Everyone knows that if you get a good start in supercross, you’ve already won half the battle. Or have you? Does getting the holeshot really have that much difference in the outcome of a main event? We wanted to take a look at the data and come up with an analytical answer to this question once and for all.

Holeshot at 2015 Dallas SupercrossPhoto Credit: Kardy Photo

Does the Holeshot Matter?

Most people already believe that the holeshot matters. There are frequent accounts of a racer taking the holeshot and “running away” with a victory. Because these two events (a holeshot and a decisive win) are noteworthy and memorable, we may begin to assume that there is a correlation even if there isn’t one.

In researching this article, we wanted to gather data and take an analytical approach to the question. This would prove whether the correlation is truly statistical or merely psychological.

Holeshot at Atlanta 1 2015 SupercrossPhoto Credit: Kardy Photo

Methodology

We took results from 10 years (2006-2015) of professional supercross for all three classes (450SX, 250SX West and 250SX East). Data was taken from the AMA Supercross archives. Where data was missing, we used reputable sites like Dirt Rider or Racer X, or we watched recordings of the actual races. We noted which riders got the holeshot in every main event and where they finished that race. We also tracked where they finished in every race that season and took averages to determine whether or not their finish was better when they got the holeshot.

You are welcome to look at the data we collected by downloading our Excel spreadsheet.

Holeshot Stats

The first stat we looked at was where riders finished in the race that they took the holeshot. The question here is whether or not there is a correlation between getting the holeshot and getting a good finish.

450SX Holeshot Results Chart (2006-2015)

In the 450SX class, 25% of all riders who took the holeshot also won the same race, and nearly 60% finished in the top five. There was quite a bit of variation from year to year, however. For example, in 2013, almost half of riders who took the holeshot also won their holeshot race, while in 2007, the percentage went down to only 6%.

250SX Holeshot Results Chart (2006-2015)

The combined results of both 250SX classes might be even more impressive, with about one third of holeshot riders winning their holeshot race and nearly 60% landing on the podium. The east region in particular tended to have a higher holeshot/win ratio over the 10-year time period.

This data suggests that there is a correlation between getting a holeshot and getting a good finish. This doesn’t mean that a holeshot is a guarantee of success – there were still 15% of holeshot riders who finished outside of the top 10. However, the correlation of success is strong.

Think about it this way: Even if you know literally nothing about the lineup of riders on any given night, you can predict who the winner will be only 10 seconds after the race begins, and you’ll be right 25% of the time (or even more often for the 250SX classes).

Season Averages

There is a correlation between the holeshot and a good finish. But does this actually mean that a rider who gets the holeshot is likely to get a good finish? Or does it mean that only a rider who will get a good finish anyways will generally get the holeshot as well?

To help solve this problem, we next looked at statistics about how a holeshot rider did during the entire season. We compared their finish when they took the holeshot to their average finishing position over the course of that season. This uses a rider’s own performance as a baseline.

Some riders will get on the podium whether they take the holeshot or not. Others won’t break the top five even if they do get the holeshot. However, if someone who averages 15th in a season finishes in 10th after getting the holeshot, that’s perhaps just as significant of an improvement as someone who averages 3rd and then wins a race after a holeshot.

Pie Chart of Supercross Season Average Finish Positions Compared to Holeshot Finish 2006-2015 (All Classes)

In 75% of all cases, holeshot riders got a better finish in their holeshot race than their average finishing position over the season. While the results varied a little over the time period (2006-2015), there wasn’t a single season where more riders did worse than better.

How much better are we talking here? The difference for that segment of riders (75%) was an average of 2.8 positions better in their holeshot race than their season average.

This data suggests that the holeshot does, in fact, matter. Middle-of-the-pack racers finish good when they take the holeshot. Good racers finish great. It doesn’t matter who the rider is, they are likely to get a better finish during their holeshot race than they normally would.

Before/After

The final question we had concerning the holeshot was whether a holeshot rider performed better for the remainder of the season. It’s commonly said that confidence is key to racing well. What’s a better confidence boost than getting a holeshot?

Pie Chart of Supercross Before/After Comparison for Holeshot Riders 2006-2015 (All Classes)

Almost 60% of the time, holeshot riders had better seasons after they took the holeshot than they did before. There were some exceptions to this trend. For example, in 2011, only 29% of riders had better seasons afterwards. Even so, most years saw holeshot riders perform better afterwards.

What causes better performance in subsequent races after getting a holeshot? It could be that the holeshot provides confidence that allows the rider to keep getting good results, but this isn’t necessarily the cause. It could be that they’ve figured out their starts better and are able to keep getting more holeshots. It could also be an indication that something unrelated that is happening to help them get the holeshot as well as get better results, such as an improved bike setup.

It’s only speculation trying to figure out why riders tend to get better results in the races after getting a holeshot. What is clear, however, is that if a rider takes a holeshot, they’re statistically more likely to have a better season from that point on.

Holeshot at 2015 Anaheim 3 SupercrossPhoto Credit: Kardy Photo

Summary: Yes, the Holeshot Matters

As mentioned, we tracked three statistics:

  • Where a holeshot rider finishes in the race they take the holeshot
  • Where a holeshot rider finishes relative to their season average
  • Whether a holeshot rider has better average finishes after their holeshot

Without a doubt, there is a strong correlation between getting a holeshot and performing well across all three of these categories. Holeshot riders tend to have good finishes in their holeshot races. They also tend to get better finishes than their own season averages. Finally, riders are more likely to get better finishes after their holeshot race than they had before it.

Our conclusion based on this data is that the holeshot definitely matters. Beginning the race at the front has some obvious advantages, but there appears to be psychological benefits as well, such as improved confidence. There is a lot of statistical evidence that taking a holeshot leads to improved results, regardless of who the rider is or what their past performance would suggest.

Other Thoughts

There are a few caveats with this information, however. Remember that these are just averages from a large amount of data. There are plenty of examples where riders still pulled off better finishes without getting the holeshot or where holeshot riders finished poorly.

At the end of the race, supercross isn’t just a numbers game. Instead, it’s a sport built upon sweat, talent and the human spirit. Because of that, individuals will always drive the results of a specific race, not statistical probabilities.

We are not suggesting that the holeshot guarantees success. However, it does seem clear that spending time practicing starts can have a big impact on overall finishes. Nailing the holeshot really is as important as it’s made out to be.

Do you agree or disagree with our findings? Has your general feeling from watching supercross led you to the same or a different conclusion? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Holeshot at 2015 Indianapolis SupercrossPhoto Credit: Kardy Photo