The 2020 250 rookie class has eight factory backed racers making their Supercross debut in Anaheim. NBC analyst Daniel Blair says this is the largest infusion of factory backed rookies in the sports history, and he is right. At his suggestion, I looked at all the previous factory backed rookies since 2008. Prior to 2020, the highest class with incoming rookies was six. How many factory teams achieved success with the rookies they hired?
From 2008 – 2019 factory teams have signed 50 rookies to professional contracts. Of the 50 signed: 10 delivered championships, eleven won races or an outdoor title for the team who brought them to the professional ranks and 29 were considered busts for the team who brought them up. With eight rookies entering the series, history tells us their chances of success with their original teams are slim. I have to wonder what the teams are thinking as it’s more likely a rider with a couple years’ experience will find success.
While those numbers seem obvious, the only team taking advantage of experienced professionals is Pro Circuit Kawasaki. They have two riders who they developed through their amateur program and two seasoned veterans. This is a perfect balance between hiring guys ready to win and still looking for the next “great” talent. While none of the Pro Circuit riders are rookies, the TLD KTM team is going the other direction with three true rookies. Even though they hired Brandon Hartranft entering his third season, the team seems destined for struggles in 2020. This strategy is not successful, even if one or two of their rookies work out it still seems like a bad move.
I have openly criticized the amateur system in SX/MX and I have some hard facts that prove how moronic it’s become. Teams are signing kids three or four years before they actually turn pro, riders are eligible to turn pro at the age of 16. This means factory teams are committing thousands of dollars to kids who haven’t even experienced puberty. In the sporting world athletes develop their talents throughout their teen years. The best kids at 12 years old rarely develop into the most successful professionals. For example, approximately 17,000 kids have played in the little league world series since its inception. This tournament features the best 12 yr olds from around the world competing in a 16-team tournament each year. One would think at least 10-20% of these players would graduate to the major leagues. The hard fact is only 45 of these kids went on to MLB careers, putting their chances at 0.03% of success.
The SX/MX teams almost completely ignore racers who develop later in life. The stories of riders like Weston Peick earning his way onto a team are few and far between. Yet every other professional sport allows athletes to develop for two or three years, before being deemed a bust. One of the biggest factors is the equipment, these kids look like phenoms because the factory equipment gives them a huge advantage over their competitors. Any kid who doesn’t have the best equipment is completely overlooked. Once the factory kids turn professional they are up against riders on similar equipment, often they are exposed. Unfortunately these teams don’t hesitate to toss their 5-year investments aside for the next great amateur phenom. In reality they should be looking at seasoned professionals like Justin Starling or Jacob Hayes, they already know how to race and provided the right equipment they could be instant contenders.
Teams would be better off using the truckloads of money spent developing amateurs on developing the first three years of professional racers. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the average consumer gives a shit what little Johnny is riding or wearing. On the other hand consumers are very conscious about what motorcycles and apparel professionals use. If they insist on spending money supporting amateur racers, it should be done on a performance basis. Never offer factory equipment to amateurs! They should be competing on a relatively stock machinery for contingency money. This allows brands to support kids while letting them develop organically.
Here is a list of every 250 Supercross Champion since 2008:
Jason Lawrance – Suzuki developed him as an amateur, but Yamaha of Troy reaped the benefits.
Trey Canard – Trey is one of the only riders who won a championship in his rookie season with Factory Connection Honda.
Ryan Dungey – Won with Suzuki, the team who hired him as a rookie.
Christophe Pourcel – This was an easy one, he proved himself in Europe before being hired full time. He won with his original team, Pro Circuit Kawasaki
Jake Weimer – Won the championship for Pro Circuit after a few years of developing his skills with Factory Connection Honda.
Christophe Pourcel – Backed up his 2009 championship.
Broc Tickle – Won the championship for Pro Circuit after a few years developing on a Yamaha.
Justin Barcia – Delivered his original team Factory Connection Honda a championship.
Eli Tomac – Delivered for the Factory Connection Honda team.
Justin Barcia – Backed up his 2011 championship.
Ken Roczen – Won for his original team, Red Bull KTM, but developed his talents on a Suzuki in Europe.
Wil Hahn – Won for Factory Connection after developing on a Yamaha.
Jason Anderson – Won for his team, but they switched brands from Suzuki to KTM.
Justin Bogle – Won for his original team Factory Connection Honda.
Cooper Webb – Delivered for his original team, Star Yamaha.
Marvin Musquin – Delivered for his original team Red Bull KTM.
Cooper Webb – Backed up his title from 2015.
Malcom Stewart – After racing as a privateer, he was hired by Factor Connection Honda and delivered a championship.
Justin Hill – Won in his second tenure with the Pro Circuit Kawasaki team.
Zach Osborne – Won for Rockstar Husqvarna after many years and many teams.
Aaron Plessinger – Delivered for his team after 4 years of development with Star Yamaha.
Zach Osborne – Backed up his 2017 title.
Dylan Ferrandis – Delivered for his original team Star Yamaha, but has developed in Europe for years.
Chase Sexton – Delivered for his original team Factory Connection Honda.
Rookies and Their Results With Their First Factory Team
Nico Izzi – Suz, Came in with a ton of hype but couldn’t deliver and after a severe leg injury his life spiraled out of control. Izzi has been open about his battles with substance abuse as he became addicted to pain killers after his leg injury. The addiction left his career in shambles and his life has become a cautionary tale of rehabs and jail. His career best overall finish was in his rookie season where he finished third overall.
Trey Canard – HonFC, Trey’s rookie season was one of the best ever by an incoming rider, he bested Ryan Villopoto in his rookie season to become a 250 Supercross champion. His career was marred by injury but he did win an outdoor championship and multiple 450 Supercross races.
Daniel Reardon – HonFC, following Chad Reed’s success in the USA teams were taking a closer look at Australian racers, hoping to duplicate his success. Unfortunately this didn’t work out for Reardon as his best overall finish was 9thin 2009 before he headed back to Australia.
Austin Stroupe – KawasakiPC, Stroup much like Nico Izzi is a cautionary tale. His career was showing promise as he was 3rd overall in his rookie season and won the Houston Supercross. His career was looking successful before injuries and a pain killer addiction destroyed his career. Much like Izzi he has been in and out of rehab while trying to get his life back on track.
Will Hahn - Star Yam, Will was also part of this stellar rookie class, he went on to be very successful and win an East coast championship in 2013 for the Factory Connection Honda team.
Tyler Bowers – YOT, Bowers never had the success he hoped, he came I with an attitude and quickly made numerous enemy’s through the pits. After only one season he was fired and forced to race Arenacross in order to continue his career. He came back to Supercross full time in 2015 after a successful fill in appearance at the 2013 Vegas Supercross where he won.
Blake Wharton – HonFC, The rider known as “Slash” had a somewhat successful career which included race wins and championship contention before retiring after 2014. He has returned but has been unable to regain his previous form.
Dean Wilson – KawasakiPC, Dean is one of the few true success stories. He didn’t win the Supercross championship in his first season but did eventually deliver the team an outdoor title.
Tommy Searle - Factory KTM, His rookie season ended early with a shoulder injury and never really got going again and was back to GP racing in 2011.
Max Anstie - Star Yam, Max never really got the results expected and was off to race GP’s by 2014.
Gautier Paulin - Star Yam (4 rounds), Most don’t remember Gautier riding Supercross, but in 2010 Star brought the likeable French rider over to race a few rounds. His best finish was 6th at Anaheim 2 and hasn’t raced Supercross since.
Christian Craig – TLD Hon (Broke back and debuted in 2011), His season was completely missed due to a horrific back injury that had him questioning if he would ever race again. He did come back for the TLD team but didn’t find success until after his retirement comeback for the Factory Connection Honda team.
Gannon Audette - Star Yam, Only reached the top ten twice in his rookie season, and was not on the podium until 2016 while filling in for the Pro Circuit team. He retired at the end of the 2017 season.
Gareth Swanpoel - Star Yam (hurt and debuted in 2012), He missed his rookie season due to injury and his best finish was 4th in 2012. He retired relatively young and has become one of the most respected and trusted trainers in the sport.
Eli Tomac – HondaFC, I imagine if your reading this I don’t need to explain why Eli is a success, Eli brought multiple championships to the Factory Connection Honda team. Followed by more success with Factory Kawasaki.
Jason Anderson - Rockstar Suz, His rookie season was a big adjustment for him, at one point Anderson was sent home and told to better prepare himself before returning. Team manager Bobby Hewitt stayed with Anderson as he developed into a Supercross Champion in both classes for his team. This might be the best story of how to properly develop talented rookies into solid professionals.
Ian Trettel - Rockstar Suz, Unfortunately Ian suffered a Tramatic Brain Injury at the Daytona Supercross and this catastrophic injury ended his career as a professional racer.
Ken Roczen - RB KTM, The talented German rider quickly developed his Supercross skills and won a championship for the team.
Marvin Musquin – RBKTM, This talented French rider was always fast, but struggled with injuries for a few years before winning a championship for the team. He still rides for them and is a 450-race winner and perennial championship contender.
Justin Bogle – HonFC, After a few years of flashing potential he put it all together and brought the team a championship.
Kyle Peters - Star Yamaha, He struggled during his rookie season and was let go after one year on the team. He has been a mainstay inside the top 10 in the 250 class throughout his career. He is still competing and in 2019 he was a member of JGR.
Jeremy Martin - Star Yamaha, Jeremy Martin won Supercross races, but also failed to make main events the same season. He did deliver two outdoor championships to the team before leaving for the Factory Connection Honda team in 2018.
Zach Bell – HonFC, Made his debut in dramatic fashion as he scrubed his feet right off the bike while leading his very first heat race. His short run with the Factory Connection was plagued with crashes and injuries, he has since retired from Supercross and Motocross and is now a top off-road racer.
Jesse Nelson - TLD Hon, Jesse showed an ability to win and looked destined to be a Supercross star. Unfortunately a crash at Unadilla in 2016 left him with a spinal injury. Jesse is now pursuing a career racing UTV’s and his stunts are flat out insane.
Justin Hill - KawasakiPC, Hill had a decent first two years, he won a race and then the shootout in Vegas. After two years he moved to KTM, but couldn’t find success expected and after two years moved back to the Pro Circuit Kawasaki team. Back with his original team he brought them a championship. Since the championship his career has been puzzling, his run with JGR was nothing less than a nightmare for both him and the team. Now he is with Moto Concepts and the verdict is still out on his career celling.
Shane McElrath - TLD HonAfter five years in the 250 class and quite a few race wins McElrath left the TLD team high and dry. The team allowed him to skip races in 2019 to prevent being moved out of the 250 class. Then in a surprising move he left them and joined the Star Yamaha squad. If he wins the championship in 2020 it will serve as swift kick in the junk to the TLD squad.
Dean Ferris – RBKTM, This signing ended before it really started and Ferris returned to the GP circuit after only a few months.
Adam Cianciarulo - KawasakiPC, The likeable rider won his very first Supercross race and looked to be on his way to becoming a multi time champion. Unfortunately injuries derailed AC and he never did win a championship in the 250 Supercross class. He did however win the outdoor championship in 2019.
Matt Bisceglia – HonFC, Unfortunately after two years with the Factory Connection team he was let go. He did podium once on a Suzuki, but after that his career really never got off the ground. He retired after a couple races in 2019.
Anthony Rodriguez - Star Yam, This Venezuelan rider never reached his potential with Star Yamaha and after two years of injury riddled seasons he was let go. Since then he has bounced around for a couple years, but still feels like he can become a top contender in the sport.
Cooper Webb - Star Yam, Webb won his first race in his sophomore season and used that momentum to win the 15’ and 16’ Supercross championships before moving up to the 450 class. After two years of struggles in the 450 class Webb joined the Red Bull KTM team and claimed the 2019 Supercross championship.
Arnaud Tonus - KawasakiPC , The 2015 class had two rookies with Pro Circuit and neither worked out. Tonas showed speed but injuries and illness never allowed him to realize his potential.
Chris Alldredge - KawasakiPC, Alldredge showed speed, but also had a knack for spectacular crashes. After only two years he was let go from the team and then had some serious injuries that forced a semi-retirement. He still shows up to some outdoor nationals on a two stroke but doesn’t seem to be trying to restart his career.
RJ Hampshire - HonFC, RJ suffered a Tramatic Brain Injury at the Red Bull Straight Rhythm race following his rookie season. He has struggled ever since the injury, but showed flashes of speed and talent. Unfortunately for the team who invested so much money in him throughout the years if he does finally realize his potential it will be with a different team. He is joining the Rockstar Husqvarna team in 2020.
Jordon Smith – HonFC, Smith spent two years with the team, but felt like he needed a change and moved to the TLD KTM team and became a race winner. He has since left that team and is entering the 2020 season as a member or the Pro Circuit Kawasaki team.
Aaron Plessinger - Star Yam, Aaron had a steady climb in his four-year run with the team. In his final year he delivered both Supercross and Outdoor titles before graduating to the 450 class.
Alex Frye - TLD KTM, The year 2016 wasn’t a good year for rookies as Alex Frye and Mitchell Harrison both had little success and both have few career options moving forward.
Mitchell Harrison - Star Yam, Harrison is currently signed to compete in the GP series for 2020, but his results haven’t been stellar.
Chase Sexton - HondaFC (hurt and missed year)
Austin Forkner - KawasakiPC, looks to on his way to a successful run with the team
Dylan Ferrandis- Star Yam, delivered a championship in 2019
The class of 2017 has three riders who had success, both Sexton and Ferrandis won Championships in 2019 while Forkner won a string of races before suffering a torn ACL ending his season.
*Cameron McAdoo - Started w/Moto Concepts then moved to HondaFC - McAdoo failed to deliver for the Factory Connection Honda team, but looks primed to be a contender for Pro Circuit in 2020. His inclusion on this list is questionable as he started with a team that didn’t receive factory support then was promoted.
Sean Cantrell - TLD KTM, signed him but he never showed the speed needed to keep his job
Michael Mosiman - Rockstar Husky, has resigned with the team and it's likely he will have future success.
Justin Cooper - Star Yamaha is proud to have him moving forward.
As we get closer to current times, it’s difficult to decide whether these rookies were a success or not. I do however consider Sean Cantrell a failure as he has already been cut from his team.
Garrett Marchbanks - KawasakiPC, still with the team but if he doesn't deliver this season he could find himself somewhere else.
Mitchell Falk - TLD KTM, fired Falk after only one year. His story is a cautionary tale for amateur riders. Be careful when signing with this team, their track record isn't good and they cut guys before really giving them a chance. Strange enough they have three more rookies in 2020, will history repeat itself?
Jordan Bailey - Rockstar Husky, unfortunately as he showed promise in Supercross those results couldn't be duplicated outdoors and he was fired after only two years. I believe with one more year he would have found the speed they hoped he would in 2019.
Thomas Covington - Rockstar Husky, the 2019 season was a complete disaster for the former MX2 GP star. He was released after only one year of a two year deal and is headed back to Europe.
Enzo Lopes - JGR Suzuki, he was cut from the team as they struggled to find a title sponsor. His firing was more a timing issue rather than bad management.
Much like the 2018 class it’s hard to judge the career success of guys who debuted a year ago, but four of the five rookies have already been fired. Going by that, the only rookie who has a chance to deliver for his rookie team is Garrett Marchbanks. If he can’t deliver for the Pro Circuit team the entire class will be a bust.
Incoming rookies for 2020:
Jalek Swoll - Rockstar Husky
Hunter Lawrence - HondaFC
Jett Lawrence - HondaFC
Jo Shimoda - HondaFC
Ty Masterpool - Star Yam
Derek Drake - TLD KTM
Brian Moreau - TLD KTM
Pierce Brown - TLD KTM
How They Fared?
Riders who delivered Championships to their original team.
Trey Canard – Factory Connection Honda
Eli Tomac – Factory Connection Honda
Justin Bogle- Factory Connection Honda
Chase Sexton- Factory Connection Honda
Cooper Webb- Star Yamaha
Aaron Plessinger- Star Yamaha
Marvin Musquin- Red Bull KTM
Ken Roczen – Red Bull KTM
Jason Anderson – Rockstar Suz/KTM
Riders who did good, but didn’t win championships.
Austin Stroupe- Pro Circuit Kawasaki
Dean Wilson- Pro Circuit Kawasaki
Adam Cianciarulo- Pro Circuit Kawasaki
Austin Forkner- Pro Circuit Kawasaki
Garrett Marchbanks – Pro Circuit Kawasaki
Blake Wharton- Factory Connection Honda
Jeremy Martin- Star Yamaha
Justin Cooper – Star Yamaha
Jesse Nelson- TLD Honda/KTM
Shane McElrath- TLD Honda/KTM
Michael Mosiman- Rockstar Husqvarna
Riders who were a complete bust for their original team, some won with other teams.