Jeremy McGrath Forges His Own Short-Course Destiny - Taking ControlPosted in Features on August 1, 2014
When Travis Pastrana got behind the wheel of a Pro 2 at the LOORRS stop at Lake Elsinore Motorsports Park, many people took notice. For any member of the Dirt Sports Nation, Pastrana is a familiar face. His ability to perform insane motorcycle tricks before there was even an X Games, his prowess behind the wheel of a rally car, and his stunt-filled Nitro Circus show on MTV, have made Pastrana known not only in motorsports circles, but well beyond. Taking on the jump-filled short-course track at Lake Elsinore in a Menzies Motorsports’ Pro 2 was yet another adventure for Pastrana, who has driven everything from Stock Cars in NASCAR to a Trophy Truck at the recent Best in the Desert Mint 400. Unfortunately, his shortcourse debut would not last long. He crashed hard right of the start of the Friday night main race, reinjuring his ankle and suffering a slight concussion. After a precautionary trip to the hospital, Pastrana did not return.
After Pastrana’s brief flash came Tanner Foust’s stint behind the wheel of another Pro 2 for the television show Top Gear. Quietly toiling under the lights with a bit less fanfare was another team headed by someone just as legendary for his prowess and victories on two wheels. Any fan of Supercross alive during the 1990s vividly remembers Jeremy McGrath. The McGrath Era from 1993 to 2000 was one of absolute dominance. Jeremy won a staggering—and record—72 250cc Main Event wins and captured an amazing seven 250cc Supercross championships. McGrath’s motorcycle career stretched into 2006, when at the age of 35, he still regularly placed in the top five in Supercross and was extremely fast on the Supermoto circuit. When it came to racing on two wheels in the dirt, McGrath was always a force to be reckoned with and one the fastest to ever throw a leg over a dirt bike.
Two To Four
At the professional level, Supercross and Motocross are sports essentially dominated by the young. The massive physical requirements of huge triple jumps, blasting through rhythm sections, and hauling ass over a nasty, rough, and tore up track are best handled by someone extremely fit and in shape. The injuries that often go hand in hand with the sport usually take a toll on one’s body, adding up as the years tick by. Although rare exceptions exist, such as John Dowd, who was still showing up on the podium at the ancient age of 40, most professionals end their careers in their early thirties. Some are forced to retire even earlier, unable to return to the top level after broken wrists or busted up knees. Of course, the darker specter of a horrific career-ending and life-changing injury, such as broken necks, destroyed vertebrae and paralysis, haunts every one of these events. Although great leaps have been made in helmet technology, armor, and neck restraints, you can only do so much to fight physics and gravity. Making a mistake off a 90-foot triple can carry huge consequences. This requires participants to be in peak physical condition and at the top of their game any time they take to the track to prevent disaster.
With all that in mind, Jeremy McGrath knew it was time to retire. He was already 35 and had no desire to pull a Shaq and stumble his way over a track in a non-competitive fashion. With a few significant injuries during his twowheeled career, he had no desire to add any more. However, being the racer that he is, Jeremy McGrath had did not want to sit around and sign autographs. He continued to be involved with both Honda and Supercross, but his ultimate desire was to go racing and in something that offered the safety of a full cage.
Ultimately, McGrath’s opportunity would come when another motorcycle legend already involved in short-course racing decided to switch teams. “My publicist Cheryl Lynch was actually doing some of the PR for Jim Baldwin, who owned the CORR series at the time. Jim had an extra truck used as media truck, and they were looking for some drivers who would help put spectators’ butts in the seats. I was lucky enough to get invited to drive one of the Pro 2s,” recalls Jeremy. “I did a couple races in that truck and did pretty well. I got a fourth at Chula Vista and felt pretty comfortable in it. Eventually, it turned into a full ride with Baldwin Motorsports. Ricky Johnson left the team, and I went in and took over where he left off. It was an awesome experience, and Jim Baldwin was really the one who gave me an opportunity to get started.”
While Jeremy McGrath was quickly getting up to speed in the world of short-course racing, his ride with Baldwin Motorsports came to an abrupt end. The CORR series’ rapid growth proved unsustainable without huge influxes of cash. Eventually, Jim Baldwin had to pull the plug on the entire series, along with the short-course racing team. Jeremy was left without a ride, and even worse, without a series to race in.
Once again, Ricky Johnson played a role in Jeremy’s burgeoning career in short-course by quickly filling the void with the creation of the WSORR series. Eventually, Johnson decided he would rather go racing than run a short-course series and WSORR became TORC. The constant alphabet soup of name changes might seem inconsequential, but it allowed for the continuation of short-course and gave Jeremy a place to race. “Through my Monster Energy sponsorship, I got to go racing with Johnny Greaves for a couple years. That was amazing, driving that Toyota was awesome. Marty Hart drove the truck after I did and had a hard time with it, but I really loved that truck.”
Eventually, the LOORRS series started up and gave Jeremy an option much closer to his Southern California home. With new kids, family time was critical and Jeremy was looking for a change. “I was looking to do the Lucas series because I didn’t want to travel as much. I hooked up with Stronghold Motorsports and drove for them a couple years. That as my opportunity to get back out West and be closer to home,” said Jeremy.
A New Team, A New Direction
True, Jeremy’s career so far had been filled with great opportunities to drive for some of the top teams in the sport, but there was one thing he had yet to do—run his own team. For this season in LOORRS, he would do just that, forming Jeremy McGrath Motorsports with new sponsors Loctite, Maxxis Tires, and Fuel Off-Road wheels. Showing up and driving other team’s trucks was great, but the move allowed Jeremy to control his own destiny.
“I really needed to go off and do it on my own,” reflects Jeremy McGrath. “I was struggling and having a hard time not having any confidence in my truck when I was on that team. I knew all the best drivers go out and do it on their own. It was time for me to either step up and do it on my own or totally get out of the sport. I decided to step up and do it myself.” Creating and managing his own team is obviously way more work and responsibility than simply driving a truck for a team, but Jeremy McGrath believed the benefits were definitely worth the extra headaches and countless hours. “The great part is you get to make the relationship with your partners and sponsors yourself. I was always really good at that during my motorcycling career. We have some great partners, and I am really happy I get to do that on my own now,” said Jeremy McGrath.
Beyond building and maintaining relationships with sponsors, the other huge positive for Jeremy was the ability to do what he wanted with his truck. “I get to do things the way I want to do them now with my own truck. There are a lot of things that crossover that I learned from my 20-plus years racing professionally in Motocross. Setup and things like that all crossover. Having input on the truck and developing the relationships with the sponsors are the two key things I needed to do on my own,” comments Jeremy McGrath.
Just like building a Trophy Truck from scratch, building his own team allowed Jeremy to fill it with the best components in the form of personnel. Often overlooked by those on the outside, Jeremy knew from his years of racing experience one of the keys to a winning team was not just the driver and its truck, but also the team members. “There are a ton of people involved, it is not just me. I hired a really good crew chief with Mike Seat and he has over 100 wins with Renezeder. I have the right guys working on my truck now and I really feel we have the right package,” said Jeremy.
Look at the podium of any short-course race and it often will be filled with former motorcycle racers. Talented wheelmen like Ricky Johnson, Brian Deegan, Johnny Greaves and McGrath were all known as uberfast riders in Supercross, Motocross, or even freestyle, before switching to four wheels. How does the experience pushing a dirt bike to its limits and the close-quarters combat that is Supercross help being fast behind the wheel of an 800-horsepower monster? We asked Jeremy. “It helped me get to the 95 percent level quickly. I’m really comfortable and excel in passing situations. One of the advantages, I can read the situation around me and know what the guy in front of me is going to do. That comes naturally to me since that is what you do on a bike.”
However, previous moto experience is not the magic bullet to instant short-course wins. “The other 5 percent takes a while,” notes McGrath. “You don’t get to drive these things and practice a lot like you can with a dirt bike. It is expensive and it just doesn’t happen. For me getting enough seat time was one of the most frustrating parts. Trying to get enough seat time to be really comfortable in the truck just doesn’t happen, and I had to get used to the situation. If you want to go out and practice all the time, you will be pouring tons of money into it. Everyone has a budget, but the engine budget is big in Pro 2. If you are going to practice a lot, you better have a huge engine budget. This makes it hard to catch up to guys like Rob MacCachren or Carl Renezeder, who have the same or more experience racing trucks than I do racing bikes.”
For the newest team owner in the LOORRS series, though, that final 5 percent gap is quickly being minimized. “I can finally go out and drive the truck hard,” shares Jeremy. “Each race weekend, we get better and better. I am super pumped for this season.” Indeed, 2014 will be a pivotal year for McGrath as he forges his own path in short-course, looking to be on the top spot of the podium.