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On The Fast Track At the AMA Supercross season finale in Las Vegas a pair of young aces continued their electrifying rivalry: One won the race, the other the title--and the sport scored big

If you strolled into Las Vegas's Sam Boyd Stadium last Saturday
night after the conclusion of the season's final AMA Supercross
Series race, you would have had a hard time picking out the
winner. There stood Ricky Carmichael atop his red number 4 Honda
CR250R just past the start-finish line, his 5'4" frame surrounded
by photographers, flashbulbs popping like giant fireflies. Thirty
feet away Chad Reed was taking a victory lap on his blue number
22 Yamaha YZ250, stripping off his sweaty gloves and tossing them
to the sellout crowd of 37,312 like a rock star.

The dueling celebrations were only fitting, since both men had
reason to rejoice. Carmichael, 23, of Havana, Fla., clinched his
third consecutive 250cc AMA Supercross Series title with his safe
second-place ride, edging Reed in the final standings 367 points
to 360. For his part the 21-year-old Reed, from Newcastle,
Australia, won Saturday's race, his sixth straight victory and
eighth of the 16-race season. But the biggest winner may be the
sport, which finally has a bona fide rivalry. With the January
retirement of seven-time champion Jeremy McGrath at the ripe old
age of 31, motocross now looks like the Ricky and Chad show.
"Jeremy is, unfortunately, gone," says Reed, who just finished
his first season as a full-time rider on the top circuit. "It's
up to both of us to take it to the next level."

The budding rivalry began to look like a feud two weeks ago in
Salt Lake City, where Reed bumped Carmichael while passing him on
the fourth of 20 laps and sent the champ tumbling. Carmichael
recovered to take second--as he did in each of Reed's six
season-ending wins--but a week later he was still stewing. "It
was a dirty move for sure," Carmichael says. "It's something I
won't forget."

In Las Vegas, Carmichael steered clear of any such drama. While
Reed took the lead at the start, Carmichael settled into second
and rode conservatively: "I said, To hell with it, I want to win
the title."

Carmichael needed just a fifth-place finish to clinch the title,
and his worst showing this year had been fourth. "I was the
smartest rider this season," he says. "Maybe not always the
fastest, but the smartest." That statement underscores, however,
how much Reed has undercut the former wunderkind's dominance.
Carmichael won 25 of the 32 supercross races in 2001 and '02 and
all 12 races in the '02 outdoor motocross season. Carmichael
built a 25-point lead this supercross season by winning seven of
the first 10 races but then had to hold on as Reed reeled off his

Carmichael contends that he was simply riding smart in the last
six races, protecting his advantage. His unspoken message is that
had he needed to win more races, he would have. "I have what
everyone wants," he says of the championship. "In order to get
it, they're going to have to beat me." Reed's late flourish,
meanwhile, leaves him just as confident that he can do precisely
that. "I definitely have what it takes, and more, to beat Ricky,"
says Reed.

Next season's title race could get even more interesting if
17-year-old phenom James (Bubba) Stewart joins the 250cc field as
expected. Stewart, who won 11 national amateur titles to break
Carmichael's record, dominated the Western Region's pro 125cc
class (the sport's minor league) in 2003, winning seven of eight
races. So while Carmichael still wears the crown, it sits much
more uneasily than anyone might have suspected a few months ago.
--Pete McEntegart

COLOR PHOTO: STEVE BRUHN/TFS WHEEL DEAL In Vegas, Carmichael, choosing not to gamble, still won.