By Eric Johnson
One of the coolest things about motocross is that it truly is an international sport. On any given day, the sun never really sets on the sport as people, places and things from every far-flung corner of the world all fuse together to create one big multinational gathering of the tribes. For instance, take the Republic of Bulgaria's Petar Petrov. Despite the fact that Europe's 16th largest country has hosted the MXGP of Bulgaria at the Sevlievo circuit in recent years, the country of 7.4 million people has not produced a serious Grand Prix threat since Dimitar Rangelov – also known as the Bulgarian Bullet – ran a fantastic third to Georges Jobe and Kees Van Der Ven in the 1980 FIM 250cc World Championship. But that was then 35 years ago and this is now in the twilight of the 2015 MX2 World Championship and coming to the fore in recent months has been Bulgarian nationalist Petar Petrov. Aged 20, the Bulgarian who signed on with the Monster Energy Kawasaki MX2 Racing Team at mid-season, has been gaining critical mass to where he is a full-on threat to score a step on the podium in every Grand Prix moto he lines up for. But as you're about to find out, it hasn't been easy whatsoever for Petrov to chase his dream. It's simple to say that nothing worth having comes easy, but to actually spend virtually your entire life to try and achieve a goal in a sport where there are promises is another matter altogether. Meet Petar Petrov.
Petar, where in the world are you today?
I'm in Belgium just getting ready and tonight I'm leaving for Holland for the race.
Are you excited about this new race at the Assen TT circuit?
It's a newer venue and a new place and it's pretty different; it's different for everyone. It's sand with the concrete from the roadracing track underneath it. It should be exciting.
While fans around the world are learning more about you with each passing race, they may not be aware of the fact that you're a very good sand rider.
Yeah, I'm a pretty good hardpack rider, but I've been based in Belgium and Holland for the last 10 years so I'm actually better now on sand. I'm not too bad on hardpack. I'm a top-10 or top-five rider on hardpack. But I just got my first podium on sand so now I'm a good sand rider I guess.
That's right. You earned your first Grand Prix podium recently at the MXGP of Belgium at the sandy Lommel circuit, correct?
Yeah, I've been fourth three or four times in the past and I've missed the podium only by one or two points so that was frustrating. I'm only 21 years-old but I've been racing the GPs for six seasons now. I started racing them when I was 15 so it's been a long time coming. I think it should have happened earlier because I was fast but there was something not right and now that I've landed in a good spot – on a good team – and everything came together so I was really happy. It was kind of a release. Every time I was so close but not on the box, so it was kind of nice to finally do it.
You come from Bulgaria which is a nation that has not delivered a championship contending rider to MXGP in decades. In fact the last rider to make a run at a world title was Dimitar Rangelov who placed third to overall winner Georges Jobe and Kees Van Der Ven in the 1980 FIM 250cc World Championship. Do you know of him?
Yeah, he was a big name and a big star in motocross in Bulgaria in the past years. Since him there really hasn't been anyone to do the GPs and to be good. It's been like 33 years or something since some other Bulgarians have been on the podium. He raced for a couple of years and finished third in the world once. He should have finished second or maybe have been a World Champion but he got injured. He was a really good rider and I knew about him. Like I said, I try to focus and to be the next Bulgarian rider.
Is motocross a known sport in Bulgaria?
We are known as an organization because we've been having GPs the last 10 years. And before that, when Rangelov was riding, we had GPs. It's a sport that is starting to get big again because I'm going good and riding pretty well at the moment. People are starting to look at the sport and to be more interested. Overall, it's not as big as soccer and some other sports, but we're getting big now. People are starting to know I am and it's getting good.
How did you get started in motocross?
It was 2000 and I was five years old. There was a small school near the Sevlievo circuit with one big sponsor that bought Pee-Wee 50s. Kids were invited to try it and to see how it went. There were about 50 kids who tried it. It started with a three month training camp and then we started doing some races. I started the European Championships on 65s and I finished second in that. I then won the World Cup in Belgium on 65s and moved up to the 85s and finished fifth in the European Championship and was sixth in the world. Then I moved up to the European Championships in the 250s and raced there for two years. When I was 15 I moved up to the GPs. I moved up at the same time as Ken Roczen and Jeffrey Herlings. In 2010 Jeffrey and Kenny were winning GPs and I was scoring points. That was good for me.
Did you know Roczen and Herlings while you guys were growing up and racing together?
Oh yeah. We were actually quite good buddies. We always raced against each other since the 60s and 80s. We were all battling together, especially me and Jeffrey. We were always really close but then he signed a factory deal and then things changed.
If I have it right, you actually moved to Belgium to train and race when you were only seven years-old. Is that true?
Yeah, I went there when I was seven. In the beginning I was staying there for three months and then going back home to Bulgaria for one or two months. Then I would come back to Belgium. But yeah, for the last seven or eight years, I'm based full-time here in Belgium. I go back home for about two weeks during the year, but that is it.
Your parents must have been very supportive of you racing.
Yeah, they sacrificed quite a lot for me to move up and so did I. I was a young boy and I moved out of home when I was seven years old to move to Belgium and to chase my dream. I pretty much left my friends and family back home to just focus on racing.
I don't mean this to be disrespectful at all, but prior to this summer, I didn't really know much about you at all. Now you are really beginning to emerge as a major player in the MX2 classification. Have you noticed that you've been getting more attention from the fans and media?
I was in good teams, but not the best, but now I've signed for factory Kawasaki. You know the bigger the team is, the bigger the publicity. Now with a main sponsor like Monster, it is good. It's nice that people start to know me and also my results are getting better. My goal is to be top five for the rest of the season and to maybe get one more time on the box.
You started the 2015 MX2 World Championship with the Hitachi Construction Machinery Revo KTM UK team, but then were signed to the Monster Energy Kawasaki MX2 Racing Team near the midpoint of the season. What played out there?
Things were not working out with the first team, so the best decision was for us to split. I had the opportunity to sign with Kawasaki so that's how it pretty much happened. When I did sign I was like, "okay, now it is time to show who I am and what I can do with good equipment ." I knew that the beginning would not be so easy, but before the first round I did with the team – it was at the British GP – I only had two days on the bike and I still finished in the top 10. That was pretty positive and then came France and I finished fifth and seventh for sixth overall. That was good and I was starting to build up and then in Germany I got fourth in one moto but in the second moto we had a bike issue. That happens. Then we went testing the Tuesday afterwards and I broke my collarbone so was out for two rounds. That was unfortunate but then I came back and finished fifth at Loket and the weekend after I made the podium at Lommel. It's been going good. The last few weeks have really been good.
You'll be racing the United States Grand Prix at Glen Helen next month. Are you looking forward to that?
Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it. I really like Glen Helen. I was there in 2011 and had quite a good GP there. I'm really looking forward to it. It's nice because I heard that there will be some big American names riding so it'll be interesting to see where we are at with their tracks. It will be really interesting and I'm really looking forward to it.
What do you think of American motocross and supercross?
I really like American motocross and supercross. I'm a big fan and I still follow and watch every supercross and outdoor race. I'm looking forward to one day maybe coming over and race supercross and motocross. We never know what the future will bring, but I really like what level the sport is on in the U.S. It would be nice one day to come over and race.
All things considered, are you pleased with the way things have been going for you this summer?
Yeah, everything is going really good and I'm really pumped. It's motivation to work harder and get better results.