Davi Millsaps, James Stewart, Jason Lawrence, The Slavens Challenge and AMA H&H! – The Weekly Dirt: February 13, 2013

Welcome to the Weekly Dirt, your place for the latest in off-road news. This week we’ll mull over Davi Millsaps’ and James Stewart’s performances at San Diego; speculate on Jason Lawrence’s return to racing; and get an update on the second round of the H&H; series on the West Coast, so sit back and enjoy your serving of dirt for the week!

San Diego SX Redux

Davi Millsaps is a legitimate threat to win this year’s title. Photo by Shan Moore

Round six of the 2013 Monster Energy Supercross Series, an FIM World Championship, the last of the west coast rounds, is now in the books, and the series heads east to Texas with Davi Millsaps still in control of the point standings. Amazing!

It’s pretty incredible to think that a satellite team would be leading the 450-class championship chase over all of the high-powered factory teams, but it’s happening. I spoke with Rockstar Energy Racing team owner Bobby Hewitt in San Diego and he told me that most of the teams, even the “after-market” teams, are fairly competitive when it comes to getting performance out of the 450s, thanks to the wealth of “four-stroke” knowledge and talented mechanics out there. And that he thinks his team’s key to success is making the rider, in his case, Davi Millsaps, as comfortable as possible. It’s also about being consistent every weekend, and I don’t think they are changing things around a whole lot for each race like, say, Chad Reed does. And that consistency in the bike is giving Millsaps a wealth of confidence.

This season the starts have been extremely important, and Davi has always been good at getting off the line at the front of the pack. That was evident way back in his 250 days when he would get the holeshot despite giving up 20 lbs. to his competitors. Davi’s also a big strong boy and he’s benefitted this year from a full off-season of training and riding, which he hasn’t had in the past due to various injuries.

Now that the series is moving east, you can bet that Davi won’t lose a step, either. The Cairo, Georgia, rider will be even more at home in southern soil, which is bad news for the competition and good news for satellite teams everywhere.

James Stewart is starting to get it together. Photo by Shan Moore

James Stewart has definitely improved on his start to the 2013 season with a pair of fourth place finishes over the last two weekends. Not what we were expecting, but an improvement considering the lack of track time the Yoshimura Suzuki rider has been able to get lately due to various injuries.

Stewart came into the San Diego event with several days of mid-week testing under his belt, and it showed in qualifying where he was second fastest during the day’s practice sessions.

In the evening program, Stewart came out on top of an intense battle with Davi Millsaps to win his heat race. And then in the main, Stewart rode a smooth but aggressive race, picking his way through the field and battling throughout all 20 laps to finish a solid fourth.

“This week I was able to get in two days of riding,” said Stewart. “It’s tough when you’re not able to put in the work during the week. But this was the best I’ve ridden all year, so I’m happy about that. I had to work for the win but it was fun.”

“In the main event, I got a bad start and was way back there,” added Stewart. “But I made some passes... Overall, it was good and the Yoshimura Suzuki RM-Z450 was running great. I felt stronger in the main event, I just wished I’d been able to open up and pass some people. But I can’t complain – two fourth places, top five. It’s better than where we were, but it’s still not where we want to be. Now, we’ll go back and I’m going to focus on my starts and getting better for Dallas.”

We’ll see this weekend in Dallas what another week of training and riding will do for Stewart.

The Slavens Challenge

Here is something very cool from Jeff Slavens at Slavens Racing!

Like most of us, Slavens Racing is committed to land access issues and fully realizes that the days of the free ride are long gone. There is nothing free about freedom and it cost big bucks to protect our right to ride! So, here is what Slaven’s Racing proposes: The Slavens Challenge.

Slavens Racing will match all donations to the Colorado Trails Preservation Alliance, www.coloradotpa.org, legal defense fund up to $3000. Donate $5, $50, $500 or whatever amount you choose, and Slavens Racing will match it up to $3000. Send Colorado Trails Preservation Alliance a check, send Slavens Racing a check payable to them or pay online via Paypal, write or type "Slavens Challenge" on the donation, and Slavens Racing will match your donation.

Do what you can and please get involved.

Jason Lawrence Set To Return For Outdoor Motocross

Rumors began to circulate quickly after Jason Lawrence was recently spotted at Pala Raceway doing a photo shoot for Utopia Optics that the much-beleaguered motocrosser and former Yamaha of Troy rider was planning a return to racing in this year’s AMA Pro Motocross National Championship.

I spoke with Lawrence’s manager, ARMA spokesman Scott Sepkovic, at the San Diego Supercross and he confirmed the rumors to be true. Sepkovic said that with the backing of Utopia Optics and ARMA Energy, Lawrence would be making a full assault on the outdoor series.

Although extremely talented, Lawrence's past troubles with the law have kept him from fulfilling his true potential. But hopefully, those days are behind him and he can get about the business of fulfilling his potential in racing – and in life. —Shan Moore

Norman nails another one

Having ridden extreme races like Erzburg and Romaniacs last year probably helped Kendall Norman face obstacles like this rock waterfall section near the end of the Four Aces’ Moose Run and enabled him to beat Kurt Caselli heads-up. Photo by Mark Kariya
Caselli beat all but Norman to the bomb. After that, he doggedly stuck with the Honda rider, but Norman made no mistakes for Caselli to take advantage of so the two-time and defending series champ had to settle for second. That was still a better points haul than round one’s DNF. Photo by Mark Kariya
After missing round one due to a conflicting event at home, a large contingent of kids from Utah showed up for round two and dominated. Braydon Bland led a sweep of the top three spots in Super Mini by Utah racers--and Rebecca Stout finished fifth in the field of 14, putting four Utah kids in the top five. Overall, more kids showed up for round two, an encouraging trend. Photo by Mark Kariya
Missing in action from the first two H&H; Nationals due to illness, Ivan Ramirez remains a question mark for the San Felipe 250 next month, though he\'s reportedly good progress lately. If he\'s unable to ride, however, partner Kurt Caselli would either have to solo or find a temporary replacement. Photo by Mark Kariya

It’s almost like a desert racing version of David and Goliath. Red Bull’s Kendall Norman is basically a privateer who’s scrimping to get from race to race despite being the 2010 AMA National Hare & Hound Champion; that makes him David. Kurt Caselli, on the other hand, has to be considered Goliath, having the weight of the FMF/KTM Factory Off-Road Racing Team behind him as he rolled to consecutive championships in 2011 and 2012.

Round two of the AMA Racing/FMF/GPR National Hare & Hound Championship Series found the pair locked in battle from the drop of the banner. Norman got the holeshot--barely--with Caselli latching onto his rear fender as they reached the end of the bomb run at the Four Aces Motorcycle Club’s 63rd Annual Moose Run outside of Ridgecrest, California.

But Norman gave Caselli no opportunity to strike during their 88-mile-long duel in the Spangler Hills Off-Highway Vehicle Area, making him two-for-two in the young series.

“I tried to catch him here and there, but unless he was going to make a mistake, I wasn’t going to get by him,” the always gracious Caselli conceded. “It was a little dusty, but he rode really well. He earned that race, and that’s just how it goes.”

Caselli stuck close enough all day to give Norman fits, the eventual winner admitting, “He was there and honestly, I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it. Halfway through the first loop, my valves started going out and the bike was backfiring and I stalled it in the pits and almost lost the . Then I stalled it on a downhill, but good thing it was steep enough where I could get it bumpstarted again.”

Still, second was better than the DNF he took at round one after he forfeited his race to ride the injured Brandon Prieto out of a rocky canyon and to medical help. With no throwaways allowed, Caselli is in a hole, points-wise, but he’s been there before and come out on top--like last year when he missed two rounds. And no one knows yet if Norman will contest the entire series due to lack of support; even he insists, “I don’t know. I’m just taking it round by round at the moment.”

While those two were in a league of their own at the Moose Run, homeboy Nick Burson of the Purvines Racing Beta squad emerged from deep within the dusty pack to claim the final podium spot, boosting the new bike’s credibility immensely. His 4-3 finishes to date put him third in points behind Norman and Johnny Campbell Racing Honda-supported David Kamo, who was fourth on the day after being second at the opener. Caselli is seventh in points, but with eight rounds remaining, he still has plenty of time to catch up and put himself back in the fight for the championship.

Of course, if Norman runs into a benevolent sponsor to fund a series-long run, he might have just the head start he needs to earn his second H&H; crown.

One place where Caselli has little time left is the SCORE’s San Felipe 250 next month. He’s already been there to test and things are on track except for his partner--Ivan Ramirez--who’s been bedridden since the first H&H; a couple weeks ago. According to Caselli, Ramirez has Bell’s palsy, which is facial nerve paralysis. He’s been undergoing therapy several times a week, and the past few days have seen significant progress, according to his sister, who expects him to be able to ride San Felipe. (The FMF/KTM “B” team is expected to be Mike Brown and Australia’s Toby Price, who pre-ran last year’s 1000 with the team.)

However, if Ramirez is unable to return to action, it raises some questions: Will Caselli have to solo the notoriously rough San Felipe (even if expected course changes result in a somewhat gentler route) or will KTM recruit someone from a satellite team (like RPM Racing) or from abroad (Dakar winner Cyril Depres, perhaps?)? Expect KTM to make an announcement soon. And then there's Norman, who neither confirms nor denies he'll be racing San Felipe solo. —Mark Kariya

That’s all for this week, be sure to check in next week for more news from the off-road world.