The name Formula Xtreme was very late-‘90s. The X Games launched in 1995 and from that point onwards in the ‘90s if it wasn’t extreme it wasn’t happening. If the ‘70s everything was “Super”, the ‘90s were certainly extreme. Oh, and make that Xtreme – the X had to come first to show you just how Xtra Xtreme it was. AMA Pro Racing rolled with the tide and in 1997 launched Formula Xtreme, replacing the old AMA SuperTeams Series. While the name may have been faddish, the competition in the series was top-notch. Perhaps the most competitive, controversial and talent-filled FX season came in 2002.
Honda owned the Formula Xtreme class for its first four years, but that changed in 2001, when both Suzuki and Yamaha stepped up to halt the Honda juggernaut. John Hopkins and the Valvoline EMGO Suzuki team came away with the big prize, winning the 2001 championship in a one-point squeaker over Graves Motorsports Yamaha’s Damon Buckmaster. Hopkins went straight from FX to MotoGP, hired by Red Bull Yamaha leaving the No. 1 plate vacated.
Buckmaster, once again riding for Graves Yamaha, was eager to make up for losing what he felt was his title this year. But the Australian was faced with an even deeper field in ‘02. He would also face a rulebook fight with the legality of the Graves Yamaha R7/R1 hybrid a major point of contention much of the season.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to pre-season favorite Buckmaster in ’02 was 12-year pro Jason Pridmore on the Attack Suzuki. Pridmore, a former AMA 750 Supersport champ, looked to be the rider to beat in the 2001 championship before he broke his leg while leading round two at Road Atlanta. Pridmore was joined on the Attack Suzuki squad by a 17-year-old Ben Spies. At that point Spies was considered one of the most promising riders in AMA Pro Racing. He earned the prestigious AMA Horizon Award in 2000 as the AMA’s leading amateur racer and went on to record his first national win at Pikes Peak in the 2001 AMA 750 Supersport class.
Honda brought a new, more powerful CBR954RR to the series in hopes of competing with the powerful Suzuki GSXR1000s and Yamaha’s R1. Four-time series champion Erion Honda brought Mike Hale back to AMA Pro Racing fulltime for the first time in seven years. Hale was teamed with an 18-year-old Roger Hayden. Erion’s satellite squad, Bruce Transportation, featured Jake Zemke and Alex Gobert. Gobert, like Hayden, just 18 and youngest of the three racing brothers.
FX did not run at Daytona, so the series opened at California Speedway in April. There it was Buckmaster and Pridmore battling early, before Buckmaster pulled clear to a jaw-dropping 19.6-second victory. The race was somewhat controversial in that Buckmaster actually raced a Yamaha YZF-R7 hybrid (powered by an R1 engine) in the race instead of the R1. That bike was protested. AMA Pro Racing initially denied the protest and allowed the R7/R1 hybrid to be raced, but an appeal eventually brought the question a special appeals board.
Buckmaster then won the next two rounds at Sears Point and Road Atlanta to open up a 23-point lead over Zemke. Pridmore, Hale and Spies rounded out the leading contenders after three rounds.
The championship picture changed at Pikes Peak International Raceway’s round four. The R7/R1 hybrid Buckmaster rode to three-straight victories was determined illegal by an AMA appeals board, yet they allowed Buckmaster to keep the points earned on the bike. The Graves team feverishly built a new R1 race bike from scratch in just over a week. “Bucky” raced the new R1 at Pikes, won the pole, led early, but then faded to fifth before the engine on his bike expired on the final lap. Pridmore won the race on the Attack Suzuki and he and Jake Zemke (who was second at Pikes) narrowed points gap to Buckmaster.
At Road America Buckmaster and Zemke took each other out with less than two laps to go while battling for the lead. Each rider blamed the other for the crash. Pridmore was the benefactor, being handed the win and as a result a narrow six-point series lead over Buckmaster. Zemke was still very much in the title chase as well, just two points behind “Bucky”. Young Ben Spies still had an outside shot at the title at mid-season.
In spite of a painful broken foot, Valvoline EMGO Suzuki’s Marty Craggill took the FX victory at Brainerd (MN) International. Buckmaster, Zemke, Pridmore and Craggill each led at some point during the hotly contested 13-lap contest. Pridmore, Zemke and Buckmaster were separated by just eight points with three rounds to go.
Zemke won over Buckmaster and Hale at Laguna and took over the points lead. Then Buckmaster bounced back and took all available points at Mid-Ohio (pole point, lap leader point and the win) to edge back into the lead with 246 points to Zemke’s 244 and Pridmore’s 241. The championship would be decided in the season finale at Virginia International Raceway.
At VIR Corona Extra Suzuki’s Adam Fergusson upstaged the expected showdown by winning the FX finale after a race-long battle with Pridmore, but it was what happened further down the field that made the crucial difference in the championship. Zemke ran off the track when he ran too hot into a turn and collided with Roger Hayden right in front of the entire field. Hayden crashed, but Zemke was able to get back on the track but was dead last.
Zemke began a frantic charge through the field. Buckmaster ran third much of the race but suffered heartbreak for the second year in a row when his bike began to seize. All he could do was limp home to 21st. His Graves Yamaha team loaded up after the race in somber silence.
Interestingly, Fergusson was prepared to help fellow Suzuki rider Pridmore should he need it, but with Buckmaster slowing, Zemke’s impressive ride through the field ultimately found him 13 seconds behind Pridmore by the time he moved into third. Zemke needed to pass Pridmore to win the title. He narrowed it to four seconds, but that’s as close as he could get.
Both Pridmore and Zemke tallied 273 points, with Pridmore earning the championship by virtue of having two wins on the season to Zemke’s single victory.
It was a triumphant return for Pridmore from his 2001 injuries.
“People don’t know how hard it is to come back from some of the injuries I had,” Pridmore said after wrapping up the title. “Racing’s wheat I love to do and sometimes I want to win more for my team than myself. The competition with Jake and Damon, I knew this was going to be a wild and whacky weekend.”