Anaheim 1 of 2013 kicked off a magical run for Davi Millsaps, who led most of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship that season and put his old team, Rockstar Energy Racing, on the map in the 450SX Class. Anaheim 1 of 2014, though, kicked off a terrible year that saw Millsaps miss every points-paying race with injuries.
How will 2015 go? We asked him at the Monster Energy Kawasaki team intro last week.
Racer X: Outside of the Monster Cup, it’s been a while since you've lined up and raced. Is there any part of you that, even with the Monster Cup, you get a little extra nervous since it’s been such a long time?
Davi Millsaps: I wouldn’t say it’s extra nervous. Obviously there’s nerves. I think every weekend, even in 2013 lining up every weekend, there’s still nerves. I don’t really think that there’s any rider out there that goes out there and doesn’t have any nerves. It’s just how you accept the nerves and put the nerves towards the race, is what the outcome can be. But for me, of course I’m nervous. I was really nervous at Monster Cup. But it’s Anaheim 1. I think everyone’s nervous, and I think everyone’s just excited to get the first one done and out of the way, and to get into a roll and to figure out what you need to work on and everything else. I’m looking forward to it.
The last time you raced the whole series, the first chunk of it you were leading and you were not on a factory bike. On the other end of that, does that sort of help you gain the courage or the muster?
My bike was good then and my bike is good now. To me, I think I have more confidence now knowing that I have the best team in the industry backing me. They know what to do in situations where I don’t, and vice versa. It’s really good to be with a team that has won the last four supercross championships and just to be a part of a winning team. All they want to do is win. For me, I’m just pumped to have the opportunity to fill my own shoes here at Kawi and hopefully have a plaque hanging on the wall.
Does that add a little pressure too—the expectations? The last few in a row have been on a green bike.
Those are big shoes to fill. My goal isn’t to fill his shoes; my goal is to create my own and do my own thing. Obviously he [Ryan Villopoto] won four in a row, and that’s only been accomplished one other time in our sport. For me, I just want to go out there and accomplish something for myself and to get a championship. I think that’s everyone’s dream. I’ve come really close twice, and I’m trying to do everything I can to not let it slip away again. But I welcome those pressures just because they know how to handle the situations where you’re in the lead or you’re not in the lead, and how to get into the lead and stuff like that. In ’13 I was kind of just racing. So I’m good with the pressure of having to go out and knowing that I’m racing for a team that has won the last four, just because it gives me more confidence to know that I have under me what it takes to win.
Your announcement of you being on this team was at an odd point. It was like July or something when people started learning about it, which leads us to all the stuff that we had heard about what had happened and what was going on at the other team. How much of that can you actually tell us?
At the end of the day I had an ongoing injury that just wouldn't heal. It took four surgeries to get it fine. My last surgery came in May, so I couldn't do anything for quite a while, and it got to the point where I was going to maybe make the last two or three rounds of outdoors. There wasn’t any point in doing that, so I sat down with the team and we all came up on an agreement that on July 31 that was it and then I could go do what I want to do and ride what I want to ride. My foot injury, I went and had surgery on it and they put a screw through it. It was still hurting, still hurting a ways down the road. So we took the screw out thinking that that was it, because I’ve had problems with metal in my body before. Everything was okay, but it still kind of hurt. I started riding again and it hurt really bad and I had to stop again. Had to have another surgery. They went in there, cut my nerve, so I can’t feel part of my foot.
This was way after your the surgeries on your knee at the end of 2013, right?
I did my foot at the end of September/October and did my foot and my ankle at the same time. So we’re now in March with the third surgery on my foot. We were like, okay, that took care of it. It didn’t hurt anymore. I was so pumped. I started riding. Got three weeks into riding and landed off a jump, and all of a sudden I just couldn't walk anymore. Did nothing different, nothing wrong, landed good. It just gave out. I tried to ride the next day thinking that maybe it could work. Nothing. So I went and got more tests done, CAT scans, MRIs, more of them, and they finally found what was wrong. It was only 40 percent healed, which they missed it because of the way they had done all the tests before. They couldn't see it. My foot was still 60 percent broken. So I had to go back in under surgery in May. Right after Vegas I flew there and had it done. They put a plate, seven screws, took bone marrow out, put bone graft in it. That’s what took so long to heal. I really wanted it to heal this time. I did everything that I was supposed to do. I took as much time as I could off to get it to heal. I was so over my foot. I was ready to just cut it off. It was so annoying. Everyone was like, dude, your foot, really? I’m like, that’s what all our pressure goes on. So I got it done again, and that’s when we came to the conclusion that there’s only a couple rounds left and there’s no sense in keeping going when I’m not staying there anyway. It was a mutual agreement and we parted ways in a good manner.
What about your knee; is it good?
My knees are great, both of them.
Is it hard when you go through all the recovery, you’re doing all the stuff to get ready again and then it’s still not working, multiple times?
I think it was harder to explain to people. Every time I’d get it done I thought that was going to be the fix, so we announced that I’d be coming back soon. Then I’d start riding and it’d get closer to the time and then something would happen. And then they just thought I kept pushing it off and pushing it off when that really wasn’t the case at all. I had to tell the truth. I had to eventually, after I was allowed to, tell them what had happened. I’d had eight surgeries from the time I stopped in 2013 until I started racing again. I had eight surgeries. It sucked. Everyone was skeptical, but I’m not going to sit there and announce how many surgeries I’ve had when I’m trying to get a ride. It puts a lot of strain on you because you want to say what’s wrong, but you know you can’t. That’s coming from all angles. For me, as soon as I could announce and do an interview with someone that asked me all what happened and I actually could talk about it, I did. I want the people to know what I went through. It was just a lot of adversity that year and stupid things that had happened that had caused it. Just craziness.
You started getting some of the fans that think they know what’s going on and going, “He doesn’t like the bike.”
That was one thing. Everyone thought I didn’t like that bike. And to me, it had nothing to do with the bike. I never really got a chance to actually ride the bike that much. Every couple weeks or every month that I was on it, I was just getting used to it and then something would pop up again. So it had nothing to do with that. It was all just trying to get healthy and to be able to race again injury-free and pain-free, in a roundabout way.
So how about that new teammate? You’ve got some good chemistry going on.
It’s nice to have a teammate that has a really good personality and can joke around and has thick skin.
Does it work well? You and all your guys work together.
You have me, Wil [Hahn]…[Justin] Bogle. I feel like we’re a good group of guys. We joke around and mess around and can push each other. Especially with Wilbur and I being on the same team, it’s nice to go to the track and have a good personality there and have someone who works as hard as he does to make you want to push harder. When we do motos we can chase each other and push each other out there on the track and challenge each other’s lap times. At the end of the day the racing stays at home and we’re still friends. That’s hard to do and hard to find and it’s cool that it’s on the same team.
You’re 26 and you’re now on your fourth Japanese bike out of four. Talk about that. Having experienced the whole gamut of factory teams, more or less, whhat’s that like?
Obviously there’s ups and downs of every team. It’s just how it is. There’s not one team that’s absolutely perfect, and there’s not one person that can say it is. But they do the best that they can do. If you give them your all, they give you their all, and it works. For me, coming here, they so far have exceeded any expectations. They work as hard as they can and get as much done as they can. They just want to win. I didn’t want it to be to where they didn’t expect me to win, or Ryan goes overseas and now it’s just me and Wilbur. I want it to be where they expect it. If there’s expectations then you’ve got to rise to the occasion and do your best. I’m hoping my best is good enough.
Obviously today is a weird day on the Internet with James’ stuff and Ryan’s departure. What do you see for the field this year?
It’s still a stacked field. Everyone’s like, “Well, RV and James are out.” Well, yeah, RV is out. That’s a big name. He’s won the last four, so if you’re looking at big names, that’s it. You have James obviously, who’s a really big name as well. Maybe he’ll appeal it, maybe he’ll win. I don’t know. But at the end of the day we all have our jobs to do and we have to push forward and focus on what we have to do. There’s still a stacked field and you can’t count any of them out. There’s Chad, Grant, Roczen, Baggett, Wil, Barcia, Canard, Seely, Dungey, Brayton, Wilson—there’s so many people. You can’t count anyone out. It’s still a stacked field. Every single one of those dudes have been on the podium. A lot of them have won. It’s going to be an interesting year with or without the people that aren’t there.
Basically it’s put on my helmet and see what happens?
It’s do the best you can. Everyone’s gunning for it, and I think everyone has the mindset now that two big players are gone, so it’s more of an open field. We’re all sharks trying to get the meat, so we’ll see.