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5 Minutes With... John Dowd

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John Dowd is a legend in the sport, and it’s not because he won so many championships or so many races, or because he has a flashy riding style or anything like that. It’s because he’s a regular guy who happens to also be competitive among the very best racers in the world once a year. That once a year is Southwick, and Dowd solidified his legend with a second in the second moto, and third overall.

Racer X: How much riding do you actually do now?
John Dowd: I’ve been kind of racing local stuff for most of the summer, but I guess I’ve been doing a decent amount of riding. I feel like I’m not totally prepared for this thing, because the 30-minute-moto deal was definitely a little bit of a stretch, but here at Southwick, I always feel like you never know. Anything can happen for me here. I got tired today, but I felt like I had some pretty good laps, at least. It was maybe 20 minutes before I started getting loose, but it was fun. It’s always good coming back here.

You’re a great sand rider, as you prove all the time here, but you’re also a great mud rider. Did you feel like you had almost more of an advantage because it was kind of a combination of the two out there today?
It’s kind of weird, though. I had a lot of good races in the mud, but what’s kind of weird here, for me, is that I feel like here in the sand, I kind of have my advantage, but I don’t know if it being a mud race here helps me or hurts me. I feel like I have an advantage here regularly, but the mud throws a different twist on this place. It’s really a whole different kind of track when it’s muddy – it’s all ruts and deep and sticky... Not that I’m not used to it, but I definitely feel really comfortable here on a regular, dry, rough, sandy track. If I had my choice, I’d have rather had it dry.

Do you feel like maybe you could’ve made it farther through the pack in the first moto if it was dry?
Yeah, I feel like maybe I could’ve made more passes once I got settled. I rode like a bit of a dork for the first half. I was kind of going backwards, actually, and then I snapped out of it and got going forward again. But it was really hard to make passes once I got going forward again. If I had my choice, I would’ve rather had it dry. Mud’s weird, though. Anything can happen if you just go out there with a positive attitude. You can win a race or you can be out of a race just like that. You never know. You just have to go out there and wing it and hope for the best.

You’re 44?
Yeah, I turned 44 earlier this month – August 10th.

So there’s a significant number of racers out here who are literally half your age or less...
Yeah, I would say most of them are less than half. You know what the cool thing about today is? I got third overall here in 1989 – my first podium ever – 20 years ago. So that’s kind of cool to get another podium here 20 years later. I never thought I’d still be doing this, but that’s got to be some kind of record. It’s cool.

(Jeff Emig interrupts the interview.)
I told him I missed him out here today, but he seemed pretty happy not to be out there riding...

That actually leads into my next question: Didn’t you just start racing at like 18 or something like that?
I was 20 when I rode my first race.

So my point is this: They’re instituting a rule in the AMA where they’re upping the age limit to 18. How do you feel about that?
Well, I guess one way of looking at it is that they’re trying to have these kids try to finish their schooling and stuff like that. Obviously, the kids at 16 are fast enough and competitive enough, but I think it’s a good thing. I think a lot of these big factory contracts and stuff, they’re kind of going around and scooping up all of these young kids and paying them a lot of money, and maybe for these guys when they’re real young, it might be a little hard to figure out. Maybe a couple more years can be a good thing for these guys, and maybe they can learn how to be a little more dedicated and realize what they have. Some of them, I don’t think they realize what they have there for the taking. Some of these young kids are blazing fast and have the talent and everything, but it takes a little bit more than that – a little more determination, a little more of a work ethic...

The reason I’m asking is because with Fro saying that he’s happy to not be out there, he raced from when he was five years old, so by the time he retired, he had 25 years of racing under his belt, or close to it. That’s about where you’re at now! You have about 24 years of racing under your belt.
I always figured there was maybe a certain time span that’s good, mentally, for your racing, just to be able to stay with it. I started later than everybody, but maybe when you start when you’re five, by the time you get to be 30, you’re kind of burnt out on racing because you’ve been doing it 25 years. I didn’t start until I was 20, though.

Plus, when you were 20, you knew you wanted to race dirt bikes and you had a life up to that point, and you were able to just decide to go race.
Yeah, and for me, one thing about starting racing later was that I was working full-time. I did construction work and I was working 50 hours a week and then going racing. I started having some good races here and there, and I was like, “Man, I can make some good money doing this!” It was really easy for me to decide to put a little effort in and train and all that. I was just like, “Man, if I exercise a little bit and take this seriously, I could do all right and make a little money!” It was way better than working construction. Maybe that’s part of it, too, that some of the kids who have never worked, they never get the chance to experience that side of life.

Yeah, they don’t get to experience a regular job until they lose a ride...
Yeah, then by that point, it’s tough to get another ride. I don’t know, I never had it any other way, so that’s just my take on it.

Are we going to keep seeing you around every year? Is this something you’re just going to keep doing until it’s not fun anymore?
Yeah, I kind of made a deal with my son Ryan, and I told him I’m going to keep racing until he can beat me.

Wow, that’s a high standard...
He’s 12, and he’s starting to go pretty good, so you never know. He’s going to be getting faster, and I’m sure I’ll probably be getting a little slower as time goes by. I’m sure our paths will cross at some point...

What if he never beats you, though? You can’t ride forever...
I wish he’d hurry up and get going because I can’t do this forever! [Laughs]

What about going and doing Loretta’s or something like that?
We’ve been talking about it. I never did it, and I just thought it was hard for me to go do such a long, expensive, big trip, but he’s getting to the point where he’s starting to be interested, and maybe he’s getting to the point where he could be somewhat competitive. It’s tough down there. That’s no joke, those kids are fast. I wouldn’t want to go down there until he’s at least a little bit ready, you know? I wouldn’t want him running around in last place every moto. We’ll see. He’s starting to pick it up and he’s starting to take it a little more seriously, so who knows? Maybe one of these years you’ll see us out there. And also, they need to change the rule about the pro thing with the vet classes, because I wouldn’t mind going down there and riding a 40 or 45 class or something, but as it is now, I’d have to not show up at Southwick every year if I want to do Loretta’s. That’s a tough call for me. I’d love to go hit the vet classes, but the way the rules are right now, I can’t, so hopefully they’ll work on that a little bit.

The John Dowd Rule...
I don’t think it would change much, but it would change a lot for me. I’d love to go give it a shot, but I’d hate to give up riding once a year here at Southwick just to go down and do that. I’d love for them to change the rule so I can do both. I’m not a “national guy” anymore, but I love showing up here. There aren’t too many other guys who show up to ride one national a year, and that would still want to go to Loretta’s...

There aren’t too many guys that would ride one national a year and get a podium at that one, either.
Well, I’ve got to tell you, I’m as surprised as anyone. I mean, I always figure anything’s possible here for me, but realistically, there are a lot of fast guys here, and a lot of stuff happened here today.

Wasn’t it just like two years ago you put it on the box?
I don’t remember. All these years blend together. But I always come here with high hopes, and you never know. I just give it my best shot, and today that’s what happened.
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