After a thrilling 2011, the stage was set for another barnburner in 2012. The heavy hitters were healthy, and two of them had signed with new teams—Ryan Dungey leaving Rockstar Energy Suzuki for Red Bull KTM and James Stewart, still on a Yamaha, joining JGR Yamaha. Initially, the racing lived up to the incredible preseason hype: Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto, TwoTwo Motorsports Honda’s Chad Reed, Dungey, and Stewart each won a race in the first four rounds. Unfortunately, a high attrition rate would change the direction of what had begun as a phenomenal year of racing.
It started when Reed crashed out of the season while battling for the lead in Arlington. Dungey then missed five races with a broken collarbone, and Stewart was forced to the sidelines after hitting his head and breaking a bone in his hand during his heat race in Indianapolis. Stewart attempted to return in Houston but another crash and subsequent aggravated hand injury would knock him out for the season. GEICO Honda’s Kevin Windham also had problems in Houston when he crashed in spectacular fashion, the impact fracturing his wrist and separating his shoulder. He would also miss the rest of the year as well. Even Villopoto, who had already clinched the 2012 450SX title with an astounding four rounds remaining, missed the final two races after tearing his ACL in Seattle. The benefactor that night was the veteran Andrew Short, who took the first 450SX win of his career.
Red Bull KTM had reason to be happy when it was all over. Even though the team didn’t win the championship, it won multiple races for the first time in the premier class. It had also finally produced a 450 that was competitive in supercross, and when the nationals arrived several weeks later, the team would prove just how capable the bike was outdoors as well.
The 250SX West Region title fight was a duel between Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Dean Wilson and GEICO Honda’s Eli Tomac, the duo taking seven of nine race wins heading into Seattle. There, with Ryan Sipes leading, Tomac and Wilson found themselves fighting for position and executing some hard passes on each other—at one point, Tomac even got bumped off the track. He came back with a physical pass of his own, leaving Wilson on the ground with a dislocated shoulder. Wilson managed to finish the race in seventh, but the damage was done. He DNF’d the next round in Salt Lake City and his shoulder would require surgery, shattering his chance of defending his #1 plate in the upcoming nationals.
The 250SX East Region saw far less drama, as GEICO Honda’s Justin Barcia was having another banner year. He established a commanding lead early by winning the first four races, and he only finished off the podium once, taking fourth in New Orleans. He won his second title in a row, topping Red Bull KTM’s German import Ken Roczen by 45 points.
With supercross over and Reed and Villopoto sidelined, it looked like Dungey and the revamped KTM squad would dominate in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross. The only question mark was James Stewart, who’d parted ways with JGR Yamaha in favor of Yoshimura Suzuki—a rare midseason brand change for a superstar in this sport. When the gate dropped at the Hangtown opener, it was apparent that Stewart was meshing well with his new bike and team. He was perfect in the first four motos of the season—but that success would be cut short in Colorado when he went down hard while leading and injured his hand. Footage from Stewart’s helmet cam would reveal that a photographer had crossed the track in front of him. It wasn’t close enough for the two to collide, but it’s possible that the distraction caused Stewart to go down in some tricky ruts that followed. Regardless, Stewart was no longer 100 percent. He missed several rounds and wasn’t a threat to win at the ones he did race.
What was shaping up to be a showdown between Stewart and Dungey turned into a summer of pain for Dungey’s competition; RD5 and his orange machine only lost two of the final twenty motos. Mike Alessi bested him in the first moto at Washougal and Tyla Rattray was able to take a moto win at Moto-X 338 when Dungey made a bizarre pit stop to top off his fuel tank, his gas cap having come off in a crash. But he still won the overalls in both races.
With nobody able to challenge Dungey, the best battles of the 2012 national season took place in the 250 Class. Blake Baggett, Justin Barcia, Eli Tomac, and Ken Roczen all came out of the gate hard, and each kept the throttle pinned for all twenty-four motos, resulting in a multitude of incredibly intense battles. And thanks to a lack of DNFs and disastrous motos from the top four, the points battle also stayed pretty tight for the whole season. Baggett, who only finished off the podium in six of twenty-four motos, winning ten of them, came away with the title. That made him the first native Californian since Steve Lamson back in 1996 to take the #1 plate in this class.