Chaparral Motorsports/Precision Concepts Kawasaki’s Zach Bell may be out of the running for the 2020 FMF AMA National Grand Prix Championship (NGPC) Series crown he once owned in 2017 after missing two rounds this season, but he’s looking ahead to next year and a clean slate. If his start-to-finish winning performance at the Hilltoppers Motorcycle Club’s 75th Anniversary Grand Prix is a preview of 2021, his competition could be facing hard times.
Photos by Mark Kariya
But Dante Oliveira’s runner-up finish at the 29 Palms Motorsport Complex race—coupled with the unusual retirement of several of his closest rivals—wrapped up this year’s championship for the FMF/Maxxis/RPM Racing KTM racer one round early. (Previous points leader Austin Walton has been diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis and must sit out the rest of the year while Slam Life Racing [SLR] Honda teammates Trevor Stewart and Cole Martinez both suffered DNFs.)
Oliveira wasn’t the only one celebrating, though. After knocking at the door of a podium finish all season, 3 Bros./SRT Husqvarna’s Dalton Shirey finally broke through with his first podium appearance thanks to a spirited ride to third which unofficially moves him up a spot to fourth in points.
“I’ve been feeling really good,” Pro Circuit/Maxxis/Moose Racing-backed KX450 rider Bell said. “Dante’s been going good—I know he’s going for the championship, but like I said, I’m out there to mix it up and to go for wins. I know he’s probably managing [the 2020 championship] right now. I was going to wait a little bit longer to get back racing, but I was like, ‘Why should I wait longer when I’m feeling okay now? Just get back into race mode, get laps in and then when the new season starts, you’ll be ready to go.’ I’m excited for the future. It’s a bummer that we’re going to miss out on the championship three years in a row, but that’s part of it—it’s part of racing and that’s what I live for.”
What Bell will have to live without for another year is the NGPC number-one plate which now belongs to Oliveira and his AEO Powersports/Motorex/Klim 450 XC-F. Third off the start behind Bell and Martinez, he quickly moved into second but was not able to reel in Bell who, per his usual, sprinted the opening laps.
Though unable to keep up, he knew that those closest to him in points were behind and he needed to keep it that way in order to get closer to the ultimate goal of the championship. “Dalton Shirey ended up coming close to me at the end so that was some good racing,” Oliveira said. “I had no clue [about the points situation during the race], but at the end, [KTM mechanic] Robbie [Goolsby] told me. It was good. I’m excited with how the year went and I can’t thank everybody enough.”
At the end of the 90-minute $8000 feature race, a scant five seconds separated Oliveira and Shirey. The recently crowned AMA Hare & Hound National Champion had spent the time following the previous NGPC pre-running and racing in the SCORE Baja 1000 where his team finished second after flirting with the lead in the early going.
“I got myself on the podium this weekend and I’m super-stoked about it! I’ve been working on it,” Shirey said. “I’m making progress now.”
With practically no time to practice on his own FMF/Zip-Ty Racing/Troy Lee Designs FX 450 (which is set up completely different than the bikes he pre-ran and raced in Baja), he admitted it took a while to get up to speed due to arm pump early on. (The Hilltoppers switched things up with a Pro-only section, no pavement, and running the motocross track in reverse—changes that seemed to meet with widespread approval.)
“This, the intensity was a lot higher,” Shirey said.
SLR Honda’s Tallon LaFountaine shed the problems from the last two rounds that have hampered his march toward the Pro II championship and won for the first time since round two, finishing an impressive fourth overall after some spirited battles.
Unofficially, that moves him to second in points behind Chaparral Motorsports/Precision Concepts Kawasaki’s JP Alvarez who was third in class and seventh overall, 165-158. Thus, the Pro II championship is still up for grabs.
Second Pro II and fifth overall helped FMF/Maxxis/RPM Racing KTM’s Mateo Oliveira to move up in class points as well; unofficially, he’s now third with 149.
Alvarez, Garrett Off-road Racing Husqvarna rider Ryan Surratt, 3 Bros. KTM-mounted Colton Aeck (the round seven Pro II winner) and Purvines Racing Yamaha-mounted Tyler Lynn (the defending Pro II champ) rounded out the top 10 overall.
The nearly 1000 entries for this rescheduled race enjoyed much cooler, more pleasant conditions than at round six here in October. That’s expected to carry over at the finale in two weeks at Lake Havasu City, Arizona. CN
2020 Twentynine Palms NGPC Overall
- Zach Bell (Kaw)
- Dante Oliveira (KTM)
- Dalton Shirey (Hus)
- Tallon LaFountaine (Hon)
- Mateo Oliveira (KTM)
- Preston Campbell (Hon)
- JP Alvarez (Kaw)
- Ryan Surratt (Hus)
- Colton Aeck
- Tyler Lynn (Yam)