Racing brings pressure. Riders get nervous, they get tight, they pump up and their performance suffers. The pressure only grows if you race for a living, so pro racers try to take that pressure off by blocking out the things that matter most.
You hear the things racers say. They’re just trying to ride their own race. Just trying to put in good laps. Just trying to have fun out there. They say these things, because they know better results will come if you convince yourself that the task at hand is not a big deal.
Back in 2006, the supercross title fight came down to the wire with three riders—Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart and Chad Reed. The riders were trying to minimize the mounting pressure, but the fans, media and promoters were trying to build it. The SPEED TV crew wanted to get inside the contenders heads, so at the Houston Supercross, they organized a meeting between the riders and TV hosts Ralph Sheheen and Denny Stephenson. No cameras, no recorders, just bench-racing. The hope was that in such a sterile environment, the riders would open up. Sheheen asked them how much winning the title would mean. And…all three of them denied that it mattered at all.
RC said he had won so much in his career that it didn’t really matter. James said he was just 20 years old, and RC and Jeremy McGrath hadn’t won their first title until they were 21. Reed had hurt his shoulder earlier in the year and figured he was lucky to even still be racing.
They all said that winning the most prestigious championship in their sport didn’t matter.
They were all trying to take the pressure off. Rest assured that that title meant a lot to each of them, but they didn’t want to show it.
But it’s different now. There is so much pressure that both riders can’t help but wear it on their sleeves. It resulted in trash talk in practice, progressed into an exciting main event, and spilled over to some more talk when the race was over—Reed rode up behind Stewart and grabbed him by the back of the neck to get his attention, and then the arguing began.
This type of drama doesn’t just happen. It takes major pressure and major emotion, and we have it now. These guys are no longer riding their own race, focusing on the track and just trying to have fun out there. They want this championship badly, and now they’re not even afraid to admit that. It takes very special circumstances for that to happen, but I think we all can agree this is a very special season.