Entry from Carnegie Journal: The Hangtown Classic

Last weekend on May 21st at the 2011 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross season opener; the 43rd Rockstar Energy Hangtown MX Classic, kicked off the motocross season in Northern California.  The Dirt Diggers and District-36 did a great job.  The facility, the Prairie City OHV Park, is run by the OHV Division of State Parks, underscoring the public private partnership required to put on an event of this caliber. OHV Division Supervisor, Phil Jenkins, and Deputy Supervisor, Daphne Green, were in attendance.

The fans started arriving early and the facility quickly filled up. The family atmosphere at this National Racing level event was evident throughout the facility.  Everybody showed up. The weather was perfect and the fans were visibly excited in anticipation of the first race of the series. They say that there were about twenty-two thousand spectators. The excitement was palpable as the 450s lined up for the first moto.

The track was gnarly. It was both fast and rough. The Dirt Diggers mixed some rice hulls and sand in the hard clay surface making for great traction, as well as some soft holes which caught more than few racers off guard. There were a ton of lines for passing and making up time.  It was a typical super gnarly motocross track with some super-cross type obstacles to separate the” men from the boys”.

In practice Mike Alessi on his Red Bull KTM 450 set the fastest time until a high speed crash knocked him out of contention. He looked very comfortable and super fast after making the transition from the 350 to the 450 KTM. He will not race the next few rounds according to team officials.

In the 450 Class Chad Reed on his TwoTwo Motorsports/Bel-Ray Honda split moto wins with Ryan Dungey with Rockstar/Makita Suzuki to take the overall. They both looked blazingly fast all day.

Kevin Windham, to the delight of his many fans, got the holeshot with his GEICO Powersports Honda in the first moto and led for several laps until he got passed and faded back to sixth.  It was reported that Windham had engine problems, and if that wasn’t enough, had gotten injured at the Las Vegas Super-Cross and hadn’t even been on his bike before the start of the MX series.

Dungey was carrying the number one plate from last year where he dominated the series. The first moto was all Dungey’s as he sped away for the win followed by Reed and then Ryan Villipoto on his Monster Energy Kawasaki.  Villipoto was recovering from the flu, and did not look at all like his old self that day.

After demolishing the field last year we expect to see great things from Dungey whose fitness is not in question. This kid is tough. Besides hauling ass on a motorcycle, one of Dungey’s strengths lies in the fact that he is in great shape and seldom gets tired.

In the second moto with four laps left, Dungey pulled to within a second of Reed who had led for half the moto and they fought tooth and nail while Reed retained the lead. By the end of the moto Reed managed to break away from Dungey and take the win and the overall unopposed.  Villipoto, who led in the opening laps of the race, followed Dungey across the finish line.

Even though, against all odds, Villipoto won the Super-cross series this year, this was his first motocross race since Hangtown 2009. There was a huge gap between the top three and the rest of the field. At the end of the day Reed (2-1) stood at the top of the podium with Dungey (1-2) second and Villipoto (3-3) third. Reed looked really good on his Honda and his blazingly fast speed was undeniable.

In the 250 class Blake Baggett with his Monster Energy/ Pro Circuit Kawasaki put on a phenomenal bit of riding to win Hangtown with a 2-1 score. His teammate Dean Wilson also with Monster Energy/ Pro Circuit Kawasaki took the first moto in style, but not even a crash in the first moto could deter Baggett’s charge to the front. Baggett took second and Eli Tomac with GEICO Powersports Honda took third.

In the second moto it was all Baggett’s with Wilson and later Tyla Rattray, Monster Energy/ Pro Circuit Kawasaki, challenging him for the win. Rattray eventually settled for second. Wilson had crashed battling Baggett early in the moto and dropped back to third where he remained as he crossed the finish line. Overall it was Baggett (2-1), Wilson (1-3) and Rattray (5-2). Mitch Payton’s team dominated the podium.

When the women’s class lined up at the gate it looked to be another dual between Red Bull Honda’s Ashley Foilek and Jessica Patterson on her DNA Shred Stiz/Star Racing Yamaha. But the first moto was all Patterson’s with the holeshot and a solid lead to the end. Paterson looked really strong and won with a 1-1 with Foilek second with a 2-2 and Steffi Laier on her Red Bull/Teka/KTM finished third (3-3) in a strong appearance on U.S. soil.

Steffi Laier, from Germany, was FIM WMX World Champion in 2005, 2009, and 2010. She explained that she was recovering from a hand injury and got arm pump during the race. We can’t wait to see what this German racer can do when she is fully recovered.

If nothing else these women were consistent with Patterson beating second place Foilek by over twelve seconds in both races even after a crash in the second moto where she ran down Foilek and Laier to take the win.

Foilek had taken the win from Patterson in 2008 and 2009. Patterson, a multi time women’s pro champion, wasn’t content to take second and ramped up her training program to take the championship back last year. It looks like she will dominate again in 2011. We can’t wait to see what happens.

The women’s class had an international flavor with Steffi Laier from Germany, Tarah Gieger from Puerto Rico, Mariana Balbi from Brazil, and Sayaka Kaneshiro from Japan all placing in the top ten. The racing was fast and furious in the front of the pack. It seems that the United States is the place to race if you want to prove that you are the best in the women’s professional class.

It used to be that motocross riders tried their hand at off road, sometimes to prolong their careers and sometimes just for fun, with such greats as Rodney Smith, Mike Brown and Ryan Hughes racing in the initially unfamiliar off road scene. Now racers are going in the other direction. Two off road racers lined up at Hangtown intent on testing their skills on the track.

The Valli Motorsports/ Rockstar Yamaha team added off-road hero Ricky Dietrich for the upcoming Lucas Oil AMA motocross series.

Dietrich was 2006 champion in the WORCS off-road series and runner up in 2008 and 2009. In 2008 he won the EnduroCross championship and was a member of the trophy team in the International Six-Day Enduro in Greece finishing second overall and leading his team to a bronze medal. In 2008 he earned the AMA racing athlete of the year.

He filled in at Factory Kawasaki for some good finishes earning an impressive fifth overall, two sixth overalls, a seventh overall, and an eleventh overall in the 450 class.

At Hangtown Dietrich suffered a couple of terrible starts but fought his way back up to eleventh in the first moto and fifth in the second moto for a ninth overall. He showed that he has the speed in the 450 class and we are sure to see him on the podium soon.

A new face in the women’s class was 20 year old RPM/KTM rider Kacy Martinez, an off road champion who decided to try her hand at motocross.

A Northern California sensation sponsored by KTM, Martinez was 2010 and 2009 WORCS Women’s Pro Champion and runner up in 2008. In 2010 she got 6th in the Pro Hill Climb in the Men’s division. In addition she was 2008 and 2009 Western Hare Scrambles Champion among her other “lesser” accomplishments. On top of all that she was the 2009 AMA Women Rider of the Year.

At Hangtown despite having no previous experience racing professional motocross and riding her off road KTM FIRTHS WORCS series race bike she turned in a great performance with an eleventh in the first moto and a thirteenth in the second moto for twelfth overall, beating almost three quarters of the professional motocross women lined up with her on the start that day.

She said that her bike was working really well that day. The rough and fast track was probably an advantage. She is certainly not afraid of getting big air.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the off roaders were able to “strut their stuff” at Hangtown where the gnarly conditions put a premium on bike handling skills. They are capable of going exceptionally fast in less than optimal conditions, have the knack of finding the fastest lines, and know how to use the terrain to their advantage; whether getting big air to clear obstacles or staying close to the ground for traction. In short, they are not afraid of mixing it up with the fastest riders in the world.

After it was all over the fans said that they would certainly be back next year. The track is great for spectating and most of it is visible to fans sitting all over the hillsides.  There were amateur races on Thursday and Friday, with Sunday set aside for the minis. A great time was had by all. We want to thank the Dirt Diggers, District 36 and the OHV Division of California State Parks for making all this possible.

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