Can Ken Roczen stop the “Webb Wagon”?
By Mathew Vasconcellos
April 15, 2021
The 2021 Monster Energy AMA Supercross season is winding down, and the points chase is tightening in both the 250cc West and 450cc classes.
Supercross is a motorcycle racing sport held in football and baseball stadiums. It was founded in 1974 by the American Motorcyclists Association (or AMA). Lap times range from 45 seconds to 60 seconds or more.
There are two classes -- the 250cc class and the 450cc class. The 250cc class is divided into two divisions called the 250cc East and 250cc West; this year, both divisions are nine races long -- eight races are designated Western, and eight are designated Eastern, and all riders reconvene in the final race of the series to determine who’s the best rider in the class; all riders race on 250cc four-strokes.
As for the 450cc class, it is a 17-race series, and all riders race on 450cc four-strokes. The champions will be crowned in the final race of the season at Salt Lake City’s Rice Eccles Stadium in early May.
After the series took a week off following the race in Orlando 2, the 250cc West series resumed at the next round at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Florida.
Before the race even began, history was already made -- the 2021 Daytona Supercross marked Supercross’ 700th total race in 47 years.
Winning the race for the first time in his career was Cameron McAdoo, 23, of Sioux City, Iowa on his number 31 Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki. Stilez Robertson, 19, of Bakersfield, California, on his Rockstar Energy Husqvarna number 47 was leading the whole way until McAdoo got him in the closing stages.
Round one winner Justin Cooper on his number 32 Star Racing Factory Yamaha finished in fourth place.
Kawasaki doubled up in Supercross’ 700th race with defending champ Eli Tomac on his number one winning the 450cc main event. It was Tomac’s fifth career win at Daytona, which ties him with current TV analyst, Ricky Carmichael, who won his first four Daytona races consecutively from 2000-2003 and again in 2006.
The Western riders headed next to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas for the next three events. Two of the three races there produced different first-time winners. Arlington 1 saw McAdoo’s Pro Circuit Kawasaki teammate, Seth Hammaker, 19, of Bainbridge, Pennsylvania lead every lap en route to his first career win. Daytona winner McAdoo finished third and Orlando 2 winner Cooper finished fourth once again.
In Arlington 2, Australian Hunter Lawrence on his number 41 Team HRC Honda, became a first-time winner of his own. Hunter, who is the older brother of 250cc East racer Jett Lawrence, was very emotional in his winner's interview.
“I was considering quitting,” Hunter said.
This was only Hunter Lawrence’s eighth career race; he was injured for much of 2020, and all of Supercross 2019. It was also the first win for an Australian citizen in the 250cc class since Chad Reed won his sixth consecutive race at St. Louis way back in 2002 (when it was called the “125cc class” at the time).
“I just kept telling myself one more lap, one more lap, and then white flag, I pretended like there were two more laps. And then when I went over the finish line, everything flashed through my head like everything I went through,” Lawrence said on Racer X Online’s Saturday Night Live.
While Hunter Lawrence’s first career win was being celebrated, there was also some controversy away from the winner’s circle. Cameron McAdoo had finished seventh in the Arlington 2 main event, but he was penalized three positions and credited with 10th place, thus surrendering the points lead to Hunter Lawrence; two other 450cc racers (Brandon Hartranft and Jason Anderson) were penalized for similar situations. According to section 4.15 i 2 of the 2021 AMA rulebook, all three riders had “accelerated in an unsafe manner while offcourse.”
When pit reporter Daniel Blair told Lawrence via Zoom that he was now the new points leader amidst McAdoo’s three-position penalty, Lawrence couldn’t believe it.
“Are you[deleted expletive]ing with me?!” shouted Lawrence. Blair meant every word. Hunter Lawrence was the new points leader with 84 points to McAdoo’s 83.
At the third and final race in Arlington, Star Yamaha’s Cooper earned his second win of the Western season. Points leader Lawrence was running third all race long only to crash on the final lap and finish in fifth. Fellow title contender Cameron McAdoo finished in second. Cooper’s win vaulted him back into the points lead.
The West riders then moved to a second speedway track at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the next three events. Yet another first-time winner emerged. Cooper’s Star Yamaha teammate number 91 Nate Thrasher, 18, of Tennessee earned his first career win after winning the Last Chance Qualifier for 19th gate pick -- out of 22 riders. Prior to the win, Thrasher’s results were 11th, 20th, and two ninth place finishes.
On Tuesday April 13, Justin Cooper earned his third win of the West coast season. While Cooper extended his points lead, the big talk through the industry was what happened with Cameron McAdoo. McAdoo suffered a really terrifying crash on the second lap that resulted in a red flag. Shockingly, McAdoo was cleared to line up again after going through concussion protocol and passed an on-site test. He was perfectly lucid, and lined up again on the restart, but without his front number plate. McAdoo turned a potentially awful night into a third place finish. Now, Cooper holds a nine-point lead on McAdoo with only two events remaining after Tuesday night -- Atlanta 3, and the East-West Shootout at Salt Lake City 2.
In the 450cc class, Eli Tomac won his fifth career Daytona Supercross (as mentioned earlier). One rider of note who had a breakthrough race was Hamilton, Ohio’s Aaron Plessinger on his number seven Star Racing Factory Yamaha. Plessinger, the 2018 250cc West Supercross champ and 250cc Motocross champ, finished an impressive third place behind Tomac and KTM’s Cooper Webb, the 2019 champion.
The riders packed up and headed to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas for the next three events. All three were won by KTM’s Webb.
Webb was able to overcome a challenge from Germany’s Ken Roczen on his number 94 Team HRC Honda, who had led the entire Arlington 3 race until Webb got around him in the closing stages.
Webb winning all three Arlington events put him up to six wins of twelve, while Roczen hasn’t won since the Indianapolis 3 race in early February (round six of the season).
After two weeks off, the riders journeyed to a new venue: Atlanta Motor Speedway in Atlanta, Georgia.
A track similar to Daytona had lap times reach the 1:40 area. The main event could have produced a first-time winner in the 450cc class, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Aaron Plessinger, who had some quiet results in the three Arlington races, led early on before he crashed on lap six.
Inheriting the lead was Roczen’s Honda teammate Chase Sexton, 21, of La Moille, Illinois. Sexton led the way while Eli Tomac was putting on a charge and sat just a second behind Sexton. Unfortunately, with two laps to go, Sexton got too close to a lapper (Ohio’s Cade Clason), a slower racer who’s being passed for the second time by the leader, and was forced to roll the next double jump.
Tomac pounced on Sexton and passed him. Sexton hung with Tomac momentarily, but after the white flag, Sexton mysteriously rolled the next double jump.
According to Racer X Online’s The Moment, Sexton thought the race was already over. Tomac ran away with his third win of the 2021 season; Sexton finished second, but he never blamed Clason for ruining his race. Sexton claimed that the whole situation was his own fault.
On Tuesday, Ken Roczen broke through and won the Atlanta 2 race. It was Roczen’s first win since the third race at Indianapolis in early February.
Roczen’s win, coupled with a sixth place finish from KTM’s Webb, put Roczen 13 points down with only three races remaining.
If Roczen is to win Honda its first Supercross title in 18 years, he has to hope for another bad race from Webb, or for an injury to Webb. Webb is leading the series with 313 points to Roczen’s 300, while Tomac sits 35 additional points behind at 278.