Craig Murto: Supercross off to exciting start

The Monster Energy Supercross season got off to an exciting start as the two-wheeled warriors battled Saturday night in Anaheim, California.

More than 45,000 fans packed the arena in Anaheim, proving just how popular Supercross has become. And none of those fans were disappointed in the action they saw on track.

Shane McElrath took the win in the 250 West class. His KTM crossed the line ahead of the Yamaha of Aaron Plessinger, who in turn was followed by Adam Cianciarulo’s Kawasaki.

But it was the headlining 450 division that gave fans the most excitement, as well as one of the oddest incidents ever seen in a motorcycle race.

Early in the event Eli Tomac got a jump on the field and had a five-second lead. But what appeared to be a cruise to an easy victory became a major blow to his title hopes as he appeared to lose concentration and crashed.

Picking himself up from the track he rejoined in fifth. But a half lap later he pulled to side of the track because his pants became unbuttoned. A few laps later he pulled off the track, retiring from the race with what was called a bruised shoulder. It’s not clear whether he’ll be able to return when the series races in Houston this week. But Twitter was full of fans poking fun at Tomac, some posting Photoshop-ed images of his riding suit complete with suspenders.

Tomac’s misfortune and wardrobe malfunction opened the door for Marvin Musquin, who took the win and gave KTM a sweep of the night’s feature events. With the retirement of Ryan Dungey, Musquin is KTM’s lead rider.

Jason Anderson finished second on a Husqvarna. Justin Barcia filled in for Davi Millsaps as he recovers from surgery following a pre-season testing accident, and made the most of his opportunity riding the Yamaha to third.

Weston Peick finished fifth on a Suzuki, but the big story in the top five was fourth-place finisher Ken Roczen.

A year ago Roczen suffered an injury to his left arm. At one point there was talk the arm could be amputated and his racing career was finished. But 11 surgeries later, the German rider proved to be one of the best comeback stories in all of motorsports.

At the drop of the gate the former Supercross champion seemed a bit tentative, dropping to about 10th. But as the race went on he got more aggressive on his Honda, and by the end of the race seemed to have his racing legs back under him. It’ll be interesting to see how well he performs in Houston.

Not all of the news from the Supercross opener came on the track. Yamaha surprised everybody when it announced a “unique marketing partnership” with Ryan Villopoto.

Villopoto, winner of 10 major titles, retired in 2015 and spent his entire pro career with Kawasaki, though early in his career he had help from Yamaha at the amateur level.

“All good things must come to an end,” he wrote on Instagram. “Proud of all the great things I have done and achieved throughout my racing career both amateur and professional at Kawasaki. They will forever be a part of my legacy.”

In Yamaha’s official announcement, Villopoto states, “With my transition to life after racing, I’m still passionate about motorsports. Whether I’m racing, riding recreationally or teaching my kids to ride, I still have a lot I want to give back to the motorsports industry from many aspects. My family and I enjoy all sorts of motorsports activities, and Yamaha has the broadest and most diverse lineup around. Whether it’s off-road, on-road, two wheels or four, they have it covered. That’s why I’m so excited to enter into this collaboration with Yamaha.”

Prior to the announcement, Villopoto was a “brand ambassador” for Kawasaki.

The four-time Supercross champion revealed in an interview with “http://dirtrider.com”>dirtrider.com that although his role for Yamaha is not “professional racer” and he does not think he’ll race full time again, he’ll actually race in some flat track events for the manufacturer in 2018.

Of course, if he wins one of those flat track races, all bets are off; it’s hard to keep racers from racing. Just last month Villopoto made his debut in a Robby Gordon Stadium Super Truck, finishing fifth in his heat race and 10th in the main event.