Just over a year ago, we heard big things about Zach Osborne’s off season speed as he headed into his rookie 450 season. Then, the two-time 250SX East Region Champion injured his collarbone before the season began. He eventually returned from the injury, but it wasn’t until the next-to-last round in New Jersey where he finally had his bike and body fully in order, and he led the race until a mistake knocked him to second. He finished fifth at the Las Vegas finale, then began a climb toward the front in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship until a shoulder injury cost him a race.
So, two injuries prevented us from seeing all Zach could offer, but he did show the potential to win. Does he have the speed in his arsenal again? Can he sustain it through the full season? After Zach had finished his Monday motos at the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna test track, we called him to check in on his off-season progress.
Racer X: Last year we heard you were flying at the test track, then you got hurt. We saw the speed for one race in New Jersey. It was really good. Are we going to get that Zacho? Do you believe you can be that Zacho in 2020?
Zach Osborne: Yeah. I believe I can be. I believe that I’m actually maybe in a better place now than I was last year pre-injury. There were some other factors that kind of attributed to the slow start, even when I came back, that are neither here nor there now. At the end of the season, the last two races were really good for me. But that was on a completely different package than what I was riding prior to that. So I think that we figured a lot of things out right there at the end. I’m pretty much within millimeters of that exact same thing going into this weekend. So I feel really good about where I’m at as far as my bike goes. My body is awesome. Thirty is the new twenty. Here we go.
It’s weird too because I’m going to assume these changes that you made for those last two races, it’s not like anyone would walk up to the bike or you or notice it. These are probably small things that add up to be a huge difference. That’s the way this normally works at this level.
Yeah. That’s exactly right. It’s a game of inches. I think the difference in winning and eighth or tenth is tenths per lap, so percentage-wise that’s very low. Less than one percent better first than tenth. So to me, we’re always searching that fine line. I’m more of a guy who finds a setting that I like, ride it until I’m 100 percent positive of every move it’s going to make, and then we can kind of tune from there on the weekends. I feel like I have something that’s really, really good right now and something that I can go racing with and feel a hundred percent confident on.
That’s cool that you like to stick with what you know works, but do you ever get worried that, “What if everybody else jumped up?”
Yeah. Five years ago I would have been really concerned about that. In the last year or two years even, I’ve come to kind of realize that there’s a level that you reach kind of in the off-season where it’s just easy. I think when you have that feeling that it doesn’t really get a lot better than that. I think that you can kind of squander that pretty quickly when you start moving things around and whatnot.
I’m glad you mentioned that maybe five years ago that would have spun you out a little bit. I do feel that one thing you probably have on your side, you haven’t even really had a ton of podiums, say, in 450 supercross yet. So for a lot of guys that would be a leap. I wouldn't feel that for you it’s that big of a leap mentally to say, “Oh, my gosh. I have to race these guys. I have to battle these guys.” Do you feel like you’ve been able to skip some steps as far as getting used to the competition or the class?
Honestly at some point in my career I’ve raced all of them, except for Chad [Reed] basically. I’ve been around as long as everyone else, or longer. Like I said, last year coming into the season, I don’t really have time to just kind of throw a few years away. I need to be on the point and on the pace basically straight from the get-go. So I feel like I did that kind of at the end of supercross, and then outdoors was really good until my little mishap where I missed RedBud. Then I had a lot of really good results. I think that’s a huge part of me being able to kind of miss some of the pitfalls of the beginning stages of a 450 career.
Still though, there’s always that level of nervousness that everybody has, even in C class local racing. Then Anaheim 1 is always extra crazy too. There’s still going to be some level of nerves, I would think, for the opener, right?
For sure. I’m probably one of the most nervous people on the line every time.
What? You’re the veteran, bro. Seriously?
Yeah but there are stories of me throwing up and all that from my past or whatever. I think that at one point it definitely hindered me, but now it’s come to a point where I actually feel like it benefits me because I’m so nervous all the time, every race is my A1. So A1 is just another race. I can kind of spin it in a positive light, if you will, sometimes that being nervous is okay. I think that often it keeps me sharp. I even get nervous sometimes during the week. I have to face last year’s supercross champion on a daily basis. So sometimes I get nervous about that. He’s a really good rider. We have a lot of heavy motos during the week. So there’s nerves for me all the time. I think it used to hinder me but now I’ve come to a point where I can kind of embrace it and use it as a positive energy.
It always shocks me how well you guys must be able to mask the nerves. I feel like when I see you guys at the races, you’re pretty much acting like normal people when you’re probably not feeling normal. Are you putting on a little bit of a “I’m trying to act relaxed, but I’m actually nervous inside?” Is that actually the way it is on the day of the race? I didn’t even realize you were like this.
Yes and no. Racing now, especially for me after 15 seasons, it’s what’s natural to me. So I’m okay with that. It’s not an act or a front. It’s me just kind of having learned to embrace it. It’s my normal. It’s just who I am, what I do. There’s no act about it. I’m nervous and it’s race day.
You mentioned what everybody likes to talk about. You ride with other really good riders. Is everybody cool? Has anyone taken each other out? Can everyone look at each other in the eye? Or do we have big problems?
It’s just been me and Coop in Florida and then Jason has been doing his thing here in California. Then obviously unfortunately Marv has been injured in the off-season. Coop and I have kind of become really good friends over the past year. We’ve developed a good relationship, a working relationship and even a little bit of a personal relationship which is quite cool for me. I think that whole thing is, of course there has been some drama at times when the pressure is high and the chips are down. It’s time to get nitty-gritty. It gets a bit tense. But this off-season I’ve had definitely the most fun of any off-season I’ve ever had, enjoyed the whole thing. I think we’re in a really good place to go racing. Fitness, riding, everything. It’s just a nice feeling to be healthy. It gives you a little bit of extra incentive when there’s somebody the suffering with you on the days that are tough. It’s motivating to have somebody. So I think that there’s a huge portion of that.
I think I know what you’re saying. If you were on your own and you were suffering and it was hard, would you be a little nervous thinking “Man this is hard for me, what if it’s not as hard for everyone else? Am I the only one that thinks that’s really hard?” Is it almost refreshing to be like, “This would be hard on anybody. It’s not just me who thinks it’s really hard right now?”
Yeah, definitely. When you’re by yourself, things are going good but you’re also always wondering what everyone else is doing or what their speed is or whatever. When you have somebody that’s as high level as the guys that are there on a daily basis, it’s a bit of a comfort in knowing that as long as you do the work and you really go after it every day, you’re going to be prepared and you’re going to be in the mix.
I think the reason is you guys can co-exist is because you know that what happens on Tuesday and Thursday doesn’t necessarily mean that will happen on Saturday. It doesn’t mean, “If I was slower than him on Tuesday, I’m screwed. I’m done.” It varies a lot, from what I’ve seen. Does that help a lot to ease that?
The thing to me is there’s so much emphasis on just a good start, at this point. Over the years of this whole program for me, there’s only been one or two times where anyone got into or anything on a Saturday, because really what are the chances of both guys getting out in the front and having to battle each other the entire race? So to me, that’s a huge factor. I can check my ego at the door, go there every day and work alongside someone who I have to race on Saturday because it’s down to me to execute a good start and go out there and do a great moto, and vice versa for the other person. So to me, there’s a lot more factors than just what happens during the week. It’s down to 22 or 23 minutes on a Saturday night. That’s a totally different ball game than what happens on Monday or Tuesday.
I know you’re a hard-working guy. I think you embrace the work. It really means a lot when I hear someone like you say you’re suffering. Is the level so high that no matter much someone likes to train, it’s even gnarlier than that?
Well, as a younger guy, I always thought that it would get easier, or for guys who were winning it was easy or whatever. And there are times where some of my main event wins in the 250 class, or the nights where it goes really well and you have a gap and you’ve got the start, and everything is perfect, those days are easy. But those are not the days that you work hard for. The days that you work hard for are the ones where you’re fifth place on the start and it’s kind of a worst-case scenario deal. But the thing about is it never gets any easier. Your ceiling goes further and further and you’re able to go faster and faster. It’s not like I get into such good shape that I can just do 20 laps at 150 heart rate. As you get stronger, you can just absolutely send it into oblivion for 20 laps and know that the last laps are going to be tough. It’s always a progression of lifting that ceiling and just getting more and more fit and more and more comfortable at those speeds. It’s a tough thing. It never really gets any easier.
Does the training load adjust, too? If you’re fitter than you were three years ago, do you just do a higher volume, and then it hurts just as much?
I wouldn’t say so much the training gets harder. It’s just one of those things the riding, you just can go harder and harder and deeper and deeper. In that sense, it gets harder. You get more fit and then you can go faster.
Is it just when you’re riding, you’re just riding harder than you would have been before?
Yes, pretty much. That’s the gist of it. Like I said, you always think when you’re supremely fit it’s going to get better, but there’s always that thing. A guy broke the two-hour marathon mark this year. No matter how much he trained, that was never going to be an easy feat, and now it’s like, can he do 1:58? He did 1:59. That’s just sport and that’s progression. Who we are as people, just searching for the next thing and the next feat. That’s one thing that makes it fun for me still is just chasing the ceiling, chasing how good I can be or how fit I can get, what I can do in the sport as a racer.
It’s so serious at your level. What I think is interesting is that some riders have to continually remind themselves, “Oh, wait. This is a dream position. Enjoy it. Try to have fun with it.” I don’t know if you have to remind yourself of that. I think you know exactly what you’re signed up for. Does it all pretty much come as one happy package for you, the work and the enjoyment?
It’s kind of a one-package deal for me. I do see other people in the sport, though. This is the position we dreamed of being in. There have been moments in my career where I was like, “Man. This is hard. I have to do this interview, or this obligation, or this whatever.” You do lose kind of the appreciation. I have had to step back and kind of remind myself that. But I think just the success that I’ve had over the past couple of years and also my family, just the life that we’re allowed to live from this sport really just motivates me still a lot. I enjoy riding. I enjoy going there every day and just kind of finding what I can do or where the ceiling is for me as a racer and as a person, as an athlete, all those things.
I always say that 26 to 27 is kind of a magical age where everyone starts to get that level of perspective. They start to enjoy it again, and if anyone makes it into the 30s, they seem like they like it more than ever before. You guys should hand out business cards to the younger guys when they get that burnout stage, which is mid to early 20s, and explain what the other side is like. Just tell them, “No, trust me. In five years, you’re going to be glad you’re here.”
[Laughs] It’s kind of an odd position. Even I went through it, especially in 2015 and 2016 where I was really, really close to winning races and making that jump to where I got to in 2017. Those are some of the most frustrating times because you’re so close. You’ve been a podium guy. In the beginning, you just want to get on the podium. Then you do that a couple times and you want to be a winner. Then I kind of went through that for two years where I was so close to winning. Even Coop and I have talked about it a few times. There were some wins that I was so close to in 2016. Fell with three laps to go in San Diego. I was right behind him. I led half the race. I think he passed me with three laps to go in Santa Clara that year. Led the whole race. It was so close. I was getting seconds. At one point in my career, I would have been so pumped on a second. I was most frustrated about it. It was one of those deals, and I have had this conversation with a few people. You just have to keep it in perspective. At one point, you would have killed for that second place or been so pumped to be on the podium. Then the next thing is you just want to win. Then you get frustrated with getting a podium, but at some point you would have been so pumped on that. So it’s all about that balance and the way you see things, really.