This article was originally printed in our April 2018 issue of TransWorld Motocross.
Jason Anderson | Experience
By Michael Antonovich | Photos By Octopi Media
At 24 years old, Jason Anderson has stepped into a role as one of the premier riders in motocross. It's taken some time, maybe longer than some had hoped or expected, but a quick scan of anything related to the sport will include some mention of the young and personable rider. Shots of him in action are plastered at convenience stores around the country with Rockstar Energy's branding campaign, his loose riding style is always included in promotional videos for the top championships in the United States, and he's the global face of Husqvarna's motocross program. To think that this is the same rider who was benched by the team early in his professional career is somewhat amazing, but for Anderson and his supporters, it's simply a realization of his potential.
In many ways, if it were not for Anderson, the 2018 Husqvarna FC 450 Rockstar Edition motorcycle would not exist. The relationship between KTM and Husqvarna has always been rather unique, as riders under the KTM awning were always able to race aboard the special "Factory Edition" model that featured the latest advancements while Husqvarna riders were left with a machine that was technically a year older. Frustrated by the differences in base equipment, Anderson pushed Husqvarna to offer him similar equipment to his KTM-mounted competitors. "The first year that I signed with Husqvarna, I was on the older model. I went through one full year of riding the old bike and it was tough for me," Anderson said. "I was a rookie and was learning everything, but I felt I was behind the eight ball as far as the bike and getting it set up. It was tough for me. I knew they were coming out with a new bike and I didn't want that to be the case again because I knew how hard that was for me to do for a whole year. So when I heard about it, I made sure that I had the same opportunity that KTM riders have with the bike. I pushed for it pretty hard. Husqvarna was very open, and they accepted my feelings very well and made it happen."
Anderson could only ride on the new platform during private tests with the team and had to revert to the previous model for races, but the constant back and forth between the two very different platforms helped him during the developmental stages. "For a little bit it was frustrating because I had been on the old bike for so long that I wasn't used to the new bike or comfortable with it. We raced the Monster Energy Cup on the hybrid [the bike had the new engine and frame, but was disguised with 2017 bodywork] and I still wasn't comfortable, so we did the offseason races," Anderson said, explaining the situation. "During the offseason races I was going back to the old bike, so I could go back and forth and saw the characteristics that I liked in both bikes, and that's what we would transfer to the new bike. I think that helped me develop it more to my liking. I rode the old bike so much and knew what I liked on it, so I feel like I got the best of both worlds. It was a process, but by December I was really gelling with new bike."
There are very few riders who could force a motorcycle manufacturer to completely change their production plans, but Anderson's rank at Husqvarna is very important. He was the racer used to announce the iconic brand's revitalization in American racing in 2014 and, thanks to a recent contract extension, will remain aboard the bikes through the next four years, if not longer. "I feel like I am the face of Husqvarna and that's how they make me feel. When we are younger, it's what we always want the goal to be, a top guy on a top factory team," Anderson said. "To have the support of the Husqvarna factory, I've been on Husky longer than anyone. I think it's a good relationship and I want to keep it going. I just signed a long-term deal with them, and even when the deal is up, I would like to keep it going. I feel like even though I only signed for four years, it's a lifelong relationship."
Long-term relationships are important to Anderson, as he's ridden for only one team for the full duration of his professional career and has stayed with a core group of supporters. If not for the understanding and support expressed by Bobby Hewitt and the team during a rough patch early in the rider's career, would Anderson have reached this level? "I think that Bobby has believed in me. When I started racing pro, it didn't go that well, but he was very understanding and saw that I had that want and desire to be good," Anderson said, recalling his earlier years. "The best part of our whole relationship is that he trusts me. Even though the results aren't always so good, he trusts the process, along with everyone on the team. A lot of the people have been there for five-plus years, from my mechanic C-Lo [Chris Loredo] to our crew chief Scuba [Steve Westfall] and a whole group of people on the team. We vibe really well together, and I think that's something you don't see a lot. Sometimes it's a numbers game with companies, like results or this and that, but I think it goes further with us. It's more of a family and we understand each other really well. They treat me the same, no matter what. If I DNF or have a bad night, they treat me the same as when I win."
There's no denying that Anderson's attitude is far different from the norm in the sport. His social media posts and on-camera personality are free-spirited, almost to the point that it seems like he isn't trying as hard as the competition. This perception is something that Anderson knows is out there, but he's quick to explain that he's found a balance in work and fun. "When I line up, I'm getting paid to perform. I have to flip that switch," Anderson said. "We have to grow up so fast that we don't really get those college days, so I try to have as much fun as possible off of the track with the team. Dean Wilson and I have as much fun as possible messing around, and I think that's important, but at the same time it's hard when you are battling."
This outlook extends to his routine under the guidance of Aldon Baker, a trainer who's known for his intensity and rigid routines. "I think that I don't put off the persona of being the very dedicated, grind-hard type of guy that Aldon had in the past like Villopoto, Dungey, and Carmichael," Anderson said. "Honestly, I understand people's perception of me that I don't fit the script. But I want to do well and I will work hard, but I'm going to also have fun."
How is it possible that the two very different outlooks match up? Anderson says it's thanks to an established level of respect shared by both and he hopes the balance extends the length of his career. "As long as Aldon and I have that respect for each other, that he understands the person I am and I have the respect to stick with the program and not make his name look bad," Anderson said. "Aldon's whole deal as a trainer is a business and his job is to breed champions. I know how to go from hanging out and being free-spirited to being a racer on the gate, and he lets me live. I'll show up on Monday to do the training and the hard work, but after that I'll have fun and hang out with my buds and try to do the normal twentysomething stuff. It's hard for us to keep it light, and I think it's important for me to keep it as fun as possible for as long as I can because I want to have a long career. That's very rare now, to see someone at the top level have a long career."
With all of the necessary pieces in place, it's now on Anderson to perform, but some may wonder what makes this season different when his team and training program haven't changed. "I think it's experience. You need experience to know how to handle situations the right way, and as the years have gone on, I've gotten better at handling things," Anderson said, sharing his perspective on the matter. "I think that I've also learned the bike, the team, and the series. Doing 17 rounds is a lot different than just doing the seven rounds of the West Coast. This year I haven't changed much, I just think that I've learned a lot from past years and I've ridden with the past champion and the top guy.
"But I think you have to learn it deep inside yourself. You have to have the motivation to come through with the things you see happening," Anderson said. "Ryan [Dungey] will give me advice, but I think it comes from within. Watching him do it year after year was impressive and he broke me every year. I'm getting older and am able to handle it better."