The Vault

2021 Motocross Season

With the chaotic, COVID-19–affected 2020 season in the rearview mirror, there was plenty to look forward to as the 2021 seasons of Monster Energy AMA Supercross and the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship approached. New seasons carried the usual hope and mystery, there were some exciting changes in the schedule, and most importantly, fans returned to the stadiums and national tracks, making racing feel normal again. And when they did return, they were met with some excellent competition, both on the track and in the points.

Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac rolled into the first supercross of the year—being held in Houston for the first time—sporting the big #1 plate, but it was Justin Barcia, aboard his brand-new GasGas, new to AMA SX/MX, who immediately took full possession of the spotlight when he promptly went out and led all 28 laps of the first race of 2021 to win his third consecutive season opener. It was a historic night for both the rider and the brand: no one had ever won three supercross openers in a row, nor had a brand won in its competition debut. Tomac would fire back at the next round with a win, followed by 2019 champ Cooper Webb of Red Bull KTM winning the third round, but it was Team Honda’s Ken Roczen who was in the points lead after the three Houston rounds, despite being winless. That changed in a hurry in Indianapolis, which hosted rounds 4 through 6. Roczen was unstoppable in the Hoosier State, sweeping all three races. Webb didn’t let Roczen get too much of a gap, however, going 3-4-2 in Indy to keep Roczen in sight.

Things seemed to really come together for Webb, who started ripping off win after win, crossing the line first in five of the next six rounds. Roczen wasn’t imploding, by any means, but even if you’re getting second at every race—which Roczen wasn’t, averaging a 3.5 finish over these races—there’s only so much you can do when your main competitor is stacking points with dominance at every race. Defending champ Tomac wasn’t able to do much either, struggling to find the form that helped deliver him a 450SX championship the previous season. Tomac floundered (by his standards) off the podium, and frequently outside the top five, for much of the season, taking him out of the running for a repeat title.

When the season entered the back stretch, it became clear that not much could be done to stop Webb from regaining his 2019 crown. The Red Bull KTM rider was simply too strong, and he stayed that way all the way to the end, winning the final race of the year and again claiming one of the most prestigious championships in all of two-wheeled racing.

In the 250SX ranks, there was little anyone could do to stop Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing. New blue recruit Christian Craig fired the first shot by winning the 250SX East opener in Houston, while Honda HRC’s Jett Lawrence answered with a win at Houston 2. Both Craig and Lawrence would win again, but injuries would ultimately take them out of the running. Not that it would have necessarily mattered, as Colt Nichols was unquestionably the prevailing force in the class. The championship did end up going all the way to the wire, but Oklahoma native Nichols, who never missed the podium once, had a healthy points lead and was in little danger. He ended the season with three wins and a 250SX East Championship. One other notable performance came from Jo Shimoda of the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team, who took the first win of his career at the penultimate round in Salt Lake City, making him the first Japanese rider ever to win on the AMA circuit.

In the West it was Nichols’ teammate Justin Cooper who ascended to the top, but it wasn’t easy. After Cooper won the first race, he finished off the podium three races in a row, prompting a fair amount of head-scratching in the paddock. Underdog Cameron McAdoo took advantage, winning round two (the first win of his career) and taking the points lead. Unfortunately for McAdoo, the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider had a string of spectacular crashes that hampered his performance. He never missed a race due to injury, but he was riding pretty beat-up at several rounds and simply didn’t have access to all of his speed. A very consistent Hunter Lawrence, who also won a race for the first time, also provided pretty stiff competition for Cooper. But when the series came into the finale, Cooper’s lead was big enough that he was still able to cruise to ninth and wrap up the championship. Other standout rides came from rookies Nate Thrasher and Seth Hammaker, as Thrasher won two races, Hammaker one.

When the 2021 season of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship kicked off following the conclusion of AMA Supercross, the number of heavy hitters on the 450 Class gate was absolutely staggering. Defending champ Zach Osborne would line up to try to defend his title, and Eli Tomac, who’d won three consecutive titles before being dethroned by Osborne, was hungry for more hardware. Two-time 450 National Champion Ken Roczen was also on the prowl. Add in ’18 250 National Champ Aaron Plessinger, ’19 250 National champ Adam Cianciarulo, ’20 250 National Champ Dylan Ferrandis, plus Barcia, Cooper Webb, Marvin Musquin, Chase Sexton, Christian Craig, and plenty more, and you had a talent pool as deep as the Marianas Trench!

It was Ferrandis who fired the first shot, winning at Hangtown, but Roczen was quick to respond, absolutely dominating the next week at Thunder Valley. Husqvarna’s Osborne, who’d been dealing with a back injury, re-aggravated it at Thunder Valley and bowed out of the rest of the season. Roczen would continue to do well, but he also had motos where he struggled to find his form, and seemed to suffer significantly in the hotter conditions. When he was on his game, he was untouchable. But he also had his lows, like crashing out of the first moto at Spring Creek and getting sick at a later round.

Tomac had his issues, too, slumping in the first three races, but suddenly came to life in the second moto at High Point. He was better from that point on but still didn’t get his first win of the season until round 10. He won the next round, too, but it was Ferrandis who was basking in championship glory that day, clinching the title a round early. The brilliance of the Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing rookie in the summer of 2021 cannot be overstated. He only finished off the podium in 2 of 24 motos, took 6 overall wins, and overcame plenty of bad starts and unfavorable situations on his way to the title. He was incredible from the beginning, in one of the most powerful fields of all time. To top things off, after already clinching the title the week prior, he showed his mettle at the finale when he came from just about dead last in the second moto all the way to third, ripping the overall win on the day away from Eli Tomac, who was racing his Monster Energy Kawasaki for the last time. It was one of the best performances the sport had seen in a long time, especially one coming from a rookie to the 450 Class.

The action in the 250 Class was absolutely wild, and if variety is your thing, you would have found it in droves. In fact, there were six different winners in the first six rounds: Jett Lawrence, Justin Cooper, Jalek Swoll, RJ Hampshire, Hunter Lawrence, and Jeremy Martin (who missed races early in the season after reinjuring his wrist at Thunder Valley) all visited the winner’s circle in the first half of the season. Things always boil down to a specific few, however, and when the championship started taking shape, it was evident there was going to be a title fight between Cooper and Jett Lawrence. Neither one could seem to get the upper hand, though, and the pendulum swung back and forth as the season progressed.

Finally, after some missteps from Lawrence, it looked like things were starting to break Cooper’s way. But then Justin, who was putting in a furious charge to try to win the second moto at Washougal, went down hard and injured his hand. He wasn’t the same rider from that point on, and although he managed to regain his form at the Hangtown finale, where he went 1-1, the damage was done. While Cooper was struggling, Lawrence went on a run after Washougal, winning five of the next eight motos and finishing second in three of them. With a 23-point lead, Lawrence was heading into Hangtown essentially with a two-foot putt between him and the 250 National Championship. But Lawrence, under pressure, had a disastrous day at Hangtown, crashing twice in the first moto and finishing a distant eighth. He crashed early in the second moto, too, but hit the reset button, calmed down, and rode his way to third—and to the championship.