by Steve Bruhn
SB: I saw you walk in, it was good to see.
JB: It’s not much of walking yet but its getting better every day – slowly.
SB: How long since you got the halo removed, did that help?
JB: It will be a week on Wednesday. It’s been off five days now. It was kind of weird at first to get my balance back. It makes it a little bit easier to get up and out of bed because of the weight. It’s nice not having bolts in your head anymore.
SB: You anticipate having the neck brace about a month?
JB: They say about a month and they will slowly start taking me off of that.
SB: Then maybe go back to California in a couple of months?
JB: Yeah, hopefully by June.
SB: Do you expect a 100% recovery?
JB: I’m hoping. At this point we I have learned not to anticipate anything, or expect anything. Just because it’s so weird, they don’t know much about the whole spinal cord deal. No one can give me an answer why this happens, or why that happens. No two cases are alike. No two people have ever recovered the same way and at the same rate. I know I will be able to walk and be pretty normal, but as far as everything coming back, I’m not sure. All the doctors have said that no matter how much you get back there is always something that you won’t get back. You never get it all back, hopefully it won’t be something important.
SB: Do you feel confident that you will be an athletic person?
JB: I better be – or I will be pretty disappointed. Hopefully I will be able to race again.
SB: If you were not recovered enough to race nationals would you still race?
JB: No. I wouldn’t race again unless it was at the level I was at.
SB: What was it like when you started getting e-mails from people off the Internet?
JB: It was cool. In the beginning you don’t have much hope. Everyone is telling you to keep your head up and do this and do that. But when you are lying there and you can’t move anything but your head, nothing else works, and you are hooked up to every machine that doctors have created – its long days and long nights, and 24 hrs before you were one of the top athletes in the world its discouraging. The e-mails started coming in and the cards, Kristi or mom or Cory would sit there and read them for me. It was one of the ways I got through it. Knowing that there were a lot of people that cared, and a lot of people I didn’t even realize gave a damn. It was one of the positive things in the beginning. They just kept coming and one book became two books, and two became three, by the fourth or fifth book things started happening and I started being able to move and see a little light at the end of the tunnel. Then your mind started to change a little bit and not just thinking about the people who cared but wanting to get back and make all those people who wished you well and making them proud, and do everything they hoped and prayed for. It starts building that fire, and you want to get back.
SB: Who has been to visit you?
JB: Phil Lawrence, Jeremy, Fro, Ernesto, David, Vuillemin, Pingree, Buckelew, and Keith McCarty, Gary Becker came out, I had lunch with him a couple of weeks ago, that was pretty cool.
SB: On web people saw discussions about the e-mail, and the auction by Chaparral. What did you think?
JB: It was cool, Dorina (from Chaparral) who I have now become friends with spearheaded the whole auction thing. For Dave and Linda and Jimmy Damron for putting it together was pretty cool. Racers and fans donated a lot of stuff, Fox and No Fear donated some really cool things, and Malcom Smith and Keith McCarty everyone just kind of dug down and found things people would buy, it helped out pretty good.
SB: How can we describe where you are at right now? Can you get up and walk around the house?
JB: No. I have to have someone help me, for the most part I can’t do anything on my own yet. It would be lot easier for me to do stuff if my hands worked. My legs work better than my arms do at this point. It’s slow.
SB: What is therapy for you?
JB: Every day. I’m basically trying to re-learn everything trying to teach my muscles and nervous system how to work together instead of against each other. One muscle would be doing one thing and another would be doing another and it wouldn’t allow anything to happen.
SB: In therapy do they move you around?
JB: In the beginning I couldn’t move anything so they would take my arms and my legs and just move them in the directions you need to use them. Now it’s just trying to learn how to pick up a thumb tack off of a table or pick up silver ware, or just how to do normal things. Everything is really hard. People don’t think about all the things you have to learn as a kid. By the time you are three or four years old you know how to do everything. That’s basically what I am having to go through right now – to learn how to do everything on my own – how to walk and how to feed myself, and how to put my clothes on. I know how to do it, but your brain is telling your body to do something and it’s not really listening. It’s just a matter of re-learning everything.
SB: It is remarkable Cory has been with you since day one.
JB: Yeah, since it happened. My mom, my dad, my aunt Michelle and Kristi and Cory have been here the whole time – since 3:30 on the Saturday afternoon when it happened. The crash was a weird moment, that’s for sure.
SB: At the San Diego race where you got injured, there was a big step-up jump right after the first turn. Did you jump into the whoops and flip over?
JB: It was the first lap of practice. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first practice or second practice. Keith and I had some discussions about taking the first lap of practice real easy. It worked at the two Anaheim races really well. I just went through the first corner, and rolled over the first jump and started rolling though the whoops. I was in second gear. I wasn’t trying to blitz them, just rolling through, just looking around – maybe paying too much attention to what was going in. My front end just dropped inside one of the whoops and came to a stop. I didn’t go down real hard but just hit my head the wrong way. Then everything was cold and nothing was working. It was a grim, grim moment.
SB: People are going to see you in Las Vegas in three weeks right?
JB: Yes. I am going to talk to Yamaha and see what they would like me to do if anything at the race.
SB: Will you be up to going out on the floor during the opening and greeting the crowd?
JB: Yeah, that would be cool. The last time I got to do that was at the second Anaheim. It would be really nice to be able to walk out on the stage and say ‘Hi’ to everybody.
SB: A lot can happen in three weeks.
JB: Yeah, hopefully I will be walking a little bit better. I can do better. Strength-wise I can walk but my balance isn’t too good. That’s the biggest thing we are working on in therapy is trying to get better balance. Since I got the halo off I have to learn again, I was a little top heavy before.
Top image Steve Bruhn, bottom image Frank Hoppen
Photo credits: LV, TFS
What is a typical day like for you when you are not riding?
This morning I did an interview with ‘Mens Fitness Magazine’, then we did a photo shoot for that, then I worked out at the gym. After that I went to the Troy Lee Design offices in Corona (California) to discuss some business issues including design of a new truck we are doing with Mazda. Together we went over some business plans, and then we worked on helmet designs and painting. After that, I drove to Oceanside to do a two hour live chat on my personal web-site, Nac-Nac.com (http://www.nacnac.com).
When did you start riding?
I started riding when I was five years old. My first race was at Perris Raceway (California) in 1986, at age 14.
Do you still learn new things when you ride?
Yes, definitely! Gotta’ keep up with the ‘Jones’ (laughs). I’m always learning new things when I ride.
What advice do you have for kids, and their parents that are involved in racing?
Well, first off, it can be a great family sport. As for advice to kids …. be patient, take your time. For the parents, it’s important to not burn your kids out, and have you want to do it more than the kids. I’ve seen a lot of kids get burned out on riding because their parents did things in a ‘commando’ style all the time, always pushing their kids. That’s not what motorcycling is all about. It needs to be fun. Motorcycling can be a great environment for the entire family …. that’s what’s important.
Would you consider racing a 4-stroke in the future?
No. I’ve never considered racing the 4-stroke. I personally love the YZ 250, and I don’t want to change something that’s been very good to me. Like they say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’!
What is the key to your success?
There are a lot of ingredients that go into success. One of the most important that I’ve had is the support of my family. But if I were to name one key to my success, it would be the passion that I have for the sport. I love motocross racing …. I have a deep passion for it, and that’s the key to my success.
Who do you see replacing you as the next dominant supercross rider?
If you would of asked me a few years ago, I could name quite a few riders. However, right now, I don’t see anyone coming on the horizon that can even approach the level of a Kevin Windham or an Ezra Lusk. Too many young riders are being distracted in other areas to reach the level that the top riders are in today. So, I don’t see anyone being dominant in the near future. Even I have a hard time keeping up with what I’ve accomplished.
Let’s hear about failure. Everyone thinks you live a charmed life (which you do to a certain extent) but everyone has failure in their lives. What has failure taught you?
It makes you a much more rounded person. It teaches you so much. Early in my career, I had so much success, with very few setbacks. Then in 1997, I didn’t acheive the results I had done in the past, and it was a real slap in the face. It actually turned out great because I learned a lot, and I’m a better person now because of those failures. I didn’t have to be a ‘person’ before, all I had to do was be a racer. That year when I didn’t win, I had to learn a lot about being a regular person. That was a great experience for me.
Have you ever raced in Canada?
Yes, in Toronto. It was in the Skydome …. I believe it was in 1989.
Are you going to do any overseas races this year?
Yes. I won’t be doing any over the summer, but just like I did in the fall and winter of 1999, I’ll have the same type of schedule.
Outdoor motocross. Your schedule for this past season was talked about a lot, what are your plans for 2000?
I’ll probably do the Glen Helen and Sacramento Nationals, and then take a break over the summer.
How is your newest version of your computer/video game coming along?
It’s progressing really well. It’ll be out in March.
Will you be giving motocross schools when you retire?
I personally don’t think I have the patience (laughs). I don’t see anything like mx schools in the future. I love the fans, and hanging out with them, but I don’t have the patience required to do schools. However, I will be coming out with an instructional line of videos to help riders.
What are your plans after racing motorcycles professionally?
I don’t have any set ideas in mind, but I do want to be a successful business man with my No Fear MX line of clothing and gear, along with other business interests I have.
Will you go to another form of motorsports racing after your supercross career is over?
I have given a lot of thought to car racing, and I’ve had some opportunities to do something like that. But I really don’t know right now …. I can’t answer that until I’m done racing motocross. If you take energy and effort out of what you are trying to do well, and start trying to do other things, you can lose focus. And that applies to me and motocross racing. To be my best in motocross, I have to concentrate on that.
I could be a regular racer along with doing other stuff, but then I wouldn’t be my best in racing. I want to do the very best I can in racing. Right now I need to focus on supercross.
Do you ride BMX?
Yes, I ride my BMX bike quite a lot. It’s probably something I’ll never give up …. until I’m too old for it! (laughs) I love it.
Who’s faster on a downhill mountain bike, your mechanic Randy Lawrence (who is a professional bicycle rider) or you?
Probably Randy, because I’ve never done it!
Who’s better in BMX, you or Randy?
I think I’m faster.
Were you at the Formula 1 GP in Malaysia?
No, I’ve never been to a Formula 1 GP …. yet.
Were you at a supercross race in Santiago, Chile this past season?
Yes, I really like South America. The people there are great. I’ve always had a good time there.
If you could accomplish one more thing in your career, what would it be?
I don’t have any other needs to accomplish. Of course I do have short-term goals, which is to win races and hopefully win another supercross championship. I’m totally happy, and would not complain if I didn’t win another championship. Although my plan is to win more.
What is your shoe size?
Whether they like it or not, people in the spotlight such as yourself are role models. What do you think about the Jeff Emig “incident”?
It was a bad deal for kids, and a bad timing for Jeff. Our sport is just like any other sport, and sometimes people like to have a ‘good time’. Unfortunately for Jeff, he picked a bad time. I’m not commending his actions, but if Jeff would of been dominating the racing scene at the time, there would of been no professional repurcussions. That I’m sure of. That’s how competive sports is today. It would of been ‘hush-hush’ and not a public incident. Again, I’m not saying he did the right thing, but I am saying how professional sports are run today.
I personally would never, ever do anything like that. But if that would of happened to me, at this point in my career, I think it would be dealt with more ‘under the table’, and not something you hear about publicly. It would be done privately. That’s just how competitive the sports world is today. You see it all the time with other sports such as baseball, basketball, football, and more. Again, I’m not commending anyone’s actions, just stating a fact about corporate sports today.
Jeff was having a bad season, and it came back to bite him. However, with that said, I think that Jeff is probably a better person after all of this has happened to him.
You look very relaxed no matter how much pressure is on you. How do you prepare for that?
First and foremost, I put a lot of pressure on myself. There is pressure that comes from within and without our industry, but it’s not pressure that weighs on my shoulders. I expect to perform well …. I expect that of myself.
Your training regimen, is it different from the past?
This year I’m more and better prepared than I’ve been since 1995. I have Gary Semics back out here in California training me. He’s been helping me my entire career. He’s been at my house now for a month. I’m more than ready!
Rick Johnson, Jeremy McGrath
Did you have a favorite rider while you were growing up?
Yes, my favorite rider was Rick Johnson. He was my idol. I did follow all the top riders as I was growing up ….. I watched David Bailey, Johnny O’Mara, Broc Glover,ÃŠ and Jeff Ward. But RJ was my all-time favorite.
Do you have any pets?
No. I don’t have the time right now to have any pets because I’m not home enough. I really want to have a dog, but I’m going to have to wait a little while for that.
How long will you continue racing motorcycles?
Well, I have a contract thru 2000, but I don’t see myself stopping then, I think I’ll keep going.
Freestyle motocross, will you ever do that?
No. I never imagined that years ago when I started doing ‘nac-nacs’ that it would turn into this!
I like freestyle motocross. I like the idea. I like the tricks that are performed … it’s very cool. The thing I’m worried about the most are some of the personalities. So many people have worked so hard to give motorcycling a better name … to help promote the sport to the general public. We want to take the sport to an even higher level in the future. We’ve spent years trying to get rid of the ‘biker’ image. A few, and it’s a very few, are giving motorcycling a bad name because of the perceived image problem. I love freestyle, it’s just a few personalities that I’d like to see develop a more mature attitude about the growth of the sport.
Is there a woman in your life?
Of course! Her name is Kim. We’ve been together now for two years. It’s the longest I’ve ever been with a girlfriend (laughs). Kim is a great person. She is a quality person. She is not into Jeremy McGrath ‘the racer’, she’s more into Jeremy McGrath ‘the person’. She’s very level-headed, beautiful, and a tremendous person!
Team Suzuki’s 250 AMA National Champion Greg Albertyn
Finish this sentence: “I love motocross because….”
I love motocross because it’s one of the most exciting sports in the world. The rush of high speeds, the fast and high jumping, guys banging handlebars, the first turn action. It’s definitely the most exciting and adrenalin filled sport in the world in my opinion. I feel honored to be able to make a living doing what I love to do.
We are willing to guess that you want to add another title or two for 2000. Tell us about your plans and expectations.
I would love to add another title or two in the year 2000. That’s my plan. If and when I win a supercross title, I will have achieved everything that I’ve ever wanted to do in motocross. I’ve had an incredible career so far, the Lord has really blessed me. It would be awesome to win another title, especially the supercross championship. I feel that I’m up to the task, and I can do it. I can do all things thru Christ who strengthens me. If that means winning, they I can …. I’ll be developing my game plan to do that. So many people get hurt, so it’s very important to stay healthy during the long season. And I hope to be on the podium each week.
Before the AMA Supercross season starts, you have to do a lot of testing. If there is a problem, or a change needed, how do you communicate that? Do you talk to your mechanic? Suzuki technicians? Team Manager Roger DeCoster? People at US Suzuki? The factory in Japan? Explain how that works ….
Team Suzuki has excellent communication. We are all striving to make a better motorcycle each year. If you look back to 1995 when I started with US Suzuki, I believe the motorcycle has gotten 20% better every year, compared to the year before. If there is a problem, obviously I tell my mechanic, and that gets communicated to team manager Roger (DeCoster). Then Roger will communicate with the factory in Japan, and they’ll work on it from there. Mitch (Payton) from Pro-Circuit has been a great help too. He’s really put a lot of time into getting our bikes right where they need to be.
What do you think about your two new Suzuki team-mates, Damon Huffman and Travis Pastrana?
Travis is a great kid! He’s very polite and has been brought up well. I think he realizes what it’s going to take to have success, and he has the motivation. For being just 16 years old, he has an amazing amount of talent.
And I like Huffy, he and I get along well. He’s a funny guy and I hope he can get things together. He has the talent and the speed. I think we could make a good team.
What’s your life like in the off-season? Do you spend time on the bike, or take a break?
I like to take about a month off after the season is over. A lot of guys are different … some guys like to keep going and race all year. I feel like I need to take a break. I believe in everything in moderation. If this is your job, sometimes you need time off to regroup and rethink things, along with relaxing a bit. I take a full month off every year. This off-season I went back to South Africa and did a little fishing, a little hanging out at the beach and spending time with my wife Amy. It was nice and relaxing.
What was your first thought after winning the AMA 250 National Championship this past season?
My first thought after winning the championship was ‘about stinkin’ time!’ ; ) (Laughs) Seriously though, I think once you’ve been a champion, and then you don’t achieve a championship for quite a while, it can really eat you up inside. If you know what it’s like to win, and then you stop winning, it’s a very hard thing to face and deal with. You want to try harder and get back to winning quickly. It’s been a long, hard and slow learning process for me. But I am so thankful that I have finally done it. It’s an awesome feeling, and I thank the Lord for bringing me as far as I’ve been able to come.
You are a Christian. Tell us how you first learned about the Bible, and how and when you became a Christian.
I became a Christian when I was eight years old. My Mom lead me to the Lord …. she asked me if I wanted to pray and ask Jesus into my heart, which I did. And about at the same time I got my first motorcycle. I believe that was God’s will for my life …. now looking back I can see that was his plan for my life. At that time, I started coming home from school wanting to read my children’s Bible that my Mom had given me. Through my life, and in my career, I’ve had so many times when I’ve had opportunities to get so close to the Lord and grow in Him, especially during the difficult times. That’s what God sends trials and tests to us for. If everything went perfectly all the time, why would we need God?
Why did you choose to be a Christian?
Originally, I became a Christian because it was something my Mom explained to me, and then I made that decision. She told me what Jesus had done for me on the Cross, and I thought that was very cool. It wasn’t just ‘Hey, I’m going to accept Jesus into my life’ ….. it was a supernatural thing. I could literally feel the presence of God, and there is no question about that. I could feel the Holy Spirit with me, it became more and more evident as time went on. I look at the things and patterns that have happened in my life, both good and bad, and I give thanks and glory to him for everythingthat has happened to me. Thru God and God alone there is life, and it’s life abundantly.
What goes on during the week when you are in the racing season?
The week is very busy during the racing season. It’s very grueling. I think many people don’t fully understand how tough these things can be week after week. Obviously we race on Saturday nights. Sunday morning, after about four or five hours of sleep, I get up early and fly home. I’ll spend the afternoon relaxing with my wife, or hanging out with my friends. Sunday night I’ll go to church. Monday morning I go to the gym. I’m not doing anything to strenuous there, just loosening up from the weekend. Tuesdays and Wednesdays I’ll go heavy in the gym in the mornings, then ride each afternoon. Thursday I’ll fly back out to where ever our next race is for press day. I’ll also try to practice more either before or after our press responsibilities. Friday we ride and have practice on the actual race circuit. And then we race on Saturday. Basically, I’m on the bike five days a week, and flying two days a week.
What responsibilities come with being a factory racer? And does winning the National Championship add to those responsibilities?
I’ve noticed that by winning a National Motocross Championship there comes a lot more responsibilities. A lot more attention! A lot more press coverage and demands. Everyone wants a bit of your time. A lot of prestige and a lot of confidence comes with it too. I feel very confident and I’m looking forward to this season.
A lot more people are making demands on a lot more of your time. No question though …. it also has it’s benefits! I’ve seen a lot more interest from outside sponsors and industry people. They want to become involved in motocross, and that’s exciting. There are plenty of responsibilities for all factory riders. Press days, dealer meetings, often you are up early for press conferences in other parts of the world, specialized photo shoots for different businesses and sponsors, along with Suzuki itself. Add into that team meetings and testing too. All these things come with the territory of being a factory rider.
You are gone from home to attend a race. You come home and see you have phone messages. How many messages, and how much time during the week do you have to spend on the phone?
I spend a lot of time on the phone! Especially during the week. I do have a cell phone, and that helps so that I’m able to talk and drive at the same time, rather than doing all my talking at home. Often when I get home, I can easily have 25-30 messages on our phone recorder. I’m not good at calling everyone back ….. sometimes it can take a few weeks! 😉
Is there a place in American that is similar to the area you are originally from in South Africa? How is it similar?
America and South Africa and very similar, although South Africa is about the size of Texas. Generally, it has much of the same things as America, it’s just much smaller. We do have jungles …. not too much of that here in the States. We do have incredibly beautiful coastlines, the most beautiful in the world in my opinion. We have dry desert areas, we have safari, and most of the things that American cities have. What we don’t have in South Africa is the vastness, the huge size of America.
Your bike ….. how do you set it up? Suspension, engine characteristics …. Is it different from your team-mates?
My Suzuki RM 250 is usually set-up quite a bit different from my team-mates. My riding style sometimes can be a bit aggressive, and I like a more aggressive powerband. Damon Huffman has been testing now with Suzuki for the past few weeks and he came up with a setting that everyone thought was great. I didn’t like it. It was a little too smooth for my taste and style. I like the more aggressive powerband, and it seems to work better for me.
Were you close to switching teams this off-season before you resigned with Suzuki? What went on during those negotiations, and what were the different thoughts you had to wade thru to make your decision?
Yes, it was a very tough yet great time for me. I was in a strong position to negotiate, as I had bargaining power. Many teams were offering me great deals, with Chaparral and Suzuki being the best. It was tough because I was in a position of making a decision to do outdoor only, or both supercross and outdoor. I thought to myself ‘If God can help me to have the talent to win motocross championships, why should I put Him in a box and say he’s only going to give my that talent to win motocross championships?’ My goal is to win a supercross championship. I don’t want to put God in a box and not try for my goal of winning a supercross championship. Five years down the road, I don’t want to say ‘I regret my decision because I didn’t give it my all to win a supercross championship and that I never gave it that real opportunity while I was at my best’. I’ve decided to stay with Suzuki for the next two years, and give it everything I’ve got.
When you are racing ….. are you racing against other riders, or are you just competing against the race circuit?
I’m racing against other riders, especially in supercross when the racing is very close. Many times, yes, you are racing the track, …. you need to be smooth, you need to be precise, and make consistent lap times every lap. But then throw in the other riders … they are constantly changing their lines, they can block pass you, …. you can’t just ride around thinking ‘I’m going to do this obstacle’ or whatever. You need to be very aware and looking out for other riders coming inside of you, pushing you to the outside, cutting you off here or there. You need to almost have eyes in the back of your head! It’s not just a matter of going as fast as you can. You always need to be thinking and planning and using your head.
Your wife’s name is Amy. You just celebrated your first anniversary. What did you do for that?
We were traveling on the day of our anniversary, but when we finally got to Spain, we had a nice, romantic dinner at a traditional Spanish restaurant. It was fabulous. And it’s amazing how this year has gone by so quickly, and it’s been the very best year of my life. Not only from a racing point of view, but also of being one with my wife. It’s a tremendous gift from the Lord, no question about that!
How involved in she in your racing career? How does she help you? Does being married deter your racing career in any way?
At first, being ‘in love’ affected my racing in a negative way. Instead of training or riding or doing what I needed to do, I was (and am!) so in love with Amy that I wanted to spend all my time with her. That might of showed in the ’98 season a little bit. However, that’s the past. That’s what it took for me to become champion now. Today, Amy helps me so much in so many different ways, and some of it is hard to put into words. And there are little things that she helps me with that add up in a big way …. she’ll make lunches for me when I go practicing …. she gives me moral support when I’m feeling down …. she’s involved in all aspects of my life, not only my racing. She is very supportive.
Lots of fans only get to see you on the weekends racing, or in magazines or TV. What would you like fans to know about you personally?
Good question! I think that so many people put sports and entertainment people on a pedestal. I would like people to know that I’m just a regular guy, an everyday type of person. I do have a God-given talent that I’m trying to use to the best of my ability. I believe that everyone has a talent, whether it’s business, computers, athletics, or whatever. I don’t want people to look up to me and think ‘He is this great guy!’. I’m just a regular person with all the faults that come with being human. I would like for people to know that I am a down-to-earth normal guy.
What would you like them to know about that might take away from how they perceive how great it is to be a factory rider? What are the drawbacks to having that factory ride?
The traveling can be a drawback, especially if you have a family and kids. That part of being a factory rider is probably what burns most riders out. Jeremy is a good example. He stopped doing most of the outdoor races, and I totally understand that. It’s not the racing that stopped him. Jeremy loves racing, and so do I. It’s the continual travel, getting up early to catch flights, airports, rental cars …. it’s never ending as a factory rider. People think it’s all glamorous, and it makes you feel very good and it’s uplifting when someone asks for your autograph. But we are human, and sometimes we don’t feel well, but we have to continue to smile and go to meetings and events even when we might not feel like it. There is a constant demand on your time, with people pulling on you from 27 different directions. That’s one of the parts of being a factory rider that can be a drawback.
Lots of younger fans do not know about your history, especially in Europe. Give us an overview, starting from your first time racing there, and then the accomplishments that stand out from that time, along with the low points.
Europe was definitely an area of my life that had it’s great points, and some bad points. When I first moved to Europe I was 17 years old, and I had just become a professional rider. That was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life – leave my family and friends in South Africa. Everything I had grown up with, everything I was accustomed to, I had to leave behind. I moved to a different country (Belgium), with different food and culture and language. I was basically alone, although my brother came with me early on, and my family came over for a little while. It was very difficult. That’s one of the times when I really drew closer to the Lord and really got to know Him, and relied on the Holy Spirit on a day-to-day basis.
After two years, I won my first 125 World Championship in 1992. That was such an incredible feeling! Everything I had ever dreamed of, everything I had ever wished of for my motocross career came true on that day of clinching it in Japan. I don’t think any win or championship can match up to that. It was such an incredible sensation about something I had dreamed about since I was 12 years old and started racing.
But I’m a type of person that likes challenges. The next year I decided to move up to the 250 World Championships, and that is the most prestigious in World Motocross. At that time, people from the 500 class and the 125 class were moving into the 250’s because of the prestige. Many people told me ‘You can’t win in the 250 class …. you are just a 125 rider!’. When it came down to the racing though, it was the best overall year of my career for results, I think I won 9 out of 16 Grand Prix events, along with the 250 World Championship. The next year (1994) my plan was to come to the United States and race, but those plans all fell through. I had to replan and remotivate myself for the ’94 World 250 Championship. The first four races I struggled. I was not doing well. I was getting used to my new Suzuki, and I had lost a bit of confidence. But then I told myself ‘You are not going to lose this 250 World Championship, you better get your act together and get motivated.’. The fifth race of the series I won, and from then on it started getting better and better. I won my third Championship in a row that year.
At the end of that year (1994), I was leading at the Motocross des Nations in Switzerland. I had a totally freak thing happen to me, a deer ran out of the bushes onto the track, and I hit it. That was unbelievable! A week later, I broke my navicular bone in my wrist. Two months later I started riding again. Three weeks after that was our first race of the ’95 season in Orlando, where I dislocated my shoulder. Two months after that I separated my other shoulder. After that I broke a navicular bone again. It became a vicious, vicious circle. I started off injured when I came here to the US, and it stayed that way for the first two or three years. When you continue to ride and race like that, it puts your confidence level way down.
Do you have a favorite race circuit?
Steel City, the site of the final round for the National Series.
What do you do for fun?
I Jet-Ski, I like go-carting, I like fishing, and I like to hang out with my friends.
Do you like or follow any other sports?
I follow a lot of other sports. Growing up in South Africa, rugby is one of the biggest sports. And they just had the World Cup, so I’ve enjoyed following that. I follow most forms of motorsports, and I like basketball too.
Do you admire any other athletes?
Yes, I admire many athletes. I admire most of them because I know what it takes …. I’ve been to the top, and I’ve been to the bottom. One person I admire is Jeremy (McGrath). Not just from a perspective of winning, but from being able to stay at the top for so long. People just do not realize how incredible of a feat that is. For him to stay motivated year after year after year is incredible. My hat is off to Jeremy for that!
And there are so many guys in sports that have a tremendous amount of talent that I admire. As far as I’m concerned, I can only dream about the talent that they have, because I’m not the most talented of riders. I’ve gotten the most out of my career by hard work.
Last question, so many fans want to know, what is your e-mail address?
My e-mail address is ……… (Editor’s note: the tape machine ran out of tape before Greg could finish!)
by Filippo Ceccucci
500 World Motocross Champion Andrea Bartolini (The Bartman!)
Andrea Bartolini is a great rider, but also a great person. His humility and seriousness are proverbial: you’ll never hear of someone that has something against him. He is universally known as a fantastic test driver, but he also has the speed on the single lap that really a few can compete with worldwide.
But until now he never had the great international success, even after racing for fifteen years in the World Championship. He did reach wins in each class of the World Championship (only a few riders did it) and a big number of Italian Championships: seven.
In 1999 he finally demonstrated all his worth, not only becoming the first Italian to win the 500 World Championship, but also leading the Italian Team in their historical first victory in the Motocross des Nations. Even though he is now part of the legend of motocross in Italy and worldwide, Andrea remains very modest. I paid him a visit in his home in Casalfiumanese, a village on the hills close to Imola, fifty kilometers east of Bologna.
Filippo Ceccucci: Andrea, with the victory of the 500 Motocross World Title, you reached the goal you worked so hard for so many years, how do you feel now that you did it?
Andrea Bartolini: The win in the World Championship arrived in this year which I started only to make some good results, I wasn’t thinking to win, because I broke my thighbone in August ’98 and I had to stop racing until January ’99. Everyone, even Yamaha, even Rinaldi (team manager), weren’t betting so much on me: in the beginning they believed more in Alex Puzar. However, I began working really hard, day and night, and after two races I was leading the World Championship, and so I thought that maybe it was the right opportunity to win.
FC: In comparison with the years before, you had to alter your training, because of the thighbone broken in Belgium, how did you organize yourself?
AB: I was operated on the 2nd of August ’98, and back again on the 12th of November by Dr. Costa. I started to train in January, I did a lot of biking and spinning, I was riding six days per week and spinning in the evenings. After two months like this, I wasn’t fit as in ’98, but I was in good condition anyway.
FC: This past season you also changed your racing tactics: a little less ‘full gas, wide open’, but more thoughtful.
AB: Yes, because I wanted to finish each moto. The year before I had to retire seven times and it makes me nervous. This season some new riders arrived in the 500 class, like Yves Demaria, Alex Puzar, and more, and there were six or seven of us who all wanted to win. I thought that the only thing to do was to finish each race and to wait for the other ones’ mistakes. In this way I even won some motos and GPs, and at the end I also was one of the fastest. (Andrea is too modest: he won seven motos and four GPs out of 13, he was on the podium eight times, no one did better).
FC: There was a particular moment, in the England GP, that was frightening. Tell me about that.
AB: Yes, a little. There is a person that checks how fit am I each twenty days with some check-ups. Three weeks before I was perfect, then I went training in Belgium, on the sandy track of Lommel, and when I arrived to Hawkstone Park I was feeling good. Saturday I made the best time in the qualifications, and that was the maximum for me, on a sandy track like that. During the race, after twenty minutes I was empty, with no energy at all. It was really a hard race and in that moment Rinaldi and the others in the Team were thinking that was a mental problem, that I was nervous. But Monday I did my check-up and we discovered that the iron in my blood was totally over what it should be. Dr. Costa helped me again, he cured me and after other three weeks I was OK.
FC: After the British GP you reacted with some terrific races. Was there was a moment in which you thought ‘I did it!’, or did you wait until the very end?
AB: No, no, never until the end, because in the years before I always arrived to the last races with the best ones and then for my mistakes or something else I never get through the end. I’m not so young anymore (he was 31 on the 4th of November: Italian First World War Victory AnniversarySÃ¿): it was better to do it now than never!
FC: How was the first heat in Finland, when you conquered the Title with three heats in advance?
AB: It was hard, I was driving like I was a rookie. After the start I was second, and then I dropped to fourth place, but Peter Johansson (his challenger) was behind me, and he also was nervous like me, I hadn’t slept all night long. It was the longest moto of my life, it never seemed to end.
FC: The second heat was a lot different: you won.
AB: Yes, because I already had won the Title, and so I drove as I know.
FC: Who were your main challengers?
AB: Joel Smets, in the beginning, because he was the strongest and three times World Champ, Peter Johansson was fast, but I wasn’t thinking of him as the main challenger.
FC: Your Yamaha YZM 400 F changed a lot from the prototype you had back in ’97: it came closer to the stock one during the years. At the end you won the World Championship with the simpler one. What is your bike like?
AB: It’s normal, but the difference is that now I had a bike more similar to the one I’m training with, that’s a stock one. In the beginning I had the four stroke only for the races, and I was training with a 250 two stroke, that’s completely different, as a Honda from a Yamaha.
FC: What can we expect from Andrea Bartolini in the future?
AB: This coming season it will be tough, because a big name as Stefan Everts arrived, who’s the best one here in Europe, but I still want to win, now that I have learned how to do it! (He laughs) I think it won’t be easy either for him.
FC: How did the other 500 GP class riders receive you back in ’97?
AB: Not so well. I was coming from the 250 class, and they considered me quite a ‘missy’, even because I have normal size: they are giants of 90 kilos or more, close to two meters tall. I weight 67-68 kilos and I’m 1,72 meters tall: in each corner I founded them inside, trying to smash me out of the track. Now I’m more experienced, and as soon as I overtake them I run away, that’s better!
FC: Are there some respect and friendship between you all, or everyone does just his own work?
AB: No, we’re friends, …. my best friend is Peter Johansson, even if it looks strange, every eight-nine days we speak on the telephone, I ask him how his two children are. We’re friends, he’s the only one which I have these terms with.
FC: Now we’re talking about the other fantastic win of this year: with the Italian Team you also won the Motocross des Nations in Brazil, after winning the 500 World Championship. Probably you were the Italian rider that always believed in it.
AB: I think so. in ’97 we were close, with second place, with the same riders: Chicco (Chiodi), Claudio (Federici) and me. I arrived in Brazil after a long holiday, and until Saturday maybe we weren’t so sure of being competitive for the victory. Saturday I won my qualification heat, while Chicco and Claudio maybe didn’t push so hard. But the next day we all did the maximum, and came out the winners.
FC: This year you really seemed to be a close team. Is this kind of cooperation new this year, or did you already have it?
AB: We already had it. Chicco and Claudio and me are friends, but during the year we rarely have the opportunity of meeting each other, everyone works by himself to reach his goals. It’s good to meet together again after the World Championships, and we reached Brazil with the will of doing a good job, to create great harmony. We talked about the bikes, the races, the sponsors, about our world. Then we helped each other with suggestions and to make sure everyone did their best.
FC: In the first heat you started immediately after Joel Smets. Did that feel like a continuation of the World Championship?
AB: To tell the truth I arrived in Brazil with the will of beating him. He declared many times that he lost the Title only because of the problems of his bike, not because I was stronger. So I did my race to arrive always in front of him. (He doesn’t say it, but from Saturday he always was faster, from the first tests to the qualifications, to the two heats.)
FC: In the final heat you made a great battle with Stefan Everts.
AB: Saturday I knew that he had signed for Husqvarna and he would have a ride in the 500 class in 2000, so it was necessary to made him a good impression SÃƒÂ¿ (He laughs) But I was coming out from three weeks of holidays, so I worked hard on him for twenty minutes only, then I left, and I’m a little sorry about it. It’s the only regret of a fantastic weekend.
FC: Maybe you were thinking about the Team results.
AB: No, no, not at all! (He laughs) Just in the last laps, when they reported to me that we were winning and I shouldn’t do any mistakes, but until the last ten minutes I didn’t see anything, I was thinking only to give everything I have!
FC: When Everts overtook you and you immediately answered, going back in front, was he surprised?
AB: (He laughs) Yes, maybe. 250 riders consider themselves as the best ones, but I wanted to show that they’re wrong.
FC: Then it was the triumph: how did you felt in the moment that you saw the checkered flag?
AB: You win, but not only for yourself: you win for Italy, your country, it’s something you feel deep inside.
FC: To celebrate with Chiodi we heard you had to pick him up in his hotel room.
AB: (He laughs) Yes! He was already in bed at nine in the evening, because he was really tired. So we, Claudio, Everts, Smets and me, went to pick him up and we told him that if he would not have come with us, we would stayed in his room all night long! So we went downstairs and we cheered, we drank a lot, we celebrated, we ripped our t-shirts, we threw ourselves in the swimming pool! We reached a good level I think! (He laughs)
FC: Some other questions: what do you think about American riders: you rarely had the opportunity to compete with them, but I know that once in Japan, during Yamaha tests, on the same track, the same day and the same bike you were two seconds faster than Doug Henry.
AB: For me they were superior until some years ago, but lately the Europeans are at the same level, at least, maybe even faster, on traditional natural tracks. About Doug Henry it’s true, but I don’t know and think if he was pushing as hard as I was.
FC: Did you ever have the opportunity or the curiosity of racing in the AMA races?
AB: Never, until now, but I would like to do some AMA National races. Unfortunately it’s really hard to organize it, because of the calendars, but if it would be possible I would do it with pleasure, for example if American Yamaha would invite me (To tell the truth, these last words were put in his mouth by me, but he agreed.)
FC: What is the level of the four strokes now, in comparison to the two strokes?
AB: If we’re talking as an Open class, it depends on the track. On the hard and traditional ones I think four strokes are better. I prefer four strokes, I think that my bike by now is superior in most of the tracks. In a direct comparison though, it is the driver who makes the difference now.
FC: Would you like to see the World Championship in only two classes: 125 and Open?
AB: It might be a good idea, and I think it would be even right. It could be good to increase the knowledge of our sport, and every change in this direction would be welcomed.
FC: Some personal questions: are you engaged or married?
AB: I’m engaged with Ylenia, we will marry, one sunny day.
FC: How many years do you think of going on racing, and what would you like to do after?
AB: I won’t go on for long, just as long as I have the will and I can reach good results, but I think maximum two years more. I don’t know what will I do after racing, but my parents own a building contracting company, and I probably will work in it.
FC: Would you like to be a tester that covers the development of the new bikes?
AB: I would like to, it would be amusing.
FC: Do you have a computer, do you surf on the Internet?
AB: Yes, I do. I have some fun sometimes. Just yesterday evening I was looking at Stefan Everts’ web page (www.stefan-everts.com), and I know even supercross.com. I’m not a fanatic, but half an hour sometimes I spend on it with pleasure.
FC: What is your favorite food?
AB: Pasta: I’m from Emilia-Romagna! (The birth place of pasta.)
FC: Do you have a favorite kind of music?
AB: Not so much. I like Italian Rock music, such as Zucchero or Ligabue, this kind of musicians, but it also depends on the moment.
FC: And how about movies?
AB: I like action movies, like Lethal Weapon, or Die-Hard.
FC: Do you have any hobbies?
AB: Mountain bike or even road bike, they’re also a good training. I like to do mountain climbing and free climbing, but only when I have the time, and no more than two or three times per year, if more, my forearms would become hard as a stone!
FC: That’s all Champ, thank you very much, you are extremely kind!
AB: Thank you. Best wishes to everyone at Supercross.com and to all the American fans. I hope to come to see a Supercross race in person once, it’s something I’ve never done!