This Saturday, at Fox Raceway in Pala, California the start gate will drop on the 2022 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, presented by Monster Energy, marking the 50th anniversary season of professional motocross racing here in the United States.
From coast to coast on such hallowed racing grounds as High Point (PA), Unadilla (NY), RedBud (MI), Spring Creek (MN), Washougal (WA), and Hangtown (CA), the “MX Nationals” brings together the best-of-the-best in terms of American and international pro motocross racers.
Here’s a look at Monster Energy’s lineup for the 50th anniversary season of pro motocross racing in the States, beginning with defending series 450 class champion Dylan Ferrandis and the Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha team.
Racers: (450 class) Dylan Ferrandis, Eli Tomac, Christian Craig (250 class) Justin Cooper, Colt Nichols, Nate Thrasher, Levi Kitchen (rookie), Nick Romano (rookie), and Matt LeBlanc (rookie)
Ferrandis is the odds-on favorite to repeat as 450 champ. His overall class victory last year (’21) was the first championship for Yamaha since Grant Langston in 2006. The Frenchman’s first season racing in the U.S., Ferrandis is the defending champ at the Fox Raceway National opener, won three-straight MX Nationals (High Point, RedBud, and Southwick, Mass.), took Budds Creek, and finished on the podium (3rd or better) in every contest he started.
Pitting right next to Ferrandis in the team hauler is the newly crowned Monster Energy AMA Supercross Champion, Tomac. A three-time 450 class champion (2017, ’18, and ’19), Tomac will (or “could”) be racing his last year outdoors as he recently signed an SX-only contract for 2023 with Star Racing. An MCL knee injury during supercross kept Tomac from preparing at the level for outdoors that he’s used to, though that should by no means rule out the top dirt bike racer on the planet for ’22 MX season success.
Another SX champion, Craig (Western SX 250), will look to improve upon last year’s 6th place overall 450 class finish (four top-five results). Craig hauled the mail all season long on the Monster Energy supercross tour, so look for him to continue that momentum outdoors.
In 250 class action, Cooper is blazing fast outdoors. The 2018 AMA Pro Motocross Rookie of the Year, Cooper, coming off the 250 WSX title in 2021, placed 2nd last season in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship’s 250 class. With 22 career podium finishes outdoors, Cooper’s fired up for the MX Nationals season having spent the ’22 Monster Energy AMA Supercross season on the sidelines with a foot injury. During Cooper’s ’21 run at the MX Nationals 250 title, according to Yamaha, he led the division in qualifying and holeshots, scored seven moto victories in the two-moto format, and was never off the overall podium. A healthy Cooper will spell trouble for the MX Nationals’ 250 field.
Like Cooper, Nichols was looking forward to defending his ’21 250 ESX championship when he was injured (arms and back) during a heat race at Anaheim (Calif.) 1 – and missed the entire supercross season. In his 2021 MX Nationals campaign, Nichols scored three top-five overall 250 class finishes (Southwick, High Point, and Thunder Valley, Colo.), en route to a top 15 overall finish (14th) – despite crashing out at Round Seven (Washougal) and sitting the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. Reportedly seen putting in fast laps at various SoCal tracks, Nichols, according to Yamaha, “recently returned to riding and is working towards his comeback this summer.”
Coming off a massive win at the 250 SX Showdown at Salt Lake City earlier this month, Thrasher has the most current momentum going into the MX Nationals for the Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha 250 team. The Tennessean will be looking to improve upon his 22nd overall place in the 250 class last year, best finishes being a 12th at Thunder Valley and a 13th at RedBud.
With former 250 outdoor champion Jeremy Martin (Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha) recovering this summer from shoulder surgery, officials at Star Racing added two new rookies to the team (in addition to Kitchen). New York’s Nick Romano, the AMA’s 2021 Amateur Rider of the Year, will contest the full Lucas Oil Pro Motocross 250 class competition season, while Louisiana’s Matt LeBlanc, who’s also won multiple Monster Energy AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships racing for the powerful Yamaha bLU cRU amateur program, will race a few select MX Nationals. The two join Washington’s Kitchen, who won two Loretta Lynn’s National Amateur titles last year and was awarded with the AMA’s Nicky Hayden Motocross Horizon Award – the nation’s top award for amateur motocross racers. Kitchen, who made his pro race debut at RedBud last summer, raced a shortened supercross season this past winter.
Wrapping up the Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha’s MX Nationals season preview, 250 Team Manager Jensen Hendler had this to say: “We’re ready to kick off the outdoor season. Coming off a successful end to the supercross season, we are looking to pick up where we left off. The team has been working hard during the short break, and we’re excited to get rolling this weekend. It’s great to have Justin and Colt back riding, although Colt will be joining us sometime later this summer. We also have a group of young, fast riders, which is really exciting, and we’re looking forward to seeing what they can do.”
Racers: (450 class) Jason Anderson and Joey Savatgy
If Monster Energy AMA Supercross was any indication, Anderson is flat out primed for an excellent summer racing the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. The New Mexico native, dubbed “El Hombre,” won the last four-straight 450 class supercross main events, seven on the season. And had it not been for another Monster Energy-backed racer, one Eli Tomac, Anderson would have run away with the supercross crown.
As it stands, Anderson, who hasn’t had similar success racing outdoors as he has racing supercross, enters the season arguably having had his most successful supercross season to date – including his 2018 supercross championship victory (2nd in ’22). Can he challenge Monster Energy’s Ferrandis for the MX Nationals title, having had Ferrandis covered in supercross? Anderson will first have to win an overall race – something he’s never accomplished in his career. So far, though, the move from Husqvarna to Team Green has revived the speed and confidence that put Anderson in rare air – possibly beyond that of his 2018 supercross title season. And he’s certainly got a bunch of fans around the world that are hoping he can continue the momentum through the MX Nationals. It will for sure be one of the more interesting stories to follow this summer.
Filling in as Anderson’s teammate, while Monster Energy/Kawasaki’s Adam Cianciarulo continues to heal up from a supercross injury (knee), will be the newly-added Savatgy. The 2019 supercross season’s 450 class Rookie of the Year, Savatgy, who’s also recovering from a knee injury, placed 8th last year in the MX Nationals 450 class, recording a solid 240 points. Savatgy placed 3rd overall in 250 class MX Nationals racing twice (2015 & ’16).
Said Savatgy: “It’s a privilege to join the Monster Energy Kawasaki team for the upcoming Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. I’ve had a lot of success with the team in the past and I’m eager to continue building on that in the coming months. I’m confident my familiarity with the bike and the team will help speed that process along. I’m optimistic about what we can achieve together this summer.”
Racers: (250 class) Joe Shimoda, Cameron McAdoo, Austin Forkner, Seth Hammaker, and Jett Reynolds (rookie)
Coming off a huge win at the final 250 ESX round in Foxborough, Massachusetts and this after one of the worst mid-air takeout collisions in supercross history (resulting in a shoulder injury that cost Forkner five races), the Missouri native carries the most momentum into the MX Nationals on the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team. The six-time Amateur National Champion and 2016 Pro Motocross Rookie of the Year, the veteran Forkner leads Mitch Payton’s legendary race program in MX Nationals’ career top-five finishes (15), podiums (7), and overall wins (1).
The most consistent racer coming off the ’22 supercross season for Pro Circuit was Shimoda. The Japanese racer also had the best overall results from the ’21 Outdoor Nationals, placing 5th overall (following an 11th overall finish in his rookie year, 2020). Shimoda, showing great improvement in his sophomore year, scored three podium runner-up MX Nationals finishes last year - Hangtown (Prairie City, Calif.), Southwick, and the Ironman.
Winning and scoring supercross finishes before an injury led to an incomplete SX season - but ready to race the Nationals for Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki - will be McAdoo and Hammaker. McAdoo missed almost the entire ’21 MX Nationals season following a Moto 2 crash at Fox Raceway that resulted in an injured knee. This, having come off a top ten (9th) overall 250 class finish in 2020. Hammaker raced three MX Nationals on his rookie campaign last year, finishing in the top 20 in each.
Lastly, Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki will debut 2022 rookie MX Nationals racer Reynolds, the longtime Team Green ace for Kawasaki’s amateur MX program. Reynolds’ race resume includes an impressive nine AMA Amateur National titles and the 2017 Monster Energy Cup Supermini class championship.
“We have a skilled group of riders on the team for the 2022 season,” said Mitch Payton, Pro Circuit owner. “With seasoned riders like Austin, Cameron, and Jo returning, last year’s rookie sensation Seth ready to begin his sophomore season, and Jett making his pro debut; we are in a good spot to compete for both 250 West and East Supercross titles. Everyone on the team including riders, staff, and personnel, are preparing for the new season to begin and we expect to finish on top of the podium.”
With the momentum of a strong 450 class sophomore year in supercross (6th overall, win at San Diego, and seven total podium finishes), Monster Energy’s lone Honda racer, Sexton, is also coming off solid back-to-back 5th place overall 450 finishes outdoors – making him one of the top combined 450 MX/SX racers. With a win at Washougal in ’21 and an impressive seven top-five finishes, Sexton’s consistency points towards another successful MX Nationals season for the Midwesterner. In 2020 Sexton had a win (Fox Raceway) and five total top-five finishes in the abbreviated season, the veteran also placed 5th on 250s in 2019 and won both the AMA MX Rookie of the Year and the AMA’s Nicky Hayden Horizon Award as the nation’s top amateur motocross racer in 2016.
Not yet announced as of press time, Monster Energy backs three young U16 racers that can make an immediate impact when entering the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships this summer. Chance Hymas (Honda), Ryder DiFrancesco (Kawasaki), and Gavin Towers (Yamaha) all put on a heck of a racing display at the Salt Lake City final round - dominating the event’s “Futures” podium with a 1st/2nd/3rd place sweep, respectively.