Open Mic: Jeremy McGrath

Open Mic Jeremy McGrath

November 8, 2016 10:25am

If you’re going to track someone down to get a read on the past, present, and future of supercross, there is no better a barometer than Jeremy McGrath. With seven supercross championships and 72 main event wins, he’s the most successful rider in the history of Monster Energy Supercross. It’s been over a decade since McGrath’s last supercross race (San Diego on February 11, 2006), but his star power still shines as brightly as it did back in the day. Just follow him around a bit at a local supercross near you and watch the fans and racers and industry members flock to him. Now a hard working brand ambassador for Kawasaki Motors Corp., we caught McGrath as he was heading down to Palm Springs for the 2017 Kawasaki dealer show.

Racer X: Jeremy, what’s happening?
Jeremy McGrath: Well, this week is the Kawasaki dealer show so I’m heading to Palm Springs for that. It’s going to be really fun actually. Sometimes those things are a little bit boring, but for Kawasaki it’s the 50th anniversary this year and I’m psyched because I get to host a little bit of it and introduce a few of the legends that Kawasaki has had along the way. Namely Eddie Lawson and Jeff Ward and of course the great Ricky Carmichael. So we’re going to have some fun. Other than that, a few weeks back I did a big Kawasaki dealer ride out at my ranch. We had over 100 dealers there and had an awesome time. We probably had over 40 bikes riding at once. It was awesome.

I was walking around the pits and parking lots with you at the Monster Energy Cup and it was amazing to see how many fans, young and old, light up when they see you. I’m not trying to embarrass you here, but it’s like you star power still shines as brightly as it ever has.
Well, I’m always thankful that my image, or however you want to put that, is still so bright in the industry. The number one thing that I focus on is the industry itself and I also realize all this has come because of my motorcycle. It’s enjoyable. It’s funny because I think the kids are so stoked on me when they see me because their parents have done a really good job of explaining who Jeremy McGrath is—or was! One thing I’ve never shied away from is the fans. They’re why we all get to race and do the things we like. It’s always fun to get out there at some of the races and see all these people that you’ve seen along the way and these people who have, really, just grown up with you. For me, getting out to the races is always a really fun time.

Well, you also made racing and being a professional supercross rider look fun. Be it the racing, the play riding, the videos, the successes, it just all looked fun. I’ve always thought the fans really picked up on that. What do you think?
I think for me one of the things that I’ve always thought is that it’s just better to embrace it all than shy away from it. It’s one of my favorite parts of it, you know, getting to meet new people and see new people and really enjoy the kids and their reactions. For that I’m super grateful. That stuff never gets old. But again, my motorcycle is my passion and it’s what has given me this great life and I will never turn my back on it.

McGrath taking his first of many 250SX wins.
McGrath taking his first of many 250SX wins. Cycle News

Does the sport have the same verve it had a decade ago? Is it too professional now? Do you think it’s too uptight? It seems kind of cold right now.
It’s a double edge sword, because you want the sport to grow and be more professional and be one of the top sports in the world like Formula One or MotoGP, however we lived through the heyday of when you could actually have a little bit of a good time and still get the racing job done. I’m sure they guys before I even raced would look at us and say, “Man, those guys have trainers now and this stuff!” They probably thought the same thing that we’re thinking about the group of guys now. Everything now is elevated so much better and the fitness is so much better. These guys are awesome, but you’re right, it has gotten just a little bit stale just because these guys are so serious. That’s just kind of how sports go. Everyone gets more evolved and more serious. I think the guy that had a good time and wasn’t afraid to go out and do whatever, but still made sure they got their job done in the old school, today would probably not be the top guy because there are too many guys that are too fit and too strong.

What did you make of the racing this summer?
I thought the racing was good. I thought [Ken] Roczen was really strong. I thought Eli [Tomac] had some great runs. I’m really excited about this 2017 season because we saw Roczen on his new bike and he’s riding really good. We saw Eli get the job done and win the Monster Cup when Roczen made the little mistake there, but I’m hopeful Eli has a breakthrough, you know? In ’16, he really started the series sort of under the gun because of his double shoulder surgery. I just had shoulder surgery two months ago, so for him to do what he did was pretty incredible to say the least. The injury he had takes a lot longer than a couple months to heal. He started off the year with some pretty severe trauma to his body. I’m hopeful this year in ’17 that he’s going to come out strong and be ready to battle with Roczen. I know Roczen will be strong. We’ll see what happens.

How do you think Ken Roczen will adapt to his new Honda?
You know I think when you’re young like Ken I don’t think the adaption is as hard. When you get a little older and set in your ways a little bit more, it becomes a little bit different. But someone at his age, I don’t think he’s going to have a problem with it. I think now that Eli is coming into his second year at Kawasaki, he’s going to be much, much better. From what we’ve seen so far from Roczen, he’s been pretty good adapting. With Honda and his new team, they have a lot options and they’re going to work until they get it figured out. You saw him at Monster Cup—he was fast. If I were the other guys I might be a little bit worried about it.

So who do you see really being in it next year? You’ve got Roczen and Tomac and the ever-steady [Ryan] Dungey; you’ve got [Justin] Barcia on a new Suzuki…
I think Dungey is going to be strong. He always is. He’s proven over the years that he’s going to be strong and you can never count him out. I think Marvin Musquin is going to be pretty strong this year. He’s training with Dungey. And [Jason] Anderson will be there. So Anderson, Dungey, and Musquin are all training at the same facility with the same trainer. Those three guys are going to be strong. Eli will be strong. Roczen will be strong. I’m sure you’ll see some flashes of brilliance from Barcia. It just depends on how they get the bike working, but I don’t think it’s a bad situation for him. I think he’ll do good.

Cooper Webb?
Cooper Webb, well I think as tough as he is and as strong as he is, I think he’s going to work hard to figure it out. In the beginning it’s not going to be easy. There are a lot of guys that have been in there for a while now. It’s nothing easy. I think Cole Seely is going to do good. It’ll be interesting to see how Trey Canard does. I don’t know how that’s going to work out. Hopefully he can have a breakthrough year and not get hurt. That would be good. It would be nice to see Chad Reed up there too.

Cooper Webb will make his 450 debut with number two on his number plates.
Cooper Webb will make his 450 debut with number two on his number plates. Cudby

There has been some talk of imminent change in the sport. I’m sure you’ve heard the talk about potential format changes and the supercross series running a few points paying races overseas in the not too distant future. What do you think?
Change is always interesting, I guess. At first it’s always a little bit strange, right? I think change is good. It’s been the same for a while. You know what I think would be good? I think they need to throw in a couple of these changes everyone is talking about implementing and try them at a couple different races and just see how it goes. Rather than committing to a change for a year or whatever, let’s throw that format in for a couple of races and see how it goes.

Like the Monster Cup format?
Yeah, maybe like the Monster Cup format. I don’t know what else they have in mind, but just do something different. That would be kind of cool. The fans would enjoy seeing the top riders ride a little more, which would be great for all of us.

How about those international races?
Like having some flyaway races?

Exactly.
Listen, I think the idea sounds really cool on paper, but anywhere you go outside of the U.S., supercross is really like arenacross. To me, when those guys from MotoGP come over here to race, they race Austin. One of the best tracks ever. But when we go race supercross, you’re not going to find an Anaheim stadium anywhere in the world except for Anaheim, California. The U.S. has all the sweet places to race and all the good tracks. I’m not against going over and doing something different. I think that having a world schedule is probably not a bad idea, but they tried that a while ago when we went to Germany and all these other places but supercross always turns out like arenacross when you do that. To me, that’s a drop down from the level it’s at now. There are probably venues around the world now are like an Anaheim or other American stadiums. Again, I think it’s probably something they should try. I don’t know about throwing it on a schedule for ’17, ’18, or ’19 or whatever they are going to do. If they can have a big enough place and a big enough track, then it’s probably an okay idea. But going over somewhere else and racing indoors at a place that’s half the size of a supercross track? I don’t agree with that. It’s got to be real.

A decade after retiring, McGrath still makes riding look effortless.
A decade after retiring, McGrath still makes riding look effortless. Monster Energy

Anaheim is two months away. What do you think?
I think the 450 class is looking good and strong. For some reason there are so many good Lites [250] riders now and the level of the sport has gone up. It almost seems like they might be ready for one 250 series. You know what I mean? Not the East/West stuff. If they did that then you should be able to choose what class you race. You can go wherever. It keeps guys working and doesn’t funnel guys out of the sport so quickly. I’m looking forward to Anaheim. As always, there is always a lot of hype around Anaheim 1, but I think as far as we know, it’ll be the same sort of crew as last year that was competitive. They’ll all be shooting for the win. Cole Seely, Anderson, Dungey, Musquin, Roczen, Tomac, Reed. All these guys are all going to be strong. I’m more interested to see what’s happening this weekend for the Australian Supercross.

Oh yeah. What’s your take on that thing?
I don’t know. It’s going to be interesting to see how Villopoto does. I know he’s been out riding and I heard he’s been going pretty good. It’ll be fun to see what happens.

Cooper Webb has that number two affixed to his bike now. Does it look good on there?
I think Cooper Webb is a good candidate for the number. Of course it’s always interesting to see who has it. Obviously, I don’t own the number. Apparently word on the street is that he called Villopoto about using the number two. I think he would probably agree that Cooper Webb is a good candidate for number two. I don’t know. I don’t really have an opinion. I just hope he keeps riding strong.

Did he call you?
No, no. I’m way out of the loop for that deal. He didn’t call me. But Villopoto did years ago, so I think as you pass the torch along maybe you just call the most current guy, I guess.