2016 Direct Motocross Awards
By Jeff McConkey and Billy Rainford
It’s that time of year again when we have some fun and hand out our annual Direct Motocross Awards. We try to give out awards in most of the usual categories and add a few of our own for a twist. 2016 was a year of unprecedented competition in our Pro series. With a field this deep, standing out was even more difficult. Let’s have a look at who won what for 2016:
Most Dominant Pro Rider:
Jeff: I’m going to split this into classes. In MX2 it was ‘The Cole Thompson Show.’ Even if you only watched one MX2 moto all season, it should have been very clear that Cole was the man of the class. He made it look too easy at times. In MX1, Davi Millsaps was just plain amazing. His sprint speed couldn’t be matched by anyone, and he rode the entire East hurt. He showed us all that he is still a world class talent anytime he throws a leg over a bike.
Billy: Easy. Cole Thompson. Cole put on a summer-long show of dominance and top level riding. Heading into the season, he had to be at the top of everyone’s list to do exactly what he did, win… a lot. If you are surprised at this award going to him, you weren’t paying attention last summer. He won 7 of 10 overalls and was never off the podium. Not once. He was a ‘man among boys’ in the MX2 class.
Most Dominant Intermediate Rider:
Jeff: Most people are thinking the ‘Fab Three’ of Marco Cannella, Tanner Ward and Austin Watling, but I’m going to have to go with Connor Arsenault. If this guy puts in the hard work, and wants it…… I think he’s the one.
Billy: I didn’t see an Intermediate rider dominate the class like we have in the past. Wins were spread out between the ‘Fab 3’ riders, Marco Cannella, Tanner Ward, and Austin Watling. The better question would be, “Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fab-est of them all?”
I would like to add Kelowna, BC rider, Casey Keast in here as ‘Most Dominant Intermediate.’ Casey raced the first 4 rounds of the Rockstar MX Nationals and was in the top 10 each time. His results: 9-8-9-6. His best moto was a 5th in moto 1 in Nanaimo and he was sitting in the top 5 before the series headed east. He made the announcement that he was turning Pro back in September and I think that’s why I forgot him here. He definitely belongs in this conversation. He finished 17th overall in the class and will be #33 in 2017.
Most Dominant Woman Rider:
Jeff: I know it was only one round, but Kennedy Lutz smoked the West girls in her one and only round. You always hear stuff like, “she’s fast for a girl,” but when you talk about Kennedy you say “she’s just plain fast.” In the East, Eve Brodeur was consistently dominant like always.
Billy: Um, look no further than the rider who didn’t lose a moto. Eve Brodeur simply smoked the field again in 2016. If nobody commits to a long, hard winter of training, she will do it again in 2017.
Best Looking Team:
Jeff: Kevin Tyler and Johnny Grant‘s MX101 FXR Yamaha team looked great every weekend. From the fresh FXR threads from Andy White to the Forma boots, and topped off with the Rockstar Energy 6D Helmets, these guys looked good all year long.
Billy: The Honda Canada GDR Fox Racing team was the best looking team week in, week out. They took great pains and pleasure in coming up with different looks each weekend and they all worked. Whether it was the retro look or the all white look, this team looked the best, in my opinion.
Best Looking Race Rig:
Jeff: Derek Schuster’s GDR Honda, Fox Racing rig is once again my pick. It’s just so clean and professional looking. His team would have been in the running for best looking, if it weren’t for his riders missing so many rounds due to injury.
Billy: I have to go with Dan Robinson‘s crazy race rig/RV on this one. That thing is just amazing when you think of the work that went into making a hybrid out of two separate trailers! Add to this his souped up Volvo pulling the trailer and you’ve got one hell of a tricked out race rig. Dan told me that he could basically idle up the mountain passes past any other rig on the highway.
Jeff: I was shocked to see how many riders liked RJ’S. Thank God for all of the rain on the Saturday, because it definitely saved their asses!
Billy: I was surprised to see that they were actually able to get the deal done that saw American superstar, Davi Millsaps, race our series. If you think about it, it’s pretty big deal. He is a rider that may actually win a Supercross or two this year!
Jeff: Yet again, Jess Pettis gets my most improved rider. This guy gets better every time I see him. I was also very impressed with Keylan Meston in MX1. He mentioned that he spent the off season riding with Matt Goerke, Shawn Maffenbeier, and Dylan Wright, and nobody wanted to be the “slow guy.” Well, it worked as he really stepped it up.
Billy: This one is also easy. Jess Pettis is ready to stop surprising people. By that I mean we will all simply expect him to be a top 3 guy each and every weekend. With great power comes great responsibility…and pressure, but he’s ready for it.
Feel Good Story:
Jeff: I’m going to have to go with Broc Loftus. We received a tweet at the Gopher Dunes round to keep an eye out for Loftus. Broc and his father showed up in their van and were instantly taken in by everyone. I still think he had the best bed head at every rider’s meeting in the East.
Billy: Broc Loftus easily gets the nod here. Not only has he lived in a van for the past couple years out west, but he and his dad made that same van work throughout the summer. Along the way, Canadian moto families gave them the help they needed and I’m sure they had a summer to remember. He started out the summer thinking he was going to race the eastern rounds of the AMA outdoors but got turned away and so, instead of giving up, they headed north and had an amazing time in Canada.
Jeff: Brittany Gagne blowing out her knee while leading at RJ’s. Let’s be serious, nobody had much of anything for Eve Brodeur for the 1st 7 motos in the East. Something clicked for Brittany in the final moto of the season, where she just took off from the pack. The rain started coming down harder, and she went faster. With a lap and a half to go, disaster struck and Gagne dabbed a foot and completely destroyed her knee. Her screams could be heard all of the way down Hwy 400. She gutted it out and still finished 2nd.
Billy: I’ll go with Jeremy Medaglia here. Jeremy came into the season ready to finally lock down a title and got taken out at round 2 in Nanaimo when he crashed and hit his head. For the rest of the season he wasn’t able to fully recover. He came back and tried to race the team’s home race at Gopher Dunes but felt the effects and could only muster a 16th overall. We didn’t see him for the rest of the season and his racing future is now unknown and that sucks.
Jeff: Without a doubt, Dakota Alix. Whether it be SX or MX, Dakota is my holsehot pick 9 times out of 10.
Billy: Kaven Benoit put himself into contention almost every time the gate dropped in the MX1 class. Um, do I have to remind everyone that he ran 2nd at the MXON in Italy this year, too?!
Jeff: I wouldn’t say worst starter, but more like “worst luck on the starts.” And that has got to be Matt Goerke. He made more passes on the track than Todd Kuli at a work Christmas party! More times than I can count, Matt had to pick himself up and pass just about everyone, besides Millsaps.
Billy: I’m sure he doesn’t think he’s a bad starter, but poor Matt Goerke found himself charging from last or almost last at more rounds than he’d care to remember. I’m sure he would win the ‘Hard Charger’ award if passes were tallied for the year.
Jeff: I love watching Morgan Burger ride. He’s got great style and you can tell he’s feeling it out there. Mike Alessi gets honorable mention.
Billy: I have to go with Davi Millsaps here. Every person you talked to last summer commented on how he could just put that KTM anywhere he wanted. Usually, he wanted it tighter in corners and that was simply amazing to watch. He knifed his way around every track with the precision of a surgeon. Need him to whip more? He was too busy winning!
Jeff: I’d have to say Ulverton. It has elevation, it was fast, and got rough as hell. Some would call it a “Real Man’s Track,” hence why I’m glad I do not have to ride it.
Billy: I’m partial to the look of the Ulverton track near Drummondville, Quebec. It’s on the edge of a river and has elevation changes that remind one of the gnarly tracks of yesteryear, like Copetown, for one. I’m not so sure I’d enjoy riding it, but standing at the top of the track during practice and snapping shots of riders whipping over the top-side table is something I look forward to every summer.
Least Favourite Track:
Jeff: Nanaimo, like always. Thankfully, we won’t be riding the ferry this year and we will be heading to Prince George instead.
Billy: I won’t pile onto the Wastelands track like I’m sure everyone expects. No, I’m going to go with Regina. The constant fear of picking up ticks all day as I wade through the long grass and shoot photos isn’t one of my favourite things. And forget about showing up at the track in the dark the night before because the mosquitoes will keep you locked in your vehicle with the windows up tight. The track sits up on a desolate hill and is pummelled by whatever weather you see coming from the next time zone. I’ve never ridden the track, so it may actually be a favourite for racing, but I have to approach this from a photographer’s POV. Don’t hate me, Daryl Murphy!
Jeff: My favourite this season had to be Deschambault. The track has a really cool layout, and the French fans come out of the woodwork for this one. Hearing them cheer for Benoit around the entire track was pretty cool. We stayed in Quebec City for this one and I’m already planning what pubs I want to hit in 2017.
Billy: I like everything about the Gopher Dunes national. For me, you can’t beat the hype as we head into the sand track known as ‘The Toughest Track in North America.’ It’s at it’s horrible best when the temperature hits 35 C and the humidity nears triple digits. You cannot fake your way through this national. Spectators can stand on the grassy hill and see the entire track. And let’s not forget that I get to sleep in my own bed for this round, too. That helps.
Jeff: Moto 1 at Ulverton in MX1. The top guys were just going at it. The 1st MX1 moto at Dechambault was a very close 2nd. Seeing Benoit that close to Millsaps for 35 minutes was pretty sweet.
Billy: The MX2 class at Deschambault had all the makings of a classic. Watching the top few riders go at each other’s throats was one for the books. Shawn Maffenbeier apologized for his aggressive move on Dylan Wright but added that he was sure Dylan would have done the same. The Wright/Thompson battle in the second moto got nasty and flowed over to the podium where Dylan got a little more than a cold shoulder from a smouldering Thompson behind the stage. Parents and team managers got involved and the pot almost boiled over before it simmered.
Jeff: Same as last year, I’m going to have to go with my good friend, Cade Clason, but with a side of Shawn Maffenbeier. I don’t know whether these two need their own sitcom, or to start dating, but they had me laughing all season long.
Billy: How can you not pick Hayden Halstead? This guy will talk to anyone and is always quick with a compliment. He drove the MX101 team rig across the country last summer and I bet he’s buddies with people in every town he passed through.
Heir to the Women’s Throne:
Jeff: In the East, I honestly think Eve Brodeur will have to make a big mistake for this to happen, but I see Brittany Gagne being the next in line, and Shannon Fleming (if she chooses to do the entire series). In the West, I’m hearing Kennedy Lutz wants to race the full series. That’s bad news for the rest of the ladies. If Lexi Pechout can figure out jumping, she’d be my pick behind Kennedy.
Billy: In actual royal succession, the next in line is always easy to see. However, in Canadian Women’s MX I don’t really know who I’d pick as next in line for this throne. Kennedy Lutz and Eve Brodeur are so far ahead of the rest that the space between them and the next racer is wide open. Like I said earlier, someone is going to have to commit to racing moto like these two families have for anyone to sit on the Women’s Canadian MX throne anytime soon. Having said that, Lexi Pechout was impressive doing as well as she did without having both wheels in the air at the same time. She could do some damage if she dedicated herself to moto.
Jeff: Mike Alessi was my favourite guy to talk to. He was a straight shooter and said it how it was. Matt Goerke was also fun, as he was always so pissed at himself. I’m pretty sure he swore the most, too.
Billy: Davi Millsaps always had a look on his face that said, “Don’t bug me,” but once he focused on the interview, he got on a roll and was difficult to stop before the battery was dead. One time, Davi’s wife, Brittney, stood waiting to leave as we chatted. I tried to speed up the interview but Davi just kept on rolling and gave one of the best interviews of the summer. He tells it like it is and never gives a canned response. It’s honest and off the cuff, always. It’s great.
Drum roll please…
Rider of the Year:
Jeff: This is the easiest one. Davi Millsaps. He was on another level. Wherever he pointed his KTM, it went. The scary part was that he was banged up for the entire East and couldn’t ride during the week.
Billy: I’m going to go with Kaven Benoit for the coveted ‘Rider of the Year’ honour. The other choices for me would have Davi Millsaps or Cole Thompson. I had to go with Kaven because Davi is Davi and expected to win, and Cole is a rider who has won MX1 overalls before. Kaven was a rookie in the MX1 class and gave Davi all he could handle on many occasions. It will make him the one to beat as we head into 2017.
Women’s West Champ:
Jeff: Kennedy Lutz
Billy: Kennedy Lutz
Women’s East Champ:
Jeff: Eve Brodeur
Billy: Eve Brodeur
Jeff: Cole Thompson
Billy: Cole Thompson
Jeff: Matt Goerke
Billy: Kaven Benoit
Thank you all for another amazing year for us here at Direct Motocross. 2016 saw readership grow again for the 6th straight year. We were able to see many new tracks around the globe and plan to continue to do the same again in 2017. Congratulations to everyone who won one of our 2016 awards and to everyone else who put it all on the line every weekend. There’s nothing left to say, but “See you at the races…”