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Monday Conversation: Jeff Stanton

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Known as “six-time” by some of the riders in the pits, Jeff Stanton has won six AMA National Championships in his time, and has worked with Honda for over a decade since. At RedBud, he raced the FMF 2-Stroke Invitational, finishing fourth to a bunch of much younger guys. We talked to him for today’s Monday Conversation.

  • Jeff Stanton at the RedBud two-stroke race.
  • Classic Stanton
Racer X: The way you were doing things over the last few years, you were at the races quite a bit helping out Honda, but that sort of ended this year, it seems. What was that about?
Jeff Stanton: Well, in today’s economy, it doesn’t surprise me that everybody has cut back. They’re going to thin the fat any way that they can. I talked to Erik [Kehoe] at the first part of the year, and the plan was to continue doing what we were doing, but about two weeks into the year, they had a meeting and decided that they had to pull back and start laying some people off, and for me it wasn’t even a question. If the difference between me going to a race or somebody else keeping their job in California – someone who needs a job – dude, I’m staying home. That was my basic approach on the whole deal. If there were some shop guys that, by me not going to the race, they could continue with their jobs and keep rolling smoothly, I’m staying home. I’ve had a great career. I’ve been with American Honda for, shoot, 10 years after my racing career. It’s a no-brainer. I enjoy going. I love going. But in these economic times, thin the fat and give someone a job that needs the job and needs to make their payments. I’ll be home with my wife and kids and continue my life in Michigan.

That’s a cool way to look at it. What about your perspective on the racing, though? I know that when you’re there every weekend, you may see things differently than you do when you’re at home and maybe watching it on TV.
My perspective really hasn’t changed. The racing’s kind of dull right now, to be honest with you. So many guys are getting hurt, and when you sit back and look at it, you ask yourself, “Why are so many guys getting hurt? Is it the bikes? Maybe we should look at doing something different with the bike displacement. Somehow, we’ve got to make the racing better, and I know people don’t want to hear this, but I can’t help but think about how awesome the racing would be if everyone was on 250Fs.

Or maybe even two-strokes, honestly. I know that ship has sailed, but there did seem to be some epic racing on two-strokes.
I personally think the outdoor racing is suffering now because the promoters think they need to build the outdoor tracks for the bikes now. The tracks are smooth, high-speed, and they all flow. They’ve opened these tracks up with bigger, wider, sweeping turns, and I don’t think anybody can deny that. So really what they’ve done is make the tracks to fit the bikes, which means the guys are going faster, and when they swap out, they hit the ground harder, and it’s making it harder for passing, too.

You’ve worked with the riders a lot over the years. Are you still able to do that from home in Michigan?
I could choose to do that. I’ve got great relationships with a lot of guys, so I talk to quite a few of them, and I keep in touch with Erik once or twice a week, and he keeps me in tune with what’s going on. We talk about the races and I give him my input, but at this point in life, I’m not looking forward to riders coming out to work with me or things like that. My kids are getting older, so I want to take more time to spend with them, and my daughter’s at the top of her level in the horse world, so we’re traveling all over doing horse stuff. My son and I ride a lot, so I’m just living my life here.

When you heard about this two-stroke race, what did you first think?
Amy [Ritchie, of RedBud] called me and said, “Hey, what do you know about this two-stroke race?” I said, “Shoot, I don’t know nothing about it!” So she said they wanted to have a celebrity two-stroke race, and I said, “That sounds cool, but to have a celebrity race, you’ve got to have somebody show up to this thing.” Getting a commitment from anybody in the motorcycle world is pretty tough. It still wasn’t anything like I would’ve liked to have seen it. I’d have liked to have seen 10 past champions show up. I guess I don’t know if people are scared to do it, or if they’re worried about what they look like, or how fast they’re going to be, or whatever. The guys that were there, we had fun, but you just ride to your ability and do the best you can. Obviously I’m not as fast as I was 20 years ago, either, but I went and I had a ball. I helped Amy put it together, and I got some of my buddies to show up, and we did it and have fun. But it’ll never work as good as they want it, as far as a true “celebrity” race is concerned, because everybody’s scared to do it.

  • More classic Stanton.
  • Stanton enjoys hanging out with his family nowadays.
Well, a lot of what made you guys champions in the first place was that you didn’t want to play if you couldn’t win. It’s pride. Maybe that’s still at play with a lot of them.
It might be, but I guess I looked at it as an opportunity. I still ride a lot, so I guess I’m not scared to go out and jump stuff, or go out and either embarrass myself or not. I have nothing to prove to anybody. I just wanted to have fun. I think more people thought it was a good idea, and they had fun watching past champions, and Ricky [Carmichael], come out. I’m sure they enjoyed it.

How did you line up that factory CR250R?
Well, fortunately, like I said, I’ve had a great relationship with everybody at American Honda, and the bike was sitting there. It got delivered to me, and everybody at American Honda has been great to me for 25-plus years now. I’ve got no complaints. They’re great people and a great company to have a long-term relationship with.

Does it sound crazy to think that you won your first title over 20 years ago?
It’s pretty gnarly isn’t it? Fortunately, I’ve kept in good shape, in good health, and so 20 years sounds gnarly, but it really isn’t that big of a deal.

It hadn’t occurred to me that it had been 20 years until you mentioned your time with Honda, then it was like, “1989 to 2009... Wow.”
Yeah! [Laughs] It’s pretty crazy.

So you’re saying that you’re happy in the life you created for yourself, but that is pretty rare among guys in your position.
Well, you’ve got to be happy with yourself, and you’ve got to be content with yourself. At some point, you can’t just keep wanting more and more and more, you’ve got to realize that life has been great and can continue to be great, it’s just what you make of it.

Nothing against these guys, because for example I think Jeff Ward is amazing to still be winning in Supermoto, and in off-road trucks, etc. But that competitive thing just won’t go away. Do you still have it?
I still have it. I tell everybody that I put it in other forms. My wife and I are doing a 60-mile endurance run, and I do two or three triathlons a year, a bunch of running races... No, you’ve got to keep the competitive juices going, and I guess I choose to do it in other forms of sport.

Do you get angry if one of your kids or your wife beats you at a game or competition?
I think that’s par for the course. I play ball every Sunday, and we’ve got a great team, and yeah, I get pissed off if we get beat. I push people just as hard as they push me, so yeah, that’s there in any multiple-time champ, I don’t care if it’s motorcycles or tennis or baseball. It’s just there.

Do you think it’s something you were born with or that you learned?
A little of both. I think you’re born with it, but between parenting and how you grow up, that will help it along or hurt it.

Thanks for taking the time, Jeff.
No problem.
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