2011 ATV MX Nationals from Loretta Lynn's
The 2011 ATV MX National series wrapped up at Loretta Lynn’s last weekend, and the final round (just like the rest of the series) was filled with high-flying action, suspense, and plenty of drama. Going into Loretta’s there were plenty of “#1” plates still up for grabs, and seemingly everyone from the 50cc class racers to the pros came in with high hopes of bringing home some new hardware for their trophy case.
After 10 tough rounds and countless miles of travel, there was no “playing it safe,” with nothing left to do but leave it all on the table. Despite the laid-back atmosphere of the ranch itself, the intensity was quite palpable as the weekend’s races went on. As one might expect, the Pro, Pro-Am Production and Pro-Am Unlimited classes were the focal point of the weekend, as all three championships were still up for grabs and all three would be settled in their final moto of the season.
As luck would have it, the weather was perfect all weekend long, making racing conditions ideal for the various showdowns. The Pro-Am Unlimited class would be decided first with a controversial, hard-fought battle between JB Racing’s Jeffrey Rastrelli, and Blue Rok Racing’s Mark Madl. The two Floridians fought tooth and nail all season long, taking nine out of the 10 previous wins between them. Madl picked up speed and momentum in the latter rounds of the season, and he seemed poised to win the title after his 1-1 sweep, but Rastrelli’s consistency paid off in the end as he edged Madl out by just four points.
A misinterpretation of the rulebook led Madl’s camp to believe he had won the title only to find out later that it was Rastrelli who had prevailed. The loss only motivated Madl for his run at the Pro-Am Production Class title the following day versus Moto-Xperts’ Casey Martin. The points and rules on this one were much easier to figure out; whoever finished in front of the other would win the title, plain and simple. Unfortunately for Martin, Madl wasn’t about to be denied again, leading to another 1-1 sweep on the weekend – only this time, he’d be rewarded with a championship.
The Pro-Am class drama was only an appetizer for what would be served up in the main course that was the Pro Class. Team Motoworks Can-Am seemed poised to win the ATV MX Pro Class Championship since the first round of the series; the only question was which teammate would deliver. John Natalie Jr. and Chad Wienen had the distinct advantage of being the only two riders on the circuit with full-blown factory rides, and when you factor in their talent and drive, it was almost unfair. The season started with the duo taking the first five wins, and at three of those rounds they filled the second-place slot as well.
Seemingly unstoppable, the “dynamic duo” was checking out on their competition and enjoying the kind of dominance that up until this year had only been enjoyed by the now defunct Yoshimura Suzuki Team. Battling behind them was a slew of privateers both young and old, which included Baldwin Motorsports’ Josh Upperman, Walsh Racecraft’s Jeremy Lawson, Yamaha’s Thomas Brown, rookie Joel Hetrick of Hetrick Racing, Honda’s Joe Byrd, Harold Goodman, Nick Denoble, and rookies like Chase Snapp and Adam Clark, among others. Talent, experience and support varied among this year’s Pro class, but what they all had in common was a desire to fill the void left by Suzuki’s departure, and a sense of optimism that they could bring home the championship with a little luck. The #44 of Chad Wienen seemed most up to the task, and as the season went on it became obvious that he was the man to beat. Unfortunately for Wienen, the afore-mentioned luck was all that he lacked, as a training injury took him out of the running after round seven (where he earned his fourth win of the season). With Wienen out, the collective Pro Class breathed a sigh of relief, and the optimism once again went through the roof.
Josh Upperman’s 2011 season was the perfect model of consistency, the Honda-mounted #20 never finished outside of the top five, and was setting himself up to pull off the big upset. Upperman hit his stride scoring the Win at Round eight just as Wienen was taken out of the picture. Rookie sensation Joel Hetrick found a stride of his own at round nine and took his first Pro win, which only seemed to open the floodgates of his confidence. Natalie bounced back with a win at Red Bud, which only tightened the points chase going into Loretta’s.
Going into Moto One, eight points stood between Upperman and Natalie, and much to the delight of fans the fight for the title would come down to the final Pro Moto of the season. The showdown between Factory Can-Am and privateer Honda was set to go down. As the gate dropped, it was indeed a Honda out front, with a Can-Am hot on his heels, only it wasn’t Upperman and Natalie – it was the rookies Joel Hetrick and Chase Snapp doing battle while leaving the title contenders behind. Snapp’s chain eventually derailed, moving Upperman and Natalie into second and third places, respectively, but neither had anything for the #88 of Hetrick.
Upperman’s deficit going into the second moto was now twelve points, meaning he’d have to win to earn the title, and something drastic would have to happen to Natalie. The Moto Gods must love drama, because two turns into the second moto Upperman was out front, and Natalie was on the ground after a pile up. What happened next couldn’t be scripted – it was the stuff of movies. In what can only be described as a “Rocky” moment, Natalie picked himself up, dusted himself off, and set out on the ride of his life on a charge all the way up through the pack. He battled back into fourth place and miraculously earned the national championship. In those moments, Natalie proved that no amount of support or factory backing could take the credit for his championship; the number one plate was coming home as a result of his heart and desire. Hetrick won the race via 1-1 scores, making it a long off-season for the rest of the Pro class and leaving many thinking that 2012 will most certainly be his year. But 2011 was Natalie’s, and his championship run will go down as one of the greatest in the history of the sport.
Outside of the Pros, the pits at Loretta’s were filled with stories of year-long battles that inevitably led to the highest of highs for some and lowest of lows for others. Among the highs for 2011 was the resurgence of the Media Allstars Team, which clinched four more championships at the ranch; the formation of the MotoXperts team which nearly won the Pro Am Production Championship; the JB Racing Team that took home its first Championship via Jeffrey Rastrelli; the Blue Rok team’s Madl and his impressive Pro-Am run; and countless other examples of triumph, hardwork and dedication. ATV MX Racing is alive and well, and with Pro rookies like Snapp and Hetrick, as well as future prospects like Rastrelli, Madl, Martin and Meyer, it’s safe to say that the future of the sport looks bright. Loretta Lynn’s is a special event, and if you haven’t made it, you need to plan on doing so.