Open Mic: Damon Bradshaw

Open Mic: Damon Bradshaw

This time last year, Damon Bradshaw and Jeremy McGrath, both atop idle Kawasaki KX450Fs, looked out upon the giant sand of Osborne Overlook in Glamis, California, and spent nearly an hour trading stories and anecdotes about their remarkable racing careers.

“When I rode in the Fox film “Fly,” that was the last time I was out here in Glamis,” Bradshaw said to McGrath. “That was in 1994. Man, it’s been a long time. It’s an awesome opportunity to come back and ride here again. I was worried I’d look like a total dipshit out here. I remember riding with Bob Hannah when he was getting older and he didn’t lose it. Maybe I’ll be alright.”

McGrath, totally interested in what one of the most mercurial and sensational racers in American motocross history had to say, shot back, You’re doing just fine out here.” That day, and as they do now, Bradshaw and McGrath provided an amazing contrast to one another.

Bradshaw came within one main event from winning the 1992 AMA Supercross Championship, but one year later, McGrath, who moved up to the then premiere 250cc class, caught fire and went on a run that would see him not only win the 1993 title, but to go on to dominate supercross like no other racer has—or likely ever will. As for Bradshaw, he was never the same after his heartbreak in ’92. While both are now retired from the sport, McGrath now a brand ambassador for Kawasaki and Bradshaw a Monster Jam driver, both are totally at ease with what played out in their careers and where they are now at in life.

Last week, as you may have noticed, Bradshaw and his brother Zack were both featured in a web video produced by Armored Graphix. On the gas and showing the form that once made him one of the fastest racers in the world, Bradshaw obviously still has it. Inspired by the video, we got to thinking about our buddy, and as a result, tracked him down at his home in Idaho. Taking a break from chopping wood and trying to get ahead of a winter storm creeping up on the region, Bradshaw, who is about to climb back into a monster truck for the 2017 Monster Jam tour, spent an hour getting us up to speed on what he’s been up to.

Racer X: Damon, I believe you’re getting ready to hit the road soon to begin the 2017 Monster Jam season. Do I have that right?
Damon Bradshaw: Exactly. My first weekend is January 14 and I start at Anaheim. Then I do Anaheim, San Diego, Anaheim, Phoenix, and then head east to Houston and Florida. I have a great schedule, and at least a warm schedule. That’s what I like. I don’t really care where it is as long as it’s warm.

During your career, which ran from 1989 through 1997, you won some of the biggest races in the world. Now you’re behind the wheel of a 1,500-horsepower monster truck. Are there any comparisons between the two? Does what you do now still give you that same sort of rush you may have gotten from racing before 50,000 fans?
Absolutely! Once I get into my truck and I start strapping in, it’s that same face that I had when I raced. Basically at the beginning of introductions, I get in my truck and I start feeling that hype. Especially when you’re at a stadium and the crowd numbers are good and you’re going in knowing you’re going to get to perform in front of 50,000-plus people. I put a lot of pressure on myself when we race these things. You only get one chance at racing. When you make one minor mistake here and you’re done for the night because it’s eliminations. That is hard to swallow. In supercross, you have practice, you have qualifying and you have a few chances and then you have the main event. Most of my nerves and my pressure come just before the freestyle part of the night. To explain that feeling for me, it’s the same feeling as starting Anaheim 1. You’re on the stadium floor by yourself and it’s so hard to be as good as you want to be every time. It’s no different than racing a bike. There are days when you’re on and days when you’re off and there is a lot that goes into it. It means a lot to me. I want to win and there’s nothing less than still wanting to win. We call it a show, but we do race and we do freestyle. I’m excited to be a part of it.

"Once I get into my truck and I start strapping in, it’s that same face that I had when I raced." Monster Energy

What does the sport look like to you now?
It is different. I’ve been involved just enough to really realize how much it has changed. I went to the MXGP in Charlotte this year and I recently rode Justin Barcia’s bike. In talking with the mechanics, and seeing how many guys are involved with that bike and how many different guys are involved with the rider, it’s so different. When the rider comes in he has to discuss every part on the bike, whether it’s computer mapping or whether it’s tires. And then you have the trainers and the nutritionists. It’s crazy. For me, the biggest thing I notice is the bikes. Like Barcia’s bike, I mean it has 10 different map settings that you can use, which is crazy. I remember hearing from a lot of the road race guys that there are a lot of kids that came in when this whole computer and mapping thing started and they never had to have, basically, throttle control. Now they can ride it whisky nillie and don’t have to control it.

All of those changes are so far beyond where we were back then. The riding styles and the techniques that the guys use are so different. And the tracks have changed. I don’t particularly like a lot of the tracks because I just think it is so much like Excitebike. It’s literally a jumping contest. It’s not so much real, real racing. I know the fans love it and the guys are amazing at it—you know taking a motorcycle and tucking it into a hole that it’s really not big enough to fit in and then jump another 60 or 70 feet off of basically nothing is impressive. I just think it’s not a lot of real raw racing. I know we still have outdoors, but unfortunately a lot of this stuff is bleeding into outdoors. For me, I think there are a lot of true moto fans out there that want to go to a national or a supercross and they want to see more of that raw racing. I guess that is one thing I don’t like about it as much as I used to.

With these big and powerful 450cc bikes and 50-second lap times that we see in supercross, it just all starts looking the same.
Yep, it really does. It’s hard to pick out guys. It’s hard for the top guys to separate themselves. The bikes are so good that I think—and not so much in the elite group of riders—that they’ve made a lot of guys better than what they really are. You can be more of a lazier rider and still do really well because of where the 450s are these days. I think it would be really cool to see that flip back again to where momentum is your friend. More so like with a two-stroke than it is on a 450. I mean with a 450 you can still dive underneath somebody and still not lose a lot of time. On a two-stroke, all that stuff counts. It’s hard to dive underneath and to a mistake and not be able to catch up with just a twist of the throttle. I don’t know. It’s just a frickin’ jumping contest and it has been for a long time. It seems like they’re in the air more than they are on the track.

What I thought was really cool was Monster Cup. The track seemed really cool and there was some of that raw, outside, fast speed stuff. And when I went to the GP in Charlotte, it was not your normal GP style, but what was cool was that it was more of a supercross setting and it was more racing. It wasn’t a jump contest. Cornering was huge there and there was a lot of fairly high-speed stuff, so I thought that was a great mix. Even though it was a supercross setting, it still was cool to watch. When you saw Cooper Webb come back from as far as he did and still get to the front, you couldn’t say that there was not anything to really separate the guys. You had the best in the world there and he was still able to come from behind and catch him. I thought that was cool.

I’m with you. I like when the bikes look like they’re carrying some speed on these tracks rather than looking like a bunch of kangaroos out there.
That’s why I’m kind of looking forward to going to some of the nationals this year and I’m going to pick the ones that I like to go to. You look back to the Unadilla days, that’s one that has always stuck in my head. And Mount Morris in the earlier days. And Washougal too. There was a lot of them. Even back in my day, the one that I hated with a passion was Troy, Ohio, because they wanted to make it a supercross track. Hell, I bitched about it then!

After you narrowly lost out on the supercross title in 1992, Jeremy McGrath graduated to the 250cc class and just took off and went on a run. Then it was Ricky Carmichael’s era. From there Ryan Villopoto took over. Ryan Dungey has taken control of supercross the past two seasons. What do you think of these guys as champions?
You know, I don’t really know what the word is to explain those three guys because they are all such highly talented guys. When I was riding I never would have thought that anyone could do what anyone of those guys have done. Jeremy and Carmichael and Villopoto and all those guys won so many events and so many championships, and in no way, shape or form can you take anything away from them because it was just their time, but you just didn’t see that back in my day. There were dominant guys, but man, to go on a run like some of them did, going into so many events without being beat is just … I don’t even know how you put that into words! The one that really sticks into my head is Carmichael. He was able to be so successful, and then end it on top. Nobody ever does that and I’ve said that in many interviews.

When I see Ricky, it’s “Hello”, but we don’t communicate. I don’t communicate with any of them, really just because I don’t see them. I thought that was one of the coolest things ever to see a guy end it on top because nobody ever does just because you want to keep going. I just give credit to Ricky individually for him being that much stronger and having the will to be able to work day after day after day, I’m just glad I wasn’t in there because my deal was, man, if I didn’t feel like I could win or I couldn’t be in the battle to win, I didn’t want to be there. Nowadays, guys are okay with fourth, fifth, and sixth. I think about how many popular guys that are out there who have never even won a supercross or an outdoor.

You know, I’m very, very modest when it comes to anything that I’ve accomplished, but sometimes I sit and think about how there still aren’t that many guys that won a lot of nationals or supercross races. It still makes you feel pretty good when you can look at those numbers compared to a lot of guys that are still making a really good living, and I wonder how they can still stay motivated if they’re not in that race. I know when I was a fourth and fifth place or whatever place guy, it wouldn’t happen for very long because I’d be like, “If I can’t frickin’ win or be in the race, what am I doing here?” I was talking with one rider, I don’t remember who it was, but let’s say he was a sixth through 10th place rider or whatever, and I was like, “How do you stay motivated in training and everything just to finish right in that area? I know I would be killing myself just trying to be second or third or fourth or trying to win.” And he said to me, “Well, this is the deal. I can ride pretty comfortably, and I’m not riding at 110 percent or even one 100 percent and I can continue to get a paycheck and I can finish in that sixth to 10th place pretty confidently and I can continue to get paid. Or, I can push the envelope and maybe I can break up into fifth, but I’d really be risking it and risking getting hurt and not getting paid.” I thought about it and said to myself, “Shit, I guess that does sort of change how I thought about some of those guys and how they can even do that.” I guess that’s being smart and looking at the rest of your career, but for me, shit, I was going to do anything under the moon to try to win or at least be on the box. And, hell, when I was on the box in second I still wasn’t happy! I think that’s the sort of drive that the guys that have been really successful and had the long runs had to have. They had to have that mentality, as well.

Bradshaw takes off his race face for some fun in the dunes.
Bradshaw takes off his race face for some fun in the dunes. Monster Energy

When Jeremy was out there dominating, he looked like he was enjoying it all so much. He made it all look so fun to the fans. Juxtaposing that, it was pretty easy to see, and they would both admit to it as well, that Carmichael and Villopoto not only looked deathly serious all of the time, but put out the vibe that they weren’t really having all that much fun. When you were racing, I thought you were a little bit more like Ricky and RV. Agreed?
I think so. You have that race face and you’re there for one reason and that is to win and nothing less. I think it’s hard for guys to switch that off because, again, times have changed a lot from when Jeremy was there, when I was there, even since when Ricky was there. It kind of goes back to all of those people that are involved with that rider now. Whether it’s the tires or it’s the map settings or it’s the mechanic or the trainer and all these people. When the rider is at the track, so much of their time is taken. Even being at the MXGP at Charlotte, I talked with Cooper a little and I talked with Barcia a little and honestly, I didn’t even want to talk to them. I just wanted to say hello and shake their hand and leave them alone—I’ll talk to them somewhere completely different later on. Not at a race. I know how I was back in the day, and we didn’t have nearly as many people to deal with, but it’s just really hard to take your mind off of that focus and your regimen at a race track. Jeremy was obviously good at it, but I just think with things changing with the bikes and with so many other people being involved with the teams that it takes a lot of the rider’s time, it’s really hard now. I don’t know if fans know what is required of a rider’s time at an event and how important it is for them to be perfect at every event.

What did you think of Cooper Webb? Not only are both of you guys from North Carolina, but you also remind me quite a bit of one another. Cooper has a strong appreciation of the history of the sport, so I’d venture to guess he knew a lot about you.
Yeah, he does. It was kind of funny. I got to talk with his dad quite a bit before I actually got to talk to him. I didn’t know his dad and I didn’t know Cooper, although I obviously knew of them. Cooper wasn’t even born when I retired and now people are even calling him my old nickname (Beast from the East) and whatever and I don’t know how he feels about that. I mean people compared me to Bob Hannah when I was growing up, and I was honored with that although Hannah was a frickin’ prick and still is! [Laughs] That’s something I’ve always razzed him about and I would tell him if was sitting here. I didn’t know how Cooper was going to take that comparison to me. He’s a younger kid and he wants to be his own guy, but no, he was very humble and it was good to talk to him. He’s very well spoken.

I guess the reason why you and Cooper remind me so much of one another is that you both wore your heart on your jersey sleeve. Good, bad, or ugly, the fans know where a guy like Cooper is coming from. We don’t see a lot of that emotion in today’s riders. Thoughts?
It’s a different cycle now. It’s crazy with the changes. We’re starting to see a lot of young guys now, so you just hope some of them grasp onto things like Cooper has. Those humble guys seem to do well and a lot of people seem to like them.

This time last year we were out at Glamis and you had just come to a stop from riding in the dunes. I was standing there on a ridge of sand with McGrath and NASCAR driver Kurt Busch. Busch said to me, “Hey, is that Damon Bradshaw?” I told him it was and he was sort of in awe. It caught me by surprise a bit. I could also tell Jeremy also had a lot of admiration for you as well. Do you ever think back on your career? You never won a major title, but you won some very big races, and more than anything, I think to this day there is a lot of mystique around you and what you did in motocross.
I honestly don’t think about it, but when people bring it up and they want to talk about it and they remind me about some of those things, you can’t explain the feeling that I still get when people still talk about it. Like I said, I always have been and I still am very humble and would never talk about it that much with anybody unless they bring it up to me, but it is pretty cool when you’re sitting around talking with people and they bring it up. When they do, I think, Damn, it is pretty cool that people still remember this stuff.