On a magical weekend during which Honda commemorated its 50th anniversary in motocross and unveiled the 2023 CRF Performance family, Team Honda HRC riders were literally perfect at Fox Raceway’s opening round of AMA Pro Motocross.
On a magical weekend during which Honda commemorated its 50th anniversary in motocross and unveiled the 2023 CRF Performance family, Team Honda HRC riders were literally perfect at Fox Raceway’s opening round of AMA Pro Motocross. For much of the day, the teammates were each other’s only real rivals at the Pala, California, track, but in the end it was Chase Sexton and Jett Lawrence winning the two classes to take early points leads, while Ken Roczen and Hunter Lawrence each notched a pair of impressive second-place results.
The Red Riders enjoyed strong starts in their motos, with Sexton and Roczen trading holeshots in 450 and Jett Lawrence second early on in both 250 races. Hunter Lawrence had the most overtaking work to do, including a moto 2 charge from seventh to second, highlighted by a dramatic last-lap pass on Jo Shimoda that kept the team’s impeccable results tally intact. Sexton had to make passes on Roczen in both 450 motos, whereas Jett ran relatively comfortably at the front in the 250 races. Both Sexton and Jett had relatively narrow winning margins over their teammates (averaging 10.3 seconds and 6.1 seconds, respectively), whereas in the 450 motos, the gaps from Roczen to the first non-Honda riders averaged a notable 32.0 seconds!
The special day meant different things to the four riders: For Sexton, it was a statement performance that showed he is ready to run at the front of the premier class; for Roczen, it was a successful return to racing after he withdrew from supercross in early March to rebuild his health; for Jett, it was a commanding beginning to his defense of the Gary Jones Cup that is held by the reigning 250 champ; and for Hunter, it was evidence that he is a legitimate threat to challenge his brother for that trophy. For anyone who witnessed the exhibition, it had the makings of motocross lore that will likely be recounted for another 50 years.
The opening round was a home race for Team Honda HRC, and Honda was the title sponsor. The official name of the event was the Honda Fox Raceway I National, Presented by Fox.
The week leading up to the opener was a busy one for the Team Honda HRC riders. Monday found them starring in an advertising photo shoot with the then-secret 2023 CRF motocross models, Tuesday was AMA Pro Motocross’s pre-season Ride Day at Fox Raceway, and on Friday evening they took part in the unveiling of the aforementioned CRF lineup at Temecula’s Peltzer Winery. That event also featured a number of past Honda champions, including Gary Jones, Johnny O’Mara, Rick Johnson and Trey Canard, along with past Team Honda manager Dave Arnold. When it was time for the unveil, Jones and Jett Lawrence – Honda’s first and most recent AMA Pro Motocross Champions, respectively – had the honors of pulling the cover off the new CRF450R 50th Anniversary Edition. The evening also saw 11-time Baja 1000 winner Johnny Campbell recognized for his 30th anniversary with American Honda.
The 2023 CRF450R and the CRF450R 50th Anniversary Edition made their public debut on race day at the Honda booth, which also displayed several factory Honda motocross bikes from the past. Included were Jones’s ’73 RC250 Elsinore, Marty Smith’s ’74 RC125 Elsinore, David Bailey’s ’84 RC500 (recently restored by Arnold in a project coordinated by photographer David Dewhurst), the ’86 CR125R raced by both Micky Dymond and O’Mara, Jeremy McGrath’s ’96 CR250R, Ricky Carmichael’s ’03 CR250R, Canard’s ’08 CRF250R and Jett Lawrence’s ’21 CRF250R. Thousands of fans stopped by to check out the bikes and to pick up a free souvenir sticker commemorating Honda’s 50th anniversary in motocross.
In a nod to great past champions in Honda’s history, the factory CRF450R and CRF250R machines of Team Honda HRC featured throwback liveries reminiscent of the ’80s-era CR models that ruled motocross and supercross. Updates included blue Throttle Jockey seat covers and old-style race numbers, gold D.I.D rims and gold Renthal handlebars. In addition, the riders wore special retro gear prepared by Fox and Alpinestars, and the crew wore ’80s-style Fox team shirts.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of AMA Pro Motocross, series organizers are featuring different champions from the past in the broadcast booth alongside announcer Jason Weigandt. Appropriately for this event, the celebrity guests were Rick Johnson and Jeremy McGrath, two great champions from Honda’s past.
Hunter and Jett Lawrence organized a special trackside hospitality area for a lucky 175 of their fans at Fox Raceway. Perks included food, drinks, gifts and a personal visit by the brothers.
During the opening ceremonies, Team Honda HRC test rider Trey Canard did an exhibition lap on the just-unveiled 2023 CRF450R 50th Anniversary Edition, while American Honda Senior Manager of Customer Engagement Bill Savino was interviewed on the podium.
For the 2022 AMA Pro Motocross season, at the suggestion of Roczen’s wife Courtney, Team Honda HRC has revived a custom started in 2017 by Andrew Short, in which an Award of Excellence is presented to a different team member after every race. Following the Fox Raceway opener, the award was presented to Sexton’s mechanic, Brandon Zimmerman, with Canard summing the situation up nicely in an Instagram post: “The only problem yesterday was that every single one of our crew deserved an award of excellence. It was such an incredible day to see everyone’s hard work pay off. Although everyone deserved a trophy we had to pick somebody for the award this weekend and @zimm763 was our guy! Congratulations on your first 450 MX overall win and red plate Zimm!”
Sexton turned the fastest lap time in both 450 motos, with Roczen second-best both times out. Jett and Hunter Lawrence did likewise in 250 moto 2, after notching the second- and third-fastest laps of moto 1.
While the weekend saw American Honda celebrating the company’s motocross history in Southern California, Honda’s MXGP squad – Team HRC – was doing likewise at the Spanish Grand Prix outside of Madrid. Running the same retro look as his U.S.-based counterparts, Tim Gajser rode his CRF450R to 2-6 moto finishes, maintaining a healthy points lead in the series.
One Honda legend who unfortunately wasn’t able to be a part of the activities – but who was nonetheless on the minds of the whole team – is David Bailey, who is recovering from shoulder surgery. Following the race, Bailey sent the following note to the team, referencing the 1986 Motocross des Nations in Italy, where he and fellow Honda riders Rick Johnson and Johnny O’Mara swept the top two positions in every moto: “Wow! That was an amazing day. You guys really looked great, bikes looked great, the riders’ gear looked great – and the results!!!! That was a Maggiora 1986 type day 💁🏻♂️ #honored #proud”
The day after the race, Johnson sent out an Instagram post showing a photo of Sexton from the Fox Raceway round alongside an early photo of Bailey, both running No. 23 – and exhibiting similarly textbook riding styles.
Sexton’s impressive performance was the first 1-1 showing of his career, and it increased his tally of AMA Pro Motocross 450 overall victories to three. One of his other wins also came at Fox Raceway, in 2020.
Jett Lawrence’s rides at Fox Raceway boosted his 250 overall and moto win totals to six and 11, and they also extended his perfect overall-win record at the track. The young Australian has now raced at the venue on four occasions, and he has scored the overall win each time.
Following the podium celebrations, all four Team Honda HRC riders took part in a press conference for MavTV.
Team Honda HRC won’t have much time to enjoy their incredible success at the AMA Pro Motocross opener, as round 2 takes place this coming weekend, about 500 miles north at Prairie City State Vehicle Recreation Area. Rather than returning home, all four riders will stay in Southern California during the week.