After a truly memorable and life-changing experience at my first Motocross of Nations (MXoN) in 2009 I was fully hooked on the opportunity to represent my country. I knew the event was special, and I knew I always wanted to be a part of it, but everything about that first attempt far exceeded my expectations and I wanted more of it.
After a successful rookie season as a full-time 450cc rider I was lucky enough to capture both the Supercross and Pro Motocross titles. While I had goals of contending, capturing race wins, and being a part of the title hunt, I certainly surprised even myself coming out on top of both championships. Now that I’ve stepped away from racing I have a better understanding on how significant that accomplishment truly was, and how it made me a focal point of the sport all around the world before I was able to even grasp the significance of the position I had put myself in.
The 2010 MXoN was on home soil, at Thunder Valley in Colorado. If there was ever a team to be a part of, this one was it, and Team USA ended up with a lineup of myself, Trey Canard, and Andrew Short. Throughout my years of racing, I always got along well with these two. I think we all have similar personalities and approach high-pressure situations in a similar way, so it made for a ton of team camaraderie right from the start. I don’t know if it was the fact that we got to race in a familiar location, how quickly the whole team gelled, or whether we just truly believed we were the ones to beat, but everything about that event felt like it happened exactly how we’d planned. That’s not to say we weren’t without some adversity, but compared to all the challenges Team USA faced the previous year, 2010 was much more straightforward.
As we stood atop the podium with another triumph for Team USA, it brought me right back to that 2007 MXoN at Budds Creek where I watched Carmichael, Villopoto, and Ferry win big in front of the U.S. fans. My first taste of victory was something I’ll never forget, but this second win was one I took the time to savor because it’s rare that any racer even has the chance to race in front of his home country, let alone win in front of it.
With two MXoN appearances and a pair of wins under my belt, I told Roger DeCoster that I wanted to answer the call each year. As long as I was healthy, I was ready to take on the responsibility. Embracing the role as the team’s leader was something that felt natural to me. Even that first year, when I wasn’t expecting to be put in that position, I felt comfortable wearing the No. 1 and, theoretically, carrying the load for the team. From the moment Roger offered to have me join Suzuki’s factory effort as an amateur, I always found myself trying to prove that I deserved to belong. I didn’t have the list of accomplishments. I didn’t have the hype. I was just a small-town kid from Minnesota who was willing to put in the work. Roger believed in me, and I wanted nothing more than to prove his trust in me. I thrived off the pursuit to achieve success, and even more so on the pursuit to be better. Being the lead rider on the team felt like a natural responsibility, and I honestly never thought twice about it. Perhaps it’s why Roger made that decision in the first place, and I trusted his choice.
The following year, in 2011, being in the lead role came with some added intrigue with Ryan Villopoto on the team. Ryan had a more decorated résumé than I did and won the 450 Class title that year, but I still was chosen to be Team Captain. I can only assume Roger was acknowledging the previous successes at the MXoN, but I realize there was curiosity about the decision. Of course when it comes down to it, the numbers on our bikes become nothing more than identifiers once the gate drops, and myself, Ryan, and Blake Baggett went out and took care of business in France.
When the 2012 event rolled around Team USA was on a hot streak with seven consecutive wins. It seemed like the Europeans were determined to find a way to stop us, so they selected perhaps the single-most-difficult track on the planet for that year’s event - Lommel in Belgium. For us pro racers here in the U.S., sand riding is a technique the majority of us don’t really need to develop. There’s only one sand track on the Pro Motocross calendar and Southwick isn’t anything like the kind of sand tracks they have in Europe. The sand here isn’t a big departure from the style of tracks we’re accustomed to riding. However, Lommel is unlike anything else in the world. It’s like a beach. A seemingly endless pit of deep, loamy sand. If you’re fast there, you can be fast anywhere, and it’s probably why so many MXGP riders spend so much time training there. Our squad, despite its exceptional talent in which I was accompanied by Blake Baggett and Justin Barcia, was simply overmatched and we watched the winning streak come to an end with a third-place effort.
In the years that followed, as we valiantly fought to regain our hold of the Chamberlain Trophy, I started to better understand the role I played as Team Captain. Early on, I took it as a responsibility to lead the way for the team out on the track. I expected myself to achieve the best results, without mistakes. I wanted to give our team some room for error should we have some bad luck. It was a heavy load I was willing to bear for the betterment of the team, and I knew I had the ability to fulfill that obligation. However, when times were uncharacteristically tough for Team USA after that last win in 2011, I realized results were one thing, but the atmosphere within the Team USA pit was arguably more important. The ability to still find the positives during the down times was critical to the enjoyment of the MXoN experience.
Representing our country was supposed to be an honor, and it was, but I think the expectations surrounding our results may have taken away from actually being a part of the MXoN a little bit. At the end of the day we’re all world-class competitors. We race to win. When we come up short, we’re always going to be frustrated. However, I really tried to learn from the way Ivan Tedesco took myself and Jake Weimer under his wing during that 2009 event. He helped us enjoy the moment and take in what we were a part of, without taking our focus away from the task at hand. If I could help a young teammate, particularly a first timer, feel a little less overwhelmed by it all, I felt like it was my duty as Team Captain to try and do so. While we unfortunately missed out on getting back atop the podium in my last three years at the MXoN, I hope I helped make it the memorable experience it still should have been for those involved.
It was during those later years at the MXoN when I started to recognize that I carried a much more significant role within the sport. I always understood that people looked up to me, particularly fans, but it took a little time for me to realize some of my peers looked up to me as well. I had become a leader and I began to look at everything differently in the final years of my career. Instead of looking within myself so much and how everyone could make me better, I shifted my attention towards investing more of my time into encouraging others in my support group, my team and teammates, the fans, and ultimately the whole sport of motocross. I found a lot more purpose by investing in the benefit of others. It was much more meaningful and allowed me to apply so much of what I had learned in a capacity other than on the bike. After all, the sport is bigger than me and this was the type of work that will outlive my career and potentially my life. I knew I had an opportunity to leave the sport in a better place than when I came into it, and it’s something I’m still trying to work on to this day. To me these are important lessons, and I hope all pro riders are able to embrace being the leaders that they are during their careers.
Being able to do something positive with my name is a part of what RD Coffee is about. It’s more than about just coffee and the passion I have for it. It’s an extension of everything I learned and experienced on my journey to becoming a champion and accomplishing all of my racing goals. With a career that spanned 11 years and included a lot of great things, sometimes I even need to remind myself that I’m still just 31 years old. I’m only a few years removed from competing full time and I’m only scratching the surface of what I hope to do with this business and how I can give back to the sport. I’m grateful for all of those who helped get me here, and those willing to continue to support me on this journey.
Image Courtesy of Sarah Gutierrez/Racer X