WHAT BROUGHT YOU BACK TO THE UNITED STATES? I left the United States in 1999, and since then I’ve come back six or seven times. I like to visit America. A few times in the past I came specifically to watch the Anaheim Supercross opener, because that’s really exciting to see in person. The most recent trip brought me over to see my friends, and also because of the beautiful weather. My son, Zach, is really interested in riding motocross, so it’s the perfect opportunity to get some riding done in Southern California and visit with old friends.
DOES YOUR SON WANT TO FOLLOW IN YOUR FOOTSTEPS? It’s his choice. I’m not pushing him in that direction. I do think he has an interest in racing as a career. Actually, when he first started riding, I wasn’t so happy that he found an interest in motocross. It was nice to see him enjoy the sport, but having been through it myself, it made me very nervous. I had to deal with a bunch of injuries and hardships when I raced, and I don’t want to see Zach go through that. The worst thing in the world is to see your child get hurt. In the beginning, my dad put Zach on the bike when he was 5 years old. He rode for some time, but then he lost motivation for a few years. When he was 8, he rode the French Championship and got good results. Then he became involved in other activities and again lost interest.
DID YOU EVER WANT TO PURSUE OTHER SPORTS AS A CHILD? For me, it was very different. When I was young, there really weren’t many other activities to do. I was so focused on motocross. Now, there are so many different things that kids have become interested in. Zach was involved in tennis, basketball and all other kinds of sports. For the past three years he maintained his riding and competed in some races, but they were local events. Now he thinks that motocross is what he likes the most. Last year, he raced about 20 times, and he would like to race even more this year.
WHEN I WAS RACING PROFESSIONALLY, I DIDN’T THINK ABOUT ANYTHING BUT MOTOCROSS. THAT WAS WHO I WAS. I DON’T WANT MY CHILDREN TO BE SO CONSUMED BY ONE THING.
DO YOU STILL GET THE OPPORTUNITY TO RIDE? I haven’t ridden a whole lot in the past two years. From 2007 to 2009, I raced the French Enduro Championship. After that, I rode for Honda of France for two years and competed in the Touquet Enduro. I placed fifth in 2009, and I won the event in 2010. After that, I stopped racing. My body had taken enough punishment, and my wife and I also had a third child. I still love riding, but my shoulders and back always hurt afterward.
WHAT OCCUPIES YOUR TIME? I have my own tracks in my area, so I help kids with their riding technique. That’s what I love to do now. A huge benefit is that I have a lot of time to spend with my family. Even when I was young, I realized that family was important to me. Now that I’m a father, I’m even more appreciative of family. Most of the time is spent with my kids.
DO YOUR CHILDREN HAVE ANY IDEA OF YOUR RACING SUCCESS? Not really. I still have old videotapes from when I raced 125 Supercross and won titles in 1995 and ’96, but my kids have no interest in watching them [laughter]. They don’t care! However, since Zach turned 13 this year, he’s beginning to realize what I’ve done as a racer. It’s funny, because my son went to the races with me in the last years of my racing career, but he didn’t ever watch me race. He played around with his friends in the pits. I didn’t mind, though. Zach is very good at school, and he’s an excellent designer. If he needs my help for racing, then I’ll offer my advice, but I see motocross differently now. There are so many other things in life. When I was racing professionally, I didn’t think about anything but motocross. That was who I was. I don’t want my children to be so consumed by one thing.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON SUPERCROSS? Nothing else compares to Supercross, and I’m talking about the Grand Prix series and the AMA Nationals. Supercross, with the tracks and ambiance, is amazing. It’s interesting that when I watch a Supercross race, I don’t remember that I used to race those tracks. I’m like a kid when I’m watching Supercross, because I sit in awe the whole evening. It’s something that you can’t find anywhere else. I would love to find the time to attend many more Supercross races. Watching a Grand Prix race is fun, but it’s not Supercross.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CURRENT STATE OF THE GP SERIES? I have bad thoughts about the GP series. I don’t like it so much. There are good things in the GP series, but now many riders have to pay and they don’t get any purse money. After the top seven or eight riders, the rest of the racers have to pay in order to get on a team. Plus, Youthstream takes in lots of money from the sponsors and organizers, but they don’t give any of the money back to the racers.
I’VE ALWAYS BEEN ON THE SIDE OF THE RACERS. YOUTHSTREAM SHOULD GIVE BACK TO THE RIDERS, NOT TAKE.
AS A FORMER WORLD CHAMPION, IT MUST HURT YOU TO SEE THE GREED. I’ve always been on the side of the racers. What I like about racing in the U.S. is that the riders are given prize money. In Europe, only a few guys really make any money. That’s sad. I also don’t like how the races are held all over the world just so Youthstream can make more money. The travel is too expensive for teams. Youthstream should give back to the riders, not take.
UNDER THE CURRENT GP SYSTEM, WOULD YOU HAVE SUCCEEDED? Had things been the way they are now when I started racing, I probably wouldn’t have had a motocross career. My parents didn’t have any money, so there is no way that they could have paid 50,000 Euros for me to get on a team. Only a really talented rider, such as Ken Roczen, would make it, because he’s so good that he wouldn’t have to pay a team.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR MASSIVE CRASH AT THE 1996 ATLANTA SUPERCROSS. The first thing that went through my mind when I jumped off the bike midair over that triple was that I was going to lose the championship. The flagger was on the right side of the jump, and the downed rider was on the left side of the landing. Just as I was about to take off on the jump, the flagger waved the yellow flag. On the face of the jump, I saw the guy on the landing, so I chopped the throttle. The bike went into a nosedive, so I jumped off. At that time I was leading the race and also the championship. John Dowd was my main competitor, and he was really close in points, so I thought that my title run was over when I hit the eject button. I was lucky, because the dirt in Atlanta was really soft.
YET YOU STILL WON THE 1996 125 EAST SUPERCROSS TITLE. I twisted my ankle and hurt my back, but the next week I won the first 125 outdoor moto in Gainesville. Then I came back and won the 125 East Supercross title. It’s strange how injuries happen. I didn’t get hurt from that crash, but I broke my knee while racing in Europe and I wasn’t even going 10 miles an hour. That happened when I was trailing Stefan Everts by eight points in the 250 World Championship with three races to go. I lost the chance to win the title. That’s racing.
DO YOU REFLECT ON YOUR YEARS OF RACING IN THE U.S? I still think about my time spent racing in the U.S, especially with my wife. We were young, and that was a very good time in our lives. We have fond memories, and the lifestyle was quite a bit different from France. In Europe, we don’t have the good weather and access to lots of tracks. However, it’s the past. I try not to think too much about it, because then it makes me feel old.
DO YOU HAVE BAD FEELINGS ABOUT HOW YOUR AMERICAN RACING CAREER ENDED? I was happy with how I did it. I knew when I came to the U.S. that I wouldn’t be living here the rest of my life. Like I said, family is important to me, and I always planned to return home sooner or later. I came to America because I wanted to race Supercross. That wasn’t readily available in Europe, and I still don’t understand why they don’t have a Supercross series. As for my career, of course I could have done better. I know that I made many mistakes, but I did the best that I could.