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Sunday UTV Race photos. Casey Currie finished 7th of 131 entries.

Jeremy McGrath: Catching Up with The King

Feb 122021

Even though he hung up his motocross boots an incredible 15 years ago it still feels like it was yesterday that “The King” Jeremy McGrath lined up on a supercross starting gate. The seven-time Monster Energy Supercross titleholder and owner of a record 72 main event wins will likely never have his jaw-dropping numbers challenged, and while his legacy in the sport is the most influential of all time, McGrath’s passion for racing and winning has never wavered. While he’s still very much a part of the motocross industry, proudly serving as an ambassador for Kawasaki, McGrath has now become one of Monster Energy’s most dynamic athletes by amassing a successful career in off-road. In 2017, he captured the Pro 2 title in the former Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series and is now leading the development of Kawasaki’s racing program for its new Teryx KRX side-by-side. The King is also fostering a second generation of McGrath racers, with his two daughters both showing a particular interest in off-road.

Monster Energy took advantage of an overdue opportunity to catch up with supercross’ most prolific competitor.

Obviously, you’re The King of Supercross, so let’s start with getting your thoughts on the 2021 season up to this point.

As always, supercross is the best sport in the world. We all love it so much because they have a starting gate, right? You never know what’s going to happen. I think the season [so far] has been really, really fun to watch. I’ve been on the edge of my seat. It’s been interesting and there’s been a lot of close racing. It seems like it’s the same players that were pretty strong last year, with the exception of Ken Roczen, who really seems like he’s stepped up his game. I’ve realized when you’re watching [on TV] that with the live show it creates really high importance on the start. With the way the track is for the live show they don’t get a lot of time to prep the track and by the time the 450 guys get out there, there’s that one really fast line that’s been burnt in, so the start is the key.


I’ve been excited for Adam [Cianciarulo], he’s been running pretty good. He’s had some ups and downs already, but I know he started off the season having some issues with his wrist and it seems like he’s rebounded a little bit at this point. Eli [Tomac] has been a little bit mixed also. A little more mixed than I expected it to be. He’s had some great races, for sure, but also a couple of missteps here and there. Really the only one who hasn’t had a misstep yet is Roczen. But, Eli is typically a strong finisher and it’s a long series. It’s been fun to watch and anything can happen. That’s supercross.


What do you think has been the biggest change in the sport since you retired and what are your thoughts on how competitive it is these days?

So much has changed since I was there. I’m two generations removed already, which is a weird thing to say, but some things don’t change. Racing is racing. In my generation, I was dominant. After me, it was Chad Reed or James Stewart, or Ricky Carmichael and Ryan Villopoto. There were the one or two guys that were lighting it up several years in a row. While some guys are able to get on a roll now there’s incredible depth in the sport right. What I like most about that, which is good for us as fans, is that everyone seems to be about the same speed. So, you just never know what’s going to happen. We haven’t really seen Ken Roczen get a bad start yet to see what would happen if he did. I think I’m surprised by the not-so-great results of someone like Jason Anderson. Marvin Musquin seems to be coming on a little bit. Zach Osborne hasn’t shown us the speed he had at the end of the year last year. And then Cooper Webb has found some more speed. So, again, I think the depth is good, the sport looks healthy, and as I fan I kind of like not knowing who’s going to win.

Even though we haven’t seen you race since 2006, your presence in the sport and the industry as a whole is still felt. It’s obvious that you still have a tremendous passion for dirt bike racing. Is it important for you to maintain that presence? How have your ambassadorships with Kawasaki and Monster Energy allowed you to stay so involved?

I think it’s real easy to see I’m passionate about the sport. I think my passion matches the passion Monster Energy has and the energy Kawasaki has for the sport. So, our partnership and ambassadorship really work hand in hand. If you could have a so-called job that you go to every day and you love it that much it just makes things so much easier. I always told myself that when I retired from the sport I never wanted to retire at a point that I just didn’t like it or have any fun. I went riding recently at the supercross track with the Pro Circuit [Kawasaki] guys and when I got home I was just so energized on how much fun it was, and how much I need to do it more than I do these days. So, the passion hasn’t changed.


I wouldn’t say it’s important [to be involved]. It’s not like I’m at home thinking I need to stay involved. I’m just happy to be involved in something that I love so much. I think it’s real easy to see from the outside that I like my sport. I’m passionate about it. I care about the next generation. I love dirt bikes, and every day I wake up thinking I’m a lucky guy.


When you did hang up your boots you eventually made the transition from two wheels to four wheels and jumped into off-road. What about off-road was enticing for you as opposed to another discipline like NASCAR, rally, or something else?

In the very beginning I grew up riding three-wheelers, mini bikes, and all this stuff. You’ve got to remember, I didn’t start racing until I was 14. It’s way later than these kids these days starting and four or five years old, so it’s a very different story that I have versus something like, say, Carmichael. I’m just an off-road guy. I’m not a pavement guy. It didn’t dawn on me that I want to go race NASCAR or IndyCar, or Formula 1. I don’t really care about all that. All I really care about is off-road, dirt bikes, and anything that has to do with the desert. I’m a dirt guy through and through. For me, racing short course [off-road] in that truck for eight or nine years after moto, there’s a thrill with driving something on the dirt and flying through the air with 900 horsepower. I would say it’s almost as exhilarating as riding a dirt bike. It was the next best thing, and if I’m not racing dirt bikes I want to be racing something. I got to experience all that. I also won a title off-road, and it’s pretty cool to be able to win a title in two different sports.


Now, with Kawasaki and the introduction of the Teryx KRX, I have two daughters, one 13, one 15, they love off-road. We’re driving the KRX side-by-side as a family, we’re doing rock races, we’re doing Ultra 4 stuff. I’m going to put them out in the desert before long, racing the KRX. We’re an off-road family, and to think we’re something different would be a mistake. We grew up in the dirt and that’s what we’re doing.


Diving a bit into your short course career, you were able to break through and win a Pro 2 title after a continued progression in skill and performance year after year. What was the key to your ability to finally achieve all that success?

Auto racing is a lot different than something like motocross or supercross. In supercross and motocross, it’s probably like 70 percent the rider and 30 percent the bike. All the bikes are pretty darn good and if you get a factory bike you can win on it, regardless of what brand it is. If you get enough support from a [factory] team, you’re going to have a great shot at winning. In auto racing, it’s a lot different. That takes budget and it takes a lot. I was doing it on my own and trying to race off-road trucks without any factory support. It takes a lot of years. By nature, I’m not an off-road racer, so it took a lot of years to get the package right, get the setup right, all that stuff. The driving and the winning mentality was always there, but there was always someone that spent more money than I did. That’s kind of how auto racing works. If you don’t have the biggest budget then you don’t have the best car. I fought with that for a lot of years and finally got the package right with the right amount of budget and was able to win races on a consistent basis. The breakthrough was years and years of driving, which makes you better, years and years of learning how to set up the truck and what works for you, which makes you better, and of course budget. There’s a lot of great drivers and a lot of big money in that sport, and we were lucky to be in the right place, at the right time and it all started to line up. To be able to take that winning nature I had for so long from supercross and really figure out how to persevere in a different sport and really win in that is quite an accomplishment.


That winning mentality is now being passed on to the next generation with your daughters, like you mentioned. How does it feel to know your daughters share the same passion for racing and off-road that you have?

It’s funny, I always imagined myself having a son and I never did. We just had two girls. I guess on one hand I’m lucky because I don’t have to go to the motocross track every weekend with my son. If I did that, I’d probably be scared and worried that my son might get hurt. So, it just thrills me to death to know that my daughters like some of the same things I like and it’s really been a blessing to our family because we spend a lot of time spending weekends out in the desert driving. They love it just as much as I do. I know there may never be an end game for my daughters in racing, but whatever. That’s not what it’s about. It is about family bonding and we do share those passions. For me, I consider it a win because they love it just as much as I do, and that’s pretty cool.


You also mentioned the extension of your ambassadorship with Kawasaki around the new Teryx KRX side-by-side. What has it been like being at the forefront of developing a competitive program for the brand and this new vehicle in off-road’s fastest-growing and most competitive segment?

It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time because I know how racing goes, and I know the production of the KRX, it’s such an awesome machine, but things just can’t happen fast enough. So, we’re figuring it out. I’ve never been a guy to follow. I’m always going to take my own line and lead the way. That’s what I’m doing with the KRX. We’re working on the car, improving it, testing it, trying to figure out how to make a race vehicle out of this thing. It’s a really great starting platform, but with racing a lot of stuff needs to be done and we’re doing it. Developing the KRX is now part of my life. It’s fun. I’m hitting different Ultra 4 races and we just got back from King of the Hammers. In the beginning stages of trying to figure out how to make a race vehicle you’re finding all the weak spots, and if that can really help the planning and develop a race car and also help Kawasaki’s future production of the KRX, I’m proud to be a part of it. It’s been great. The introduction of the KRX for me and my family could not have happened at a better time.


As you alluded to, this opportunity has also allowed you to be a part of off-road’s biggest and most unique races. Is there a long-term plan for you in terms of forging a career in the side-by-side division or are you just enjoying the moment while it’s here?

In terms of racing, for me, I’m really having fun with the development of the KRX and the ultimate goal would be to get to the races. I want to build race cars for my daughters and I want them to have the chance to experience some of what I’ve experienced. My main goal is to have some fun, build a sweet car, make the thing race-worthy, and then put my kids out there to let them experience it.


Lastly, you and several other championship-winning supercross counterparts are coming together to have some dirt track fun with the first MotoCar FITE Klub event at the end of February. How’d you get involved and what are your expectations?

Well, they invited me to the motocross one they first had like six months ago, but I had a knee replacement surgery a year or so ago and I just wasn’t ready. I really wanted to be involved, but I just wasn’t ready. Then the idea of the MotoCar FITE Klub came up and all these guys that are in it with me are all legends of the sport. We have three of the top four winningest riders in supercross history [McGrath, Ricky Carmichael, Chad Reed] that are going to do it. I think if we can get in seatbelts, get in a cage, and we’re not going to hurt each other then we’re really going to have some fun tearing stuff up, hitting each other, and whatever. I suspect it’s going to be fun and that’s what drew me to it. I also think being freshly retired from off-road racing I have plenty of experience in a car, so my plan is to go whoop these guys and show them who the real king is.


Do you think all that off-road experience is going to pay off?

I think so. I know Brian Deegan has a lot of experience too, so he and I will be at the top of the pile at the end of this thing. Ricky [Carmichael] has some experience too, but I’m going to do all I can to keep him behind me.