Four teams in one year. That’s Shane McElrath’s 2022 story, as he started with Rocky Mountain ATV/MC-KTM-WPS until that squad folded, then filled in with Rockstar Energy Husqvarna and Muc-Off/FXR/ClubMX Yamaha. Then, he made a deal with the new Rick Ware Racing team, which had started pursuit of the new FIM World Supercross Championship (WSX).
The problem for Shane is that just two years ago he was a high-level racer in Monster Energy AMA Supercross, battling none other than Chase Sexton for the 250SX East Region Championship. But he pointed out of the AMA’s 250 class without a title, and since then has found himself scratching and clawing for rides, advice, support, and even pay.
Then he landed with Rick Ware and won the SX2 title in the new version of WSX. He’s finding his footing again. Here’s how that whole program came together, and what it means for Shane’s career going forward.
Racer X: So, how would you describe this team? Did they reach out to you? Did you reach out to them? How did you build a bike?
Shane McElrath: Yeah, so Rick first came to me, and he said “Hey, I want to win a World Championship, and I want you to do it. I don’t know what that looks like, but I’m willing to do whatever it takes.” It honestly took us six weeks to two months to try to get this done. Because I wanted to search out every avenue. If you want to win, we’ve got to do everything we can, and I wanted to make sure he was aware of that. So I talked to different people and different teams just to see if I could get any help—even suspension help. And at the time there just wasn’t a lot of options out there. I was actually going to lease a bike from ClubMX, before they had committed to World Supercross. So Brandon [Haas, ClubMX Owner] had to say no. He said, “There are certain parts that are hard to get and I can’t promise you that I would be able to give you a bike.” So we got to the point where we were going to build a bike from scratch. Twisted Development would do the motors and Enzo would do the suspension. Those are good resources. Rick said what he was willing to pay, and we kind of negotiated a little bit as far as the terms of it, and what it looks like for still racing AMA supercross, and keeping things open. So, we got a two-year agreement for World Supercross only, with an opening for AMA supercross where I can ride for any team and any brand in supercross. And for World Supercross, I could pick any bike brand, from scratch.
At the time it was me, Colt [Nichols] and Ryan Breece, we were all on Yamahas. They had Joey [Savatgy] and he wanted a Kawasaki. It was fine. And the way the series worked out, with paying the teams, Rick didn’t need sponsor money. So it was like, we’re gonna do this deal this way right now, in hopes of someday getting a manufacturer deal. Once we get more time to get more sponsors, we can have other money to do other things.
Where did you do your riding and testing?
Before Cardiff I only rode four days. Two days on the race bike before they got shipped out, and two days on the practice bike the week before we left for Cardiff. We rode at Scott Road with the MotoConcepts and MDK guys. It’s the track that Derek Kelley leased, right in Menifee. It’s private, but the MCR guys and MDK rented it. We also got the Yamaha test track for two days, and then we rode at the Yamaha track again for two days between Cardiff and Australia.
So you just used some connections to get onto the factory Yamaha track?
Yeah pretty much. At first Colt was kind of scheduling everything for us, but when he left, I got Jim Roach’s [at Yamaha] number from him and asked if we could ride there. He said it was no problem.
So 2022 is definitely not the year you planned, I’m sure you wanted to ride on one team all year and not four teams. But you ended it on a good note! So how will you look back on all this?
Yeah, it’s a tough question. In my Instagram post I put up a scripture from Proverbs. The heart of man plans his ways but the Lord establishes his steps. Starting out this year, I had big plans, and plans that didn’t end up where I’m here, now. That’s what was crazy about it. As a Christian, I have to think, how can I be so conceited that the world revolves around me, and if it’s not going my way, it’s worthless? In racing, there is really only one winner and everyone else loses, essentially. So dude, I’m still trying to be a better racer, and better man and a better team member. Every single one of the experiences I’ve been through this year has gotten me to this point. It’s not been fun, at times, it hasn’t been easy, but ultimately, it’s my job and it’s what I love to do, so we keep going!
In one way, you can look at it like this, though. Two years ago it’s you and Chase Sexton going head to head for a title. Then look at the fork in the road. One guys wins, as you said, and he’s sitting pretty and everything is going awesome for him. And you’re just trying to get on a darned bike! So your philosophy has to help you cope with that. It would be so easy to say “Why me?” and feel bad for yourself.
Yeah and that’s a really good point. Earlier I talked about how friendly everyone was with each other the way things were set up for World Supercross. For me and Chase, we were friends before we were battling for that championship. But it got to the point where, Star wants to win, and Chase is now the enemy. He’s almost beyond competition, he’s an enemy. And it’s easy to resort to that, because you almost get tunnel vision against your competition. You start looking down on them and then even resenting them a little bit. So since then I’ve had to grow up a lot. The last two years have been humbling. I’ve come to the realization, how silly is it to look at it that way? Chase, one of the best riders in our sport right now, how do I look at him like that? He is so good. Why don’t I actually study what he’s doing and learn who he is and apply what he does really good to my riding? So now he’s one of the guys I probably respect the most in this sport, because of what he can do on the bike and what he’s like off the bike. We go golfing together sometimes. We talk about 2020 a lot. I’m like “Dude, I’m sorry about how I handled things. I didn’t know how to handle them.” We discussed it. We’re adults and there’s no reason for this silly pettiness.
So on the personal side, you’ve managed to not be bitter with the industry.
But there had to be times—especially when teams were folding—where you were down in the dumps.
Like I said it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fun. There was a lot I learned about business and contracts. Thankfully my agent, Bob Walker, he really helped us out a lot through that. It’s been a big year all around, and I’m thankful for it.
So did you get some income out of WSX?
With Rick Ware I have the biggest salary contract I’ve ever had.
With only two races?!
Well the way we worked out our deal is that I’m on salary with Rick Ware, paid over the course of a year. That’s the biggest one-year salary I’ve had. There’s the purse payout from the series. Rick essentially guaranteed me a certain position. Rick and his team get the purse money, but he guaranteed me a salary, then I get a win bonus and a championship bonus. I can do my own gear and I had win bonuses for that. After what’s really been a rough two years, it’s like, okay, we’re not living on our savings anymore. It was a busy month, but it was a really good month.
So you still have a deal going forward?
Yup, I’m on salary through November of next year, to do World Supercross next year.
Is Rick Ware going racing in other series, or World Supercross only?
That’s kind of what we’re working on now. My contract, the off-season for World Supercross is right now and through AMA Supercross. My contract says I can ride AMA Supercross for any other team and keep my Rick Ware contract.
So I can ride any team or any brand. Now Rick has mentioned maybe we can sit down and talk about supercross, because he wants to help me out if he can figure something out. That’s for next week where we can talk about that. That’s where our manager was really good and knows his stuff. We’ve got a really good contract.
You must have such a sense of relief.
Yeah, we’re really excited about it. Getting to know Rick, he just loves racing and loves the sport. He was in supercross in 2008, I think, he got out because it stopped making sense financially. He has other race teams, but with the way World Supercross is set up, he said it only makes sense for him to do it.
So you’re one of the guys who gets to benefit here.
Yeah. Obviously, this is a pretty hot topic, between the two supercross series. But for a rider, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. First hand, every single guy on the line at World Supercross, with the exception of Eli Tomac, who has a deal for 2023, everyone else, the series is a chance to race our dirt bike and make money. It’s no more, no less. It is a job. So that’s the part, it’s kind of silly to look at it as clashing. And honestly, it went so good. It’s gonna pick up traction. Wherever it goes, who knows? But it’s a good opportunity for a lot of guys.
But you also think there’s good chance you’re racing AMA Supercross also next year.
I hope so! That, for me, that’s kind of all I knew up until two months ago. I still have a lot of unfinished business in my career, especially on a 450. We raced 250 in World Supercross because that gave us our best chance to win a world championship. My 450 career is still ahead of me and I feel like I have room to grow. I ultimately need help with setup. That’s been the biggest struggle. Not much guidance there.
You know what’s tough? When you’re on Rocky Mountain ATV/MC like you were last year, it looks factory. We can’t tell if you have the same options as Cooper Webb, or if it’s totally different. But you’re saying it was not the same as being on Star or TLD KTM.
No, and that’s what a lot of people don’t know about it. There was a lot of sponsor change in the Rocky Mountain team going into this year, and a lot of it looked like what we just did with world supercross. They outsourced their motors to Twisted and outsourced their suspension to AEO. Other than that, it was a couple parts here and there. It was exactly what we just did with World Supercross, but because they had some personnel change and they no longer had their old KTM Factory Services data, we had no data to transfer over. That’s what was tough. We were still operating as the Rocky Mountain team, everything looked the same, but there were a lot of changes. I needed someone to tell me things needed to go here and here. Instead, they were asking me what I wanted to do. And I was like, “I don’t know!”
Listen to the full interview with McElrath below: