The Vault

2020 Motocross Season

If there were ever a year that mainstream America (and quite possibly the entire globe) would opt to take a mulligan on, it’d have to be 2020—and for good reason, not the least of which was the outbreak of COVID-19, the global pandemic that brought the world to a screeching stop in March. But as bleak as things sometimes seemed in the decade’s infancy, there were plenty of bright spots if you cared to look. And if you were a fan of motocross, you didn’t have to look far.

Before the pandemic, Monster Energy AMA Supercross was looking as though it’d deliver an instant classic. After a wild opener in which Yamaha’s Justin Barcia and 450SX rookie Adam Cianciarulo of Team Kawasaki staged a tremendous battle for the first 450SX win of the season at Anaheim—which Barcia took for the second year in a row—the fantastic racing continued. At round two, a superb ride from Ken Roczen resulted in one of the most heartwarming and eye-watering rides in years. After undergoing multiple potentially career-ending injuries and extensive rehab followed by frustrating, winless years, the Honda HRC rider finally broke through for his first 450SX win in three years. Things kept trending upward from that point, too, with Eli Tomac joining the 2020 winner’s circle at round three. Tomac and Roczen would trade a few wins before defending champ Cooper Webb joined the fray by notching his first win of the season in San Diego.

The “big three” of Tomac, Roczen, and Webb continued to slug it out each Saturday, and following Tampa, the points were tighter than anyone could have hoped for as the season approached the halfway point. Tomac led with 155 points, Roczen had 151, Webb had 144, and Barcia was still in it with 135. Unfortunately, Webb’s championship hopes (as well as his body) took a huge hit in Arlington when the Red Bull KTM rider crashed hard, went off the track, and landed squarely on his back on the hard stadium floor. Cianciarulo also sustained a broken collarbone in the same section earlier that same day, ending his unlikely title hopes in his first season aboard the 450. A battered Webb was able to return to racing, however, and limited the damage, taking third at the following two rounds.

After Daytona, racing—and the entire world—plunged into an uncertain future due to the explosive outbreak of COVID-19. It was as if a gigantic liquid nitrogen bomb had detonated, freezing the world in place. The shutdown happened so quickly that many riders and industry personnel had already landed in Indianapolis for the next round, only to learn that the entire season had been halted. That was in March, and Tomac had just taken a 3-point lead on Roczen after his Daytona win.

Fast-forward to the end of May. At a time when most sports were still struggling to figure out how to resume(or even begin) their seasons, Feld Entertainment figured out a path to get supercross back on track. A plan was devised to hold all seven remaining rounds in Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, with stringent restrictions in place—one of which was zero fans in attendance. Compared to a regular season, it wasn’t ideal; during a global pandemic, it was phenomenal.

Racing fans quickly reaped the rewards of the industry’s hard work, and when racing resumed on the last day of May, the action was even hotter than before, Tomac firing the first shot by winning the first Utah round. Stubborn and determined to claw his way back into contention, Webb would win the next round on Wednesday evening. The duo would trade a few more wins, several of them knock-down, drag-out battles between the two stars, before Roczen, who’d fallen off the pace with some health issues, notched his own win in the Beehive State.

With two rounds remaining, Tomac was in a position to clinch his first 450SX championship a round early. But when the gate dropped, Tomac was buried in the pack while Webb was battling up front with Zach Osborne and Roczen. Showing a dogged determination of his own, Tomac went to work slicing through riders, and as the race was drawing to a close, he was all over Webb, challenging the champ for the lead and the title. Webb responded, refusing to give in to Tomac. When the checkers flew, Webb had successfully denied Tomac the coveted title for yet another race.

The finale, somewhat surprisingly, didn’t feature a whole lot of action between Tomac and Webb. Tomac rode safely to fifth to clinch the long-awaited AMA Supercross title, while Webb got a bad start and simply wasn’t able to move up. But the race up front was anything but dull. Dean Wilson led early on, but his teammates, Jason Anderson and Zach Osborne, were able to get by. Anderson started gapping Osborne, but then his seat came off! Not surprisingly, Osborne started reeling him back in, despite having problems of his own—Osborne’s side panel had come off, and his boot was even getting burned on his exhaust. He was able to make the pass, however, winning his first 450SX race while Anderson and Wilson crossed the line in second and third for a Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing podium sweep.

This was also likely to be Chad Reed’s final supercross race, marking the end of a legendary career in which the superstar notched a pair of premier-class supercross titles and an incredible 44 wins. And, in true Reed fashion, the stubborn veteran earned his best result of the season, a tenth, in his final race.

In 250SX racing, both regions quickly boiled down to a two-man contest. Justin Cooper would win the West opener, but it was his Monster Energy/Star Racing Yamaha teammate Dylan Ferrandis and Austin Forkner who rose to the top as the season progressed. Forkner took advantage of a 12th from Ferrandis at round two, only to make a big mistake in the whoops the following week in Anaheim, crash hard, and finish 17th. This time it was Ferrandis who took advantage, although not without some drama. As Ferrandis was slicing forward, he came into a fast right-hander too hot and attempted to make a pass on Christian Craig, essentially using Craig as a berm. It was an ill-advised move that resulted in Ferrandis on the ground and Craig literally flying through the air, separate from his GEICO Honda. Craig’s night was done, but Ferrandis was able to remount quickly. He eventually won after a thrilling battle with Jett Lawrence, who crashed and broke his collarbone on the final lap, then was met with a barrage of boos from an angry crowd after crossing the finish line.

Forkner would rebound and come back strong, winning three more races and taking two more podiums to close within seven points of Ferrandis coming into the finale. It ended up not mattering, however, as Forkner crashed on a small dragon’s back and smashed into the ensuing berm. He sustained multiple internal injuries that would prevent him from racing for the rest of the year. The crash prompted a red flag, which created major consequences for the 250SX East Region. (The final race was an East/West Showdown and included riders from both the East and West Regions.) Before we get into that, let’s recap the action in the East from the beginning.

In 250SX East it was the Shane McElrath and Chase Sexton show, with both riders accounting for every single win aside from a brilliant victory at Daytona from Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Garrett Marchbanks. McElrath won the opener, but Sexton was quick to fire back with a pair of wins himself. Following Daytona, the season went on a forced hiatus due to COVID-19, but when the action resumed in Salt Lake City, it was clear McElrath hadn’t lost any speed or motivation. He won the first two races, but Sexton responded with a pair of wins himself, setting the stage for big drama at the finale. McElrath trailed GEICO Honda’s Sexton by six points, giving Sexton an obvious, if slight, advantage, but with the 250SX West riders also racing in the East/West Showdown, anything could happen. When the gate dropped, things couldn’t have looked any better for McElrath, who holeshot and looked to be running away with the win while his title rival, Sexton, was in roughly seventh place. It wouldn’t last, though, as the red flag caused by Forkner’s crash sent everyone back to the line for a restart. This time Sexton got a much better start, and it wasn’t long before he and McElrath found each other. The duo played a few games, both allowing the other to pass at times, before Sexton dropped the hammer on his #1 Honda CRF250 and set a pace McElrath couldn’t match. Sexton took the win and the championship in what would be his final race aboard a 250.

Following the conclusion of the supercross season, it was unclear just how the 2020 season of Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross would play out, if at all. COVID-19 cases had started spiking yet again across the nation, and plenty of states were tightening back up on restrictions regarding any type of public gathering. MX Sports Pro Racing kept working hard to find a solution for the teams and fans, though, and finally, a nine-round series was announced, starting at Loretta Lynn’s in mid-August—three months past the original start date, while also marking the first time a pro national would be held on the same grounds where the majority of pro racers’ careers were launched at the AMA Amateur National Championships (since 1982).

At the start of the 2020 season, many were expecting defending three-time 450 Class National Champion Eli Tomac to battle his way to yet another title, especially considering Ken Roczen had decided to sit the series out with recurring health issues. Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Osborne was the one who came out firing, though, winning the first race of the season and the next, an extreme mudder also held at Loretta Lynn’s due to new concerns posed by the coronavirus in the Northwest, where Washougal is located. The harsh conditions at Loretta Lynn’s 2 took their toll on plenty of bikes, including Tomac’s. The Monster Energy Kawasaki rider experienced engine failure in both motos, putting him in a big points deficit just two rounds into an abbreviated season.

Osborne would end up getting challenged by a Kawasaki later in the season, but it was Cianciarulo’s green machine, not Tomac’s. The 450 rookie had an excellent season aboard the big bike, and while he did make a few mistakes—including crashing out of the second moto at Loretta Lynn’s 1 while leading—he found himself knocking on the door of the points lead down the back stretch of the season. Cianciarulo won a moto at round five at RedBud, then swept both motos the following week at Spring Creek to close within 15 points of Osborne. It seemed as though the rookie was catching fire at just the right time, prompting Osborne to show up at the next round in Florida toting a fully loaded figurative fire extinguisher. In what may have been the strongest ride of Osborne’s career, the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider made a statement at WW Ranch, going 1-1, while Florida’s own Cianciarulo went 2-7. Just like that, Osborne was back in firm control, and he would stay that way to close it out at the season finale at Fox Raceway to become, at age 31, the oldest AMA National Champion the series has seen in its 49-year existence.

Red Bull KTM’s Marvin Musquin, who’d missed the supercross season due to a knee injury, was in the hunt for a good portion of the season but was just a tick off the pace. Big crashes at Spring Creek and WW Ranch seemed to take the wind out of his sails, too, and the Red Bull KTM rider finished outside of the top five in three of the final four motos. Tomac was a bit better but never seemed to find the dominant form that had helped him earn the previous three 450 National Championships. For the first time in his 450 career, he failed to sweep a single round, finishing the season in third with three moto wins and two overalls.

In the 250 Class, things quickly boiled down to a duel for the championship between Ferrandis and GEICO Honda’s Jeremy Martin. It was widely agreed that Ferrandis was the fastest man on the track, something even Martin conceded, but Ferrandis struggled at times with poor starts and crashes. A hard crash at RedBud 1 resulted in a 7-3 for fourth for Ferrandis, while Martin was perfect, earning the points lead. Ferrandis was incredibly strong from Spring Creek on, though, winning five of the last eight motos. Martin was unable to respond and bled points moto after moto. When the series came into the finale, Ferrandis had built a commanding 18-point lead on Martin. Martin would take Ferrandis all the way to the final moto, but Ferrandis did what he needed to do to claim the 2020 AMA 250 National Championship.

The finale also marked the final race for the storied GEICO Honda team. Founded in 1998, the team was extremely successful, notching wins and multiple championships in supercross and motocross over more than two decades. Racing at a high level requires serious cash flow, however, and when GEICO informed the team very late in the game that they’d be pulling their sponsorship, the legendary squad’s fate was sealed. If there was a silver lining, it was that the team swept the final moto with Martin, Lawrence, and Jo Shimoda and won the final overall of 2020, thanks to Jett Lawrence’s efforts.

When the series ended in October, so did the season: both the 2020 FIM Motocross of Nations and the Monster Energy Cup were scrapped due to the ongoing global pandemic. So everyone hunkered down and started preparing for 2021, hoping for a much better year to come.