2014 Utah MX | Talk From The Track
With the final round of the 2014 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship taking place at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah, I’ve headed north a few days ahead of time to take in Thursday’s press riding session and the first complete look at Team USA for the upcoming Motocross of Nations. But before catching the flight from Carlsbad to Salt Lake City on Wednesday, I stopped by Milestone MX Park in Riverside, California, to watch Malcolm Stewart and Cole Seely’s final motos for the day. Two days at two tracks yielded eight interviews with Seely, Stewart, Ryan Dungey, Ken Roczen, Cooper Webb, Blake Baggett, Dean Wilson, and Eli Tomac, all of which have been transcribed for this post, and set the tone for the final “regular” weekend of this race season.
Coming into Saturday, every thing is on the line. How does it feel, and does it come with any added stress?
I'm trying to keep it out of my head. I have a nice, comfortable lead and am trying to race how I have the whole year. I can't and don't want to make any mistakes, and this is all about getting a decent start, not crashing, and staying on two-wheels.
How was it for last weekend to occur the way that it did? You came into the weekend with a seven-point lead and left with a twenty-point lead.
Obviously it was good. The lead lately had gone down, and it was good to get a few extra points.
You're probably not a guy to count on things before they happen…
Oh, for sure not.
You sound a bit congested. Is everything good there, just a standard cold?
Yeah, I think it is from the airplane rides or the air here. But as long as my body feels fine and I don't have a flu, it's okay.
Have you changed your week-to-week program any in these last few weeks? We've seen Aldon around much more…
Yeah, and we are taking it easy because we aren't looking at what will happen three weeks from now, because this is the last race.
Missing Motocross of Nations, correct? Will you compete in any other offseason race, like the Monster Energy Cup?
Yes, missing Motocross of Nations and I don't think I'll be doing any other races until Anaheim One.
How will you spend the time off?
I'll for sure take a break, three weeks off and maybe go to the Florida Keys or something.
Going into Saturday, one thing is off of the table but you can still take second in the championship standings.
Hopefully we will get it done. I'm only two behind Baggett for second, and Musquin is I think only six behind me. It's getting pretty close, but I'll just go out there and ride the way that I know how. I've had bike issues the last two weekends, but we have figured out the problem and are looking to go out with a bang.
Your sophomore year really could not have gone any better and quickly proved that you know what you are doing out there.
For sure this year as been a lot better. For only being my second year, being eighteen and racing against these guys who have been at it for a little while, expect for Jeremy because we are kind of on the same page [Laughs]. It's been a good year. I've had a lot of ups and unfortunately a lot of downs, but that is part of racing. The bike problem at Unadilla was out of my control, and that's what really brought us down to third. We kind of had a points cushion there, but that's part of racing. I got my first win at Muddy Creek and lots of podiums, so hopefully we will get some more this weekend. Once you get a win you want to get the title, but hopefully we will get second.
Will we see you at any offseason races like Monster Energy Cup or Paris-Bercy?
We are trying to figure that out now. I'm for sure doing the Monster Cup, and I'm looking forward to it because I think I will be one of the only Yamaha guys to do it. I'll be on the factory 450 Yamaha, which will be sick. After Jeremy does Motocross of Nations, he and I are doing the last Japanese National which is after Monster Cup. I'll be on the 450 there, too. We are still trying to figure Bercy and things like that, but it's at a new venue. We are seeing what happens and hopefully have a good offseason.
Will you fit the TransWorld SLAM in there?
Donn was texting me about that the other day and I would love to, but we have some stuff going on this offseason, like I have to get some wisdom teeth pulled and am going on a cruise. It'll be a tough life [Laughs].
Any other changes this offseason?
Not really. Going into this offseason, I know that I can win and I think will be huge. Last year was my rookie year in Supercross, and you saw the transition of my rookie year of outdoors to now. So I'm looking for the same, if not better transition for Supercross and hope to be a title contender.
Things are wide-open going into Saturday. You can catch Brett Metcalfe in the points, but you don't' have the same pressure as two of your competitors do. Are you just going for the win at that point?
Yeah, I want to go for the win. This is the closest race to home for me, so we were able to drive up here and avoided going to the airport, which was nice. It would be great to get fourth in points, but I will probably have to win. That could jack Brett up a bit, but it would be cool to get fourth in points. I want to get on the podium because last week did not go so awesome for me.
To miss the first few rounds and then come back as well as you have, are you bummed to think how well this summer could have gone? At this rate you would have been a threat for the title.
It was a bummer, but it just happens in this sport. It is gnarly and almost everyone has an up and down season in their career. Hopefully this was the season where I got the bugs out of the 450 and next year we will give it a run at both titles.
A rampant rumor that has been going through the pits, and one that we've reported on, is that you could leave the GEICO Honda team. Any truth to this?
[Laughs] I'm at GEICO next year.
Biggest news of the weekend is the first look at the Motocross of Nations bike. How does it feel to be on the team another time?
It's cool, because last year we had a really good team but it didn't go the way we wanted it to. There were a couple of mistakes by all of us and I'd say the biggest was on myself. Hopefully I can redeem myself there and not do any more Supermans. It'll be fun to race against guys on the 450.
You'll be the only one to go over early and test, right?
I'm just riding one day before the race, on Thursday I think, so that I can get everything worked out and acclimated.
Any plans for the offseason? Will you do the Monster Energy Cup or other overseas races?
I'll do Monster Cup and Bercy, but it is in a different city this year. Time off is basically after this; I'll take two weeks off and then get back on the bike des Nations. We have a five-week break, so my time off is between now and then.
This weekend may be a little bittersweet since it is your last 250 race. How does that feel?
It feels good and I'm definitely ready to get on the 450. Because I'm tall, it's hard to be light on the 250 and I get pulled on the starts. It'll be nice to get on some power.
Especially here with the uphill start, because you looked to be as far over the back of the bike as possible during your practice starts. Will that be a problem come Saturday?
It might be, but I have to try and stay positive. It's going to be a tough place to get a start with the elevation and the uphill, which is not helping me at all [Laughs]. But I'm just going to do my best and see what I can do to finish the weekend on a good note.
Looking back on your 250 career, are you pleased with how it went? You have a National title and a ton of wins, but are there still things you wanted?
It just kind of sucks that I got second a bunch in Supercross, because I always wanted a Supercross championship. That was always my dream, and I couldn't make it happen. I think my two best years were in 2010 and 2011, I was healthy, was a rookie, and then won the championship in my second year. After that, it was a pile of injuries. I'm just hoping to stay healthy and bring the momentum into next year.
You have some 450 experience and were in line to make a full-time at one point already. What do you expect of next year?
I want to run up front, because that is where I belong. Being back in sixth place, where I've been on the 250, sucks. I want to be battling up front and trying to get on the podium and some top-fives.
I doubt you can say anything about what your deal next year will be. Do you have any idea of when that news will officially come out?
The news will come out after des Nations, and things will be in a different direction.
It will be a big switch, with a whole new look for next year…
Yeah, it will be a fresh change and I think it will be good for me. I have been with Kawasaki since 2006, so it will be a change. I'm looking forward to it, because I think that a change is good.
Coming into the weekend you have the chance to take second in points. Is that the focus for the weekend, or do you just hope to end the year on a good note?
I'll try to get one last win in, try to finish out the season with that. The points are out now and the championship is gone, so it doesn't really matter.
You had a couple of rough weeks this year. Do you just put those behind you as quickly as you can to focus on the next thing?
Yeah, it was a couple of errors and mishaps. Some stuff is out of your control, so you do the best that you can and as long as you are in one piece, there will be another day and another race.
I've talked to a lot of people, and we have no idea where you will land next year. How has that process gone?
Just trying to keep everyone guessing [Laughs]. We are waiting until the last minute, but I haven't set anything in stone.
The vibe is that you won't be with Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki next year. Is that true, or just something that we've all put too much emphasis in?
[Laughs] Yeah, I'd say that is just talk and rumor. I don't know what I am doing at all yet, so I'm just going to wait it out and see what happens.
How is the track this year compared to last year?
It's pretty good because of the rain. We rode this morning and it was a little bit muddy, but I think that if they keep tilling it and keep throwing water down, it should be a good weekend and not a dust storm like last year. I don't know if it will rain or not, so I don't know if they dump a lot of water on it and it rains, will it be muddy? It's hard to make that call.
You're not one to do a lot of offseason races, and you've only raced the Monster Energy Cup once but got hurt. Will you be able to do any this year with your contact situation, or still unsure?
I don't even know yet. If I stay here at Pro Circuit, I'm sure we will do the Monster Cup, but I have no clue. I'm waiting on a few things and what Mitch has to say. It's not like I have a bunch of offers; I was late on it and didn't start talking to anyone until the end of the year.
Does that surprise you at all? Former National champion, have won a hell of a lot of races…
Nah, it's because I just waited. If anyone wanted to talk about it, I just pushed it off because I needed to focus on the championship and get through this year. Most people like to do them early, but I wanted to stay focused on racing. That's why we are at the end of the races and haven't gotten anything done.
Coming into the weekend, a lot is at stake. Do you approach it any differently or just go out and do the two motos?
No, I think we are more than capable of what needs to happen to have a shot at the championship or to wrap it up. We know that a lot of things have to happen on our side, but for myself and the team, we are focusing on solid finishes for each moto.
Does last weekend occurring how it did take the wind out of your sails or does it motivate you even more?
It's a tough one. At mud races a lot can go good for you or go against you, and it wasn't a disastrous weekend. It just came at a time when we needed every point at that stage in the championship. We lost quite a bit, which was not ideal, but I gave it the best that I could. It comes down to maybe a little better positioning last week, but I can't sit here and dwell on the past.
Going into the offseason, you have Motocross of Nations, the Red Bull Straight Rhythm, and I'd think the Monster Energy Cup. Any other plans?
We will have those three like you said, but have quite a bit of time between now and the MXON, which is good. I'm looking forward to the time off, and we will start to fine-tune things before going to Latvia. We will have Supercross testing, which is no different than what we've done every year, and a couple of races to get some more time in. Then we will have a little over two months to revamp for 2015.
I've heard a lot of talk about a new bike. Will you be on a new KTM come Anaheim One?
Yeah, we will be on a new bike at A1, but not any time before that.
Is there a possibility of other changes in the offseason, like working with a new trainer or anything?
No, not at the moment. I have gone back to doing my own thing, and I think everyone knew that, because that happened back in Supercross. But I will be on the same team, same setup, but a different bike.
Why mess with what works…
It's been since Millville that you last raced due to health issues. How are you feeling? (Stewart will miss the Utah round.)
I feel alright. Ever since my whole kidney deal, things have been up and down for me. One week I think everything is good, and then I get another blood test and almost have to go back to the hospital. It's been up and down for me, but I'm trying to stay healthy. It sucks to say, but it's internal and there's nothing I can do to speed the process up. It's out of my control, so I'm looking forward for the season to end and I will get ready for Monster Cup if everything goes right.
Have they figured out what caused everything?
It's been dehydration, but some other things like kidney problems, liver problems, and a low white blood cell count. It has been a lot of stuff, so I'm praying to God that everything goes back to normal.
What have you been doing in the meantime? You recently started riding, but have they fully you released to work out?
They haven't really told me that I could ride, so I guess technically I'm not really supposed to be riding. I'm just here trying to have fun, because it sucks to sit in the house and only do a few workouts. I'm just coming out here to ride and not do anything too crazy to push myself.
With kidney and liver issues, does it feel like your entire body is poisoned?
Yeah, but the biggest deal is that you feel your kidneys hurt and that they are swollen in your back. I'm just tired. It's like having Epstien-Barr, but not actually having it. If you get sick, everything is a drop and it's hard to fight everything off.
Have you had to make changes to your diet?
No, but I'm steady dropping pounds and weight while trying to keep water in me.
Going into next year, have you gotten any closer to a deal?
Honestly, I don't have anything. I wish I could say that we have something figured out, that we have been talking to teams, but I don't have anything.
Worst-case scenario is that nothing comes up. What would you do then?
I'd mostly likely be a privateer and do Supercross only. I'd be that guy behind the Suzuki rig with a Seven tent put up, and be riding a Kawasaki or who knows what [Laughs]. Hopefully it doesn't get to that point, that something will come up. Someone always gets hurt, and although you don't want to wish for that, it is motocross and stuff happens.
Today was your last day of practice on the 250. Although we know that you are jumping to the 450, can you say the details of it yet?
I can't say yet on where I'm going or who my sponsors will be, but next week everything will come out. You have to be patient [Laughs]. Today was bittersweet, because I'm done riding the 250 and the Troy Lee Designs team and I have had a some success over the years. But I'm on to more responsibilities, which is something that has to happen. I'm twenty-four years old now, so I'm kind of old for the class. I'm excited to get on to the 450.
With the success that you've had in the class, does that come with more pressure?
I think that preparation is everything, and I'm not going to put any pressure on myself. Obviously I want to do good, but I'm not going to use last year as a base. Getting a podium is pretty hard, but it's something that I think I can do. It'll come down to putting the miles in on the road bike and hours in the gym, so it'll come down to preparation. I have a good group of guys around me next year; I have Brian Lopes working as my trainer and have hired a riding coach, although I can't say who it is yet. I'm excited for next season and everything that will come with it.
Is there are plan to bulk up for the bigger bike?
Yeah, for sure. Even this year I put on muscle. I don't produce muscle as much as other riders, so in the offseason it will be tough. It will come from training and dieting right, I have with the right guys in my corner to help with that.
Does going to the 450 class feel like the realization to years of hard work and dedication?
Yes and no. This is my sixth year as a pro, sixth year as a Lites rider, so it is tough to say that I am now. I'm glad that it didn't happen last year or anything like that, because the timing is right and all of the cards have fallen into place. We got everything together before I moved up.
To go from wondering if you'd even try to be a professional racer to now going to ride for one of the biggest teams in the sport, does that seem unreal at all?
Since I was nineteen years old, I've thought the same thing: I didn't really dream of this, so I can't say that it is a dream come true. It was a matter of getting results. Every year things got better, and next year will be my best year so far. This was my most successful season and I deserve everything for how hard I work, but I can't say that I dreamed I would have fought for a West Coast title. I'm used to stuff blowing my mind [Laughs].
Are you anxious to get on with next week, to have everything announced?
I am. I have known since the first round of outdoors what is going on, what I will be wearing and stuff, but the whole outdoor season has been anxiousness to tell everyone what it is going on. I have to wait for the press release, but it's a matter of business strategy.
Any plans for the offseason?
I'll take two weeks off, chill out the first week and then go to Hawaii after that to regroup. I think those two weeks will be important for me to unwind, because we only get a few weeks off a year. When I get back from Hawaii, we start riding and training for Monster Energy Cup and Supercross.