Round 5 – Anaheim (III)
Pursuit of Perfection
All you need to do is put together twenty perfect laps. That’s what Johnny O’Mara has said to Ricky Carmichael before the main event. Just be perfect.
No problem. Ricky Carmichael delivers perfection in front of forty-five thousand fans. Edison Field is sold-out. The sound of the crowd is electrifying. It sounds more like the sky ripping apart, like an electrical storm, like thunder that booms so close, it has no direction. It’s sudden and simultaneous. It rises in pitch and rings in your ears, it moves you inside and leaves you guessing, what is about to happen?
Lightening strikes at the end of a long smooth straightaway, up the middle of the stadium, and it wears Number Two plates. Bud Light Yamaha’s Jeremy McGrath has stormed to the front of the pack as it gathers and bulges through the first corner. The crowd is rippling with energy.
So is Jeremy. His style is as smooth and centered over the bike as ever. But his movements are so quick and concise, he looks like he’s riding on reflex alone. Explosive reflex. No thought. No awareness. No outward concern. No one to pass. No one behind him. Just the open night air, forty-five thousand people who love him, his history of winning, and a new race to win. There is no one to beat. There is only one thing reaching out to him now, the same way it’s always reached out to him, beckoning, rhythmically.
That rhythm can be seen. It can be seen by watching his body as he crowds his front end with his chest and shoulders over each vertical peak, sending his Skip Norfolk-tuned YZ250 out like a shot, front wheel dropping down below the rear almost from the point of takeoff. Everyone here tonight can see and feel what it’s like to be beckoned by victory, by the same sweet and fleeting promise that once whispered to Roger Decoster, Bob Hannah, David Bailey, Rick Johnson, Jeff Ward, and many others.
There can be no doubt about how Anaheim feels about Rider Number Two. They celebrate and thank him. They channel their energy in one common show of support and enthusiasm, they pour themselves into him as he leads Chevy Trucks/Kawasaki’s Stephane Roncada and SoBe Suzuki’s Travis Pastrana around the track for the first time.
Ricky Carmichael is running just inside the top five. The current points-leader, David Vuillemin is running just inside the top ten. Mike LaRocco is somewhere in-between, locked in a battle with Kevin Windham.
The pack stretches out. Now there’s room for the riders to gamble on pass attempts without being shut-out themselves. Everywhere, strategies shift from a stance of protection, to all-out-attack.
Jeremy is accelerating as his fenders drop down to the blurring knobbies of his tires. He’s touching down from a huge rhythm section and his suspension has begun to rebound. He accelerates up and around the high-bank of the next right-hand corner, brakes hard and throws his body into the lean of his bike with his right-leg out, rear wheel drifting high, aiming him down the line of the next straightaway.
Enter Stephane Roncada. Jeremy is still high on the berm, in that vulnerable place where the old momentum of the previous straightaway fights with the new momentum coming up. He’s at the slowest point of his corner, the place where it takes the most finesse.
Stephane is still riding the peak of his momentum, and he isn’t looking for where the berm begins, so he can carry a wide, fast arc around the corner. He’s aiming for Jeremy. He’s setting up on the inside of the corner but he isn’t turning as he reaches it, and he isn’t braking, either. The distance closes between the two so fast, it astonishes the crowd.
Thunder rips through the night over Edison Field. Stephane isn’t close enough to Jeremy to make a real pass attempt. It isn’t intended to be one. It’s intended to intimidate. To shatter Jeremy’s focus, to force him into a mistake in his most vulnerable moment. It’s intended to weigh on Jeremy’s mind corner after corner, because Stephane attacks him this way corner after corner. The voices rise and fall, each one is lost in the collective, anonymous thrill.
But Jeremy isn’t racing to beat Stephane. He only has one vision in his mind, and for him, that’s all there is. Perfection. For Jeremy, winning is perfection. He knows there is no difference between the two. So that’s how he rides, corner after corner, withstanding Stephane’s assault.
But there is another rider who knows what it takes to win, and he’s riding a Universal Studios Factory Honda. Rider Number Four, the defending champion does to Stephane what Stephane cannot do to Jeremy. He closes in, strikes at his first opportunity, and puts it behind him. Now Ricky is aiming past Jeremy. He isn’t aiming for him. He doesn’t fall into that trap. Ricky knows the lead doesn’t begin with Jeremy. It begins somewhere within himself.
You have to be totally comfortable out there, or you’re not going to win one of these. That’s what Ricky says after the race, and that’s how Brock Sellards has ridden his Red Bull KTM. He’s ridden with such finesse, he leads the 125 Main-event from start to finish.
Chevy Trucks Kawasaki’s James Stewart has ridden brilliantly, but not flawlessly. He goes down on the first lap and re-enters the race in last-place. It’s Anaheim II all over again. He’s sixteen, and he’s slicing through the pack. Ivan Tedesco is cutting through traffic too, after a bad start on his Boost/Yamaha of Troy YZ125. He’s approaching a top-five position, entering a sweeping right-hander in the middle of the track when Rider Number Two-Fifty-Nine catches up to him.
Ivan slides up his seat straddling the high side as his bike leans underneath him. His elbows are up, his left foot weighting his left peg, forcing his wheels to bite into the slick, hard surface of the ground.
James sets up inside of Ivan. Ivan is controlling the slide of his Yamaha with his weight straight down his torso through the center of his bike, leaving his upper body and arms free to finesse his front wheel and the throttle. James doesn’t do any of that. He comes in faster and leans into the corner without ever leaving his standing attack-position. There’s no rut to hold his wheels in place. His bike hunkers under the force of his body language and the demand he puts on the handlebars as he steers his KX125 underneath Ivan, both wheels spinning and biting as he turns his KX against it’s momentum and shoots out in front of Rider Number Forty-Five by the corner’s end.
But you don’t have to watch James to know how many riders he’s passed, or when. You can watch Dr. Marten’s/Amsoil Honda’s Chris Gosselar as he tries in vain to catch Brock, and simply listen to the crowd. Every position James gains triggers a sound that starts down low and rises up quickly, lingers, and falls away. The higher he reaches, the higher the sound climbs, each pass building on the excitement of the one before.
When he falls again the sound is huge as it drops in pitch and disappears into the buzz of forty-five thousand conversations.
James Stewart will finish eleventh. Brock Sellards will bring Red Bull KTM its second win of the season with an aggressive, controlled ride that never allows Chris Gosselar to close within striking distance.
That’s exactly how Ricky rides now. With poise. There isn’t any anxiousness in his movements or the lines that he chooses. Where Travis has made mistakes, handing him third-place, Ricky has executed in smooth, controlled bursts. It’s mid-race and Number Four is making his move for the front. The laps go by and he gathers himself up behind Jeremy until he can see the stitching on the back of his AST jersey.
So when Jeremy falters, Ricky is there to capitalize. Number Four begins pulling away and Number Twenty-One, Stephane Roncada closes in once more, this time, for a battle over second.
Behind them, Mike LaRocco has gotten around Rider Number Fourteen, Kevin Windham, but Rider Number Twelve, David Vuillemin has gotten by both of them. Riding with bruised ribs and scrambling from a bad start, David shows the same poise that Ricky and Jeremy display. He shows why he’s leading the championship points race. It isn’t long before he’s riding side by side with Rider Number Two.
Jeremy has lost second to Stephane. He’s under heavy pressure from David. Perfection isn’t Jeremy’s to reach tonight. The crowd is on its feet as David takes his position. But even as perfection slips beyond his reach, Jeremy stays focused on it. He never takes his eyes off of it. He doesn’t resort to riding on emotion. Not when Mike LaRocco takes fourth from him, not when Nathan Ramsey takes fifth from him.
There are many champions here tonight. But perhaps two shine brighter than the rest. Both reach for perfection. The crowd cheers for one because he is able to reach it. They cheer for the other because he can’t, but reaches for it anyway. As he flies through the night, shining under the floodlights of Edison Field toward the checkered flag, Jeremy must let go of his desire until next week. But in Indianapolis, you can bet he’ll be back, and he’ll be stronger than ever.