Privateer Profile: The Drive

Privateer Profile The Drive

September 3, 2014 11:45am

The life of a professional motocrosser in America is a tough one. Seventeen Monster Energy Supercross, twelve Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship races, and only five Saturdays off for eight months. Motocross is not only difficult, requiring a high level of fitness; it’s also very dangerous. 

There were a couple of privateer performances this year that may have flown under the radar. Ronnie Stewart raced the entire season, and Killy Rusk did twenty-four out of the twenty-nine races. (Rusk did better outdoors and Stewart topped him indoors.) 

I thought it would be cool to get both guys together to talk about their season, their challenges, and more. And we’ve even included a handy chart to show you how both guys did (courtesy of our buddy Swizcore). All of us reading this should tip our visor to a couple of dudes who put in some serious work this year.

Racer X: You did it, Ronnie! You did the whole season—twenty-nine races. You happy with how everything went?
Ronnie Stewart:
Yes, I’m very happy how everything went. To do a full supercross season and a full outdoor season was a dream come true for me. Obviously, a lot of things have to in line in order to do that. Even if you do have all of the support, you still have to be able to make it through healthy and everything. It’s been really cool. I’ve never done one complete series, so to do two in a row was a major accomplishment for me and our new team.

Killy, what did you think of your year?
Killy Rusk:
Well, I did the West Coast supercross rounds, Dallas, Indy, St. Louis, and Houston. But I got hurt at Indianapolis and missed four rounds. Supercross was tough this year just because when we decided to go 450, it happened super abruptly and I didn’t have a whole lot of time on the bike. I was having major difficulties getting used to the bike and the power on such a tight track. I was having huge issues with over-jumping stuff. I got myself in trouble a couple times, but it wasn’t anything major. But I had a lot of issues getting used to the power of the bike on such a tight track. And I’m a little bit of a short guy, so it’s tough for me to get through the whoops sometimes too.

But I was just stoked about being able to do a whole motocross season this year. This is the first time I’ve ever actually been able to do a full, complete outdoor season. That was one of my main things that I was pretty stoked about. But I had a couple finishes that I wasn’t too happy about. There were a couple—actually there were more than a couple—DNFs in there, then a couple motos where I wasn’t able to score points, but overall when I did finish a race I was usually top-fifteen, so I was pretty stoked.

 Supercross  Killian Rusk Ronnie Stewart 
  Entered 12 of 17 Rounds Entered 17 of 17 Rounds
A1 Qualified 34
DNQ (Main)
Qualified 31
DNQ (Main)
Phoenix  Qualified 33 
DNQ (Main)
Qualified 27
DNQ (Main)
A2  Qualified 37 
DNQ (Main)
Qualified 34
DNQ (Main) 
Oakland  Qualified 33 
DNQ (Main)
Qualified 28
DNQ (Main) 
A3  Qualified 32 
DNQ (Main)
Qualified 29
DNQ (Main) 
San Diego  Qualified 31
DNQ (Main)
Qualified 25
DNQ (Main)
Arlington  Qualified 26 
DNQ (Main)
Qualified 24
DNQ (Main) 
Atlanta  Not Entered  Qualified 23
DNQ (Main) 
Indianapolis  Qualified 28 
DNQ (Main)
Qualified 25
20th (Main) 
Daytona  Not Entered  Qualified 27
20th (Main) 
Detroit  Not Entered  Qualified 23
19th (Main) 
Toronto Not Entered  Qualified 20
17th (Main) 
St. Louis Qualified 31
DNQ (Main)
Qualified 20
18th (Main) 
Houston Qualified 29
16 (Main)
Qualified 24
16th (Main) 
Seattle Qualified 29 
16 (Main)
Qualified 14
17th (Main) 
East Rutherford  Not Entered Qualified 29
14th (Main) 
Las Vegas  Qualified 25
DNQ (Main) 
Qualified 22
18th (Main) 
  Finished 36th Finished 29th
Best OA Finish  16th 14th 
Worst  OA Finish  19th 20th 


 Motocross  Killian Rusk  Ronnie Stewart 
Glen Helen Qualified 23
30/26 - 28th OA
Qualified 24
23/30 - 24th OA
Hangtwon  Qualified 15
13/23 - 17th OA 
Qualified 26
20/21 - 25th OA 
Thunder Valley  Qualified 10
13/15 - 14th OA 
Qualified 23
23/35 - 37th OA 
High Point  Qualified 22
15/16 - 16th OA 
Qualified 20
18/37 - 20th OA 
Tennessee  Qualified 21
40/18 - 19th OA 
Qualified 26
27/20 - 22nd OA
RedBud  Qualified 24
35/38 - 38th OA 
Qualified 21
15/34 - 19th OA 
Budds Creek  Qualified 22
17/37 - 21st OA 
Qualified 25
24/30 - 33rd OA 
Washougal  Qualified 17
23/14 - 18th OA  
Qalified 32
25/30 - 32nd OA 
Unadilla   Qualified 26
16/14 - 15th OA 
Qualified 33
25/28 - 31st OA
Indiana   Qualified 35
15/14 - 14th OA 
Qualified 28
19/16 - 18th OA 
Utah  Qualified 21
21/13 - 16th OA 
Qualified 28
19/16 - 18th OA 
   Series Finish 19th Series Finish 28th 
Best OA Finish  14th (twice) 18th (twice) 
Worst OA finish   40th 37th 

What did you guys do for travel this year?
I drove basically the whole season. I flew two one-ways. I flew home from Houston and our team owner drove from Houston to Seattle. Then I flew obviously to Seattle. So I flew two one-ways. Other than that I drove the rest of the way.

Rusk: I was just in California the whole time. My girlfriend and me actually moved out to California in June last year, so I’ve been there permanently since then, and I was lucky enough to fly to the races.

Ronnie, what was it like trying to find somewhere to ride?
Yeah, that was one of the most challenging things. My pre-season training was excellent. Billy Laninovich was training us—both my teammate Robert Lind and I—and we were consistent. But as soon as we got on the road, the consistency kind of went out the window a little bit. It has to be practical. There’s a lot of things that factor into your decision-making during the week. One thing is finances. Some of it is, is it going to physically and mentally make sense as you’re driving x-miles to go to this track, and the weather’s going to be this, or how good is the track? 

Sometimes the options you have aren’t even worth it. And then, of course, I felt like I had to change it up a little bit and adjust as the season was going on. Three-quarters through the summer my energy level was really low and I started to feel the burn. It started to catch up with me. At that point the number one goal was to try to rest. There were a couple weeks that I didn’t ride at all. So that was my goal the last couple races, was just to get to Saturday with mental clarity and physically there so I can do the best I can. We adjusted as we went through the series. So the consistency with practicing, there wasn’t that much consistency.

Stewart's best finish in supercross was 14th.
Stewart's best finish in supercross was 14th. Photo: Simon Cudby

Ronnie, you didn’t qualify for a main event until Indianapolis, and then you were in every one from there. What clicked?
I really think that it was a combination of a lot of different things. This was my fourth year racing supercross. First thing that started, it all started in November, and that was when I was able to put all of my sponsors together to be able to do a full season, to be able to have a trainer and good equipment. My practice bike and my race bike were the same. So that part was done. So then it was a matter of, “Okay, now let’s start doing the steps, doing everything I need to do to be there.” And then there are certain things that you can’t speed up. So I started in November; I had a good base. I’ve been there. I’ve almost made it. Last year I had two races where I was third in the LCQ when they took two. There were a couple races where I was really close.

So I knew I was close, if I could just work on my speed. I would say that the biggest thing is my mental game, separating how to focus your attention on certain things and being fully absorbed at the task at hand. That takes a lot of nerves out when you’re just worrying about what’s right in front of you. Timed qualifying, you’re not worried about the night show. When you’re in the night show, you’re not worrying about what’s going to happen on the second lap. You’re worried about what’s right in front of you—the gate right in front of you. My mental game definitely was a lot stronger, and I was practicing that for months and then it started to click. 

Then when I started to make it the first one seemed like it was the hardest. It seemed like it was almost impossible for me to get over that hurdle. The very first LCQ that I made it, I almost made it out of the semi, and I crashed. Then I went to the LCQ and it was the hardest four laps that I’ve ever done in my life because I just didn’t believe. Just who I am as a person I can’t lie to myself—I can’t give myself false confidence. So the confidence that I give myself has to be factual, real confidence. How can I tell myself to make this main event if I’ve never done it before? I did thirty-three races and I didn’t make one night show. Then I started to make them. 

What was the best supercross of the year do you think?
For me it was MetLife. That was definitely my best one. My second best was in Houston where I finished sixteenth, but I was right on the guy for fifteenth. I made some passes; I was in a race the whole time. I was able to not let the lapper situation screw me up too much. Before I was a little bit too nice with the lapper situation, then I started to hold my own a little bit more. Just basically learning how the twenty-lap main event unfolds. That was a whole other learning experience, so to get that down better. I was able to start getting sixteenth, fourteenth, eighteenth, rather than a nineteenth or a twentieth.

Rusk: It was by far Seattle where I got sixteenth. Seattle’s my favorite race to go to. I always do good at Seattle, so I’m really bummed out about next year for supercross, them taking that out. I don’t know; I’ve just always done really good there. Every race I’ve entered at Seattle, I’ve made the main event there no problem. That was always my one that I was excited to go to because I knew I’d do good.

Rusk finished the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season 19th overall. 
Rusk finished the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season 19th overall.  Photo: Simon Cudby

What was your worst supercross of the year for you?
The worst one for me was when I blew up two motors in one week. I blew one up on Tuesday and one on Thursday. So, here we are on a Friday, Anaheim 3 is the next day, we had to actually buy a motor from Yoshimura. Yosh had an R&D motor where they were using for R&D. They actually sold us a motor. But they weren’t able to get it together until Friday night. So they delivered us a motor at 8:00. 8:30 is when I got the engine. So I put the motor in the bike and got it all together before practice. That was definitely one of the most hectic ones, definitely. 

Rusk: Indy supercross was tough. It was tough all day. Had a rough time in practice because the track was super soft. I got hurt in the heat race or the semi. It just wasn’t my day. 

Best outdoor national for you guys?
The best national for me was the last one. I was very proud of the fifteenth place that I got at RedBud, but then when I crashed out in the second moto; that overshadowed it. So the last one was the best one for me because it was the second time ever I got points in both motos. And it was the last race and I had—I wouldn’t say every right—but I had every reason to be burned out or to just kind of give up on it. And I was really proud that the last two races I was able to bounce back. Because, starting at Unadilla, I started fading really bad, and physically I just didn’t have it. So I was really proud of myself. I got points in both motos. And I had my second-best finish in the very last moto. Then I felt a really good sense of accomplishment, and it was just great to end off the season for me. It made me feel awesome.

Rusk: Thunder Valley was really great. I always seem to do really well there, which is funny because people are like, “Oh, well, it’s your home track.” I’ve never ridden there as an amateur. Only time I’ve ever ridden it is when I’m there to race. So I’ve only ridden it four times. I think it’s one of those things that just having your family there, your fans, and that’s kind of like your hometown race. I think that kind of eases me a bit during race day. 

You qualified tenth too—that’s awesome. That was a good job on that.
I really don’t know how I did that. I remember the first practice I was following [Trey] Canard the whole time. I was basically just railing around the outside of the track, and it ended up working really well.

Stewart finished 28th overall in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross.
Stewart finished 28th overall in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross. Photo: Simon Cudby

What was the worst national for you guys this year?
Unadilla is a local race for me. It’s only two and a half hours. It’s one that I really should be able to do well at and excel. I had so many family members and friends there, people that follow me. It was very disappointing, my performance. I just didn’t physically have it. I struggled so bad to where I got to the point where I was rolling around the track. I didn’t know what was better, to pull off or to just stay out there. And then to get lapped by people that I race with, I felt pretty defeated after that. I just mentally did not… I wasn’t very happy with myself after that. But then that’s what made it so nice to come back in those last two and prove myself. 

Rusk: I would say RedBud. I had some major issues there. In the first moto I got a rock stuck underneath my rear brake pedal. I ended up missing a corner and going over a berm into a fence. So I DNF’d that moto. I was like top-fifteen before that happened, so I was pretty bummed about that. Then second moto first corner, someone fell down in front of me and the back end of the bike popped up and I ran right into it. I thought I blew my finger off; it hurt so bad. We ended up just ripping my nail all the way out, and ended up stitching it back on and stuff. So I DNF’d the second moto. It was a DNF-DNF day, and that was definitely my most frustrating day. 

What do you guys think is the biggest disadvantage for a privateer?
I think the biggest disadvantage that we have is our recovery time because your fitness is all about your recovery time. The quicker you can recover, the more you can work out, the more you can do, the more physically efficient you’re going to become. So the biggest thing is the energy and the other stuff that we have to do. That’s just the biggest disadvantage. You always wonder how those guys do more training, but they don’t have to drive—they don’t have to work on their bike eight hours before race day. So just having to do a more job than just riding, that takes away from some of what you can do. I would say that that’s the biggest disadvantage.

Rusk: I think just the suspension. I would love to just ride factory suspension for one day, just to know what I’m shooting for. For one, I’m a horrible suspension tester, but I don’t think there’s money out there that can buy you that kind of suspension. But I also think that it helps being able to ride their test track all the time, and they’re riding really good bikes throughout the week, totally like your race bike. And then you got your race bike—it’s totally fresh and it’s a whole different feel.

Rusk's best finish in supercross was a 16th. 
Rusk's best finish in supercross was a 16th.  Photo: Simon Cudby

Both of you guys lowered your numbers by quite a bit, Ronnie you’re going from #606 to #70 or somewhere around there next year, and Killy, you went from #92 to #59 or so. You guys have to be happy.
Very happy with that. I can’t wait. I’m really looking forward to the day that comes out and I can call up Dirt Candy Graphics and have them print off a set. I’m going to be very proud of that.

Rusk: I’m definitely pumped on being that low, being my lowest number yet. Lower numbers seem to help you get a little bit better help sometimes.

Did you have any battles with each other during the year that you can remember?
I did. I had a battle with him for the transfer position at Houston. I was able to inch him out. I would say honestly, I may have had an edge on him in supercross, and then I would say that he had an edge on me in outdoors.

Rusk: Houston was the only one that I can really think of, actually. We both went at it for a while. We kind of had a little back and forth though for a little while at Utah there. Finally able to step up my game a little bit.