Jeff Emig is a Hall of Fame motocross rider with three outdoor
titles and the 1997 AMA Supercross Championship to his credit. “Fro,”
as he is known, was on hand at the Anaheim 1 season-opener this weekend
where James Stewart, riding for his old team (Kawasaki) and being
assisted by his old mechanic (Jeremy Albrecht), captured a convincing
win. With all that in mind, we thought a little bench-racing was in
order with one of the sport’s all-time greats.
Racer X: Jeff, 2006 is up and running. What was your first impression of the Anaheim 1 AMA Supercross main event?
According to Fro, Stewart is doing next-level stuff on his KX450F. The future is now.
Jeff Emig: I guess the most shocking thing that I witnessed was the amount of intensity and aggressiveness that Carmichael, Stewart, and Reed rode with on their 450s. In the last few years we’ve seen them ride the 250 two-strokes completely to their limits, and the power delivery and the way that a 250 reacts compared to a 450 is completely different. I mean, you can push a 250 and it will just kind of sign off when it has to—it’s light and nimble. Well, the 450s have this abundance of power, and they also react a little differently. So I didn’t expect to see those guys ride them quite as hard as they did at Anaheim, because it didn’t look like that at the first two rounds up in Canada.
Let’s start with James. There were some things he was doing that seemed like next-level stuff, like coming out of from under that tunnel and tapping his back wheel on that middle jump and going over everything. He almost missed a couple of times, but he kept on doing it. Do you think he’s pushing it too hard this early in the season?
I was watching at Vancouver and there was a section where James was coming down those rhythm sections and landing in a space maybe about the size of a salad bowl, then blasting back up over two or three more jumps. Has Stewart started to make some of these track designs obsolete?
I think Stewart is the next evolution of the supercross racer. We’ve seen him do things on his 125 that have blown us away; now he’s going to have this next-level, revolutionary machine and it’s going to have more power than what the tracks can handle. And yes, the track design, like, it could soon be obsolete, and he’s only had three races on this thing. Imagine another three years from now—he’s going to be jumping some pretty amazing stuff, because he seems to have that ability in these rhythm sections to jump four, land in a small area, and then jump another three. He might have jumped 120 feet with only touching down once!
Yeah, they really did, especially the first time I walked out to the track for practice and there were only a few bikes on the track. The difference in the sound was like driving your regular car compared to an NHRA drag racer! Obviously, I miss the sound of the two-stroke; I guess in a perfect world in my mind we would run two-strokes indoors and four-strokes outdoors. That way you’d have to run both the bikes and the technology would keep growing with each motorcycle. But I don’t make the rules.
Well, what about in the SX Lites class? First of all, Andrew Short looked like a seasoned pro out there—he looked like a machine.
Yeah, he looked fantastic. Andrew probably went through the whoops better than anybody. You know, I study that a lot, and I can’t really figure it out. Obviously, entry speed is important, but he just seems to float right on the tops of them, and he definitely showed maturity and confidence, in that he had to come from pretty far back. I think that Ryan Villopoto was extremely impressive also, coming off of a broken collarbone.
Yeah, being his first supercross, he seemed to handle the pressure well, and he seemed to be confident, and a lot of that has to do with his training with Randy Lawrence. He’s coming off of an injury, but he’s done the work for the last year that had him prepared for this main event. I think he went out and that’s what he expected to do himself. And I think Billy Laninovich is going to have a lot better races, too. I think you’re going to see Billy kind of unleash the fury as he gains confidence and keeps getting on the podium.
Speaking of unleashing the fury, I was watching Grant Langston the first ten laps of the race. He didn’t move up after he got to fourth, but man, he worked his ass off and put some amazing runs together down through those whoops that were also pretty incredible.…
I think a lot of people around me know that I really like watching Grant Langston ride. The reason is that he’s a warrior, and he approaches this with a fire burning inside. I mean, I can see him taking off his helmet and having face paint on and carrying a spear to the starting line or something! I think it really showed at that first national last year, where he just clawed to catch up to [Mike] Alessi. But I think you’re going to see a lot more ride like that this year from him—he’s just an awesome guy to watch race.
… who really didn’t have a night!
I was watching Lawrence in practice for this, his first supercross. I was with SX Live! announcers Jason Weigandt and Jim Holley up in the press box, and we were astonished because he and Ryan Mills were out there fooling around together. Subsequently, neither qualified.
Yeah, when I retired, I remember David Bailey telling me that it would all become so transparent now, that all you’ve got to do is see the results and you’ll know who is working hard and how my mind would kind of cut through all of the bullshit, and it’s really starting to feel like that for me. Don’t take offense to this, but sometimes I don’t read all of the interviews in the magazines—I’ll kind of flip through them—because I’ve seen so much of it for 25 years, and you kind of know who is working hard and is focused and who’s not, just by the results. And the rest of it could be excuses or just a little bit of bullshit.
But specifically, in Nathan Ramsey’s case, he’s a friend of mine and I know he works hard. I’m fully confident that Nathan will come back and win races, it’s just unfortunate that he started off with a 12th place. But he’s going to come back strong. I also think the start at the first round is one of the most important parts of the whole series, so it’s tougher now. I was really surprised of Mike Alessi and the troubles that he had—a lot of people were. And, of course, with Jason Lawrence, it was pretty transparent that he’s not approaching this like a Ricky Carmichael or Chad Reed or any other champion would. He’s going to learn, and he’s either going to get his act together and he’s going to start making steps towards being a better racer, or he’s going to get paid this year and he’ll be doing something else next year.
You talk about how transparent things are and the amount of work that a RC or Reed puts in.… So what do Ricky and Chad do now?
Well, I’ll start out with Reed. He just needs to keep trying to get better each week. He wasn’t that far off of the win. Bubba won handily, but Reed also put in a really good ride there. It seemed like he was in there for 15 or 16 laps, and he’s going to get better. Maybe he’s going through a little bit of a transition with the machine, but he’ll figure it out. RC, on the other hand, I don’t think he’s far off at all. I think that they’re going to do what they’ve always done, which is work hard the next week, improve the little things, and come back strong. It seemed like his bike could’ve gone through the whoops a little better, especially that one lap that he crashed, but Ricky had passed everybody and was in the lead when he fell down. Everybody makes mistakes. But I don’t think that Stewart would’ve won as easy as he did if Ricky wouldn’t have went down.
Stay the course. I don’t think Carmichael has any reason for alarm. I think I’d be more pissed than anything. I mean, he’s gotten beat three times in a row here, and that doesn’t happen very often. With Ricky, he will approach it as a challenge he wants to take on. He’ll say, “Okay, I can still beat you and I’ll still come out on top.” And that’s what great about Carmichael: Ricky’s the greatest champion that we’ve ever had, and knowing him personally, hell, he’s won 13 or 14 championships, so he’s not going to get flustered now. He’s going to use his knowledge and experience to figure out the best way to achieve the goal.
With that in mind, it should be a great season.
Like I said, and with this I’ll come full-circle: The intensity that the top supercross riders rode with was the beginning of the next level. We’re starting a new era now and I’m not going to miss any of it!
All right, champ, thanks for the bench race.