For the first time ever (or at least as far as anyone can remember) arenacross has arrived in Southern California, more specifically Citizen’s Bank Arena in Ontario, California, the same site that has held a number of EnduroCross races over the years. And this isn’t just any arenacross round, it’s the first round of the five-round Race to the Championship. In a nutshell, the points have been reset, so the next five events (seven races in all, since two of the rounds are double-header events) will determine this year’s Amsoil Arenacross Champions and who will take home the Ricky Carmichael Cup.
Technically, points haven’t been completely reset to zero, as the top riders of the series do get rewarded with a few points based on their positions in the standings up to this point, but, in reality, the top-10 riders of the regular season are starting from scratch in this play-off like format. (No other rider outside the top 10 is now eligible for the 2016 title.)
However, there is one rider that everyone is chasing, and that’s Team Babbitt’s/Monster Energy/Amsoil Kawasaki’s Gavin Faith, who hails from Fort Dodge, Iowa. He was the top rider after the regulars season and heads into the “sprint” already spotted six points, which is one more than the next-best rider, Travis Sewell of Westville, Indiana. He’s followed by Jacob Hayes (four points), Chris Blose (4), Ben Lamay (3), Jace Owen (3), Gared Steinke (2), Kyle Regal (2), Daniel Herrlein (1) and Cody VanBuskirk (1).
As mentioned, Faith is the guy with the target on his back, but he’s armed with plenty of confidence.
“It feels good,” Faith says of coming into the race as the man to beat. “I’m coming off three wins so I feel like I have really good confidence and momentum, and I think that’s going to be the crucial thing when it comes down to the points reset. Anything can happen and I just have to go out there and stay smart, get good starts, and put myself in good positions and hopefully we can knock off a few more wins and be pretty consistently on the box.”
Seven races isn’t a lot to decide a championship, so Faith knows that any one big mistake can catastrophic in this unique format.
“With such a short series, you make one big mistake you can easily jeopardize your chances of winning the championship,” said Faith. “For me, if you can stay on that box every weekend, I feel there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to win or have a really good shot at winning, so that’s going to be my goal—not try to do anything too crazy to try and squeak out that one extra point and jeopardize losing five points. You have to put yourself in a good position to win; that is huge in arenacross and is something I’ve learned.”
The reset system, which has only been around for a few years, has been met with mixed reviews by the racers. Obviously, it’s great for riders who might’ve been injured and missed a few rounds (i.e. defending champ Kyle Regal), or just had a few bad rounds or mechanical issues, but maybe not so great for those who have excelled all season long and could’ve won the title without the reset. But now, riders understand the format better and know what they’re getting themselves into at the beginning of the year and how to approach it.
“The reset system is pretty cool, I definitely think it’s good for the fans,” Faith said. “Last year it worked to my favor, this year, not so much; it was kind of a disadvantage for me. Every year is different. I knew the points were going to be reset at the beginning of the season, it’s not like they through you a curve ball, you know it’s coming. I’m looking forward to doing my best and putting my heart out there and try to get the championship.”
It seems strange that in a part of the country that host numerous supercross rounds (Anaheim, San Diego and Los Angeles) there has never been any kind of national championship arenacross round held in SoCal. But, then again, there haven’t been facilities in the area that really fits the bill when it comes to arenacross racing; most of the facilities are massive in this heavily populated area. (San Diego hosted a one-off arenacross-style race in the 1980s that saw Broc Glover and Mark Barnett battle for the win, which ended up going to Glover.) The Citizen’s Bank Arena has only been around since 2008.
“It’s pretty cool being in California, it’s the first time I believe that arenacross has been in southern California,” said Faith. “The dirt, you can definitely tell that you’re in California. I’m an east coast guys so—it’s a little looser and some spot are hard-packed, but hey we all have to race on the same dirt.”
Faith is no newbie when it comes to indoor racing. He’s competed in supercross for three years and he enjoys the somewhat different style of arenacross racing.
“The tracks are a lot tighter, lot more bar-banging,” Faith said of the differences between arenacross and supercross. “In supercross it’s important to get off to good starts, but in arenacross, it’s really crucial to put yourself in a good position. Things are so close and racing is so tight and literally anything can happen. Plus, you don’t want to get caught in the pack; there are 16 guys all packed on a track with 25-second lap times, so there can be a lot of carnage out there.
“I feel the whoops is one of my strongpoints,” Faith added. “I’m a tall guy and that helps, and I like the tight tracks of arenacross. I’ve struggled with my starts in previous years, but I feel like I’ve got them figured out by now; the last few rounds my starts have been on point.”
Defending champ Kyle Regal, of the Rockstar Energy Drink Husqvarna Factory Racing presented by FMC and OTSFF Team, is one of the few riders taking full advantage of the reset system. He’s been injured for much of the season and is now right back in the hunt for the championship.
The debut in Ontario also signifies the return of the Western Regional Arenacross Lites Class Championship, which will race each of the remaining rounds on the schedule. This title fight has been compelling to start, with VanBuskirk and Team DirtBike Mike/KTM Sports Center of Little Rock rider Ben Nelko trading victories. Currently, Nelko holds a slim three-point lead over VanBuskirk in the point standings, but VanBuskirk took the win at the previous round. While Nelko enters Ontario in control and has shown the speed to secure his first career title, it will be interesting to see how the added track time for VanBuskirk in the Race to the Championship influences his hopes of an inaugural championship.
The opening round of AMSOIL Arenacross’ Race to the Championship from Ontario’s Citizens Business Bank Arena kicks off tonight at 7 p.m. PT / 10 p.m. ET, April 1, and Saturday, April 2.
Race to the Championship Standings
- Gavin Faith, Fort Dodge, Iowa, Kawasaki – 6 (6 Main Event Wins)
- Travis Sewell, Westville, Ind., KTM – 5 (5 Main Event Wins)
- Jacob Hayes, Liberty, N.C., Kawasaki – 4 (8 Main Event Wins)
- Chris Blose, Phoenix, Kawasaki – 4 (2 Main Event Wins)
- Ben Lamay, Forney, Texas, Honda – 3 (1 Main Event Win)
- Jace Owen, Matoon, Ill., Honda – 3
- Gared Steinke, Woodland, Calif., Husqvarna – 2
- Kyle Regal, Lake Elsinore, Calif., Husqvarna – 2
- Daniel Herrlein, Bethesda, Ohio, Honda – 1
- Cody VanBuskirk, Harvard, Ill., KTM – 1