The Vault

2017 Motocross Season

It was one seriously wild ride. You could say that about the 2017 seasons of Monster Energy AMA Supercross and Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, and nobody would put up even the slightest argument. A reigning champion was challenged in ways he’d never seen before, incredible drama played out all the way to the final lap in both the 450 Class and the 250SX East region, and a pair of new champions were crowned in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross.

The 250SX East Region was anything but predictable. In fact, several weeks in a row, guys found themselves banging, block-passing, and throwing shade during afternoon qualifying like it was the main event. And the main events themselves were fiery, too, producing four different winners in just the first six races. At the Las Vegas finale, TLD KTM’s Jordon Smith, Rockstar Husqvarna’s Zach Osborne, and Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Joey Savatgy were all in strong contention, with Savatgy’s teammate Adam Cianciarulo having an outside shot at title glory. When the gate dropped, Osborne went down in the first turn and was way back. Both Smith and Savatgy were looking good early on, but then both crashed in two separate incidents. Savatgy was quick to remount but started dropping spots as the race progressed. Smith would crash once more—at high speed this time—ultimately ending his night. Osborne, meanwhile, was ripping and somehow caught Savatgy two turns from the end and put a huge block-pass on him (a move so aggressive Osborne was later fined) to take the title.

The situation wasn’t quite as raucous in the 250SX West, but things did start out pretty exciting when TLD KTM’s Shane McElrath kicked the series off by winning the first two rounds. Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Justin Hill responded by sweeping the next four! McElrath stayed firmly in the hunt, but a mechanical problem in Arlington, where he only notched a single point, all but ended his title hopes. Despite a late-season injury, McElrath would win another race in Salt Lake City—ironically, on the same night Justin Hill clinched the title.

In the premier class, it looked as though a new generation might finally be busting through. Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto had retired at the close of 2014, and Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey had won the last two years in a row. How many more could he win with elite talents like Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac and new HRC Honda factory pilot Ken Roczen on the prowl? Unfortunately, Roczen, who easily won the first two rounds, had a spectacular crash at Anaheim 2 and was sidelined for the rest of the year. This put Dungey in the points lead, which many thought marked the beginning of the end of the title chase. But Tomac had other ideas and ripped off wins in Phoenix and Oakland before taking a lowly 15th in Arlington due to front-brake problems. This put him in a big points hole against Dungey, one of the most consistent riders in the sport’s history. Undeterred, Tomac put his head down and started reeling off race wins and slowly cutting into Dungey’s lead. The drama was high as Tomac started closing in, and following a victory in Salt Lake City—his ninth and final of the season—Tomac took sole possession of the points lead. (He and Dungey were tied following Seattle the week prior.) Then Tomac had an off-night in East Rutherford, and the plot thickened even more when, on the same night, Marvin Musquin appeared to pull over while leading to allow his teammate, Dungey, to take the win and gain additional championship points.

The next week in Las Vegas featured one of the most interesting nights in supercross history as Eli Tomac found himself ahead of Dungey in the 450SX main. Knowing that simply beating Dungey wouldn’t be enough to erase the points gap between them, Tomac employed an unorthodox strategy. Instead of streaking out for the win, he rode in front of Dungey at a slower pace than he was capable of, hoping more riders would get into the mix—and ultimately between himself and Dungey. It almost worked, too, as Chad Reed, Jason Anderson, and Josh Grant all got in on the fun as the race progressed. It didn’t work out in Tomac’s favor, however, and the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider watched Dungey claim his third consecutive 450SX championship by just five points. One week later, Dungey announced his retirement from professional racing. This officially marked the end of the “Ryan” era, as Villopoto and Dungey were the only riders to win the Monster Energy 450SX Championship since James Stewart won it in 2009.

When the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross championship fired up two weeks later, Tomac appeared more than ready to unleash some vengeance, destroying the field by large margins at the Hangtown Motocross Classic. But a week later, he developed another front-brake problem and, after his mechanic cut his front brake line, ended up 19th in the second moto. Once again, Tomac found himself facing a huge points deficit early in the season, this time to Musquin. But it was a different KTM rider, Rocky Mountain ATV/MC’s Blake Baggett, who emerged as a dominant force at round three in Colorado, putting in a jaw-dropping ride to win the first 450 National of his career. In the week that followed, Baggett made waves with what could be viewed as inflammatory remarks, saying his goal was to break Tomac, among other things. Unfortunately, the war never played out on the track, as Baggett would tear a ligament in his thumb after colliding with Rockstar Husqvarna’s Jason Anderson at RedBud, which prevented him from running Tomac’s pace for the rest of the season.

Musquin had issues, too, tearing his MCL before High Point, which temporarily slowed him and allowed Tomac to stretch a lead back out. Tomac would need it, too, as Musquin was able to heal up and come roaring back in the second half of the season. Tomac maintained a decent points lead, but the championship still came down to the final moto. Jeffrey Herlings, who was in town early for the MXGP of USA in Florida, shocked the crowd at the finale by going 1-1 in his first AMA race, while Tomac, who had a scary moment when he crashed in the first moto, did what he needed to do to bring the championship home. It was no doubt a rough loss for Musquin, but he went on to win all three races at the Monster Energy Cup later that year to bring home a whopping million-dollar paycheck. He padded his wallet even more by winning at Red Bull Straight Rhythm a week later.

In 250 action, Zach Osborne was the man to beat from the very beginning, winning Hangtown and riding strong the entire season. He did it the hard way, too, often overcoming bad starts. He even had an issue at Spring Creek when his bike started leaking oil and smoking, but it held together, and Osborne somehow even managed to snag third overall that same day. It was just that kind of season for Osborne, who before 2017 had considered retiring and enrolling in school.

Other title contenders, while displaying moments of speed, simply weren’t able to match Osborne’s performance and consistency. GEICO Honda’s Jeremy Martin had problems right away with his bike letting go in the first moto of the season at Hangtown, and he had a few races late in the season where he just seemed to hang around in the top five or so. TLD KTM’s Alex Martin was good but incurred a scapula and collarbone injury late in the season that benched him for the final four rounds. Joey Savatgy, considered a title contender before the season, won three races but also wasn’t quite himself the whole time and experienced slight midseason slump. He ended up exiting the championship two rounds early due to an injured foot. Austin Forkner, Aaron Plessinger, Adam Cianciarulo, and more all put in some good rides, but none was able to do it regularly enough to challenge Osborne—though Cianciarulo got his first career outdoor win at Budds Creek.