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Five Minutes with...Travis Preston

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Travis Preston is a strange case. Two years in a row now, he’s been without a solid ride well into the off-season, yet he’s a championship-winning racer in supercross, and the last two times he rode the AMA Nationals, he was top-five in points. Last year, he filled in for James Stewart at Kawasaki starting at round five after quite literally coming off of the couch. He hadn’t ridden supercross in eight months. Now, he says all he’s looking for is a good bike with good tires, but he can’t find it. Also, in the meantime, he took some time off to get rid of some cancer.

Racer X: So what have you been doing for the past five months?
Travis Preston: Well, after supercross was over, I started riding outdoors a little bit. My plan was to race a couple, and then I was going to race the U.S. Open, but then I ended up getting skin cancer, and it was pretty deep, so I had to have surgery on my stomach area and do a lot of stitches and stuff. When they stitched me back up, it was so tight that I couldn’t ride for a month and a half, so I spent half the summer dealing with that. Then, around the end of August, I started testing again for Kawasaki and getting things ready for supercross. I’ve been doing that ever since.

Your fight with skin cancer might be the best-kept secret in motocross.
Yeah, I had this little mole thing on my stomach since like ’04, and it started growing and just kind of didn’t look right. I’ve been racing all the time and I never really had time, so this summer I had some free time, and my wife was like, “You should go in and have that looked at.” I went into the dermatologist, and he was like, “Yeah, this looks kind of funny.” He cut out a piece of it and had it tested, and he called me like a week later and he was like, “Yeah, it’s melanoma. You’re going to have to go in to a specialist.” The specialist said I had to have surgery. He said it went toward my lymph-nodes and once it gets to there, it can spread to your organs. I had to have surgery and they put this dye in there that follows the cancer, and sure enough the cancer went straight up toward my armpit, which is where your lymph-nodes are, but thank god I caught it just before it got to my lymph-nodes. They had to go in and cut out a bunch of stuff. They cut out so much stuff that they had to do really weird stitches to where I felt like I had a tummy-tuck. I couldn’t even do anything. Even sitting up, I had to be really careful, because they cut out so much that they had to pull my skin really tight. But luckily, they got all the cancer out, and it didn’t go to my lymph-nodes, so I’m all fine now.
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Did that sort of freak you out?

Yeah, it was weird, because he said I was like a stage-three, and he said that a stage-five, your survival rate isn’t that good. He said another five years and I wouldn’t have been doing too good. Having freckles, you’re like a magnet for skin cancer, so people like me, Jeff Ward, Ricky Carmichael... It’s a problem. I never thought about it because I was always out at the test track sitting around and not wearing a shirt or a hat or anything. Now, I think I should be sponsored by Coppertone because I go through like a can a week sitting there in a sombrero. I’m completely pale now.

Of course, if Coppertone sponsored you, they’d simultaneously lose one of their best customers... Getting back to racing, what is it going to take to get you back on the track and competing instead of just testing?
I’m pretty much just looking for a team that can supply me with a good bike and good tires. That’s kind of hard to come by these days.

That’s it? That’s all you’re asking for?
[Laughs] Yeah! You say “That’s it,” but a lot of these teams now are hurting for money, so it’s like, “We’ve got some dude in Montana doing motors out of his garage, and he’s paying us five grand, so we’re going to have to use him instead of using, like, Pro Circuit motors.” I’m kind of not into that.

Do you think you need a really proven, reliable motor when you’re jumping through rhythm sections and going off triples?
Yeah, that’s what I think, but all these teams are so hard up for money that they’re taking anything they can get.

You almost retired – maybe not really willingly, but you almost did. Has that crossed your mind again recently?
Oh yeah, for sure, because I look at it like at this point, it’s not about the money, it’s about having fun. Right now, I’m racing because I like it. I don’t like riding a bike that I don’t feel confident in, so if the right team doesn’t come up for me, then I definitely won’t race.

It’s pretty bizarre that a guy as accomplished as you are can’t find “a good bike with good tires” to race...
I just find it weird. I’ve been top ten since I’ve been in the 450 class, and I can’t seem to find a ride. Top ten these days doesn’t seem to be good enough.

Do you feel like maybe your willingness to jump out there and go race, cold, last year might have hurt your image with some other teams?
Yeah, for some reason. I don’t know if it’s just that not the brightest people are in this sport, or if people have a really bad memory, or what, but everyone seems to forget that last year, I hadn’t ridden a supercross track in eight months, and I just lined up at Anaheim III and started racing supercross. No practice, no anything, and I still qualified and still got top-fifteen. Then, towards the end, I was always top-ten. People totally forget about all of that. So, I kind of think that, yeah, it might have hurt me, but the good thing is, I have a good relationship with Kawi now, and I’ve met a lot of good guys over there, so that’s the upside of it.

So, do you secretly have a voodoo doll with red hair on it that you’re jabbing in the knees or ankles every day?
[Laughs] Oh, no, no... No. I don’t wish that on anybody. I want a team to hire me because they want me. I don’t want that. I mean, sure, I’ll take it, but I don’t like getting a ride that way, you know?

Do you want to ride Nationals again?
Yeah! At this point, it seems like I’ve barely been riding, because I missed the first few supercrosses and only raced 10 or 11 supercrosses, and then I had the whole summer off. I’m pretty much ready to race anything right now.

You’ve been on Josh Hansen’s schedule...
Yeah, I mean, if you’ve got a backyard supercross, just call me up. I’m pretty much ready.

One other thing: When you came back racing, it seemed like your speed was okay, but your fitness was horrible, so it’s not like you forgot how to ride...
Yeah, yeah, I just physically could not hold onto the bike. I’d do good in my Heat race and get third or whatever, and then I’d go into the main event and just get physically exhausted [laughs]. That was pretty much my whole year. I just couldn’t catch up to everybody else.

How are you doing with your fitness now?
I feel a lot better now, because the problem last year was that I was rushing it and I couldn’t have any recovery days. I was just riding and riding and riding trying to get better on the bike. Now, I can ride two days, take a day off, recover, and then ride two more, and actually have time to go to the gym and do all of that. I feel a lot better now.

You just need a ride...
Exactly!
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