Updated: Sep 5
Exciting times in the world of Motocross right now. All in the span of the next 40 days, Jorge Prado and Andrea Adamo will likely clinch the two MXGP World Championships, Motocross Des Nations is good for the first weekend of October, but before all of that, the first-ever SuperMotocross World Championship playoff begins in the shadow of Charlotte Motor Speedway at ZMax Dragway. Six Motos, three rounds, nearly $1,260,000 in combined event purse money, over $4,240,000 in total Championship purse money, and two shiny new purple and neon green No. 1 plates up for grabs over the next three weeks.
This inaugural SMX playoff represents the start of a paradigm shift in the 250 class. After these three races, both Lawrence Brothers and Justin Cooper are 450 class-bound, over a half dozen contenders remaining in the class are set to switch teams, and the next generation of riders led by Haiden Deegan, Julien Beaumer, and Daxton Bennick, have already arrived. For now, we have a ton of last rodeos for some heavy hitters in this class for the right to win the first 250 SMX Championship. Not to mention a cool $500,000 as well.
SuperMotocross World Championship Playoff Point System (via Feld).
NOTE: Injured/Inactive Riders retain their in-class seeding no matter what. Injured LCQ Range riders can be replaced as needed. 250 East Supercross riders had their worst result dropped to get to nine results, the same as 250 West.
250 Class Championship Purse Payout (via Feld)
250 Class Last Chance Qualifiers (4 Riders Advance)
UPDATED as of 9/5: These 250 LCQs were shaping up to be all-out wars for just three spots, but six guys being held out or injured stings a bit. As of Tuesday, the official list of 10 riders was revealed, with four riders outside the top 30 in points making it in. Those are Michael Hicks, Hunter Yoder, and Luke Neese. Also some other notable last-second opt-outs, beyond the expected ones popped up earlier today. Most notably of which is Star Yamaha's Stilez Robertson, who just got back to racing at the tail end of Motocross.
With four spots on the line, I think it's fair to say that Austin Forkner should be transferring in barring anything crazy in each round, but Preston Kilroy is another guy I have my eye on. He had some good runs with ClubMX Yamaha in Motocross all things considered, and is probably in that same boat with Forkner. Additionally, Zombie Blose, Derek Kelley, Cullin Park, and Coty Shock should put on some fun battles to kick off then night show these next three weeks.
250 Class Bottom 10
* - 20 Seed Chance Hymas is set to miss SMX via a Torn ACL in AMA Pro Motocross.
It feels worth noting that four of the riders from seeds 19 to 11 either missed all of Supercross or all of Motocross. Two of which, Jalek Swoll and Ryder DiFrancesco, nearly cracked into the top 10. Seth Hammaker likely would have done so had he not missed the opening four Nationals of the year as well. Max Anstie, the fourth rider in this equation, was just one of four riders to beat Hunter Lawrence straight up in Supercross before Salt Lake City. Additionally, only the Lawrence Brothers and R.J. Hampshire scored more 250 Supercross points than the Brit. No Outdoors for Anstie this year, but we know his background by now, and he may be as ready for these hybrid tracks as anyone in this field.
Outside of those four, Pierce Brown is the name to watch in this group. He had a solid year in Supercross before he went down with a hand injury prepping for Motocross at the beginning of May. The GasGas rider never got it going Outdoors outside of a couple of rounds, but maybe a switch to Supercross suspension is just what the doctor ordered. Also in this group are Caden Braswell, Carson Mumford, Dilan Schwartz, and Talon Hawkins.
250 Class Top 10
*- No. 10 Seed Jett Lawrence is (obviously) not competing in the 250 class.
9 Seed - No. 58 Jordon Smith (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
2023 Supercross Stats (250 East): 9 Starts, 0 Wins, 5 Laps Led, Average Start of 7.9, Average Finish of 6.1, 0 Holeshots, 159 Points (4th)
2023 Motocross Stats: 4 Starts, 0 Moto Wins, 0 National Wins, 0 Laps Led, Average Start of 13.9, Average Finish of 11.6, 0 Holeshots, 75 Points (20th)
Although we haven't heard much from Smith since he tore his UCL in his thumb, SMX will mark his first race action in nearly three months. The Star Yamaha rider was also well on his way to securing the No. 5 seed in the class as of High Point as well. Hard to say where he's at with the thumb without knowing when he got back on the bike, but if Supercross was any indicator, Smith should be able to hold his own.
8 Seed - No. 32 Justin Cooper (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
2023 Supercross Stats: N/A (Ran Select 450 Supercross Rounds via pointing out of the 250 Class)
2023 Motocross Stats: 10 Starts, 4 Moto Wins, 0 National Wins, 62 Laps Led, Average Start of 5.5, Average Finish of 3.2, 4 Holeshots, 399 Points (2nd)
Had it not been for that High Point qualifying crash, Cooper would have realistically become the 250 Motocross Champion and probably have ended up a couple of seeds higher, despite being pointed out in Supercross. Quiet as it was kept, the Star Yamaha lifer looked pretty solid in the five 450 Supercross rounds he participated in, scoring five consecutive top 10s, including a sixth at Daytona. That's a pretty good indicator of what you can expect over these next three weeks, and he did that against the best of the best. The 11-point hole to start behind Hunter will hurt, but JCoop should be in this thing at the end.
7 Seed - No. 34 Max Vohland (Red Bull KTM)
2023 Supercross Stats (250 West): 7 Starts, 0 Wins, 2 Laps Led, Average Start of 3.8, Average Finish of 5.7, 1 Holeshot, 121 Points (6th)
2023 Motocross Stats: 11 Starts, 0 Moto Wins, 0 National Wins, 0 Laps Led, Average Start of 11.5, Average Finish of 7.8, 0 Holeshots, 295 Points (7th)
Vohland is perhaps the toughest guy to gauge in this field. He was excellent in spurts outdoors, but he's been an enigma in Supercross for just about his entire career, 2023 being no different. He flat-out failed to qualify for multiple Main Events but came close to averaging a top-five finish out West. The trends would dictate that it won't be smooth sailing, so it'll come down to how it breaks from a points perspective.
6 Seed - No. 128 Tom Vialle (Red Bull KTM)
2023 Supercross Stats (250 East): 10 Starts, 0 Wins, 2 Laps Led, Average Start of 9.8, Average Finish of 11, 0 Holeshots, 120 Points (t-7th)
2023 Motocross Stats: 4 Starts, 1 Moto Win, 1 National Win, 14 Laps Led, Average Start of 7.1, Average Finish of 9.6, 1 Holeshot, 302 Points (6th)
Not the year I had been expecting or hoping for the outgoing MX2 World Champion, but you saw enough good on the U.S.-based frame to feel good about Vialle moving forward. If he can finish his U.S. schedule this year strong, you'd like to think that Red Bull KTM would feel the same way going into 2024.
5 Seed - No. 30 Jo Shimoda (Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki)
2023 Supercross Stats (250 East): 4 Starts, 0 Wins, 0 Laps Led, Average Start of 6, Average Finish of 4.8, 0 Holeshots, 75 Points (13th)
2023 Motocross Stats: 11 Starts, 3 Moto Wins, 1 National Win, 53 Laps Led, Average Start of 6.5, Average Finish of 4.6, 0 Holeshots, 393 Points (3rd)
Despite a preseason injury costing him nearly all of Supercross and a slow start Outdoors, Shimoda was cash money in the back half of Motocross. No one gained more points from Southwick-to-Ironman, no one had more than his three Moto wins, nor a better average finish (3.583). Safe to say no one is coming into SMX hotter, especially after Shimoda's 1-1 at Ironman. If he isn't the outright favorite, he's probably leading that next group of riders who firmly find themselves in contention. A win here though, would be a nice parting gift to Mitch Payton from Shimoda. Long Live the Jo Shimoda Agenda™.
4 Seed - No. 24 R.J. Hampshire (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing)
2023 Supercross Stats (250 West): 9 Starts, 1 Win, 14 Laps Led, Average Start of 3.3, Average Finish of 4.1, 1 Holeshot, 186 Points (2nd)
2023 Motocross Stats: 9 Starts, 2 Moto Wins, 1 National Win, 21 Laps Led, Average Start of 13.9, Average Finish of 11.6, 1 Holeshot, 288 Points (8th)
Happy that R.J. is good to go for SMX after that violent get-off at Unadilla, one of the scarier incidents in recent memory. Also sucked that R.J. couldn't finish what would have been an excellent Motocross season. Going into that second Moto at 'Dilla, he was provisionally second in the combined 250 standings and third in Motocross. Hampshire's floor-to-ceiling ratio, as usual, is wide in this three-round Championship, but he could sneaky win this whole thing if certain things fall into place. It just depends on how he's feeling physically.
3 Seed - No. 43 Levi Kitchen (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
2023 Supercross Stats (250 West): 9 Starts, 1 Win, 16 Laps Led, Average Start of 9.2, Average Finish of 6.5, 0 Holeshots, 156 Points (3rd)
2023 Motocross Stats: 11 Starts, 2 Moto Wins, 0 National Wins, 31 Laps Led, Average Start of 8.1, Average Finish of 7.9, 2 Holeshots, 322 Points (5th)
Just looking at the raw numbers, this was a good year for The Master Chef (Calling him Kitch should be a federal crime), but they don't scream third-best 250 rider per se. Nevertheless, the Washougal, Washington native is entering SMX a bit cold with three finishes of 10th or worse in his final four Motos. On the flip side, Kitchen also nearly came home with five podiums in nine Supercross starts, including his win at Anaheim 2 in the Triple Crown format. Assuming he can find that top-five-level consistency he had for the dead middle of Motocross, he should be in good shape.
2 Seed - No. 238 Haiden Deegan (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
2023 Supercross Stats (250 East): 10 Starts, 0 Wins, 2 Laps Led, Average Start of 6.4, Average Finish of 5, 2 Holeshots, 183 Points (2nd)
2023 Motocross Stats: 4 Starts, 3 Moto Wins, 2 National Wins, 49 Laps Led, Average Start of 6.3, Average Finish of 6.5, 3 Holeshots, 371 Points (4th)
As the days have passed since Ironman, the more I feel like Deegan's will help him long-term. Even taking the DNF at Unadilla Moto 1 away, those runs of 10th right after and the restart crash at Budds Creek were the final nails in the coffin for his Championship hopes.
Oddly enough, Deegan's start averages are virtually even between Indoors and Outdoors, so it wouldn't be a bad idea to expect the teenager to have starts in that third-to-seventh range these next few weeks. I'm fascinated to see how he performs early in these Motos, especially after things ended in Motocross. Pulling out to a big lead in that first Moto in Charlotte could be the confidence booster he needs.
1 Seed - No. 96 Hunter Lawrence (Honda HRC)
2023 Supercross Stats (250 East): 10 Starts, 7 Wins, 89 Laps Led, Average Start of 3.9, Average Finish of 1.9, 3 Holeshots, 241 Points (250 AMA Supercross Eastern Regional Champion)
2023 Motocross Stats: 11 Starts, 7 Moto Wins, 6 National Wins, 103 Laps Led, Average Start of 6.2, Average Finish of 5.5, 3 Holeshots, 419 Points (250 AMA Pro Motocross National Champion)
For every bit as good as Jett Lawrence has been this year, Hunter was every bit as good on a 250 and deserves his flowers. In fact, he put up more points per start in Supercross than Jett did in 2022 when he swept the board and had two more wins plus seven more laps led through eight starts (Jett got hurt at SLC and pulled out).
Moving on to Motocross, Hunter was a bit worse across the board but also had a few more mishaps, which didn't help his cause. Regardless of how things break for Hunter these next few weeks, this was a hell of a season, and this 450 promotion is well-deserved.
The lone concern I have with Lawrence going into SMX is this. Outside of Budds Creek, where he had starts of first and fourth, he's not been too strong off the gate over the final five rounds of the season. He was much better indoors, but these three SMX rounds all feature long starts. That plays right into the hands of the Star Yamaha guys. We've also seen Lawrence be able to make up ground, but he's going to have 10 fewer minutes and one less lap to play with. I think back to that amazing duel Lawrence had with Shimoda at Millville, and under those time constraints, he would have never even gotten the chance to get by him.
Gaffney's 2023 SuperMotocross Playoff 250 Class Championship Power Rankings
5) No. 43 Levi Kitchen
4) No. 238 Haiden Deegan
3) No. 32 Justin Cooper
2) No. 30 Jo Shimoda
1) No. 96 Hunter Lawrence
2023 SuperMotocross Playoff 250 Class Championship Pick: Jo Shimoda
Main Image via Honda HRC