When it comes to the most influential motocross athletes in history, the conversation inevitably includes Jeremy McGrath. After falling in love with motocross as a young BMX kid, he brought a fresh approach to motorsports. His invention of the Nac Nac air is regarded as the starting point for freestyle motocross, while McGrath’s racing accolades include a record-setting 72 wins in 250cc Main Events. The star of his own video game, McGrath owns an X Games gold medal and continues to collect trophies as a top competitor in Off-Road truck racing.
McGrath grew up on a steady diet of BMX dirt racing with sponsorship at a young age. “From the age of 9 to 14, I raced BMX pretty seriously. I was on a factory team and traveling across the country doing nationals. But I never gave much thought to motocross,” said McGrath. That changed at age 14. McGrath discovered 125cc motocross racing as his next evolution. “Once I got a dirt bike, I figured I could just hit bigger jumps on that thing. That was a major thing that drew me to it. And I was a Supercross fan.”
Drawing on BMX techniques such as ‘pumping’ for speed after landing a jump over a mogul, he cultivated a unique style that would make him a top contender on the amateur circuit. In 1989, McGrath landed a spot in the Kawasaki amateur support program and one year later won the Las Vegas Supercross as an amateur rider and placed second in the championship.
Aside from racing for the fastest lap time, McGrath also enjoyed unleashing his BMX-style aerials on his motorbike. “Freestyle motocross did not even exist back then. I mean, I was doing freestyle motocross in my backyard, before it even existed,” said McGrath on the podcast. Ultimately, McGrath introduced his own signature aerial executed while kicking out a leg in mid-air – and the rest is history. “Arguably freestyle motocross started when I did the Nac Nac for the first time. The trick actually came from BMX, so we ripped it off from BMX. I was the first person to do it on a motorbike.”
While he always remained a freestyle motocross fan, McGrath moved on to build a record-setting Supercross racing career. Named the ‘King of Supercross’, he won Supercross and motocross championship titles the same year in 1995. “Being a Supercross racer in the Nineties was something I could never have dreamed of. It was pretty amazing!” said McGrath on the show. Major accolades include winning the AMA Supercross Championship seven times, plus the AMA Pro Athlete of the Year Award (1996) and induction into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame (2003).
“When you get to a certain point and you eventually get to compete with your heroes, it’s like ‘Man! I gotta go out and beat the guy that I used to have on a poster on my wall!’” said McGrath about his legendary rivalry with Supercross champion Ricky Carmichael in the early 2000s. Looking back on his career, McGrath said: “I guess that’s just the nature of sports. You’re only as good as your last race. It’s definitely true in Supercross.”