Running Its Course?
Over 20 years ago, Eric Peronnard created the U.S. Open of Supercross, which was a distinct event in the MX/SX off-season, held in the MGM Grand Garden Arena. It featured top supercross racers who were essentially racing Arenacross, and it paid out $100,000 to the winner. It also allowed the public to bet on the racing, which was really cool for a while. Early on, it featured the Open class (the stars), a Supermini class, and a Sound of Thunder (four-stroke) class. After 7-8 years, four-strokes took over completely, so that killed the novelty of the four-stroke class, and eventually Feld Motorsports (under a previous owner/title of either Clear Channel or Live Nation) took over and it began to become homogenized to look and sound just like the regular AMA Supercross series, with a 250 and a 450 class. The sparkle began to fade, then it disappeared completely after about a decade.
But a market still existed for an off-season supercross-style event, and, in 2011, Feld Motorsports created the Monster Energy Cup. Still in Las Vegas, the MEC was to feature a tamed-down track, without whoops, where the promoters hoped racers from the MXGP series in Europe would feel comfortable enough to come to America and give “supercross” a go. It would still pay $100,000 to the winner, unless a racer could manage to win all three main events, and that would pay $1 million.
Ryan Villopoto immediately cashed in on that $1 million at the first event, but Feld Motorsports managed not to pay that huge sum out for a few years, until 2017, when Marvin Musquin took the $1 million. He was followed by Eli Tomac doing the same thing in 2018, along with a fan who also got $1 million for Tomac’s flush.
After Musquin’s win in 2017, representatives from Feld expressed their joy with the “Monster Million” getting paid out. They said it was a good thing for racers to win the prize. They were a little less enthusiastic about paying $2 million the very next year, though.
So, for the 2019 Monster Energy Cup, it definitely seemed like Feld threw everything they could at the racers in an attempt to prevent anybody from taking home the Monster Million: For the first time ever, one of the three main events would be run backward on the racetrack, which created quite a few challenges in track design. There were also three different starts for the three main events, with two starts inside the stadium (one turning left, one turning right to go backward on the track) and one start outside the stadium (into a grass left-hand turn).
It’s hard to say whether or not these changes actually prevented anybody from winning the Monster Million, but nobody won it this year. It’s only been won three times in nine years, after all. But the changes may have kept many racers from racing.
While Monster Energy-sponsored teams showed up—with Monster Energy Yamaha’s Justin Barcia and Aaron Plessinger on hand, as well as Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac and Adam Cianciarulo—most of the rest of the supercross regulars sat the event out: Both Red Bull KTM racers (defending SX Champ Cooper Webb and 2017 Monster Million winner Marvin Musquin) sat the event out, as did Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s 2018 Supercross champ Jason Anderson and his teammate Zach Osborne. JGR Suzuki sat out altogether, and Honda’s Ken Roczen, who had just won the Red Bull Straight Rhythm, was also a no-show. A couple GP regulars did show up, though, with current MXGP World Champ Tim Gajser racing the MEC for Honda, along with KTM-mounted Jordi Tixier.
It’s unclear how much of an influence the format changes were in preventing racers from wanting to race the event this year, but it was definitely not a deep field at all. Two of the racers I mentioned above told me that the backward-racing element was one of the reasons they decided to sit the event out. And, in the end, that decision may have saved their season—or at least their off-season.
In the very first (untimed) practice session of the day, going backward on the track, Tixier went down in the rhythm section just past the start straightaway, as he clipped one of the jumps and endoed right into the berm at the end of the straight. He was KO’d and out for the night. In the final practice session of the day, also going backwards on the track, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Dean Wilson (who was fast and feeling it all weekend, and who finally has a factory contract before the year starts, with Husky for 2020) also clipped a jump in the same section and also went down big, right into the berm. For Wilson, the end result was a dislocated hip. The normal recovery time for this sort of injury is about six months, which means he very likely has not only lost his entire off-season of preparation for 2020, but he will likely miss at least the first half of the AMA Supercross series (if not the whole thing).
Wilson showed the video of the crash on his Instagram page, first showing him making the jump clean earlier in the session, and then showing his big crash from a couple different angles. And he said the reason he came up short and went over the bars was due to the fact that there was less of a lip where he hit the first jump the lap that he crashed, and that was because it was where racers were landing when the track went the other way. Essentially, the crash might have happened because of the race format, although Dirt Wurx changed the section for the night show after it bit two of the night’s star racers.
After seeing this, I wouldn’t be surprised if even more top racers will begin sitting out the MEC, and ironically that could actually make the Monster Million easier to win for Monster-sponsored racers like Eli Tomac or Adam Cianciarulo, despite the fact that it seems Feld instituted these changes to help avoid paying the money out.
Although title sponsor Monster Energy has signed on to sponsor the event for multiple years, with shallow fields as of late, let’s hope the MEC doesn’t follow in the footsteps of the U.S. Open. CN