Many fans feared they’d never see this day. As everyone is well aware by now, a horrific crash at Anaheim 2 last season left Ken Roczen’s left arm completely devastated – his bones were shattered into too many pieces to count. Shortly after the crash, Roczen, his family, friends and crew would find out that a return to racing wasn’t even something to worry about at that point, but instead a fight to simply save his arm became paramount.
Now, nearly a year and 11 surgeries later, the mere fact that Roczen lined up for the Monster Energy AMA Supercross season opener at Angel Stadium Saturday night was a minor miracle. The fact that he came out fastest in timed qualifying, then came through his heat race to an amazingly strong main event to finish fourth… well let’s just say that’s storybook stuff.
As mentioned, Roczen came out blazing in practice on his factory Honda.
Then it got real.
Clicking off fast qualifying times is one thing, getting back to dealing with the pressures of actually racing with 21 other riders the track is something quite different as Supercross legend Ricky Carmichael pointed out.
“Things start happening really fast,” Carmichael said when talking about coming back to racing after such a long layoff. “Guys are coming at you from all sides and sometimes you can feel like a ping-pong ball.”
But as he watched Roczen’s progress in the main RC was impressed.
“You could see him getting more confident every lap, getting more comfortable passing guys and settling into a good pace.”
In the main Roczen was way back in 12th on the first lap and like Carmichael mentioned, he was getting knocked around like a ping-pong ball, getting bounced off one rider over to the next in the heavy traffic of the early going.
It was more than a bit scary to watch. If fans were wishing for a drama-free race in Roczen’s return, it was the complete opposite. Once clear of the scrum, Roczen came out fine. Carmichael said the contact with other riders was probably a good thing, giving Roczen some confidence that he could take a hit and keep going.
After making it through those first hectic laps, Roczen put his head down and started moving his way up. In the course of eight laps he went from 12th to fifth.
And then three-quarters of the way through the race you could hear a collective gasp from the 45,000 fans in Angel Stadium.
Roczen just about crashed.
He got out of shape going over a rhythm section and then got kicked up and was riding on his front wheel, which was tucked and sliding. He slid all the way to the side of the track and lost a position, but he didn’t fall and was quickly back on the gas.
He turned in his best laps at the end of the race getting past Cole Seely and Weston Peick to finish a very credible fourth. Maybe not what he’d hoped for in a perfect world, but realistically better than what almost anyone might have expected.
You could hear that Roczen’s competitive spirit was not diminished in any way by his comments after the race. He was struggling to see how he felt about his result. On one hand he was glad to get the race behind him with a good result, but you could tell he wanted more.
Never satisfied – a congenital condition of most champions.
“I should be happy for sure, but I got a bad start and got shuffled around in the back there a little bit,” Roczen said. “I definitely found my groove. I’m a racer, I want to be out there. I belong in the top three and winning too. I wanted to do better, but I have to be happy with myself.
“I just have to work on a couple of things. Overall, I felt pretty good in the moto. I got the jitters out of the way.”
And on the near crash?
“I had a close call there,” he said with understatement. “I must have caught my foot or something. It could have ended bad, but I’m glad I saved that one. And then I just stayed on two wheels. It was good to get the first one out of the way. It’s about being smart again and fourth place is plenty good. There’s a lot of racing left and I’m excited to be back with my team and I have to say thanks to all my supporters.
“It’s amazing to be back.”
So, one of the most incredible comebacks in Supercross history is in the books.
Ken Roczen is back, he looks solid and he could well be a title contender. Not bad, not bad at all.