Monday Conversation: Damon Bradshaw

Monday Conversation: Damon Bradshaw

October 5, 2015 1:00pm

Damon Bradshaw won nineteen supercross main events between 1990 and 1993, and once held the all-time record for wins in a season with his nine-victory thisclosetothetitle run in 1992. He also won the 1989 125 East Region SX title, appeared on two winning editions of Team USA at the Motocross of Nations, and podiumed in his first-ever supercross—in the premier class, at 16 years old! 

None of that really sums up the Beast from the East, though. In terms of pure speed and talent, Bradshaw is right there with anyone on the all-time list, and his personality and aggression make him a legend well beyond his actual race results.  

Today he's found the perfect outlet for that in the Monster Jam tour behind the wheel of the Monster Energy monster truck. Our man Aaron Hansel called Bradshaw to check in for some Monster Jam stuff, but Damon was soon going off about the sport today. Let's unleash the Beast from the East!

Racer X: It's been a while since you've been behind the gate. Let's start by talking about what you miss about racing motocross and supercross.
Damon Bradshaw: The number one thing I miss about racing is the reward that I got for winning. Not just the money, but to see the guys—I'm talking about when I was with Yamaha and winning, the whole team was just smiling. It wasn't like it was just my mechanic and I who had won; the whole team had won. For me to be able to make everyone that happy was great—and the reward to my bank account was awesome too. I miss that! 

The second thing would be the competition level, the game that you had to play, mentally and physically, to win. Back when [Jeff] Stanton and I used to battle, me and that guy could race so close together, and be so aggressive, but still so honest. It was amazing for the fans, and it was entertaining for us to do it. Of course, all of the pressure and all the other bullsh-t that goes with it, I would never miss that, but those two things really stand out. 

"It's a game, man, and fortunately I can still get the rush of racing and competition." photo: Feld Motor Sports

When you say the mental game, is it like each guy has a formula you have to figure out?
They do. It's funny how you literally race every person differently, whether it's a tenth-place guy or if he's the guy who can win. It's weird how you race with those guys for so many years and you figure out how to race everyone individually.

Not to get off subject, but this past year, with the monster truck stuff, was the first year that we actually did a tour that we stayed on the same tour with the same guys and the same drivers. We've never done that before. I might go this weekend and race and do freestyle with one group of guys, then the next weekend it's none of the same people. It was really hard to try to figure things out. You try to figure out some way to beat someone, whether you're playing mental games or whatever. Everyone thinks what we do isn't real, but it's completely real and you want to win. I'm a competitor, and there are a lot of really good drivers who are on this particular tour that I'm on. The closest thing that I ever had to racing motorcycles with Stanton, [Jean-Michel] Bayle, [Jeff] Ward, [Johnny] O'Mara, and all those guys was trying to figure out each one of them, and how I could mentally screw them up and how I could beat them. What tracks they favored, versus what tracks the guys' trucks favor now—it's just really interesting. It all still relates to my days of racing a motorcycle.

I have always wondered how competitive the monster truck guys actually are. I always thought they might back off in order to save the truck.
There are some guys who do that in freestyle, but mainly those are independent guys who own their own trucks. We have bodies that cost fifteen or twenty grand. Well, that driver just can't take the chances that I can go out and take because what's on the side of my truck [sponsorship] and where I came from. So you've got fifteen trucks—actually probably more—who can pretty much go do what they want to do in freestyle. Their only limiter is their pain level. For me, I drive up against the pain level. If I can do more, but it hurts a little more, but it'll make me win or make the fans cheer louder, so be it. But when it comes to racing, everyone goes for it.

The trucks aren't easy to drive, and setup is critical, and you can see over the period of a few events, depending on who's there, the guys who are good and have good experience. I didn’t have any driving experience, but I learned quick. We have a couple guys who come from short-course and formula racing and are really good racers, and some guys came from car racing. It's a game, man, and fortunately I can still get the rush of racing and competition. 

It's not the same as it was on a motorcycle because pretty much all of the truck drivers I like. I didn’t like anybody when I was racing motorcycles. I had a couple of friends I could speak to in passing, but I hated the majority of them and I didn't want to like them—that was my motivation. I feel like, unfortunately, the sport is missing that today. When I see these guys act the way they do and hug one another.... There's nothing wrong with congratulating someone when you get your ass kicked and they were the better man—that's one thing—but I think it needs to be more competitive like it used to be. The talent's there, and I understand it has to be safe because there's a lot of money invested in the riders, but I think it needs to be more competitive. I think it's missing on the sheer aggression side. But, that's just my opinion. 

"It's really neat to see the opportunities now for the up-and-coming kids to make a living at it. When I was riding, if you weren't one of those two or three guys on a race team, you really weren't going to make a good living." photo: Racer X Archives

Well, you’re allowed to have an opinion, but what could you do to make it more competitive?
You know…. I was just never Mr. Nice Guy and people either loved me or hated me, and that was fine with me. I used it for motivation. I think there are riders who have it, who have that grit I'm talking about, who will to do whatever it takes to win. But there are some of them who don't. It’s just different now when you hear a guy being happy with getting sixth or seventh or eighth or even fifth. When I was riding I was totally pissed if I didn’t win. Second sucked, and third was even worse. From there on after that, I didn’t even want anyone to talk to me. Now you’ve got guys who are happy getting sixth or seventh or eighth. But on their side of things, I've asked them how the hell they can be happy with results like that, and the response totally makes sense. They say, "Well, we have to look at it this way. If I try to go to that next level or try to work my way up another three positions, it's possible, but the risk of me crashing is greater, and if I do that, then I'm not racing the next few events, I'm hurt, and I'm not making money." So maybe the smarter guys are better at that, but it would just be hard to do that when you really felt like you had a chance at being on the podium or even the top five. Does that make sense?

I've never raced professionally, but it makes sense from the sidelines. Getting hurt and losing your paycheck, because you’ll be out of a ride, is no good.
Right. I never really thought about it like that until one of the guys mentioned it. There probably are some sponsors that are okay with that and just want their guy there every weekend. My whole thing was about winning—and back then [when I raced] you're talking about only a handful of guys who were making a great living. Now there's obviously more opportunity for riders, which I think is great and I'm glad to see it. You think back to when there were four major manufacturers, and each one of those teams had a couple riders. That was it. There were a few outside sponsorships but not many, and everyone else was just trying to make it to the next race. It's really neat to see the opportunities now for the up-and-coming kids to make a living at it. When I was riding, if you weren't one of those two or three guys on a race team, you really weren't going to make a good living. The opportunities just weren't there. 

Speaking of how much it's changed, does it blow your mind to go to a race and see how much it's grown? The semis far outnumber the box vans now.
It totally does. I don't really keep up with it that much—I have my own stuff going on now—but in the past I've heard some older riders complain about where it's at now, and the money these guys who aren't even top-five guys are making, but I think it's great. I've seen the growth and was able to be a part of it, and I got to race against several different eras, some coming in and some going out. I feel fortunate and wouldn't change a thing. I would have liked to have been more successful, but you can never be successful enough unless you're RC [Ricky Carmichael] or Jeremy [McGrath]. RC is the only guy I know who has ever retired while in that position. Everyone either unfortunately gets hurt or is there until the bitter end when they're getting beat and can't win anymore. 

"The trucks aren't easy to drive, and setup is critical, and you can see over the period of a few events, depending on who's there, the guys who are good and have good experience." photo: Feld Motor Sports

You could say Ryan Villopoto went out on top.
Yeah, I hated to see his injury come. I followed that—he's a Monster athlete as well—and when he decided to go to Europe, I was really surprised. I didn't go and race the world championship in Europe, but I raced enough in Europe and enough outdoors and supercross that I knew racing there was so different than in the U.S. that you can't even put it into words. You have to experience it. I've heard people make comments about it, and obviously everyone likes to see the guy on top get beat. Things weren't going as planned, but people have no idea what it's like to go completely out of your element. I'm sure he had some fans there and was surrounded by good people, but it's just different racing there. The language barrier, the people at the events—it's extremely tough racing out of the U.S. Some guys were able to do well at it, and if he wouldn’t have gotten hurt, I think he would have figured it out because he's just one of those guys. But it's tough.

Look at how many guys from over there have come to the U.S. and couldn't do anything! Now there are more guys that have done well, but back when I was riding they were always coming over to the U.S. trying. They'd be there for one or two events and be gone. You had the exception of Bayle and maybe a couple other guys, but there just weren't many. The tracks there are different and tough, but a good rider like Villopoto is going to adapt to that. It's all of the other things, and it starts at the beginning of the week. Where you train, where you ride—everything has a lot to do with it. When he took on that journey I was really interested to see where it would go. And I never even follow the GP stuff at all, but when he was there I did just to see, because I know how tough it is. It's unfortunate the injury he had at the end there. But it's neat to see guys survive their careers and have minimal injuries, like RC. 

"I had a couple of friends I could speak to in passing, but I hated the majority of them and I didn't want to like them—that was my motivation. I feel like, unfortunately, the sport is missing that today." photo: Moto Verte

Yeah, he didn't really have many injuries I can think of other than that knee.
That's part of the reason why he was so good—he didn't have injuries plaguing him. If you think about it, you look at a lot of the up-and-coming riders, and you even look back at some of the riders who have made it who are injury prone, and they were pretty injury prone as amateurs as well. I don’t know why that is; it just seems like you see that a lot. 

Maybe they're the guys you were talking about who aren't happy with eighth place!
You're right! [Laughs] You're probably exactly right. I was pretty damn fortunate to not have a lot of injuries. My body is still in pretty good shape, and I crashed a lot. My first few years, it was either win or crash. It was the same thing with James [Stewart]; he was crashing so much, but he was going so much faster than everyone else. It was like his body was trying to catch up with his speed or something.

He's had some violent ones.
Oh, my gosh, yeah. I hate to see people get hurt, and you think about really good guys, and you want them to be able to enjoy the rest of their lives that they've worked so hard to build and put themselves in a position to be able to. When your body won't let you do things, it sucks.

Think Damon got crazy in a block-pass battle in supercross? See how nuts he gets behind the wheel of a Monster Jam truck.