Friday, Oct. 9, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
It was just after 6 p.m. on Wednesday when Ryan Villopoto felt the urge to race.
So Villapoto, three days before this weekend’s Rockstar Energy Drink U.S. Open of Supercross, picked up the phone and confirmed his participation.
A day later, he sat in front of the media in the MGM Grand Garden Arena and explained his decision to compete, just short of four months after an injured ACL operation sidelined him.
“I feel as good if not better than I did last year,” the 21-year-old Monster Energy racer said.
“For me, I thought starting the season after not racing all summer would be a bad move on my part. I’ve been riding every day since I’ve got back onto the bike, so I’m just going to come out and ride.”
The last time Villapoto was on the track came in May, when he closed out the 2009 Supercross series with his second career victory in Las Vegas.
“It’s going to be the same Vegas dirt,” he said of competing in his first U.S. Open. “But I’ve had some time off, and this is definitely a smaller stadium than one I’ve ever raced in, so it’s going to be a little bit of a learning experience.”
Defending Supercross series and U.S. Open champion James Stewart returns to Las Vegas this year, fresh off a summer of Nike and Yamaha promotions, photo shoots and taping a television reality show, all aimed at increasing the visibility of the sport.
“I think it’s going to open a lot of avenues to the sport,” Stewart said. “In the long run, it’s going to make our sport a lot bigger and open it up to a lot of different people.”
Last Supercross season, Stewart clinched the championship at Sam Boyd Stadium with a four-point victory over Chad Reed, by a score of 377-373. He won 11 of last year’s 17 races but didn’t race in the Motocross Nationals, something he said won’t affect his performance.
“Instead of just getting on the bike, doing laps and busting motos, I worked on the stuff I felt like I was weak on last year,” he said. “Just try to make my whole Supercross program better and I think when you focus on one, it’s easier.”
Joining Villapoto and Stewart on the track is Supercross legend Ezra “Yogi” Lusk, who is coming out of his 2004 retirement to compete.
Lusk won 12 AMA Supercross titles and seven AMA Supercross Lites titles in his career.
“I thought it was a joke actually,” Stewart said of Lusk’s return, laughing. “But I’ve always looked up to Yogi. He had a killer riding style and I think it will be cool.”