As a professional racer, when your weekly routine is essentially a repetitive sequence that includes riding, training, testing, traveling, and racing, it’s actually easy to overlook some of the more unique aspects of the journey that many would find interesting because, to me, it was all just a part of my routine. However, as I look back at my career I’m beginning to understand how fortunate I was to have some truly amazing partnerships and memorable moments that had significant impacts on my life, both on the track and off of it.
Aside from the teams and manufacturers I rode for, one of the most identifiable trademarks of my time as a racer was a longstanding partnership with Target. The iconic bullseye that so many of us see as a go-to option whenever we need to go shopping for some household basics became an enduring symbol for pretty much my entire supercross and motocross career, adorning both my helmet and my gloves.
While the association of a Minnesota-based brand like Target and myself seems obvious on the surface, the story of how the connection ultimately occurred is honestly something that to this day was totally unexpected. When I turned pro full time in 2007 I was a relative unknown within the motocross industry, moving up from the B class ranks at Loretta Lynn’s to a full factory rider. While I enjoyed a great rookie season, with four wins in supercross and a fifth-place finish in both the supercross and motocross championships, I still can’t imagine that I was on the radar of corporate America. After all, our sport has never really been considered “mainstream,” and I was just a quiet 17 year old kid at the time.
Apparently, this was around the same time period in which Target was focused on building a roster of action sports athletes to complement its longtime involvement in both IndyCar and NASCAR with Chip Ganassi Racing. Shaun White was the face of the brand for action sports, but there was a desire to expand into other disciplines and somehow my name became linked up with the likes of Paul Rodriguez, Kolohe Andino, and the late Kevin Robinson. These were powerhouse figures in their sport while I was still a kid, just wrapping up my rookie season.
Word about this effort, and the fact that my name was on their list of athletes in consideration, leaked to my mom. We were both in disbelief at the idea that I was seen as a leader in action sports, considering how little I had really accomplished at that point. To their credit, Target did their due diligence and spoke with several key figures in the industry, and they all apparently had positive things to say about me. The next thing I know the biggest corporate company in my hometown is calling to ask me to represent them in motocross, eager to pull the trigger on a deal starting with the 2008 season.
That moment was nothing short of surreal. As a Minnesota kid, the opportunity to be the face of Target for my sport was something I never could have imagined. It frankly wasn’t anywhere on my radar at that point, but low and behold it became a reality.
Target was eager to hit the ground running as the 2008 season got underway and wanted to come up with a unique way to showcase the brand whenever I was on the bike or on the podium. Thanks to some cooperation from Answer, my gear company at the time, I was given permission to wear Oakley’s Factory Pilot gloves that I had become really fond of. Oakley and Target then worked together to place the Target bullseye on my palms and on the tops of my index and middle finger. It was a cool piece of ingenuity as the material of the bullseye itself didn’t compromise grip. If anything, it may have enhanced my grip a slight bit. The end result was an innovative, almost tongue-in-cheek branding piece that had never been done before in our sport.
Coincidentally, my first race wearing the bullseye was right in Target’s backyard, at the 2008 Minneapolis Supercross. Suzuki and I had decided to race a 450 in select rounds during my break from the Lites West Region and I was eager to have the chance to compete in front of the hometown crowd for the first time. The way the timing of it all worked out, it felt like this partnership was meant to be. That night, inside the old Metrodome, I earned my first premier class podium and was able to give a wave to the crowd both inside the stadium and on television. With the bullseye on full display, it officially cemented my new relationship with Target.
From that moment on, the gloves became a calling card of sorts for myself and Target. As their lone athlete in the sport, the gloves were the enduring symbol of our longstanding partnership that extended through the remainder of my career. For any casual or new fan of the sport I was easily identified as “the Target guy.” While I can’t definitively say what Target hoped to accomplish with the gloves, they’ll forever be remembered as one of the most innovative and unique branding ideas our sport has ever seen.
While on the track it was an honor to have a partnership with a brand I shared Minnesota ties with, particularly a retail giant like Target, it was their support off the track that will always stick with me. The goal of Target’s expanded sponsorship of action sports athletes centered around the company’s desire to ensure each and every one of us on “Team Target” had everything we needed to perform at our absolute best. One of the things that has always set action sports apart from traditional and mainstream team sports is not only their individual nature, but also how success is often defined by pushing the physical limits of our bodies. When it came to training equipment, lodging, and in some cases travel, Target wanted to make sure we were provided with the absolute best. If something could improve our performance, or potentially hinder it for that matter, Target wanted to address it. They constantly went above and beyond for me and my family, including providing us with a motorhome at the races for added convenience and peace of mind.
Later in my career when I was inspired to do something with my success and status and wanted to give back to the community, it was Target who helped foster that opportunity. I was invited to take a life-changing visit to the St. Jude Target House in Memphis, where I met the strongest, bravest, and most inspirational children and families. Their positivity and resilience had a massive impact on me, particularly considering how much I wanted to advocate for the fight against cancer. What I did and what I had accomplished was nothing compared to their fight against this terrible disease, and at that moment I knew St. Jude was something I had to be involved with.
I expressed my desire to be a part of St. Jude’s efforts and Target stepped up in the biggest way imaginable. Not only did they connect me with St. Jude, which allowed me to become an ambassador, Target also took it a step further and spearheaded the development of what was originally known as the MN Major River-to-River Ride and evolved to become our annual St. Jude Ride & 5K Run. My philanthropy is a direct result of my partnership with Target and the unwavering support they provided throughout our time together, even after they started to scale back their support of both action sports and motorsports.
I’ve always said how fortunate I was to have such amazing support throughout my career and Target was undoubtedly one of the most influential partners I had. Their commitment to allowing me to perform at my best and their willingness to provide the foundation for me to give back served as a source of inspiration for me to pursue RD Coffee.
*Images courtesy of Guy B / VitalMX and Simon Cudby