Villopoto rides to motocross’ richest prize

Story by John Marshall
The Associated Press
October 17, 2011
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LAS VEGAS — Normally stoic, even in victory, Ryan Villopoto had a hard time getting the words out.

“We’ve had a (great) year, to back it up next year is going to be hard, and if we do it’ll be another unyear real, un- ... sorry ... unreal year,” he said.

Holding a $1 million check will do that to you.

Finishing off one of the most memorable seasons in motocross history, Villopoto took down its richest prize by earning $1 million after claiming all three motos at the Monster Energy Cup on Saturday night.

Charging around a hybrid track built inside and out of UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium, Villopoto got the hole shot and pulled away from the field to win the first two motos.

The crowd buzzing in anticipation of motocross history, the 23-year-old from Poulsbo, Wash., didn’t get the hole shot in the third moto, but passed Mike Alessi before the first lap was done and pulled away.

The third moto secure, Villopoto celebrated by raising his arms at the finish line and headed to receive a giant green check and a brick of money, a hard-to-imagine $1 million payout that came just over a year after he mangled his right leg in a crash.

“Congrats to Villopoto,” said Ryan Dungey, who finished second by getting two seconds and a third in the three motos. “A million dollars is a lot of money.”

The course, designed by dirt-bike stars Jeremy McGrath and Ricky Carmichael, was a unique blend of Supercross and motocross.

The inside of Sam Boyd Stadium was set up like a Supercross track, with tight cornering and big jumps, along with a jaunt up the stands in the south end zone — on dirt, not the seats — with a 180-degree turn that dropped riders back down to the floor.

Outside was where the speed and power of motocross was on display, with a big sweeping curve, straightaways for revving up the mphs and one long-distance jump that sent riders sailing 90 feet through the air.

The race also featured no technical restrictions, other than sound and fuel regulations, and was open to any kind of bike, turning into an experiment on dirt, of sorts.

The big draw was the potential for one rider to walk away with $1 million, the richest payout in motocross history.

That was going to take someone winning all three 10-lap motos.

Villopoto made it look like a runaway from the start.

With fireballs shooting out from around the track, the two-time dirt-bike champion holeshotted to the lead in the opening moto and raced away from the pack, building a 10-second lead by the midpoint. He won the first moto by over 12 seconds.

Villopoto got the hole shot again in Moto No. 2 and was up 7 seconds halfway through, cruising from there to finish ahead of Dungey.

Moto 3, Alessi got the holeshot and Villopoto was second out of the gate. Villopoto quickly tracked him down, though, cutting inside on a sharp corner in front of the grandstand inside the stadium. Again, he cruised home, building a 9-second lead on his way to the checkers.

Knowing the big check was waiting, Villopoto pumped his fist midair over the big jump in the stadium on his final lap, then got sideways over the final double jump before rolling to the checkers.

He pumped his fists some more in front of the crowd as fireworks shot off behind the scoreboard at the north end and cruised toward the podium next to the into-the-stands turn, undoubtedly smiling underneath his helmet on his way to claiming his massive prize.

It was a deserving celebration after a season that included Supercross and motocross titles, securing the winning moto for the United States team at the Motocross of Nations, and a big fat check at the Monster Energy Cup.

“This is crazy,” Villopoto said. “I was just happy I was able to pull it off.”

John Marshall

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