Jess Pettis was wincing in pain with an icebag wrapped around his wrist while he awaited his post-race podium interview Saturday at Blackwater Motocross Park.
Nobody said it would be easy defending his title as the Rockstar Energy Triple Crown MX 250cc champion.
Despite a broken wrist that happened in practice, a month before the season began a week ago in Calgary, Pettis hasn’t missed a beat. Given the chance to race on home soil again, the 22-year-old from Prince George made the most of it.
In Moto 1, Pettis zipped to the front of the 40-rider pack to guarantee a $250 cheque for winning the hole shot, then took advantage of early-race leader Dylan Wright’s mechanical failure at the start of Lap 8 to take over the lead and held it the rest of the way – the first-ever win for Pettis on home soil in three years of racing the Rockstar national series.
“It definitely exceeded my expectations for sure, I just wanted to get out there and ride some smooth laps and get some consistent points and I’ll take a win for sure,” said Pettis. “Dylan had a bike issue but I was there to salvage it and I just put myself in a good position. I got a good start and rode some good smooth laps and didn’t make any mistakes and got the win.”
In Moto 2, Pettis nailed his fourth hole shot in four series races but couldn’t hold off Wright, who made the pass on the first lap. Wright was all alone up front and Pettis appeared to be on his way to locking up second place, 11 laps into the 16-lap race, when he lost control and dumped his bike into the banners decorating a low-speed corner. That dropped Pettis into fifth place, his eventual finish order.
After finished fourth in Moto 1 just behind Josh Osby, Wright used his spare Honda to take him to the top of the podium in the second race.
“I have an awesome team and I just hopped on that second bike and they got me racing in the second moto and I got off to a good start again,” said Wright, a 21-year-old from Ottawa. “I ended up making the pass on Jess there a couple laps in and was just able to ride my own race up front.
‘We’re healthy and got another moto win this weekend but we need to get that overall though. Hopefully next weekend (in Minnedosa, Man,) we’ll get some luck.”
Wright won both races in Prince George a year ago and he says that’s not the only reason the steep and hilly Blackwater course rates as one of his favourite tracks on the eight-race circuit.
“It’s the downhills and high-speed stuff, I kind of excel a bit at that,” Wright said. “It’s a bit of rough, rutty, rocky, it gets technical and I like that kind of stuff. The environment here is awesome.
“I know this is Jess’s hometown and it’s kind of cool to see him put it on the top of the box that first moto. If there’s anybody else I would have wanted to win that moto it’s Jess, in front of his hometown, it’s special to do it at home and hats off to him, he rode great today.”
Michigan rider Marshal Wetlin couldn’t catch Wright but jumped ahead when Pettis fell and Wetlin put a lock on second place, equalling his finish from the first moto to claim bragging rights for the day and the lion’s share of the points, with Wright second and Pettis third.
“This is what I’ve been working for,” said Wetlin, who just missed the podium in Calgary with two fourth-place results. “I’m 23 years old and I’ve dedicated about six years of my life, probably 350 days a year to this exact moment.
“I haven’t won a race since I’ve been in amateur and for me to win today is pretty uplifting for me. I’ve done the professional thing for a long time and have never really been on top for me to come here and actually win, it’s a big deal for me.”
Pettis felt the pressure of living up to expectations as the defending series champ in front of family and friends but that went away as soon as the gate dropped for his races.
“I feel I succeed off some pressure and sometimes those are my better rides,” he said.
“It was an amazing day, coming into day I had the same plan as last weekend, just salvage some points, being hurt and all, I got another hole shot, my KTM is really fast and got a great start and for over half the race I had the overall but made a mistake and fell over in a corner but got back up and gave it my best and that was a third overall today.
“I’m really sore and feeling banged up but it’s all good. I pushed the limits with (his injury) but I’m happy to get through the day. It bothered me a lot, to be honest, but I feel I was riding pretty conservative. I’ve been working hard off the bike and I’m happy to see I’m still in a good place to begin the series. I cannot wait until I’m 100 per cent healthy because I feel we can do some good damage out here.”
Tim Olmstead, Pettis’s orthopedic surgeon, was on hand to watch the race and said the break in Pettis’s forearm was located right near the spot where screws were inserted two years ago to secure a plate on his ulna. While Pettis probably would have benefited from an injection to kill the pain, Olmstead was worried about freezing the ulnar nerve which might have affected his ability to grip the handlebars.
In the 450cc pro class, B.C. boy Colton Facciotti of Aldergrove made the only series stop in his home province a memorable one when he led from start to finish in the 18-lap second moto. Combined with his second-place result in the first race, that gave him the overall title.
Moto 1 winner Phil Nicoletti of Cocheton, N.Y., was runner-up in the first race and second overall, while Shawn Maffenbeier of Swift Current, Sask., was third overall after a pair of fourth-place finishes.
Nicoletti stuck close to Facciotti almost the entire second moto, waiting for him to make a mistake, which never happened. The New York rider, who now makes his home in Florida, was within a split-second of catching the defending series champion until the late stages.
“It was a bit of dogfight, I haven’t had a race where I had someone on my heels the whole moto like that in a long time,” said Facciotti, 31, who was tied with Cole Thompson of Brigden, Ont., for the points lead heading into Saturday’s races. “Luckily I was able to conserve energy, ride smart and I was able to pick it up a little but at the end and come away with it.”
Pettis was the only local rider in the 250cc class but there were three 450cc pro riders who drew large cheering sections as hometown favourites. Jake Jose of Prince George finished 24th overall and likely would have ended up higher in the standings if not for a mechanical failure that dropped him out of 14th place in the first moto. The 18-year-old limped across the line 35th in the first race and was 23rd in Moto 2.
Twenty-year-old Hayden Wolff of Prince George was 29th and 32nd and placed 32nd overall. Dean Johnson of Fort St. James – the oldest rider in either class, just two months shy of his 50th birthday – was 32nd and 35th and ended up 35th overall out of 37 riders.
Racing resumes Sunday at 9 a.m. at Blackwater with the Futures West amateur series.