Interview: Chad Reed on his career, Carmichael, Stewart, MXGP, Cairoli and Herlings

Chad Reed has experienced almost everything in his long career. Adapting to GPs at 18 then winning in America and battling arguably the two best American’s to ever race in James Stewart and Ricky Carmichael for supercross titles. Reed has first hand experience and knowledge of all aspects of the sport.

Coming back to the Paris supercross proved to be a great chance to see the Aussie legend race again and we also had the chance to catch up with Reed for over 30 minutes to discuss his career as well as a wide range of topics with the articulate and thoughtful Australian, who has two AMA 250 supercross titles to his name, a world supercross title, a 450 US outdoor title and a 125 East supercross championship plus that sole GP win when he came second in the 250cc World championship in his one year racing GPs in 2001.

You can listen to the podcast (go here for iTunes) or read the full transcript below:

Chad Reed, you are back where it almost all began in that cross-over between GP and supercross and racing Jeremy McGrath (here at Paris in 2002), how pivotal was that night for you in terms of believing in yourself that you could do it on the American stage?

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Truthfully, I don’t know if that particular night was good or bad for me. I think that night probably defines how I thought, my biggest idol ever (McGrath) and he left the door open and I threw it in there, we made contact and both crashed but I went on to beat him for the rest of the weekend sand also, for the most part, the rest of his career in the US. i was a young kid with a full head of steam that wanted to win races and do the best I could. so I don’t no that that weekend is good or bad but think it was consistent with the rest of it.

I’m excited to be back, almost a year and a half without taking supercross gate drop. Riding by myself I feel okay but the real test will be when i line up elbow to elbow and there’s a race intensity and i think the race intensity is probably what I’ll lack but that just comes from racing but i think outside of that it should be a fun weekend. (Reed went on to acquit himself well in race conditions going 6-5-7 over the three motos for a solid sixth overall).

Have you missed racing? Is that part of the reason you are doing this or have you been relatively content watching your kids start racing?

I would honestly say i have been content. I really haven’t missed racing because I have been so busy doing other stuff. I have been doing some amateur racing at some local area stuff so that need to race/ride or whatever, I feel like I have been watering that in other ways. I can honestly say at a professional level I haven’t missed racing but this was a timing thing. I always believe things happen for a reason and things come about because of where you are at in life and for me, I was just riding and I was kind of wanting to get back into shape a little bit so it was just perfect timing to come and race.

And watching your kids race, how does that compare nerve wise to racing yourself?

Waayyyy more nerve wrecking! I can honestly say for the 265 or whatever it was starts that I did, I don’t know that I was ever as nervous as watching my children race. Especially when, my 11 year old is on an 85, and he is starting to push those boundaries of wanting to go faster and do the bigger jumps that gets me a little bit scared but it also excites me so hopefully he figures that out quickly so i can be a little bit more at ease but yeah, i really enjoy trying to help and watch them do their thing.

Do you feel now you can understand more what your dad went through as he watched you take the steps in your racing?

Definitely different perspectives of my childhood comes up coming back to the races with your own children. my dad, if I was to describe my dad, he was always super committed to me but always very highly strung and stressed! And I never understood why and i think i have a different understanding and perspective of why (now) just because the travel to the races , the anxiety of your kid riding at such a high level and pushing the limit and all those things. i understand that side of my parents a lot more.

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Moving on to Tony Cairoli and what he has done this year winning a GP a 36 years old and even the Nations along with nine world titles, i know you know him and are fairly friendly with him, what are you thoughts on him and his career, you know about riding into you mid-30s as well!

Tony and I are great friends probably the past ten years we are quite close and communicate, whether I go back and stay and hang out in Italy or whenever they are in the US, but yeah, amazing career. It’s tough, when you get older, everyone talks about age that at a certain point it’s a drop-off. I don’t know that it’s a drop-off but it’s the feeling and the pressure. You think you have pressure as a young kid trying to make it, I think the pressure as an established great, and there are only a few of those, right? And I would put Tony in the greats, to sustain being great, to sustain trying to win more titles, there’s far more pressure and I felt it, and I see it in Tony and I see it in Valentino (Rossi), trying to succeed at that level being older, I think that that wears on you and it’s like every race is your last race and it’s that feeling that the time is getting away from you. And sometimes you put so much effort into trying to win because you feel the clock ticking so I think it’s kind unfair to feel like you are getting older and then that clock ticking.

I wish the world was a little more quiet in telling people, ‘you’re getting old,’ because I don’t think it’s matter of old, I really don’t. We seen Tony this year already win a GP so can he win? Yes, but it’s that ability of sustaining it and knowing that it’s going away and that’s what’s hard.

Image Pascal Haudiquert

We are seeing it a wee bit more, you have done it, Tony has done it, Tom Brady in the NFL, Ronaldo and Messi in football mid 30s and a very high level, Tom Brady in his 40s…is there a reason for that in this generation?

Tom Brady I feel like is the exception, I feel like the higher the pressure the bigger the game, the better his is. But it’s also not fair to compare Valentino, Tony, myself, because you are an individual and when you have a team of people willing to take some of that burden.. Tony and Valentino are only as good as they are right? Tom Brady’s badass and he probably brings the team up but if those guys are not catching the ball then it doesn’t matter how good he is, right? I always think team sports are a little different and it’s hard to compare but Tom Brady is badass, 42 I think he is, it’s pretty impressive.

Moving to your career, for me what you did in the GPs in your first year to get second was almost as amazing as winning those 250 supercross titles – although Gordon Crockard still isn’t happy that you beat him to second place in the last round of the year,(Reed laughs), he said you cost him a lot of money! What were your thoughts on that season and did that help prepare you for America?

Gordon is still asking for beer money! I would agree that my first year was as good as.. well, winning is winning right? I think more for me, I expected to do well but the year started out pretty tough, but I got better and better and I was constantly a podium guy. I won Lierop, one of the toughest GPs of the year, so when I look at that year, from where I came form to where I finished, I learned so much. From that point was really the start of going forward, going to the US and things like that.

It gave me the confidence I could achieve my long term goal. i would say that Europe has always been valued to me as one of my most important, pivotal years of my career. Ellie and I were really excited to spend the year here, I learned so much from Shayne King, Jan de Groot, Pichon, Gordon, all those guys. I was a big sponge and I learned a lit and that set me up for the rest of the career.

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Your first year in the 250 class as it was then in America in 03, Carmichael then maybe had a a bit of intimidation on everyone else but you weren’t intimated at all. You probably should have won that year, did you have any doubt going into that season that you could be that fast?

Yes and no. The young version of me, yes, I thought I could do it. But was the expectation to go win a title? No. I don’t know that I truly believed, and probably why I lost is because of that. I think that it was round three or four, I won the first race, I was second in the second one and then I really struggled. I had a bad start and i was young and all i wanted to do was to get the front and I got sixth, and when you look at the points difference, that one race was the difference. It was learning, would I change it? I wouldn’t because it was just part of the process but yeah, i believed that i could win, I believed I could be as good as Ricky, but did I believe i could be a champion in 2003? I probably lacked that belief a little bit.

Did winning it fulfil your childhood ambitions in terms of euphoria, the year you won it in 04 finally?

Yeah i mean it’s just accomplishment. You set for so many years of your life, you’re like, ‘ I want to go to America, I want to go to America, you want to be supercross champion and to achieve only in year two was quite a big accomplishment you know? I hit the ground running; the team, the bike, it was a really good era. Yamaha was really strong on two-stokes, Jeremy kind of built Yamaha and I kind of inherited that and took it to another level. That was really fun for me to think of my childhood and looking up to Jeremy then to be able to take it from that a little bit was really exciting, it was fun.

Image: Yamaha

And 05, I often wonder what if you had went to Suzuki instead of Ricky, I read you had that option, I’m not sure how close it was, but do you ever look back with regret or are you okay with that?

I wouldn’t say regret. Honestly, I never had the contract in hand. I rode the bike, Ricky, I think in a lot of ways they really wanted Ricky and I think Ricky was probably wanting to go that direction but I think he was also using it for leverage with Honda. I think I was part of the leverage, I think I was almost the back-up plan. So I rode the bike and it was a good bike, probably riding the bike hurt me more than not because I knew how good the bike was. It was basically a Yamaha, the cylinder head was basically a Yamaha, the linkage was a Yamaha the motorcycle rode like a Yamaha, the engine was a little bit better than ours. They were going into year two, 2004 was the first year of unleaded. Our bike (Yamaha) in 04 was a really good chassis but the engine was so-so, where (in 05) it was the opposite, I had rode the Suzuki, realized the engine was good, when I stayed at Yamaha I made them aware. I said, ‘guys, I rode the Suzuki, their engine is so much better than ours, we need to work on it.’ So our engine was really good in 05 but then our chassis was shit.

I don’t regret it because it was never really an option because Ricky took the deal and then once he took that there was no budget to take both of us. But you always wonder had that progression happened, where would your career have gone but yeah, it was exciting. we were switched out a little bit, I had spent many years having the better bike than Ricky, I had better tyres, better bike and then in 05 he had the same tyres and I really think he had the better bike so it was a little bit of a role reversal. It was a bit of wake up call of how things change, a learning part of my life really.

Those wins (in 05) Orlando was maybe the biggest supercross race ever and you won it and you had just beaten Ricky at Daytona. You didn’t win the title but those wins must be really special to you looking back?

Yeah, those two you talk of were really special because Orlando was really the first race of all three of us, me James and Ricky. The hype was…to this day I have never entered a race with so much… you could feel the tension. Individually i think that moment meant a lot to all of us. So to win that race was really special, because no-one can take that away from you, you won the first battle. Then yeah, of course, Daytona, Ricky was always so strong there and I kicked his ass! That was such a good race. If there was any race throughout my whole career where you know hot the marks and you didn’t leave anything out there, it was just, boom, boom boom, lap after lap. Really just turn for turn, going for it. And that’s how you want to race, that’s the feeling you thrive for.

Regarding the MXGP world championship this year it was five, then three, then two at the last round. How did you view that series and Herlings delivered under pressure, because you had a similar experience in 06 when it came down to the last round

When you go into the last moto tied up, it’s nerve wrecking. I feel a little bit sad for Romain, the last two races are sand. I mean, at that point you are really pushing. For him to come out and think it was those last two races and the first of the two races, he won the first moto, at that point that’s impressive. Yeah, Jeffrey crashed or whatever. I don’t think it’s a matter of you are lucky or you’re not but I say that Jeffrey was very fortunate to have a lot of teammates throughout the last four races, we see Tony pull over twice, teammates are nice to have in that scenario, because if you take the teammates away, Jeffrey doesn’t win, you know? But you can always say woulda, coulda, shoulda, right?

What is your view on Jeffrey? Because on speed is probably one of the fastest ever but he has had all these injuries but he is very tough then on the other side to come through all that and win again, what is your assessment with him?

(laughs) “I agree, he’s badass, but when you talk about the greatest people in the sport, I don’t know that you put him in that group. Speed wise, yes, but I mean the titles don’t lie, he has two. In my opinion he only has two titles. Lites are Lites, I don’t count them and maybe he wins the next five…he’s getting old now…what age is he? (27). Oh he’s not even old, I thought he was older than that because he’s been around for so long!

But yeah, when you look at dominance, dominance in my opinion is controlling and understanding how to win world titles or championships. He has not yet achieved that in my opinion, but as far as a badass on a motorcycle and what he can do? One of the greatest at that.

Would you say he is like Stewart but in the World championship? A lot of speed but some crashes?

It’s hard to compare. For me I’m team Tony, and I’m not against Jeffrey but if you were to put me out there and I was to take a lie detector test, I’m team Tony always. And that’s my era so I am always going to gravitate towards that and I think Jeffrey is part of the new era. So it’s hard it’s always hard to comment on that without sounding disrespectful because I’m not disrespecting what he’s done, but there’s a category and I don’t know that I put him there…yet.

(Andy McKinstry) You made a name for yourself in GPs and are an Aussie. The last couple of years in GPs we have had Hunter and Jett coming through, Mitch Evans and Jed Beaton, do you see any similarities with them guy and yourself? Also in the future I could see Australia contending for an MXoN win…

A victory…Des Nations is so difficult. I have been on so many Des Nations teams when we should have been an easy second or third potential went for the win. Des Nations comes down to so many different things, luck is a big one but luck comes from every individual understanding the big picture and every team I’ve been on we always fall short on that. In 2011 we were on the podium, I won the first moto but even that weekend we should have been easily second my teammate didn’t get to race the first moto because the bike broke. I don’t like saying luck because luck in racing, you kind of create your own but in so many ways it’s seems the exception that Australia has really bad luck at Ds Nations.

But yeah, there is so much talent. Can all that talent come together on one day? It’s yet to be seen. I know the Lawrence brothers quite well because I have got to know them but previous to the last 12-18 months I really didn’t know much about them. I met Mitch last time here for the first time and Mitch seems like a good kid, this year seems really rough with a wrist injury. I think Mitch seems like he has the ability to do quite well but he needs to get on the right side of the preparation and working and bringing the luck to you. Why he is having injury after injury I don’t know.

Jett seems like the obvious. He is the youngest the one with the most success at this point but I didn’t know them as children because I was always abroad and I was so busy you don’t have that connection with what is happening at a lower level but I am excited to see more Australians coming through.

I have a question that you might be able to answer. The Australian and New Zealand riders seems to be able to adapt well to GPs but the Americans seems to struggle more obviously Osborne and Mike Brown the exceptions. Why is that when the level of the US Nationals are closer the the GPs than the Australian series so what is is that makes Australians be able to adapt to the World championship or Europe better than Americans, to me it shouldn’t really be like that?

I think there are a few things. The US way of racing is difficult to replicate that here. I think Americans never have to change much. They grow up on tracks that are similarly prepped in their amatuer and pro career. A lot of the team structure, amateur and pro is the same. Dunlop tyres are from amateur to pro. So when you come here, (MXGP), the way you need to ride the bike, the way you need to ride the tracks is so different and no-one has done that. And not because they don’t want to but because they don’t have to. Why would any American need to come to Europe? And that’s a real question not a disrespectful one, but why would you ever want to come here or need to come here because the goal growing up is to be your own (champ in own series), the series is so big you never have to go anywhere.

Villopoto is the exception, he came here as a good guy. But he came here because he was made to come, i don’t think he came here by choice and so I thin the Ryan VIllopoto that we know wasn’t the same Villopoto here. i think the Villopto that I know can win here, 100%, there’s no doubt in my mind.

Have you told Tony?!

I’ll tell Tony (smiles). And I think if you ask Tony, in the right scenarios, I think Tony admits that Ryan is a part of the badass group I do believe that. No-one at the top level has tried to come and make a career out of it here so it’s a tough comparison.

It’s so different as well…

It is yeah and getting back to your question of Australians, Australians have to be good here. If you don’t do good here you never get to stay here or if your goal was like me, Jett or Hunter, if you don’t succeed here you don’t get to go to America. Europe is make ot break, so there is so much more emphasis, yo are willing to change. Australia is a good blend of Europe of America, it’s not one-side so I think that’s why Australians typically succeed more here.

But then in the big scheme of things, what Australian has really succeeded here and won? Jeff Leisk, myself, Andrew McFarlene, no-one else has been successful. No one else has won races or challenged for titles. Being good and getting a good ride is one thing, winning races, being on the podium and contending for a world championship is another thing. Andrew did that, I did it…although I didn’t technically contend for a title because Mickael was so much better. Had I of stayed and went for a world title in 2002, then we would have found out if I was good enough or not right? (laughs). Hunter was good but didn’t contend for a world title, again not being disrespectful but going by the data and the numbers, they don’t lie.

Image: Simon Cudby

Going back to your career, I interviewed you after you won a race in 2014 on Kawasaki then you got hurt the next race in the whoops, I was starting to think that was maybe the end of your career at that point. But you kept coming back year after year and you still had the speed for the majority of that. What kept you coming back? Obviously that was another injury getting on in your career and you were still able to come back. What kept you coming back? Was it because you still believed you could still do it or did you just really, really enjoy it?

Again, no regrets. But when yo look back at the shoulda, woulda, coulda. 2012 I feel like I’m worthy of a championship that year with me and Villopoto going back and forth and that’s when I crashed and blew out my knee and 2014 was another one of those years where I was only two points shy of the championship lead. Villopoto and I had separated ourselves away, we were really strong we were beating up on Dungey and Stewart week after week so at that point you put yourself in that, okay, it’s between me and Ryan, one of us is going to be champion. You put yourself in that category and without the injury could I go on and be champion? I think there is a good chance. So to come back from that injury, I think at that point you acknowledge time is ticking, I am 30 or 31, the clock is ticking away and those moments are, you don’t necessarily say they are coming to an end but you understand times is going on.

It was kind of just another chink in the armour, I don’t know that is was I’m done racing. The reason for my longevity, I just enjoyed racing so much, I oved it. All the way to my last race, I loved it. I didn’t see nothing else. I think of Villopoto, Carmichael and Dungey being 26/27. I always think how at that age did they just walk away because I never could. But then maybe they felt what i felt where something comes across you like, ‘I’m good.’ And that never came across me until that last season. Going into the last season I was like, for me it was you start acknowledging what you did and at that point I think it’s over. You’re reflecting and you are happy and you have that good feeling of, ‘wow, time flew by and I really appreciate the battles and the things I got to achieve,’ and at that point you stop thinking you want to kill everyone, you want to win everything and I think at that point that was me acknowledging that’s me, I’m done.

I haven’t missed racing, I’m excited to race this weekend but it’s a very different scenario. I don’t have that pressure of the qualifying, the heat races, the practice times. You know you are in the main event, it’s about going and racing three main events and enjoy it. That part, I enjoy, if I had a past champions exemption and i could go to 16/17/18 supercross races and just race main events, I would do that, I actually would still do that. But I don’t enjoy the bullshit side of racing anymore.

A question on next year’s supercross series, I’m not sure if you are doing any but Eli Tomac is switching to Yamaha, teammates with Ferrandis, Ken Roczen not changing anything, Cooper Webb no Aldon Baker. What is your take on the changes, does Eli need to change teams? Does Roczen need to change nothing and Webb leaving Aldon as well?

Kenny needs to change something, that’s clear. What that is is to be determined. We have all seen him be so worthy of a supercross championship but fall short on a few minor details. At that level it’s not like he needs to change many things, it’s just maybe one little thing here, one little thing there that will make the big difference.

Eli i think needed the change, I think there was some bad blood at Kawi. I think a change will be refreshing. Will it be the answer? We don’t know that yet. Web stepping away from Aldon… I have yet to see anybody leave Aldon and be successful. Nobody has left Aldon and been more successful or as successful as what they were with Aldon.

Every championship I ever fought for was with an Aldon athlete. So, anybody that has a foot in the door and leaves, everyone has their reasons and that i don’t know but man, I don’t know, history says that it’s not a great move, right? But if you want a longer career you have to acknowledge you can’t sustain that ability of work out. And I’ve never been there so I don’t know what that is.

Would you have liked to have worked with him?

I would have liked to. If I was to do a race next year and this is is not happening necessarily but I would love to race a race at 40 and I would love to do a bootcamp with Aldon to race that race. Just because for 20 years I raced against him.

I missed out by one day. At the end of 2010 I left Kawasaki and I called him to see if he would be my trainer because it was when he broke up with Stewart, and the day before Ryan Villopoto called him, so I missed it by one day. It’s one of those things, I don’t regret not working with him but it would be really exciting to work with him for one race. For me it’s not about that sustainability of week after week after week. It’s more just going and understanding and really getting to work with someone who is considered the greatest in that position in our sport.

Jeffrey did that in 2017 then dominated in 2018 using some of those methods…

Yeah, correct right?

Final question Chad, who was your most intense rival? Ricky? Because that seemed quite spiky 03/04 and obviously James it was a longer period. Who played on your mind the most or who did you feel the most intense towards?

They are so different but they are equal I would say, both of them, it’s hard to say one or the other. The big difference is James had not many, but more weakness than Ricky. Ricky seemingly, from the outside, just never had a weakness. Like a fighter, when you feel like you had him on the ropes, and right as you are ready to try and knock the dude the f**K out and put him out and win, he just found a way back – always! Right when you are okay, you are wearing, wearing, wearing and you are thinking, ‘I’m good, I’m good,’ He would just come back stronger and find something that was another level and you are just like, ‘where did that come from?’

James had the ability, his speed was unbelievable. There were days when you just had to acknowledge you just couldn’t go that fast or the unwillingness to die to go that fast! And so some of those days, I would basically because I was for the most part and easy second, and when he was that good, sometimes I would pull back. And sometimes when you pulled back that’s when he would make the mistakes.

Do you think that is concentration on his part?

Yeah and that was his weakness. Sometimes you would be throwing down lap after lap, after lap and I would be like, ‘ i don’t know if I can go this fast,’ and sometimes if you just let him go and almost gave up and somehow, two laps later, he would somehow cartwheel and you would be like,’ alight that’s it!’ And it didn’t always happen but there was a chance of that, but more often than not he went on and won the race. Somehow there was that concentration weakness that Ricky didn’t have.

And when Ricky crashed he didn’t really get injured somehow…

Yeah, somedays I feel Ricky crashed, harder, bigger more, but he always did it at the right time. he would crash on press day, he would crash in practice or he would crash in the heat race and always just find a way to be okay in the main event.

His bad day was second or third and really third, just always second and a guy that you are going toe-to-toe in the championship, that’s what taught me to be there. I feel like I became consistent nd needing to be there, seconds, seconds, seconds, thirds, thirds thirds when you couldn’t win, you had to be on the podium just because of what I learned from Ricky.

It’s hard to say, but Ricky probably gets the nod of most intense because of the ability to find everything you had to beat him.

Imterview: Jonathan McCready

Cover image: Pascal Haudiquert