A familiar name throughout the amateur ranks, and a front-runner during the 2017 season of the now defunct Amsoil Arenacross series, Illinois native Jace Owen will be lining up in 250SX East Region for Monster Energy Supercross in 2019. Despite winning 17 AX main events in 2017, Owen found himself unsatisfied as he finished the season second in points—only to follow it up with a blown out ACL at the first round of the 2018 season. Now healed, and fresh off a stellar performance at the Paris Supecross—Owen won the 250 class overall and Prince of Bercy honors—he is motivated and ready to showcase his skills Stateside inside the big stadiums on Saturday nights. Owen also competed in the Australian Supecross Championship this winter as well, where he ended the season fourth in points in SX1. He admits that the goal for 2019 was just to be able to compete in supecross, but he also has his sights set on proving that he isn’t just another “arenacross guy.”
Racer X: When you found out arenacross was done, what was your reaction to that? Was there kind of a sense of urgency like, “What do I do?”
Jace Owen: Yeah, definitely. Kind of going back, 2017 was kind of a breakthrough year for me. I won 17 main events in arenacross and with the points reset I didn’t end up winning the championship. I ended up getting second. I definitely in my mind was pretty bound and determined that I wanted to win the arenacross championship, and then I would definitely like to go into supercross. I put a lot of hard work in. I was going to be riding for the TiLube Honda team and David Eller at that point. It was one of those things that just was dealt those cards [in 2018]. At the first round of arenacross I had never felt better. Everything was clicking good. In practice I just had a little crash and I heard my knee pop. I ended up tearing my ACL. I still tried to race that night, and I could just tell that it wasn’t good. Then when I got home and got an MRI that Monday they were like, “Your ACL is torn. You have to take some time off or get it reconstructed.” At that point I was just looking toward my future and what was best. So, I went ahead and got surgery and was just healing up and going through the process of that. It was a long recovery for me. Definitely wasn’t the easiest for me. Then I realized that arenacross was going to be done about halfway through the season. They said for ’19 there wasn’t going to be a series. At that point I was like, man, I really need to figure out what I’m going to do! Luckily David Eller [team owner] was a great guy to have in my corner. He told me all along—he’s like, “Don’t stress. We’ll get a plan and we’ll figure something out and make something happen.” So that’s kind of what my plan for 2019 is, I’m going to be riding for Phoenix Racing. I’ll be on a Honda in the 250 class in supercross.
You weren’t able to do outdoors with Phoenix Racing team because of being injured, but then when the winter came along you got a deal to go ride Australian Supercross. How did that deal come about? Walk us through that experience a little bit.
I would have definitely liked to do a couple outdoors, and that was maybe the plan for Phoenix Racing and riding for David Eller. I just didn’t have enough time on a bike, with the knee injury. Luckily I got a call from the Complete Parts/Dyson Motorsports Kawasaki team over in Australia. I got the call and I was like, “I just want to be straight up. Before heading over, I won’t have any time on a supercross track. The knee is getting better. I’ve been going through the process, but I’m not going to be coming there and lighting it up right away.” They were like, “We totally understand. We’d just love to have you come over.” So they worked with me. It was a whole great group of people and guys to work with. I was actually on a 450 over there. I started off with a fifth and a couple fourths, and then at the fourth round I really felt like I was myself. I qualified really well. I was right there. Me and [Justin] Brayton were really close in times. Then it was a Triple Crown format and the first main and second main I got second. Actually with how everyone mixed up, I had a couple point lead going into the third main. On the first lap I just got into it, tangled up with another rider and I went down. So I came from last to eighth. But I still ended up getting on the podium. I got third and honestly that win was in reach without a crash. So that was a big confidence booster for me. I was really looking forward to AUS-X Open. We had a few weeks off, but I got sick. I had been fighting a sickness for almost a month leading up to AUS-X. By the time the race came around I was super drained out, no energy. Not that I was necessarily looking just to get back home, but I was ready to be home after fighting a sickness that was just dragging on and on. So at AUS-X, I definitely didn’t have a good performance there which was a bummer because that was a tight track, kind of like an arenacross. I ended up fourth in the series overall. It was definitely a good experience and something that I really enjoyed just getting back on my feet, race time, and building back up again.
The AUS-X didn’t go the way you planned, but you definitely redeemed yourself in Bercy, right?
Bercy was awesome. When I was over in Australia towards the end, I got an opportunity. The Bud Racing team messaged me. They saw how I had been doing in Australia and asked if I would be interested in coming over and riding the 250 class. I jumped all over it. I was like, absolutely. Just trying to keep racing and stay on the bike. Then once I got sick, it was one of those things that I was like, it’s going to be tough with the traveling home and back and forth and whatnot. But it’s definitely a great decision that I went. I felt good when I got there. I’d never been on a Kawasaki 250 or raced one, so kind of when I hopped on it, we made some changes. The bike was good. I won both nights. So that was a massive boost of confidence for me, just standing back on the box on that top step, no matter where it is, in the States or overseas. It was supercross as well. A little bit different than the States, but personally I don’t feel like I’m just an arenacross guy. I’m ready to get back in supercross and try to make a name for myself there.
Was it stressful at all at Bercy since your results were good? Or was it just kind of like, “this is fun, let’s just keep it rolling and see what happens?”
Really, I was pretty open-minded. I think in the timed qualifying on the first night, I was like fifth in practice. I was struggling with the bike a little bit. They had another shock that we were able to throw on. Going into main one I was like, “Man, I hope this bike works out.” I got off to a good start. I was second and passed into the lead, and won the first race. I was just like, “Man, let’s keep it rolling.” There’s three main events both nights. The first night I went 1-2-1 and then the second night I went 2-1-2. The way it worked out, I won both nights and was the Prince of Paris. So that was definitely a big achievement for me, just climbing the ladder back up heading into supercross for 2019.
Did your success over there help you at all with locking in a deal for over here?
It’s been a little bit of a process. Like I said, David Eller has been in my corner the whole time, just telling me, “Don’t worry. Don’t stress. I got your back.” So for me, it did take stress off of me. He is believing in me and that means a lot, but I definitely still want to go prove myself. So when I had these opportunities like Australia and then Paris, winning Paris both nights, for me it was kind of like, I’m doing this for me but I want to reassure him that he’s not going to regret making this decision. I can be up there.
You mentioned earlier that you were with the Phoenix Racing Honda team. You want to dispel a little bit what your deal is for 2019 and the team and all that stuff?
For 2019 I’ll be riding for the Phoenix Racing. I’ll be on a Honda riding 250 East Coast. I’m definitely super excited for the opportunity. The last year that I raced supercross was in 2015. I feel like I’ve matured a lot and grown up a lot since then. At that point, I was doing it on my own and I got some top tens. Three years later heading into 2019, I feel like as a racer a lot of things have changed. It’s about time that I’ll be heading to North Carolina and we’re going to start doing a lot of testing and getting the bike really well. So come first round at Minneapolis, we’ll be ready to do battle.
Is that where that team is based out of, North Carolina? That’s where you’ll be doing your training? You’re not going to be training at the GOAT Farm anymore? Or a little bit of both?
That’s still a little bit up in the air, where I’ll be training at for 2019. But first off, we’ll be in North Carolina because that is where the team is based, in Salisbury, North Carolina, not too far out of Charlotte. There’s a great group of guys already down there building the bike for me and getting a lot of the things handled. Once we get situated there, it’s kind of up in the air right now where I’ll be full-time for 2019.
Speaking of up in the air, it seemed like for a while this team was kind of up in the air. Was it ever stress on you like, “Am I going to have a ride? Am I not?”
I was always confident because, like I said, David Eller was in my corner. He’s based in North Carolina there and has the race shop. We had a really good relationship. He never told me one time that I needed to stress or worry about things. So I wasn’t worried about going racing.
Let’s talk about goals for supercross. Where do you see yourself coming into the season?
I definitely have some goals and where I feel like I should be and could be. Definitely just want to stay healthy and build the whole season. As long as there’s improvement every round, that will be awesome. I think that I can be up there and racing with those guys. We’ll work to get a bike that we can compete with the factory teams. That will be a big part of it. Hopefully we’ll just be up there dicing with them.
You mentioned that want to show these guys that you’re not just another arenacross guy, right? Is that kind of where you’re at also?
Yeah. I would say that’s where I’m at, too. There’s been some guys that have come out and done really well. Look at Justin Brayton. He came from arenacross. It would be awesome to have a career like that. Tyler Bowers, he’s a guy that has won races out of it. Gavin Faith, he had raced supercross and that was really my main competition in arenacross. Then after racing supercross for many years he went [back] to arenacross. I know in supercross he’s won some heat races and been up there and had great speed. I definitely think that it won’t necessarily be a speed thing—it’s just going to be longer races and being able to just click off the laps for 15 minutes plus one. Just staying focused and being up there, be in good shape and put in the hard work during the week to be able to make the race weekends easier.
When you guys train for arenacross you’re training on supercross tracks too, right?
Yeah. Training for arenacross, with the lap times being high 20 seconds on average, you can’t just click off 150 laps on an arenacross track or whatever [laughs]. So definitely we would ride on supercross. Occasionally when I was down at the GOAT Farm we could ride arenacross. We could cut off and do an arenacross loop. Occasionally we would do that, but mainly we would always rider supercross.
As far as intensity goes, when you were training at the GOAT Farm with Ricky Carmichael and Jeannie, those are the two most intense people ever. I feel like there’s not an intimidation factor for you, right?
Yeah, definitely. Ricky and Jeannie definitely helped me a lot. I have to thank them for my success that I had in arenacross and going forward. I still have a great relationship with them and would love to end up going back down there. Just trying to get a few things finalized, what will make the most sense for everyone. Ricky definitely helped with the race mentality and mindset helped me a lot over the couple years. So, I think going into supercross I’ll have a great base.