JOHN BASHER’S INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: JESSICA PATTERSON
Easily one of the most successful woman racers of all-time, Jessica Patterson called it quits on a motocross career after amassing seven titles that spanned from 2000 through 2013. However, she didn’t hang up the boots. Instead, JP$ turned her attention to GNCC off-road racing. It hasn’t been an easy transition for Jessica, who admitted in our conversation that her legs are just too darn short for offroad racing. That hasn’t stopped Patterson from winning, although much less than she would have liked.
Nearing the eve of her retirement from professional racing, I sat down with Jessica in her motorhome on the day before the Unadilla GNCC to talk about life, women’s racing, and whether she thinks a female will qualify for a Supercross main event.
What have you been up to, Jessica? I’ve been doing some offroad racing. There was a big break in the GNCC schedule, so I’ve been trying to keep busy. Eddie wanted to go to Loretta Lynn’s and he talked me into racing there. This year I’ve been trying to improve my offroad riding ability and have fun with it.
How hard was the transition to GNCC after racing motocross for so long? It has been good and bad [laughter]. GNCC racing is pretty tough. It’s a very challenging thing to race, but I have enjoyed learning. I like the whole atmosphere of off-road racing. Our team is great, which definitely helps. This year I’ve had some good races, but also some where I really struggled. The technical courses have been hard for me, but I’m better than I was last year.
How do you improve your technical riding skills? Eddie and I live in Travelers Rest, South Carolina. It’s a really good offroad riding area, and there are tons of places to venture out. The mountains are pretty tough. There’s nearly every different type of riding by where we live, and I go train with some really good guys. I hate going to the mountains, because it’s so hard, but it’s really good for me. I have found the best way to improve my skills is by riding in places where I’m very far from my comfort zone. I watch and see what my riding buddies do, and then I try to follow their lead. My worst area is the rock section. I’ve learned not to panic. I shift up a gear and stand up. The rocks will bounce me all over the place, but as long as I keep my momentum then I usually get through.
“THE GIRLS ARE REALLY GOOD, AND THE COURSES HAVE BEEN CHALLENGING. I DON’T THINK OFF-ROAD RACERS GET ENOUGH CREDIT. THEY MIGHT NOT BE THE FASTEST MOTOCROSS RIDERS, BUT THEY CAN FLY THROUGH THE WOODS.”
As a multi-time women’s motocross champion, why take the plunge into offroad? People think I stopped racing motocross because the series was cut down, but I had made my decision well before that happened. I had done all that I wanted to do in motocross. During that time I did a couple offroad races at the end of 2013, and I wanted to try it. GNCC is something I’ve always wanted to do. So I tried it and had a lot of fun. I actually won the first race I entered. The funny thing is that I didn’t realize how different the racing became the farther north the series went. However, at that point I liked my experience. The girls are really good, and the courses have been challenging. I don’t think offroad racers get enough credit. They might not be the fastest motocross riders, but they can fly through the woods. Yamaha gave me the chance to race, and Randy Hawkins welcomed me with open arms.
How do you prepare for a GNCC in comparison to racing motocross? When I practice for GNCC I’ll do four laps, but those laps are 20 minutes long each. In motocross, I would hammer out motos, but then I’d pull in after 20 minutes and take a break. GNCC requires a lot of endurance. To me, practicing for offroad is a lot more fun than motocross. On a track you’re pounding out lap after lap and things are pretty serious. I have a good time riding off-road.
Do you miss motocross? I do. When I go and race motocross I really enjoy it more now than I did in the past. Don’t get me wrong, I liked my time in motocross, but after doing it for so long things became a grind. I was getting tired of it. You could say that absence made the heart grow fonder. Motocross seems fresh again when I get the chance to race it. At the same time, I’m glad that I chose to step away from racing motocross.
“I THINK IT’S A BAD DEAL FOR WOMEN’S MOTOCROSS WITH WHAT’S GOING ON RIGHT NOW. EVEN WHEN THERE IS A WOMEN’S NATIONAL ON THE SAME DAY AS THE MEN, THE SERIES IS SO HIT AND MISS FOR THE GIRLS. I WISH THEY COULD FIGURE SOMETHING OUT TO MAKE IT BETTER.”
You left motocross at a good time, because the series was changed drastically. Are women racers getting a raw deal now? For many years we were a big part of the AMA Nationals, especially when both motos were on the same day as the men’s motos. I did leave at a good time. I feel really bad for the women racers, because there are some really fast girls that are coming up. If you could get them all together then it would be some really good racing. I know that things got a little boring when I was racing, because there were two stand-out girls [Patterson and Ashley Fiolek] and then everyone else. However, right now the talent level is close to equal. So, yeah, I think it’s a bad deal for women’s motocross with what’s going on right now. Even when there is a women’s National on the same day as the men, the series is so hit and miss for the girls. I wish they could figure something out to make it better.
You were the face of women’s motocross for a long time. Looking back on it, what was your impact on the sport? I’d like to think that I helped raise the level of women’s racing. Every year it seemed there would be some new girl that would try and threaten for race wins, and I would be the one to push to the next level to beat them. I always wanted to stay on top. At the same time, there were young girls and their parents checking out women’s racing. I tried to encourage those girls to giving racing a try. I told them that it’s okay to be a woman and race motocross. I wanted to give them hope. At the time I was doing my job, but in hindsight I tried to do as much as I could to bring more girls to the starting line.
“I’VE RIDDEN WITH A LOT OF GUYS, AND THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN RACERS IS THEIR LEVEL OF STRENGTH. TO RACE SUPERCROSS EFFECTIVELY YOU NEED TO HAVE MAN STRENGTH. IT’S SOMETHING THAT WE’LL NEVER HAVE.”
Vicky Golden reached a milestone for women’s racing when she qualified for a night program in Supercross this year. Is it possible for a girl to make a Supercross main? An outdoor National program? It’s more realistic for a girl to qualify for an outdoor National. I give Vicky all of the respect in the world for what she has done. When I was practicing Supercross for the X Games those years ago I realized how tough Supercross actually is. You can’t have a bad day in Supercross or you’ll end up in the hospital. I’ve ridden with a lot of guys, and the biggest difference between men and women racers is their level of strength. To race Supercross effectively you need to have man strength. It’s something that we’ll never have. In Supercross you need to be able to pull up on the jumps and be super strong through the whoops. The finesse isn’t quite there, either. That’s the major setback. Guys click up a gear going into the whoops and pin it. They can manhandle a bike. Women can do it, but not to that level. At the same time, all of the guys aren’t as gnarly as Justin Barcia or Cooper Webb. Vicky definitely has a chance to make more of the night shows. She just needs more time. Most of the Supercross racers get on a new track and click off laps right away. They do all of the jumps without an issue. I would like to see Vicky get in the mix with the guys and give girls hope. She probably doesn’t realize that she’s showing other girls what is possible. I hope girls realize that.
How are the people in GNCC racing compared to motocross? Everyone helps each other in offroad racing. The egos aren’t nearly as big. GNCC racers hang out together, whereas in motocross the riders stay in their area and don’t venture out. I understand that the motocross and Supercross guys are there to do a job, but at the same time, can’t you step outside of your boundary? It’s the complete opposite in offroad. The people here are nice, and the atmosphere is super chill. Naturally things get serious in the time leading up to the race, but other than that everyone is relaxed.
You’ve been racing professionally since 2000. When are you going to call it quits? This is my last year! I made that decision at the beginning of the year. I haven’t been as eager to train and prepare myself as I have been in years past. I still love to ride and train, but I’m not as gnarly as I used to be. I’m married now, and my priorities are changing. Eddie and I aren’t getting any younger, and it’s tough when the woman is racing. It’s not like I can be pregnant and racing motorcycles [laughter]. I wish I could race longer, and maybe later on I’ll do some races, but I want to start a family. I’d like to spend time with family and do some other things. Now is the time to do that.
Thanks for your contributions to racing. It was fun watching you twist the throttle. Thanks, John. I’ll still be around!