At the San Francisco Supercross, privateer Max Sanford had quite the day. In the muddy conditions, he topped the 250SX group B qualifying session and when the second qualifying sessions were cancelled, Sanford was officially second overall in 250SX qualifying. This gave him first gate pick in the first heat as P1 RJ Hampshire had the first gate pick in the second heat. Sanford would come up one position short in his heat but would come through second in the LCQ, making the main event. From there—like everyone else—he struggled through the conditions but eventually came through a career-best 12th in the main event. With limited supercross main events under his belt, the Maryland native put it together when it counted most in the muddy main event. During the week between round two and today’s third round, Sanford joined the Host Grindstone Kawasaki team for a three-round fill-in deal for injured rider Dylan Walsh. Our man Matt Rice caught up to Sanford earlier this week to get his takeaways on the San Francisco conditions and his goals for the rest of the season. And with more wet and muddy conditions expected tonight, could Sanford execute another great ride?
Race X: You’re from Maryland, and you spent some time riding at Budds Creek Motocross Park. Where else did you ride growing up?
Max Sanford: Spent a lot of time in Delaware riding Snake Creek, but I've spent thousands of laps riding Budds Creek. That's really my closest track. It's about an hour and a half from me. We don't have many places to ride in our area, so I spent many days at Budds Creek and it's made me the rider I am today.
When did you start riding/training supercross? Was that in California or back on the East Coast somewhere?
So, I graduated from public high school in 2019 and from there pretty much went all in. I moved down to Florida away from my parents and family and I started training supercross at the Moto Sandbox in Florida and I really jumped into the deep end. It was a huge learning curve. I really struggled with it at the beginning and honestly, it took me almost a couple of years to really figure it out. And I spent a few years in Florida with Tyla Rattray at a few different tracks and just kept building year after year. And at the end of 2022 I ended up moving out here to Southern California. Just a change of pace, different tracks, different people to ride with and it's been amazing.
I didn't know you moved out here.
I mean, I still go back home like my parents out there. But yeah, I'm out here.
I was wondering why you were riding West Coast.
Yeah. So, actually, when I was with Rattray in Florida, I raced West Coast that year just because I was with TPJ [The Professional Journey]. So, they were taking my bikes and flights were so cheap. It just made sense. After that, I moved out here.
I just figured dudes like you from the East Coast doing supercross on West Coast, it was just a way of getting away from the cold.
That’s the thing about being a privateer. It’s so tough being in the cold. So, yeah, that also.
Qualifying went super well for you at the San Francisco Supercross. Walk us through having no free practice, navigating the mud and having to send it from the green flag. Especially because the second qualifying session would later be canceled.
It was definitely pretty intense. To be honest, I'm pretty comfortable in those conditions just growing up, always riding in the rain and mud. So, I think it suits my riding style. I don't shy away from those type of conditions. So, I just went out there with a ready mindset and was ready to go from the beginning of the day. And I got out there and just put in a few good laps that I was pretty happy with and focused on myself and it ended up being a great qualifying, you know, being P2 overall.
What was that like going like rolling in just being like, alright, here we go!
It was pretty unreal.
Well, you were first pick for heat one, right?
So I was first gate pick for heat one. It's pretty unbelievable to be in that position with factory riders right behind me. And then just going up to the gate, having first choice I've never had that, you know, it's been years since I've been to a local race and had that happen. So, to have that again, it's pretty unbelievable. Especially at that level of competition.
Well, it's so different when you go from drawing it out of a hat at a local race to earning it and qualifying for an actual pro race.
One hundred percent.
So, when the heat races came around, walk us through that. You came through one spot away from qualifying. How much of a shuffle was it to regroup and get ready for the LCQ?
It was unbelievable how much different the track was in the heat race compared to qualifying just because they had…there's hours of rain in between and we got out there and pretty much nothing was a jump. It was definitely hectic. I picked roll offs, and it was just a struggle out there. I was top nine off the start. I did spin off the grid but got myself up there into a transfer position and I ended up crashing four times. I had to pick up my bike up four times, got back into a qualifying position again and then crashed another time. So, unfortunately, finished up tenth, looking back, I probably should have raced a little safer and not pushed it so hard, but I really did want to get a good finish, so I had a good gate pick for the main event. And it was just a rush getting ready for the LCQ. My father who's my mechanic, we were hustling the entire time in the wash station heading back, prepping the bike, getting it ready, changing gear, gloves, goggles. Lined up for the LCQ. And I was really confident just because I felt good, and I just had a different mindset than the heat race just to play it a little bit safer and get off to a great start. With spinning off the gate in the heat, I knew to sit back a little bit further for the LCQ and I ripped a perfect start. Got the holeshot. [Nate] Thrasher got by me a few turns in and, honestly, we just played it safe. I rode really conservative and just got to the finish, tried to save the clutch, save the bike and got second. So, I was pretty happy about that.
You do not have a ton of supercross main events under your belt, but that was a career best for you. Take us through the chaos that was the main event.
It was unbelievable how difficult the track was in the main event. It was nothing like I've ever ridden before. I've done my fair share of muddy Pro [Motocross] nationals like Loretta Lynn's and Ironman and this is in its own category. I mean, it was a battle out there. I actually rode pretty well in the main event compared to the LCQ. I did get stuck on the first lap, but after that, I really found my rhythm. I came from around last up to 11th and on the final lap, I fell twice, and Julien Beaumer got me and we finished about a second apart of the checkered flag. So, I was pretty bummed to give up 11th, but 12th is still a great finish for me. I've made a ton of progress this off-season. So even without the rain, I was looking forward to getting another race in and hopefully getting another career best before the rain had even started. So, I feel like I'm a new, improved rider this year and I'm looking to show that throughout the season.
How much mud riding do you do? Were you often in mud races back on the East Coast? How accustomed to you are riding mud?
I do have a fair bit of mud experience, but honestly, I think it comes down to my mental game and being able to focus in those conditions and being able to adapt on the fly. It's a completely different riding style. I do practice in it a fair bit growing up. There were times where we stay at the track, even if it did pour down rain. And since I've turned pro, I've never left a track because of the rain. I mean, I make sure to always practice in the mud because you never know when it will pay off. I mean, that's clear with Chase Sexton, you know, he's always riding whenever it rains, and it paid off for him. So even though it was a private, it's so much work washing my bike and it's a lot of wear and tear on my equipment, I do know it's crucial to practice in it. And it just makes you versatile as a racer.
What's been going on since San Francisco and getting ready for San Diego?
It's been an extremely busy week. So, I've been given a huge opportunity with the Host Grindstone Kawasaki team. This is the best equipment I've been on in my career. This is the best training program I've been on in my career and I'm really looking forward to it. Monday was my first day on the Kawasaki and I've never been so motivated on Monday after a race. [Laughs] I was still sore from San Francisco. But I was just fired up and ready to go and it's been amazing. I've been able to adapt to the bike really well. I've only made minor changes and it's an amazing program. I'm very happy to be a part of it.
How long are you gonna be on it? It's just a two-race deal, right?
So, three races as of now. So, San Diego, Anaheim 2, and Glendale. And from there on, we'll have conversations and see where it goes. But I'm really looking to make these three races count. I'm feeling very confident, very comfortable and, like I said, this is the best bike I've been on in my entire career, so, I'm looking to showcase what I can do.
Who's out there really like in your corner? And what's the goals for the rest of the season, rest of the year?
I have so many people behind me and I'm so thankful for everyone who's helped me to get to this point. First off my parents, I would not be here without them. They're in 100 percent just as much as I am. And then from there on, just all the people that have helped me out in my career just helped me as a person and as an athlete. Cari [Schehr] from Grindstone, she's really elevated my game and I've made huge strides. Denny from Concrete Plants. Trey Saint John. Clint States from State Suspension. Just everyone behind me.
What goals do you have for the rest of the season?
My goals are just to build throughout the season. I really do want to get another career best. To be in the top ten would be amazing, but just to be in the main event every single weekend, get good starts, run up front and just gain valuable experience battling with the front runners and just try to elevate my game week in week out.