If you had to choose just one AMA Supercross Series race to watch this year, Saturday's upcoming Atlanta round would not be a bad pick.
A victory for L&M Yamaha's Chad Reed last Saturday in San Diego has tightened his championship battle with Kawasaki's James Stewart coming into the Georgia Dome. But, in addition to a heated points battle, Atlanta will also be one of the venues where Makita Suzuki's part-time reigning champion Ricky Carmichael will race. As if all that weren't enough the Atlanta Supercross also marks the season opener for the AMA Lites East Series.
Reed, with his first AMA Supercross win of the season last week in San Diego, took full advantage of a crash by series leader Stewart to close up the points gap between the two. Before his victory Reed was 21 points behind. Coming into Atlanta Reed has whittled the difference to almost half of what it was before. He's now 12 points down to Stewart, who recovered to fifth after his fall.
"I was super excited to get the win," said Reed, who won the Atlanta Supercross in 2004. "It was more of a relief than anything else. I knew I could win, I just had to keep putting myself in a position to do so."
Reed has hung tough in the championship chase in spite of starting the AMA season with an injured shoulder.
"The start of this year was so disappointing," said the Australian. "It's hard to be hurt and miss all that testing in the first month of the season. I feel like everything is coming together now. My team has worked so hard. They left no stone unturned in trying to give me the best bike possible."
Stewart will be eager to reinforce his authority in Atlanta, while Monster Energy Kawasaki team-mate Tim Ferry will be full of confidence after taking second in San Diego, his best result of the year. Kevin Windham is also gaining momentum. The Honda ace scored third last week and is expected to be among the leading riders again this weekend.
Georgia's own Davi Millsaps is slated to return to action for the first time this season after suffering a broken leg while practicing during the off season. Millsaps said he hopes to finish top-five in his first race back and then progress from there. The factory Honda rider is always a crowd favourite in Atlanta.
But the biggest story is Carmichael's return. The Floridian may only be racing part-time, but he's already a winner this season and a victory on Saturday would make him the all-time most successful Atlanta Supercross rider. RC's currently tied with Jeremy McGrath on five victories apiece and would love nothing better than to leave Atlanta with one more record added to his incredible career.
Supporting the Supercross class for the first time in 2007 will be the Supercross Lites East Series - there's always a great deal of anticipation when it comes to the opening round of a series and this is no exception.
A slew of top riders are hoping to earn the crown this year. Mike Alessi, of Red Bull KTM, is one of the pre-season favourites. Alessi moved over to the East series after being a leading contender in the West last year.
Others to watch for include Thomas Hahn of the factory Honda squad. He is the top-ranked rider left over from last year's East series. Sobe/NoFear/Samsung Honda's Billy Laninovich, Yamaha's Broc Hepler, Monster/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki rider Ben Townley and Branden Jesseman, of Motoworldracing.com, are just a few of the other top-name riders lining up for the season opener.