This is not the first time John Natalie has had to defend an AMA ATV MX national championship, but the Motoworks/Can-Am rider may be a touch out of practice when the gates drop this weekend at Aonia Pass MX Park in Washington, Ga. It’s been six years since Natalie started the season with the No. 1 plate.

The pool of talent in this year’s Pro ATVMX class is setting up the 2012 season to be one of the most highly contested battles to date. Baldwin Motorports/PEP/Upperman Racing’s Josh Upperman challenged Natalie’s championship run all the way to the final round of racing, where he and the current champ went head-to-head, leaving Upperman less than ten points short of the title. Ohio’s Upperman is back with his Baldwin Motorsports team on a very familiar Honda machine and looks to continue as a heavy contender once again this season.

Josh Upperman ATVMXMotoworks/Can-Am’s newest addition, Joel Hetrick, ended his rookie season in 2011 with an overall win at Loretta Lynn’s, sweeping both motos over a stacked field of seasoned pros. With a full season in the pro class under his belt, and a fifth place finish in last year’s point standings, the young Hetrick is expected to come out on fire this season.

The TBROWN Yamaha powered by Moto-X-Perts rider, Thomas Brown, returns to the series with a familiar program again this season, but this time the Texas native wants vengeance. Brown struggled early last season with bike issues, but as soon as he got atop the podium at round six, consistency set in and the Yamaha rider finished a close fourth behind Jeremy Lawson in the championship point standings.

2011 seemed to be the year for Chad Wienen, as he swept the opening two rounds of racing and then went on to win all but three of the first seven races, looking heavily favored to win his first-ever AMA Pro ATVMX championship. Unfortunately a practice crash caused the Illinois boy to sit out the rest of the season as a result of back surgery, but Wienen is back this year aboard his Wienen Motorsports/SSi Decals/Walsh Race Craft/Yamaha Racing machine and claims to be stronger than ever.

Joe Byrd Quad Riding School/American Honda‘s Joe Byrd returns this season after a tenth place finish in the championship standings. Byrd secured a win at last year’s Steel City round and there’s no doubt he will be back to reclaim a shot at the title this season.

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