Two of the more interesting riders to watch for 2020 are Shane McElrath and Jordon Smith. Both riders won races and came close to titles with the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM team but neither seemed too interested in staying with the same team that helped them do that. We caught up with McElrath last week, who will race for the Monster Energy/Star Racing Yamaha team in 2020, and now here’s Smith talking about the new ride at Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki.
Racer X: Let’s start with the basics. Don’t give us any typical new rider bull crap. How’s the team? How’s the bike?
Jordon Smith: No bull crap. It’s really good. I’ve been on it for about four days now. I got on it and literally the only thing that I’ve changed is just the handlebars. I went to a higher handlebar. That’s it. Just been getting used to it and just having fun with it again. It’s been five months since I’ve rode a dirt bike. It’s good just to get out on the track and just be riding again.
The year 2019 wasn’t good for you. You had the wrist injury, and didn’t line up for many races.
Yeah. Second round of the season and then it was like not that bad of an injury, but then trying to kind of ride through it for a couple weeks… That obviously set it back pretty hard. Then I tried to race outdoors. Doing all the testing and stuff before outdoors, it just wasn’t very good. My hand was going numb about halfway through motos. I was just kind of hoping that once I got back on the bike for outdoors it would just start getting a little better and a little better, but it just went the wrong way. Then after Colorado I got surgery on it and ended up having to go in and get a second surgery on it three months later. So I’m about a month and a half out from the second surgery now. So I feel a lot better now. The best it’s felt since February. I think it’s on the right track now and I shouldn’t have any more problems with it.
Looking back on it, it’s easy to say, should you have gotten surgery right away and maybe ridden some outdoors? Or did you make it worse by testing outdoors and whatnot?
I don't think it necessarily needed surgery right away because there was nothing torn or anything. It was just kind of like a sprain. Honestly the doctors could never really tell me what was wrong with it. It wasn’t the doctors’ fault, but the MRI didn’t show anything. X-rays were fine. CT scan was fine. So I had a little bit of a nerve issue, but I’ve kind of had that for a little while. So they went in and fixed that stuff up just in case that was it. Then they also did a tendon release for basically tendonitis. That didn’t really help it out. So then we got some ultrasounds on it. You could still see that the tendon was really just fired up. So I had it in a brace, basically wearing it like a cast for a month. I went back in to the doctor and it was just pretty much worse than it was whenever I went in the month before. So they were like, there’s something going on in there. So they went in and it was just encased with scar tissue. My tendon was just pretty much stuck in there. My tendon wasn’t moving. So once they cleaned all the scar tissue out and got it moving again, I was able to get some therapy on it. Then it started getting better a lot quicker. But absolutely, if I would have taken off from the day I did it in Dallas and not raced the next two weekends, I feel like it probably would have been better in a month or less. But just racing that first weekend just made it so much worse.
Your crash is what started it but it also sounds like a bit of a wear and tear issue you had going on inside.
Yeah. It’s kind of hard to say exactly what happened to it. The doctor, on the last surgery, he was like, “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. I don’t honestly know what to tell you as far as the recovery of it. I’ve only done one surgery where I’ve seen a tendon that was stuck that bad. I’ve never done that in my life.” So he didn’t know how it happened.
Why did you want to jump to the guys that you tried to beat for all those years now? Whether it was Factory Connection/GEICO Honda or whether it was TLD. You’re now on the team you tried to beat for so long.
TLD, I went there whenever I was getting out of my GEICO contract and TK [Tyler Keefe, Team Manager] gave me an opportunity there. I liked TLD a lot and TK. Him and I worked really well together, but at some point sometimes it’s just good for a little bit of a change and trying to better myself. The bike last year, I wasn’t gelling with it that great. We did a lot of work on it and we got it a lot better, but it just still wasn’t exactly where I wanted it to be. I felt like it was kind of time for a change. I talked to Mitch [Payton] a little bit and it seemed like if I wanted to win and take my game to the next level then that would be a good place to start there.
Obviously, Shane McElrath went to Monster Energy/Star Racing Yamaha as well. You guys were teammates for a while. A lot of wins and a ton of podiums for you guys. Keefe is a great guy. Obviously you and I both know him pretty well. But rough year for that team overall, and no one wants to see that. I feel like there’s a bit of a piling on the team this year because it was a tough season, but two years ago Shane and you were winning races and getting the podiums. So I do feel like it’s a little bit of a ganging up on TK and the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM guys lately.
Yeah. Like you said, it’s crazy because just two and three years ago Shane and I had multiple wins and both held the red plate at some point. Then this year it was just so rough as a whole team. It was really rough. It was a tough year just in general with trying to figure out stuff with the bike. I know you know what it’s like to be out there and just feel like you’re kind of running in circles at times. It happens in our sport. Moving on and hopefully be a little bit better this year.
What do you like about the Kawi so far? It’s early. What has impressed you?
The way it handles is really good. The cornering for me is really good. I’ve only been on the bike for four days, but I feel like I haven’t hit corners like that in a really long time. I really like how it corners. That’s the biggest thing.
I know you love the MTF (Millsaps Training Facility) and you love being based out there and everything else. You didn’t do the program in Florida with the TLD guys like everybody else. Are you going to be able to keep your MTF program with Mitch? He’s been more flexible than he ever has the last few years, so what’s been that situation for you?
Yeah. Right now I’m just out here doing a little bit of testing, just getting used to the bike and stuff. I think I’m going to head back to MTF soon and do all my training there and stuff. I’ll obviously be back out in California quite a bit doing testing and whatever and riding with the team. We have a good group of guys this year, a lot of fast guys. So it will be good to get to the test track to ride with everyone. But I’m still planning on training at MTF.
You know how that goes. If you’re doing well, you can go to MTF. If you're not, you’re going to be stuck in California.
Exactly. I know how that goes for sure.
I take it you do not like being stuck in California, because you’ve never really done that program.
No. I’ll come out here whenever I have to. I don’t ever complain about coming out here, but I do like to get back. For me, I’m from the East Coast. I like it out there. I feel a lot more comfortable. I just like being there. That’s my home. It’s better and more comfortable. I feel like there it’s not as much going on. You can just kind of get your work done and you’re done. At MTF we have the track, the gym, everything right there. I only live two miles away. So I can go and get everything done in a day without the hour and a half of sitting in traffic and then going to a public gym where you’ve got to wait for equipment and all that stuff. It’s just a lot less of a hassle.
You never really went into the Clermont thing either with the rest of the guys.
I went for like a month or a month and a half last year.
You didn’t like it or?
It wasn’t that. I felt like the program that I’ve been on is pretty good and I’ve gotten pretty good results with it and I’ve been progressing each year. So it just felt like I was pretty good where I was at.
At some point next year, you and Shane are going to come into a turn together, whether it’s nationals, whether it’s supercross. But that’s going to be weird. A blue fender and a green fender for both of you guys. That will be interesting.
Yeah. It’s definitely going to be a lot different than the past years. It’s going to be hard to recognize us out there, I think.
Are you going to be a good PulpMX Fantasy pick this year? Where are we at on that? How do you feel about your fantasy potential?
Absolutely. I pick myself every week I can.
Did you end up playing in the outdoors or no?
No. I didn’t play outdoors. I played supercross and then as I was racing, I had Brian [Johnson, of MTF] take over for me. Then once I got hurt I started playing again, but then outdoors I didn’t play at all. I was pretty much over it at that point. I didn’t even really want to watch the races at that point.
How frustrating is PulpMX Fantasy sometimes?
Yeah, it can for sure. It’s pretty crazy. It’s just like fantasy football. It’s the exact same thing. It’s pretty tough. I was talking to one of my buddies from MTF and he was playing and he picked me at Pala or something. I’m like, why did you do that? I kill Colorado every year. I never have done [well] at the California rounds of outdoors. Every year I finish top seven at Colorado. Usually I’m battling for a podium position in a moto at least. You’ve got to be smarter than that. But if you’re just a fan watching you don’t really recognize that stuff that much.