AMA Pro WMX Hangtown Insider 2011

May 23, 2011
By Farrah Bauer and JC Hilderbrand
Jessica Patterson shares a champagne shower with fans.
Jessica Patterson took both holeshots and used them to score an overall victory at Hangtown. The rest of the WMX riders are in for a long season of eating JP’s roost.

The 2011 AMA Women’s Motocross Championship series has officially begun. Under a cloudless sky and with temperatures hovering around in the high-70s, fans couldn’t have asked for better weather. While the temperature may not have been scorching, fans were looking for shade wherever they could to make the afternoon more comfortable. Unfortunately this year, the setup of E-Z Ups and shade umbrellas was strictly enforced by the shade police. Canopies could only be put up on the very tops of the hills, so anyone sitting mid-hill that set one up was forced to take down the shade and bear the brunt of the sun. Fortunately, the on-track racing was even hotter and fans were treated to an excellent opening round.

In the WMX world, it was evident by Jessica Patterson’s 1-1 moto finishes that she’s been training hard with Ryan Hughes during the off-season. Her aggressive yet smooth riding style was back in full force, even after a shaky start in the second moto where she went from first to almost last after an early crash. In typical Patterson style, she managed to work her way back up to the front several laps later. Ashley Fiolek put up a good fight against the Yamaha rider but just couldn’t get around the defending champion.

Fiolek had to contend with more than just her regular nemesis at Hangtown. The Honda pilot had to worry about losing points to a new face in the WMX, 2010 FIM Women’s World Champion, Stephanie Laier. Laier was a force to be reckoned with and gave both Patterson and Fiolek a wake-up call. At the end of the day Laier placed 3-3 for third overall aboard her KTM 250 SX-F. It was rumored at Hangtown that Laier will possibly ride next weekend at the Freestone National in Texas, but that she would not race the entire WMX season. This is unfortunate as Laier definitely adds competitive spirit to the WMX motos. The German woman has a unique style on the bike and uses her size to ride aggressively. On the podium she easily towers over the two Americans. Like the men who come over from FIM, Laier is very smooth and stands up on the pegs more often, going deep into corners before sitting.

KTMs Stephanie Laier had a solid start to the season at Hangtown with two podium finishes and third overall.
Ashely Fiolek - Hangtown Motocross 2011
Stephanie Laier (top) is new to the WMX and instantly had an impact with a 3-3-3 result. Ashley Fiolek (above) is still the fan favorite in the pits and on the track.

Other riders of note were Sarah Price who showcased great style on her Kawasaki and Tarah Geiger was fearless on the jumps, often going higher and farther than any other rider. Motorsports/Kawasaki rider Vicki Golden had somewhat of a rough weekend. She battled with bike setup throughout qualifying to get into the top-five. Racing was much the same as she struggled early but came up with fifth in the first moto. With only a couple weeks of testing on her new machine, Golden wound up swapping back to her practice engine between motos. She said the stock power curve is more comfortable for the time being and proved that a stock engine is entirely competitive with a solid start in Moto 2. Unfortunately she hit the ground twice in rapid succession, both times involving another rider. She DNF’d the second moto but walked away with only bruises. She will return for Round 2.

The WMX class in general looks very healthy. With 34 entries there was a big gate and the skill of these women continues to improve year after year. There’s plenty to be happy about with the eight-round schedule and an association with the men’s AMA Pro racing. With budget cuts hampering the industry regardless of gender, there are few women pitting under factory tents. Laier is temporarily residing with the Red Bull KTM squad and Fiolek parks her bike next to Kevin Windham’s.

The biggest problem we saw at Hangtown was the racing schedule. The 450 class races first followed by the 250 class and finally the WMX. This arrangement services the increased television exposure that MX Sports has worked so hard to acquire. But, it creates two major problems. First, the fans leave after the second 450 moto and the women race with very few cheers coming from the sidelines. It’s good racing and more people would see that if WMX went first and fans were able to sit through it while they waited for the men.

Secondly, and most important, the track is absolutely hammered by the time the ladies see it. Over an hour of racing before their first moto and then the 450/250 guys rip it to shreds again. Most people don’t want anything to do with a National track after the men get done pounding it for an entire day, but that’s exactly what the women have to deal with. The bumps, ruts and jumps are so gnarly it’s unbelievable. There was a noticeable difference between the WMX racing quality in Moto 1 and Moto 2. The second race was more about survival and there seemed to be more crashes. Women just aren’t physically as strong as the men, and they don’t handle a 250cc bike slamming them to the ground as well.

Vicki Golden crashed twice in Moto 2  eventually pulling off the track to end her losses with 13th overall.
Vicki Golden suffered a pair of crashes in Moto 2. The women would showcase their talents better if allowed to race before the men chew up the track.

The top three riders were able to run away even more than usual because of the track conditions. A smoother racing surface would even the playing field. It doesn’t have to be tame, just offer them some smooth racing lines. For as rough as it was, the top three racers were able to hold an impressive pace. Average lap times for Patterson, Fiolek and Laier all dropped two seconds between Moto 1 and Moto 2. Patterson was by far the most aggressive on the deteriorated track and came through the pack in Moto 2, but even she said after the race, “The track was really beat up today making it tough to pass, so the start was critical.”

We’re not cutting the women short, it’s a simple fact and a concern for safety. If anything, the fact that they suit up and attack a track most mortals would gladly avoid is a testament to their determination, skill and fighting spirit. As they say, ladies first. This common courtesy needs to be implemented in the race-day schedule.

Fans saw some spectacular racing at Supercross and the theme definitely continued at Hangtown. From riders flying over the handlebars to riders flying off the track, it was non-stop action. If you didn’t watch the event live, make sure to set your DVR and catch all the action next weekend at Freestone in Wortham, Texas. 

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