Insight: Jeff Stanton

Insight Jeff Stanton

April 14, 2011 9:45am
The 1990 AMA Supercross Championship was one of the most exciting ever, and it resembles this season’s dramatic chase in the unpredictability of the races and the title. With three races to go that season, the defending champ, Jeff Stanton, turned it up and won two in a row to take the points lead from Kawasaki’s Jeff Matiasevich. Stanton struck down the stretch and held it through the final round to claim back-to-back championships. We sat down with Stanton yesterday to get his take on the 2011 season and much much more—and as always, the six-time AMA National Champion didn’t hold back.

Racer X Online: Well Jeff, I come to you because 21 years ago you were in this position. Three races to go, battling for the title.
Jeff Stanton: Wow was it really that long ago? That sounds pretty bad doesn’t it?

I know! It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago. But here we are, three to go, again, and a bunch of riders can win it.
Well, I will say it shouldn’t be that close, but fortunately for the fans it is.

Stanton is a six-time AMA National Champion.
Photo: Jack Burnicle

What do you mean when you say it shouldn’t be this close?
Well, there boneheads out there that have made such huge mistakes. I mean, Villopoto should about have this thing wrapped up in two weeks, but then he goes out and doesn’t qualify. Just stupid stuff like that. And Bubba should have been a better rider, he honestly should have another 30 points on Villopoto, but the wheels have fallen off of his wagon. You’ve got Villopoto not even making the main and then riding terrible the week after that. From a fans point it has just been great. Those guys should have never screwed up. In my opinion Bubba should have won the title, but he’s got too much drama going on with losing Larry [Brooks] and all of that. And Villopoto has fallen apart.

What is causing these mistakes? Is it pressure? These guys have all been champions before, but is it different because it’s so close?
Well, anyone who is a past champion should be able to handle things better than that. To have won as many championships as both of those guys, you should not be missing a main event. That’s just unheard of. At that same race Trey Canard fell in the first turn and came back to make the main. You don’t blame it on someone else, you suck it up and get back on your bike and make it happen.

You were in a similar situation to Ryan Dungey with your career. You won the title in 1989 and a lot of the stars of the day, like Rick Johnson and Jeff Ward, got hurt. Were a lot of people wondering if you could do it straight up against them in 1990?
Yup. I faced the same adversity he did. I did much the same as he did, I didn’t win every race right off the bat. I didn’t struggle quite as badly as he did earlier this year, but if you can overcome all the smack talk by about mid-season, all of these people asking “what’s wrong?” and all of these people saying, “He’s way off, he’s way off,” now he’s putting a little run together and, man, he’s in it.

Right off the start in 1990, you were talking about consistency, not winning races. Was that the strategy all along?
Yeah but that’s everyone’s strategy. You don’t need to win every race, just finish near the podium or on the podium. Especially this year. You know on the pre season show we did on TV, everyone picked Dungey except me. A few weeks ago I was looking like the hero. But now between Jeremy, Ricky and Fro, they may end up being right. Villopoto has made a few stupid mistakes, and it could happen again.

Stanton would go on to win the 1990 SX title over Bradshaw.
Photo: Fran Kuhn

In 1990, a lot of different riders got hot at different times. Bradshaw had a run, Matiasevich had a run, Jean-Michele Bayle had a run. Were you watching that all along and worried about those guys, or just doing your own thing?
You know, that’s the hardest part. You have to do your own deal, and that’s also what those riders today will tell you. You have to ignore the trash talk, not worry about all of that, just do your homework and not go overboard. You don’t want to start working any harder. These guys all know what they’re supposed to do, so as long as you’re giving it your all, you stay mentally tough, stay physically tough, you create your own destiny and try to go on your own little run.

So when it’s close like this, you’ll have a tendency to work too hard?
For sure. You want to do more and more, and if you don’t have someone guiding you, you’ll just keep pushing harder, and by the time you get to the race, you’ll feel like a pile. You don’t have any energy and you don’t want to be there. It needs to be just the opposite. You need to want to be at the races, you need to want to shine on Saturday, not Thursday and be the practice king.

Late that year, we got to about this point, a bunch of riders were close in points with three races to go, and you just stepped up and won two straight. Was that a strategy, to stay in the hunt and then turn it up?
It actually just worked out like that. [Mechanic] Dan [Betley] and I stayed consistent, we improved our bike all year. When it came down to crunch time, Dan and I stayed together a lot that last month, we really got the bike dialed in, and all of that confidence kind of clicked. Like I said, you put the work in, you create your own luck and you put the destiny in your own hands.

Certainly when you have a close series like this, the pressure goes up. There is more hype, more pressure, more media. Is that a factor?
It is. You know at some point you have to block a lot of that out, and you have to realize why you’re there. You’re there to win races and win titles, and put that money in the bank. Yeah, you might piss some people off along the way but you have to stay true to the real reason you’re hired by a company—to win races and win titles. And yeah, you’re supposed to create good press, but if you win the title, all the good press will come with it.

So you were saying Stewart has all this drama around him. It’s hard to completely block that out?
He ain’t completely blocking that out. I don’t care what anyone is saying. To have as much bad press as that guy has been having, you’re going to go home and think about it. You don’t block that stuff out. That stuff stays with you forever. A couple of years ago I got thrown in jail. I was driving one of our family dump trucks down the road, and we don’t have any tags on any of them because they’re farm vehicles, so I went out and drove it down the road a mile to my house, and the darned cop came and put me in jail. And I hear about it all the time [laughs]! I made the mistake of using it to haul some firewood, and they hauled me off to jail. So that’s the running joke around here, and it stays with you forever.

After winning in ’89 against an injury-riddled field, when you won again against everyone in 1990, was it like saying “I told you so?”
Oh yeah, and that’s the best feeling in the world. The first year RJ got hurt, Wardy was on his last leg, whatever. So to back it up the next year, that felt even better. Winning the title the first year was great, but it was much, much sweeter the second time. 100 times sweeter. And let’s bump it up two years later when I won the title in the last race in ‘92. That’s when you know you’ve done something—to win the second or third, or the fifteenth like Ricky, I guarantee you he will tell you the last one was the best one.

Can you even pick a favorite for the title at this point?
No, but just because Villopoto has not showed me he’s mentally tough enough to put this all together right now. Halfway through the year when he had that win streak? Yeah, he was the favorite. But then, not qualifying, putting a couple of bad races together, he’s fortunate to have a five-point lead. If you had asked me before St. Louis, I would have said Chad Reed was the favorite, but he had a bad race and fell a few points behind—maybe too many points behind. So I’d say Dungey is in the best seat, unless Villopoto goes out in Seattle and wins by 10 seconds. Dungey’s been low key. But he got that win in Toronto to get a little confidence. He hasn’t been stellar but he’s just creeping up, and if he can win in Seattle, and Villopoto even gets second, he’s only a few points back with two races to go, and he’s in position.

Stanton had to make a late season charge to capture the 1990 SX Championship.
Photo: Moto Verte

What do you make of Reed’s season?
I’m super happy for Chad. For one, nobody wanted him, so he said “screw you guys.” He put it all together. He didn’t come out blazing, he kind of went into hiding during training and didn’t let everyone know what he was doing. Let’s back it up a little bit, a year and a half ago, he was involved in a whole bunch of crap. Or even before that, he had some things going, he was at the bottom of the barrel. He was out doing things he shouldn’t have been doing—partying, whatever. He makes a recovery, he’s back strong with his wife, they have a beautiful child. There was just so much adversity, and he’s overcome it all. If you put the whole picture together, yeah, it’s not nice to bring all that stuff up, but it’s harsh reality. He was at the bottom of the barrel, not financially because he has plenty of money, but at some point money doesn’t mean anything. It’s your own standard and own morals. He wanted to make amends for everything and put his life back in line. Between him and Hansen, those are my two feel good stories for the season. Quite honestly, they have taken a lot of heat, but they’ve rebuilt their lives. Hanny, I’ve never liked the kid because that wasn’t my lifestyle, but he’s made a recovery and he’s done good. And Chad’s in the same category. In my mind and I think a lot of people’s mind, weather Chad wins or loses, I think he’s done good, and I hope he and his team stick around a few more years.

Finally, what about Trey Canard?
I haven’t worked with him that much, but I know him. And you know, he’s not a feel good story in the same way Reed or Hansen are, but he’s a feel good story in his own way. He’s on the good side of life with Christ and all of that. I just know how he lives, I know he did good last year, and I figured it would play out just the way it has. If he had capitalized just a little bit more in a few races, he could be in the points lead. His season has played out exactly like I thought it would. You know, let those guys beat each other up, sneak in there and win a few races and you could possibly win the title. Well, unfortunately he had a few races where he lost too many points and finished just inside the top ten. But next year, those guys better watch out. And outdoors, too. He’s in shape, he loves his bike and he’ll be a contender outdoors as well.

So you’re following closely. You’re a fan of this.
Oh yeah! We watch it on TV every week, and I call Erik (Kehoe) three or four times a week. I still talk to a few of the guys. I’ll always be around.