“That’s the most technical track I’ve ever been on,” declared Adam Cianciarulo in a hushed voice to longtime race mechanic Just Shantie. Mere minutes after the very first practice session of the 2023 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship, Cianciarulo pulled of his helmet and the two Monster Energy Kawasaki team members immediately walked inside the team truck and began discussing what would need to be done on the #9 Kawasaki KX450SR for the second practice session set for Angel Stadium. And after all was said and done at the Big A last Saturday night, Cianciarulo had placed ninth in the 450SX main event, 36 seconds behind race winner Eli Tomac.
“I was kinda just chilling in 12th for a while behind [Justin] Barcia, really didn’t want any part of that, I was just kinda riding my laps and working on things, and some guys came back to me,” he told Steve Matthes about his ride. “Marvin [Musquin] came back, Barcia crashed, Mookie [Malcolm Stewart] crashed. So I got ninth. Pretty good, man.”
The 26-year-old Cianciarulo had launched what is now his 10th season as an AMA Pro Racing athlete. In what was eight appearance inside Orange County, California’s Big A Major League Baseball stadium, earlier that morning, Cianciarulo spoke about his racing experience inside our sport’s most lauded and storied venue.
“You know it’s interesting,” started Cianciarulo who would go on to finish ninth in the first round of the season. “With the Anaheim opener, it’s the same in some ways. It’s always really exciting. It’s the first race and there is always some nerves and you’re wondering where you stack up. How you look at things changes a little bit. The excitement stays the same, but as you get older, your perspective on everything that’s happening changes a bit. Naturally, the feeling here has kind of evolved. I feel much calmer, I guess, than I used to at the start of the season. I feel a bit more excited and a bit more opportunistic about what’s to come, as opposed to kind of being nervous, really. I guess my career path so far has allowed me to be in this position now at 26 years old. I’m really grateful for what I get to do and having this opportunity to be on a great team and to be competing and doing this now Is something that I don’t take for granted. I’m more grateful than I have been. The sense of opportunity has grown for me.”
As members of the Monster Energy Kawasaki team milled around the semi-trucks in getting the race bikes washed and fine-tuned for the Angel Stadium race, Cianciarulo, who has been a part of Kawasaki since he was a 65cc racer back in 2006, talked about the excitement, drama, and even terrific responsibility that comes with being a full-on factory-backed supercross competitor.
“In a way it’s so primal when you’re out there,” started Cianciarulo. “Our riding personalities are often so much different from what we are like off of the bike. It does take such a high level of dedication. I mean we are all kind of jockeying for a few spots. When you start sacrificing a lot of things when you are a kid, you’re going after these five-to-10 factory seats. That’s where you feel your work is justified. You’re making the money where your work is justified. It can feel very personal on the bike sometimes because there are not a lot of spots because there is so much talent in the sport. There is a passion in which we do our jobs on a daily basis. I’ve been around some other sports and have seen some other things, but I feel that our sport is pretty unrivaled. We have this passion that we take with us to the road bikes, to the gym, to the practice tracks, to the race, to everything. It means a hell of a lot to us. At the same time, you have to try and keep everything in perspective. We are entertainers and this is, more or less, a game and it means a lot to us. It’s what we have always done. When you’re doing something from such a young age, you often have your identity wrapped up in it a bit, so you get that extra little bit of enthusiasm.
“It’s what we are all drawn to in the beginning. It’s freedom of riding and it is up to you. You get to this level and you’ve got all the eyes on you. It’s what we all live for and I still love it just like I always have. I’m just fortunate to be doing it at the highest level.”
This writer first started working with Adam Cianciarulo when he and his father Alan came out of Port Orange, Florida to begin absolutely dominating the American minicycle scene. Even back then, when Cianciarulo was still messing around with Hot Wheels and coloring books, it was quite evident that Cianciarulo was not only head over heels in love with the sport, he was keen to devotes his young racing life to getting to the top.
“This is my one true passion that I’ve found in my life so far,” declared Cianciarulo. “This is it. I’m a hard working guy and obviously I have a lot of talent at this. I’ve worked hard at this and this is where I want to be and what I want to do. Regardless of if I made this far or not, I would obviously still be a fan. I mean this is my sport. These are my people. These guys that I’ve grown up around, whether I’m racing them or even guys like you in the media and guys I’ve been around since I was so young, I mean there is no place I’d rather be than here at the end of the day. I’m grateful to just have a small part in the sport and to be one of the knobbies on the wheel that makes it go around.”
A beloved racer with fans the world over, Cianciarulo enjoys all that comes with being a world class racer, and because of that, appreciates the fans – especially the young ones – he comes in contact with the nation over.
“Absolutely. There are a lot of people on this planet and to have some eyeballs on you is awesome. In the grand scheme of things, we’re all pretty small, right? But to be able to look a kid in the eyes when they are handing you a poster to sign and you can tell that it means the world to them. That’s an opportunity that not a lot of people in life get to have. This sport feels intimate and passionate and it’s a close-knit deal. It brings a lot of meaning to my life in hopefully having a positive influence on other people’s lives. I try to keep that in mind with how I go about my business.”
Cianciarulo is the 2019 AMA Pro Motocross 250cc Champion, and he has won races in both the 450cc and 250cc classifications during his career. Still, a 450 win in Monster Energy AMA Supercross has eluded him. I asked Cianciarulo about his body of work in this sport so far.
“Body of work? I like that,” smiled Cianciarulo. “I feel great about everything that I’ve been able to control. I feel good about my work and I feel good about the way I’ve gone about things. Of course hindsight is 20/20 and you can look back and say, ‘You know I could have made this decision, or that decision…’ Whatever. You can always go back and try and change something, but I feel great about my process so far. And just like anything in life, you’re never going to outrun problems. Whether I’m succeeding or failing on a big stage or a small stage, for the rest of my life I will continue to succeed and to fail in whatever I do. Sometimes it sucks to fail on the big stage when everybody is looking at you, you know? It doesn’t feel good to let yourself down and it doesn’t feel good to let others down, but this is what I love to do. I feel like I am capable of achieving my goals, so why wouldn’t I continue to put my best foot forward? I feel really proud of the things I’ve accomplished so far and I’m hoping to accomplish more, but really, I’m just grateful to be here.
“And as far as how I’ll approach this racing season, to be candid, I think in the past I’ve always wanted to win so bad and sometimes it has been too quick and too soon. Even my rookie year in the 450 class, I was going to the race every weekend and that’s all I was going for. I was just going to win. That was wrong on my part. I think you have to lay a foundation down; you have to lay a base down. The last couple of years I just haven’t been out on the track enough to do that. That’s now my number one goal and that’s to be here all year. I think it is taking it one race at a time and taking it when it’s there, and when it’s not, that’s okay too.”
Now armed with a new two-year contract that will see him race for the Monster Energy Kawasaki team all the way through the 2024 competition season, the veteran racer is keen to get back into race winning form and to charge straight into the future.
“Yeah, so I’m on-board with Kawasaki for the next two years,” he says. “That’s my main focus. To be honest Eric, I just wanted to get back to this spot to where I feel I can compete and do well and do my job. I’ve been focused every day on working hard and doing what I can to do that. I’m full focused on 2023 and then I have one more year guaranteed with this team, so for now, that’s where the focus lies. We’ll see where it goes from there. We’ll see how the body is holding up and we’ll see how the mind is and all that, but I think I have a lot left in the tank and a lot left that I can still do and I’m really hopeful for the future.”