Reflections on the 2001 Supercross/Motocross Seasons
By Mathew Vasconcellos
March 24, 2021
It’s been 20 years since one of the most iconic years of Supercross and Motocross took place. 2001 was my third full year of following the sport, as I’d started at round 10 of the 1997 Supercross season; 1998 was my first full year. I was 12 years old, but soon to be 13 after February 16.
Supercross, founded by the American Motorcyclist Association of 1974, is a 17-round series of all-terrain races in America beginning in early January and concluding in May. Riders are divided into two divisions by vehicle: 450SX Class and 250SX. 450SX class are generally older riders who compete on 450cc four-stroke bikes, whereas the 250SX class are younger riders and compete on 250cc four strokes.
Additionally, these two classes are split into East and West Regions. These high octane races feature a series of obstacles and jumps on a dirt track which athletes race to complete.
Eight-time Supercross winner and Californian, Jeremy McGrath, 29, switched teams in 2001 and joined Mazda Yamaha after his previous team Chaparral Yamaha closed their doors in 2000. With a new sponsor of Hot Wheels, and his old mechanic Skip Norfolk (from McGrath’s days at Honda) back in his corner, McGrath came into 2001 looking for his eighth Supercross title in nine years.
“I think my biggest competitor is going to be David Vuillemin from Team Yamaha,” McGrath said in an interview with ESPN2 pit reporter Davey Coombs.
Vuillemin, 23, put the challenge to McGrath in 2000 with four wins and 11 podiums. McGrath used 10 wins and 14 podiums to defeat Vuillemin by 35 points for the 2000 250cc Supercross title.
McGrath started out the opening round in Anaheim with a dominating win en route to his 71st career Supercross win. Little did he know that opening round win served as a bad example of what was to come.
In San Diego, Team Kawasaki’s Ricky Carmichael, 21, of Florida rose from the ashes to challenge the seven-time champ McGrath.
TV analyst David Bailey mentioned during the broadcast that Carmichael said, “I don’t know if Jeremy [McGrath] can race for 20 laps. The guy’s awesome for 15, but no one pressures him the whole way! That’s what I wanna do!”
And challenge McGrath he did.
Carmichael won his second career 250cc Supercross (his first was at Daytona 2000) over AMSOIL Honda’s Mike LaRocco, 29, and McGrath finished in third. That left McGrath and Carmichael in a dead-even tie going into Anaheim 2.
At Anaheim 2, McGrath won his second race of the young season in a head-to-head battle with Carmichael that lasted all race long (20 laps). That included a bump from Carmichael against McGrath late in the race. Carmichael knew that bump was not something McGrath liked, and he immediately gave the lead back.
“I don’t think that was intentional,” McGrath said in his winner’s interview.
Carmichael had said the Anaheim 2 track was very slick and hard to charge. Charging is a term used in the Motorcross community for when a vehicle overtakes another.
“I just kept going inside... inside...” Carmichael said on trying to steal the win from McGrath. McGrath left Anaheim 2 the points leader again by three over Carmichael going into Phoenix.
At round three in Phoenix, Carmichael got the holeshot and won his second race of the young season. McGrath got a bad start in ninth place, but he managed to come up to second place by the end of the race. Once again, McGrath and Carmichael were tied going back to the next round in Anaheim -- both at 92 points apiece.
At Anaheim 3, McGrath took the ʻholeshotʻ and looked to be in the driver’s seat for his third win in three tries at Anaheim in one season. Holeshot is the term for the first motocross rider to complete the apex of the first turn, thus setting them up for a competitive advantage on the following laps. Carmichael started ninth and had moved up to second by the midway point. McGrath still held the lead until lap 18 when he jumped too far into a triple jump and was forced to take two of three. Carmichael jumped the triple and took the lead from McGrath. Carmichael made it stick by the end of the lap, and in a span of 100 yards, the season changed right then and there. Carmichael won his third race of the season; from that point on, Carmichael got better and better and reeled off wins left, right, and center.
Carmichael wrapped up the Supercross title at round 14 in Dallas, Texas with his eleventh consecutive win – twelfth of the season. That was after a short battle with Team Honda’s Ezra Lusk, 26, of Georgia.
At round 15 in Salt Lake City, Carmichael crashed hard in practice and gave himself a whopping headache. There were no indications Carmichael would have to be pulled from racing for the night. McGrath and a few other riders tried to take advantage of Carmichael’s misfortunes, but Carmichael didn’t let them and won his twelfth consecutive race.
At the Las Vegas finale, McGrath came in recharged for his last race of the 2001 year.
By this time, McGrath had earned the right to race the Supercross season only after seven titles and 72 wins. McGrath got the lead early from Minnesotan Heath Voss on his number 26 privateer Honda 450cc 4-stroke while Carmichael was buried back in 5th place.
Carmichael fought through the pack and took the lead from McGrath after McGrath slid out on the last turn on lap five. McGrath tried to stick with Carmichael, but he couldn’t pass Carmichael back. Carmichael tied a record 13 consecutive wins in a season which was set by Jeremy McGrath himself just five years ago in 1996.
At that point, the era of domination by McGrath was ending, and an era of domination from Carmichael was only beginning. For more on the 2001 Supercross season, check here.
When the hoon of riders hit the Motocross season, it seemed Carmichael was unbeatable.
At the opening round in Glen Helen in San Bernardino, California, Carmichael nailed the holeshot in the first moto of the 12-race season.
In the Motocross season, the riders race two times in one day, which are called “motos”; both motos are 30 minutes long, plus two additional laps. The rider who scores the most points after the two motos is deemed the “overall winner.” If there is a tie between two or more riders, the rider who had the best second moto finish wins the tiebreaker.
Unfortunately, something stood in the way of Carmichael winning the first moto: an errant hay bale.
Carmichael hit the bale and went tumbling down Mount Saint Helens. He would put on a triumphant run to come from 40th (last place) to eighth place in the first of two motos. Carmichael would rebound to win the second moto, but his 8-1 (38 points) put him in 4th place overall for the day. It was Carmichael’s first finish lower than third place in 28 races (Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania 2000).
The next two races spelled disasters for Carmichael. Crashes in the first motos at Hangtown and Mt. Morris put Carmichael’s finishes in fifth and 13th respectively. In terms of overall finishes, Carmichael was second place at Hangtown (5-1 – 41 points) and fifth place at Mt. Morris (13-1 – 33 points) and at a season-low fourth place overall in the series standings. Fortunately, Carmichael was just 12 points out of first place; the series leader was Frenchman, Sebastien Tortelli, 21, on his number 13 Team Honda.
Carmichael turned his fortunes around with a 1-1 sweep (50 points) at round four in Southwick, Massachusetts, after Tortelli had two bad motos. Carmichael found himself the new series leader by 10. The race in Southwick began a five-race winning streak for Carmichael.
During that winning streak, Carmichael further achieved history. At round seven in Unadilla (New Berlin, New York), Carmichael won his fourth consecutive overall; he used a 2-2 (44 points) score this time. It was his 38th career Motocross win, one better than former legend Bob “Hurricane” Hannah, who won 37 races until his retirement in 1985. The 2001 Unadilla Motocross would mark the only race in Carmichael’s career that he would win without winning either moto.
At round 9 in Washougal, Washington, Louisiana’s own Kevin Windham, 23, on his number 14 Suzuki RM250 stopped Carmichael’s five-race win streak. Windham ran down Carmichael in both motos and swept the motos. It was Windham’s first Motocross win since 1999 at Binghamton, New York when he was on a Honda CR250.
Losing doesn’t sit well with someone like Carmichael. Despite fighting a stomach virus dating back to the Unadilla race, Carmichael got back on track with a 1-1 sweep at the next round at Spring Creek Motocross Park in Millville, Minnesota. He took home another 1-1 sweep again at Broome-Tioga in Binghamton, New York. Carmichael sealed the crown with that second moto win at Binghamton; in his winning interview, he said he would drop down to the 125cc class at the final round in Steel City (Delmont, Pennsylvania) to break the tie with former Motocross champ Mark Barnett at 25 career 125cc Motocross wins (which Carmichael tied at the end of 1999). Carmichael won the day with a 3-1 to win his 26th career 125cc Motocross race.
Windham dominated the final round of the season in the 250cc class at Steel City with a 1-1 sweep of his own. In the final points tally, Windham fell short of the 250cc Motocross title by just eight points, but it was deceiving since Carmichael ran in the 125cc class that day on September 2, 2001.
In the 125cc class in Motocross, defending champ Travis Pastrana, 17, of Annapolis, Maryland was looking to successfully defend his 125cc Motocross title from 2000. Pastrana used a string of seven consecutive moto wins and four straight overall wins in the final quarter of the 2000 series to rob Frenchman Stephane Roncada of the 2000 125cc Motocross title by two points.
The opening round at Glen Helen saw a first-time winner in Grant Langston of Durban, South Africa on his number 111 orange KTM. Langston, 19, went 1-1 on the day to beat out the 2-2 performance of Tennessee’s Michael Brown, 28, on his Pro Circuit Kawasaki number 100. Defending champ Pastrana finished 3-4 for 3rd place overall.
Langston would also sweep round two at Hangtown. Pastrana had a good 2nd place overall with a 9-2 (34 points). Brown had a bad day with a hurt shoulder and zero points scored.
Pastrana pushed up in round three in Mt. Morris with a 1-1 sweep. In moto 1, he battled with an unknown Suzuki rider named Akira Narita on a number 982 RM125. Series leader Langston suffered his first loss of the season with a 10-3 (31 points) for fourth place overall.
Pastrana won round four in Southwick with a 2-1 (47 points) despite sustaining a concussion in practice. The first moto at Southwick went to Brown, but Brown crashed off the start of moto 2 and finished ninth for second place overall (37 points). At the end of the day, Pastrana was the new series leader.
Langston’s troubles continued at Southwick when he crashed during practice. He suffered a third-degree shoulder separation. Despite the pain, he gritted out a 9-4 (30 points) for sixth place overall. Sadly, his injury was too severe and Langston was forced to bypass the next round at Budds Creek, Maryland.
Brown swept the motos at round five at Budds Creek. Series leader Pastrana went 4-4 for 4th place overall. Brown’s sweep put him in 2nd place in the series standings because it was originally thought that Langston’s shoulder injury would ultimately end his season... or would it?
At the next race at Red Bud Track ‘n Trail in Buchanan, Michigan, another rider broke through for his first win of the season. South Carolina native Larry Ward, 31, used a 2-2 to beat out a 1-4 (43 points) from Pastrana for the overall win – Ward’s first Motocross win since Southwick 1992. Langston decided to delay his shoulder surgery and returned at Red Bud. Langston put on a gritty second moto ride to beat out Ward for the moto win; a fifth place in the first moto put Langston third place overall. As for Brown, a flat tire in moto 1 and a third place in moto 2 put him in 10th place overall (23-3).
Langston would use a 2-1 to win Unadilla; however, that came when Pastrana crashed on the final lap of moto 2 and knocked himself out. Pastrana would pull out three races later.
Brown would put four moto wins together at Troy, Ohio (round eight) and Washougal, Washington (round nine). However, Pastrana crashed yet again in the second moto at Washougal and surrendered the points lead. Brown found himself the new series leader after he was down 59 points with six races remaining.
Langston put four moto wins together himself at Millville and Binghamton. Going into the final round at Delmont, Langston was ahead by nine points over Brown. Not only that, Langston would have to face Ricky Carmichael, who was likely dropping down to help Brown win the title.
Carmichael famously told Langston, “Grant, don’t worry – when I pass ya, I won’t even touch ya.” As it turned out, neither Langston nor Carmichael would have to worry about passing each other that day.
At the finale in Pennsylvania, Carmichael crashed early in the first moto and came back to finish in third. That left Brown and Langston to battle on their own. Brown took the first moto, but he flipped off Langston for unknown reasons. In moto 2, Carmichael got away cleanly, but Brown crashed on the opening lap, and Langston was running in fifth place.
Brown charged through the pack, and he eventually caught Langston. With Carmichael long gone, and the second moto winding down, it appeared Brown’s title hopes were over. Langston landed a little hard off a jump, and spokes on his rear wheel began to break. With three laps remaining, Langston’s rear wheel started getting very wobbly. Eventually, his tire went flat and deflated his championship hopes. According to current Motocross announcer Jason Weigandt’s write-up here, Langston broke down in tears, but the drama wasn’t over.
Brown slowed up to let AMSOIL Honda’s Branden Jesseman on his number 31 CR125 by for second place in the second moto. Carmichael achieved history with his twenty-sixth 125cc Motocross career win, and Brown won his first (and later only) American Motocross title. Brown broke down in tears of his own – tears of joy.