By Donn Maeda
Photos by Maeda and Jeff Kardas
While much of the fuss at last weekend’s Hangtown 250 National was centered on the Yamaha sweep by riders Jeremy Martin, Cooper Webb and Christophe Pourcel, Lucas Oil/Troy Lee Designs/Honda rider Jessy Nelson enjoyed a breakthrough of his own, earning a career-best fifth-overall finish. The likable 20-year-old from Paso Robles, California, was consistently the quickest team rider throughout pre-National testing, and he is looking to land his first podium appearance this summer.
Jessy, you’ve had two great showings thus far in the 250 Nationals, highlighted by a fifth overall at Hangtown. Would you say that was a breakthrough ride, of sorts?
I’m not so sure. (Laughs) I’ve had moments of brilliance before, I think, but this one kind of meant more because I came through the pack in both motos, and I had to fight really hard for fifth. I got bad starts, which is a bummer, but it is what it is and I just made the best of it. I just want to always try as hard as I can and earn as many points as possible all year, and keep getting better. Time on the bike for me is great, and as long as I just stay off the ground I will continue to improve.
So fifth overall at Hangtown wasn’t your best career finish?
I finished fifth in a moto at Southwick, but I think seventh overall is my best outdoor finish. I’ve gotten a few fifths in Supercross. So yeah, Hangtown was my best overall finish. (Laughs)
What has made the difference this year?
I wasn’t really prepared my first year.
Well, weren’t you given only a couple weeks to prepare to turn pro?
(Laughs) I had a week to prepare for my first outdoor National. I really was not prepared but I figured I would make the best of it and give it my all. I learned a lot, and that was a huge opportunity for me. I ended up winning Rookie of the Year, and that was cool. The following year was my first Supercross season, but I ended up getting hurt and missing a lot of that series. I got hurt again in the outdoors and ended up struggled all year with a hurt elbow. Coming into this season—2014—I ended up breaking my sternum right before Supercross started and that put me out for quite a while. I only had five days on the bike before Anaheim 1 and my endurance was not where it needed to be. The biggest thing was telling myself not to try and do more than I was capable of, because that’s how I could have gotten hurt and prolonged the comeback process even more.
Would you say that right now, you are 100% healthy and fit?
There’s always room to improve. I am feeling pretty good as far as fitness and everything goes on the bike, and with my wellbeing. As far as fitness goes, you can always be better. I felt good at the end of both motos at Hangtown, but I would still like to be stronger and gain some more speed. I also need to work on getting better starts, because that makes everything easier from the get-go.
How do you feel about your Lucas Oil/Troy Lee/Honda race bike? The team made some big changes for 2014, switching to FMF…
Hands down, this year’s bike is awesome. Don’t get me wrong; last year the bikes were great, but this year’s bike is just awesome. The team really made huge improvements in the engine and suspension set-up. The new 2014 Honda is awesome as a starting point, and our sponsors and race team staff just make it even better.
We understand that you have an interesting personal sponsor…
Yeah, I am sponsored by Weatherby Rifles and Shotguns. They’ve been helping me out all year. They are based out of Paso Robles, my hometown, and my cousin actually works there. It’s a cool sponsor and it’s something unique in motocross, and I don’t think there are too many riders out there with a gun sponsor helping them out. (Laughs) I’m a big fan of firearms and I have always enjoyed hunting. There’s a lot of pig hunting and some deer hunting in my hometown. I don’t get a lot of free time to do that kind of stuff, but sometimes in the off-season I go to my friend’s place near Lopez Lake and hunt and ride and hang out. Just basically be a kid, you know?
Your hometown is sort of the flat track capitol of California. Did you ever dabble in flat track when you were younger?
When I was about seven or eight, I told my parents that I wanted to start racing motocross so they looked into the schedule at our local track. We showed up thinking it was a motocross race, but it ended up being a flat track race…a TT race. So I ended up racing a few of those TT races when I first started off. I’ve probably done like five of them. They are fun!
We got to spend some time with you on the trails the other day. You’re quite the mountain biker…
Yeah, I really enjoy mountain biking. I love to train in the saddle. But write this down: I am not a mountain bike racer. I like to have fun with the training and go down some technical trails because it helps fine tune your bike-handling skills. I ride both mountain bikes and road bikes, and it’s great training. But, I don’t want to just pedal 24/7…I am not Anthony Paggio. (Laughs)
What are your goals for the rest of the summer?
I’m not really putting too much pressure on myself; I just want to continue to improve. I need to get better starts, but after that it should all fall into place. I’d like to get onto the podium. I don’t know why it’s taking so long, but I am sure it is coming.
See more of Jessy Nelson HERE