Despite much speculation over riders who might step up to become championship contenders this season one thing is certain, if anyone is to make a serious bid to win the 2004 AMA Motocross championship they will have to go through either Ricky Carmichael or James Stewart.
Coming into round two of the championship at High Point Raceway in Mt. Morris, Carmichael is the rider to beat in the 250 class while Stewart's the man in the 125 series.
Many wondered how RC would return after having knee surgery this winter: He hadn't raced in seven months and was slated to race a four-stroke Honda for the first time in his career.
At round one in Sacramento, Carmichael showed why he's won a championship every year of his pro career. The eight-year pro put in a Herculean effort to rehab his knee and get back in racing shape in time for the AMA Motocross season. He won in Sacramento despite, by his own admission, not being 100 percent fit.
"My knee feels good," Carmichael explained. "But I'm not in what I would consider racing shape yet. I'll get better as the season goes on. I haven't really raced since October. Training and practicing is one thing, but racing is a whole new ballgame.
"I sort of let up a little in the middle of the motos at Hangtown and I figured the other guys would catch me, but fortunately I had enough of a margin that I didn't have to fight too hard to get the win," he claimed.
Carmichael comes to High Point seeking his third-straight victory in the Memorial Weekend Classic. Yamaha's David Vuillemin will be the only other former 250 winner in the field Sunday. Vuillemin surprised a lot of people by finishing second to Carmichael in the season opener. It marked Vuillemin's first motocross podium finish in a year.
"People may think of me as a Supercross specialist," said Vuillemin, who won at High Point in 2000 and 2001. "I think I still have the ability to do well at motocross. It's so tough every weekend in the nationals, but I'm going to give my best and hopefully good things will happen."
Newly crowned AMA Supercross champ Chad Reed also wants to prove his ability in the gruelling motocross circuit. He was happy with his third-place result at round one and is looking forward to being in the championship hunt all season long on his factory Yamaha.