In January 2005 San Francisco’s SBC Park entered their sixth year of operation, Barry Bonds was still 52 home runs away from the all-time record held by Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, there were only 37 “splash hits” into McCovey Cove, and the Giants were still five full seasons away from the city’s first World Series title. Supercross had visited SBC Park twice with Ricky Carmichael and Chad Reed taking the 450SX Class; James Stewart and Nathan Ramsey winning the 250SX Class. Four-time Amateur National Champion Billy Laninovich, only 21-years old at the time, was nursing a torn ACL suffered during his first race of the 2004 season in Houston. In the Amsoil/Chapparal/Napster Honda rider’s professional career it was already his third serious knee injury to plague him, along with a list of additional ailments from years of pro racing.
Laninovich healed up and was set to compete in the Western Regional 250SX Class Championship that began on January 6, 2005, in Anaheim, but things did not go his way early on. He battled wrecks and bad starts on the way to 14th, 11th, and 22nd place finishes in the first three rounds. Laninovich had finished fourth place in the Stewart-dominated 2003 Western Regional 250SX Class Championship and was focused on becoming a contender post-injury. Sitting in 17th-place and the lowest ranked racer who had competed in all three Main Events, Laninovich was 43-points behind eventual Champion Ivan Tedesco and virtually out of the title-chase. His teammate Tommy Hahn carried the weight for Amsoil Honda and was sitting third place in the Championship after the first three races, well within striking distance of Tedesco. The next stop was SBC Park which marked the halfway point in the Western Regional 250 SX Class Championship.
Qualifying practice went well for Laninovich clocking in third overall and only .2 seconds behind Tedesco’s pole time. Hahn was eighth in qualifying practice and Amsoil/Chapparal/Napster Honda was feeling good about their chances going into the Heat Races. In Heat 1 Hahn struggled to 19th and failed to qualify in the LCQ. Laninovich had a much easier time in his Heat Race finishing third behind Tedesco and Nathan Ramsey to secure his transfer. The Main Event was set featuring Tedesco, Ramsey, Steve Lamson, Andrew Short, Brett Metcalfe, Ryan Sipes, Danny Smith, and 12-time Japanese Champion Akira Narita as some of the more notable names.
Off the gate it was Tedesco, Ramsey, and Smith battling for the “Butterfinger Hole Shot Award” with the latter collecting the first-turn prize. Laninovich was happily in fourth place rounding the first turn, but Tedesco and Ramsey would crash in turn two, which is when the tough-luck Laninovich started feeling his luck change. It only took one lap for Laninovich to nab Smith and take over the lead, with Factory Honda’s Short right on his back fender. Laninovich was in familiar territory as the two practiced together during the off-season and Short is quoted as saying “I ride with him every day.” It was that experience that gave Laninovich the confidence to stay a few bike lengths ahead of Short for the entirety of the remaining laps.
When the checkers flew it was Billy Laninovich with the 4.3-second victory over Short and years of nagging injuries and disappointment were wiped away in an instant. Laninovich catapulted 10 positions in the point-standings and was within range of a top-five or better finish for the season with four races remaining, including his hometown race in San Diego. Laninovich used momentum from this victory to score a runner-up finish at Anaheim 2, fourth in San Diego, sixth in Seattle, and another runner-up finish in Houston to cap off an incredible point-standings comeback from 17th to 4th in only four races.
Laninovich would finish fourth and sixth place respectively in the following seasons riding the 250SX Class but dipped to 13th in 2008. He took a shot at racing in the premier class in 2009 nailing a 10th-place finish in Jacksonville before taking the 2010 and 2011 seasons off. Laninovich returned to top-10 form in the 2012 Western Regional 250SX Class Championship and nailed down ninth in that Championship before scoring 37-points in the 450 Pro Motocross Championship that summer. Laninovich made his last Supercross start on May 5, 2012, in the Las Vegas Finale where he finished 20th in the Main Event. He scored a tight victory in the East/West Showdown’s LCQ over Justin Bogle to qualify for the Showdown where he finished 16th. Laninovich walked away from the sport after 58 starts, one win, eight podiums, 15 top-fives, and 34 top-10 finishes across 250SX and 450SX racing. Laninovich was 29 years old when he decided to retire and move on to training younger athletes. Little did he know he would be training for the 2024 Western Regional 250SX Class Championship as a near-41-year-old on a FLO Motorsports backed Team Faith Yamaha donning his famous #132, with only a few months of preparation.
The details surrounding his comeback are well documented over the off-season. He has been very open about his process, training, and strong faith. All eyes were fixated on the FLO Motorsports rider Laninovich’s return at Anaheim 1 where he qualified 30th and only missed the Main Event out of Heat Race 1 by two positions. A bad start in the LCQ hampered his A1 hopes but he made an impressive nine passes from an 18th-place start. With an entire round under his belt Laninovich looks to improve on his qualifying positions and score a Main Event start in San Francisco. Available data on birthdays, historical information, and copious research conclude that there have been seven riders to qualify for a Supercross race, in either class, over the age of 36, with Chad Reed leading the way as the oldest qualified Supercross racer in the history of the sport.
- Chad Reed: 38 years, 3 months, 6 days (Salt Lake City 7, 2020)
- Justin Brayton: 38 years, 1 month, 24 days (Salt Lake City, 2022)
- John Dowd: 36 years, 8 months, 3 days (Pontiac, 2002)
- Kyle Lewis: 36 years, 7 months, 12 days (Las Vegas, 2007)
- Barry Carsten: 36 years, 6 months, 9 days (Pontiac, 2003)
- Ryan Sipes: 36 years, 6 months, 6 days (Atlanta 1, 2021)
- Kyle Chisholm: 36 years, 1 month, 0 days (Anaheim Opener, 2024)
That would place Billy Laninovich a full 2 years, 7 months, and 12 days older than any qualified Supercross racer in the 50-year history of the sport. If he qualifies in San Francisco, where he took an incredible win 19 years ago, it would be 11 years, 8 months, and 8 days between Supercross starts which would also be a Supercross record.
Justin Brayton holds the record for oldest winner in any form of SMX racing when he crossed the finish line for an improbable 2018 Daytona Supercross victory just four days before he turned 34. If Brayton decided to come out of retirement in 2025, he would be 40 and likely still fast enough to make it into a Main Event. For now, Brayton seems comfortable in the booth on Race Day Live.
After January 2005 Barry Bonds did ultimately pass Hammerin’ Hank’s home run record, albeit with an asterisk. McCovey Cove has now seen 102 “splash hits”, with the most recent one being an extra inning, three-run walk-off home run off the bat of Mike Yastrzemski on June 19. The Giants finally won a World Series for their city in 2010, then again in 2012, and added the trifecta in 2014. Supercross returned to what is now called Oracle Park through 2010 and has not returned until this upcoming round in the 2024 season. Laninovich is probably still feeling some of the bumps and bruises from his career but is healthy and looking forward to potentially becoming the oldest Supercross racer to ever qualify for a Main Event at 40 years, 10 months, and 18 days old. Multiple active 250SX Class athletes weren’t even born yet when Laninovich crossed the finish line in Oracle Park in 2005, including rookies Julien Beaumer and Ryder DiFrancesco. Here’s to BL132 channeling his inner 2005 San Francisco victory momentum to knock it out in Oracle Park.