Out of the ashes of WWII, the Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme started an annual motocross competition between nations in 1947 called the Motocross of Nations, now abbreviated simply as MXON. Think of it as the Olympics of dirt-biking.
Since 1947 the US has won the event 23 times, more than any other country. So there’s a lot of pressure on the three riders just announced to carry the red, white, and blue come Oct. 6-8 in Ernee, France, where this year’s MXON will be held.
After a few delays, the American Motorcyclist Association announced the 2023 US team: AMA 450 competitor, the cowboy hat-wearin’ Aaron Plessinger (pictured above); AMA 250 competitor RJ Hampshire; and AMA 450 competitor Christian Craig.
Even though motocross has a distinct and loyal following here, kind of like soccer it’s bigger in other countries around the world. National teams from across the globe come to Motocross de Nations to compete for a combined score that determines the championship. Having won in 2022, Team USA is the defending champs.
“After putting Team USA on the top step of the podium last year, we look forward to taking on the world once again in October as the defending champions,” said AMA Director of Racing Mike Pelletier. “We have a team that is enthusiastic to represent the United States, and I look forward to seeing what we accomplish this year.”
Aaron Plessinger is the US team captain. He’ll be competing on the US Motocross of Nations team for the second time and will race in the event’s marquee MXGP Class.
“It really feels great to get to be on team USA again,” Plessinger said. “I’m very fortunate to have this opportunity to go race for my country. This is one race that I always look forward to, and we have some big shoes to fill from what the boys did last year, so I’m ready for the challenge! I’ve got some really awesome teammates, a great team surrounding us, and we’re gonna go give it our all over in France!"
Hampshire will be racing in MXON for the first time, in the MX2 Class.
“I’m super excited to represent my country,” Hampshire said. “I’m a proud American and will do my best to put our colors up front!"
Craig will also represent the US at Motocross of Nations for the first time and will compete in the Open Class.
“I’m extremely honored to be able to represent the USA this year at Motocross of Nations,” Craig said. “Aaron, RJ, and I will do everything possible to make our country proud.”
The US team will be managed by none other than AMA Motocross Hall of Fame legend Roger DeCoster. A winning rider-turned-manager who heads up KTM, GASGAS, and Husqvarna’s racing efforts in AMA Supercross and the Pro Motocross series, DeCoster took part in six victorious FIM Motocross of Nations teams in the 1960s and ’70s, and is a five-time motocross World Champion.
“With our race season being the longest ever, and only having one week separating the end of the SMX and Motocross of Nations, as well as several riders who had been injured and some switching teams, it was the toughest year we have faced yet to find three riders ready to race an additional event and work together as a team,” DeCoster said.
“I was very happy when we asked Aaron, RJ and Christian about going to France—they all jumped at the opportunity to represent the USA and challenge the French team on home soil, and the rest of the world. This is one of France’s most spectacular tracks. After some mixed results during the long season, they are eager to prove they have more in the tank and are excited to show it to the world. I hope the US supporters get behind these three riders as they take on the Motocross of Nations in a few weeks.”
For 21 of Team USA’s 23 victories at MXON, Roger DeCoster was manager, so that looks good.
But this year’s team came together rather late, and some critics have said the three named are not the absolute best for the task. Racerxonline reports that rider Eli Tomac, who was on last year’s title-winning team, is out with an injury; Justin Cooper couldn’t come because he’s getting married that weekend (the date was scheduled around the original MXoN date, which later changed); and rider Chase Sexton was in the middle of changing teams. Plus, the event is held at different tracks around the world every year, and the American team hasn’t won outside the US since 2011.
Some fans have said riders Justin Barcia, Cooper Webb, and Chase Sexton “should have been” on the team instead. Also, all three riders chosen are on either KTM or Husqvarna bikes, but there’s no Honda rider(s) and no other manufacturers involved, suggesting a lack of interest on the corporate level.
So it’s possible you could see the three chosen riders as something of a trio of underdogs, and who doesn’t love an underdog?
Competition from this year’s home team of France will be strong, too, according to mxgp.com, with French riders Romain Febvre, Maxime Renaux, and Tom Vialle carrying the tricolor for France. France has won the event six times so far. Team Australia will have strong rider Dean Ferris and the brothers Hunter and Jett Lawrence, who did well riding in the US this season. Last year the brothers helped Team Australia take third place at MXON and are looking to garner the first-ever win for Oz.
And don’t forget moto powerhouse Belgium, which has won it 15 times (second only to the US) will come with Jago Geerts, Liam Everts, and Lucas Coenen, the youngest team this year. Germany will feature well-loved rider Ken Roczen, along with Simon Laengenfelder and Tom Koch; Team Italy brings Alberto Forato, Andrea Adamo, and Mattia Guadagnini; Team Spain with Jorge Prado, Ruben Fernandez, and David Braceras; and Team Netherlands has Glenn Coldenhoff, Kay de Wolf, and Calvin Vlaanderen fighting for the top positions.
The Europeans are also used to riding in the rain—not that we yanks aren’t—but it’s possible they have an advantage there. Anything could happen in Ernee in three weeks. You can watch it all live on mxgp-tv.com.
It might be a little like when Steve McQueen and Bud Eakins put together an American team and traveled to East Germany in 1964 to ride in the International Six Day Trials. They might not have won but man did they have a good time. Go rent On Any Sunday again and see.
Until then, on se verra en Ernee!