Motocross has been searching for its next big star since Ryan Dungey and Ryan Villopoto unexpectedly retired in a span of two years.
The search goes on as the outdoor season is set to begin Saturday at the Hangtown Classic outside Sacramento, California.
Eli Tomac has shown flashes he could be the next star, Marvin Musquin is right behind him, German Ken Roczen already has two series titles and Jason Anderson won an unexpected Supercross title.
None has become the sport’s dominant guy, at least not yet.
“Tomac did what everyone thought he would do last year, but he didn’t finish quite the way everyone expected and it didn’t really end in a bang,” said Davey Coombs, president of MX Sports, which operates Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships. “In some ways, I think it inspired guys like Marvin Musquin and Jason Anderson.”
Villopoto won seven combined outdoor and Supercross titles before retiring in 2015 and Dungey walked away in 2017 after winning seven combined titles.
Tomac appeared to be ready to take over the mantle after winning the 2017 outdoor title, but had some struggles during the 2018 Supercross season, finishing third. Musquin and Baggett have been steady with top-5 season finishes, but have yet to win a title.
Roczen has a pair of outdoor titles under his belt, but suffered a horrific crash during the 2017 Supercross season that led to multiple injuries to his left arm. He will likely have to ride himself back into shape this outdoor season after an injury to his right hand during the 2018 Supercross season.
Anderson, Dungey’s former training partner, finished third in the 2016 Supercross season and fourth a year ago, but battled injuries both his outdoor seasons. The New Mexico rider had a breakout performance during the 2018 Supercross season, winning four races to claim his first 450cc title.
“Winning that championship was a surprise to everyone,” Coombs said. “As a result, he’s going to have a nice bit of momentum going into the summer, but I still think Eli has the most to prove and is very motivated to avenge himself.”
Anderson has found himself in the right place at the right time many times during his career. The rider from Rio Rancho joined the Kawasaki Extreme Team Green under Bobby Hewitt in Texas. The team grew and in 2016 was tabbed by Husqvarna in its return to motocross racing. Anderson stayed with the program for a decade and was rewarded by becoming the No. 1 Husqvarna rider.
With factory equipment and resources, he continued to improve and won the Supercross title in Las Vegas after a mishap the race before in Salt Lake City cut his lead to 14 points.
“I’ve been riding dirt bikes so long, so to win this championship is the most surreal moment of my life up to this point,” Anderson said after the Las Vegas race.
Now Anderson has momentum headed into the outdoor season at the Hangtown Classic, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Hangtown was a big local race when it first started in 1969, though it was arguably bigger than nationals. The race joined the circuit in 1974 and has become the most tradition-rich on the outdoor schedule.
“It’s a throwback in the sense that it’s the only race in Supercross or motocross that is still run by a club,” Coombs said. “The Dirt Diggers North Motorcycle Club has been around since well before motocross and it’s truly a throwback to racing back in the 50s and 60s.”