Words and photos by Brendan Lutes
In the world of motocross, there are a lot of fast up-and-coming racers competing on the amateur tour. In spite of how much they work or how hard they try, though, making the transition to the professional ranks can sometimes be rough. For Troy Lee Designs/Lucas Oil/Honda's Jessy Nelson, however, making the jump up to the national scene has been the best move of his young racing career.
As an amateur, Nelson was consistently a frontrunner anywhere he went. And in the weeks leading up to the opening round of the Lucas Oil AMA Motocross Championships at Hangtown, Jessy was still planning on one more year of amateur motocross. But after thinking long and hard about it, the 18-year-old took a big leap of faith, as he lined up at Hangtown ready to jump head first into his professional racing career. Since then, he has holeshot numerous motos, finished in the top five, and quickly turned into a top rider in the highly competitive 250 class. Fresh off of this past weekend's race in Unadilla, we decided to catch up with Nelson to find out what his thoughts were on his first season.
You are about to complete your first professional motocross season, but how has it been for you?
It has been going alright. It has really been a big learning curve for me with the team, the way the races are run, and traveling in and out of airports and hotels. It's crazy and takes some getting used to. The pace in the races is unreal too.
What has been the biggest challenge for you to overcome?
I would say the biggest challenge for me has been just staying consistent. I can put down fast laps if I want to, but at the beginning of the season, I had a hard time keeping that pace up and being consistent all the time. At the first few races, I'd bust out some fast lap times and then as the season progressed, I lost that edge to go faster. But now, my times seem to be more consistent and I can run a fast, intense speed for much longer. I've just been training myself throughout the races and getting better as the season has progressed.
At the beginning of the year, were you planning on racing the outdoor series or was it a last-minute decision to go for it?
It was completely last minute. I didn't have any real preparation for it. I had just got done with a couple different amateur nationals and I was getting ready for Mammoth. It was really kind of the off-season for me. I got a call from Tyler Keefe and he told me to put the idea in the back of my mind just in case, but for me I wasn't really focused on turning pro this year. I was thinking more about Mammoth and Loretta's. I didn't think there was any way that Tyler would be calling me up and I'd be racing pro. Then he called me down to California and wanted me to come ride with the team. I went down there and Tyler kept bringing it up, but I didn't want to turn pro. I mean, I thought about it, but I didn't really consider it. I think the decision was finally made about a week before Hangtown. I was just like, "Well life isn't always planned out perfect, so I might as well go for it. What am I going to learn from doing amateur races for another year?" It has been a good chance for me to get the tracks down for next year and have a good mindset going into 2013.
Did you expect to do as well as you have done?
I had just planned on it being a learning year and just seeing what happens. I was really focused on Hangtown because I knew the track and thought I could get a good start and do well. I think I over-thought it going into the race, made a lot of mistakes, and just panicked. For some reason I thought it was going to be a sprint the whole way, when really I didn't realize how long it would feel when you're actually out there racing with a bunch of different guys. In the first moto, I crashed three times and went from 20th to 14th then back to 20th. I managed to get 13th that moto, which I thought sucked. Then I went down on the start in the second moto and ran out of steam towards the end. It was a hard weekend for me. I also had some stomach problems going on with something I had eaten. With how rough the tracks are it shakes up your stomach really bad. It feels like it bruises all your internals.
You mentioned that you went into Hangtown over-thinking it a little. Do you think you put too much pressure on yourself and forgot to have fun?
Actually, I think I didn't put enough pressure on myself and didn't really go into it with a plan. I just thought I'd get a good start and go out there and pin it. Going into Texas, I was really worried about it because of the heat. I planned ahead for that one, was really focused on it, and it turned out being one of my best races of the year.
What are your goals for the last two races of the year?
I expect myself to be in the top-five and I'm not going to be happy unless I am in the top-five. If not that, top-10 and I'll be happy.
Are you already signed with the Troy Lee/Lucas Oil/Honda team for next year?
Yeah, I'm already signed for 2013.
West Coast Lites and then outdoors all over again?
Yeah, it's going to be a long season! [laughs]
At least now, you'll have a cool double digit number.
Yeah, hopefully I'll have a good low number. I just want to try and keep getting points so my number will get lower and lower.