Between the Motos: Chad Reed

April 22, 2010 4:15pm | by:
Last Saturday night was a brutal one for the pack in the Monster Energy AMA Supercross tour. Title contender Ryan Villopoto snapped his lower leg when he got out of shape on a triple, while Ivan Tedesco crashed on the same tricky combination and suffered a collapsed lung and broken ribs. After the race, two-time champion Chad Reed was vocal about his feelings regarding the St. Louis track. He was still upset when we spoke to him for this Racer X Between the Motos.

Racer X: Chad, first and foremost, how are things going with Ellie and the baby you guys are expecting?
Chad Reed: They’re going awesome – really good, actually. I’m doing good and kind of going through the emotions and waiting for a baby. The baby can realistically come at any time. You know, they say first babies come later than earlier, but a few of my friends and me myself came early. I was two weeks early. Babies don’t come on demand, I’m finding out.

I know you’ve only been back a couple of races. You pulled a fourth in Houston and fifth last night in St. Louis. It’s early, but how is it being back in the fray?
Being back at the races has been awesome. I’ve definitely had my fair share of emotions of being back at the races and some ups and downs, but overall I’m really happy to be back and working with the team. I haven’t really had a chance to be around the guys at a racing environment and racing when I’m in my gear and riding and working with them. I’m getting to know them and they’re getting to know me. We turned it around in the heat [Reed won the opening heat race] and was positive for the main event. But some things went down in the main event that took me out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t prepared to miss my flight out of there right after the race, so I just rode within my comfort zone. I rode well within it, to be truthful. But yeah, it’s been good to be back at the races.

I watched what you were doing closely on a live timing and scoring monitor. You were riding in sixth place for the first six or seven laps, and at the same time, your lap times were falling off. You fell back to six seconds, to ten seconds to thirteen and then twenty seconds behind the leaders at one point. I’d assume you weren’t all that comfortable out there.
Yeah, it’s been difficult. I don’t really want to comment on my own personal riding and what it all is. There are no excuses. My heart hasn’t necessarily been at the races like it should or has been in the past. And for me, it’s for good reasons. Ellie is at home, and she’s by herself. We’re not around friends and family. There’s nobody to just be at her beck-and-call, you know, like a normal situation where you have your mother-in-law or mom there or whoever there. That definitely plays on my mind a lot. It seems like I can’t wait to get back on the bus and check on her and make sure that she’s dong fine.

How did you feel abut your race in Houston last Saturday night? Obviously, it was your first race back since Phoenix and you were able to come off the sidelines and place a solid fourth. Were you happy with that?
Yeah, all things considered, I think I was reasonably happy with it. It was a result that came over a twenty-lap race. The sport … the racing has changed a little bit. The group of guys that were at the front of the 450 class, they have definitely changed the way the racing has to be. You know, I’ve missed that transition this year a little. So yeah, I’m just working on some of that stuff, which is great. I have no title on the line. I have no pressure on myself other than what I put on myself for my won expectations. For the first ten laps, I rode really conservatively and I just put myself in really safe positions, to be honest. The last ten laps, I started riding like myself and it all started coming back to me a little bit and I started making up some ground on Tedesco in third and got and got a little bit of a sniff of the podium.

Steve Cox Photo

Since you’ve been racing in the United States, you’ve never been in a situation where you missed the majority of a supercross series and were then forced to return to action with just a few rounds left. Has it been hard to get motivated for these last four or five rounds?
Yeah, I’ve never been in this position. And truthfully, my personal opinion is that coming back in my situation and just not being 100 percent focused on being back and racing and laying it on the line isn’t working. There are more important things happening at home, and there are championships starting up here in about five weeks with the outdoors. I’m just going through the motions, and in a perfect world, I would love to sit out supercross and just get ready for outdoors. But we’re not in a perfect world and my obligations to sponsors and the team is to be out their representing, so I’m doing the best that I can and just kind of getting through it.

There are only three supercross rounds left, so I have to think your focus is on the opening round of the AMA Motocross Nationals at Hangtown.
Certainly. Hangtown is a huge priority right now. Outdoor riding and testing is really going well. I think it’s one of the best outdoor bikes I’ve ever ridden, and I’m really excited to get outdoors. I’m going racing outdoors probably differently than I’ve ever gone racing outdoors in my life. I’m excited for that, and I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that. That race we had in St. Louis last night was an oddball one, man. We had a really tricky track and some really dangerous sections on the track, and that was really disappointing. I was vocal the weekend before in Houston—they had a quad and I was vocal about it before practice and asked to take it out. I was lucky enough that they changed and it ended up being a really cool, fun jump for all involved. Then we show up this weekend and there were just some parts of the track that I felt were really dangerous and the smallest mistake could be really, really costly. And as it turned out, it turned out being a brutal night. You took two guys out of the top five and put them in the hospital. Disappointing for the title chase too—it all looked like it was going to come down to Vegas, but now they’ve bought themselves a really boring championship that’s wrapped up with two races to go.

What’s to be gained in these remaining races by incorporating these unforgiving jumps or obstacles into the tracks? It sounds like more than a few riders have had objections.
I don’t understand. It just seems like there has been a trend in the way the tracks have been finished over the last couple of weeks, and I don’t get it. And what people have to realize is that I’m not just a rider here; I wear two shirts. I’m a promoter in Australia, and I understand better than I have ever understood. I understand the ins and outs and the whys and why-nots behind some of the thinking. Three or four years ago, I used to be the guy that would be like, “Dude, what are these guys thinking? Why do they do this and why do they do that?” I was really critical on a lot of things and never really understood it. But being in a position to be promoting in Australia and playing a big role in how tracks are built and designed and why they are designed a particular way, and why you have to take out some berms and blah, blah, blah…. The list goes on. But this direction we’re going in right now is really, really disappointing. Like I said, we had a championship that was looking like it was coming down to Vegas, but now we have a guy in the hospital with a broken leg and a guy in the hospital [Ivan Tedesco] with broken ribs and a punctured lung. It all could have been changed 100 percent and made the risk a lot lower.
I understand racing being dangerous. I’ve been around, and the good old saying is “shit happens,” and you have to look at the what-ifs and try to minimize them as much as possible. Being that guy who wears two shirts, from a racer’s point of view, you want to see a track that is technical and challenging, but as a rider you want to be able to lay it on the line and know that one mistake or one mistake from one of your rivals isn’t going to result in an immediate trip to the hospital. That’s the disappointing thing: you want some forgiveness. And there’s a list of things that I could name off of what needs to be done and why they do it, and it’s just really confusing.

I guess it’s like the old racing saying, “It always takes someone to get hurt before things get changed.”
Yeah, and I guess that’s what really sucks. It shouldn’t have to come down to that. I don’t have anything invested in this championship at all. I’m coming back and racing and trying to be safe. This has been a really oddball year. I mean, who in the hell would have ever thought James and I were going to miss the supercross season? Or for that matter, who would have thought that the top four from last year’s championship were all going to be out this year with injury? You never would have predicted that. And not all of that is from dangerous tracks; that’s part of racing, and there is a lot of risk involved.
The reason why Feld takes the berms down on the outside of the track is so motorcycles don’t fly into the stands. From a promoter’s point of view, you can’t have motorcycles flying in the stands and killing people. As a company as big as that, you can’t ever have that happen, and I understand 100 percent why they do. It’s something they have to do, and I’m respectful of that. But why can’t they have the same respect for us? That one particular jump in St. Louis, I was vocal about it. A number of people were vocal about it. Why it was built and finished like that, I would never know. If I’m building the track, I don’t know what crosses the guy’s mind that says, “I’m going to make this landing like a freestyle metal landing ramp.” I mean, it was literally like that. There was no forgiveness to it at all, and it was huge. I watched the race on TV, and TV does not give it justice.
Going back a few years, you look at the instance when RC hit the boat. You know the boat didn’t get moved because RC hit it and they were worried about the riders—they were worried about the boat being on television. And the fact that if Ricky hit three feet to the left, it could have been career-ending or even life-ending for Ricky, and I think that they were more concerned about the company policy than the rider. This is no personal attack at all any individual at Feld—I’ve tried to work extremely hard with them, and I’ve come to the conclusion that they don’t listen and there are bigger things that they are thinking about that are not a priority to my world.

Steve Cox Photo

The section you speak of is where Ryan Villopoto crashed, correct?
Yeah, the section where Ryan crashed. On TV, they tried to cover it up. I was pretty vocal about it all night long. I mentioned it on my podium speech from the heat race. And then they go and show a Bobcat back-blading the section and trying to claim that they were fixing it, but I think my 80-year-old grandma could have done better with a pick and shovel. They didn’t do anything. They didn’t change anything. It didn’t help the outcome, and that’s the thing I’m criticizing. They were well aware that there was an issue, but they didn’t take care of it. They should have made it safer, and that would have been the end of it.

Was it the takeoff, too?
Yeah, you watch it on TV and watch each and every one of us. Each and every one of us had to hit it, and every time we hit it, we had to preload before we hit it. It was a really awkward jump, and I didn’t feel comfortable doing it all day long. It just didn’t feel right. I had a feeling about it all night long, and I don’t know why, but I wasn’t willing to crash off of it. The jump was probably nine feet tall, and then it went straight into a big bowl turn. I don’t know what’s appealing to anyone coming up nine feet short and then getting thrown headfirst into the berm after that. It didn’t appeal to me, for damn sure.

When the race was over and you rode back to the pits and got off your bike and found out your teammate’s leg was broken, what were you thinking?
During the race, I immediately knew that Ryan was hurt. He was down and wasn’t moving. Before I knew the extent of his injuries, I definitely said my piece to one of the Feld staff. I was vocal about it all day—I might as well continue to be vocal about it at the end. And again, it wasn’t a personal attack on anyone. You know I’ve been vocal over the years. We all have. You want to say the AMA sucks and this sucks, but everyone in supercross is controlled by Feld. The promoter does everything. They do the tracks. They make the rulings. The AMA are just puppets. They’re just there because they have to be there. Yesterday I went to [the FIM’s] John Gallagher and I said, “John, that is really dangerous.” He said, “I can’t do anything about it.” I was like, “Wow, really? You’re the guy, and you can’t do anything about it?” I somewhat knew that already with my own Australian thing. The AMA needs Feld more than Feld needs the AMA. It’s the same in Australia. Australia needs a good supercross series, and they need us as promoters more than we need them as a federation. We can always go out and run it without them. They just want to be a part of it and support it, so they do whatever you want. You know, it all rests on Feld’s shoulders—they’re the guys putting caution to the wind.

In contemporary racing history, racers such as the late Ayrton Senna in Formula 1, Kenny Roberts or Valentino Rossi in MotoGP, or Jeff Gordon in NASCAR have all spoken up about driver or rider safety. For things to change, someone has to speak up.
That’s how it is. Somebody has to speak up. It’s the same old thing. I’ve been around this sport my whole life and nothing ever changes. It’s the way the world works. You have people who are vocal and people who want to make a difference in the world, and then you have people who are going to run around and bitch and backstab everybody. When you’re walking the track and you’re sitting at riders’ meetings and you listen to all the riders, not one of them says, “That quad is sick! I can’t wait to jump it. It’s going to be so fun to do for twenty laps. I’m going to be able to ride side by side with my closest competitor and scrub it.” Everybody is well aware that it’s dangerous and stupid, and they don’t want to have to deal with it, but none of them are vocal enough to get together in a group and voice their opinion. I’m not programmed like that. I learned from my dad – and I guess it’s both good and bad – but you say what’s on your mind and you can sleep at night. That’s how I’ve always tried to do it. I say what I think. Whether it’s right or wrong, I’ve said it and I can move on and be okay with it. Like you said, from MotoGP, NASCAR, and Formula 1, there is a committee of drivers and riders that deal with the safety side of things. I’ve had conversations with a lot of people on Rossi’s team and Rossi personally about some of the issues that they face in MotoGP. They face a lot of issues week in and week out, year in and year out, but they are making things better and safer. I can’t think of one thing other than a Tuff Block that has been invented in supercross racing over the last ten years that has truly made an impact. Going from a hay bale to a Tuff Block is the only thing we’ve advanced in. It’s really disappointing that the sport I love, and the only sport I know, is not evolving into what you would want it to be or what you intended it to be. I don’t see it changing anytime soon, because the people in charge are not changing.

In your opinion, what can be done to improve the situation?
I just truly believe that there needs to be a small committee of some riders that have been around for a while. I don’t have to be a part of that. I just think that there just needs to be somebody calling the shots that has raced at this level, that understands racing and that understands the safety level of the sport. Time and time again I hear this whole “The four-stroke has ruined supercross and motocross.” That could not be any further from the truth. The fuel-injected four-stroke, nothing has been better. There is no safer bike. It’s an amazing motorcycle and the best motorcycle that I’ve ever ridden. It comes down to the way the tracks are built and finished—that’s what changed. It’s not the motorcycle that’s ruining the racing. The four-stoke has changed the way the lines are built and the way we ride the track a little bit, but that just comes down to being on that same level and having a track guy or a track committee that can adjust to that. We don’t have that. We don’t have a dirt crew or a track-building crew that can adjust to certain situations. That’s the just the reality of it, really.

Steve Cox Photo

So if you show up at the race at Salt Lake City next Saturday and Feld sits you down and says, “Okay, we read what you said,” what would you do? What would your suggestion be?
I would love to have that position. And I have tried to, but I didn’t know if I wanted that position, because I planned on being in the title chase. At the end of the day, we have some extremely sensitive people in the world, and if I’m calling shots or I’m having an influence on things or people, [they think] I’m just wanting it for my own good, which is not true. It comes back to wearing the two shirts. I promote supercross in Australia, and I understand it very well. I just want the best. I love the sport. I’ve been around it my whole life. I just want great racing and people to be as safe as possible. I know that we can’t stop injuries and that we can’t stop freak stuff from happening. I’m well aware of that. There’s things that can be better. A lot better. And I would like to play a role in helping that happen.