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Carson Brown wins 2-stroke Challenge at the Washougal Nationals

A familiar sound rang off through the hills and dales of Washougal MX Park in Washougal, Washington as the field was invaded with the buzz of 2-stroke engines.

A race within the Washougal Nationals race weekend in Round 8 of the 2023 Pro Motocross season, SuperMotocross Round 25, saw $15,000 on the line for the rider who entered their 250cc 2-stroke engine in the 450 class finished closest to the front?

On a typical weekend during the Monster Energy Supercross and Pro motocross schedule one will hear the song of one or at most two 2-strokes as they battle the field with limited success. But the extra purse being laid down by Moto Memess, and Jettson Donuts was enough to pull 11 riders to the dark side.

Jerry Robin was one of the racers that answered the call. The Minnesota native hadn’t raced a 2-stroke since Loretta Lynn’s in 2016 and hopped on the bike for the first time this weekend. Robin was less motivated by the purse and more interested in showing how the 2-stroke can hold up against modern 450s.

“For me, if you go out there and beat some good guys on a 450, it makes it worth it,” Jerry Robin told NBC Sports. “A lot of people think that 2-strokes are at a disadvantage but in my opinion growing up on 2-strokes all the time, it’s really just how you ride it. You just got to change your riding style. That’s mainly what it comes down to.”

Robin was the fastest combined qualifier on 2-strokes, but finished the Motos 40th overall.

Loss of Favor

Some background information is needed to understand the importance of this 2-stroke competition.

During the Las Vegas round of the 1997 Supercross season, Doug Henry captured the checkered flat on an experimental Yamaha YZM400 4-stroke bike for the first time. The YZM400 was allowed to race in the 1997 season because of a provision in the AMA rulebook that allowed a developmental bike to be raced against the stock field for one year before that bike went into full production - as long as the engine stayed under 560cc.

Henry’s bike was different than any rider had seen before and his late-season Las Vegas victory made believers out of most.

Over the next five years Yamaha would perfect their build of a 450. Other manufacturers scrambled to keep up with the fear of being tossed into the dustbin of history.

MX Washougal 2023 2-stroke Carson Brown race action.jpg

Carson Brown finished 18th in Moto 1 of the Washougal Nationals and won the 2-stroke challenge.

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2-Stroke Revival

Twenty-six years later, there remains a small and passionate counterculture trying to bring 2-strokes back to the heart of Pro Motocross. This weekend their collective voices sounded loud.

Riders knew early that they would have to race the track differently than their 450 competitors if they were going to finish up front.

After the first practice Kevin Moranz told NBC Sports that the biggest challenge was going to be qualifying as the 450s can carry so much more overall speed, especially on a long uphill stretch known as Horsepower Hill.

This weak spot for the 2-stroke is “Up the hill, to be honest, " Moranz said. “Exiting the tight corners, to up the hill, the 450 just pulls way better. So we’ll see. We’re here to try.”

Before the first practice Moranz sat in the pits with the other privateers and waited for his bike to arrive. His 2-stroke would be a rental this week as he came to Washougal to chase the extra purse money and hopefully advance in the SuperMotocross combined points.

Moranz joined the outdoor schedule two weeks ago in Southwick in order to gain more SuperMotocross points and qualify for September’s playoffs. Moranz is currently ranked 24th which places him into the LCQ of each round.

Moranz would end up qualifying 35th narrowly making the feature.

He ended the day 28th in Moto 1 and 26th in Moto 2. The gamble for $15,000 resulted in Moranz failing to earn any championship points as they are awarded only to the top 20 riders.

“Hardest moments on (a 2-stroke) are just those hard pack slick spots,” Brown said qualifying 23rd overall. “You’re going to have to really avoid these on 2-strokes. Because the 450s can kind of track through those, where the two strokes spin through it. So just picking different lines than the 450s can be super beneficial.”

MX Washougal 2023 2 stroke Kevin Moranz in the pits.jpg

Kevin Moranz’s gamble to race a 2-stroke in the Washougal Nationals did not pay off with either points or a payday.

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Carson Brown was the only rider entered on a 2-stroke that also raced one at Washougal in the 2022 round and was the odds-on favorite to take home the prize money. He finished 18th in the first moto. Brown was sure it would be a competitive field as so many passionate riders strapped on to their 2-strokes this weekend.

“I think it’s great,” Brown said. “Having a bunch of fast dudes on them is super cool because the fans are super passionate about the 2-strokes and hopefully it urges some more 2-stroke races coming up soon. Everybody’s been stoked so far.

“The biggest competition is just going to be dialing in the track itself, but you know, there’s some fast guys. When it comes to the racing, you never know who’s going to step up to the plate though; somebody can be holding back. I don’t think it’s just one guy to be worried about.”

As it turned out, Brown was the guy to be worried about.

Brown finished 18th in the first round and 21st in the second for an overall finish of 21st. The second moto placed the rider on the edge as he fought dehydration and exhaustion. Brown was forced to press hard through that round as he chased fellow 2-stroke rider Anthony Rodriguez for the final points’ paying position of 20th.

Rodriguez won the battle, but a 21st in Moto 1 meant that he failed to earn points in that race. Brown took home the $15,000 check, but more importantly he proved to be the best 2-stroke rider in a packed field.