With the first round of the 2012 AMA Arenacross Series in the books, the tone for the championship battle has been set. After misfortune befell his closest competitors, reigning Arenacross class champion, and Babbitt’s Monster Energy/AMOSIL Kawasaki presented by Maxxis rider, Tyler Bowers made the first statement of the 2012 season, taking the win at Des Moines last Saturday.

As the series heads to Baltimore’s 1st Mariner Arena this weekend, signifying the first two-night round of the championship, another rider is looking to bounce back and put his name in the mix for the early title fight. Fellow Babbitt’s Monster Energy/AMSOIL Kawasaki rider Chad Johnson was consistent throughout the night in Des Moines, and after grabbing the holeshot in the main event, looked ready to make an early statement. However, on the ninth lap of competition, Johnson came in contact with Bella’s Cupcakes/Club MX Kawasaki’s Zach Ames, who was looking to make a pass for the lead. The aggressive move took both riders to the ground, and ultimately forced each out of competition for the evening.

With an 18-point deficit to Bowers heading into Baltimore, Johnson will have his work cut out for him to bounce back. We caught up with him to get his thoughts on the opening weekend.

Arenacross: You were at the front of the field throughout the evening in Des Moines, and it looks like you are ready to battle for this championship. How do you feel after one round?

Chad Johnson: I was pumped on the preseason, testing in Illinois. The bike is working great, and (team manager) Denny Bartz has done a lot to get us in the right position to go out and do well. I’m feeling real comfortable on the bike. I went into Des Moines feeling good. I was getting good starts and running right at the front of the pack. The heat race went well, finishing second, and I also finished second in the Dash for Cash. I pulled the holeshot in the main and was leading for a bit, and then Zach (Ames) came in a little earlier than he probably should have. You want to make that move and get out front as quick as you can, but you also have to use your head a little bit and be smart about when you make the pass. He didn’t quite have enough room and when he went for it, he knocked us both down. That’s arenacross. That stuff happens. No hard feelings against him. We spoke later that night and all is good. But, things definitely didn’t turn out like I would have liked them to.

You grabbed the holeshot and looked like you had the speed to hold everyone off and make an early statement in the championship, but Zach had other plans. What are your thoughts in the heat of the moment when a move like that ultimately takes you out of the race for good?

I was definitely disappointed. I try not to get too mad about that stuff. We’re all out there to win and we’re all trying our hardest. I’ve been doing this for a long time now and I’ve done the same thing he did. If he would have came in and knocked me over, and kept going, I would have said ‘Well, it’s arenacross. Good job. I should have been paying more attention.’ But we both went down and both didn’t finish the main event. I mean, we talked about it, but even as we were both pushing our bikes off the track and into the pits, we smiled at one another and said ‘that’s racing.’ It’s not that big of a deal and there’s always next weekend. Neither of us wanted to end the race, and we both would have liked to have the first round go a little better than that, but our speed is there. I’m feeling good on the bike, and he’s obviously feeling good. I feel like I have the potential to go out there and win some races and get back into this points battle.

Zach put his bike in there in previous laps to show you he was there. When you are out front and riding your own race, do you have any indication something like that is going to happen?

Oh yeah. Two laps prior to that he stuck his front wheel on me. He was very nice about it. He put his front wheel in there to say ‘Hey, I’m here. On the next lap, if you don’t let off, you’re going down.’ I came in the next lap and checked up, but he wasn’t there. So, I kept going and had a good bike length or two on him. I kept on racing and the lap after, I thought I was clear, and he came out of nowhere. You can always tell when someone is coming in on you, if they have the room to do so. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the room to come in, so by the time he got to me, it was too late and I couldn’t do anything about it. There’s no shutting down. There’s nothing he can do. There was really no chance of either of us saving it as he darted in there.

Tyler Bowers assumed the position in the lead after you and Zach went down and now has the early advantage in the championship. Based on his performances the last couple seasons, it’s safe to say it’s time to get going. You can’t necessarily win or lose the championship in the first round, but being behind the eight ball a bit, where does this put you in the championship going into Baltimore?

You know, I’m definitely down (in the championship). I think I’m down 18 points, so that’s not a good start. But, I just need to go out there, try to get some good starts, and win some races. Its arenacross and anything can happen. Everybody is bound to have a bad main event, and unfortunately I had one right away, so that kind of uses up all my gimme cards. But, hopefully, with a little luck, I won’t have any more. But, we’ll see.

With two nights this weekend and two chances to get back into it, how do you approach the Baltimore round? I know you’ve mentioned you are a fan of the two-night rounds, so how does that play in to how you fight your way back into the championship?

Having the two nights gives you more track time, and gives you more opportunity to gain points and make money. Just be a part of what’s going on around the event. When you have one night, you’re in and out so fast that when you do have something like this past weekend where you have a bad night, there’s nothing to recompose yourself. You just go on home and wait until the next weekend. Two nights gives you the opportunity if one night goes bad, to redeem it with the next, or if you have a good weekend, you can go home with two good nights.

There was a lot of attention given to the fact that four former champions are battling against one another this season, in addition to a lot of other strong riders. It seems like the field is really deep in talent this year. After one night, how are you gauging the competition?

I think the talent definitely runs deep this year. With everyone being on 250cc bikes, it makes it a little more even too. There are a lot of fast riders out there. You can kind of see who has the speed after the first round. Some riders have the speed, but aren’t quite in shape yet, while some just aren’t quite there with the speed. But, I think there’s a lot more riders with the speed that just need a little more time to get in shape and get acclimated, than there is without. I think you’re going to see a lot of people stepping up as the season goes on.

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