Round 3, Anaheim II
Hero (n) 1. In classical mythology, a man, especially the son of a god and a mortal, who is famous for possessing some extraordinary gift, for example, superhuman strength. 2. somebody who commits an act of remarkable bravery or who has shown great courage, strength of character, or another admirable quality. 3. James Stewart.
Rider Number Two-Fifty-Nine rides like he’s the pack all by himself. He doesn’t feed off of anyone else’s race. He doesn’t draft off of them. He drafts off of himself. He blitzes. He finesses. He makes contact on purpose. He makes contact on accident. He rides with control. He almost throws his race away. He does it all. And he makes it look easy. If he falls, it doesn’t matter. If he falls in the first corner and starts from last. Twenty-second-place. It doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter because James Stewart is the race. He has it alive inside of him and it tells him what to do. It whispers to him in a way that only he can hear; David Pingree can’t hear it the way he does. Ivan Tedesco can’t either. Nor Rodrig Thain or Brock Sellards.
James Stewart cuts through the pack like he knew what was coming immediately for him, just before it came for him. He rides like he were sprinting ahead of himself and then pointing the way through the pack in clear, concise lines through the air and across the berm-faces behind him.
He electrifies the crowd. Every pass he makes, the crowd applauds. The roar is deafening. It’s frequent and resurgent.
Gradually, the excitement gives way to disbelief. By the time James claims second-place, forty-eight thousand people are overwhelmed, awe-stricken. Completely given over to his performance. Twenty-second to second, his run at the leader, David Pingree, cut short by the checkered flag.
James stops along the track on his way to the victory podium and waves to the crowd. A standing ovation follows him like a wave, a wake of thousands rising up deck after deck into the night, every one of them yelling out their congratulations.
James Stewart has brought down the house single-handedly. He leaves the track with his name on everyone’s lips.
The track is one continuous obstacle. Standing on ground-level, its middle can’t be seen from its perimeter, no matter which side it’s viewed from. Jumps rise up beyond high-banked berms, with whoop-sections that stretch away and disappear into their midst.
The riders see-saw over their bikes until they disappear into that fray, before reappearing in a streak straight up and out, over seventy feet through the open stadium air, before dropping down out of sight, into the fray once more.
But the jumps aren’t simply huge. They’re monster jumps that build into rhythm sections of monstrous proportions. To make the final set of obstacles on any given straightaway, the riders must time the set in the middle perfectly. But to make the set in the middle, they must have landed the set at the apex of the corner before just right. So they have to ride their line through each corner as if on rails, or the whole straightaway is lost.
The riders start off each straightaway slow, hitting the first obstacle with huge bursts of bottom-end power, lifting-off before they can even get both feet on the pegs. They hit their first landing and use that downward momentum to drive them forward, accelerating hard another gear higher, preloading their suspension up the next vertical face, before maneuvering through the air with their jerseys pressing flat against their chest and biceps, rippling past their sides.
By the time they land the last section, they will have reached full-speed, as if they never left the ground, as if they had simply short-shifted all the way into high gear, down a smooth, flat straightaway.
The 250 main is so packed with talent, individual riders don’t move up and down through the pack. Entire packs filter through other packs. It’s too dynamic to keep up with. The battles are epic, and simultaneous. They sound off over the loudspeakers like Prize Fights: Pastrana vs. Windham, Vuillemin vs. Roncada, LaRocco vs. Vuillemin, Pastrana vs. Ramsey, Carmichael vs. McGrath, Lusk vs. Carmichael.
It’s late in the race and no one here is watching it going from one rider to the next. They’re going from one head-to-head battle to the next. But leaving one battle to search for the one the announcer is describing is risky business. While scanning the track, you might hear the pass as it comes to life over the loudspeakers and never see it. Worse yet, by the time you find the battle you were following before, you might have missed the pass you were waiting for.
That’s how it’s been with Mike LaRocco and David Vuillemin. Travis Pastrana, Stephane Roncada, Kevin Windham and Nathan Ramsey. That’s how it’s been with Jeremy McGrath and Ricky Carmichael, Ezra Lusk and Tim Ferry. Their combined talent, their collective excellence dazzles the crowd, and in the end, overwhelms it.
Amsoil/Dr. Marten’s/Factory Connection/Honda’s Mike LaRocco will give his fans what they’ve been waiting for for seven years. A Supercross Victory. He’ll win it coming through the pack. He’ll win it by stalking David Vuillemin and passing him cleanly on the inside, exiting a switch back with four laps to go.
But before the race is David’s to defend, it’s Travis Pastrana’s. And before that, Kevin Windham’s. Kevin has earned his second holeshot of the season, the first-half of a one-two-punch for SoBe/Suzuki, as Travis lifts into the air behind him over the first big triple. Behind them, Stephane Roncada is off to his best start this season, riding in third. Behind him, Universal Studios/Honda’s Nathan Ramsey is stalking Amsoil/Dr. Marten’s/Factory Connection/Honda’s Michael Byrne.
Out front, Rider Number Fourteen has opened up a slim lead and the both of them have begun to pull away from the pack. It’s a replay of their qualifier, where Kevin and Travis traded the lead back and forth, pointing at one another mid-air, even high-fiving, their bikes whipped sideways. But like their qualifier, once Travis settles in, he takes the lead for good.
And when Kevin loses contact with Travis, his real battle begins. David Vuillemin has gotten around Stephane and both of them are gaining ground fast. Mike LaRocco is attacking Nathan Ramsey behind them. When Kevin and David hit lapped traffic one lap later, David begins his bid for second.
Meanwhile, Ezra is coming up through the pack with Ricky and Jeremy closing in behind him. Kevin has fallen to David’s attack. Fourth-place is now a four-way battle between Mike, Stephane, Nathan, and Kevin, all four of them timing rhythm sections at once, four abreast. Just as they complete each section, Ezra enters it, with Ricky progressively closer every time.
Kevin still holds fourth but he’s struggling. Stephane is showing him his wheel as they approach the finish-line jump when Mike LaRocco blitzes by Stephane with such force, it knocks Kevin off-balance. He nearly high-sides into the jump on the far side. Kevin will lose three positions at once, and the remainder of his momentum. Now Mike has clear track between him and David.
Out front, Travis rides by himself and is pulling away. But like James Stewart, Rider Number One-Ninety-Nine only knows one way to ride a race. With his heart on his sleeve. He goes down with it there, reaching past his front wheel as it catches on the lip of a table top face, his rear wheel cart wheeling over the top of him as he slams into the ground. He wears it there, as forty-eight thousand of his fans hold their breath while he stands, lifts up his bike and faces David Vuillemin as he rounds the corner in the distance. Travis turns his SoBe Suzuki around and begins kicking it over while Rider Number Twelve hits the face of the first jump, leaps up onto the top of the first table, leaps again, landing next to Travis as he lets his clutch out, and leaps to the top of the third as Travis drops down to the bottom and launches back up into the air, behind David.
But the effects of his fall linger. Travis rides slowly as Mike LaRocco takes over second. He pounds his levers back into place as Nathan Ramsey takes over third. His front number plate falls off as he comes back up to speed a quarter-of-a-lap later through the track’s longest whoop section, with the defending champion, Ricky Carmichael coming up behind him.
But while Ricky is riding a steady race, he won’t be able to challenge Travis. In fact, Travis will mount a charge in the closing stages of the race that will put Rider Number Twenty-Five, Universal Studios/Honda’s Nathan Ramsey down on the last lap. Ricky will be there to capitalize.
Travis stands on the podium and apologizes to Nathan through the microphone. Nathan isn’t there to accept or decline. The mic passes over to David Vuillemin. David talks about the physical battle he had with Chevy Trucks/Kawasaki’s Stephane Roncada early in the race for third-place. Then Mike LaRocco takes center stage. The crowd is ecstatic. Mike is all smiles. He says, “Seven years is a long danged time to wait for one of these!”
The track announcer finishes his interviews from victory lane. He takes a step back and pivots behind his finger as he makes a sweeping arc with his free hand across the crowd behind him. His voice drops down deep for dramatic effect as he says, “Let’s hear it for your winner, Mike LaRocco!”
The crowd comes alive one last time in Anaheim. Mike’s name has long stood for courage in the Supercross public. But after tonight, if you were able to look up Mike’s name in the dictionary, it would look something like this:
Mike LaRocco (n). See hero.