In 2011, not long after Jay Marmont equalled Stephen Gall’s record of four motocross titles in a row, we had the two legends sit down to discuss what it meant to be in such rare company (Craig Dack also has four). We fed questions, but the two spoke openly and freely with each other and what we got was an insight into the motivation of two ultra competitive and successful racers.
Jay would win not only the MX Nats title in 2011, but the Super X title as well as Manjimup in what would be his final year on CDR Yamaha. In 2012 he would switch to Kawasaki, but hampered by injury he’d have a rough motocross season. He bounced back in style though by winning the supercross title.
Did either of you take direct aim specifically at a fourth straight title or did you take each year and each race as they came?
SG: I just did it because I loved it and I was keen to be successful. I just chipped away at trying to be good at what I loved to do. I was at the top of my game from ’76 right through to about ’85 and I was at the top level for that whole period of time, so to me it was just another race. Just another race that I wanted to win. My last win, which was my fourth one, was pretty special to me because I’d just come out of two months in plaster the weekend before, so I had one week to prep and I still won the title the weekend after. So it was a bit tough and a bit hard that day but it was a special one for me. But Jay’s done it through a series of races. The way he’s done it is a lot harder than two 30-minute races on one day like I did. I give full credit to Jay for what he’s done because he’s toughed it out and done it the hard way. No matter how it comes to you, your name’s still on the victory dais and that’s what people remember.
JM: I’d never won a motocross championship till 2008 and I wanted to win it so I got on what I thought was the best bike and the best team. I thought, “OK, Dacka’s got the most championships to his name and this is the best possible opportunity for me to go out there and do it,” and it took me a bit to work it out. “I kind of did it easily in 2008. I had Boydy pressuring me but I had it wrapped up towards the end but from then on I had that taste of winning. I knew what had to be done and a lot of times I didn’t get the momentum till the end of the series. But you take every race and every weekend as it comes and I got the points lead this year that way. I said all year that even though I was in fourth I only want the red plate at the last race at Coolum, and whatever I had to do to get that, then that’s what I wanted to do. I was lucky because Josh had that crash but when I look back on it all, I won the most motos, I won the most overalls, and it was there for the taking.
For me, the hardest thing to gain is momentum. Once I get momentum on my side I feel invincible. In the back of your mind you’re always thinking, “I won last year but can I win this year?” I never really dwelled on that; I just worked at gaining momentum and I knew that once you start winning it’ll fall into your lap.
At Coolum this year I just felt invincible. I was going into those last few races thinking that nothing was going to stop me. You’re smiling, you’re happy and why wouldn’t you be having fun? Lap times are coming, the bike’s feeling good and everything’s good.
Is motocross a team sport?
SG: Back in my day — and I even said this at the AIS [Australian Institute of Sport] today when I was talking to the young guys — I thought it was more of an individual sport. But in hindsight, when I’ve looked at the careers of the people on from there, it is very much a team sport. Not only have you got your immediate team but the team of social help, your parents, your girlfriend or your wife; it needs a real big team to make it happen. You’re the key member, for sure, but that team has to evolve and work with you to make it work.
JM: It is a team sport and it takes a good team to win. The ones that have a good team at home, whether it’s your trainer, wife or family and friends, even the people you ride with and the people that help out on the track, there’s so many involved and when you do finally do well you realise just how much is behind it.
Stephen, where do your Finke wins of ’83 and ’86 rank for you in light of your overall career?
SG: Very highly. And alongside the Finke wins is my ability to do most things, a bit like Ben Grabham these days. I’ve road raced, I’ve done Finke, I’ve mountain biked, I’ve raced sprint cars and won an Australian Midget Car Championship and I think that I’ve got pretty good all-round ability but I’m maybe not a super specialist in one. I liked everything. Dirt track, for instance: I won an Australian championship in that as well because I just love the whole thing and I love speed. I just like going fast. When I initially went to Finke, it was way different from what it is now. In ’79, when I first went there, it was 66 kilometres of road that was wider than this room and two corners that you backed off from wide open. It was crazy. When you think about it now it’s just stupid, but it was just insane back then and I thought, “Wow, this is great.”
Because today’s motocrosser is more of a specialist, and I’m not knocking you [to Jay] for that, you’ve got to put more focus to be better at a class and I think it’s got more depth now. But back then we did more things and we enjoyed that and our sponsorship needed that, too. So because you’re specialising you don’t have to have to do everything these days. It’s a shame that you don’t have a go.
JM: Maybe towards the end of my career I’ll be able to because, as it is, we do motocross and supercross and that’s what we’re paid to do, and if you win those titles that’s kind of enough. At the end of my career I might get the opportunity to do it with someone and I’ll probably give it a crack, but for now I just think, given what my sponsors expect and they’re paying me to go out there and win a championship, if I hurt myself at something that other riders specialise in they’d get the shits about it.
SG: And you have to spend so much time out there learning the track [at Finke]. Those KTM boys go out there two or three times before the event and practise for a week and Jay hasn’t got the time for that.
JM: They’ve worked it out now. They know that it needs the top mechanics out there and they know what’s needed for the bikes. I remember the first few years there with KTM, the mechanics were coming home and saying to me, “We’ll have to do another bike up because we just can’t find the speed. Some guy on a 500 just keeps smokin’ us.”