Interview: JEREMY MCGRATH
The Legend Returns
By Ken Faught 11/15/04
Two years ago the motorcycle world was by shocked by Jeremy McGrath's sudden
retirement. The announcement came just two days before the 2003 series was
to begin at Anaheim stadium, and the sport hasn't been the same since. It
was certainly not the way the sport's greatest rider wanted to make his
exit, and that has bothered him to this day. Blame it on injury, the
challenges of adapting to a new bike, or whatever you want, the sport has
had a void without its king.
There were hints at a possible comeback in 2004 and he gave it a lot of
serious thought. Several manufacturers offered him some big really money, in
fact, more than he made at the peak of his career. In the end, Jeremy
decided that he would only race full-time if he could be a true title
contender and passed on all offers.
Now, McGrath is back on his own terms, albeit part-time. He's reunited with
Team Honda and will ride a handful of events on a works Honda CR250R.
Instead of chasing titles and rewriting the record books, he's all about
fun. However, that doesn't mean the boy will be slow. Just three months ago
he was the sixth fastest rider at the AMA 250cc National in Steel City,
Pennsylvania. Not bad considering that he hadn't raced a major outdoor race
The 2005 supercross season has the potential to be the most-exciting year in
more than a decade. It's so competitive that few people want to go out on a
limb and try to predict a champion. After all, Chad Reed is riding a new
aluminum-frame Yamaha, Ricky Carmichael is on a new Suzuki, and James
Stewart is making his 250cc stadium debut for Kawasaki. All three of these
speedsters are amazing starters, and anything could happen. It's why all
eyes will be on Anaheim stadium come January 8th as McGrath returns for his
return to racing, but there's a lot more to the story.
I was fortunate enough to have been riding with him four months ago on a
four-day trail ride in Hawaii when all of the serious offers started to
materialize. I've been friends with Jeremy for 19 years and was flattered
that he would ask my opinion and share so much insight on his new deal. Now
that everything is wrapped up, I spent last Monday with the seven-time champ
at his home in Encinitas, California. He had just returned from three days
of testing at the famed Castillo Ranch in the central part of the state. He
seems motivated, energetic, refreshed and ready to go racing.
KF: What's retirement been like?
JEREMY: It really doesn't feel like I retired. My vision of retirement was that
everything stops, and if anything, I've gotten busier. Maybe it's with more
meaningless things, but I've been as busy as ever. The funny thing is, I
still ride all the time whether it be for fun or testing for Honda. It's
still what I love to do.
KF: What kind of fun things have you done in the past two years?
JEREMY: I have enjoyed my time off and I have been able to do a lot of things
that I didn't have time to do when I was racing. Like Xgames,
snowboarding, I have also played a lot of golf. I have just enjoyed being
able to hang around the house, go ride my 50, spend time with Kim and my
family, go out to Lake Havasu and play on my boat. My schedule is very
unpredictable. Someone can call me, and say, "hey let's go do some photos,"
or Victor (Sheldon) will call me and say "let's go ride 50s." I can say
"alright." I didn't know what I had planned that day. It's great I can
change my schedule at the drop of a hat.
KF: A lot of people were surprised that you went out and had the sixth
fastest lap time at Steel City this past summer. Although you've won some
outdoor titles, you were really known as a supercross specialist. Did your
speed surprise you a little bit?
JEREMY: Ultimately my goal was to go out there and be a top five guy. The
reality of that was a little slim, but people got really jaded about my
motocross career because I won so much in supercross. The fact is, when I
put my head into it, I was a great outdoor rider. Jeff Emig was an
unbelievable outdoor rider and I was beating him regularly. I didn't know
what to expect at Steel City, but I did have high hopes. There was no way
going into Steel City that I would be claiming anything because I hadn't
ridden a National since '99. Steel City was cool for me, but the hardest
part was adapting to the works Honda. I have a great practice bike, but it's
a lot slower than the race bike. So, when I got on the race bike, I felt
like it was pulling my arms off because it is so fast. I felt extremely
nervous. I felt like everyone was looking at me. I could feel everyone
staring at me while I was riding on the track and it was a little more
pressure than I expected. I made a bunch of rookie mistakes in the first
moto, but the second moto was looking good until the bike broke.
KF: What happened with your supermoto plans for this year?
JEREMY: It all started in the '03 supermoto season. Troy Lee and I just wanted
to go out and have some fun. He was all into it, we've been buddies, and we've
been friends forever, and I was like "yeah, let's go have some fun." We had
a Fleetwood motorhome and a Weekend Warrior trailer, and Scott Bell and I
got to drive across country. That was cool! Then things started to get too
serious after X-Games and I just wasn't into it.
KF: When did you decide to do the step-up competition at X-Games?
JEREMY: I've been thinking about doing stepup for a few years, and I was excited
to be invited, first of all. Stepup was probably on the verge of going out
until this year when Matt Buyten and myself had the great battle. My
decision to compete really came when I learned that they were going to have
supermoto. That meant I could do two events. If you look at the whole
X-Games program over the '04 year, the stepup was probably one of the most
exciting events. Face it, they had an hour time-slot for TV and they went an
hour 40 because it was so dramatic. You couldn't have written a better
script. Matt's shoulder kept popping out, and we didn't know if he could
come back. I thought I had it won three times. I think our battle will stand
out for a long time. Unfortunately, his shoulder coming out was the best
thing that could happen for television. It sucked for him, and I was on pins
and needles trying to figure out if he was doing to ride and whether or not
we could make the height. We did 33 feet 17 times between the two of us. I
made 33 Þ to win, but it was incredible, and I was really happy to be part
of the X-Games. I came back and watched it on Tivo and was stoked. Having an
X-Games gold medal also doesn't hurt much!
KF: Do you think things would have changed if you had stayed with Yamaha for
JEREMY: I'm not sorry that I retired because at that point in my life it was so
consumed with responsibility. Having your own team with five or six people
working for you is a lot of work. I took too big of a bite. I wish that '02
would have been better because Anhueser Busch stepped up and sponsored the
team. The end result was third, but it really wasn't me. I worked myself too
hard. I was injured, and things didn't go the way I planned. I was trying to
reach for more so I could beat Ricky Carmichael. In '02 when Yamaha gave me
the terrible offer after winning three tittles for them, I felt it was a big
slap in the face. I really enjoyed the people at Yamaha, it was just
unfortunate how it turned out. When I signed with KTM they really wanted to
make a serious attack on the supercross season. You get down to the bottom
of it and they weren't ready. There bike isn't ready for it, until they make
some major, major changes. Part of my deal is that they were going to make a
supercross edition with linkage. They have the E/XC and all of these desert
bikes, you have all of this good stuff for different applications, and our
deal was that they needed to build me a supercross bike. They kept giving me
the "yea, yea, yea," and it never happened. If you look back, it was a bad
decision because of the way things turned out. I had high hopes, and trusted
them, and they trusted me, and we just never saw eye-to-eye in the end.
There are so many people at a manufacture like that I realize that they can't
make this huge change for one person. But I guess my hopes were too high.
But to get back to the question, I don't know if I were still at Yamaha if I
would be racing in '05. I definitely would have been racing all the way up
to this point.
KF: How disappointed were you at how things ended in 2002?
JEREMY: I was extremely disappointed. I had high hopes of getting my title back
but things don't always work out the way you plan them to. I over trained
in '02, and then got injured a few times. That was the beginning of the end.
I was trying to get more, more, more and just went over the limit. I was a
training fanatic, and it didn't work. I've always been able to walk the fine
line of too much training and not enough training, but this time I just went
all out. Carmichael really surprised in '01 when he won the title, and I
wanted to get him back. I think every great champion thinks along the same
lines, it's just that I pushed it too far.
KF: How do you feel right now?
JEREMY: I'm actually 100 percent again, mentally and physically I feel like I am
in a really great place. I love going to the SX track and riding, I haven't
felt this good on a bike in a long time. Regardless of what happens at
Anaheim I won't regret my decision to come back and race because at the end
of the day I will be doing what I love to do.
KF: How did you go about setting up your new race program?
JEREMY: Well, I've been testing for Honda for a long time and there have been
offers on the table now for a while. I had offers to sign on for an entire
season I mean Suzuki was interested, Kawi was interested, and Honda too. My
first choice was always with Honda because I knew that was the bike that I
really wanted to ride if I was going to return to SX. I have had a lot of
success with Honda and so when I decided that I was going to race some races
It was important to me to have their support.
KF: How will your new team function?
JEREMY: I'm in the same position as (Ernesto) Fonseca, (Travis) Preston and
(Andrew) Short when I go to the races, or as Carmichael was last year. I'm
officially on the team, and when I'm at home and want to do A Day in the
Dirt, or Mammoth, or X-Games, I can use a factory bike. But I practice on my
own bike which is a Pro Circuit CR250 or CRF450. When I'm at home, I run my
own FBC/Honda/One industry sticker kit. When I'm on their bike, I run their
Woody Woodpecker Honda graphics.
KF: A lot of people have been surprised at your return to Honda. Is there
still any bad blood between you and management?
JEREMY: No, not at all. I'm grown up now, and we've all learned a lot through
that situation. That situation is one of the biggest things that ever
happened in motocross and supercross. I feel really welcomed back to Honda
and it doesn't really matter if someone else wanted to pay me, I would be
buying my Hondas. In fact, I bought a Suzuki (RM250) and bought a Honda
(CRF450) right after I retired.
KF: Even if you didn't have contractual problems with Honda at the end of
the '96 season, a lot of people including me don't think that you could have
won on the '97 aluminum-frame CR250?
JEREMY: You are probably right, and I probably wouldn't have won the three
supercross titles either. The Yamaha was so good at the time, and it might
have been a blessing in disguise. But unfortunately, that wasn't the way the
deal worked out. We had some different views and it was more about some of
the restrictions they were putting on me. In the end, ultimately, I remember
the last day of riding Hondas. That's when I realized I couldn't ride this
bike. It was at Glen Helen when we were testing for outdoors, and I couldn't
ride. It was ironic that all of the contract stuff wasn't done. If the
contract would have been done at the time, then I probably would have had a
bad year on that bike.
KF: Do you see your entry into supermoto as your tie back into Honda?
JEREMY: Supermoto did open the door. That got me talking to Chuck Miller and Ray
Blank again and I feel fortunate for the opportunity. Honda did not hire me
to win races, which is kind of a cool feeling. They hired me because I'm
Jeremy McGrath and I've had a great history with Honda and I can come out,
test their machines, help mentor some of their riders, and I can still join
in the game. It's a really unique position and I feel fortunate about it.
The level of the playing field is way up so It's going to be interesting. I
know that I'm not going to get fired on Monday if I get 10th, and that's a
great feeling. I just want to ride the tracks and experience that again.
KF: You say there is not pressure, and yet you said you felt a lot of
pressure at Steel City. How can that be?
JEREMY: That is a different type of pressure. When I get to supercross, and I
feel like everyone is looking at me, I shine. When I get to motocross, and
people stare at me, I get intimidated a little bit because I feel like I don't
have as much of an advantage over the competition. It's not my home court
and I feel like a boost of confidence when I ride a supercross track.
KF: How many races will you ride?
JEREMY: I'm not sure, but it could be as many as seven. It all depends on how
things turn out at Anaheim in a few weeks.
KF: What kind of goals have you set for yourself?
JEREMY: Realistically my goal is to be in shape so I can race hard the entire
20 laps. If I can mix it up at the front, that would be good. My goal is
to get good starts, because I think that is one of my strong points, and
hopefully I can start with Carmichael and Reed. It would be awesome if I
could get top five, but if I don't, I'm not going to beat myself up. I'm not
going to claim that I will be a top five guy, because it's been 2 years
since I raced supercross so who knows. If I do end up there that's just
icing on the cake.
KF: Have you thought about the fact that Carmichael, Stewart and Reed are
also holeshot artists too?
JEREMY: It should be exciting, that's for sure. A lot of things can happen and
the starts can make or break the championship this season.
KF: Who is going to be the guy to beat in 2005?
JEREMY: I don't even know but I don't think there is going to be just one guy.
I talk to Chad, and I talk to RC, and I consider them to be good friends of
mine. I know that Reed loves that new aluminum frame and RC likes his new
bike. This possibly could be one of the greatest supercross seasons in a
long time. There are three legitimate contenders.let's just hope that they
mix it up and everyone stays away from my record. (laughs)
KF: What's going to be the most difficult thing to relearn in racing?
JEREMY: Throughout my racing career, I used to holeshot, ride fast for five or
six laps, and I would watch the rest of the guys and go their speed. Now the
pace is faster. Every square inch of the track you need to be on the gas.
KF: Have tracks changed since you retired?
JEREMY: I don't think they've changed much. If anything they are less technical
which makes the pack tighter.
KF: What do you think about Ricky Carmichael?
JEREMY: He is the man. He's proven a lot of people wrong. When I first started
racing against him, he was this chubby kid, who was really wild, and now he's
really reinvented himself. He's put in the hard work, put in the time, and
he's impressive. When he was riding 80s he used to come stay with me. From
then until now he's really become a man. He's a great guy at that. He knows
how to work hard and how to take care of business. When I read things about
Carmichael and hear him in the interviews, the guy has really grown up a lot
in the last few years. He's a lot more personable, and much more of the true
RC that I remember as a kid. That's what the fans need to see because it's
the real him. Bottom line is that he works his butt off and he wins races.
It doesn't matter where it's at, he wins. I thought I won a lot -he wins a
lot -he wins a lot more. At the end of the day, RC gets it done. Ricky
deserves everything he has.
KF: What do you think about Chad Reed?
JEREMY: I think he's amazing too. He is determined. He's hungry and I think he
knows that there is a little star there that says Carmichael wasn't there.
So, I think that Chad will want to prove to the world that he didn't just
win because RC wasn't there and I think that will be great motivation for
him. I think that Reed is a strong rider, and definitely fast enough. He has
a style of riding where he doesn't take a lot of chances. I look for Reed to
win a lot of races and be in the title contention for sure. It will be
interesting to see those two guys race together. I think Ricky will have to
push harder than he did before, and when he pushes hard, sometimes he makes
KF: What do you think about James Stewart
JEREMY: I don't know if Carmichael could beat him outdoors. Carmichael is
amazing outdoors, and Chad still has to learn a lot, but if Stewart can ride
a 250 like he does a 125, I don't think Carmichael can beat him outside. And
I haven't seen Stewart ride 250s on a supercross track, but I'm sure he will
be amazing. The question in my head is whether he can hold it together for
16 races. He tries to go so fast that he's bound to make a few mistakes.
KF: What do you think about Travis Pastrana?
JEREMY: He can run race pace, but he can't do it for more than five laps before
he crashes. I don't look for Pastrana to do anything. If he finishes some
races, I would be surprised.
KF: What do you think about Kevin Windham?
JEREMY: He's one of the most amazing riders that I've ever seen. He's smooth,
technical, but it really has to be on Kevin's terms. If he's feeling good
that day, then it is possible that he can get in there and get some race
KF: Windham's going to ride a 450 and you'll be on a 250. Why did you pick
JEREMY: Honda made some big, big motor changes on the 250 for '05. Honda was
lacking against the Yamaha for the last few years. And the chassis has come
a long way since Carmichael rode it two years ago in supercross. I think it's
pretty good. It was behind the other two bikes (Yamaha and Suzuki). The
reason I'm riding a 250 is that I have 20 years experience on the
two-stroke. My lap times might be faster on a 450 if I were on the track by
myself. But the minute you get into a battle, the 450 becomes a big bike and
it's kind of hard to flip around. I think one of the reason that Kevin rides
the bike so well is that he's so big.
KF: What is your biggest regret?
JEREMY: My biggest regret is pulling off and not finishing the race in Washougal
in '96 at the National. That was two weeks after I hurt my foot at Millville
and I was so frustrated. That track is really slippery and I crashed three
or four times in the first couple laps of the first moto and I got so pissed
that I just went to the truck, changed my clothes, left the track and went
home. That was stupid and it cost me the title. I only lost the title by a
few points, and if I would have cruised around in 10th or 12th I could have
won the title. That goes to show you that every point really does count. I
do not DNF races, and that day I pulled off and that one instance cost me a
KF: What's the coolest thing you've ever done on a motorcycle?
JEREMY: I don't know. I think I do something cool everyday when I go riding. I'm
always looking for fun little stuff. Of course, some of the big jumps that I've
done have been pretty awesome, but I can't pick one thing in particular. My
life is filled with great experiences on the motorcycle.
KF: So, that would be the same if I asked you about the most fun you've had
on a motorcycle?
JEREMY: Well, put yourself in my situation, like when you and I went to Hawaii a
few months ago. You and I had a really fun time with Albee. That day we had
the most fun ever - it was killer. Then we could go to Glamis and ride and I
would probably be saying "dude, this is the baddest ever!" Or you go to
Ocatillo Wells or you go to Castillo Ranch. I'm fortunate to have great days
all the time.
Top 10 Favorite Places to Ride
1. Mammoth Lakes, CA
2. Ocatillo Wells, CA
3. Glamis, CA
4. Castillo Ranch (Central California)
5. Anaheim Supercross (Anaheim, CA)
6. Guy Cooper's house (Stillwater, OK)
7. MC MX (Temecula, CA)
8. Southwick, MA
9. Reche Canyon back in the day
10. Beaumont, CA
McGRATH'S WIN LIST
7-time AMA 250cc Supercross Champion ('93 -'96, '98-00)
2-time AMA 125cc Western Region SX Champion ('91-'92)
1-time AMA 250cc National MX Champion ('95)
72 - AMA 250cc Supercross wins
13 - AMA 125cc Western Region SX wins
2 - AMA 125cc National Championship wins
15 - AMA 250cc National Championship wins
ALL-TIME AMA 250cc SUPERCROSS WIN LIST
1. Jeremy McGrath 72
2. Ricky Carmichael 33
3. Ricky Johnson 28
4. Bob Hannah 27
5. Jeff Ward 20
6. Damon Bradshaw 19
7. Chad Reed 17
7. Mark Barnett 17
7. Jeff Stanton 17
10. Jean-Michel Bayle 16
11. David Bailey 12
11. Ezra Lusk 12
13. Kevin Windham 11
13. Mike Bell 11
15. Broc Glover 10
16. Mike LaRocco 9
17. Ron Lechien 8
17. Jimmy Ellis 8
19. Jeff Emig 7
20. Johnny O'Mara 7
21. David Vuillemin 7
AMA 250cc SUPERCROSS CHAMPION
2004 - Chad Reed
2003 - Ricky Carmichael
2002 - Ricky Carmichael
2001 - Ricky Carmichael
2000 - Jeremy McGrath
1999 - Jeremy McGrath
1998 - Jeremy McGrath
1997 - Jeff Emig
1996 - Jeremy McGrath
1995 - Jeremy McGrath
1994 - Jeremy McGrath
1993 - Jeremy McGrath
1992 - Jeff Stanton
1991 - Jean-Michel Bayle
1990 - Jeff Stanton
1989 - Jeff Stanton
1988 - Rick Johnson
1987 - Jeff Ward
1986 - Rick Johnson
1985 -Jeff Ward
1984 - Johnny O'Mara
1983 - David Bailey
1982 - Donnie Hansen
1981 - Mark Barnett
1980 - Mike Bell
1979 - Bob Hannah
1978 - Bob Hannah
1977 - Bob Hannah
1976 - Jim Weinert
1975 -Jim Ellis
1974 - Pierre Karsmakers