What was a young Jeffrey Herlings’ dream? Did you always want to become a professional motocross racer?
Yeah, I always wanted to win. I had a big dream of coming to the US, and at one point that changed when I got a little older, but my main goal was always to win. The Lites class [MX2] is what I’ve won a couple times now, and I’m still trying to win it again this year, but then I want to win the championship in the premier class [MXGP] in the coming years.
Let’s first discuss the ultimate decision of staying in the MXGP series rather than coming to the United States to race—what were the main factors?
Supercross is obviously a really big thing in the US, and if you want to do well in the US, you have to do well in Supercross. I went to the States a couple of times to practice Supercross, and I went down a couple of times, and I really got homesick, too, after being there for like four weeks. I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have friends there, and I couldn’t speak to my family at home because the time zone is opposite. When I was awake, they were sleeping, you know? It was all really tough, and I just pretty much gave up on the dream. Everything was going so well in Europe, too—I was winning championships, I was happy where I was, and I didn’t really want to leave home anymore.
Was that tough for you to accept?
When you’re a child, you always watch AMA Supercross—that’s the big thing. When I was small, I was always watching Bubba [James Stewart], [Ricky] Carmichael, even [Jeremy] McGrath a little bit. I wanted to be like them! Then when I got to the point of making a sacrifice to leave my family, my friends, and everything I’ve built up, it became a tough decision. [Ken] Roczen made that decision, and he did really well with it—he’s won some championships there and a lot of races. Sometimes I have doubts, but I’ve had a successful career already in Europe and it’s too late to go to America now, so I’m enjoying my decision to stay put.
Will Americans ever get to see you line up at an AMA Pro Motocross race?
I always wanted to do an outdoor race in America. The problem is that it would be right in the middle of our series, so that’s not the best possible scenario for our training schedule and our preparation, and that’s not cool. I had a plan to go to Unadilla, but just one or two weeks before I broke my femur and that was a pity. But hopefully we’ll still be able to race one in the future, and even maybe this year. I’ve discussed it already, but we’re only in the beginning of the season here in Europe, and things still have to fall into place, so nothing is decided yet.
So it is really out of your control, contrary to what many fans think? You can’t just say, “Hey, I want to go line up in America!”?
Yeah, it’s a team decision—not just my decision. We’d have to get the bikes over there, which wouldn’t be a big problem, but we’d still need to bring our own suspension and our own people. We have 18 races all over the world, as well, and to do that on a free weekend is not as easy as it seems. Also, the only thing I’m capable of accomplishing over there is losing my face. If I win, okay yeah, that’s great. But if I lose, people will always say, “When you went to America you got beat!” I wouldn’t care if I got beat—I wouldn’t want to—but the problem is that I can only race one or two motos, and I wouldn’t be able to have a revenge race or second chance on another weekend. I can pretty much only lose and not really gain much.
That’s what everyone said about Ryan Villopoto going to Europe.
And he actually lost, so that’s really relatable.
But Southwick is back! Everyone in America would love to see you race there, but at least people will know now it’s not 100 percent your decision.
Yeah, and I actually don’t even know if we have a race that weekend, as well. But if not, yeah, I would really love to go race that. I have tons of respect for the guys in America like Cooper Webb and Jeremy Martin. Those guys are freaking fast, and to beat them would be way harder than winning a GP on an MX2 bike, that’s for sure.