Jeff Emig

The 1990s were the final decade of motocross’ light-hearted spirit. It was the last time that a rider could party as hard as they raced, and not be severely off of the pace at the next round (the fact that everyone partied together helped level the playing field). Lucrative paychecks from the sponsors that flooded the sport allowed them to splurge on a nice car, new home, and a garage full of toys for the weekends off, which were mostly spent on the lake. If there is one racer that epitomizes this era, it is Jeff Emig. While Jeremy McGrath’s image pulled in the mainstream demographic, “Fro” was able to star in flashy Shift ads and the cult-classic Frezno Smooth. Being the life of the party did eventually catch up with Emig; an arrest at Lake Havasu prompted Factory Kawasaki to sever ties with their star rider and forced him to become a “privateer.” His win at the 1999 US Open of Supercross pulled him back to the forefront of the sport, but the renaissance would be short-lived. A crash at Glen Helen during testing for the 2000 AMA National resulted in a crushed vertebra and compound fracture, and at that moment the multi-time AMA champion’s knew his career had come to a close.

Having an injury end your career…

At first it didn't bother me, because I knew right away that I had a severe injury. At that point in my career it would be pretty difficult to come back from that. It was really strange because when I came to terms with it, I had been retired for good and there was no going back. My heart didn't let go until about two seasons and five races later. In 2002, I was leaving Anaheim stadium after one of the Supercross races and walking out to the car after with my wife Jennifer, and I looked back and saw the lights above the stadium. And it just hit me; I'm never going to race Supercross again. It was a really heavy and emotional moment. I had been retired for two full seasons, but yet there was something inside where I thought I could come back to Supercros, like that racer inside of me. But keep in mind when I got hurt, I knew right away my racer spirit said I was done, so my mind and my spirit have already been gone. On May 4th, 2000 it was over, and since that night at Anaheim, I've a much better spectator at the races.

Fighting the urge to come back to racing…

There was that thought inside, but because of the injury and the nature of it all and my metal instability, there was no going back. I was very thankful that I had myself prepared financially, and that I was insured properly in the event of a catastrophic injury like what I had. The racer inside of you doesn't give a shit about any of that; he just wants to go race again. So I understand how hard it can be for riders and it's like the double-edged sword for me. It was a gift and a curse all in one.

Although Emig no longer races, he has retained the same fluid style that carried him to four AMA championships, a US Open win, King of Bercy title, and numerous spots on Team USA at MXoN.

Being properly insured for the inevitable…

I know who has insurance and who doesn't, because I work with Jennings and Associates. Currently there are less and less riders that are properly insured for a catastrophic injury and because of the nature of the sport, it's needed now more than ever. Racers make the decision for whatever reason, whether it's they don't "need" it or won't use it, or the price is to high. But the risk is still there and you'd be very surprised at the riders that are not properly insured. When you get to the professional Supercross and Motocross level, the risk is pretty high. It's just like driving Formula One or NASCAR or any of the other sports where you are literally pushing the limits of man and machine.

The details are different but the rates are fairly set. If your properly insured, you're looking at 40,000 thousand dollars for all of the different insurances involved. There's less risk for a rookie than there is for Chad Reed.

Taking criticism from the media…

I went through the Motocross Action days. Jody Weisel was pretty critical and he agreed we all sucked. He was really hard on me with the broadcast, and at the time I thought he was being unfair. Now that I'm in his position and I understand that he was being critical on me, but he should. I don't think I'm as critical on the riders now as he was on me, but that's him and who he was and that's fine, but it’s definitely motivation. I think Chad Reed and the Racer X situation was blown way out of proportion. You can tell that Chad has a lot of pride. He works hard for what he does and he has a big team and a big group around him and he took it wrong. Right away he was using that for motivation saying that he'll be back. It happens with everyone.

Emig will line up for a race every now and then, including his previous run to Loretta Lynn’s and the TWMX Industry Cup.

Having pride come into place when the time to end your career is coming…

I don't think James went into this season thinking it's time to hang it up, but he seems to be more comfortable with not winning then what he's ever been. It's not necessarily a bad thing, unless you're the company that is paying him a bunch of money to win. I think he seems to be in a good place for James Stewart; he's enjoying what he's doing even though he's not winning, and that's really important for James to stay in the sport and not just quit. And we don't what him to go anywhere. He's an iconic figure in our sport and I think it's an interesting time, because never before have we ever thought of James as not being the fastest guy out there and not being able to win. Now all this many races into the Lucas Oil Motocross championship it doesn't look like he's at that pace to win, and everybody is fine with it.

Advice for a professional racer approaching the end of their career…

A good friend of mine, Michael Byrne, is getting in that zone. Whether it's one year or three years, who knows how long he's going to ride for. He's basically the oldest supported rider that's out there. If you want to continue in the industry after racing, then you have to start laying that ground work before you get there. It's not an easy thing, because one minute you're trying to win and the next you thinking, "Why can't I run the pace?" Most guys then start holding on too tight, because they don't want to crash, then start getting a little arm pump. They're not quite running the pace and guys that they used to beat are starting to have and edge on them and that creeps up on you. I had a clean break; it was over and that was that, but other guys don't have it so easy. I spoke with Kevin quite a bit through his choice of retirement and now he's working in the broadcast field with us, along with the Factory Connection team. But it's not easy, especially when you can ride pretty fast. Then there are guys like Ricky Carmichael, who know they can only race 100-percent and if they can't, they're out. I couldn't believe that he retired at such a young age, but he never half assed it, even the year he rode a half season in Supercross and Motocross. They made him train fulltime, so he realized that he cant' work that hard year after year. Eventually there needs to be an end.

Emig’s time is filled with numerous occupations, including gigs as a commentator for the Monster Energy Supercross and Lucas Oil Pro Motocross series and a brand rep to Shift and Kawasaki.

Ryan Villopoto’s outlook and small hints that these are his final years as a racer…

Ryan has gone through some injuries that were pretty significant, and he seems to come back stronger than ever. I think he really understands the risks involved, and that he takes it very seriously has completely dedicated himself to the time that he's here. Listening to his interviews in the last six months, he seems to have an awareness with the risk involved and the level of dedication that takes to win, and that he's not taking it for granted anymore. He's going win a lot of races and then he's out.

I never thought of it like that. It was just the lifestyle we had. There would always be another race, and there would always be another ride. I never had a chance to really reflect of that and I know that the time I did lose my ride, it gave me some perspective. Not necessarily the same as Villopoto, but I did put a date on it. I said that I was going to dedicate the next three years, and make it the best three years of my career. I was aware of that, and then the injuries hit; first the wrist, and then the back and leg, and then it was over. Unfortunately I never got a chance to play up the new strategy, but I have been very fulfilled with what I achieved as a racer. I feel really fortunate that with my back injury I wasn't paralyzed and that I can still function and ride a motorcycle and live a normal life. I do appreciate that and I am well aware that luck had a little bit to do with that.