WASHOUGAL — Two years ago, Ryan Villopoto missed the Washougal MX National with a torn knee ligament.
A year ago, Villopoto did show up at Washougal, but only as an expert spectator. He could not ride, his season wiped out because of a broken leg.
Saturday, Washington’s pride and joy on the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship series is in Clark County to compete. He is focused on staying near the top of the points race, and he would love to win an overall in his home state. For him and his fans.
“Whenever I come home, whether it’s for supercross (in Seattle) or motocross (Washougal), there are a lot of fans. They saw me grow up in racing. They’re always pumped,” said Villopoto, a 22-year-old from Poulsbo who rides for Monster Energy Kawasaki.
Villopoto, though, has never won an overall title at Washougal.
“Hopefully we can do it this weekend,” he said. “To win in front of your home crowd is always going to be cool, more special than a normal national.”
The Washougal MX National, the eighth round of the 12-stop series, begins at 1 p.m. today with the first moto of the 450 Class. The 250 Class follows, and then the two second motos will conclude the day. The overall winner is the rider who has the two best combined finishes.
The athletes also are chasing the series points championship. And unlike most recent years, when the first-place rider has had a huge lead by the time the tour hits Washougal, there really is a race this season. Seven points separate the top three in the 450 Class.
Chad Reed, who somehow managed to finish fifth last week after a terrifying fall, has 300 points through the first seven events. Villopoto, the only rider on the series to finish in the top three at all seven stops, is second at 294. And Ryan Dungey, the defending champion at Washougal, is third at 293.
To motocross fans, the points battle is a major topic of discussion. It is rarely this close this deep into the season.
Villopoto said the riders, though, barely think about the season championship. Not yet, anyway. They know where they stand, and they know they have to keep placing high to have a chance. But they cannot allow themselves to start thinking about the trophy.
“There are so many races left,” Villopoto said, noting there are two motos for every stop on the tour. “There are still a lot of points to be made or lost.”
Villopoto knows about championships. This past winter, he won the supercross title. He also has 250 Class season titles in motocross and supercross.
“Even in supercross, you really don’t start looking at the standings until about two races to go,” Villopoto said.
Motocross is just as wild.
“It just takes one mistake to lose a whole bunch of points,” he said.
Take last week at Spring Creek in Millville, Minn., for example. Reed had a 21-point lead over Villopoto after winning the first moto. Reed wiped out in the second moto and made a big recovery to finish 14th in the moto, but he saw his lead shrink.
One moto. Fifteen points. Just like that.
After Washougal, there will be eight motos left in the season.
Dungey ended up winning at Spring Creek, his second overall win of the year. Villopoto’s lone overall win this outdoor season was round No. 3, at High Point in Pennsylvania. The other four titles have gone Reed’s way.
Just being in a battle for a second championship this year is worthy of celebration for Villopoto. After missing so much time in 2009 and 2010, he won six of the 17 supercross events and held off Reed for the season title by four points. Dungey was third, just 10 points off the pace.
“To win a championship, whether it’s supercross or motocross, nothing bigger or more to do than that,” Villopoto said. “To finally get that out of the way (in the 450 Class) was nice.”
Supercross might be more of a mainstream sport, with its events in stadiums in large cities, but motocross has a special place in the riders’ hearts. Because he has missed the past two outdoor seasons, Villopoto said it would mean a lot to him to claim a summer championship.
“The injuries are part of the sport,” he said. “We have been dealing with them since we began riding.”
While it is frustrating to be away from the track, Villopoto did say there was at least one benefit. A break from racing or training every day gives time for not only the injury to heal but for the whole the body to rest, as well.
It seems to have worked for Villopoto, who became a champion again in the winter and is looking for another title this summer. A win in his home state today would go a long way toward that goal.
2011 WASHOUGAL MX NATIONAL
■ When & Where: Beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday at Washougal MX Park, 40205 NE Borin Rd., Washougal.
■ Cost: $40 for adults and children 12 and older, $30 for children 7-11. Children 6 and under are free. Cash only at the track. To purchase online, go to washougalmxpk.com.
■ TV: Moto 2 of the 450 class will be shown live Saturday beginning at 4 p.m. on SPEED (Comcast cable Ch. 408).
■ Points standings: 1, Chad Reed 300; 2, Ryan Villopoto 294; 3, Ryan Dungey 293; 4, Brett Metcalfe 209; 5, Kevin Windham 193.