"The Upside Down" appears in the May issue of Racer X Illustrated. Want to give our revolutionary new digital edition a try? You can read this feature in its entirety and the entire issue for FREE. Go subscribe after reading!
Jeff Emig had an incredible career as a motorcycle racer. From the time he was a young boy riding minicycles in Kansas, he was winning races and championships. Emig was groomed by Kawasaki Team Green as an amateur, earning scores of major amateur titles along the way. His pro racing career really took off when he signed with the Yamaha factory team, where he would win his first championship, in 125cc AMA Pro Motocross in 1992. Five years later, Emig won both the 250 AMA Supercross and Pro Motocross Championships for Kawasaki. And before an injury forced his retirement, Emig won the ’99 U.S. Open as a privateer. All told, he won 36 AMA SX/MX races, four AMA National Championships, rode for Team USA at six different FIM Motocross des Nations, and won a King of Bercy Supercross title. By any measure, Jeff Emig had a AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame career; he was inducted in 2004, his first year of eligibility.
And I guess all of that is what made a recent statement from Emig himself such a shock to me. While we were chatting on The Whiskey Throttle Show about all of his accomplishments, Jeff said, “I really had a moment last year, probably right around Christmas, where I realized that I was probably more proud of the work that I had done on the supercross television broadcasts than what I accomplished as a racer.”
That was an eyebrow-raising statement from a guy with his racing credentials. How does calling supercross races from the booth even compare to actually winning the championship? And what about his three outdoor motocross titles? Well, you have to understand what he overcame to achieve his goals. Emig’s struggle to overcome his speech impediment is known by many fans, but it’s not likely that many really grasp the work and determination it took to get into the television broadcasting booth. It also might help to understand just how devastated Emig was when he found out, just before the start of the 2019 season, that he would not be making the move with the series from Fox Sports to the NBC Sports family.
The first time a nationwide audience heard Jeff Emig speak was at the 1990 Houston 125 Supercross, his first win as a professional. ESPN pit reporter Larry Maiers put the microphone up close to hear the teenaged Emig’s voice for the first time, but what came out was a halting stutter that was difficult for those listening to even understand.
“My stutter was so bad that I could barely get words out when I had pressure on me,” admits Emig. “Confidence is such a big part of racing, and I struggled to be confident in myself, largely because of my speech impediment. Think about this: back in the 1990s, as part of the show, they would bring all the riders to the front of the gate for a quick interview right before the main events. The stadium’s floor announcer would walk down the line, and each rider would announce their name, what team they rode for, and where they were from. Some guys would add a little extra comment or whatever. I would see them coming down the line and get so nervous because I knew what was coming. I could barely get my own name out; it was mortifying.
“So, at a time when I’m supposed to be the most confident, I would stress out about that interaction and usually end up having my confidence completely shattered right before the gate dropped on the main event,” Emig adds. “When you go back and watch those old tapes, you get a better understanding of the work it took me to get to where I’m at today, and it didn’t come easily.”
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