SHANE MCELRATH INTERVIEW: MAKING THE JUMP TO THE 450 CLASS FOR 2021 SUPERCROSS
Shane McElrath and Chase Sexton battled hard until the final round of the 2020 East Coast Supercross Championship and ultimately, Sexton was able to snag the title. Of course, Sexton already had a factory Honda 450 ride lined up, but Shane McElrath was fighting to earn a 450 ride for 2021 since he pointed out of the 250 class. After his second in Supercross, Shane would go onto to finish a very credible third overall in the Pro Motocross series. With the delay of the 2020 seasons and the uncertainty of what racing would look like in 2021, it has been an even tougher battle for riders to find a team for next year than usual.
The Smartop Bullfrog Spas Motoconcepts team manager Tony Alessi and Shane had been talking. After riding the 2020 Honda 450 bike, Shane was signed. The factory HRC Honda team will pilot the all-new 2021 CRF450 next season, but the MCR team will stick with what they know and race on the 2020 CRF450. Hear from Shane about his 2020 season, his time with Star Racing Yamaha and his initial opinion on his new team in this MXA interview.
By Jim Kimball
CONGRATULATIONS ON SIGNING WITH MOTOCONCEPTS. WHEN DID YOU FIRST START TALKING WITH THE TEAM? It was probably the beginning of outdoors at least, when we originally talked to them and at that point, there were still so many things up in the air. We were really just focused on outdoors and everything was still somewhat cinched down because of COVID and everything. So, a lot of teams were still not sure what they were going to do, and if they were even going to be up and running. They expressed interest in me around the beginning of outdoors. I just started sitting on things, like “okay, we will get back to you”, and the same with a few other teams. I was just trying to focus on outdoors and finish the series good. I finished the series the best I ever had, and that was my main focus. We ended up talking back and forth with MotoConcepts more so I would say since the last outdoor round and that was October 10th. That has been over a month ago now, and then we really started talking to them. Supercross is not that far away and we are late in the year, so we have to really get things in line, and figure out what we want to do. I got to ride a few other bikes, and the Motoconcepts bike was by far the best bike. I was super impressed with it, and super happy about it. We were able to come to terms on working out the deal, and we are super excited about where we are at. I felt like this was the best opportunity that I could have had for the situation, and we are excited about it.
WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON RACING THE 2020 HONDA 450 AS OPPOSED TO THE ALL-NEW 2021? There is not much out for the new Honda, and I know a lot of people are waiting on stuff. That was something that MotoConcepts told me right off, that they are planning on just staying on the 2020’s because they have the bike dialed in. They have a lot of time into this bike and they believe in it – and it is a really good bike. Vince Friese is going to be racing the new bike to help develop it, but the rest of us are all going to be on the 2020s. They say the 2021 is working really good so far, but the fact of the matter is that we are really close to the season and Vince is still riding his stock because they are waiting on stuff to be made for it. So, it is definitely a time crunch, but they are going to adapt as it plays out this year. I think it is a pretty good idea.
THE MOTOCONCEPTS TEAM ONLY RACES SUPERCROSS RIGHT NOW. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS THAT? Honestly, it is not a bad thing, but truthfully, I want to be good at outdoors, and I feel like I am good at outdoors. I just am overlooked. The bottom line is that we spend most of our year on Supercross so then when it comes time to race outdoors, it is like “okay, let’s jump on the bike, set it up a little bit and go race.” I certainly don’t want to be known as a “Supercross guy”, but that is what I have given people to go off of. It is a bummer, but I really enjoy racing both. I like the change of pace and the grit and grind of motocross.
DID THE TEAM BEING SUPERCROSS-ONLY WORRY YOU? I don’t want it to sound like I was not interested in them at all, but the Supercross only part, I really did not like the idea of that. I did not want to go that route unless we had to, but once I tested their bike, I was like “my gosh, I can’t believe how good the bike was.” Then I thought “okay, let’s see what we can figure out.” It is still a Supercross only deal but I feel like that is going to set me up the best for my career. It has given me the best opportunity I could have had going to the 450 class. We still have the option to negotiate stuff for outdoors if we decide to do that. Personally, I want to race outdoors, but I also want to make some money. I am not going to go race outdoors and not get paid. We got some work to do, but I am super excited for the team. I feel like it is a solid team and the equipment is very good. It has been really good getting to work with them and Mike Genova. They are really smart guys and just being around them a little bit, I really see that, so I am super excited about it.
ALTHOUGH THE MCR TEAM DOESN’T RACE SUPERCROSS, THEY HAVE SHOWN THE CAPABILITY OF RUNNING UP FRONT. I feel like I am just starting my career, and this is my best shot now being on the Motoconcepts team. That could change down the road. I am not saying it will. I am not saying this is kind of where we will be forever. I am just getting started in the 450 class and I am super excited about it. I feel like I am in a good position and have a very good opportunity just to develop. I don’t necessarily think of a certain result or a certain number, but I feel like I can ride the bike very well. I am a pretty smart racer, and I am pretty well developed in the 250 class. That is going to help me adapt to the 450 class better than I would have any other time.
HOW HAS IT BEEN WORKING WITH TONY ALESSI? Injust a couple of days of working with him I’ve learned that he is very, he is very smart. He is a good mediator between everybody. He is super transparent, super open and I am super impressed with it. He is very smart, very good at knowing what to talk about as far as bike wise. I have never known the Alessi’s personally but just getting to know him a little bit, he seems like a really nice guy and really dedicated to wanting to do good and perform well. I am impressed so far, and Tony definitely knows his stuff.
WITH ALL THAT HAS CHANGED, HAVE YOU TAKEN ANY TIME OFF? Well, actually for the last two weeks after the final round, I was testing bikes. And then over the last two weeks, I had a week off completely pretty much, but we were moving out of our apartment because our lease was up. Then last week I went to North Carolina for a men’s retreat. I really got to get away and spend some time with some of the other guys in the industry and got to spend some time in the Word and fellowship and grow with each other. That was really cool and that was really refreshing. I had two weeks of downtime, and now I’m back training.
YOU MENTIONED BEING OVERLOOKED IN OUTDOORS, BUT YOU STILL FINISHED THIRD OVERALL IN POINTS. Well, the bummer part is that we had a shorter series. We had nine rounds and it was later in the year. I was bummed that it was only nine rounds because the last couple of rounds were really good for me. Every weekend I was changing the bike and was getting the bike a little better. I was getting closer to the bike being dialed in and getting better. I did end up third, but I guess the individual races did not necessarily tell the story of the progress we were making. I had two podiums and had maybe four fourth place finishes. I was super consistent compared to what I have been in the past. As a racer; this was my seventh-year racing. My last year in the 250 class, I was on the best 250 team in the paddock. So, fourth place in my eyes was subpar. Even my two third place podiums were subpar. I should be higher than that, but what it comes down to is that I never really put together those “good rides”. It was a little rollercoaster all year and just that little bit cost me some podiums. It cost me one position and that was really my biggest thing. I learned a lot this year, and I had to take on a lot which I am really thankful for and really excited about. But the results do not necessarily show I guess how my year progressed and was actually a lot better than in the past.
ONE THING YOUR RESULTS DO NOT SHOW IS THE BACK STORY, YOU MADE SIGNIFICANT CHANGES GOING TO STAR RACING YAMAHA. It was a big change. I am still super thankful about that, and super excited about it, but I don’t want that to come across as an excuse either. It was the first time we really changed anything big in five years, so it was a huge change. But personally, I expected more out of myself out with that, but honestly, the change part was way deeper than results. It changed me as a racer. It changed me as a person. It changed me as a husband and in many other areas. Certainly, on the track was one of those areas, but I guess the part that a lot of people don’t see is everywhere else where it changed me. Some people are saying “Shane had it, he threw it away”, but it was like there was much more to it than just the results on race day. It was a big change in every area of myself and my wife’s life and we are so excited about it. Again, we expected more of ourselves. We wanted more results wise, but results wise, we still did pretty good. But we also grew in so many other areas and that is what we have to be thankful for.
IS IT TRUE THAT THERE WAS SOME POSSIBILITY THAT YOU WOULD BE ELIGIBLE TO REMAIN IN 250 SUPERCROSS FOR 2021? We brought that up like early on, before we even went to Salt Lake. I won the first two rounds in Salt Lake and that put me over the point limit. Going to Salt Lake, we were like “okay, we are just going to go do this”. At that time, there where was so much up in the air with the races. Were we even going to get to race, and what if we only got to race some, and then we had to cancel the rest or what? So, we just brought it up like, “hey, what if this year was just scrapped for everybody points wise”? Feld was okay with it, but they wanted to talk to AMA about it. The AMA was open to it but what it came back to was that they wanted all the teams to vote on it also and it got voted no, which is fine, especially after Salt Lake ended. I was not really counting on that happening, but we did not hear anything about it until at least halfway through outdoors. There was talk about it, but we had to work forward as if we were not going to stay in the 250 class. Like I said, we were not counting on it reversing but they were definitely addressing it.
DYLAN FERRANDIS AND CHASE SEXTON BOTH HAD AWESOME 250 CAREERS, BUT YOURS WAS SO CLOSE. THEY HAD BIG OPPORTUNITIES FOR 2021. ON THE FLIPSIDE THERE SEEMED TO BE VERY LITTLE 450 OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOURSELF, WHAT IS GOING ON? I don’t really know. There is a lot of speculation about that and everybody has their opinions about it. It is an issue because we are trying to race, make money and have a job really. There are a lot of people that have the potential to do that and the bummer part is, there are some guys that make a lot of money. The industry is tough. Everybody in the 450 class, in the top ten at least, are all past champions. For us this year, it was not a good year to move up because there are no rides. Also, anywhere we were going to go, it was only going to be a one-year deal because a lot of contracts are up next year. a lot of guys that are racing right now have been racing for quite a while. There are rumors of some people wanting to retire after next year. It is just this spot in our industry right now that is just so caught up and the class is just packed.
THE MOTOCONCEPTS TEAM SEEMS PRETTY CLOSE KNIT; DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS ON THIS? From what I am hearing, yes. I know that they do team dinners every Friday night. I know that they do spend time together as a team. As far as riding wise, we all go to the same track every day and ride. As far as training I am pretty sure we can do our own training deal because they have not pushed anything on me. I brought up about still training with Swanie (Gareth Swanepoel) if that was a possibility with them, if I could work something out and they were like, “yeah that is fine”.
TONY ALESSI SAID IN THE PRESS RELEASE THAT HE WAS HAPPY TO HAVE YOU NEXT YEAR, THAT’S PRETTY COOL. It makes me really happy and excited. This is a big transition for me, and I feel like as a racer, you need to be confident. You need good equipment; you need a good program. You need a good team, and I think from the outside, that gets looked over a lot. Once I tested their bikes, I was like “If I am going to be competitive, it is going to be on this bike”. That was really what got me excited and helped out my confidence. I feel like I am a pretty good racer. I have not raced many of the guys in the 450 class. I am definitely excited to get in there and really to see where we stack up, see where we can start and just build from. I don’t think I can beat all those guys, but I don’t necessarily think they are going to wax me. I don’t really have many expectations at this point. It is like “let’s keep learning the bike”. The 450 is a lot of bike to handle, and a lot of bike to get used to and then racing it is a totally different ballgame also. I am on a very good bike and I believe that the whole package is going to set me up really good. This team is going to help me be confident and help me to build each round. Like I said, I don’t have any expectations, but I feel like I can be really competitive.