Not only did he make a big change when he made the switch from the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM team to the Monster Energy/Star Racing Yamaha team in early October 2019, but Shane McElrath made a life change. The North Carolina native and his wife Joy packed up their belongings and made the move to California—taking what he has referred to as a big leap of faith during the team switch. McElrath entered the 2020 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship eyeing up a title in his more-than-likely last run in the small bore class.
Now, after over two full months of a hiatus due to the coronavirus, the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship will resume in less than a week. McElrath sits second in the 250SX East Region points standings—10 points behind GEICO Honda’s defending champion Chase Sexton. For McElrath, it’s do or die, as he’s running out of time to win titles in the 250 class. We spoke to him on Friday evening to get his take on how this Salt Lake City situation will go and he was open with his answers on the East Region title fight, wanting some #1 hardware before moving to the premier class, and more, as you’ll read below.
Racer X: This is weird. No more speculation. We’re really going racing. So I ask everybody the same thing. Do you almost feel a little rushed or stressed or like, “Oh, man. I got to get ready?”
Shane McElrath: Well, I’m going to start by saying it’s good to see you again. I always enjoy seeing you, hearing your voice. It gets me excited. I’m like, “Dude, there’s Jason Weigandt! He’s always pumping everybody up.” So I’m really excited now that we have a date. For a while, it almost feels like the work you’re doing is in vain because you’re just like, what are we working towards? We have to hold a tempo so high to stay in good shape. Well, with nothing set in stone schedule-wise, mentally you’re like, I don't know how long I can keep this up with no guarantee. We still got to be taking our recovery seriously and our eating. It’s like, how much longer can we just keep going at this?
You’re the first guy I’ve heard that actually illustrated how weird it was to have nothing to fight for, while also still knowing you had to keep putting in the work. It had to be so strange.
Yeah. Especially at first. The weekend of Indy, Joy [McElrath’s wife] and I had a 14-hour travel day or something because we flew to Indy and back in the same day. We had layovers on both flights. It was a long day. On the weekend, we didn’t know what to do because I’m supposed to be racing today. The West Coast guys were already on outdoors at that point, but I didn’t have an outdoor 250. I did have a 450, so the week after Indy I spent two days on outdoors on that. Then more races got canceled. So it’s like, okay, we’ll just focus on outdoors. That’s in the distant future. I only spent like two weeks when I first got on the bike on outdoors. So it took a while to get the outdoor 250. Once we started on outdoors, things just continued to digress. I think our third weekend, maybe even up to our fourth weekend, we went down to just one day of riding during the week. We can relax a little bit. Then it was one day a week. There was one week we didn’t get to ride because it rained all week in California, which was bizarre but it was like, we’ll try to ride this week. If not, it’s no big deal. It’s like, oh. Sweet. I’m okay with that.
You’re one of the only guys I know that has said, “Hey, there are other things to think about than just riding and training with this, or even into the future.” It seems like you’ve thought about this more than just from a racing standpoint.
Yeah. I think for us, we’re raised in motocross. We’re raised to dedicate our lives to this. For me, being a Christian, that’s the first thing that has made me realize motocross one, it’s a job, but people retire before they’re 30. Then there’s 70 years, give or take, left of your life! So let’s enjoy ourselves right now. We couldn’t really leave, but it’s like, “Let’s drive here because I don’t have to go to bed at a certain time. Let’s go visit here. Let’s spend time with family.” I think it’s a perfect time. To me, that’s when we need to work on ourselves. Yeah, we’re working on our craft, especially in the off-season. We call it boot camp but it’s mentally, physically and spiritually we got to prepare ourselves for battle in all areas. Now with time off it’s like, let’s go back to building and let’s be strong in every area of our life.
Watch this interview via the Instagram Live archive:
I did an interview with Ricky Johnson, and he actually had coronavirus and got through it. He said one of the craziest things. He’s said it sucked dealing with it, but at the same time in this shutdown, we got to spend more time with family. Maybe we didn’t have to be so hyper-focused on the same daily goals. He was like, “I almost wish that we should all have a little COVID in our lives sometimes. It allowed everyone to focus on things that we totally take for granted.” So I guess the question now is, can any of us actually keep doing that?
Yeah. I think it’s been really convicting just to have to slow down, to have to look around and see what we’ve been doing with our time. It’s been really cool to see the impact it had, even just where we are in Murrieta, California. The amount of people that I’ve seen outside walking, running, riding bicycles, it’s like, this is amazing. Some friends that work 9-5 and sometimes longer than that really having to get stuck at home, but they’re like, “Our pay was cut, or we’re laid off, but I’ve never had time with my family like this, and I’ve never gotten to do some of these things.” If that’s not convicting to anybody, it’s like, we need a heart check. It’s crazy just to see. Even with Rick, he was really transparent about everything that he went through. That’s crazy for us leading into next weekend. There’s people that don’t have any signs that test positive for it. So it’s like, I feel great. I’m healthy. Everything’s good, but I’m like, I hope I pass.
That’s a really good point. Literally, if you do not pass the COVID-19 testing, you’re not racing and your championship is done!
That’s the thing, too. Some of the 450 guys the first couple rounds were really sick. During supercross there’s usually always people that race when they’re sick. Some are worse than others. Some people could have already had it. Some people may not get it at all. Passing the test is the first race of next weekend.
Usually, if you’re sick, the weekend is going to be terrible, but you’ve got to suck it up and get points. I even deal with it in TV—if I’m sick, I still need to show up and do the job no matter what. This is the opposite. If you’re sick, you’re not allowed to tough it out. It’s a whole new world.
It’s pretty weird. Just reading the restart plan [that Feld Entertainment sent to the teams] and everything, it’s pretty strict. I know we have to do it to get back racing, but there’s so much room for one little slip-up that there’s no telling what can happen. So it’s like, as a racer, to have to think about those even just a little bit is really tough because on race day, there’s nothing else I’m thinking about at all. So it’s going to be tough, not only for myself but riders, team personnel. The last thing we think about on race day is getting close to somebody, saying hey to somebody. We have this whole list of things to keep in the back of our mind, it’s going to be hard.
You guys also can’t have your mechanics go to the starting line, right? Many things are going to be a lot different.
Yeah. It’s definitely going to be wild. We can set our holeshot buttons back behind the starting gate, I assume. We’re going to have to. That’s kind of a non-negotiable. We’re going to have to just roll up, get on our gate. I really don’t know how to think about it because there’s so many things. I’m here to line up and race. I’m not here to tip-toe around everywhere and make sure I don’t break any of the rules… “Oh, I’m sorry. I got too close.” We normally have like tunnel vision.
Are you worried like, it will distract your focus from the racing?
I’m not really worried about it. It’s like once we get focused on something, we don’t even hear things at that point. It’s more like I’m not worried about doing stuff correctly. People may have to remind us. I’m focused.
Are there things that you learned from the first few races you did that you get to apply now?
Honestly, I’m really excited. Our last four weeks of outdoors that we did, we did a whole other training block, like a whole off-season pretty much. We just finished our fifth week of supercross. With the team, I have a one-year deal. Leading up through the off-season, it was like, sweet, we’ve got time to work. But at the same time, six, eight weeks is not really much time at all. So really these last two months have been really huge for myself and the team and fitness-wise, and just learning the bike even more, that I’m really excited to go back to racing. Daytona, I was really happy with my riding. Daytona was the best I rode. We had made some bike changes prior to that. I fell twice in the main, so I ended up fifth. That was the best I rode. So it was exciting to go to Indy. I was fired up, ready to go, and then we get there like, “Hey, show’s canceled.” I’m excited because I think we’re in a much better position than we were. We took some very good steps before Daytona. Daytona was more of like learning the bike some more. Now it’s like, I’ve spent time on the bike. I’ve really worked on the training program a lot more. Just really got more experience on this bike and this team now. So I’m really excited to get to racing.
You totally dominated the first race. So it looked like you’re already at max. Did you know leaving Tampa, I won, but there’s other things I need to learn?
I think Tampa was a good start. I was still in shock that we made it there. That was something that Joy and I had been praying for. To show up at Tampa, that was like the first goal, but then it was like a win was just like, wow. I can’t believe that. It wasn’t that good, but I won. Then Arlington, I actually felt way better than at Tampa. I had some bike problems the first main. Second main I ended up second. The last one I won. It was frustrating because of the progress that we made all day resulted in a second. I really felt like I rode well enough to win, we just had some problems throughout the day. Atlanta was really my low point, bike setup-wise. It was the first soft track we really rode. So that was where it really stood out to me. This bike that’s set up pretty good for California didn’t work so good on the Atlanta soil. So the team, they were like, “Here, we want you to try this. We think it’s really going to help out.” We changed gearing and suspension and it was like night and day. Coming into Daytona the bike felt awesome. Qualifying went great, even the heat race. Then I just got together with Jordon [Smith] on the first lap and we both went down. Then I went down again later. We’ve made very good progress. That’s the part I’m super excited about is just the openness to change, even going back to changing teams. I need to constantly be reminded to try things because I don't want to just settle for something good when we can have something great.
So what’s the plan for you in Salt Lake City? The East Region guys get a bunch of races in, I think three in a row. Then there’s a little break. You can conceivably leave.
Yeah. The team rented a big AirBNB house out there, so we’re all going to be staying together. It’s going to be cool. We are taking our practice bikes, Colt and myself, just in case. We’re going to try and ride at least once because having ten days off the bike isn’t really ideal to go straight into a race. We’ll just have to wait and see. But we’re definitely not leaving Utah at least. We’re just loading up the car and we’re going to drive up there and spend some time with the team.
Where is this championship for you? You’ve been able to stay in the class an extra year. You got on a new team. You win the opener. Obviously you’re a contender, but you’ve been a contender for three or four years now. If you do not get this title, is it crushing or is it just part of the deal? Do you look at this like an absolute must?
This is why I came to this team. I wanted to change. I wanted a fresh shot. I wanted to just eliminate any variables that I thought may be hindering me. I don't know specifically what that is, but I want to try something. For me, this is something that I really want to do. It’s like a milestone in the 250 class. Obviously the goal is to race the 450 class, but I don't want to move up to the 450 class and not have a title. That’s like a dream, it's a goal, it’s like nothing else matters at this point. I’ve got to finish this championship, and that’s priority number one. I really don’t want to leave without a number one plate. Outdoors, too. I want to win both, but I’m running out of chances. I’m tired of getting second. I’m tired of getting third. I hate losing. So I’m ready to do this.
That’s awesome to hear, because you have this great perspective on the other things, but it sounds like it has not changed your dedication or anything like that to the craft.
Yeah. This is my job. It’s my passion. It’s what I love to do. I like to win, and I hate losing. I want to represent the team well. I want to do what they work to do as well. They took a chance on me. I took a chance on my whole career. I’m ready to do this. I’m going to have my shot soon.
It has to have flashed before your eyes, like any one of us in the industry, that maybe we wouldn’t race at all. Maybe it would not come back this year, or maybe it would never even come back. Who knows?
Yeah. It was really tough because it’s like, dude, we need to figure out do we wait it out or do we try to start working on something else? I signed up for DoorDash. I created an account.
Yeah. I’ve been trying to get my bank account connected to my DoorDash so I can start, and that thing’s giving me problems so I have to call them.
If you got the bank account figured out, would you have done it at one point?
Oh, for sure. I was ready. I’m like, we’re sitting in here doing nothing. I’m tired of playing video games all the time. I got to do something. Drive around. I’ll go deliver. I don't care.
So even though you’re doing some training and riding, it wasn’t a full day? You still had time?
Yeah. We started doing gym in Swanny’s [trainer Gareth Swanepoel] gym, so on days that we don’t ride, it’s like we get up, we do anywhere from one to two-and-a-half hour bike rides. Some days inside, so we didn’t have to go anywhere. Then we do gym and we’re done by at the latest 1:00 on those days. Riding takes obviously longer. Sometimes we’ll ride later in the day. So the riding days are pretty booked, but I have three to four other days during the week where it’s like, the second half of my day is pretty much resting, but I can rest while I'm driving around.
DoorDash. Wow. There’s some perspective for you. You know what you could do? Since we’ve got two races, it’s like a ten-day span where you don’t have to race in Utah, you should do it there.
I might. Let all you guys know in the moto industry that I’m dashing.