Angela: You’re riding with American Honda this year. Tell us about the team, your mechanic and your own personal support system that keeps you on track.
Nate: Team Honda really lives up to its reputation. Everybody thinks that if you get on with Honda, it’s the best thing going. It’s true. And what I’ve seen so far, I really believe they have their act together. Anything you need or want they can have or have made for you with their resources. Honda has a winning attitude, so you feel very confident with a team like that, and it’s very comfortable for me.
Fortunately, Erik Kehoe and I worked together at Yamaha of Troy, and I look up to him because he’s a former racer. It’s easy to work with a guy like that, who can relate so well, and is easy going and gets the job done.
My mechanic has been with me most of my career. We are like brothers. We grew up in the same town, we live three miles apart, and our families know each other. It makes it so easy for me to have such a good bike and good product and so many people around me that make me feel so comfortable.
How about your teammates? How do you get along with them? What about the rest of the staff? How about the bikes?
When Honda put the team together, they were definitely going for it. They took a couple of years to regroup, and they hired Ricky. Everyone can see why, he has got his act together! I get along very well with Ricky – we have since we were on Pro Circuit Kawasaki together. I’ve always tried to learn from him because he’s been a superstar his entire life. I try to pick up things here and there when we’re practicing, and listen to what he has to say. I try my best to learn from him. Maybe at some point I could teach him something? (laughs)
Ernesto and I have always got along great, especially since we worked together last year. Ernesto and I go riding together, we play tennis, and we meet up to do testing together. We joke around a lot, and that makes the atmosphere easygoing. Ernie also has the same mechanic as before, so that’s another familiar face.
Sebastian is a really nice guy, great to work with, and he sticks to business. I try to pick up things from Sebastian and Ernie as well. Both are so precise on their bikes. Every rider has something different to throw in there, and I’m able to gather it all up and put it to use for myself.
Honda Motorcycle Racing Manager Chuck Miller has a vision for American Honda. And now it’s turned out to be a good package because there are no stones left unturned with our racing program. We have Jonathan Hiland that meets us out at the test track to help practice. It’s awesome because Honda sends someone out so we can get a good day of practice and that’s a pretty big deal, when you think about all the things that could happen. You ride two minutes and you get a flat or your bike breaks and you are done for the day. With Jonathan there, he can take care of all that. So that’s a perfect example of Honda’s impressive efforts.
Is it so much fun to ride the CRF 450! You think that it sounds like a huge motorcycle, but it doesn’t feel like a 450 in size. It runs really fast, but it’s mellow to the point where you can ride it and have fun on it without feeling like it’s such a big motorcycle. For me, the four stroke suits my style very well because I am a little erratic on the two stroke, and it’s helped smooth me out. The power is much more consistent and there is so much torque you don’t have that kind of off/on as with a two stoke. The power gives me an advantage in certain areas. So it’s worked out really good for me. And like I said, Honda is prepared to do whatever to make me comfortable and construct an amazing motorcycle. Now, it’s just a question of me getting on it and going fast.
Your performances in supercross this year were fairly consistent. What is the foundation of that success?
I think it was a pretty good year too. I learned a lot. I hired Jeff Spencer as my trainer. As many people know, he is just a super guy, knows so much, and has a really good reputation. He has worked with Honda before too.
Also, it wouldn’t be complete without my wife, who supports me in everything I do. And my parents, and her parents. I don’t have anything or anyone pushing against me, everything’s pushing forward. So, it makes it easy for me to focus and do the things I need to do – to go out racing and do as best as I can. I try to live my life right. I put God first in my life and everything else comes in the way He wants it.
Pontiac Michigan 2002 – Your first win in the premier supercross class on the CRF450. Take us through it.
Well, it was really weird because I had such a bad day. I wasn’t feeling good all day. And then I didn’t ride well in my heat race, I got 5th and that’s one spot out of qualifying. So, I went to the Semi and ended up in a first turn pile up but came back and got 6th, which is one position out of qualifying. So, then I had to go to the LCQ. I was really nervous in the LCQ. If you don’t make it there you’re done for the night! I ended up getting a good start.
I won the LCQ and that took a little bit of the burden off of me. At that point I was thinking “Alright, I am in there now and it couldn’t get much worse unless I crash or get hurt or something.” After being on the track that long, I had sorted out all the lines I needed to know. I decided when the gate drops I need to get a good start, be consistent, and not do anything super spectacular. I rode smooth and watched everybody bobble and crash around me. I actually fell over in a corner at one point in the race but got up as quick as I could.
The other guys were falling a little harder. It was crazy, but I just needed to be smart and ride my lines and do like I said I was going to do. I felt like it was going to work out and I felt like I could win the race. It all came down to me and Tim Ferry who was leading it. Timmy bobbled from one side of the whoops to the other and then fell over.
At that point I realized this is what I had been waiting for, and put my head down and rode as smooth as I could. I figured at that point if I pushed real hard I could end up falling. So I just needed to stay smooth, like I was doing, and so that’s what I did. I am not sure how many laps I was leading until it was over, maybe three or four. I just remember going over the finish line and seeing the white flag and thinking “Oh man, I am still leading this thing, and it’s a white flag lap!” I could hear the crowd cheering and I figured it was Ricky coming up but I didn’t know at the time. I said to myself “This is the last lap, he’s not that close and I need to do everything perfect then I got it!” So that’s what I did, with a minor bobble in the whoops, and then I came across the finish line. It was awesome! I had dreamed of that moment and played it through my head, but never thought I would be that excited – I was really excited!
What did you do to celebrate?
That was the only race that my wife didn’t go to, so I was kind of solo and I ended up staying at the track and hanging out with the mechanics. I hung with them and then we all drove to Detroit to catch the early flight out. We got something to eat and that was pretty much it. We lived it up amongst ourselves and talked about the Main Event. It was unbelievable with so much going on everywhere. I couldn’t get over it; I was just floating along!
The outdoor National season started, Round 1 at Glen Helen, what happened to you there?
Well, I would tell you if I could remember. Everything had been going good for testing. We went to Glen Helen, did the practice session and I felt totally fine on the bike. I didn’t have arm pump or anything like that. I was doing that little qualifier just to make it to Sunday and I came out second, went into first, and then it’s a blank after that.
I have heard different stories about the crash. Mike Healey told me I had just turned to come down ‘Yamaha Hill’ and hit a bump on the top. My hands came off the bars and then I flew over the front of the bike, and proceeded to get slammed and crashed the whole way down the hill. He said it was a pretty gnarly crash. But like I said, I have no memory of the crash and only remember bits and pieces of the race.
I suffered a grade 3 concussion and broke my elbow. That crash was not too fun, that’s the worst concussion I’ve ever had. You can’t remember anything about the crash or what happened and you want to figure it out, and find out why you crashed. It’s a little bit scary when they take you to the hospital and they do cat scans and things. I had headaches for a couple of days afterwards. It’s scary when you’re messing with your head, but I made sure everything was okay before I left.
Tell us about your roots, growing up, and how you came to be racing?
I have good parents, and they are really great role models. I have an older brother too. In school I did enough to get by. I had a lot of friends, and still talk to a lot of them. Everybody knew me as “the racer”. I also wrestled a bit through junior high but then I didn’t have time with racing and everything. In my senior year I corresponded during the Winter series in Florida. My mom taught me and I sent my work back for half a year and then I came back, finished everything up, and graduated with my class.
I did a couple of races when I was 12 and broke my leg. I didn’t really start racing seriously until I was 14. My brother Brent, who is 3 years older than me, was the first to race. He said “You have to come out!”. I went out there and I thought it was awesome! My mom and dad, me and my brother, and later my mechanic John Mitchell “Bundy” started racing as a family.
John was racing and he wanted to travel around with us a bit and he came out and raced with us. He was part of the family. When I went to Florida, he started doing little favors for me on the bike and we would trade little favors here and there. Then in 1993 we did the B class in the Winter series. I decided to go straight to pro, but I felt old, and like I had missed some time.
John said he would be my mechanic if I paid for his food. So from then on we traveled around going to all the races. So many people were really nice to us, and let us stay with them. People all the way from Florida like Timmy, Ezra Lusk in Georgia, and Buddy Antunez here in California. When we were struggling privateers there were so many great people helping us out. I definitely wouldn’t want to change anything. I like how things went down and I don’t mind having to work for things, so I’m happy with the way everything went.
You have your own family now too.
My wife Monica is originally from Riverside, California. We meet through mutual friends and we became good friends. We always seemed to have a lot of fun together and our relationship just progressed, then we got married. Everything went great. And we talked about having kids together soon because we wanted to be young parents, able to hang out with our kids when they’re older. Monica got pregnant three months after we were married, and we now have a twenty-one month old little girl named Tatum. It is pure entertainment, we watch her all the time. And we just can’t believe we have such a pretty little girl, and she’s so funny. We watch her and have fun with her. And some exciting news, my wife is pregnant with child number two! We kind of had a set time that we had to get pregnant so we would deliver the baby in the off-season. We kind of missed it a little and her due date is December 26th. It’s close but we will manage.
Has fatherhood changed you?
I think it has. I am more mature and I’ve grown up a lot. Being a father, you take a different outlook on everything you do, from racing to your career to what happens when you’re away from the track. In life there is always a lot of things that could happen and I’ve got a lot more to lose. Just like with the head injury. Maybe a couple of years ago I probably wouldn’t have gone to the extent I did to make sure everything was working fine. At this point when I have so much to lose and so much to take care of, I think things through a lot more.
For me, I put God first, then my family and then my racing. I have a good family that understands when I have to go to work, and practice, and train, and they are totally behind me, so it makes it easy. It’s not like I have to balance anything or juggle anything. My family enjoys going out to the races as much as possible, but I am sure it will be much tougher now with two children. I just try to include my family as much as I can and make motocross a part of their lives too. My family is always behind me and that makes it easy for me to focus.
We’ve seen tough tracks, strong racing tactics, and some risky moves this year. How do you deal with that?
Sometimes there’s some really sketchy things on the track. You may want to do it first, or hang back. It just depends on how it is. You can count on somebody that is going to do it, so you know it’s going to be done sooner or later, and most people are up for that challenge. So you know that you need to do stuff that is pretty hairy. For me, I just try to be smart. I think about things different. I just won’t go out there and jump everything the first lap or find the biggest jump and jump it.
How about your mental thought process?
Well, that’s probably 90% of how everything goes. All the riders are so good now-a-days. It comes down to what your thought process is and how you can handle situations. The mental game is huge. Look at Ricky, he is so confident, and he has so much going on that nothing really bothers him. It’s hard to explain because unless you’ve kind of experienced it then it’s hard to grasp the confidence things. But if you have your confidence, everything goes your way. You just need to get the ball rolling in your direction.
What happens if you lose confidence?
Well that’s what happens so much of the time with a lot of riders. You work so hard in the off season, you get there and you come to the first race and you do terrible or you are not were you need to be. And you just lose your confidence.
But if you have a strong head on your shoulders you can pull through that, just by working through it. You see a lot of guys not start off so good, and build as the year goes. And for me, I have the attitude that I will never give up. If I have a bad weekend then as long as I am still healthy I start working on the next race. There’s always a reason and there’s always something you can do better and figure out why you are having problems. So I never give up.
Conditioning and training. What’s your program?
I’m working now with Jeff Spencer. I’ve always trained, but now I’m confident in what I am doing. I have confidence in him knowing what needs to be done, and I have a direction. Before I would go for a run or a bicycle ride or go to the gym and not really know what I was shooting for. But now I have a direction and a way of doing things. And it all has a purpose, so I am not second guessing myself all the time. I know I am ready and I’ve done what I need to do for racing. If I were doing something else I would be doing a different type of training. I like to run and ride the bicycle and do gym workouts and pretty much the whole package. And of course a lot of riding. I can’t tell you precisely what I do though (laughs).
I have never had a problem working hard for what I want. I always thought I had to make up for lost ground. And I think it’s kind of what’s in your heart. If you don’t want to give up, even when you are tired, you can push through. There have been times when I didn’t feel like I could push through, but you dig down and you do what you got to do.
You could be the most fit guy out there but at some point there’s going to be some track that doesn’t agree with you and doesn’t suite your style and it’s going to get you in a weird position on the bike and get your breathing up or your arms tired or something. You need to use heart to push through. So, I think it’s more than just training hard.
What do you do away from riding?
I spend as much time with my family as I can. I like anything having to do with sports. I play tennis, basketball, and a lot of ping-pong for fun. Ernie and I play a pretty mean game of ping-pong, and tennis, and even basketball. Ernie is a consistent, quick player and we have a lot of fun hanging out.
|The First Win|
What does racing motocross mean to you?
It means a lot. It’s my well being and my way of life. It started out as fun, and now to be in the position where this is what I do as a career is incredible. I feel totally blessed. God has given me opportunities and certain doors open here and there. And it’s brought me to where I am at right now, and If it weren’t racing it would be something else. I am very happy and fortunate to be able to do something I love and have such a good life from it.
I’m 28 years old, but I don’t feel like it. Some people might say “He’s 28, he’s on his downside career-wise”, but I don’t feel that way at all. I am just getting in the grove in the 250 class. So it’s kind of just starting for me. I am going to go as long as I can, but at this point I feel young, and I’m raring to go. Like I said, my perspective on certain things is different, and that helps in a lot of ways.