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Star Crossed Big air, big crowds, big-time street cred with teens: What more could motocross need? A few more whiz kids like Chad Reed to meet the soaring demand for good riders

May 27, 2002
May 27, 2002

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May 27, 2002

Si Adventure

Star Crossed Big air, big crowds, big-time street cred with teens: What more could motocross need? A few more whiz kids like Chad Reed to meet the soaring demand for good riders

It might not have appeared so at the time, but Chad Reed's
approach to elementary school in Kurri Kurri, Australia, was
brilliant. He would spend much of his time in class with his
nose buried in a three-month-old American motocross magazine--it
takes a while for mail to reach Kurri Kurri--all but oblivious
to what was being taught. His parents didn't think it was the
wisest course of action. "I was always threatened, 'If you don't
pull your socks up and do well at school, then we're going to
take the bikes away from you,'" says Reed, regarded by many as
motocross's Next Big Thing. "But never once did that happen. My
parents realized it was something I was good at and I loved."

This is an article from the May 27, 2002 issue

As it turns out, riding is now a skill every bit as marketable
as those other three R's. Motocross and its indoor cousin,
supercross, are enjoying a huge surge in popularity. NFL-sized
crowds are the norm, the sport boasts a handful of wildly
popular stars (most notably Ricky Carmichael, Jeremy McGrath and
Travis Pastrana), and numerous big-ticket sponsors want in.
(Chevy Trucks and SoBe are on board.) One problem: The supply of
good riders can't keep up with demand. "There are more factory
rides available than there are good riders," laments Suzuki team
manager Roger DeCoster. "I would like to have a couple more
guys, and I am ready to pay them a good salary [in the range of
six figures]. There are riders available but not capable of
winning."

If there's one thing DeCoster knows, it's what makes a good
rider: The Belgian won five world championships in the 1970s and
is still known in racing circles simply as the Man. DeCoster
also knows how crucial a talented rider is to a team's success.
"In car racing the car is 90 or 95 percent of the equation, and
five or 10 percent is the driver," he says. "In our sport more
than 50 percent is the rider. The equipment is so good among the
top factory teams that any of the top riders could switch brands
and the results would be pretty close to the same." That would
explain why motocross is the one form of motor racing with Gen Y
street cred, a NASCAR for the extreme-sport set. It's the man,
not the machine, that matters most, and with some Knievelesque
jumps on each course--as well as a thumbs-up to the cute girl
here, a look-no-hands there--a rider can interject a little
personal flair into the proceedings.

If a team does find a rider, keeping him on the bike for long is
tough. The sport has plenty of turnover, thanks largely to the
frequency with which riders literally turn over. The pits at a
motocross event are filled with young ex-riders whose life story
includes a chapter about "that time I broke my back,"
unapologetic daredevils such as former pro Mitchell Donovan,
who, after a horrific 1999 crash that put him in a wheelchair,
told the Los Angeles Times, "If I had done this in a car crash,
I'd kill myself, but because it happened biking, I can deal with
it."

Few pros compete past 30, and even the 32-year-old McGrath, a
seven-time Supercross champ and a motocross icon, has lasted
this long in part because he has given up outdoor racing.
Consequently, in their search for good riders, U.S. racing teams
have become increasingly willing to give chances to the young
(like 16-year-old James Stewart, who won this year's 125-cc AMA
West Region Supercross series championship), the foreign (stars
like Sebastien Tortell and David Vuillemin of France, and
Ernesto Fonseca of Costa Rica) or, in the case of Reed, both.

Reed started racing in Kurri Kurri, a small town about an hour
and a half north of Sydney. He got his first bike when he was 3
1/2 and was winning races by age five. School became an
afterthought, and his parents realized that attempting to change
their son's priorities would be futile. As a result Mark and
Robin Reed didn't pitch a fit when their son left school at 15
or when he decided, after winning two Australian Supercross
championships, that he would move to Europe in 2001 to race in
the 250-cc World Grand Prix series. They weren't too keen,
however, on the idea that his girlfriend of three years, Ellie
Brady, was moving to Europe with him. "I grew up being told
girls were bad for racing," says Reed, "but you need people in
your life, and Ellie's a great person. At times it was tough for
my parents to accept me having a girl in my life. At one stage
me and my parents' relationship kind of fell down the drain."

Reed and Brady moved to Belgium, and his second-place finish in
the Grand Prix series earned him a ticket to the States, where he
promptly wrapped up the 2002 East Region 125-cc title by winning
his first six races. "He's really mature for being just 20 years
old," says Phil Alderton, president of Troy Racing, for which
Reed competes. "He's confident, his conditioning is there, his
speed is there, he gets good starts when he needs to, and he can
dig deep when he needs to."

Two weeks ago, in Glen Helen, Calif., Reed made his eagerly
anticipated debut on the AMA Outdoor Nationals circuit and showed
just how deep he can dig. After finishing second in the first
moto (a race consists of two segments, or motos, each of which
lasts 30 minutes plus two laps), Reed was involved in two pileups
on the first lap of the second. He was well out of the top 20
after that lap, but he moved up to sixth by the end of the moto
and placed third overall in the event. "Some of the best
champions were guys who could go fast without looking like they
were going fast, with Roger DeCoster being a perfect example of
that," says Duke Finch, the AMA Motocross race manager. "That's
something that impresses me with Reed. He is so smooth."

So smooth, in fact, that in April he signed a two-year deal worth
upwards of $1 million to ride a 250-cc bike for Yamaha in 2003,
when he is expected to challenge reigning wunderkind Carmichael,
22, for the AMA title in that division. His life is looking up
away from the track as well. He and his parents get along fine
now. He's still got Ellie, and the two are almost ready to move
into their second house, in Southern California, one that
promises to make the couple feel, in Reed's words, "really
homey." His international journey to the pinnacle of his sport
has made up for anything he might have missed as a kid. Says
Reed, "I've learned more about myself and more about life in
general these last two years than I did in my whole entire life
in school."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER FAST AND FURIOUS In his U.S. outdoor debut, Reed (103) proved to be the wheel deal, finishing third in a 125-cc race in San Bernardino, Calif.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER AUSSIE ACE An indifferent student growing up Down Under, Reed has been a speedy learner on the track.
The pits are filled with young ex-riders whose life story
includes a chapter about "that time I broke my back."