Cross-Rutted | Go Ahead, Call It A Comeback
It seems there are a lot of unwritten rules for pro racers. Like your career will expire at a certain age, or that it’s over once you have kids, or if you haven’t won a championship within your first three years, you probably never will. Statistics might trend in some of those directions, and the “odds” being stacked against you can certainly weigh heavy on the minds of racers, likely becoming self-fulfilling prophecies in what is a hugely mental game. But one by one, it seems these “rules” are being shattered, and more riders are defining their own rules in what is already starting to look like the year of the comeback.
Perhaps it all started last year with the guy who quickly dispatched of all three unwritten rules I just mentioned. Zach Osborne was nearing “retirement age” (around 27 by supercross standards) and had raced at a professional level for 11 years without winning a championship. He took several stabs at it in the U.S. and then hopped across the pond to try his hand at the FIM Motocross World Championship, but still hadn’t accomplished his goal. He made his return to AMA Supercross and Pro Motocross where he got himself a factory ride, but was not on anyone’s radar as a championship hopeful. He was a veteran in the field, a family man who had gone more than a decade without a win in supercross. By all indications, he was “washed up.”
Lo and behold, in 2017 Osborne nabbed his career-first AMA Supercross win and went on to win the 250SX East Championship. Then he took the outdoors by storm and claimed his first 250MX Pro Motocross Championship. In one season, he became a two-time champion and a legend in what was one of the most memorable races in supercross history (Las Vegas finale).
His story breaks all the norms. And I can’t speak for others, but if I were a 20-something pro racer preoccupied by my ticking biological clock, I would be incredibly inspired by that. It’s all still out there for the winning, and if rules are meant to be broken, then statistics are meant to be excepted—not accepted.
So far in 2018, I see a lot of other racers making comebacks and defying the odds—a trend perhaps inspired by Osborne.
Kendall Norman is back! The six-time Baja 1000 Champion slipped below the border several years ago and made himself very scarce to the motorcycle industry, leaving many to scratch their heads and wonder where “Mr. Baja” had disappeared to. Norman reemerged in the United States this year with a Honda ride, and is now taking on the AMA National Hare & Hound Championship.
After a third-place finish at the opener, Kendall topped the second round, notching his first desert victory in years. He is now firmly in the lead for the 2018 AMA National Hare & Hound Championship. If he can hang on to take the title, what a comeback that will be.
Ricky Dietrich is another prodigal son making a return to the Southern California off-road scene this season. The former EnduroCross and WORCS Champion is no stranger to winning titles, but hasn’t done it in a very long time. Following his winning years, Dietrich faced some sordid times that seemed to ultimately derail his racing. But after slipping out of the spotlight for about five years, the estranged champion is back at it in the WORCS and Big 6 WCGP series. I, for one, am thrilled to see him make a return to racing because there is simply no denying his talent. Dietrich has done it all from ISDE, X Games and EnduroCross all the way to supercross as a fill-in rider for the factory Kawasaki team. Few riders can boast that breadth of talent, and it is pure poetry to watch him ride when he’s “on.” We’ll see if he can flip the switch.
Speaking of EnduroCross and X Games, another rider is returning to the fray. Taddy Blasuziak had a taste of retirement for a seasons but apparently decided it didn’t suit him. Blazusiak is now battling back from retirement, and doing a pretty decent job of it in the FIM SuperEnduro World Championship. Perhaps a break was just what the doctor ordered for the former EnduroCross and SuperEnduro World Champion. Perhaps a body battered by hard enduros simply needs a year off sometimes. But no matter how much time they take off, champions still know how to win. Blazusiak did exactly that at the opening round of the championship, taking the top spot in front of his home crowd at the GP of Poland in Krakow. Whether or not he will take on extreme enduros and another season of the AMA EnduroCross Series remains to be seen, but the hero of hard enduro can only add to his impressive collection at this point. There’s definitely not a whole lot left on the table for someone who has amassed five AMA national championships, six world championships, four X Games gold medals and five Erzberg titles.
Another great comeback story belongs to one of my personal favorites, Maria Forsberg. The KTM factory racer won everything in sight throughout her lengthy career, being recognized as the winningest off-road female racer. She had nine national championships from WORCS to GNCC and EnduroCross, and even traveled the world a bit collecting gold medals both in X Games and ISDE. Forsberg retired in 2013 to settle down and start a family, but did that while maintaining a seemingly insatiable fitness regimen. At the end of 2017, the FMF/RPM KTM team announced that she was back on the roster. With a baby on her hip and a toddler running her pit crew, Forsberg (now Hahn) is a very inspiring story for female athletes who feel pressured to choose between motherhood and a career. Maria’s season is off to a rocky start with a thumb injury at the opening round of the GNCC series, but this proud mama will still be hungry for wins in 2018, and I have no doubt she will get them.
All of it is inspiring, and it’s a challenge to break the norms and define your own rules. Years ago I took some time off from school after tooling around in community college for a while, and was told that I was statistically very unlikely to ever come back and complete my associates degree, let alone transfer to a four-year university. Well, it turns out a break was exactly what I needed to get my priorities straight and understand why I was doing all this. It made it much easier to put my head down and put in the work—once the time was right—to meet my goals. (Which I did. With honors, a-thank you.)
Of course, statistics exist for a reason, and we can’t all be an exception. But I would rather see the hope of possibilities rather than the yoke of statistics on the minds of aspiring racers. I’m excited to see so many exceptions and comebacks this year, and I hope these guys (and gals) keep the surprises coming this season. CN