Ryan Villopoto, 2011 AMA Supercross Champion | Checkers

Villomoto!

By Karel Kramer, Photography by Scott Hoffman

Historically, supercross has created some bona fide racing heroes that have captured the hearts of fans the world over. It started with Bob “Hurricane” Hannah in 1977, ended with the “GOAT,” Ricky Carmichael three decades later, and in between came Jeremy “Showtime” McGrath, arguably the greatest supercross racer ever with seven championships from 1993-2000. During each of these rider’s heydays, however, their dominance made the sport too predictable. A large part of the joy we derive from watching racing comes from the uncertainty: Who will win tonight?

That uncertainty reigned supreme during the 2011 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship. Even the “good old days” didn’t seem so good anymore! For the first time in memory, the stars aligned: All the top contenders started the season healthy, there was parity amongst the brands and every fan ended up a winner. The season saw five different winners on four different brands of motorcycles. And the racing at the front was so tight between them that those same five riders filled all but one podium throughout the 17-race series. Only veteran Kevin Windham broke that monopoly with a second-place finish in Seattle.

It’s not unheard of for the supercross title to remain up for grabs until the final race, but having four riders with a realistic shot was unprecedented—and it would have been five if Trey Canard hadn’t gotten hurt testing late in the season. Reigning champ Ryan Dungey was humbled after his 2010 season domination and only won once, though his consistency kept him closest to the points leader for much of the season. It’s quite possible that he could have claimed the crown if his chain hadn’t derailed at Anaheim 2. Rookie Canard won two races for Honda, but perhaps a bigger surprise was two-time champ Chad Reed winning two more for Big Red after scrambling to put his own Two Two Racing team together mere days before the season opener. The Australian has been notoriously prickly and aloof at the races over the years, but he proved enthusiastic about racing this season, was much more approachable and personable, and as a result earned legions of new fans.

The remaining wins were divided between James Stewart and Ryan Villopoto, with five for the former and six for the latter. It has been said that the only racer who can beat Stewart is Stewart himself: He gives racing his absolute all with nothing held back, and when he is “on” it is a thing of beauty to behold. But his crashes are no less spectacular, and he hit the dirt with regularity in 2011.

In the smoother riding and quieter Villopoto, Stewart found a worthy adversary. After RC and RV2, Bubba must be seeing freckle-faced redheads in his nightmares!

The fact that Villopoto came back from a badly broken leg to win the 2011 champ-ionship is a measure of his determination. He has a pretty good record of defending championships, too, so we’re looking forward to the 2012 season where instead of three former champs battling for the win, there will be four! It would be like lightning striking twice, but we can always hope: Please, Lord, let them all stay healthy…

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