Going into the 2003 series, my strategy was to be consistent and score points in every moto. Looking back now, I realize I accomplished that – I was the only rider to score points in every moto. That made a difference in the end I believe.
At the first round in Glen Helen, I finished third in the first race, and won the second. I was happy about winning a moto, but also wishing I could of won the overall.
For the next round in Sacramento, I didn’t do much different as far as my during the week training. My focus however, was to win. I won both motos two years ago there. The first moto was a disappointment – I landed on a hay bale, and crushed my exhaust pipe – the bike had no power. Then I went off the track. Basically I had a bad first moto. I ended up seventh. In the second moto I finished fourth.
Then we went to Mt. Morris. That event was even worse for me. I crashed in practice and fractured a bone in my hand. I just rolled around the track during the races. It wasn’t what I was hoping for. I wanted so bad to be on the podium. I got fourth in both races.
For Southwick, I figured things had to get better. But there I really hit bottom for the season. I was involved in a first moto first turn crash with Mike Brown. Mike and I were way back. I think he finished 21st, and I finished 16th.
It’s got to get better for the second moto, right? I got a decent start, made a couple of passes, and then crashed all by myself on the first lap. As I was picking up my bike, I got hit from behind – it smashed the rear fender, and it twisted the front end. I came from near last to finish seventh. I rode well, but seventh just isn’t the result I wanted.
I needed to turn things around. I was now 29 points behind in the championship.
I was starting to feel like things were turning. We went to Budds Creek, and I had a good day there. I hung in the first moto for a while with Bubba, but then he pulled away. I figured ‘Hey, he’s not in the championship, just settle for second’. In the second moto, I didn’t get the best start, but I came from a ways back to third position. That gave me second overall, which at that stage of the season was good. It enabled me to pass Ryno in the points, and I made up points on Brown.
Once I get a good routine going, I like to stick with it. I’ll only change things up if what I’m doing isn’t working. So when we have more than one week between races, I do the same basic weekly routine. At that point, I knew what I needed to do if I was going to win the championship. It was just a matter of putting that into practice.
Even with a strategy, sometimes in racing things just don’t go your way or how you planned. You can’t control everything that happens in racing.
Heading into Red Bud, I’m thinking only about the championship. Winning is good, but not the most important thing – the championship is what it’s about. I just needed to be up there every moto, every weekend.
First moto – terrible start. I was one of the last guys around the first corner. At one point, I was 35th in the moto. I came back to tenth. I was disappointed. I was riding well, but I couldn’t get around people on that track like I normally do.
The second moto was better. I got a good start, and finished second. But I wasn’t happy my inconsistency.
Next race was Unadilla, and that was a good race for me. I did have one little problem though – in the first moto, my rear shock broke – I just had the spring – no dampening. I bounced off the track when that happened, and Jesseman passed me. I ended up third. In the second moto I finished second. Overall, it was a good weekend. I made up a few more points on Brown too.
Things were turning around for the better now. I found myself thinking about the guys in the championship chase with me, especially Brown because he was in front of me by one point.
I normally concentrate on what I do to prepare, but I was using those thoughts as extra motivation. It was time to dig deep, make an extra pass, give it that little something ‘extra’. I was thinking about what Brown and Hughes were doing to prepare during the week.
Leading up to Washougal, I had some kind of sickness – I didn’t even know exactly what it was – but I was physically tired all the time. I didn’t practice during the week. Saturday at the track was my first day of riding. In practice, I was involved in a huge pileup. 10 riders piled-up on top of each other on a jump. The flagger just stood there with the flag straight out. I crashed, and hurt my wrist.
I had to get a pain shot in my wrist before the race. I rode decent enough considering. I was completely drained. But at the end of the day, I was the points leader.
We had two weekends off from racing, and I rested almost the entire time. I didn’t recover from the sickness, and my wrist was still sore.
Next race was Millville. I love that track, and normally do well there. But I still wasn’t 100% healthy. I was trying to push, but I was only able to circulate the track. Once again, I knew I could do better. I finished fifth overall.
At the minimum, I was adhering to the initial game plan – score points in every moto. Out of the championship contenders, even with my inconsistency, I was still the most consistent.
Our next stop was Binghamton NY. I went down in the first moto. How many races could I shoot myself in the foot? I was struggling again to put up two good results on the same day. I finished tenth in the first moto, and followed that up with third in the final moto. I did lose a few more points to Ryno. But I was the one leading the points. If I was inconsistent, what were the other guys feeling?
Then we went to Steel City, which turned out to be the final round of the series, but we didn’t know it then. I remember thinking “I just need to leave Steel City in the points lead”. I was keeping an eye on the weather in Ohio, and I had a feeling that the race could be canceled again.
The first moto was not great. I fell, and came back to eighth. But the second moto was one of my best races of the year. I was outside the top ten, came past Ryan Hughes, and finished second to Bubba. Ryan was hanging with me most of the race, and at the end I picked up the pace a bit. Ryno ended up crashing, and finished fourth.
Some say you are only as good as your last race. My last race at Steel City was definitely one of my better rides all season. That race ended up being the championship. Ryan and I were both under a lot of pressure, and I beat him, and ultimately won my first championship in America.
What does this mean now to have won my first AMA championship? To me personally, it means so much. Two years ago I came very close to winning the championship, only to experience heartbreak at the end. I had a few other periods of bad luck since then too, but that’s part of racing.
It’s difficult to put the feeling into words. Only a few people have won world motocross championships and then come over to the USA to win an American championship. It’s an awesome feeling to have won a title on both sides of the Atlantic now.
Growing up in South Africa it was my dream to become a world motocross champion. While I was in Europe accomplishing that, I set a new goal to come to America and win a championship. I’ve finally done it.
For 2004, I’ve set a new goal for myself: the 250 class.