As far as the sport of supercross goes, Angel Stadium is the house that McGrath built. From the time he first lined up there, on a privateer Honda CR125 on January 28, 1989, he’s had something of a home field advantage. As a member of the revolutionary Team Peak/Pro Circuit Honda organization, McGrath won his first race there in 1991 atop a blue-white-and-yellow CR125. He backed that up with another 125cc West Region win in 1992 before shocking the establishment in 1993 when he rode to victory in the 250cc class. By the end of that season, McGrath, who won the supercross championship, put a stranglehold that would see six more championships and seventy-one more main-event wins.
McGrath would win seven more times at 2000 E Gene Autry Way, his last career victory coming on January 20, 2001, after a thrilling race-long battle with Ricky Carmichael. There’s surely no better person to speak with about the opening round of the 2016 Monster Energy Supercross Series than the King of Supercross himself.
Racer X: Jeremy McGrath and Angel Stadium have quite a history together. You won your first 250cc supercross main event, as well as your last, there.
Jeremy McGrath: Yeah, that is kind of strange.
What do Angel Stadium and the Anaheim Supercross mean to you? I mean, we all know it’s special, but why is it special to Jeremy McGrath?
Look, over the years, there has always been this huge anticipation and this big amount of prestige with Anaheim. However, it’s special to me because when I was a kid that was my local race. That’s where I went to watch supercross for the first time. It’s where the world of supercross took shape in my mind. That’s why Anaheim, for me, is so big. You know, when I finally got to race supercross in 1989, Anaheim was my first one [Ed. note: McGrath rode a Honda to an eleventh-place finish]. For me, just being able to race out there in front of all the fans, and because of all of the dreams that I had as a boy, was just unreal. That’s why A1, for me, has the emphasis it had, and still does, and always will.
That very first win you had there on the 250 in 1993, how special is that victory to you?
To be honest with you, that’s probably my favorite win and the easiest one to recall in my memory banks when I’m talking about all the races. It was obviously a pretty historic night for me. It was the night considered as the changing of the guard because I beat [Jeff] Stanton [the 1992 Supercross Champion]. For me, personally, without all the stories behind it or anything like that, it was the night that I confirmed that I was doing the right thing and that the sport was for me.
We’re on the eve of the 2016 season, and every season we pretty much all say the same thing: “This is the deepest field ever! This is the best field we’ve ever seen! We can have ten different winners!” What’s your take on what’s about to go down? Is it a toss-up?
[Laughs] Listen, when I was racing, it was always the same thing: “Oh man, we’ve got a new challenger and a new this and new that!” I mean, it pretty much worked up the same way for me for seven, eight, or nine years. Obviously, it’s a different day now. I know that. But honestly, there are probably five or six contenders in there for 2016. We all know that a lot of guys can get one race, but me, as a fan—and I’m such a fan—all I can hope for is just a great battle or a great race. But at the end of the day, I want to see Eli Tomac do well. He switched brands, he’s riding well—we all know he can ride well—but at the end of the day, it’s pretty hard to best against Dungey, especially for the long run.
But do you think everyone has caught on to Dungey’s consistency game? Such as in Tomac’s case, do you think his team guys are talking to him and saying, “Hey, you have to be on the podium at every race. There can’t be any big mistakes.”
Yeah, I’m sure he’s heard it a thousand times. Like, “Hey, you need to be careful when you get to a certain point in the race. You don’t need to win every race by a mile.” It’s the same thing for years that everybody was saying to James Stewart and he’d never get it together that many times. You’d like to think that people can grow. It’s the same thing Trey Canard goes through, you know? He’s won some races and sometimes he just kind of makes some mistakes and crashes and stuff like that. I think that in Dungey’s mind, he’s probably like, “Hey, I don’t need to win round one, I just need to be up front and we’ll pick up this thing slowly.” If I was his competitor, say like Eli or Trey—or I think the sleeper of the bunch, Jason Anderson—I’d just sort of try and figure out his strategy. Like, not take too many chances, try and get a good start, run up front, try to figure out where we stand at the end of round one, and start to work from there. I also understand that with all this stuff comes a lot of pressure to do well, and a lot of guys want to show the world that they’re the best. And I get that. It’s a long season.
Is it hard for the top five or six riders to be able to do what Ryan Dungey does? Can these riders say to themselves, “Okay, I’m going to take a breath, play it a bit safe, and take a third place tonight”?
You know what? I don’t think so. I think there are a lot of guys who live for the moment. I was lucky and fortunate enough to get wins a lot, but I had no problem taking seconds or thirds. That didn’t bother me at all because I knew the next week I’d come back and be strong and whatever. That kind of stuff didn’t bother me, but then again, that’s me saying that. I don’t think it should be hard, but some of these guys have a little bit harder time of it, I guess. I mean, the carrot’s dangling in front of your face. Sometimes you can’t not reach out and try to take a bite of it.
I’m going to hit you with some names and you can weigh in.
Yeah, sure, do it.
Well, again, Ryan Dungey has won me over for the years. The guy has consistency, he’s strong, he puts a lot of effort into it, and he puts in a lot of work. He’s calm, cool, collected, and there for the long haul. Again. It’s pretty hard to bet against him. His formula is tried and true and definitely proven.
We’ve all seen a lot of brilliance out of Eli, and I sure would love to see him do well. I’m having a blast riding the new ’16 Kawasaki, and I talked to him the other day at the track and I think he’s loving it. I’m feeling really optimistic about him. I think his worst enemy is going to be himself. He’s just got to calm down in certain situations if he can, and if the opportunity presents itself to eliminate some of the risk and live to fight another day, I think he’s going to be great. I think he’s at the point now where he’s got all the speed; I think he’s faster than anybody, but he has to have a good strategy.
I had high hopes for him before we went to the Monster Energy Cup. There are a lot of people pulling for James, including myself. I’d like to see him ride well. I think he got a little bit of a raw deal last year, and I think it would be really cool to see him come back. Of course I’m always a fan of the underdog, and I think with that in mind, I think there is a lot of people out there who want to see him ride well. Do I think he’s a title contender? I’m not sure anymore. I’ve been through it, and the age thing certainly plays a part.
Cole, to me, is one smooth cat. He’s a great talent. He’s a little bit overshadowed and doesn’t get noticed as much as he should, but he’s certainly a supercross specialist. I think he’s going to do well. I think he could potentially win some races. I like Cole. I think he gets good starts and I think he’s another sleeper of the bunch.
You know, I haven’t really seen Dean Wilson ride 450 much. I know he’s a good rider. He was really good on his 250. I really haven’t seen him ride his 450, so I don’t really know what to think. We’ll see.
I think he’s proven himself to be a top contender, for sure. He’s sort of like a Mike LaRocco to me, because Jason Anderson is so fast, it’s almost like you can’t see him out there. It’s like he’s invisible. That was sort of like Mike LaRocco’s MO. He was always one of the top guys and a top contender and all that, and he was just sort of invisible on the track. We saw Anderson at the Monster Energy Cup and he was pretty lights-out. Had he not made a mistake there missing the Joker Lane, he would have been the winner. I think there is no doubt that he has confidence. I think he’s going to be a top guy, for sure. This might be a breakout year for him. You never know.
I’m a fan of Chad Reed. He’s obviously made some changes to his program, which should actually help him a lot. He’ll have a lot less overhead; you know what I mean? He’s not employing ten different people and in charge of feeding these ten people and their families. Listen, I’ve been through all that, and it’s a tough situation to be in. Chad’s a very strong guy and he’s motivated by proving people wrong, but I think this year he’s going to have a better time on his new team because he’s just going to be able to show up and concentrate on riding. However, there are a lot of young guys out there. I know he wants to bounce back and he has a lot to prove, but I think it’s going to be a very tall order for him to be up front on a weekly basis. I’d like to see it. I’d love to see it.
Musquin’s got some talent. If he’s getting to ride with Ryan Dungey or Dean Wilson, then they’ve got the carrot out in front of them, so they know where they have to be and all that stuff. For me, I think Musquin has a pretty good shot at climbing up the ladder and doing pretty well. His riding style and ability is good and he makes good decisions. Will he win a race? I’m not sure about that yet. I think we could see him on a podium a time or two.
I love his style. He’s the underdog. I think he’s going to do well. It’s hard to say, man. He could have a breakout year and surprise me with some results, but I just kind of think he’s probably a fifth-place guy. He’s still working his way up the ladder, but I don’t think he’s a front-runner just yet. He may lead some laps, though.
I’ve been friends with Trey for a long time and rode with him at Honda for years, and this guy has an unbelievable passion for the sport. I think Trey has a good shot at winning races. I mean, he won two races last year. Here’s another guy everyone is pulling for. He’s just one of those guys people want to see do well. He’s another one that just has to make decisions, and I think he can have a much better year. I just hope he can stay healthy, because he can ride well. Trey’s capable of winning and winning more than one. If he’s feeling good, I would expect to see him up front.
Barcia’s pretty interesting. One thing I can say is that Barcia’s riding style has gotten a lot better since he’s had Budman [Buddy Antunez] as his riding coach. Barcia, throughout the summer last year, he was winning all those outdoor races—man, the guy was on the gas. He’s certainly capable of it. Week in and week out, I’m not sure. He’s another guy that I would expect that if he gets a holeshot and gets up front, he’s going to be strong and he’s going to be fast. Whether he has Canard, Tomac, or Dungey speed, I’m not sure. That’s yet to be seen. He’s certainly a top-five guy. We’ve seen in the past where he gets too distracted by mixing it up with other riders out there. If he can kind of focus on himself and ride the track and ride the race and try to do his own thing, then he probably has a chance of being up front.
I have no idea. I don’t know.
I don’t know. I haven’t heard much about him lately. I don’t know if he’s healthy. We all know he’s capable of brilliance, but it just depends on what mood he’s in on what Saturday night. He certainly has to have the right frame of mind this year, because there is a lot of competition out there.
Oh man, I think Roczen’s a contender. Kenny’s probably one of the best riders out there. There’s no doubt that he has the raw talent and the speed to get it done. If he likes his bike and he’s got it dialed in, I think there is no way he won’t be up front.
In your opinion, who can win the title in 2016?
Obviously, Dungey can win the title. I have high hopes for Eli. I think Roczen can win the title. I think maybe one of those three.
And who’s going to shine in the 250SX West Region? Is it Cooper Webb’s to lose?
Yeah, I would say it’s Cooper Webb’s ballgame all day long. Joey Savatgy seemed to be making some momentum over the last little while here, but as far as any of those other guys, I really don’t know enough about any of them. Jessy Nelson rides really well. I think, as always, it’s probably going to be pretty sporadic out there. Cooper Webb is the guy, obviously.
As far as the future is concerned, is Webb the next guy in this sport?
Yeah, I think so. He’s shown strength late in the motos. He’s shown the heart of a lion. I think he could be the guy. If these 450 guys don’t get this stuff together and start reaching hard, then he’s going to be coming up and just going through the field. That’s my opinion.