The 2020 Monster Energy AMA Supercross finale in Utah might have marked Chad Reed’s last race. The all-time leader in career supercross starts and podiums (and a host of other records) leaves a long legacy for his long career. There’s a lot to unpack here, but we’ll start with Jason Weigandt, Jason Thomas and Steve Matthes offering some thoughts via an inter-office email exchange.
For clarity, Weigandt, Thomas, and Matthes all work in the media now, but Matthes was once a mechanic on team Yamaha while Reed was racing for the team, Thomas was a training partner of Reed’s for years, and Weigandt, well, he sat around in the press box and TV booth and watched a lot of Chad’s races.
Weigandt: Well boys, Chad Reed might not quite be at the "Marty and Stew" level of discussion on our podcasts and shows, but he’s certainly one of the most reliable, high-profile, attention-garnering racers of all time. We’ve been lucky to have a star as bright as Chad around for so long, this really could be it, we might really have to put a wrap on his career and legacy. That could take weeks and months to unpack, but we can certainly start now. Although, first, I need to know if Chad has really raced his last dirt bike race.
JT, you’ve known Chad really well for a long time. Do you even think he’s done?
Thomas: Absolutely not. Listen, Chad is one of the greatest to ever do it. He loves being out there and loves being Chad Reed. He is still healthy and able to be a top 10-15 guy or maybe even better if he comes in fully prepared. With the world suffering from COVID-19, I don't think many of his other interests are viable at the moment. The Super Trofeo series he has been involved in looks like it might be on hold for the immediate future, as are most sports (just speculation on my part but logical). That will only fuel his availability for SX 2021. He makes good money racing dirt bikes, he is breaking his own records each weekend, and I think he genuinely enjoys these farewell years. He is doing it his way so I say, why not?
Weigandt: Yeah I think we all agree there are reasons why Chad might not be completely done. But there is a downside to him coming back. Steve, we saw Chad sweating out LCQs early in 2020, mostly because he came into the season injured and not in shape. It got better, but no one wants to see the guy missing mains or getting hurt. Do you get a little worried about risk outweighing reward here?
Matthes: First of all, let me turn this to myself and pour one out for CR if he is REALLY retiring because it now completes the cycle. He’s last rider that was active when I was still a mechanic. They’re all gone now that Mike Alessi isn’t a full-time racer in the USA anymore. So from now on, all the riders in the pits only know me as the tubby media guy. Okay, with that out of the way I think Chad’s very measured in the way he races these days and the thought of getting hurt is there for him. He won’t bust big stuff out these days and he’s very much into the risk versus reward stuff so I don’t worry too much about him getting hurt. He knows what he’s doing. He definitely looked better on the KTM in SLC than on the Honda and also, he just got a top ten! Yes it was painful to see him sometimes battling with guys that he would lap back in the day but again, he looked better on the KTM, just got a top ten, and he’s a legend so whatever he wants to do, I’m good with. By the way, our podcast we did up in Utah before his “final” SX was pretty good and he talks about people who think he’s “rooning” his legacy.
“It’s a tough one,” he said when I asked him how he can go out there and get 15th. “The best way to answer it is, when I’ve been healthy, fit and comfortable, I’ve always been competitive at any age.”
Chad still thinks he can produce better results than he has lately if he could come into a season healthy and ready. Plus, he’s no longer on a factory team.
“My results bum me out, 100 percent,” he said. “I haven’t accepted at any point that I’m a 15th-place guy. If I truly sat here and told you I worked my ass off, I tested hours and hours, I’m in race shape and I’m throwing down, and I’m a 15th place guy, I would sit here and tell you I’m a 15th place guy. But that’s not it. There are just no shortcuts to the top. You put the facts out there, that’s when you know that’s where we’re at. For what we are, we’re pretty damned good. You get out of it what you put in. It’s not like I didn’t put it in, we just didn’t have the resources to do it.”
So, yeah, Chad’s not embarrassed because he thinks he could do better than he has lately. I want to turn the tables a bit here and discuss his legacy and I’ll start with JT. JT, what is Chad’s greatest accomplishment in the sport? No waffling either…
Thomas: I know you said no waffling but man, this is tough. When push comes to shove, I think Chad's ability to not only stay relevant, but to repeatedly reinvent himself and rise to the very top of whatever era he was. In 2003, he had to find a way to deal with Ricky Carmichael and by the end of 2003, he did just that, winning the final six SX races. Over the next few years, he struggled with the juggernaut that was James Stewart but through those struggles, gave us some of the most intense battles in the sport's history. Then after 2010 he went back to the drawing board and re-introduced himself with his own team, TwoTwo Motorsports, in 2011. Those 2011 and 2012 seasons saw a rejuvenated, improved Chad Reed. He was able to take the fight to the new era, Ryan Dungey and Ryan Villopoto. Injuries would interrupt championship runs in those seasons but Reed wasn't quite done yet, even 10 years into his American jaunt. In 2014 and 2015, he would switch to Kawasaki and have to deal with yet more new guys, like Eli Tomac and Ken Roczen. His wins in 2014 and 2015 would dominate the headlines, shocking the sport yet again. So many comebacks, so many seasons, and yet here we sit. It's 2020 and he's coming off a top-ten finish at the age of 38! His biggest accomplishment? Proving everyone wrong over and over. He truly feeds off of his ability to defy the odds. For that reason alone, I refuse to bet against the 22.
Matthes: To me, his legacy is that he won a 450SX title while partying his ass off in 2008 (after Stew’s injury), he said on the pod he insured himself for $5 million to win the 2009 450MX title (he had won one MX overall win in either class at that point) and then also, he will probably always hold the title of “SX/MX legend that has partied with the most fans.” Everyone has a “I saw Chad Reed after the race…” story it seems like. I know, not the traditional accomplishments but all very impressive.
But seriously, like JT said…Ricky Carmichael was probably faster than Chad but the 22 figured out how to beat him, James Stewart WAS faster than Chad Reed but the 22 figured out how to beat him, Ryan Villopoto, Ryan Dungey were a lot younger and probably faster than Chad Reed at that point but again the 22 figured out how to beat them. It’s remarkable the confidence, the talent, the mental fortitude it took for him to win all those races, never mind all those podiums! Crazy stats.
What about you, Weege?
"[Chad Reed's] biggest accomplishment? Proving everyone wrong over and over. He truly feeds off of his ability to defy the odds. For that reason alone, I refuse to bet against the 22." -Jason Thomas
Weigandt: Shocker that JT’s answer was actually multiple answers wrapped into one. That’s waffling! If I have to pick one, it’s Anaheim 2, 2014. This was probably the fourth, fifth or even the 50th round of “Chad is probably done” only to see him indeed not be done again. I remember one industry insider telling me Chad had made his money and won in America and lost the motivation to win back in…2007! Yeah, don’t ever say that about Chad! So let’s see. By ’14 he had already been forced out of the factories and started his own team, came back and won again, but then got hurt and started struggling. Had to be done, right? Then, in a move only Chad would make, he moved his TwoTwo Motorsports team away from Honda, which he would later say was a terrible move from a business and financial standpoint. But he hated the newest CRF and loved the Kawasaki. Four years earlier, Chad tore up a big-money factory contract just to stop riding a Kawasaki! So this made Chad look like a lunatic, but it was clear by Anaheim 1 that he was fast on the KX450F, and by Anaheim 2, he was ready to win. As he came through the pack, who did he have to catch for the lead? Oh yeah, James Stewart! Catching James Stewart is not something almost anyone is able to do, and that includes Chad finishing second to James seemingly 100 times, but on this night Chad was able to do it. I remember Ralph Sheheen saying “If Reed is able to pass Stewart this crowd will lose its mind” and indeed, when Chad got inside of Stewart and passed him, the crowd lost its mind. (Side note to be fair for the Stew fans: James said he had a bad head cold that night. A few weeks later he was winning races as well. Chill, everyone.) I’m pretty sure Chad was crying after he won this race. And then two weeks later, he came back and won Anaheim again! Being old, counted out, switching bikes despite it looking like a dumb idea and costing him money, and then getting Stewart for the win? Yeah, that’s Chad Reed right there.
You see, you can’t just sum up Chad with race wins. You have to put his stubborn, against-the-grain personality in the mix, too. Can you guys each give me a good story about Chad having to prove himself right? Bonus if it’s an insider story from Yamaha days or Florida practice days. You got something, JT?
Thomas: Most of my thoughts on that subject circle back to Chad not actually being right, but refusing to admit anything but. Chad has an opinion on pretty much everything and many times that opinion is not a commonly held belief. That "go against the grain" mentality served him well in his racing career as he was absolutely unwilling to compromise when he was set on an idea. This mentality was also incredibly frustrating at times because there was no debate on a topic. Chad had his view and it was right and anyone else in disagreement was wrong. I am sure he played that up towards me more often than others because he loved to badger me. He often made me his punching bag but that's also the Aussie way of banter. Given that Chad was always right on every topic and also given the fact that I love to argue, you can imagine the spirited debates we had on a daily basis.
Weigandt: Poor JT. Steve do you have any “Chad’s gonna Chad” stories from inside the trenches?
matthes: Well yeah there was the time he left a MX test at Glen Helen because the track wasn’t groomed (left that way on purpose by the team to test properly), there was the time he asked us when we were going to get a real suspension guy in front of our actual suspension guy, there was the time…LOL, I could go on and on but early on at Yamaha he knew he was good and could do just about anything on a dirt bike and I think when the money, fame and wins came in, he did change a bit. And not all for the better but really, but anyone reading this would have a hard time staying the same guy when you come from nothing and now you have everything. Eventually he matured for the better but the attitude of an elite athlete never really left him, including now! The stories I have that I can’t tell are pretty good also! He’s a SX/MX legend for sure and I can’t wait to see him out there in 2021 at some point.
Yes, you read that right.