Interview: Jeff Emig on his career and racing Jeremy McGrath

We had the privilege of catching up with a legend of the sport in the 90s, former AMA motocross and supercross champ, Jeff Emig, and got to ask him a few things about his career, the battles with McGrath, that 96 outdoor duel, Stefan Everts and if champions are born and not made.

Read or watch below:

Early days and realising he could be a champion

I think probably around 1986 when I was still on minicycles I won a big race in Ponca City, NMA Grand national championship. That was a really big win for me and that was maybe the first time that I started to think further beyond what the next race is.

This article continues below

But as a racer you really only think about what’s next, and it’s really hard to really let your mind go too far. But from being a little guy, that’s all I wanted to do was go race and become a motocross champion around the world.

Supercross has really separated itself and has become a different sport to what Grand Prix motocross and Pro motocross in America would be and that really started to happen when I turned pro in the early 90s. You really saw supercross start to kind of be another branch of dirt bike racing that split off from motocross. I think in the future you will see more of a split, there are certain riders who will want to race supercross all year long and certain riders who will do motocross and take the avenues of Grand Prix motocross and things like that.

96/97 years – winning titles against McGrath

It was just a big confidence thing. One thing about racing supercross as opposed to motocross, is there is a certain ego, swagger and undying confidence (you need) in yourself. Some athletes have it and even if they have a bad day, they think they can still go win. And you have other riders who are having a really good day and they are doubting themselves. I think the riders that are the former, can just never lose that confidence and belief in themselves, they are the ones that excel at supercross.

I think I suffered from some of that, I doubted myself at times and once I learned not to doubt myself…and let’s be fair, Jeremy McGrath has gone down in history as the greatest pure supercross rider ever. His win record, his championship record is second to none.

To me there were multiple nights I would go home from the race really disappointed. But, on the flip side of that is when I was able to win some races and eventually win the premier supercross class title in America, it was really satisfying. To know you beat the best during his prime has a lot of value.

Outdoor title battle 96 going into the last round with McGrath

There was no doubt in my mind (he would win that final round). You just have that feeling, at that point it was a tug of war and he passed me on the first lap and I was like, ‘nope, this ain’t gonna happen.’

This article continues below

It was like a tug of war and I pulled the number one plate towards me. I knew at that point that I had broke him and that I was going to do whatever it took to win that day, I was going to do it. I spent the rest of the day with him just off my shoulder and balanced out the risk/reward and did what it took to win.

How the 96 MX and 97 SX titles compared

Supercross was different. That 96 MX championship was a big hurdle, a big obstacle to get over. When I won the supercross title I was in a bit if disbelief to be honest with you. Winning the supercross title felt like a pay-off to all the sponsors but the motocross title to me really in my heart held a lot of value.

End of the career

Surprisingly, I was at peace with it. When I had my back injury, my spinal injury at Glen Helen in 2000, there was this, I call it my racing spirit. At first I thought I was paralysed and then I realised I wasn’t, I felt a lot of gratitude. I realised I was going to be okay. But this thing inside of you, this spirit that rages, the fire that burns, right then, it left me. It’s not lost on me my significance of my recovery because other friends of my and competitors weren’t so lucky with that, so I fell I am really blessed to have recovered health wise like I did and it has to come to an end some time.

Stefan Everts and Liam

Stefan Everts and I both came up through the ranks at the same time. We always had a lot of friction, at MXdN we always got together and had some really good battles. We chat periodically now, whenever I am in Belgian or a GP, I go spend time with him and it was so great to see over the last month, Liam’s success. I even reached out to him. It’s really a generation family thing with them, and to see Liam achieve one of his goals of winning a Grand Prix race was pretty good to see. We will have to see where he goes from here, now the next step is to put some more together and have run at a world championship. You would think if Liam can be blessed to do that, that will be pretty cool for the family.

Are champions born to be able to rise to the occasion when the pressure is on?

This article continues below

There has got to be, yeah, because there are a lot of people that do the work but the champion does it differently. The champion is wired differently and is willing to go that one step or two steps further, whether it be training or preparation or whether it be risk or focus or just straight up determination or will to win.

Even here in Villa Park, there have probably been 100s of matches when the other team was better and Villa found a way to win, it’s just a sheer determination and will, and I feel I have certainly done that a couple of times in my career.

Interview: Jonathan McCready

Archive images