October 11, 2000
We wanted to know what his thoughts were through out the 2000 season, and here’s what he had to say:
I went to the first three ‘West Coast’ events in the beginning of the year (Anaheim twice, and San Diego). I was curious to see the 125 West races, since a lot of the guys set to ride the West series got injured and moved to the East series. And a lot of the guys I expected to race against in the East series moved to the West. I was anxious to see how guys like Shae Bentley and Justin Buckelew were going to do. At the same time, all of us at Suzuki were doing full-on testing since early December. I tested all the way thru December and into January, and that was good for me. Guys like David Pingree and Robbie Horton, who were testing the same stuff as us, were doing well, so we had even more feedback on bike set-up. I was definitely happy to see those guys with the fastest bikes and spending time up front. The things that were going thru my mind then were ‘I feel strong, I’ve been training and testing, I’m ready’.
Then I got an opportunity to ride on Jeremy McGrath’s practice track right after the San Diego round. I had just gotten the OK from Roger DeCoster to ride a 250 in the next round at Phoenix. I was excited. I felt good. I was in good shape. I was riding 30 lap motos in practice for supercross on my 250. Then when I went out to Jeremy’s practice track, I broke my thumb. The throttle got stuck wide open, and I got sucked into the rear tire. I was only caught up in the tire for about two seconds, but there was blood everywhere. It burned right thru the muscle in my arm too. So besides my thumb, I couldn’t move my arm. I couldn’t do much of anything. My confidence went from an all time high, to way down in the dumps. I thought ‘All this training for the year, and I’m going to miss everything’.
Now riding the 250 went out the door, and I even stopped watching the West events. I went to the doctor, and he confirmed that I had a broken thumb and a torn muscle. But he told me that the muscle will heal by itself, and I can’t injure the thumb unless I did the exact same thing again. And with the cast on, there was no chance of that happening. I knew I wasn’t risking anything by riding, but the doctor told me to take as many days off as possible.
I could still jog, and ride my bicycle, but I couldn’t do much upper body workouts, and spent no time on the bike. The first day that I rode after that was at my first race of the year in Indianapolis, and I had to ride with a cast on. Going into that race, I wasn’t very confident of my stamina, or how I was going to perform, because everything was still very painful.
It was a neat feeling going into my first race at Indy, because this is what I’ve been dreaming about my entire life … racing professional motocross. I knew I wasn’t 100%, but I was thinking ‘This is the coolest day of my life!’
My family is very close, especially on my Dad’s side. My Dad owns a construction company, and the entire staff is family. Almost every day for lunch I go over there. My Grandma, who is 85 years old, fixes lunch for us. We are a pretty tight family.
Everyone was getting excited during the whole week leading up to my first race. All my family and all my friends were going to be there. I was kinda’ nervous, and excited at the same time. But I just didn’t know what to expect …. how much my hand was going to hurt and if I could tolerate the pain all the way thru a main event. Besides me having no idea what to expect of myself, Suzuki had no idea what to expect out of me either. I ended up fourth on the night though.
The thing that sticks out in my mind coming into the next race at Pontiac is that I caught the flu. I got sick on Wednesday of that week, and was sick and throwing up all the way thru Saturday morning. I was unable to run the practice session on Friday, and my hand still hurt. Again, I just wasn’t sure how my stamina was going to be, and my confidence level was way down.
In a way though, having the flu was a good thing. Instead of trying to run hard and stay with the leaders, I stuck to my game plan of just being consistent. I had the mind-set of ‘I’m going to go out there, get the best start I can, and then just remain consistent’. I didn’t ride as fast as I could, but I rode a lot smoother. Lots of people within the team complimented me afterwards, saying that I had changed a bit and looked smoother. It was definitely a step forward for me and my growing process.
After the Pontiac round, I stayed with Robbie Reynard. It was the first time in a while that I really got a chance to train and get ready. I went to Robbie’s house, and we rode and trained every day. We got up at 7am, were at the gym by 7:30, and we didn’t stop training and riding until it was dark outside. I was impressed with how hard Robbie trains, as he was coming back from an injury too. Our next race was in Atlanta. I finished fifth there.
Daytona was the first race where I had a lot of confidence. It was my first race with no cast on my arm, as I had it removed right after the Atlanta race. I stayed those two weeks beforehand at Robbie’s, and we worked and worked and worked. It was the first time I felt really confident that I could run 20 laps strong, not just 15 like in a 125 final. Daytona is the most grueling track on the supercross circuit, and I felt ready. Feeling ready is a big, big part of having success.
I showed up at the track, and I saw these big, long sets of whoops. I love whoops! This was the first race I came into where I thought ‘I have a shot at winning this!’.
I got a fairly good start, but I was still impatient during the race. I hadn’t learned to be patient yet. I went from fifth to first down a big whoop section on the second lap. Maybe that was a bit stupid, but I got the lead and I was really excited. One lap after I went into the lead, I was thinking ‘I’ve never been in the lead at a supercross before!’. I was so nervous … I knew I was going to crash! And sure enough, I did crash. I went over the bars, knocked myself silly, couldn’t see out of my left eye very well, and was really dazed. I got up, and I was still in second, which was good because I was able to follow Brock Sellards, who is a really smooth rider. I settled into his pace, realized where he was going faster and slower than I was, and thought ‘I really am going to win this thing!’. I got by him, pulled out a little lead, and that was the best feeling of my life so far, other than the fact that I was still dizzy 😉
Next up was St. Louis. That was one race where I rode really, really smart. I took the week off from riding after Daytona to let all my blisters heal. I felt very good going into St. Louis, and when I got to the track I saw a long whoop section again, and I was very happy about that. In the race, I got a bad start, but worked my way up. But the whole time I came thru the pack, I had patience and I took my time doing it. It’s one of the only races where I took my time, rode to my potential, didn’t push myself too far, and yet I won the race. That’s a big part of what racing is – the mental part that you know you can do it. It was a perfect race for me.
It was really a week off, but I went to the Minneapolis race. I wanted to watch the 125 West guys. It was getting pretty close between Pingree and Bentley. Plus I was checking out some of my competition in the 125 East. Brock Sellards did really well on a 250. I was also able to announce for ESPN TV, so that was cool.
After that, I started training hard for my next race in Pontiac, and I felt a lot of confidence. I got my first holeshot of the season in my qualifier, and I won that by a good distance. I felt good. I think Roncada got a bad start in that one. He’s the only guy I hadn’t gone one on one with yet. In the final, I got a good start coming around in second. I had a good battle going, but went down in the sand section as I was trying to pass Tyler Evans for the lead …. I got ran over! Then I got up, went into the next corner where Nick Wey and I went up high, and Michael Brandes came in and cleaned us both out! I don’t know if he hit the bumps wrong, or what, but he cleaned us both out. I had crashed in two consecutive corners! Brandes never let off …. he shot over the berm and launched himself out somewhere. Maybe his throttle got stuck. He was out for the rest of the supercross season and part of the motocross season! I did get back up, and worked my way back to second. Roncada won, but I felt good about my speed on the track.
Dallas was another West event. I spent the week training at Robbie’s house, and then watched him race in Dallas. And the week after that, we went back to Robbie’s house to train more.
The next East event was in New Orleans. It was the first race in the series where I felt I didn’t have the speed to run with the top guys. Roncada was on fire all night … he won everything. In the final, I crashed on the start. I came back into second, and Stephane was not that far in front. But every lap he pulled me. It was devastating to my confidence.
One thing that I never understood until this year, and I’m still trying to understand fully, is that you can only ride to a certain speed. I always thought that if you are faster than a guy one week, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be faster the next week too. I always pushed way over my head. I’m still doing it a little bit, but I’m understanding now that you can’t win every week. It’s very, very difficult to be the fastest every weekend.
Joliet was next, and it was the final round for points in the East. I realized I was a little too far out of the points, even though it was only six points. Both Stephane Roncada and Brock Sellards were tied for the lead at that point. I came into that weekend with the mindset of ‘I just want to win this race’. Even if they won the championship, I wanted to win this race. All the bosses were there from Suzuki, and there was a lot of pressure too.
I won my qualifier, and was set for the main. In the final I started well, in third. Halfway into the first lap, I was trying to go for the lead. I really felt that at this time, and on this track, I was the fastest. But then I remembered that I have the entire race …. I wanted to be smooth, stay consistent, and play things safe. I didn’t have to win the race in the first few laps. That was another learning step for me.
I was in third, passed Stephane, and Ernesto Fonseca was in front. Ernesto went a little slower than I thought over a jump, and I hit his back tire. I fell down, and almost took Roncada out too … he was right behind me. It’s something I should of known about Ernesto …. his style is not like a lot of guys where they jump out. Ernesto goes a little slower over the top so he can power down on the backside. It’s just a different riding style than a lot of the guys that I’m used to riding with. I should of realized this from watching all the videotapes. A little more attention on my part would of helped, but I’m aware of that now. I got up, kept going, but then fell again. I was riding way over my head to try and win this race even though it wouldn’t of mattered for the championship. I did come back to third. It wasn’t what I hoped for, and the guys at Suzuki for the first time were disappointed that I couldn’t settle in and stay smooth. That was a great learning experience for me again.
Now it was time for the outdoor nationals. The weather was still relatively cool, and I was doing 40 minute practice motos. I thought ‘This is easy! I can’t imagine anyone gets tired doing outdoor!’. But coming into that first round at Glen Helen, I was worried about my speed compared to the other guys. I thought no way would I even get into the top five. If I could get in the top five, I’d be thrilled! Why you might ask? Well, put it this way …. I have Steve Lamson’s jersey right here in my room … Tallon Vohland … I just got his jersey this year …. these are guys I’ve idolized my whole life. Now all of a sudden I’m on the starting line with them! I knew also that the guys I had been racing against, Roncada and Sellards, would be tough. And there were many guys that I hadn’t raced against yet. I didn’t know how they were going to treat me on the track. Were they going to take it to me? Bump me? Let me go? There’s a lot of stuff going on, and it’s just like starting all over again. That’s how I felt, so top five would be awesome. Suzuki was thinking the same thing. They hadn’t seen me outdoor, and they didn’t know what to expect. Our expectations coming into the year were to win the supercross, and then hopefully get a top three in the outdoor. When I wasn’t able to win the supercross series, we thought ‘Uh oh, this season could turn into a lot of trouble.’
In the first moto at Glen Helen, I started way back. Way back! I forgot to practice starts on concrete during the week, and I spun the rear tire. I was about 15th. Five laps into the moto, I was still around 15th. But first place was only about five seconds ahead. It was close! I’ve never raced with everyone so tight before. When you are watching, maybe it looks like it’s just fifteen guys playing ‘follow the leader’. The first 15 guys were so close! I think that’s because it’s the first round of the series, and everyone thinks they have a chance at the championship, and no one is holding back. I ended up that race finishing third. I passed Lamson on the last lap. I’m positive I was the most excited person in the world then! The entire last half of the race, I was battling with Lamson. I was afraid to pass him! I was thinking to myself ‘I can’t believe I’m battling with Steve Lamson!’. He’s the only single digit numbered guy in the entire 125 class!
In the second moto, I fell down, and tore some ligaments in my wrist. I had a cast put on my wrist after that race. It was my throttle hand. I finished the day fourth overall.
Suzuki was happy, my parents were happy. It’s amazing what your expectations are and how you feel compared to those expectations. If you feel like you are going to finish 20th, and you get 15th, you are ecstatic. But if you feel like you are going to get 10th, and then finish 15th, you are going to be disappointed. It’s all a matter of what you are hoping for.
For Sacramento, I had the cast on my wrist all week, so I didn’t get to practice. But I wasn’t worried, because it had been relatively cool all week. But coming into Sacramento on Thursday, the weather report said it was going to be 108 degrees. I was definitely not ready for that, and with the cast on my wrist, I was in a lot of pain. This week was going to be torture.
I couldn’t ride all week because of my wrist, but I did practice starts. I must of practiced a million of them! In the first moto, I got second off the start, and I was happy! Went about half a lap, flipped over the bars, landed really hard, and ended up puncturing a hole in the side case of the motor, and all the oil drained out. I got up, went about two more laps, and fell again. That’s when I realized I had no oil in the transmission. I had to park the bike. That was my first DNF of the season, but it was only the third moto of the outdoor season. I was devastated. Suzuki was supportive, but at the same time they thought ‘We are already out of the championship this early in the season’. And even though I did maybe half of that first moto, I was really tired.It was very, very hot.
Luckily, I went out in the second moto, and everyone else was already tired because they had to ride the entire first moto in the heat. I started out in fifth, made my way into second, and then Lamson passed me. Lamson was going so fast! I’ve never seen him ride like that! Well, maybe he’s ridden like that before, but I’ve never seen it! And coming from the week before, when I passed him, I thought I had the speed to stay with him. But Steve was gone! Lamson eventually went into the lead. Vohland, Ramsey, Fonseca and I were having a great battle for that second spot. I forgot to tape my glove on my throttle hand where I had the cast on. I ended up having to toss the glove off in the middle of the race, it was getting all balled up in my hand, and not doing me much good. My hand started to hurt really, really bad. When I looked down at my hand, all I could see was blood. My cast was digging into my hand as I was riding.
But it seemed like everyone else got tired, and I worked my way into second. I was really happy. I was hurting, but I was happy. A DNF/2 was not what I hoped for, but that second place in moto two was my best finish of the season so far. Now we were heading back to the east coast. But I thought I was completely out of the championship.
That next weekend we were going to race at Mt. Morris. But during the week, I went to France. I was nominated for ‘Extreme Athlete of the Year’. I knew with the blisters on my hand, and my injured wrist there was no way I could ride. Plus it was a once in a lifetime type of thing. And I had never been to Europe before. So on Monday I flew home to Maryland. Monday night I flew out to France. Some of the other nominees were Tony Hawke and Shaun Palmer. Shaun ended up winning it, and it was really cool. The actor Samuel L. Jackson was there, the President of South Africa was there …. it was a really sensational event.
For the Mt. Morris race, I flew back home to Maryland that Friday. I took off for the race track in Pennsylvania on Saturday morning. All my family went up there too, and we were expecting pretty good things ’cause I really like the High Point track. It ended up raining a lot. And I had been praying for rain all season. I love the mud! The entire season it had been raining and muddy on my practice tracks at home. When I saw all the mud, I said to myself ‘Wow, this is going to be great, ’cause I’ve been practicing a lot in this stuff, and maybe some of the other guys haven’t’.
I had a great start in the first moto, and ended up passing for the lead on the first lap. I did a ‘heel-clicker’ over the main jump on the first lap. I was pumped! I was really having a good time, and really confident. The cast on my hand was all wet and muddy and disgusting, but I was leading the first moto and I felt GOOD!
I’m going past a lapper, he crossed ruts, and knocked me off the track going on an uphill. But I couldn’t get going up the hill …. it was too muddy! So I went all the way back down to the bottom of the hill, and tried again. But I still couldn’t make it. So I went back down to the bottom and tried it for a third time. I finally got going again, and made it back into fifth place. On the last lap, my helmet was so heavy with mud I was trying to keep my head up with my shoulders. My goggles were gone a long time ago too, and I could hardly see anything. But it was the mud, and it was fun! Going into the final corner, I had a chance to pass Kelly Smith for first place, but my spark plug cap came off! So the bike just died. I thought it seized. In this moto I went from leading to a DNF. That moto was my second DNF of the series, and I didn’t know what to do, but we all thought the season was over.
In between motos, it poured. Lightning and thunder and rain. At that point I was just hoping they’d cancel the race. I’ve always enjoyed the mud, but at that time, I was just devastated. But the second moto did go thru. It was pouring rain! A few seconds after the start, my goggles were toast, I had to toss them. If you didn’t have the holeshot, your goggles were already useless. I was fifth after the first corner, but I was keeping it pinned. I was so mad. It was the first time in my life that I ever not had a good time while riding. I just didn’t want to be there. But after half a lap, I was in the lead. Vohland put up a good battle, but then he got stuck halfway up a hill. I ended up winning by over a minute in that moto. Coming over the finish line, I was smiling, and I’m thinking ‘OK, I like it, I’m glad we rode this second moto’. It was my first ever outdoor moto win. Kelly Smith won the overall, but I didn’t lose very many points to the leaders even though I had a DNF. I had mixed emotions …. I was disappointed, and happy at the same time. All my family was there, and they had a good time, so everything was great.
Right after that race, I immediately went to the doctor’s office to get a new cast, ’cause my cast was completely shot from that last race. I got the new cast, but I still couldn’t practice much because of the blisters. But I did practice a thousand starts! All I did is practice starts for two weeks straight before the next race at Southwick. It rained a lot those two weeks at my house, so I practiced those starts on wet concrete.
Made it to Southwick, and it was raining, but it’s not too bad on that track with the rain because the sand just soaks it up. But I couldn’t hang on with my new cast. I ended up cutting it off. It was supposed to come off the Monday after the race anyway. Then I felt pretty confident. The last time I had my cast cut off, I won. Everyone told me that this was the hardest, roughest track in the outdoor series …. but I like diversity. Give me mud, or sand, or something that’s really rough, and I like it and can usually do well.
Coming off the start of the first moto, I was third, and I was really happy with that. Tallon Vohland and I battled for second place for the first half of that moto. We must of collided about 15 times before he fell down! After that, I rode a conservative race, Nate Ramsey was leading and he got a bit tired, and I passed him to win that first moto. I was excited about that!
The second moto I got a good start again. But this time, my goggles fogged over. And this time I really, really gained a lot of respect for Tallon. We bumped into each other the whole moto. I bumped him as hard as I could, he bumped me as hard as he could. We were laughing the whole way around the track!
My goggles fogged up because my dad decided to put Vaseline on them so that sand wouldn’t get in. But air couldn’t come in either! So they fogged up really bad, I couldn’t see very well, and I ended up tossing the goggles halfway thru the race. And halfway thru the race, I’m right behind Tallon. I’d try to get by him, but the roost was too much for my eyes. So I’d dropback a little bit, and then try to charge right by him. Over a jump, we collided in the air really hard, and landed on each other. Afterwards, he said he thought he broke his foot. And his foot actually bent my rear disk brake! Now I had no rear brake, and no goggles.
We battled the rest of that race. I was lucky it was in the sand, ’cause you don’t need the rear brake as much in the sand. Every time I went into a corner I would yell at him ‘No brakes!’. I was able to pass him with half a lap to go till the checkered flag. It was my first ever double moto sweep. As soon as I came off the track I thought ‘This is the coolest moment of my life!’. And right away Tallon came up to me and said ‘That was the best race I’ve ever been in! No hard feelings buddy. We bumped, and that’s part of racing.’. That was cool too, ’cause I halfway expected him to come up and be mad. He’s a great guy, and he’s used to it, and realizes that’s apart of racing. That’s the kind of guy I like to race against.
I’ve never seen too much of that in racing before until this year. All year, Steve Lamson, Tallon Vohland, Stephane Roncada, Brock Sellards, and myself, we raced very cordially. For example, if Stephane and I were battling, we’d be coming into corners yelling and stuff, but we were having a good time. Having fun! I learned that Stephane would never come out of a rut to block me, and he expected the same thing from us. He’s a very cleanrider. Another example is if you are going to pass him on the outside line, he’s not going to come out and stuff you …. he’ll just continue to ride his own race and maintain his lines.
I can describe Budds Creek with two phrases: ice buckets and ankle sprains. I had my ankle in an ice bucket the entire week before that race. We had a week off after Southwick, but while practicing at my home track I went over a little jump that’s small enough for me to jump on my bicycle. Anyway, I washed out the front end on the take off, and ran over my foot. And then when I landed, I ran over it again. Both sides of my ankle were torn up, and the ice was to try and get the swelling down. That whole week leading up to Budds Creek, I couldn’t walk, couldn’t ride, couldn’t do much of anything. I really thought that I wouldn’t be able to race.
But, it’s my ‘home’ track, so I knew I had a little bit of an advantage. I didn’t practice, but I know the track very well. And I know how to get out of the gate there and be OK in the first corner no matter how well I started. I got two bad starts, but I ended up coming out in second and fifth because I was able to get around the first turn very well. I had a great battle with Stephane in the second moto. Not taking away anything from his ride, because I don’t think I could of caught him anyway because he was flying, but I was in so much pain I couldn’t even see straight. I did end up getting two seconds that day.
There is a little bit of pressure when you race at your home track. I had to give out 75 pit passes to all my friends and family and stuff. We bought a few, and Racer X helped us out too. It’s also nice, because with all my family and friends there I had a big support group cheering me on. It was a good feeling!
Red Bud is my favorite track on the entire circuit. It’s the coolest place I’ve ever ridden. But it was so fast, and not very technical. My ankle was still a little sore. My lap times were not that impressive because after practice Roger (DeCoster) came up to me and said ‘Is everything OK? Are you alright? Are you sure you even want to race today? Your lap times are around 15th to 20th’. I was a little bit disappointed.
This race was the first dirt start area of the season for us. And that’s what I was used to practicing on, so I was happy about that. I got a terrible start, and things weren’t looking too good because the track wasso fast with hardly any bumps. It’s a fun track, my favorite like I said, but I felt like I was getting smoked by everyone on the track. I got sixth place in that first moto. The second moto I was able to come back and salvage a second place.
At that point, Roncada was dominating. He dominated the next weekend too. My confidence was at an all time low. I knew I could get second, but I didn’t think I could beat Stephane.
Coming into Unadilla, that was one week where I was able to ride and train properly because I had no injuries. But in the first practice session there, I sprained my ankle again. Not as severe as before, but it still hurt. I had trouble even walking. It caused me to miss the next practice session.
Staying healthy is so important during a season. With my ankle hurting again during Unadilla, that was one of the first times I wasn’t praying for rain. When it rains, the track can get rutted, and you don’t want to be dabbing (putting your foot out) in the corners. I ended up getting a third and a second in the two motos. But I was blown away by Stephane. He came up to me, and just passed me. I was really down about that. I realized that he just could be the faster rider at that point. Of course I hadn’t been able to practice as much, but it sure would be nice to be able to run with him.
Maybe the key to the entire season was the next weekend at Troy. Because of what happened there, everyone realized he’s not invincible. He could be beat. I got the worst two finishes of the series there except for the DNF’s, and I made up six points on him. (Travis went 4/13, Stephane went 11/11, Brock Sellards was the winner.) So at that point in the season, I realized I still had a chance. I told myself that I just wanted to start winning some races.
All my injuries were now healed, and we were now coming into another one of my favorite tracks, Washougal. All during the week before that race, I practiced all the things where Stephane was faster than me. I practiced everything! I rode and rode and rode and rode all before Washougal. And I came there full of confidence.
The first moto, Stephane was gone, while I worked my way thru the pack. In the second moto Stephane had to work his way thru the pack, while Vohland and I had a really great race up front. When you are racing with Tallon, you never know what’s going to happen, and I love that kind of racing! Washougal is a fast track with a lot of hills, and I love downhills. I just pin it! 😉
At Washougal, there is this really long, rough whoop section. It has been my dream at some point during the season to win a race, and wheelie thru an entire whoop section. And I did it at Washougal. It was even better than winning the race! 😉 It was so cool! I blitzed across the entire thing on my back tire. It was the second moto, last lap. The crowd went nuts! I was tired, and a bit worn out, but I was going to do it. I’m sure everyone at Suzuki thought ‘Oh no! He’s going to loop out doing this!’.
Millville was a track that I had been waiting to race on the entire season. It has everything there. It has sand, it has hardpack, it has whoops, big bumps, big uphills, and big downhills. I think it’s the most diverse track of the year.
I couldn’t of asked for anything more coming into that race. I had no injuries, I was completely healed, and I was in shape. I felt very confident, especially coming off of a win in the previous race. In both races, I got second place starts, and by the end of the first lap I was in the lead. Stephane had some bad luck that weekend, and it put me right back into the championship chase. That was one of the big turning points of the season.
I had two overall wins in a row. I had won three individual motos in a row. It’s good mentally, but I hadn’t gone one on one with Stephane in those three moto wins. I knew he was still a threat, and I knew that I had to win the next four motos to even have a chance at the championship. I felt that I had a chance at the championship, but I just didn’t know how I fared one on one against Stephane. I was confident, but not overly confident.
There was one week off before the next race at Binghamton. Lots of people might think ‘Oh, man, he can’t wait for the next race to happen. It’s gotta’ be hard waiting all that time.’. But I went to the X-Games in San Francisco!
I finally figured it out. Earlier in the season, in supercross, when I was doing well, I was having fun. Fun was the key. During the week while practicing at home, I was freestyling. On Monday’s, instead of taking the day off from the bike, I was ou