My favorite thing to say at this time of the year is that we are about to see who did their homework during the winter. That’s to say, who put in the long hours and hard work and who didn’t. Of course, everyone’s going to talk a big race before the fact, but we’ll soon see who’s still talking come Sunday morning.Of course, I’ve got my picks. And if you’re willing to take the advice of a long-time off-road aficionado from Oklahoma, then gather up any coin you wish to wager and read on.First off, it’s the opening race of the year, and nerves are ALWAYS a factor. Don’t believe it when you hear a rider say, “Oh, Anaheim 1 is just another race, that’s how I’m looking at it.” If you believe that then you might as well put all your money on the hotdog vendor winning the race. Heck yeah, nerves are going to be a factor and that’s why a rookie sometimes does well at the opener, simply because he feels he has nothing to lose and he can risk it all. Ryan Dungey did quite well as a rookie at last year’s race (he finished second after leading much of the race). Perhaps Dungey might be looking at things a little differently this year. Like maybe thinking, “hey, it’s a long season, and I would rather win the battle than the war.”Okay, now that’s not saying that I don’t think Dungey can’t or won’t win the race this year, I’m just saying he may not take the same risks he did at last year’s race.
So we have a full gate coming in, with Chad Reed, Ryan Villopoto and James Stewart all returning from some kind of injury or aliment, but all saying they are healthy and ready to go. I do have to admit that Reed looked like he had lost some weight and he certainly looks hungry. A few of the folks close to him say he has a chip on his shoulder and wants to prove something to the factories, so I would expect Two Two to be somewhere in the mix.Villopoto has proven speed, having won seven rounds in 2010, and there are insiders who tell me he’s been cutting some pretty fast laps on the Kawi practice track. That’s good for a top-three pick.Of course, love him or hate him, you can never count out JS7. Stewart is still the fastest man on the planet, although he has recently been plagued by crashes and inconsistency. Unadilla must have left a bad taste in his mouth so he will no doubt be out for blood this weekend.
Since I’m from Oklahoma I’m often considered an outsider, so my outsider picks for A1 are Trey Canard and Andrew Short – an Okie and a Texan (from Colorado). I think Shorty’s time has come and I believe his switch to the 350 KTM will suit him well on a SX track.Canard is on a roll after coming from way back in the points to win the 250 MX title and he had some podiums while riding East Coast SX last year. He also told me that he feels a 450 suits his style better than a 250, so if that’s the case then watch out for #41.As far as other contenders go, Josh Grant at Honda is certainly capable of pulling off a win, and Hart & Huntington’s Ivan Tedesco can’t be ruled out either. GEICO Powersports Honda’s Kevin Windham, at 33 years of age, proved last year he can still win races, but he also admits that he is a slow starter.So now it’s put up or shut up time. Here are my picks for A1 and why:1. Ryan Dungey – I know he’s the guy with all the pressure on him now, but he is also the guy who has been winning races while everyone else has been on the sidelines. Yes, Stewart, Villopoto and Reed are cutting fast times on the practice track, but I think actual race time trumps practice.2. Ryan Villopoto – When I watched Ryan ride the Motocross of Nations at Budds Creek, beating 450s on a 250, I thought he was the second coming of RC. Well, it’s been several years since Budds Creek, but I think RV can still become the second coming, and I think this weekend will be a step in that direction.3. Andrew Short – Like I said, Shorty’s time has come.4. James Stewart – I might be wrong, but I think a reality show might be a big distraction.5. Trey Canard – Country Boy can survive!