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Blast From the Past – Mile High Supercross

May 4, 2024

Blast From the Past

“Mile High Supercross”

By Broc Bridges

Supercross first trekked to Denver in 1996 for the finale of what has been described as total domination by Jeremy McGrath. He won the first 13 rounds before Jeff Emig famously clipped him in St. Louis’ penultimate round. Three weekends later and McGrath was back on top, having already wrapped his Championship up in Pontiac rounds earlier. After scoring a bar-banging Holeshot, McGrath quickly built a two second lead and never looked back. “There are a lot of guys out there who’d die for second place – that was the low point of our season.” Joked Skip Norfolk, McGrath’s longtime mechanic, after McGrath cakewalked to his record 14th victory. Western Regional competitor Kevin Windham, needing to finish 14th or better to clinch, rolled to a victory in the 125SX Class (now 250SX Class), famously giving his bike to mechanic/retired pro Alley Semar after the victory to ride around the Denver course in celebration. The 80’s AMA competitor scored a career best 10th place finish in Lakewood, Colorado’s Motocross complex in 1985.

Attendance was low (30,000), rider turnout was dismal (24 signed up in Premier Class), and the wind was whipping (finish line banner was victim). Empower Field at Mile High Stadium was built to replace Old Mile High, and 23 years later Supercross returned to Denver under much different circumstances. The 2019 return to Denver saw 60,000 fans, 42 Premier Class signups, and a finish line banner that was still standing by the end of the night. Crossing that banner first in the Main Event, to the raucous roar of his hometown fans, was Eli Tomac. He would fall short to Cooper Webb in the final points tally, but his home state Supercross had shown themselves to be a worthy venue. Tomac was excited to make it a mainstay location during the next few seasons of his title chasing. In 2020, Empower Field was set to be Rd. 14 in the Supercross series and an East/West Showdown in the 250SX Class. Covid-19 upended those plans and Empower Field had to wait until 2022 to get another hack.

Tomac was excited to have a shot at clinching the 2022 450SX Class title in Denver, after missing out the previous two season of Supercross in the area. “You dream about doing these things, but then for it to actually come into real life, it always makes you speechless. It wasn’t the exact finish of these last couple races that I wanted. I wanted to give the Denver fans more. Once again, they were the best crowd that we’ve had all year.” While Tomac was disappointed in his fifth place result, clinching his second 450SX Class title in front of his home fans meant a lot to him. He did feel some pressure compared to the empty stadium in Salt Lake City that viewed, or didn’t view- his 2020 title “They follow you around the track and you can hear them all the time. It makes you wonder if there’s a guy on you in a turn, or what’s going on. They follow you around. It’s so cool to see the crowd engage in the race like that.”

2023 was looking to be another title for Tomac, and he was sure to clinch in front of his hometown fans for a second season in a row. All he had to do was finish 15th or better, which he had done in 96% of his AMA starts to this point. Calamity struck in the Main Event, and Tomac was out for the remaining rounds and lost the Championship to Chase Sexton.

This season, neither Tomac nor Sexton has a good chance at the title. They would need Webb and Jett Lawrence, the latter of which clinched in the 250SX Class in Denver last season, to finish outside of the top-10 in each of the last two races. Lawrence leads Webb by 12 points, six less than Tomac had on Sexton before Denver last year. In the 250SX Class, another huge battle is on the table with RJ Hampshire and Levi Kitchen. RJ Hampshire, Husqvarna’s five-time 250SX Class winner, leads by two points over Kitchen. Husqvarna has never won a Western Regional Championship and Pro-Circuit Kawasaki seeks their first since 2017. With KTM’s Tom Vialle leading the Eastern Regional series and Hampshire holding the red plate in the West, Supercross could see its first European takeover of 250SX Class Championships.

For the first 28 years of 250SX Class racing, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Honda, and Suzuki won all 56 titles. In 2013, Ken Roczen and his KTM broke the Japanese monopoly in 250SX Class racing by scoring the Eastern Regional title, starting a trend of European produced brands taking home Regional Championships. Jason Anderson (KTM), Marvin Musquin (KTM), and Zach Osborne (Husky) followed with their own titles from 2014-2018 but never coupled with another European brand. Denver will be huge in setting up the Western Regional finale in Salt Lake City, where points will be hard to come by in the Showdown for