Justin Barcia landed hard off a jump during the supercross Nashville race, breaking two ribs, his collarbone and right shoulder.
Any other year, his title aspirations would be shot. The crash ended his Supercross season with two races left and the recovery time from collarbone surgery meant he would get a late start to the outdoor motocross season.
The debut of the SuperMotocross World Championship this year keeps Barcia in the mix for a title. With the points he earned in supercross and a chance to return early in the motocross season, the 31-year-old rider can still qualify for the SuperMotocross playoff rounds and possibly win a world championship.
“I'm nearly healed. I haven't gotten back on the bike yet, playing it smart,” Barcia said Thursday before the start of the motocross season this weekend in Pala, California. "I want to come back as soon as possible, but I know when I come back I'm going to throw down hard, so I need to be 100% healthy.”
The impetus for SuperMotocross came at a 2020 supercross race at Daytona, where Feld Entertainment vice president for supercross Dave Prater and other members of the company approached MX Sports Pro Racing about a partnership.
Plans for a combining the two series had to be shelved when the pandemic hit, but the collaboration allowed the supercross season to take place later in 2020 after motocross pushed back its season.
Feld Motor Sports and MX Sports Pro Racing kept working behind the scenes and last August announced the formation of the SuperMotocross World Championship, which combines points from the two series to set up playoff and world championship rounds.
In the past, Feld did its own thing, independently running the supercross series. MX Sports Pro Racing did the same with motocross, the two similar-but-different sports never overlapping.
The creation of SuperMotocross allowed supercross and motocross to combine resources to expand, promote and attract a better TV package for the two series.
“For me, it's exciting to see the industry get excited about it, the fan base get excited about it,” Prater said. “Supercross just finishing up a couple weeks ago and motocross now seems to be benefitting from the relationship and the positive vibe that's getting out there.”
It also had a very lucrative benefit.
Supercross and motocross are variations of the same sport with the same riders, teams and, in most cases, fans, yet had different sponsors and TV deals.
The melding of metal between the dirt bike series piqued the interest of NBC Sports and Peacock, leading to a large investment in the sports. The two series opted to push the money toward the riders and the teams to create the largest prize package in the sport's history.
The 2023 SuperMotocross season will have a season-long purse of $10 million, with $5.5 million of that in the SMX playoffs and $1 million to the 450cc champion.
“It’s definitely something new and we haven’t had something new for quite some time,” said Davey Coombs, president of MX Sports Pro Racing. “Motocross was working and supercross was working, but when we shook hands, it was something that was a huge addition to the riders, race team, fans and our partners at Peacock/NBC.”
Another area the series will collaborate: safety.
Motocross racing is an inherently dangerous sport, but as the equipment has evolved and the riders have become more specialized, the chances for big crashes have increased.
The supercross season had unprecedented attrition this season, with 11 factory riders going down for the season or missing multiple races, including several of the biggest names in the sport.
Barcia and Cooper Webb went down with injuries at Nashville. A week later, series leader Eli Tomac suffered the latest in a series of catastrophic injuries, rupturing his Achilles tendon in Denver, costing him a shot at repeating as champion.
Chase Sexton won the supercross title, giving Honda its first championship in 20 years.
Safety has always been important to both series, but was always addressed separately. Now the two can collaborate on finding a way to cut down on injuries.
"We've tasked ourselves and with AMA Racing to really do a deep dive and figure out what we can do to mitigate this more so than what we're already doing," Coombs said. “It's been a bad run, a tough run, but we've got to learn from this and work together. With the partnership we have, now is the time to make it safer.”
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