Interview: Mark Jones reflects on his career, life after racing and coaching

When Mark Jones reflects on his Motocross career he can be happy with what he achieved in the sport. Coming from Wales, Jones ended up travelling the world racing Motocross in the GP paddock and even had the opportunity to be a factory rider.

One thing Jones has is plenty of experience and he’s now involved in coaching to try and pass on some of the things he learnt to the young talents trying to follow in his footsteps.

We caught up with Jones to discuss his career, life after racing and coaching plus much more.

Gatedrop: Mark I believe you were forced to retire from Motocross in 2009 due to injury, can you remind us what the injury was – I assume it was a big blow as you probably wouldn’t have wanted to retire due to injury?

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Jones: Yes that’s right, I had to retire in 2009 due to a torn ACL which was pretty disappointing as it was early in the season. I’d had in my mind that I’d have a couple of years left in me but with a failed reconstruction and the thought of another operation plus more rehab I then decided to retire. Rides were sparse, wages were decreasing, Emma and myself had bought the local pub,  I had a family to support and injury upon injury to recover from.  I couldn’t have physically continued to race if I’m honest and it took my body 7 years after retiring to be in any condition to start racing again at the VMXDN 2017.

Gatedrop: Since you retired, away from Motocross what sort of things have you been doing with your life?

Jones: Well my wife Emma and I had bought the local village pub to renovate and reopen at the end of 2008 so we went all in to running that. We then ran that for a couple of years building that up then eventually leased it out so we could spend more time as a family as Jake our son was young. It also allowed us to concentrate on renovating the flats upstairs to rent out and we’ve carried on building the property portfolio since. We now have 2 pubs and other rentals. I also worked for Emma’s fathers company for a couple of years as a mains layer, working on gas and water, I worked away 5 days a week which wasn’t ideal as we had just had our second child Gwen. I finished there so I could commit to building my coaching business.

Gatedrop: Looking back at your Motocross career, to get on the podium at World Championship level, that must make you proud?

Jones: I must say I am very proud of it, sharing the podium with Fred Bolley and David Vuillman in my first full GP season, plus beating riders such as Beirer, Bervoets, Hughes, Maschio, Jorgenson, Coppins, Pichon plus other greats was something else. I almost had another in the last round in Germany but missed out by a point or two, it would have been a Radson Honda clean sweep with Everts, Bolley and myself.

Gatedrop: You got on the podium in 1999 at Czech Republic. Can you talk me through your moto’s that day and how it felt to be on the podium?

Jones: I had two pretty decent starts that day, I remember it being pretty manic the first few laps but I made quick passes and just rode my own race, I think I had a 4th & 6th. As I crossed the line after the second Moto the team were jumping up and down as I pulled in, I knew I had a good ride but didn’t expect the podium. Riku Vaahtera my mechanic threw his arms around me and shouted “podium, podium” for him to get excited was pretty special as he was as cool as a cucumber (laughs). The feeling of jumping on the podium with two guys I looked up to when I was in the youth ranks was something else, a Welsh farm boy standing with two French legends.

Photo courtesy of Mark Jones

Gatedrop: Looking back at your career are there any other races that stand out when you look back? Can you talk me through them and explain why they were important for you?

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Jones: Obviously the Czech Gp with my podium and the round in Germany at Gaildorf 99 (4th overall) it just felt like I couldn’t put a foot wrong I suppose, passing riders like Bervoets, Jorgenson, Pichon and Maschio, guys I’d watched at home when I was 13/14 and I’d just smoked by them and left them, I’ve had other really good rides but that sticks out for me.

Gatedrop: You were team mates with Stefan Everts. What was it like being his team mate and what sort of things did you learn from him? He’s one of the best ever if not the best.

Jones: He was pretty tough on me I guess but if it’s what it took to get results then it’s what I needed to do. When I’d stay with him we would go for a cycle before riding, Stefan would be on his Cannondale road bike and I’d be on a mountain bike with the fattest, nobbliest tyres for extra drag so I had to push harder. We headed to Switzerland for some engine testing, we finished off with two 45 minute moto’s at the end of the day and I changed kits into a mesh vented UFO kit, this did not go down well, he went nuts saying you need to make training as hard as you can to make race day easier and you know what, that stayed with me, just ask Jamie Lewis And Brett Hillman my old training buddies, I was kind of tough on them as I knew that’s what it took. He made me mentally tough, he taught me to train smart and to always do your motos. I have to say, I learned a lot from Ryno as well, we trained a lot in Italy both on and off the bike, he was very focused mentally and was also strict on motos. They were tough times physically and mentally but they shaped me.

Gatedrop: You raced for a number of teams during your time, if you had to pick the best term you were on in terms of how comfortable you were who would you choose?

Jones: Hmm, that’s a tough one, PAR Homes with Paul Rowlands in 2006 was good, a relaxed atmosphere which helped, I had a really good working relationship with my mechanic Dave Morgan and one of the best motors I’ve ever had built by Steve Clitheroe, it was a good package and we also had some good results in the GP’s. ARB Kawasaki with Mark Bishop was also good, relaxed again and we didn’t have much support but still had plenty of Podiums in the Maxxis that year.

But I guess riding for factory Honda with Dave Grant and getting on so well with Riku Vaahtera it was a recipe for good results. Also, Pamo Honda, what can I say, working alongside the Japanese guys it was something else. Pre-season testing in Italy, box vans full of parts to test from cylinders to seats to gear lever lengths, bars, sub frames and more, they built the bike around you.

Gatedrop: When you look at the British Championship paddock now compared to when you raced, it feels like there was a lot more support and teams back then. What would you put this down too and what do you think the ACU can do to help improve things?

Jones: Yeah for sure there was a lot more support back in my day, I think the manufacturers have felt the pinch and it’s been a knock on effect. Again it’s down to money, bikes, kit and other accessories that you need to go racing are expensive, I don’t really see much of an increase in wages but prices are creeping up every year.

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I don’t think there is a lot the ACU can do, they have the races televised which helps with sponsors for the teams, what else can they do to help teams I really don’t know. If you win the ACU British Championship then you are rightfully “British Champion” but I guess at the moment its the only thing they have that’s keeping the riders and teams there and it’s a shame. I remember 50 odd riders having to qualify to get in to the main race with decent crowds, I checked up on the results from one round last year and I think there were only 20 odd riders in each class, sad times. I haven’t been to a British Championship for a long time but I can imagine the crowds are dwindling as well, harping back again but, in the MX2 and MX1 around 05/06 you’d have 8-10 GP riders in each class which was also a big pull for crowds, maybe another thing it’s down to so many championships running in the UK at the moment.

The best move I’ve seen the ACU/Gareth Hockey make for a while is bringing the youth in alongside the big guns, it’s great for the youngsters to see what’s involved, plus what it’s going to take for them to succeed and also to ride proper tracks.

Gatedrop: When you look at the sport now compared to in the past, what are the main changes you see?

Jones: Reverting back I suppose the amount of championships again, a lot of races and not a lot of product available as everything has tightened up. Tracks are another big thing, call me old fashioned but what happened to GP’s being at tracks like Roggenburg, Sverepec, Foxhills, Gaildorf. Luongo and money once again, hard standing paddocks, man made tracks, say no more.

Gatedrop: Do you watch what’s going on in MXGP? What’s your thoughts on the level at the moment?

Jones: I check out the qualifying on the Saturday then watch the highlights on YouTube after the race on Sunday just to keep up to speed. The guys in the top ten are going really fast for sure, I think it tapers off the further you head down the field though but this is due to the fact that it’s no longer the fastest 30 (when they can get 30) on the gate, bring back start and prize money then see how quick the start gates will fill plus you will have the fastest 30 guys turning up to get in to the main race. Jumps are getting bigger, the bikes are getting faster and for sure it’s getting more dangerous for the riders, making tracks more technical/old school will bring better racing but will also make it safer for the riders.

Pic: Nigel McKinstry

Gatedrop: You carry out training schools now, how are they all going and what do you try and focus on with the riders you coach? (coach any young talents who have a good future?)

Jones: Yes, I’ve been coaching for about 6-7 years now and I really enjoy it, it’s nice to pass on your knowledge to young up and comers to help them succeed, you need to have had the experience yourself to pass on the right information to these guys like line choice, braking points, body positioning, mindset and also to know how capable the rider is and what they are capable of so you can get the most out of them. Having GP experience is a big asset when it comes to coaching as it’s the highest you can get in the sport so you know exactly what it takes to get there. You can’t beat experience, that’s a fact!

Things were going good before the lockdown thanks, it’s great to see my guys improving every week. I try to focus on corners, keeping momentum and being smooth, keeping up on the pegs and not abusing the clutch. Body positioning is also a key factor plus line choice, you need to always look for good lines as the track is forever changing. I’ve had a few British Champions and I have some bright prospects coming through also, fingers crossed with the right help and mindset that I’ll have a few more British champions.

Interview: Andy McKinstry

Pics: Nigel McKinstry/Mark Jones