By Dean Russin Sports Editor
The Daily Star
---- — Justin Barcia has a long way to go.
At least that’s his plan.
“This is my first year in the 450 Class and I think I’ve done pretty well,” said 21-year-old Monroe native Barcia, who will compete in the 10th round of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships at the Unadilla Valley Sports Center on Saturday. “I think things can only get better from here. The next couple years, I think I should be up there.”
It’s not like he’s all that far behind right now, though.
Barcia will enter the Unadilla National with the third-highest points total in the 450 Class. His 307 points in the 12-stop series is 38 better than James “Bubba” Stewart and trails only the 413 points of leader Ryan Villopoto and the 379 of Ryan Dungey.
“The Ryans are kind of making it look easy out there,” said Brandon Short, the circuit’s media manager. “They’re definitely a step ahead of all the other riders.
“Coming into Unadilla, you never know because this is a sport where anything could happen,” he continued. “There’s a pretty comfortable margin for Villopoto right now, but by no means will he let up and by no means should he. Dungey has two championships in four years of racing and that speaks for itself. Villopoto hasn’t lost a championship in any full motocross season he’s competed in. It’s pretty impressive just to see how fast they are.”
Barcia said he wants to be in the same spot at some point in his career.
“There’s always one guy who stands out a little and it’s usually a little bit of everything,” said Barcia, whose hometown is roughly 140 miles away from the New Berlin track. “My last two years have definitely been action-packed, so I’m getting a lot of experience.
“I don’t know about any other sports like football or anything like that, but I work really hard during the week,” he continued. “This is a demanding sport and it’s a lot harder than it looks. You have to learn how to be really strong mentally and physically. I’ve definitely learned that it’s not as easy as it looks. There’s no time off, so whatever happens, you just have to regroup and race the next weekend.”
Barcia’s problem this season is that he’s had to race against 2011 Unadilla champion Villopoto and Dungey — who won at Unadilla in 2010 and 2012 — every race.
Villopoto has won 12 of the series’ 18 motos so far and Dungey has taken five of the other six. Stewart — the 2008 champ at Unadilla — earned a moto victory en route to the track title in Round Nine at Spring Creek Motocross Park in Millville, Minn., on July 27.
“The last two rounds have been a little wild,” Short said. “Villopoto got off to a strong start, but Dungey was right there with him. Right at the midpoint (Round Seven at RedBud in Michigan), Dungey had one of his worst weekends probably ever.”
Dungey entered the July 6 race 12 points behind Villopoto but was forced off the track in the first moto because of an electrical problem. He scored zero points for failing to finish the moto, then lost more ground with a third-place finish in the second moto after wiping out.
“That allowed him to open up a big gap,” Short said of Villopoto, who swept both motos for the track crown. “That’s going to force Dungey to really dominate the last three rounds to win the points title.”
Once criticized by Dungey for being too aggressive as a 450 Class sub for Trey Canard in 2011 at Unadilla, Barcia seems to have matured a bit by keeping his chances Saturday in perspective.
“I would love to definitely be on the podium,” said Barcia, who stood on the Unadilla podium as the third-place finisher in 2011. “A win would be great, but I definitely want to be up there battling.”
Opening ceremonies are scheduled to begin at 12:40 p.m. Saturday, followed by the first 450 Class moto at 1:11 p.m. The first 250 Class moto will start at 2:11 p.m. as Eli Tomac looks to maintain his points lead over Ken Roczen. Tomac leads the 250 Class with 405 points and Roczen is second at 378. Marvin Musquin, who won the 250 title at Unadilla last year, is third in the 2013 points standings at 334.
Fuel TV will televise the first motos for each class. NBC Sports will take over for the second motos in each as the 450s will start at 3:10 p.m. and the 250s at 4:10 p.m.
Jill Robinson, the vice-president of Unadilla Valley Sports Center, said the track will offer riders of both classes a different look this year.
“We put in a new track section, so the bikes will come out of Gravity Cavity, make a right turn and then hit an 80-foot jump back into the bottom of the cavity instead of S-Turns,” she said. “We have a new spectator tunnel, so the action goes right up into the spectator area.”
Robinson said the Unadilla track, which has hosted events since 1969, is expecting 15,000-20,000 fans for Saturday’s pro races.
“We have different fan bases coming in from Australia, New Zealand, France and Italy,” she said. “For us, our main draw is east of the Mississippi. It’s enough so they make a nice little (financial) impact on the area.”
The website weather.com is calling for a mostly sunny Saturday with a 10 percent chance of rain and a high of 76 degrees in New Berlin. Even if the rain holds off Saturday, though, the track likely will be soft and saturated.
“I know there has been a lot of rain up there,” Short said. “Torrential rains normally lead into the event. Unadilla is a love-hate relationship with a lot of riders. It’s one of the toughest tracks on the schedule because it’s so big and so grueling. That’s why it’s one of the most iconic tracks in the world.”
Robinson said top soil for the pro races would be placed later than usual in an effort to prevent it from washing away before Saturday.
“We’ve been fighting weather all year like everyone else has,” she said. “This summer is not the summer to have open land because when the rain comes, it comes in inches.
“There’s an interesting weather window because it could be too hot, too,” she continued. “I wish I could be a weatherman because it’s the only job I know where you can be wrong all the time and still have a job.”
Dean Russin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 215.