Interview: AMA 250 National Champion Greg Albertyn
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!)