Steel City Raceway has had its share of historic moments in AMA Motocross history - the winner-take-all 250 championship race won by Jeff Emig over Jeremy McGrath in 1996 and Ricky Carmichael completing the first perfect season in 2002, among them...

...And in spite of no longer being the final round of the AMA Motocross Championship the 2004 edition of Steel City, on September 5, may prove to be the biggest racing weekend in the track's storied history.

Three major stories will dominate national motocross news this week. First is the impending securing of the 2004 AMA Chevrolet 250 Motocross Championship by Ricky Carmichael: The four-time and defending AMA 250 Motocross champ needs only a 15th-place or better finish in either moto at Steel City to wrap up an unprecedented fifth-straight 250 title.

"If I manage to clinch the championship at Steel City it will be very special," Carmichael said. "Ever since I had my knee surgery my entire goal was to win the title again and prove to myself and everyone else that I could come back stronger than ever."

Last winter Carmichael had patella tendon graft surgery to replace his torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and spent the following months rehabilitating. In addition to coming back from the serious injury Carmichael also moved to the Honda CRF450R this year, racing a four-stroke motocross bike for the first time in his career.

The strong comeback and the new machine have proven an unbeatable combination so far this season. Carmichael is on course to duplicate his amazing 2002 feat of going undefeated for an entire season, something never done prior to Carmichael.

Another big story at Steel City is the chance James Stewart has to become the all-time wins leader in AMA 125 Motocross history. Last week in Binghamton, New York, the 18-year-old Floridian rode his Kawasaki to his 26th-career 125 win tying the mark set by Carmichael. He clinched this year's title last week in New York so the all-time wins mark continues to provide Stewart with plenty of motivation.

"Coming into the season I saw that the 125 win record was a possibility," Stewart said. "I knew I'd have to have a near perfect season to get it and now I have the opportunity to earn a really important record. I still have two shots at it this year. I like Steel City a lot and would like to set the record there. I feel pretty good about my chances."

But perhaps the most attention-grabbing story coming into Steel City is the return of AMA Supercross King Jeremy McGrath (top pic) to AMA Motocross competition.

McGrath is rumoured to be milling over a limited comeback after announcing his retirement from supercross and motocross competition in January of 2003. Since then McGrath has enjoyed retirement by producing a best-selling book about his racing career and participating in the AMA Supermoto Championship.

McGrath hasn't raced in an AMA Motocross Championship event since making a special appearance at San Bernardino in May of 2000. When contacted about getting an interview on his comeback McGrath said he wanted to make his Steel City a low-key, just-for-fun affair preferring the attention go to Carmichael and Stewart for their accomplishments.

Meanwhile, local fans will be cheering for Pennsylvania's Broc Hepler. The local ace has blossomed this season with Team Suzuki, is second ranked in the 125 class and has emerged as the heir apparent to take over the 125 class next season.

"It's been a really good year for me," said Hepler, who is only in his second season of pro racing and scored five podium finishes up to this point. "I'm feeling like I still have a lot to learn, but the second half of the year has really boosted my confidence.

"I'm looking forward to racing in front of my friends and family at Steel City. It's a little added pressure to race at home because you're expected to do well, but that's something I'm learning to deal with."


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