Jeff Stanton needs little introduction. He was the most-successful rider of the early 1990s. Hailing from Michigan, he started his winning ways by first training with Ricky Johnson and then taking the mantle from him when RJ was injured in 1989. He then passed the torch to Jeremy McGrath in 1993 and retired from the sport in 1994, but not before wrapping up six national championships and asserting himself as one of the greatest racers of all time.
After retiring, Stanton returned home to Michigan where he would take over operation of the family farm. But “6 Time” didn’t venture far from the sport, and quickly went to work for Honda as a part-time team adviser and rider coach. He maintained this role for well over ten years, but Stanton stepped back when the economy (and racing budgets) tumbled in 2008 and 2009. He returned to the scene to train Justin Barcia, and was still a somewhat regular, friendly presence in the paddock. With his family getting older, Jeff elected to stay home from the races for this season, but although he parted as Barcia’s trainer, the two remain friends.
This summer, when the Legends and Heroes race was announced, Stanton was one of the first riders to sign up. And although he is 47 years old, Stanton has aged little and still remains in tip-top physical shape. We caught up with him in the belly of the Team Honda transporter just before he went out for his second practice session on Saturday morning. And although our time was short, Stanton filled us in on how his personal version of retirement is. He’s no longer racing, but he’s definitely working!
Racer X: Jeff, what are you up to these days?
Jeff Stanton: We’re busy, honestly. I’m always helping out on the farm doing stuff there. But right now, I kind of put all my energy into another business at home, and it’s kind of taken off like gangbusters. I’m sure some people follow me on Facebook and might already know, as I am always posting stuff. But, I was at a friend’s wedding a couple years ago with my wife and it was in an old barn. I was driving home from that wedding and I told my wife, I said, “Honey, we’re missing the boat. We’ve got a barn that’s way nicer than this.” So long story short, we converted one of our old barns into a banquet facility. It’s an old stone barn, and we kind of restored it and added on a kitchenette and bathrooms and bridal suites. It’s just taken off like gangbusters.
Wait, so Jeff Stanton is now running a banquet/party center and hosting weddings?
Well, yeah. We’re booked almost every weekend with weddings. Fill in the weekdays with birthdays and baby showers. So I kind of put all my energy into that, and just word of mouth and the look and the appeal—it’s kind of the hot thing going right now back where we live. So that’s occupied my time for the last year and a half. It’s going great. We have a lady that runs it day to day for us, but we are there every weekend just making sure everything goes smooth. It is located just right by the house, so that makes it easy to come and go as we need. So that’s occupied a lot of my time. It’s called the Old Stone Barn, and it’s busy.
And then I also raise whitetail deer, and right now is the busy time of year for that as well. The months for raising deer are September, October, and November. I’m always hauling deer or moving deer and getting them sold off. It makes for a busy fall for me doing that.
Wow, I had no idea you were doing that stuff. Are you still doing any riding?
Well, yeah. In between all of that my son and I do quite a bit of riding. We have been doing some hare scrambles this year and some local enduros. So for me, it’s kids, wife, family, and farm. So we are doing this race today, then we are leaving here right after we’re done with my moto and we get to drive 7–8 hours up to northern Michigan for the Jack Pine Enduro. It’s the ninety-second running of the Jack Pine. My son and nephew did it last year, but I wasn’t able to make it. I had to take my daughter to Michigan State—it was her first year of college—so I had to miss it. But there are six of us going up this year; we are all going to do it. It’ll be fun!
Wow, Jeff Stanton doing enduros—I would have never thought that! How long has this been going on?
Well, I was born and raised riding in the woods. We’ve always had a house up in northern Michigan, and I love riding in the woods. It’s just always been a part of me. To be straight up honest with you, for me to go to a motocross race anymore isn’t any fun. If I go to a motocross, then some young kids think they got to beat you and stuff and I got to raise my level. I don’t want to have to raise my level and take myself out of my comfort zone, you know? So a hare scramble or an enduro, you’re just by yourself, you’re riding at your pace. If you want to haul ass, you haul ass; if you want to sit back and ride cush, you ride cush. It’s all about riding and having fun at this point. I got nothing to prove to anybody. They’re fun to do. You know how it is. The people are laid back and they’re fun and they’re happy to have you there. A hare scramble, you ride three hours, you ride two hours. You ride team—whatever we feel we want to do that day. But the enduro’s a little different deal; it’s one hundred miles and the pace is a little different.
And you mentioned before that your wife is also riding in some of these?
Yeah. Next Saturday we’re going to do a family enduro. My wife enjoys riding them. I put her on a Honda 230, and she’ll ride the women’s class. They’re fun. My nephews go ride. We got the whole family doing it. I don’t necessarily do the enduro the right way. I like to line up on the front row and just go up the front at my pace instead of doing the whole time-check thing. But it’s fun to have my wife go, and my son, and my nephews going. We just load up a big trailer with six of us and go and enjoy ourselves and have fun doing it.
Tell me a little about your kids?
My daughter is Siana. She’s in her second year of vet school at Michigan State. My son Toren, he is a junior in high school and just turned 16. He’s big into playing football right now. And right now it’s football season, so we get to work around that schedule too. But things are good. My wife is still in the medical field; she works four days a week as a physician assistant. So she enjoys that. She just works close by the house as well, and she gets three quality days to do what we need to do.
What are you guys raising on the family farm?
We’re doing a lot of vegetables now. We’re doing three hundred or four hundred acres of cabbage, tomatoes. We’re doing a lot of kale as well. That’s kind of the new thing, I guess. So there’s a couple of semi loads a week of kale going out. We are also still doing the cash crop thing, too, with a lot of alfalfa. It’s certainly busy! We’re farming about three thousand acres, and there is always a ton of stuff to stay on top of with that.
What about your role as a trainer—is that something you want to pick up again?
Well, I didn’t work with Justin last year. But I had been with him for three years before. But this whole Stone Barn thing kind of got in my head, and I said I want to put my energy and time toward that. Fortunately, it’s worked out great. You miss the racing, but I can still do events like this one and still be a part of it. I am also fortunate that I get to do all the RCUs [Ricky Carmichael University] with Ricky, and I can keep involved with him. But I still talk to everybody and try to keep up with the sport, but right now we just have so many things going on that its hard to commit 100 percent to a training program.
While I wanted to talk with Jeff about his career and feelings on the sport, I ultimately had to cut this interview shorter than normal, because Jeff was due to report to practice and he needed to get dressed. To keep up with the former champ, follow him on Instagram. You’ll see someone who has done retirement right!