Yamaha's Chad Reed, the 2004 THQ AMA Supercross Champion, opens his title defence at Anaheim, California, on Saturday January 8 - an event that will mark the start of the most highly anticipated season in Supercross history.

What makes Anaheim I so special is that all the superstars of Supercross will meet head-to-head for the first time. Chad Reed vs. Ricky Carmichael vs. James Stewart vs. Jeremy McGrath vs. Travis Pastrana vs. Kevin Windham vs. Mike LaRocco and so on.

"It's one of those rare moments in racing where all the top riders will come together," said Reed, who will be trying to win the Anaheim opener for the third straight year. "If I weren't racing myself I would definitely be in the crowd watching. I'm honoured to be mentioned as one of the top riders in this group."

Stewart's debut in the main 250 class is what many fans are looking forward to seeing. Kawasaki's racing phenom broke nearly every conceivable record in the 125 class and he has goals to do the same someday in the 250s.

In spite of the fact that many past greats, including Ricky Carmichael, never even finished on the podium in their first AMA Supercross season, the pressure and hype surrounding the 19-year-old as he approaches his debut is tremendous.

"It's funny because when most riders come into the 250 class it's cool even if they make the main and just have a decent race," Stewart said. "Now everyone is expecting me to either win or crash my brains out. I've never said anything about where I expect to finish.

"I'm not hyping myself. I'm just excited to be racing in the top class against the best riders," he added. "By listening to people you'd think my entire career depends on how I do at Anaheim I, but I'd be pumped if I have a good race and finish on the podium. It would still be better than almost anyone has ever done in their first race."

Carmichael is returning to AMA Supercross competition after the three-time series champ sat out last season recovering from knee surgery. The one stat that stands out with Carmichael is that the 25-year-old Floridian has never lost a title defence in his eight-year pro career.

RC's anxious to win back the title he vacated after 2003. If he does so he would bring Suzuki its first AMA 250 Supercross Series championship since Hall of Famer Mark Barnett scored the title on a yellow bike in 1981.

"This is a very exciting time for me," said Carmichael, who was recently named the AMA Athlete of the Year for a record tying third time. "I'm looking forward to working with my new team and going for a fourth Supercross championship."

If the opportunity to watch the Big Three of Carmichael, Reed and Stewart race together for the first time is not enough, there's also the return of Jeremy McGrath to consider.

The former King of Supercross is coming back in a limited return two years after he announced his retirement at the Anaheim opener. It's fitting that Anaheim marks the race where McGrath makes his comeback. He considers the Big A his home track and it is the place in 1993 where he won the first of his record 72-career victories and began his unmatched run of seven AMA Supercross Series championships.

McGrath will also be reunited with Honda, the team he rode for during the prime of his career in the 1990s.

"I'm realistic about this," McGrath said of his return. "I'm not calling it a comeback. It's just that I want to race and want to have fun. It's never going to be like it was. I just want to have a good time with it and not put too much pressure on myself and enjoy it this time around. I am in a really unique position. Not many guys can call their own shots and just race half the season like I'm doing."

Among others who could emerge from the shadows of the big stars and score a surprise victory at Anaheim include riders such as Honda's Kevin Windham and Mike LaRocco.

Windham is considered one of the most naturally gifted riders in the history of the sport and finished runner-up to Reed in the series last year, while LaRocco was the third ranked rider in 2004.

The Hoosier native, who turns 34 in February, is hoping to extend his career a few years by racing only AMA Supercross full time. He competed in only a single Motocross event last summer so he should be fresh for the Supercross season.

Travis Pastrana, the oft-injured X-Games hero, is planning on returning to AMA Supercross competition at Anaheim. The Suzuki rider does not expect to be fully fit for the race however as he is just coming off a wrist injury.

Meanwhile, Nick Wey and David Vuillemin are two other riders expected to be among the front-runners in the opener.