It will be an annual tradition come January, when the 250SX West Region contenders roll to the line at Anaheim, and everyone forgets that Shane McElrath is a genuine contender for the title. Maybe even the favorite. For the last two years, he’s been right there with the elite pack in supercross, notching five race wins, and finishing second (2017) and third (2018) in points. Still, although a proven contender, Shane just doesn’t carry the hype of others in the class. We’re unsure exactly who will line up on which coast in 2019, but McElrath was certainly under the radar compared to his primary competitors in 2018: Justin Hill, Aaron Plessinger, Joey Savatgy, and Adam Cianciarulo, to name a few. Maybe this year will be the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM’s riders year to not only win the title but be thought about as a guy who could win the title.
McElrath has won five 250SX races in his career. Plessinger has won six, Cianciarulo six, Hill eight, Savatgy five. He’s in the mix with those guys but not considered in the mix. Now, at this point comes the standard part of the story where McElrath complains about being disrespected.
Wait, not this guy. He’s too humble. In fact, he likes it this way.
“From my perspective, I kind of enjoy that,” he told me. “I hate talking about racing and stuff like that away from the track. When I hang out with friends or something, that’s one thing. When I meet someone, I like to talk to people, but I hate talking about my racing. I just get nervous, even if people are building me up. A lot of people have kind of brought that up lately. [They will say] “You’re so under the radar.” I never really thought about it until people started like really talking about it. I’m like, ‘Dude I really enjoy it.’”
McElrath’s humble beginnings keep him grounded but also out of the limelight. He wasn’t an amateur star until his final year, and then only because Zach Osborne’s dad saw something special in Shane, and leveraged his relationship with ClubMX (Zach was a founder) to get Shane some training time at the facility. Shane improved and wanted to continue riding there full time, but the cost was too much. But the ClubMX staff liked him, so they offered him a deal to actually work at the facility when he was off the bike in exchange for a reduced fee. Shane did odd jobs all over the place, like pouring concrete for new buildings, to defray the cost of riding. It paid off when he showed up at Loretta Lynn’s as an unknown in the B class and battled stars Matt Bisgeglia and Cooper Webb. He came up short of the titles, but got on the radar. Troy Lee Design’s team manager Tyler Keefe took an interest, and Osborne’s dad was there to help broker a deal. McElrath was on his way, but still relatively lesser known.
Because he hasn’t been generating headlines for ages, he doesn’t get the extra heat today. That works better for him. Because Shane never feels like he’s truly arrived, or accomplished his goals, he has that extra incentive to keep pushing harder. Now he’s fallen so in love with the work and charting his improvements that he enjoys that more setting sights on certain goals in the results column.
“I want to continue to grow and to get better,” he says. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be the best, but if that’s the case, then I’ll still find something to strive for.”
Last week, McElrath kicked off the annual boot camp under trainer Tyla Rattray. It was even tougher than usual because KTM staff from Austria came in for engine testing, which led to three long days of sun-up to sun-down riding. McElrath says they normally never ride three days in a row, but the Austrian visit required it. He’d ride, come home, eat, go to sleep, and repeat. Sounds like a motivational t-shirt phrase. For Shane, it’s the only way he knows. Success has come, but he must keep himself grounded.
Of his competitors last year, three—Plessinger, Savatgy, and Hill—have moved out of the 250 class. The prospects of those riders on big bikes have been discussed for a long time. No one seems to be thinking about McElrath’s potential on a 450, however. He keeps one eye on that class, just to give him another carrot to chase.
“Just because I’ve won a few supercrosses doesn’t mean I’m the best,” he says. “I can’t go into the 450 class thinking that, or I’m going to get smoked. The 450 class is the goal, but I think there are some things yet to learn and improve on in the 250 class.”
Of course, ultimate improvement in the 250 class would be a championship. McElrath’s already one step ahead—even if he wins the title, he’s ready to not rest on his laurels.
“If we’re not always pushing ourselves, we may win a championship one year, and then you’re like, ‘Keep doing what we’re doing, we’re the best.’ And then we’re gonna get smoked. That’s something I don’t want to do—there’s always going to be someone better. So that’s what I work towards.”