What a dramatic afternoon last Sunday for Chase Sexton. The GEICO Honda rider was attempting to wrap his second-straight 250SX East Region Championship, but a scary crash with Colt Nichols in his heat race showed how quickly things could change. Plus, his title rival, Monster Energy/Star Racing Yamaha’s Shane McElrath, tried everything to derail him. Then after the race Star logged a protest on the fuel in Sexton’s bike.
Sexton was busy celebrating his title and missed last week’s post-race press conference, but he did join the PulpMX Show to talk about the day, and his future (he’s headed to the 450s for the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship).
Steve Matthes and Skip Norfolk (multi-time championship mechanic for Jeremy McGrath) as well as some callers provided the questions.
Steve Matthes: I have so many questions. I don’t know where to start. Let’s start with this. Shane [McElrath] was trying to jack with you in the race a little bit, slowing down and letting you by. I love the fact that you were just like, “Okay. Cool. Let’s play this game. Try to catch me.” And you took off.
Chase Sexton: Yeah. It was fun. The restart, obviously I was behind him. I knew he wasn’t going to just let me follow him the whole race, which I kind of expected. The first time I got around him I’m like, he kind of has probably a little bit too much energy. So I rode a couple laps in front of him and he got close to me. I’m like, I’m not going to let him just clean me out. So I let him by. He started playing those games. He made a mistake and missed the rhythm section, and I probably gapped him a second. And I’m like, “This is it. I got to drop the hammer and try to pull away,” which ended up working.. It was good. The games were kind of weird. I think he wanted the guys to catch us so there was a chance of McAdoo and those guys getting involved. I was like, I can’t let those guys catch us. That’s going to be a mess.
I think he was trying to do the [Eli] Tomac bunching thing from 2017.
Yeah. But he ended up missing that rhythm section. That’s what gave me a gap. When he was close enough to me, he was going to obviously try to hit me. So I had to have somewhat of a gap. There was a lot of corners out there that were very vulnerable to take somebody out.
It was quite a statement ride. Let’s face it. Last year it was gifted to you a little bit with Austin’s [Forkner] injury, but this year, you rose to the occasion. You were the best guy. That last race I think just put a total stamp on it. That had to feel good for you after last year’s title.
Yeah. I was looking to those East/West shootouts all year, before even the coronavirus thing happened. I wanted to win one of those races. In the beginning we were going to have two, and then we only ended up having one. I wanted to win one of those races because it’s my last year on a 250 and I’m only racing half the field for most of the season. So I wanted to go out there and race everybody and try to win. I think it’s a statement for me to go out and win the last race get my head into a new class and know that I won the last race I was in against everybody. Obviously, big picture was championship, but I really wanted to win and beat the rest of the guys there. So that was kind of my whole mindset.
The [Colt] Nichols thing. Initially I was like, “Sexton, what are you doing? You don’t need to do that. Take third in the heat.” It was I thought a little bit ill-advised and then I kind of saw some photos and watched it again and Colt really looks over. He moves over a little bit. Skip [Norfolk] and I here in the studio were disagreeing a little bit on it. What’s your take of that whole incident?
I got a terrible start in the heat race. I was coming from pretty far back. All I was thinking was gate pick. Even if I get second… It depends if we have the faster heat race or not, but I could potentially be fourth gate pick, and if I got third that’s sixth gate pick. With that start, you had to have an inside gate to have a chance at getting a good start, I felt like. So it was the safest bet for me. So my whole mindset was just trying to pass as many people as possible and get to a good gate position. Honestly, three laps to go I’m like, I could probably win this thing. I wasn’t going to get taken out by Shane. I felt like I reeled those guys in from a ways back. I made a dumb move the lap before that. I jumped inside the same place that I landed on him and kind of tried to block him, but it was kind of like a half pass. I missed the triple. Lost a whole bunch of ground and I had to catch him [Nichols] again. I had the thing set up. I was pretty much next to him, or a little bit behind him. He was pretty far left so I’m like, He’s not going to jump to the inside. He’s going to go outside. I’m going to jump to the inside. Then when he doubled, and I was already committed to the triple, he looked over and started moving over. I was like, “Oh, no!” I thought I had enough clear. I didn’t think I was actually going to land on him. I clipped his handlebar and I was lucky to get away with that. I actually almost saved it, besides the Tuff Blox were there so I ran into the Tuff Blox. But for me, it ended up good because I got second which was my goal. I wanted to get as many positions. I texted Colt and I said I was sorry, but I think he kind of agreed it was a racing incident. I think he misjudged where I was at, and I misjudged how much room I actually had. So I felt bad, but at the same time I thought I needed that position to get a better gate pick with that start. It was critical because that start could have really changed a lot. Hindsight is always 20/20, but at the moment I thought I was making the right decision.
Matthes: I definitely think it was a racing incident. To me, you’re more to blame than Colt.
Skip Norfolk: I disagree.
Matthes: I know you do. Colt knows the line. There’s a triple here that I’m not doing that other guys are doing. I do wonder why Colt would look over so far and move so far. That was weird.
Norfolk: I don’t think he realized Chase was tripling in.
Sexton: For me, I did the exact same thing the lap before and he saw me. I have to believe that he went to block me, but I don’t know if he thought I was not as close. For one, he said he didn’t think I was that close. So for him, I think he just thought he was going to cut me off and I wasn’t going to triple. I really like Colt and I think he’s a good guy. He didn’t do it, I don’t think on purpose either.
Matthes: Even if Colt is like, “I‘ve got to take Sexton out because I want to help my teammate,” he’s not doing it that way because that could seriously hurt Colt.
He’s not going to get landed on for a teammate. Before the race and stuff I said good luck. I talked to him. He’s cool. He’s not one of those guys that’s going to play that card, I don’t think. No one wants to get landed on. I don’t care who it is. You’re not going to go get landed on for a teammate.
What happened on that first start? You were last. What went wrong?
My holeshot device came off. When I popped the clutch, my holeshot device came straight up. So from there I was like, “Oh, my God. Are you serious?” I made a lot of passes. Everyone was talking about the race having a restart, but I was ready to pass for fourth. I had two teammates in front of me. I was ready to get to… I think I could have got to at least second. I really felt like I was the fastest one yesterday. Obviously Ferrandis is fast, but he was behind me. So I feel like I was the fastest one to catch those guys. The restart obviously played in my favor, but at the same time I was kind of bummed. I thought they were going to do a staggered start and I was kind of happy about it. When they did the full restart I’m like, that’s just another start. I could get possibly in a pileup or something like that.
I think you were one lap away from the staggered. I asked Dylan [Ferrandis] about it in the press conference…that you didn’t show up for, by the way!
AMA were handing out the #1 plates at our team truck. We’ve been struggling with this whole press conference thing since I got here. I almost missed the first one. We just didn’t know what time it was. It’s my bad. We were doing a whole bunch of stuff with the team, so it was my bad.
I’m just giving you crap. I don’t care. It’s fine. Anyway, I asked Dylan about this. There was an inside gate on the main event. I cannot figure out why nobody took it, what was going on down there. I kind of heard some stuff that Shane took your gate. What happened?
I think everyone kind of saw Star and those guys were playing games with me all day.
They were doing it in practice.
So, we had these little flags and it’s supposed to be what we pick our gates with. You put your flag in the gate you want to pick. I went ahead and picked my gate and we started rolling our bikes up and Shane’s trying to roll his bike in my gate. I’m like, “What are you doing?” I went one gate inside of him, and then he went and took my gate. They were arguing about that, the AMA guys. I don’t know. I think that’s what they planned on doing, because I was after him picking so I just went right inside of him and it was a pretty good rut. He just saw me pick that. I don’t know how it’s legal, because those things are supposed to be what we pick our gates with.
Yeah. You had the flag. That’s it.
The flag was in the ground and he picked his gate. I was literally scrubbing my gate off with a brush and he’s rolling his bike in. I’m like, “What are you doing?” Then they’re all arguing and I’m like, whatever. I saw another gate that I liked that was even farther inside. I’m like, I’ll just take that. I don’t really care.
Then there was a gate open. I don’t know if you noticed that.
I thought Star was playing games or something because I thought all of a sudden someone was going to come in there and take that gate, but the gate was open. I was like, sweet. I had a little more room. It went Christian [Craig, teammate], me, gate open, and then Kyle Peter, and then Shane. So I had two Hondas on both sides of me. I had a pretty good gate. I liked my chances at a good start, besides for the first one when my holeshot device came off.
I do not understand why no one picked that gate. I don’t know what was going on. Of course, Star protested your team for fuel. I’m sure you’ll be fine. You guys all use the same fuel. But does that stress you out?
It doesn’t stress me out because we run fuel off the shelf. We run Pro 6 VP. Everyone runs it. I think Star runs that same gas. So I don’t know. After the whole day, I felt like the main event, I won the race. I pulled away from Shane. I won I felt like fair and square. What else can they throw at me? Then I hear they’re protesting me. I was at the AMA trailer just yelling at the Star guys. We run the same gas. I didn’t get it. We’ve had problems with the team before. I just was kind of frustrated. At the end of the day, I was happy I won.
I don’t think anything will come of it.
The team, they try to play these games. It’s just harder for me to respect people that don’t respect you. They don’t respect people. I felt like if I was racing even Austin [Forkner] or Pro Circuit, any of the other teams, they don’t play those games. It’s just going out there and racing and the best man wins. The games on the track, whatever. It doesn’t really bother me. Practice you can bump me off the track however many times you want. I’m still going to do my thing and ride my laps. It’s whatever. The race is over and I ended up winning. So I’m happy with that.
I was going to ask you about the practice thing, if that bothered you or not. You said it didn’t. I don’t like it. I think it’s bullshit. The gate drops. That’s the race. Race aggressively, race hard, and go for this championship. But practice games, I think that’s bullshit. I’ve been a part of that on teams, like with KTM when I was with KTM and Langston was going for it. Brownie would wait and pull off in front. I think that’s just bullshit. You’ve had nine rounds to do something and now you’re going to wait until practice the final round?
Norfolk: The bottom line, the AMA needs to control it. It’s on them. All Chase can do is go out there and kick their ass, like you did.
Like you said, it’s like a compliment. When you’re messing with somebody like that, that’s your last resort. They know that I have the upper edge, and that’s when they have to play those games. So for me, it’s annoying, but at the same time if they’re doing that, they’re way more worried about me than I am about them. He bumped me off the track, he’s blocking my fast laps. Whatever. Last year Dylan went out and he won the race. Obviously it was unfortunate that Adam [Cianciarulo] fell, but you just go out and win the race. Hopefully something happens. It’s whatever.
I was almost wondering in the heat race if they were trying to jack with you a little bit. That’s how fast you caught them. I was like, what’s going on here?
The heat race, it’s two years in a row. Last year at Vegas I felt so good in the heat race, and then this year I felt really good again. That’s probably one of the best races I feel like I’ve had feeling-wise on the bike. I caught them guys. I was like, I have to pass one of them at least to get a better gate pick. I really do trust Colt. I knew that he was going to be respectful about it. Obviously Shane I’m a little skeptical about. I had to really pick and choose where I was going to pass, and I felt like where I was trying to pass at that was the safest for me, trying to at least block so he couldn’t jump it and then trying to block the next inside. I really felt like that track, it’s like they built it on purpose for take-outs! I feel like there were so many corners. It was just crazy. The main event, the corner after the finish line, I was just waiting to hear the Yamaha revved up and just coming at my front wheel. It’s all right. I really did trust Colt, though. That’s why I was so bummed about what went down, because I didn’t obviously mean to land on him. I was bummed. They were obviously just mad about it. I didn’t mean to do it. It was a racing incident.
[Caller] James: First off, congrats. I’m born and raised in Illinois. That’s awesome seeing an Illinois kid getting the championship and doing what you’re doing. I was kind of curious, you’re making the jump to the 450 and I think other riders have said 250 is bonkers. Everybody racing crazy. How do you adjust your race craft to go immediately to a 450?
Sexton: I say the 250 class is so chaotic. Everyone is just going for each other. We’re just young kids. The 450 class I feel like it’s a lot more maturity and most of them are older. I think there’s a lot more respect too in the 450. Everyone’s more experienced. For me going in, I’m just going to go out there and race how I normally race. I feel like for me, I’m not usually the crazy guy. I feel like I should fit in in the 450, but it’s going to be a learning curve. I’m going into outdoors with not much riding on the 450. So I’m going to have to get some riding in. For me, just going out there and learning and trying to race with these guys. There’s not really a game plan at this point. Just go out there and do my best. I have a great teammate, Ken [Roczen]. So to learn from him and just overall learn every weekend.
[Caller] Jake: The setting and the feeling that you found in the off-season versus what you needed to change for SLC? You came in and you did pretty good early in the east series. What was it, if anything, that needed to be changed on the bike or as far as your riding that needed to be done for Salt Lake?
I knew coming in, Shane is going to be good. He’s won here three times in a row, or something like that, and we had a break, he’s always good at the first couple races. For me, I knew I was going to have my work cut out for me. I have been struggling. I did a lot of trial and error testing throughout the COVID[-19] break, just trying to find some front-end traction. I didn’t feel like my front end was really planted, but we were racing tacky tracks so I didn’t really have a problem because we had ruts to bank off of. I ended up just going back to my Dallas setup just to try and go race. The first race was okay for me. I got second. Followed Shane the whole race, which I was not very happy about. Then the second race I lost the front the first lap, which I was really upset because that’s what I’ve been chasing for the whole year basically. After that race, we put a lot of work in. Every week I was there I rode four times. So we did all that work and we found a setting with the fork that I was really comfortable with. Right away you could see it was just way more stable and way more predictable for me. Ended up not changing it after that. We changed a thing in the shock for the whoops and did that fork. I think it changed a lot in my riding style and my confidence. From there on I didn’t lose a race. So that’s why I was really stoked with the team. I felt super comfortable the last three races on my bike. I was really happy with how they did.
Matthes How has it been working with Stew [James Stewart]? Just a legend. Just amazing.
I guess it’s out now. It was kind of out. Kenny put that on Instagram and that’s when everyone kind of figured it out. It’s been really good. I was blown away with how down-to-earth the guy is. It’s crazy. He is super cool. It’s weird because I didn’t really expect that out of him because he was such a legend. He could just not talk to anybody and I’d be okay with it because that’s how good he was. I was blown away. He reached out. He was the one that kind of started the whole conversation, which was crazy to me. I’m like, why me? But I guess he saw something in me that he liked. So I started working with him right after that whole break thing. Went out to his track a few times. Then I rode there probably three weeks in a row, and he came out quite a bit. He went to the Moto Sandbox and worked with me there. It’s just been really good. That first race in Salt Lake City, he was not happy with that. I just rode around behind Shane the whole race. He was like, “Dude, that’s an opportunity. You have to win those races.” It kind of got me fired up. He’s been really good. His whole race craft thing, I think racing in that position I had yesterday with Shane trying to hold me up, I learned just to be patient and then when you strike, you got to make it happen. When you pass somebody, you got to break him because that mentally gets into their head. I learned a lot from him. So I have to give him some credit for that. It’s been really good. I’m super excited for him to help me on the 450 because I think that’s where my true potential is going to come out. I think that’s where he can help me the most.
Skip Norfolk: Did he give you a different perspective or a different way of looking at things?
I think him and I have a really similar mindset on racing in general and what our goals and kind of what we care about. I think we just meshed right away. We have a pretty similar liking in golf, so that kind of helped too. We played golf a few times. That’s actually where I first met him was on the golf course. I think we just knew that we had pretty similar ideas on what I needed to work on and what my goals were. That’s when I kind of knew this guy’s for real. I didn’t expect it at all. He was super down-to-earth. It’s just crazy how simple he lives and how great he was. It’s just cool to see. It just clicked right off the bat.