As the world's fastest riders descend into the second half of the 2014 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, the time is now for the series' title hopefuls to make their move as five rounds and 10 motos remain. This Saturday, the championship makes its annual visit to Minnesota and the beloved Spring Creek MX Park in Millville for the La Crescent Wine & Spirit Spring Creek National on July 19. The return to the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" and the Mississippi River Valley is a critical junction for two championship contenders as both Yamalube/Star Racing/Yamaha's Jeremy Martin and Red Bull KTM's Ryan Dungey are Minnesota natives with a long history at Spring Creek, each of whom will look to take advantage of his hometown experience.
Live broadcast coverage from Spring Creek begins Saturday, July 19, at 2 p.m. ET with the first motos of the 450 and 250 Classes on MAVTV.
Final moto coverage of both classes can be seen via tape delay on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) at 6 p.m. ET.
Additionally, all the action can be seen as it happens online via live stream at ProMotocross.com (first motos) and NBC Sports Live Extra (second motos).
With three wins and a 250 Class-leading six moto wins to his credit this season, Jeremy Martin has put himself in position to earn a national title in just his second season of competition. The Millville-born rider currently enjoys a 27-point lead in the championship standings and now heads to the race he's looked forward to the most during the entire 2014 season. Jeremy and his 250 Class competing brother Alex are second-generation racers, following in the footsteps of their father, John, who was a champion off-road competitor. Since 1987, John and his wife, Greta, have owned and operated Spring Creek MX Park, leaving a world class facility to the disposal of their sons as they embarked to achieve their motocross dreams.
For Jeremy, Spring Creek was the site of his breakout ride as a rookie one year ago, when he nearly took the win in the opening moto. Following his tremendous success this season, there may not be a more anticipated return to his home track than this one, which has, in turn, also put the spotlight squarely on the 250 Class this weekend. Given his performance in Millville last season and his impressive management of the championship lead since the opening round, to say that Martin is a heavy favorite on Saturday afternoon would be an understatement. He is as expected to win as perhaps any rider in history given his knowledge of the track, which is only surpassed by that of his brother. Some have joked that Martin could ride Spring Creek with his eyes closed, and even with the addition of a brand new section this season, his newfound confidence and class-leading speed is expected to result in his most dominant performance of the season thus far, which would prove to be a major step towards securing a first 250 Class title. While one might think the pressure associated with his return could get to Martin, he's actually looking forward to the opportunity.
"I'm excited. I get to sleep in my own bed and see my mom and dad, which hasn't been since the end of supercross," said Martin. "I get to go out there and get back on the track, and show it who's boss again. It's been a while since I've burnt some laps around there, but we'll get that Star [Yamaha] bike wide open through the [sand] whoops and have some fun."
Two riders looking to spoil Martin's homecoming are Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki's Blake Baggett and Martin's Yamalube/Star Racing/Yamaha teammate Cooper Webb. Baggett made the most recent statement last weekend at Budds Creek, matching Martin's overall win total with his third victory of the season. He moved into second in the championship standings and although he recognizes the difficult task that lies ahead of him on Saturday, he remains optimistic that he can turn Spring Creek in his favor.
"When he [Jeremy Martin] can drive [to the track] in a golf cart and check it out, it's pretty close [to home]," said Baggett. "It's a little bit more fire underneath you to try to [beat him]. If it happens, it happens. But he's fast, bottom line. I'm sure he's going to be really fast at his home track. He ain't giving me nothing! You've got to fight for it. Which is good."
Webb has remained in the thick of the hunt since the beginning of the season and since breaking through for his first career win at Muddy Creek several weeks ago, he's also stepped up to become a more formidable challenger. Confidence is running high for the North Carolina native and he'll be just as motivated as Baggett to try and outrun his teammate on his home track.
On the heels of his second overall victory of the season last weekend, Minnesota native Dungey is also garnering considerable attention in the 450 Class as he returns to sight of some of his most successful outings. The KTM rider faces a 26-point deficit to his teammate Roczen atop the championship standings, but given the momentum of last weekend's win and his incredible record at Spring Creek, this is the opportunity to change the complexion of the title fight at a key point in the season.
Since 2008, dating back to when he was in the 250 Class, Dungey has won in five of his last six starts in Millville. He carried an undefeated record at the track in the 450 Class up until last season, which surely has left a chip on his shoulder and will only add to his motivation to return to prominence at his hometown race.
Moreover, Roczen's bid for the 250 Class title one year ago all but came to an end at Spring Creek when he crashed out of the first moto and lost control of the points lead in the process. The German has likely not forgotten that memory and will be in search of his own redemption in Millville. With an incredible streak of podium finishes in every moto to this point in 2014, Roczen has yet to falter against his more experienced rivals and so far appears to be in full control of his own destiny. Knowing his teammate will come out swinging on Saturday, don't be surprised if Roczen displays increased patience on the track.
Lurking behind this duo will be GEICO Honda's Eli Tomac, who in the first three starts of his 450 Class career has finished on the overall podium each time. Last season Tomac proved to be the benefactor of Roczen's misfortune at Spring Creek, sweeping the day's motos and seizing control of the championship en route to his first career 250 Class title. Tomac knows how to win at Millville and would gladly like to spoil the dominance his KTM counterparts have enjoyed in 2014.
Spring Creek MX Park has hosted a round of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship since 1983 and has continued to provide one of the most picturesque and competitive tracks in the sport for over three decades. With its dramatic elevation changes, great soil and collection of the most notorious obstacles in all of off-road racing, like the infamous sand whoops and "Holy Schmidt" jump, Spring Creek provides a truly ideal setting to host an event of this magnitude. Factor in a brand new uphill and downhill section, which will no doubt result in some of the best racing of the 2014 season.
Last year at Spring Creek, Team Yoshimura Suzuki's James Stewart earned his lone win of the 2013 season, putting on a thrilling battle with Team Honda Muscle Milk's Trey Canard following misfortune by both Dungey and eventual champion Ryan Villopoto. In the 250 Class, Tomac was dominant and took over the championship lead following a tough day by Roczen in their season-long duel.
Action for the La Crescent Wine & Spirits Spring Creek National this Saturday, July 19, begins at 9:30 a.m. ET with timed practice. Opening ceremonies get underway at 1:25 p.m. ET, with the first gate drop scheduled for 2:05 p.m. ET.