He is the greatest supercross rider of all time. There was nothing like him before or since.
The Jeremy McGrath story by Scott Bishop (DA190).
PHOTOS: CAM BAIRD/HOPPENWORLD
In his biography, McGrath discusses his early days of racing. He recalls his introduction to the sport as a great time in his life.
McGrath was a late starter to motocross but had been a BMX rider and racer for some time before giving dirtbikes a go, which is when he fell in love with horsepower rather than leg power.
After a few seasons of racing locally, Jeremy started to make a name for himself — but not like the child prodigies we see today such as Cianciarulo or even the RC, Bubba or Pastrana of the generation before.
His wasn’t a moneyed background. The McGrath family did what they could until the day Jeremy’s father handed him $500 and said, “This is the last time I give you money to race. If you want to make it, you have to earn it for yourself.”
More local racing followed and he chose races that would reward him financially rather than chasing the trophy or the name. But the results were starting to follow and his name came across the desk of Pro-Circuit owner Mitch Payton.
McGrath pleaded his case to Payton and Pro-Circuit, the premier 125cc team at the time, took the up-and-comer into their four-rider team for 1991. McGrath rewarded the Honda 125-supported team with two West Coast 125 SX championships and some solid results in the outdoors.
In 1993, Honda drafted the wet-behind-the-ears rookie into the premier class to partner current hero Jeff Stanton. Stanton was pencilled in to do the winning while helping the youngster find his feet in the 16-week grind of the AMA Supercross championship.
McGrath started off the year with respectable results, snaring some top-five positions but nothing startling — until the moment the race started in Anaheim 2 at round five of the 1993 championship.
Stanton got off to a good lead and McGrath soon found his way to second place and locked onto the rear tyre of his experienced teammate. Many expected McGrath to slowly drop off the pace, as Stanton was seen as the ironman of the racing scene at the time. But, just past the midway point of the race, McGrath launched his factory Honda past his teammate and rode away for an inspiring win.
Jeremy spoke about the confidence he had leading into the race and the fact that Anaheim stadium was his turf and he had to win on his turf. The commentators of the sport asked if that pass on Stanton was the changing of the baton in Supercross supremacy — a question was answered with a resounding yes on another 72 occasions during eight championships.
McGrath went on to win the prized AMA 250cc Supercross championship after going on a tear. He won 10 races in his rookie year and made history with his domination. That domination continued with Honda for 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996. He rewrote the history books year after year, winning four Supercross championships plus an AMA outdoor motocross championship. He nearly recorded the perfect season in 1996, losing just one race in the entire supercross season.
His reputation continued to grow and his domination made the mainstream media in the US. He was fast, he was flashy and his style over jumps attracted a new breed to the sport in both riders and spectators. He earned the nickname Showtime, as the final lap of nearly all his victories saw a series of flashy jumps and new tricks the moto world had never seen before.
The BMX-inspired Nac Nac came to motocross in 1994, thanks to Jeremy. Then it was the Can Can, the big whip on the finish line. McGrath’s likable persona brought him the biggest following any dirtbike athlete had ever had.
The industry was turned upside down during the 1996–1997 off-season when rumours surfaced that McGrath and Honda were having issues. It started with control of his image after Honda execs saw a photo of Jeremy on a competitor’s water vehicle. Things turned nasty when the all-new 1997 CR250 was released and McGrath declared himself no fan of the new bike.
During his four seasons of domination at Honda, McGrath ran a 1993-model frame on his bike despite updates at production level. Honda introduced the ultra-rigid alloy frame on the 1997 model and, when it insisted he use that latest bike, talks broke down. At the 11th hour, McGrath pieced together a deal with Suzuki that left him well behind the eight ball in terms of bike development and testing.
But despite all the drama and a series of issues on and off track through the year, McGrath narrowly missed taking the championship. But he made no secret of the fact that he disliked the current RM250 and was looking for another manufacturer in 1998.
McGrath started work on a new team for 1998, a template that would change the way factory and race teams did business. Using his star power from winning four supercross championships, he was able to get factory equipment in terms of bikes and technology but also able to do it under his terms.
Jeremy was tired of the long season. He felt doing 16 stadium races plus another 12 outdoors was running him down so he elected to do a supercross-only deal and announced Chaparral, a huge bike ship on California, as his naming-rights sponsor and ex-racer Larry Brooks as his team manager.
It wasn’t long before Jeremey returned to the winners’ circle. He wasn’t as dominant as his 1995 and 1996 seasons but he won the championship and regained his place at the King of Supercross.
In 1999, he won again but faced some stiffer competition in the form of young charger Ricky Carmichael. McGrath’s SOP was to pound out 10 hot laps to get a comfortable gap to bring it home. Carmichael was fast, no question, but crashed a lot. What he did have was a hard work ethic and a desire to dethrone the King.
By the year 2000, Carmichael was the real deal and, after an epic battle in the early rounds in the 2000 season, he put a pass on McGrath that was eerily similar to the one the McGrath had put on Stanton all those years ago. After that, McGrath stopped the record books at 73 wins and eight championships (seven SX, one MX) and Carmichael went on to dominate the sport.
IN THE BLOOD
McGrath signed a lucrative deal with KTM in what would be his final year of racing. Unfortunately, his KTM never even hit the dirt of an AMA race after an injury in training made him reassess his position in the sport. He retired on the spot and announced it to the world at the opening round of the 2003 championship in front on an emotional press gallery.
Since then, McGrath has continued to be involved in racing in some form. He did stadium truck racing for some time with some success; he also dabbled in team management, running a team with long-time friend Larry Brooks. He tried promotion and ran a one of composite SX/FMX event called the Jeremy McGrath Invitational, then also jumped back into racing on a very part-time schedule during the 2005 supercross season, showing he still had top-five speed.
But his real job became testing and evaluating production bikes for Honda. He was a test rider at racing and showroom level, helping to shake down new bikes before they hit the dealer floor or assisting Honda teams in getting the most from their bikes.
BACK TO GREEN
The Kawasaki announcement surprised many, but looking over the facts it isn’t that much of a long shot. Honda restructured its testing and development of off-road bikes with Japanese riders taking a more active role, meaning Jeremy’s position and role at Honda wasn’t the same.
Jeremy also has a long-term relationship with Monster Energy, which has followed Jeremy in his various ventures of the years. Kawasaki and Monster are in a relationship and the two parties obviously banded together to make a role for McGrath. He will now be used to showcase the KX-F lineup in a range of promotions, dealer promos and race appearances through the year.
Think of a sport with no freestyle, no scrubbing, no keeping low over jumps and no personality. That’s what McGrath bought to dirtbikes. The Nac Nac was unleashed at a time when the public lapped up the trend on video and McGrath was a star player in many of the innovative videos of the time.
He may not have invented the scrub but he was the first to work out how to stay lower over jumps and get the power back on the ground earlier. Those techniques came from his BMX days. The scrub came because of Jeremy’s influence.
But his real legacy is the raising of the profile of the sport. An all-American, clean-cut, well-spoken kid out of SoCal winning races in front of 60,000, week in, week out, he did it all with a smile and some flair. The fans loved him and flocked to see him ride.
With his breakthrough into youth subculture, it could also be argued that the big money the heroes of today enjoy is because of the way McGrath broke down the doors, connecting motocross to corporate America.
McGRATH FACT FILE
250cc AMA Supercross Championships: 7 (1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999 & 2000)
125cc AMA Western Region SX Championships: 2 (1991 & 1992)
250cc AMA National Motocross Championships: 1 (1995)
FIM World SX Championships: 2
Member of Winning US Motocross des Nations Team: 2 (1993 & 1996)
Overall AMA Career Wins: 89
250cc AMA Supercross Wins: 72
125cc Western Region SX Wins: 13
250cc AMA National Motocross Wins: 15
125cc AMA National Motocross Wins: 2