Monday Conversation: Ken Roczen

Monday Conversation: Ken Roczen

August 25, 2014 10:40am

Red Bull KTM’s Ken Roczen has done it: he’s taken the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross 450 Championship in his rookie season, beating an established star in Ryan Dungey, his teammate, to do it. He spoke with the media after the race.

Racer X: You revealed something very interesting in our TV interview at the end of the day. You admitted that you actually were nervous. Everyone tries to pretend that they’re not, but you finally did it and said, “Yeah, I was.”
Ken Roczen:
It was more because a lot of people, already Friday and Thursday, came up to me [to talk to me about it] and I’m like, “Yeah. Not looking at anyone [in particular].” They were just making comments that they’ve already done things [to celebrate]. It was just a weird feeling. I was just like, don’t say anything! Don’t talk to anyone and just go out there and ride. I haven’t really been nervous. It was more when I came to the gate. And actually in the first moto it wasn’t bad at all; I just pumped myself up and went. But when you’re on the gate you’re always like, “I’m not nervous,” but once you’re there [in the championship situation] it’s just a different feeling. It’s really hard to put it out of your mind and just say it’s just another race, because it isn’t. So I honestly just did what I had to do. It’s just crazy that I was in that position. I know a lot of people were basically saying, “You already got this.” And I’m like, “Well, just wait.” So I just rode around. I think the last couple of laps I rode slower than my parade lap. I over-jumped a couple of jumps and my front wheel started egging, and I was just wide open everywhere, clicking gears without clutch. I’m like, “Please survive, bike!” But I made it happen, which is a big, big, big accomplishment. I was almost going to say I had a tough year, but actually my results were pretty solid throughout the whole year, even though at one point I didn’t go as well as I wanted to, but in the end the points standings are the way they are. It’s just a big monkey off the back now and I honestly can’t wait to have some chocolate and all the kind of fun stuff!

Ken Roczen wrapped up his first career 450 title Saturday.
Ken Roczen wrapped up his first career 450 title Saturday. Photo: Simon Cudby

Did you also say you got sick during the week, just to add to the stress?
I did, on Tuesday. I didn’t have a fever but it just felt like my face was just glowing. I had a headache and I was really congested, so I’ve just been resting. So I haven’t really done anything besides riding on Thursday. I just really tried to rest up and not make it any worse by doing things. But why make it easy on you? If you can do it the hard way…

I think you had a rather large incident in the first moto. Talk about that.
I literally almost pooped my pants. I was going down the rollers around the outside and there was a lapper. At one point I didn’t think we were that close, but I think he started going a little bit more towards the left and I hooked his handlebar with my arm. My right hand came off. My front end was tucked and I was in sand rollers! I don’t know how I made it out of there. But for a moment there it got really, really scary. If I would have crashed I think it would have been a big one because we were going pretty fast there. Actually, when I was on the starting gate I accidentally dropped my helmet and it fell from the bike handlebars. I was like, “Well, there it is. It’s already done. No crashes today.” I think that was probably good. I’m actually not usually that way [superstitious] that when something happens I’m like, “Oh dang it.” But I guess when you’re that close to the championship you’re starting to believe in those things, but I just tried to keep it out of my mind. 

With the points lead that you had, you didn’t really have to race that hard in the first moto. But you guys were going for it.
That’s part of trying to get it out of your mind. I told myself I wanted to go out and just race hard. I think in the first half or three-quarters, it was going pretty well. Until that moment there, and then from then on I’m like, “Just stay on the bike.” I honestly don’t know what’s easier. When you have that kind of lead, it’s like you can actually relax a little bit, but not too much. I wouldn’t say I want it to be a 7-point gap only, but when you’re that close, you have to go out there and just hammer down. It could be easier sometimes. I was just riding and I don’t know if it’s because of the stress you put on yourself and stuff, but my neck just started hurting and my legs started hurting. I don’t know if it’s also because I probably have a little bit of sickness still in me, who knows. Plus we’re at an altitude, so that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. But my body just started aching so I just rode safe.

Last year you won the 250 supercross championship, and this year obviously the 450 outdoors; how do the two compare? I would almost think the supercross was bigger because you don’t have supercross in Europe.
For one part it is good to have a couple years in a row where you got a championship, one was 250 supercross. But I think this was just so special because it was my first year in the 450s, and that’s definitely known for not being the easiest. I think most of the people that switch; they don’t have the best first year. I think that made it that much sweeter. Once you go into the season it’s twelve rounds, and you have a good race, but the end still seems so far away. Even when you have the lead and there’s only five races left, it still seems so far away. Finally making it happen is just so sweet. It’s good to have one in supercross and one outdoors. It’s just cool to see that you can have it in both. 

You say the end feels so far away when it’s round 1 but that was like round eighteen [after seventeen supercross races]. So what is that, compared to your 250 days? Having to do twenty-nine races.
And that’s the thing, you don’t really notice it until you’re actually really in it, which I’m really, really happy about that I made every single race, I went to, or every single race in the whole season. I’ve made all of them. First off it’s good for a learning year, and I basically know how hard it is now. It’s just amazing to have luckily a healthy season so far.

The moment when you win your first 450 title.
The moment when you win your first 450 title. Photo: Simon Cudby

The season’s over, so you can tell us the truth now. The two races before Indiana you had not-so-good races and you were telling us, “I’m still happy and things were going good.” What was really going on?
I think it’s really just because I had it in supercross too, when my body felt like… And it’s not just in your head. I can tell with my body and there’s a race and there’s another race, and I’m like, “I do not feel great.” So I think it was more like a little, I would say a milestone or an edge that I have to come over [with my body]. I had it in supercross too. It’s just that load of training you have to do the whole time, and we don’t really have that many weekends off. You can’t take it too easy and just rest because then it will bite you in three or four weeks, so there’s a really fine line you have to be careful about. So I just go it again to a point. I was riding really good in the first half, and it almost didn’t seem like it was hard for me. I was really fit and that’s probably when I was peaking. I think here and there maybe if I would have taken it a little more easy it would have been better, but those are the things that you learn from.

Also throughout the year Ryan [Dungey] told us about chasing settings and stuff. Was it similar for you?
The first half of the season I basically kept it the same. When you feel strong you can do a lot to the bike, meaning it could not be perfect but you’re sort of just so strong that you can muscle it around. And it’s from bike to bike different, but as soon as you start you can’t go wide open for twelve rounds for two motos a weekend the whole time. There are times where you’re not feeling great, and those are sometimes days where you wish the bike would handle a little bit better or things like that. But overall we’re champion for a reason. My team, my mechanic, everybody did a really, really good job. Obviously I’ve been putting in a lot of work and it’s good to see that paying off. As long as you go good and you hammer down and the bike can handle really well, as soon as you back down just a tiny notch, that’s when it could bite you.

You are from Europe, you were racing Europe, you had success in Europe. It probably would have been really easy to just stay there, but you decided to come here and that’s a huge sacrifice. I know your parents were able to come over today, but you don’t get to see them all the time like you would if you had stayed over there. Talk about why you wanted to do this and how good it feels to have it pay off.
My dream was as a kid, I think everybody’s dream over there, is to finally come over here, but it is very hard. I got lucky with KTM. They wanted to build the same thing that they had in Europe, wanted to build here. I had the choice. It’s what everybody wishes for. I could have stayed there or go over here. I wanted to be here. It always seemed so far away. It’s like, “Well, I’ve still got a little bit of time.” But I was 16 and there I was. I can go over there. I was like, “Whatever, I’ll do it.” I came over here, and the racing part was definitely much harder since I haven’t really had any supercross experience. I mean, I had a little track at home, but it’s nothing compared to here. Honestly, what was so weird is that in Europe, on starting gate the bikes smell different. That’s just what makes it so different. The bikes smell different; they’re louder here. It’s just a whole different atmosphere that I really had to get used to. I don’t know if I adapted quick or if other people would be quicker or not. But I knew that when I came over here it’s not going to be just a year and then I’ll go back. I was planning on taking two to three years to be fully adjusted, and I finally feel like home. I feel like I’ve got my life in order. I have a place in Florida now. I think things are just clicking a little bit more and my future’s here. I’m in it for the long run and that’s what I want. It’s very great for a European, especially a German, to come over here and finally have a couple of titles.

Talk about your parents being here this weekend to celebrate with you.
My sister, my mom, and my niece came over to Florida, so we’ve been hanging out for a couple of weeks. My dad finally came; I think it was like a last-second choice. They’re known for pulling stuff like that off. I was guessing that he was going to show up, and on Friday after dinner we made our way to the airport, and I knew what was going on, so we picked him up. It’s just cool. It’s been a while since I’ve really seen him. It was basically Anaheim 1. As soon as he’s back he’s right back into it. Just good for me to have it like back in the old days where he was working with me and basically massaging me and pumping me up. I think it was very emotional for him.

Respect between champions. 
Respect between champions.  Photo: Simon Cudby

Can you talk about your main rival who was your teammate. Did that change anything in the pits?
It honestly didn’t. We have a really good relationship. When we were on the West Coast and we started riding outdoors and stuff, we were practicing together and we went for dinner and everything. You would think it would be a little weird, but I think we’re just two people that can handle competition under the same tent good. I think he kind of knew with me coming up; I think he somewhat saw it [coming]. But I think so far everything has been really good and we haven’t had any problems at all this year. I would think some other riders maybe on another team, they would be a little different. But we were still talking to each other. We barbecued last night together outside. That’s just the way I am. Once I’m off the track I’m fine with anybody, really. 

How cool is it to be a part of this Red Bull KTM team? Ryan’s got a championship, and you now have two. Marvin’s been riding awesome, helping to kind of bring the brand up to where it’s at?
Yeah it is. KTM, what they have accomplished in the last three years is unbelievable. They’re putting in so much work and at the right time. They also have the right riders. It just seems like everything is clicking really well. Plus the team, every single person in this team is really, really good friends to me. It’s cool to be pushing the bike like that and just accomplishing the championship. I was thinking about it earlier. Roger [De Coster] must have the biggest smile because both of his dudes are basically first and second. For him it was probably like a golden weekend. It was just great to have that happen. They were putting in work. They see that we put in work. That motivates them more. It’s just a circle. It could go backwards sometimes, but if everything clicks for the rider and everything from the team, you’re just that much better.