Duel at the Docks
AMA Supermoto Grand Prix Championship Final
Nov. 4-5, 2006, Long Beach, CA
Bob Stokstad, text and photos
Published in CityBike, December 2006
When it comes to winning, lots of things matter - age, apparently, isn't one of them. Joey Pascarella and Jeff Ward are 14 and 45 years old, respectively, and each showed his championship credentials at the Supermoto Grand Prix in Long Beach this November. Pascarella won BOTH the 450 and 250 cc national amateur classes on Saturday, beating out riders with far more experience than he. "Wardy", who was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999 and could have entered a respectable retirement long ago, is still out there tromping guys half his age. Ward cinched the AMA Supermoto pro series with first and second place finishes on Sunday. To flesh out the family trophy case, Ward's 14 year-old son, Brandon, won the Premier Mini amateur championship the same day.
The stellar riding of these individuals separated in age by three decades was just a part of the amazing event at the Queen Mary in Long Beach organized by NASMOTO and AMA Supermoto. Presented by Troy Lee Designs and billed as the "Duel at the Docks," this culmination of the amateur and pro racing seasons put the top riders on an exciting track in an attractive and accessible venue. The view down from the bow of the Queen Mary revealed a large parking lot overlaid with track-defining hay bales, protective fencing, and enormous scaffolding that supported metal-plate jumps, the largest of which (at 40 feet high) crossed a busy access road. On the adjoining grassy area, a course of dirt berms, whoops and jumps snaked through the park, eventually winding back through a tunnel under the same road. Eighteen turns in 0.9 miles and five big-air launches made this a demanding track for riders and a dream for spectators.
The track was clearly designed with the spectator in mind, offering up-close, almost scary viewing that would be unthinkable at a road race. The fastest lap times were about 1 minute and 10 seconds so a 14-lap race would last 16 to 17 minutes. It was so easy to walk from one vantage point to another that grandstand seating was hardly necessary, although it was available for those who desired or needed it. Like the stands, the pit area was open to all ticket holders, making friendly contact with the racers and crews easy and fun. Befitting the occasion, well-known and knowledgeable sportscasters reported the race on a sound system that would be the envy of any hard rock band. Topping it all, however, was location, location, location. The views of Long Beach harbor and the Queen Mary, and the urban park-like atmosphere contrasted sharply with the dusty weed-patch rural tracks or go-kart courses where this form of racing has its roots. The very nature of Supermoto makes it possible to bring the race track to the public, as well as to use larger established race courses that are usually removed from urban centers. This feature is but one of several that have contributed to the rapid rise of Supermoto.
The birthplace of Supermoto racing is just an hour's drive south from the Queen Mary, in Carlsbad, CA. Race promoter Gavin Trippe had the idea in the late '70's to bring together road, dirt track and motocross racers in one event to see who was "the best." The course was necessarily a combination of the dirt and asphalt surfaces encountered in each of these specialized forms of racing, and similarly so with the motorcycles, which now are basically dirt bikes with slicks. The ABC Wide World of Sports carried this "Superbikers" event from 1979 to 1985. Europeans participating in these races brought the concept back with them, where Super Motard (eventually morphing to Super Moto) continued after ABC lost interest. After a while Supermoto returned to the US from Europe and became an organized form of racing a few years ago with the rise of regional amateur race series and the AMA's decision in 2003 to sanction a national Supermoto pro series. One of the strongest regional Supermoto organizations is right here in Northern California -- Brok McAllister's SupermotoUSA, which runs a nine-round championship series with events within about an hour's ride of San Francisco, including Sears Point, Stockton, and Dixon. Racers from SupermotoUSA, including Joey Pascarella of Vacaville, rode in both amateur and pro classes in the Duel at the Docks.
North American Super Moto, or NASMOTO is a Canadian-American organization affiliated with the AMA, which holds qualifying races at various regional events and a championship race at the end of the season. NASMOTO ran six amateur classes on Saturday - Novice, Open Amateur, Sport Moto, Vet 35+, SM2 (250 cc) and SM1 (450cc). Just 90 minutes after running a flawless race with a flag-to-flag first place finish in the 250 cc class, Pascarella came back to race in the 450 class. This time he got close competition from Jimmy Roberts, who took the hole shot in spite of Pascarella's pole position. With Roberts in front of him, Pascarella was all over the track, trying to find a way around him. That opportunity came halfway through the race when Pascarella out-braked Roberts at the end of a long straight and passed on the inside. This left Roberts to play handmaiden, which he did until his front brake gave out and he dropped back to finish 16th. By the time the checkered flag came out, 2nd place Frankie Garcia (15 years old) was fourteen seconds behind the winner and new grand national champion. And by the way, Pascarella won the 450 class on the same Husqvarna he rode in the first race -- the 250 cc machine!
Northern California regular Darren Johnson took first in the Sport Moto class (stock dirt bikes with 21 inch front wheels) and Brian Pecore (Santa Rosa) third. Second place went to SupermotoRacer Magazine guru Scott Hoffman (Irvine), who was able to put down his notebook and camera, climb on a bike and then make the podium in both Sport Moto and Vet 35+ classes. In Vet 35+, Hoffman was flanked by Colin MacDonald (Petaluma) in first place and David Deveau (Windsor), third. Scott Weems (Calistoga) ended up second in the Novice Class behind Sam Knox (Lodi) after leading the race until the last lap when he lost the front wheel in the dirt and had to pick up and restart the bike. (It pays to build up a big lead.) Weems also took 7th place in Open Amateur behind Daryl Tenbrink of Fairfield.
Sunday was the big day - larger crowds, more media, a sense of climax. This was the day of the "Duel." Never explicitly named, the dueling partners were clearly Doug Henry (Graves Motorsports Yamaha) and Jeff Ward (Troy Lee Designs Honda). Henry (Connecticut) and Ward (Newport Beach) had been fairly close in series points earlier in the season. Henry, now behind by 31 points, still had an outside chance to take the championship from Wardy. In the first of two motos Ward led until the last lap when Henry's teammate, Mark Burkhart (Ohio), squeaked by and won the 14-lap race. Doug Henry was a distant third. (At this point, Ward had the championship sewed up.) But in the second and last race, Burkhart, who was pressuring Ward in the fifth and sixth laps, tried too hard and dropped his bike in the seventh. Ward was able to stay in front for the entire race with Henry finishing one second behind him, and Chris Fillmore (Michigan), Ward's teammate, a close third. Winning both the season series and the last moto of the year, Jeff Ward happily went to the podium for his second national Supermoto championship.
Sunday's pro racing saw lap times creeping below 1:10, a full five seconds shorter than the fastest amateur times. The higher speeds and contentious nature of the pro races produced the only pile up of the two-day event, which happened in the Unlimited Class start. Micky Dymond (Placentia) took the hole shot cleanly, but two of the riders behind him got tangled up in each other, some hay bales, and a turn worker. No injuries turned out to be serious, but the delay in restarting the race caused the last moto to be shortened to 10 laps because of darkness. Dymond won the race but the second place finisher, Ben Carlson (Wisconsin) took the championship by 18 points over Dymond, who had won it last year.
Supermoto Lites, the 250 class, featured a close battle between David Pingree (Temecula) and Brandon Currie (Anaheim). Pingree took first, but Currie's second place also gave him second spot in the series. Cassidy Anderson (Utah) placed fifth, but this still left him with a 17-point advantage over Currie and the championship. Mach 1 Motorsports teammates Casey Yarrow (Fairfield) and Danny Casey (Pacifica) finished a respectable 5th and 6th in the series. (They were second and first, respectively, in Supermoto USA's Expert series.) Anderson's teammate, Troy Lee (Corona), finished 12th in the race and 11th in the series. The team of Troy Lee Designs Honda (which also includes Ward and Fillmore) bested second place Graves Motorsports Yamaha (Burkhart, Currie, and Henry) by 87 points in the team point standings. What is notable and speaks volumes for Supermoto racing is that the talented helmet artist of the '70s, now successful purveyor of fine products to the racing community and the Bankroll for the Duel at the Docks, was himself out there racing. And to come full circle, Lee's teammate and this year's national Supermoto champion, Jeff Ward, once raced in the SuperBikers at Carlsbad twenty-five years ago where it all began.
The race that was invented to decide who was the best all-round racer is now a class unto itself. But it still attracts top riders from the "other disciplines" who want to come out and just have a good time racing. Danny Eslick (AMA pro road) entertained the crowd with his knee dragging expertise. Mike Metzger (of freestyle motocross fame, Josh Hayes (Formula Xtreme), Johnny Murphree and Joe Kopp (flat trackers) were there and showed their stuff. Indeed, the spirit of Supermoto is strong. That's what attracted 240 entries from 21 states and three countries, not to mention over 5000 spectators, to make the Duel the biggest Supermoto blowout of the season. Don't miss this event next year and the regional racing leading up to it; the AMA has scheduled the grand championship for Nov. 11, 2007 at the Queen Mary.