There are two types of plates with which professional motocross riders are familiar.
One they covet; the other no one wants.
The No. 1 plate gets bolted to the handlebars and signifies a defending series champion. The other – the surgical kind – is bolted to bone, indicating the rider crashed so hard that season-ending surgery often is required.
Injuries are part of motocross, where riders push the edge of safety in the pursuit of speed. And falls are often spectacular and painful.
The 46th Hangtown Motocross Classic today at Prairie City State Vehicular Recreation Area in Rancho Cordova will be missing some top riders who are dealing with injuries that have either sidelined them for the outdoors nationals season or will harm their chances to win a title.
Among those not riding today is Monster Energy/Kawasaki’s Ryan Villapoto, who had season-ending knee surgery after the finale of the SuperCross season where he won his fourth consecutive 450cc title. He also has the No. 1 plate as the defending 450 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross champion. Joining Villapoto on the mend is defending Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross 250cc class champ Eli Tomac of Geico Honda, who made the jump to the bigger bike for the 2014 SuperCross season. He was prepared to compete against former champs Villapoto, Red Bull/KTM’s Ryan Dungey and Yoshimura Suzuki’s James Stewart before a broken collarbone during a practice session before the last SuperCross event in Las Vegas ended his season and put his outdoors nationals season in jeopardy.
“I really wanted to make it to Hangtown, since my first outdoor national race was there (in 2010 on a 250) and I won,” said Tomac, who hopes to return by Round 5 on June 28 in Blountville, Tenn. “Luckily my collarbone didn’t need to get operated on, so no plates for me.”
Villapoto is the world’s best motocross rider, but the field is wide open again for the outdoor title with Dungey, who finished a distant second to Villapoto in SuperCross but won the 2012 motocross title, among the favored.
“We have worked hard to be in position to win championships ... and to not be able to race this summer is very disappointing,” Villapoto said in a statement from his team. “Going from a really great feeling after winning a fourth straight SuperCross title to knowing I am going to spend the summer rehabbing a knee injury is devastating. I was looking forward to defending my No.1 plate, but I know Jake (Weimer) and Brett (Metcalfe) will be working hard to put Kawasaki up front.”
Metcalfe won the 2013 Canadian National Championship a year after breaking his leg during a crash while testing at Glen Helen Raceway. He finished fourth overall last week at Glen Helen, the first of 12 races in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championships.
“We all accept that injuries are part of the sport,” said Metcalfe, who also has a plate in his left thumb and a plate on both collarbones from previous injuries. “The technology in the safety equipment is getting better, but there’s still going to be crashes.”
Two Two Motorsports Kawasaki/Discount Tire’s Chad Reed has had plenty of spills in his career. At age 32, the 2009 450cc outdoor national champ said his injuries are taking longer to recover from the older he gets. In 2012, Reed was second for the 450 SuperCross points chase when he crashed and tore his left ACL and missed the rest of the season. He missed the final 10 rounds of the 2014 SuperCross because of shoulder surgery after crashing in Round 6 in San Diego. He finished 10th overall last week at Glen Helen.
But it was a crash in 2011 at Spring Creek Raceway in Mellville, Minn., that haunts the Australian rider. He didn’t suffer a serious injury, but the thought of flying through the air 30 feet high, without the bike underneath, has stayed with him. Sometimes mental trauma can be as debilitating as an actual injury, he said.
“All I did when I landed was tweak my back and groin a little,” Reed said. “But mentally, it jacked with me. All I could think about was, ‘Did I do something wrong?’ The shoulder injury in San Diego – that was just racing.”
Mark Billingsley covers local motor sports for The Bee. Reach him at email@example.com.