The 2012 AMA ATV Motocross National Championship Series kicked off Saturday at Aonia Pass MX Park in Washington, Ga., providing some of the best racing in series history, pitting the fastest ATV Motocross racers in the country against one another for two twenty-plus minute motos. After an eight-month hiatus from racing due to a season ending injury in 2011, Wienen Motorsports/SSi/Walsh/Yamaha-backed Chad Wienen began the season in a winning fashion, going (1-1) for the overall and the early points lead.
In the opening moto of the Pro ATVMX class, it was Baldwin Motorports/PEP's Josh Upperman who grabbed the SSi Decals Holeshot Award and led the early part of the race. It wasn't long before Wienen powered his new Yamaha ride into the lead, though, passing Upperman through the fan-filled finish line section.
While the rest of the field was viewing the track on the site lap, Motoworks/Can-Am's newest addition, Joel Hetrick, was waiting behind the gate while his crew worked to fix a mechanical issue on the ATV. Earlier in the day, Hetrick grabbed the ATVRiders.com fastest Qualifier Award over a stacked field of veteran riders, and after finally fixing the ATV in time for the gate drop, Hetrick proved it wasn't a fluke as he caught and passed the front-runners and pressured Wienen for the lead spot. Hetrick finally made a bold attempt to pass Wienen for the lead, but in doing so, the nineteen-year-old went off the track and was forced to sit the rest of the moto on the sidelines.
Defending champion, Motoworks/Can-Am's John Natalie, came through the pack and spent a majority of Moto 1 battling with longtime competitor Josh Upperman for the second place spot. Natalie finally got around Upperman in the latter part of the initial twenty-minutes of racing, and although the "Ironman" put a late charge on the leader as the two-lap card came out, Natalie wasn't able to catch Wienen in time for the checkers.
In Moto 2, it was once again the Honda of Josh Upperman who took the SSi Decals Holeshot Award, but the defending champ Natalie inched his way out front right away, fending off a very driven duo of Wienen and Uppeman. Pennsylvania's Derek Swartfager put his Waldo Motorsports-backed Honda inside the top five early in the moto, battling with Thomas Brown on the TBROWN Yamaha powered by Moto-X-Perts machine. Brown led a tight-pack of riders who were battling for the top five positions, including pro class rookie Mark Madl, the 2011 Pro Am Production champion and fifth fastest qualifier for the day.
Meanwhile, Natalie and Wienen combated back and fourth in an intense battle for lead. Wienen chased Natalie for most of the race, slipping past his former teammate in a few spots, but the most famous line was through the whoop-section and into the final corner before the finish, where Wienen showed his front tires to the leader several times. On the final lap, Wienen made the move on the defending champ just one turn before the finish line, giving Wienen the overall win and the points lead after the first round of racing.
"This is definitely a moment for me right now," Wienen said. "To come back like this and just being able to walk and to come out here and do what I love, this is the greatest moment. We're taking it one race at a time, super excited to start the season off with a (1-1) sweep. I've been dreaming about this day (first race back from injury) and it's finally coming on. This is going to be a story for the books this year."
Natalie finished out the day with second overall, while Josh Upperman took the final podium position and third place in the championship points standings.
"I didn't get tired out there at all today, just a couple issues there on the last lap not being able to shift but we're going to go back and fix it to be ready for round two," said Natalie. "I really liked the track today but I like the rough and tumble bumps, so I'm ready to go to a rougher track where it really separates the men from the boys."
"I've really taken my training program to another level this year and it's starting to show," said Upperman. "It's boosted my confidence a lot, because I know what I can do now from last year to this year and I'm ready to make it happen."
Thomas Brown (YAM) finished with a (4-5) score to take fourth overall, just ahead of rookie Mark Madl (HON), who took an impressive fifth overall in his first-ever pro race. Nick DeNoble (HON) ended the day with sixth place, ahead of Derek Swartfager (HON) and Joel Hetrick went (14-4) to salvage an eighth place finish for the day.
The 2012 AMA ATV Motocross Championship heads to Muddy Creek Raceway in Blountville, Tenn., for round two of the ten-race circuit. For more information, please visit www.atvmotocross.com.
AMA Pro ATV Results
1. Chad Wienen, Yamaha, (1-1)
2. John Natalie, Can-Am, (2-2)
3. Josh Upperman, Honda, (3-3)
4. Thomas Brown, Yamaha, (4-5)
5. Mark Madl, Honda, (8-6)
6. Nick DeNoble, Honda, (5-8)
7. Derek Swartfager, Honda, (7-7)
8. Joel Hetrick, Can-Am, (14-4)
9. Jeff Rastrelli, Suzuki, (8-9)
10. Adam Clark, Honda, (10-10)
AMA ATV Motocross Championship Pro Point Standings
1. Chad Wienen, Yamaha - 50
2. John Natalie, Can-Am- 44
3. Josh Upperman, Honda - 40
4. Thomas Brown, Yamaha - 34
5. Mark Madl, Honda - 30
6. Nick DeNoble, Honda - 29
7. Derek Swartfager, Honda - 28
8. Joel Hetrick, Can-Am - 25
9. Jeff Rastrelli, Suzuki - 25
10. Adam Clark, Honda - 22