Year of the ’94?

Every racer shares their personality with the public in a different way. Some feed the social media machine with posts from the practice track. Others will recount every detail about their world when the voice recorder is rolling for an interview. A few prefer to say nothing at all, as they think staying shrouded in secrecy gives them an advantage over the competition, which only leaves us with one or two small storylines that get rehashed every time their name is mentioned. Think about it for a minute, and you’ll be able to match different riders to every one of those descriptions without much effort.

Ken Roczen manages to be a mix of all those things at once. The Team Honda HRC rider reinvents himself every year, understandable given his age (he’ll turn 27 in April) and the challenges faced over the course of his career, and we always spend part of the preseason speculating which version of Ken will show up to the first race. He’s given us a genuine look at what’s going on in life through Instagram, with posts that have shown the darkest days of his back-to-back arm injuries to the happiness of his son’s birth mixed in with riding footage, photos from the races, clips of him relaxing on the lake, and the latest training technique that he’s a been turned on to by the gurus at Red Bull’s athlete development program.

But, really, the best way to see what’s going on in Ken Roczen’s world is to look at details of his Fox Racing apparel. The company is known for leaving not so subtle cues in their kits (skull and crossbones victory stickers are just as important to some as trophies are), but they really make it a point with Roczen. His return to action in 2018 was celebrated with a one-of-one white kit, complete with a bright red and blue sleeve on the jersey and a “Bleed For This” message on the pants that suggested the searing pain he felt for months. Last year, a “1092” patch noted the number of days between Main Event wins at the 2017 San Diego Supercross and 2020 St. Louis Supercross. When Roczen noted that fatherhood gave him a new outlook on life and that coming home to his family after a day at the track is a welcome distraction from work, “Griffin’s Daddy” graphics were added to the back of his V3 helmet and Flexair pants for Houston One.

A few pieces get cycled through every so often, including the usual rider initial and number, or in Ken’s case, a cartoon of a hand throwing up a shaka: the international sign to “stay loose” has been added to Roczen’s gear quite a few times, including on Saturday night, but after a last-lap incident that determined the win, it’s more than just a butt patch; it’ll be a reminder to “go with the flow” when things are out of his control.

Roczen was the best rider through the 2021 Monster Energy Supercross Series’s opening rounds, something that the current standings do not accurately reflect. He was the fastest on the track multiple times, led laps, and had the best average finish (third place) of anyone in the field. He pursued Justin Barcia for the win at Houston 1, didn’t go for a cut-throat pass, and settled for second place. He backed it up with a fifth-place ride at Houston 2 and was poised to take control of the championship lead until it was determined that he’d doubled through a rhythm section where cautionary flags were displayed. Race officials rebuffed the plead of innocence that he could not react to the cautionary flags in time and docked him four points, which was enough to drop him from the top of the standings to fifth. “I wanted to say that I am disappointed in how this situation was handled. I just wanted to get you guys an idea of what the deal was. Put yourself under my helmet,” he explained on Instagram. “I have spoken my peace. I am just disappointed with the decision, especially since it says it black and white in the rule book… I’ll just deal with it.”

There’s no need to rehash what happened on the last lap at Houston 3, as it’s been covered at length elsewhere and because the moments after the checkered flag proved to be much more important. Roczen’s frustration was obvious and audible on his ride to the podium, completed by outbursts that were louder than running bikes and body heat that implied his anger. He talked with the team, peeled off his gear, signaled his disbelief about the situation when Dean Wilson exited the track, and then congratulated Cooper Webb all in a matter of moments. The massive stadium screens replayed the incident, and though Roczen was seething after seeing it again, he composed his thoughts for the NBC television feed and stated, “Part of me wants to punch a hole in the wall, but I have been practicing my patience, so I’m going to keep it cool.”

He had an even better handle on the emotions during the post-race press conference, where he summarized the night’s incident, the three-race residency in Texas, his plan for the next segment of the season. “I feel like if it wasn’t for the Dean incident, the night would have been mine. Obviously, it happened, so let’s move on,” he stated.

“We were dealing with a lot of traction here, a lot of different conditions than what we practice on, especially with me being in California,” he continued. “I wasn’t stressing about it by any means, but we were making some changes to the bike, something that helps with the starts. That’s what got the best of me in the second round because going around the first turn in 22nd place didn’t really help me. We got a lot better on that.”

Roczen controls the championship as the series heads to Indianapolis for the next triple-header, and although the one-point lead is not as big as it could have been, he knows it’s a step in the right direction. “I would like to build from here and get better because I think we still have a lot in the tank. This is just the beginning. Going to Indianapolis is like going to round one because everything is tight in points. I feel like I got robbed here a couple of times, and it’s a lot of valuable points that were left on the table for me, but I’m going to move past it and not let it faze me.”

What will occur next in the 2021 Monster Energy Supercross Series is anyone’s guess. This recent rotation of different racers on the podium could continue on, making the championship impossible to predict, or one of the usual front-runners could go on a charge and click off wins. Will Ken Roczen’s newfound notion that he can only control so much of the situation, and a more complete approach to life, be what guides him to the number one plate after all these years? Perhaps we’ll have to look at the latest Fox attire to find the best clues.

By Mike Antonovich @MAAantonovich

Photos by Mike Emery/Align with us

New issue