that maybe when things go right we should be amazed, instead of when it goes the other way.
Back to TLD though. McElrath's got a win in 250SX West, but he is also seventeen points down and third in the points. He has been good, for sure. Smith had a podium at the 250SX East opener and rode well, but a crash at round two hurt his wrist and he is now out for all of supercross (or most of it anyways). Falk raced one career supercross and then suffered a serious concussion that will leave him out until motocross starts. Cantrell broke his wrist on press day before Atlanta and, yep, see you in the outdoors, Sean!
Now Tyler Keefe, the team manager, is looking to just have enough riders to fill up the commitments to his sponsors and outside of one of his guys, there are no more expectations of wins or titles. It's crazy to think about the man hours and money put in from October to December to make every rider happy and make the machine the best it can be and, poof, it's almost all for nothing.
Now maybe the team will all rebound and have great motocross seasons and this will all be forgotten, but most likely the time off the bike will affect each rider a bit. Keefe has to be wondering what he's done to the motocross gods to deserve such a fate or, what is more likely, he is just a victim of something that's bit a lot of teams in our sport. Staying healthy seems to be getting tougher and tougher.
Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: KTM Images/Simon Cudby