MXA INTERVIEW: SHANE MCELRATH TALKS ABOUT HIS DECISION TO SWITCH TEAM FOR 2020 SUPERCROSS AND MOTOCROSS SEASONS
By his standards, the 2019 race season was difficult for Shane McElrath. So much so that it inspired the North Carolina native to look toward his strong christian values to help guide him forward. Putting himself on the open market, Shane would sign with the omnipotent Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha team. Switching up almost every aspect of his race program, McElrath now hopes this is what propels him to his first 250 Championship. He has been close before, but now he may have all the minor missing ingredients to earn a number 1 plate.
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BY JIM KIMBALL
SHANE, LET’S START WITH YOU JOINING THE MONSTER ENERGY STAR RACING YAMAHA TEAM. WERE YOU SHOPPING AROUND, OR WAS IT ALWAYS THE BLUE CRU THAT YOU WANTED ON? It all started around the beginning of outdoors, when I actually did not know of a direction that I wanted to go. It was just more so seeing the places that I could go too. I actually talked to Mitch Payton at Pro Circuit; it was back towards the beginning of outdoors, and it was just that he was already full. At that point, Adam Cianciarulo did not know if he was moving up or not. It was around the beginning of outdoors when I was in contact with Bobby Regan (Star Racing Team Owner). I don’t want to say it progressed rather quickly, but it was encouraging to have a fresh opportunity to maybe look forward to. I had been stagnant for a while, and we just had problems all around us. We were dealing with a lot personally, and it was just a rough season or us altogether. Mentally and physically it was defeating. But to get to talk to a few different teams was very uplifting and encouraging, because I did not really know what my career was going to look like in six months down the road. It was a tough decision, but we finally agreed on something towards the end of outdoors and decided that we were going to take that step of faith and not look back. I have just a one-year deal, that is it.
WAS THERE A POSSIBILITY THAT YOU WOULD REMAIN WITH THE TROY LEE DESIGNS RED BULL KTM TEAM? Yes, I did have my same offer that I had from the previous year. As a Christian, I believe that I am called into this world to be a light of love on people and to be obedient to the Lord. But with where I had been, I was not aware that I was somewhat going through the motions, and just going through a repetitive state. It was really scary to think about; I don’t want to say I was wasting my life, but I don’t want to settle. I want to be obedient to the Lord. When all this first came up, it was really scary because I had been comfortable for the last couple of years. It was like, “I don’t want to make any changes”, but at the same time, things were not going so well. It was scary in a sense that I don’t want to be disobedient because I believe that God has me where he has me for a reason, and I want to use the platform that I have right now, because it is not going to last much longer, whether it is one year or five years.
YOU’RE RIGHT, THERE IS NO GUARANTEE THAT YOU’LL HAVE A RIDE NEXT YEAR IN THIS INDUSTRY. Motocross is a short career span. I want to try my hardest. I really don’t want to say that I love to win, but I really hate losing. I can’t stand losing on anything; and to me, I love the team aspect. I love working alongside people and working with people who are all going in the same direction, wanting the same thing, and pushing each other. With that being said, it was me somewhat steering away from that the last couple of years, just based off choices we had made. It took us really this whole year of having a rough season to realize that we had gotten ourself in a situation where we were too comfortable. Unless something changed in our minds, and unless we looked at something different, nothing was going to change. It was something that I prayed a lot about. We just really felt this tug on our heart that we wanted to take a step out, not necessarily to any specific team or what. We just were in a position where we were too comfortable and we needed to be woken up.
AS A 250 RIDER, ARE YOU ALSO LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE AS FAR AS WANTING THE BEST OPPORTUNITY RIGHT NOW, AS WELL AS A FUTURE 450 RIDE? Yes, absolutely. It is really coming down to the end of my 250 career. It is a tight industry, and a hard industry to do well in, especially at the level that you need to do well in to have a good career. Going back to this year, it was very humbling, because I thought I had really good stuff happening, but I realized that I sold myself short in places. I left a lot on the table. With how rough of a year we this year had, I did not really know if it was me having all the problems, or if it was the bike having the problems. It was really a tough pill to swallow, because as a racer and as somebody who has a big spotlight on them most of the time, I don’t want to take a step down, I don’t want to embarrass myself, I don’t want to put my pride aside, but that is kind of the scary part. Where we were, there was a lot that I was not sure of. Anybody in this industry can tell you that most of the time, it is somebody else’s fault. I hold myself to a high standard, and I hate to admit it just as much as anybody else, but I am willing to accept when I am wrong, and I am willing to apologize for things. But it is hard to do that, especially in an industry like this where so many things work together. If one thing fails than everybody failed together, so to take the blame on that is hard, but that is where I was. It was to the point where it was like “Dude, I don’t know if it is me, but I know something just does not feel right.” We kept searching and trying.
WHAT WAS YOUR MIND SET WHEN IT CAME TO MAKING THE SWITCH? My mindset going in to switching teams was “I don’t know if it was me or not, but going to a different team, I know that they have good bikes. I know they have good riders; they have good set-ups. So, if I don’t perform, it is on me.” I accept that 100%, but just the not knowing feeling needs to be gone. It is time to really put it in gear at this point in my career. I have to do something now if I am going to do anything.
IN MANY CASES, BEING A FACTORY KTM RIDER IS CONSIDERED THE PINNACLE RIDES IN MOTOCROSS, BUT YOU WANTED TO MOVE ON. Yes, that’s true, and I don’t want to say that it is necessarily the team or KTM. I grew up on KTMs, and just to see how they operate is amazing. It is a professional business, and that was one of the cool things about it. There were a lot of things that I did not do really well, and I took for granted. But they were willing to work with me. But recently, just from the faith side of it, I was at a point in my life where I needed a change, because I did not know what the future looked like. I did not feel like I was done, but I just needed change. As selfish as that sounds and as bad as that sounds for the other side, it is hard to explain it. Like I said, as a Christian, I was more afraid to be disobedient, than to keep being comfortable and go through the motions.
THERE IS THAT OLD SAYING THAT CHANGE IS GOOD. YOU WERE ON YOUR PREVIOUS TEAM FOR A LONG TIME. Yes, obviously I am on a different bike, but I am also on a different suspension set-up as far as I was on air fork, and now I am on spring fork. I am in all different gear now, the only thing that stayed the same was the boots. I have a different trainer, and so much newness that it is so encouraging. Every day it is like a new challenge, and a new opportunity; like what is today going to be like? Before, everything was so repetitive, not necessarily that it was wrong.
“WITH REALLY EVERYTHING NEW, IT IS AS IF I FEEL MY CAREER STARTED OVER, BUT I HAVE ALL THE EXPERIENCE THAT I HAVE HAD OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS, SO IT IS REALLY EXCITING.”
YOU OFTEN HEAR RIDERS AT YOUR LEVEL SAY THAT IT CAN BE THE SMALLEST CHANGES THAT HAVE THE BIGGEST IMPACT, WOULD YOU AGREE? A lot of people do not realize it, but to a rider, a minor change can be huge. Most people can go ride their bike, take it straight out of their crate, and they are like “dude, I love this thing.” Where we spend more time on a motorcycle, and if there is one thing off, even if it is like the handle bar position, the brake or the clutch position, one or two clicks from the suspension, it is something we notice big time, and it upsets everything. Sometimes we just need to do something backwards. But like the people who do not know how much we ride, it is like if we went out and rode the same track we ride all the time, then if we went around the track ten laps backwards, it would be like, “oh my gosh that was the best day ever” for us. There is really a lot that goes into it that people do not see. It is a tough industry to keep going in and keep making progress while you are still doing the same things. It is really hard to make those little changes, so with really everything new, it is as if I feel my career started over, but I have all the experience that I have had over the last couple of years, so it is really exciting.
DO I UNDERSTAND THAT YOU HAVE LEFT FLORIDA, AND RELOCATED TO CALIFORNIA? Yes, I am working with Gareth Swanepoel this year, and it has been really good so far. We did have to move to California. My Yamaha contract says is that I must reside in Southern California, so that was a tough decision. But like I said, we needed a change all throughout or lives. My wife and I kept our house in Florida for the meantime because we are not sure when we will be back there, or what the deal is. It was a quick decision that we did not really have much time to mess with. So, we got an apartment here in California, and everything is going really well. Everything is working together, working like a team, and it is really cool to be involved in.
SHANE, LET’S SWITCH TO YOUR RACING RESULTS THESE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS. YOU HAD A COUPLE OF SEASONS WHERE YOU WERE REALLY IN CONTENTION FOR A 250 SUPERCROSS CHAMPIONSHIP. Now that I have won races and been in contention at some point, it is hard to settle for anything other than first place. I feel like I have done pretty good over the last couple of years, but there are races where I got a podium, and I was just so angry because I feel like I rode terrible. It is a tough balance, but I’m looking back on each year, and just really trying to take the positives out of them. As a racer, I hate what the results say if it is anything other than first, regardless of how well you rode. I am trying to be a well-rounded person, a well-rounded racer and just really trying to make the most of this coming up year, because it is most likely my last year in the 250. I have to do something; that is really the bottom line. I need to put everything together that I have done in the year’s past, and then some. I believe that being on the Star Yamaha team, that I have a very good chances to do that, given their track record.