Editor's note: This article initially ran on March 19, 2021, but we pulled it back to the top to bring back this cool piece for some off-week reading.
Interview by Daniel Blair
During Tuesday’s qualifying sessions for the 2021 Arlington 2 Supercross, seven-time AMA Supercross champion Jeremy McGrath joined Daniel Blair and Dan Hubbard on Race Day Live for a few of the A group qualifying sessions. Blair was quick to take advantage of McGrath’s wealth of knowledge on the sport as he asked what McGrath thought about many topics surrounding the 450SX and 250SX West championships. Some of the insight McGrath was able to provide was refreshingly honest and open discussion ranging from Cooper Webb’s mindset, what Ken Roczen really needs to do, and so much more.
As such, we decided to a pull a few of the best McGrath takes out to rehash going into the weekend.
Daniel Blair: You think about the motorcycles and the power of these 250s right now. If you think back to your transition from the two stroke to the four stroke, I mean, you’ve ridden the new 450s. They have really figured out some things!
Jeremy McGrath: Yeah, you know, it’s crazy because the 250s these days have as much power and more rideable power than we had on our factory bikes back in the day, right? Although two strokes made it kind of fun because there were some techniques that you had to use to get the thing to hook up and stuff. So, it was a pretty technical bike to ride. I think the 250s or the 450s, the four strokes from today, kind of bridges the gap between the mediocre guy and the best guys. So, you see a lot of guys going fast because of that. Sometimes you wonder, “Man, is the 450 just too fast of a bike?” You know, when these guys fall off the bike, they have really bad crashes. These guys are animals to be able to hold onto the bikes for the 20-minute final. So sometimes it’s like, what? 28 laps! I can’t even imagine doing that on a 450 with 60 horsepower. But the companies, like Kawasaki and all the other ones, are making these 450s so nice to ride and so light feeling. It’s impressive, even from the days of the first four strokes. These guys’ bikes are pretty awesome.
If you’re Seth Hammaker right now, it’s been 72 hours since you’ve got that big win. How do you approach the environment that you’re in now? You’re on the high of the win but I would imagine that you don’t want to put the pressure on yourself that you’ve got to do it again, but you know you want to. What’s going through his mind today and what should he be thinking about as he approaches round four?
Well, here’s the deal. The nature of this sport is that you’re only as good as your last race. So, it’s two days later, all of that stuff is out the window and tonight is a new night. Of course, you gain some experience, you gain some confidence, but none of that matters. You’ve got to put your head down, throw all that out the window. You’ve got to worry about today, worry about lap times, get a good start, and that will change everything. Let’s just see if he can do it again. It’s going to be tough. Getting that first one is good, it’s hard to do. But it’s hard to repeat them, too. So, all he can do is just keep putting himself in position, right? He can just keep getting holeshots, keep trying to lead laps, and every time he does that, he’s going to gain from it.
You talked about the difference of when you were training and these guys now, and how many things have changed technologically. But [Hunter Lawrence] was talking in the post-race press conference about his diet, and how much that’s changed his life, his health, his body. When you guys were racing, was that similar? Every single calorie counted, everything you put in your body, or was it just grab a burger and run it?
You know what, you need to do whatever works for you mentally, right? Because if you feel like going to have a hamburger is going to really put a dent in your situation because you believe it’s going to hurt you, then I would suggest you don’t do that. But I wasn’t like that. I could switch a switch on when I was out on the track and it was time to go, and I was prepared. I think the riders from our day didn’t get enough credit for doing enough work. Everyone thinks the 90’s was all party time, and we didn’t do anything. It was all girls and parties and fun stuff. Well look, we weren’t afraid to have a little fun, but I can tell you this, we worked hard too. I don’t think we get enough credit for that. The sport’s changed totally. Now these guys are all super, super fit. They’re all very on it when it comes to fitness, which is what you need! When Ricky Carmichael came along and started beating me, I was like, “Oh man! Okay, this is what I need to do? I need to train harder. I need to do more, more, more.” And eventually that really hurt me trying to chase a guy like him because I just overworked myself and that’s not how I worked. You can look back in the day and look at a guy like Kevin Windham. Every time a guy got on him to go train harder and everything, he did worse! When he just relaxed and didn’t do anything, he was way better and was the great Kevin Windham that we know. Everybody’s different, but I think you mentally have some issues with everything not being perfect and it’s going to hurt you on Saturday, then you need to do everything perfect. I wasn’t like that, but some guys are.
Cooper Webb locked in about a month ago. He goes down to Orlando and finds that new speed, I guess he was probably searching for comfort in the motorcycle, and once he found it, everything kind of changed. Ken Roczen needs to play that role of the chaser, and you have to imagine if you’re Ken Roczen that you have to reset a little bit too, right? Everything was going great until it kind of fell apart. It’s now his turn to reset and find something.
Yeah, you know it’s funny, because as a fan watching this series, Cooper Webb has caught fire and really gained some confidence. Like you said, I think he did find something with the bike because it’s all of the sudden like he went from a top five guy to a dominant guy. So, something they must have found over there gave him some confidence that he was missing. And Roczen on the other hand, he probably can’t figure out what in the heck is going on. So, he needs a start for sure to change all of that.
From your take just watching it, it’s got to be fun right? You’re watching this boxing match go back and forth and Cooper Webb’s won the last few rounds but this thing’s not over. We’re going to 17 [rounds], there’s still some variables that are going to be thrown at these guys and you just can’t get too comfortable at any point in this championship.
Well, listen, I’m going to tell you what I’m watching out there. I’m watching Ken Roczen get abused by Cooper Webb, really. He’s not standing up for himself out there, and I think the reason why the second half has been a little tough is because he won’t take a stand. You know, sometimes when you’re getting hit and people are running around you, I mean Anderson on Saturday night was smashing through guys too and putting some really hard passes on guys. Now listen, we’ve known Barcia in the past to be aggressive on guys like that. Ken Roczen, he wants to embarrass these guys. He wants to be clean; he wants to be fast. Like we know he’s mister smooth, mister clean, gets great holeshots, but you know what, these guys are taking advantage of him out there and he needs to make a stand. So, in my mind, when I’m watching it, I’m like, he needs to punt Webb one good time to make him understand that he’s not going to take that stuff! And it only takes once! Sometimes, unfortunately, that’s what it takes. But he’s going to keep having those things happen to him until he takes a stand. He needs to toughen up a little bit and make a couple of aggressive moves and point out that he’s not going to be taken advantage of like that.
But when you do that to Cooper, he seems to want that.
And that’s fine! But we heard Ken in that last interview at one of the races that if that’s the way it wants to go, then he’s ready for it. But what we’re watching, he’s not ready for it. So, look, we’re all fans of seeing great racing, and we know Ken has the speed. You know Eli Tomac wouldn’t put up with that if someone smashes him, he’s going to smash them back. Unfortunately, he’s not been up front these last few races, but you know when guys come up on him or guys come up on Barcia they go, “Wow! If I hit this guy or I’m too aggressive, guess what’s going to happen to me in the next corner?” Ken needs to put a little of that in some of these other guys.
You mentioned Jason Anderson and you’re also talking about taking a stand. I think that’s what he did. He said on the podium that he’s just “not sitting behind these guys anymore.” I think for maybe the next week or two, I think riders will look over their shoulder when they see El Hombre and go, “Well, he said he’s not playing around no more.”
And here’s the thing, what it also does is remind you. It reminds you making these moves that you can actually do that. So, it gives you some confidence, so you go, “Alright, I’m not letting anyone mess with me.” It doesn’t mean you need to start a fight or really get into a dogfight out there on the track because that’s just going to slow you down, right? You don’t want to deal with that. But if the opportunity presents itself, which we know it will, these guys are racing around each other all the time, just certain guys need to take a stand.
I’m trying to figure Eli out this year. He’s got two wins out of 10 and I want to hear your thoughts on my theory. I think that last year when he got that title, he took a sigh of relief after everything he did to chase that thing down and I have to imagine the pressure was heavy, too. He finally gets it and I think there’s this little sigh of relief, and that’s just a little percent or a couple percentage points on that top end. And he’s been good this year, but he just hasn’t been great, and I feel like it’s just that relief from finally getting the title and maybe a little bit of a championship hangover. Your thoughts?
I don’t know. My thoughts are this. At least for me, it always worked in the opposite of that. Like when I won, I was like, “Oh this is so sweet! I can go faster. I’m going to win harder!” And we all know that he’s mister dominance when it comes to outdoors and he’s got that supercross title now, I would think that it would have been a little bit easier and more relaxed for him this year. But I’ll tell you what, I think the problem is everyone else stepped up their game. There’s five or six guys in there that are really, really fast and giving him troubles at certain times. The two races that he’s won, he’s just dominated. Not to say last year was easy, but he had something a little more than the other guy’s last year. For whatever reason this year, at certain times he’s been dominant but been pretty on point with the same guys. It’s tough to know what these guys are thinking. It’s not an easy championship to win.
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