Supercross may finally get the parity it needs in 2013
PHOENIX (AP) -- The 2012 Supercross season was billed as the year of parity and lived up to expectations through the first four races.
By the time it was over, Ryan Villopoto had turned the season into one of the biggest runaways ever before he got injured, too.
OK, since that didn't work, the year of parity will actually start ... NOW.
With everyone healthy and one didn't-see-that-coming race already in the books, the 2013 Supercross season is shaping up to have the balance everyone was expecting a year ago.
"With everybody healthy and a brand-new year and the way the season looks like it's starting ... it should be exciting," said Ken Hudgens, chief operating office of Feld Motor Sports, which runs AMA Motocross and Supercross. "Parity is the key to taking Supercross to the next level. You get a feeling in something like NASCAR and some other things that anybody can win at any time and that's where Supercross needs to be."
The Supercross season kicked off last weekend at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, Calif.
It didn't go quite as anyone expected.
Villopoto, back from a torn ACL that wiped out his outdoor season, won the first heat race, but wasn't a factor in the main event, well back after the start and ending up 16th after a crash.
Former champion James Stewart injured his knee during practice and nearly had to sit out the race. He rode in pain, but couldn't go with his usual all-out style and finished eighth.
Ryan Dungey, another former champion, finished third, but didn't threaten the lead after wrecking.
At the end, it was two racers few expected to see battling for the lead: Davi Millsaps and Trey Canard.
Canard had his 2011 season end with three races left because of a broken femur and last year suffered a horrifying crash at Dodger Stadium that left him with a broken back and numerous other injuries.
Even though Millsaps had finished second to Villopoto in the 2012 Supercross, he was more of an afterthought heading into the Anaheim race with former champions Villopoto, Dungey, Stewart and Chad Reed all healthy.
With the big hitters struggling back in the pack, Canard had the lead on the last lap, only to be caught by the hard-charging Millsaps, who crossed the checkers for his first Supercross win since 2010.
After an opener like that, this weekend's race at Chase Field in Phoenix - not to mention the rest of the season - will likely be up for grabs.
In other words, these aren't the days when 50,000 people would show up just to see Ricky Carmichael dominate.
"The level of competition is great and I think that's great for the sport," said veteran rider Kevin Windham, who's been around the circuit since the days of Carmichael and Jerry McGrath in the `90s. "The crowds, the enthusiasm and love for the sport; once you watch it, you get addicted. In addition to all the normal high-flying action, bar-banging stuff, now you don't know who's going to win this even and that's great for the sport."
The key to parity will be keeping everyone healthy, something that didn't happen last season.
Injuries are an inherent part of dirt bike racing, but last year was brutal even in that broken-bone world.
Canard had arguably the worst of it, carried off the track after fellow competitor Ryan Morais' bike landed on his head and back, causing fractures of the T10 to T12 vertebrae that had to be surgically fused together with rods on either side of his spine.
Villopoto wrapped up the season title with four races left, the earliest anyone has clinched in the 39-year history of the sport, but tore his left ACL after a wreck in a race in his hometown of Seattle.
Dungey broke his collarbone during a practice session before the St. Louis race and made it worse by racing that weekend, sending him to the operating table. He missed five races.
Stewart had another win-or-crash season, missing time with a wrist injury while wrecking in seven of 11 races and winning two main events.
Reed suffered a wreck that was right up there with Canard's.
Racing with Dungey at Cowboys Stadium in Texas, Reed came up short on a jump and went flying over the handlebars. The impact broke two ribs, a vertebra in his back, along with tearing the ACL, LCL and meniscus in his left knee.
It was such a rough year that even Windham, who had gone over 100 races without getting hurt, went out for the season after separating both shoulders and sustaining injuries to his left wrist, left thumb and right hip.
"Last year seemed like it was pretty bizarre with all the guys that got hurt," said Reed, who finished fourth at Anaheim. "I mean everyone from myself to the two Ryans, James, Canard, Kevin - so many guys it was such a depleted season. Nobody wants to see that. It's not good for a sport."
The riders and teams are hoping that will change this season.
It's at least off to a good start. Where it goes from here is hard to tell in a sport where a rider's season could end on the next turn.