News 6 May 2024

The showdown awaits for Hampshire and Kitchen

With one round remaining, Levi Kitchen and RJ Hampshire are tied for the lead of 250SX West.

It’s all tied up atop the 250SX West Championship table with one round remaining as both Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Levi Kitchen and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s RJ Hampshire are on 186 points each. In a battle of whoever beats the other wins the championship, they both will be tasked with doing so with a full field at the finale in Salt Lake City for the Dave Coombs Sr. 250SX East/West Showdown.

Image: Octopi Media.

Two rounds ago, this seemed an unlikely climax as Kitchen had built up a 15-point lead in the championship. But Hampshire won the eighth round of the series in Nashville while Kitchen crashed early in the race and could only manage P14. Kitchen even bruised his ribs in the fall and was not fully back to normal coming into the penultimate round. Neither rider would win the ninth round as instead it was Team Honda HRC’s Jo Shimoda who broke through, but Kitchen and Hampshire finished second and third, respectively, and were hot on Shimoda’s heels as the flag waved.

“There was a few points in the main event where my brain was all over the place,” said Hampshire. “I had chaos going on behind me, I caught them a little bit, would run into a lapper, lose some time. But I was just joking with the team that God puts me in these situations where I’m either going to go for it or not go for it, and 99% of the time I’m going to go for it and most of the time it doesn’t work out. If I was probably .2 seconds closer on that last lap, it might have gotten exciting.”

Image: Octopi Media.

While Hampshire was dealing with close calls and being roughed up at one point by Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Nate Thrasher, Kitchen was instead tucked in behind Shimoda from the start. With the pressure of the championship mounting, Kitchen was left torn between whether he go after Shimoda for the win, or instead make sure he kept Hampshire behind him. He chose to go for the latter.

“For me it was pretty much a race between me and him,” Kitchen said of managing Hampshire behind him. “At that point, obviously it would have been nice to catch Jo [Shimoda], but he was riding phenomenal anyway. He was just keeping the gap the same and I was just doing my best to keep RJ behind me at that point.”

Image: Octopi Media.

Despite Kitchen beating Hampshire in six of the nine rounds thus far, they still find themselves even on points as Hampshire remained consistent through the second half of the championship. Salt Lake City promised to be another hard packed track like we just saw in Denver where both riders’ overall speed seemed nearly identical.

Thinking back to the dry and hard packed races we’ve had this year at Anaheim 1, Anaheim 2, Glendale, and now Denver, they both have been strikingly similar. Kitchen went 3-1-2-2 at those rounds while Hampshire went 1-2-1-3. The one caveat is that none of those rounds featured riders from 250SX East also battling amongst Hampshire and Kitchen. Having a few extra guys mixed in could be what wins or loses this title for either of them.

“It should be fun,” said Kitchen. “For me and RJ, I think the biggest thing is just going to be that nobody is going to help us on the East Coast, if anything it’s going to hurt us. We’ve just got to stay away from them. I feel like it’s going to be kind of important.”

What ultimately this title means though is a crescendo of two very different career paths. Kitchen is in just his third year of racing Supercross, and really only his second full season after his rookie year ended in injury at the second round, while Hampshire is in his 10th season as a professional.

Both riders appear to have a lot of respect for each other as plenty of laughs were shared between the two of them post-race. But when it’s time to lock in next weekend, the gloves are likely going to come off between two riders who want this championship badly.

Image: Octopi Media.

“It’s awesome to be in this position and going for a championship,” said Hampshire. “We had really good speed all day and I needed some things to go my way in the Main Event, but they didn’t. I need to focus on getting out of the gate better, putting myself in a better position, and we can win this championship next weekend. I’ll be ready to go in Salt Lake.”

Another thing to note is that technically this is not just a two-horse race as mathematically Jordon Smith (-21 points) and Jo Shimoda (-23 points) are still alive for the championship. It would be a massive longshot for either to win it still, but if things really get weird between Hampshire and Kitchen, Smith and Shimoda will be eager to win the race and give themselves the best possible shot.

It all will be decided in just five days in Salt Lake City and it’s anyone’s guess who comes out on top.