Although just having turned 17 years old, Monster Energy/Kawasaki rider Austin Stroupe has so far been the revelation of the 2008 West Region Supercross Series. Although plagued by rookie inconsistency on a few occasions, by the time the supercross circus left San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium and headed East to put stakes in the ground in Houston last Saturday, the youngster had already reached the podium on two occasions. Then, on Saturday night before over 50,000 fans in Houston’s Reliant Stadium, Stroupe caught fire and won the first main event of his career. The latest in a long precession of talented young riders to be monitored by one Mitch Payton, if all goes to plan and he can bookmark his enormous potential with his brilliant talent, the mercurial Stroupe, who hails from outside Charlotte, North Carolina, could very well be yet another Pro Circuit champion in the making.
Austin Stroupe: Well, thanks. I got a decent start even though there was a lot of carnage in the first turn. Me and Jason Lawrence were back in about fifth and sixth. [Dan] Reardon made a mistake and I got by him. Then, on about the third lap, [Ryan] Dungey crashed in the whoops and Lawrence and I went past him. Lawrence and I were out front and gapped everyone and on about the seventh lap I passed him. He got me right back, but then I passed him back. From there I just went for it. I kept pacing myself. I didn’t want to be dirty or get into it with Jason because he was going for the title. Once out front I felt comfortable. In fact, it was the best I felt all year.
Houston was only the seventh supercross of your entire career. How did it feel to leap across the finish line with the win?
Yeah, it was only my seventh race and to win was pretty awesome, really.
It was also the team’s first win of the year. How did they react once you got off the bike?
Dude, there was a hurricane going through Houston, so I stayed in the stadium and watched the 450 race. When I saw the team they were really pumped. They’re so used to dominating and it had been kind of a long year, so they were really excited that I had gotten my first win. They were super-stoked. Pumped!
Sure. I was a bundle of nerves at Anaheim. I came in prepared to race, but I was nervous. Also, I had never ridden a supercross track in the mud before. I was in fourth and almost caught Reardon at the very end, but I was pumped to get fifth in my first race. In Phoenix it all came down. I made some big mistakes and didn’t even make the main. I learned a lot that night. At Anaheim II I got the holeshot and led the first eight laps before being passed by Ryan Dungey. I ended up third there. At San Francisco I beat Jason Lawrence in my heat race, but in the main there was a lot of muck on the track and I placed fifth. That race was a bummer for me. I could have easily been in fourth if I rode smarter. At Anaheim III I got the holeshot, but Lawrence got around me. From about the 10th lap on he gapped me a little but, but I hung on to finish second. San Diego was a bumpy race for me. My starts were terrible and in the main event I got caught up in a lot of carnage in the second turn. It was a fast race and I used a lot of energy up to get back to seventh. And, as we talked about, I won at Houston.
At this time last year, you were sill a full-on amateur. How has it been to be a professional and line up behind a starting gate with 50,000 people looking on?
I think I feel a lot more comfortable with the whole scene now. At the first couple of rounds I was really nervous, but then I started to clam down. Looking back, if I wouldn’t have made mistakes, I could have been on the box at every race. But I’m third in points and can’t complain.
A number of people are comparing you to a young Ryan Villopoto. The word is that you’re quiet, a very hard worker and fierce competitor. Would you agree?
Yeah, I love to race. I dedicate my whole life to it 100%. Racing is my life. I want to be like Ryan. He has accomplished so much already. I look up to him and have learned a lot from him. Hopefully me and him can go at it in the outdoors. He helps me, but he can’t help me too much because I’m a competitor of his. I’d like to see him wrap up the East Region title.
The final round of the West Region won’t be for over two months. What will you do until then?
I’m back home taking a week break right now. In fact, I’m going to watch the Atlanta race. After my break, I’ll begin to ride outdoors. I’ll do that for about a week before the last race in Seattle. Then I’ll moto down and begin riding supercross again to get ready for Seattle and the East/West Shootout in Vegas.
Is the East/West Shootout in Las Vegas a big deal for you? You’ve never competed in it…
I think it’ll be cool to race everybody there. Mitch isn’t that motivated by the race and to him it isn’t that big of a deal, but I definitely look forward to racing against all the East and West Coast guys.
How has Mitch been with you? Has he been a tough guy or has he been pretty laid back?
He just wants to help me. He can come down on me at times, but I have so much respect for him. He wants me to win and I respect him 100%. Me and my whole family are so happy with him and the whole team. He wants to win and he wants the same for me. I just need to try and make the least amount of mistakes as possible.
Hopefully, other than Ryan, I think I can beat Jason Lawrence and Ryan Dungey and everyone else outdoors. I think I’ll be behind Ryan, but I want to try and race with him and I’d love to get a win or two. If I could get on the podium at every round, that would be awesome.
Okay, Austin, great speaking with you and best of luck in the months to come.
Thanks a lot, Eric. I’ll see you soon.