SHANE MCELRATH INTERVIEW: LOCKING IN FOR THE UPCOMING SEASON
SHANE MCELRATH INTERVIEW: LOCKING IN FOR THE UPCOMING SEASON
After joining the Monster Energy Star Yamaha team for the 2020 season, Shane McElrath was determined to win a 250 Supercross championship to ensure a spot onboard a 450 ride for the next year. While Shane won races with the red plate in hand occasionally, the Supercross series was won by Chase Sexton who was finishing out his stint as a 250 rider. While second overall certainly wasn’t terrible with a third overall in the 250 outdoors championship, it wasn’t enough to have any factory 450 offers. Shane eventually signed with MotoConcepts for 2021 but injuries would plague Shane’s racing season, only lining up for three rounds. At his first race back, he was upfront battling with Eli Tomac for the Heat Race win, but unfortunately, Shane’s luck continued to spiral downwards. Late this summer, McElrath was signed by the revised Rocky Mountain ATV/MC-KTM-WPS team. Recently, they put out a video formally announcing riders Max Anstie, Joey Savatgy, and Shane, detailing their new structure for 2022. To hear more, we called Shane at his Florida home.
Words by Jim Kimball
ARE YOU GLAD YOU GOT YOUR 2022 DEAL DONE EARLY BEFORE THE END OF THE YEAR FOR ROCKY MOUNTAIN? “That is the norm in our industry to work on things as quickly as possible. We had really started working on things after I was sitting out the rest of Supercross to heal up. I was trying to get ahead of things because with where we were after the 2020 outdoor season, it was mid-October, and we were still trying to figure things out for 2021. We finished outdoors and went straight to Supercross, so timewise, it was not very good for us. Physically, and mentally, it was a tough year already and to go straight back into it and deal with a few injuries, it was hard for me as a racer. So, we started talking early this year with the intent of not getting caught behind like we did last year. We are going to take advantage of all this time we have now and use it to our advantage. We signed in the summer. It was nice, and exciting to get that locked in because we could start planning right away. Mentally and physically, I am getting prepared.”
LET’S HEAR MORE ABOUT THE PAST YEAR. “For me, as a racer, it is one of those times where it was a horrible year, results-wise. The good thing about it is that I had good people behind me, and the MCR team gave me every opportunity that they could. The injuries were the biggest part, so my bike time was so low that it was almost the same as not riding, with how much bike time I had. We had a good opportunity with that team, and we just did not really do much. As a racer, it is embarrassing and disappointing because I put my life into this, and to continue to deal with things back-to-back and feel like you cannot get ahead, really weighs on you. I was just not going to get caught in the same position I was, because the year before (2020) we had worked so late in the year that I was so physically exhausted from that whole year. But right after outdoors, I had to start testing bikes, and figuring out where I was going for Supercross. It was hard to deal with those injuries, but we really learned a lot as people and had to grow up a lot. I have never had this much time off at one time.”
Shane’s stint of the MotoConcepts 450 was a short one, but he learned a lot.
AFTER ONLY LINING UP FOR THREE RACES THIS PAST SEASON, WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEING UPFRONT FOR ONE OF THEM? “That one race honestly kept me alive in a sense mentally and physically because at that point, I had only been on the bike for about four weeks since I had signed with the team. I was on the bike and got hurt. I was riding well but then I got hurt and I was off the bike for another four weeks. I came back at round seven in Orlando, and I had about two weeks on the bike. It was mainly making sure that I was able to hang on because of my shoulder. We were going to line up to race because I can’t really get much better than I am right now just practicing. I need to go get some gate drops and I need to learn to race the 450 class. I ended up qualifying well. On the starting line, I was nervous. I don’t know what is going to happen and I am just going to try to get the hole shot and we will figure it out from there.”
“I am trying to learn, I am trying to race, I am trying to figure out these riders in this class and so, it was a big undertaking and a big eye opener, just for where I had been coming from the top of the 250 class.”
HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THE BUTTERFLIES WHEN THE GATE DROPPED? “In my heat race I got the holeshot and just tried to race but at the same time, I had no clue what the race pace was. My timing was off, and I was trying to push, but I was clipping stuff and was over jumping stuff. Then I am racing against Eli, and I am thinking “This is really cool.” But I was not really prepared to do that. That was good but it was also a big eye opener. My second round at Orlando, the track was so tough. In the main, I rode a lot better. I was not in that good of shape at the time. I made some good passes on the way through the pack, but then I got passed a few times towards the end of the race. It was tough coming in and starting to race at those rounds when the guys were already in their groove and are dialed in. I am trying to learn, I am trying to race, I am trying to figure out these riders in this class and so, it was a big undertaking and a big eye opener, just for where I had been coming from the top of the 250 class.”
Shane’s last year onboard the Star Yamaha 250 was the best of one of the best years of his career, getting 2nd in the Supercross championship and 3rd outdoors.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TRANSITIONING FROM 250 TO 450? “I was pretty dialed in the 250 class. Really, the team (Star Yamaha) had a lot to do with it, but that was my seventh year as a professional in the 250 class. I really knew the class well. I knew the bike set up. It came naturally during the last couple of years in my career. I thought “okay, I am not struggling with the pace, it is more like, how can I really grow mentally and physically and just like really shape my race craft and move to the 450 class”. When I first got on the 450, I had no clue how to set a 450 up on Supercross.”
SOME SAY A 450 IS TOO FAST FOR SUPERCROSS. “I am not sure how fast it should be. It was not until two months into riding the bike, where I felt, “we need to kind of tone down the power a little bit.” We did and it made a big difference. It was a lot of learning that I did not really know was going to be there because it was not something I really encountered before. it was like one of those things that are out of sight and out of mind. I don’t know what is right, what is wrong, what should be this way, what needs to change.”
I HEARD SEVERAL RIDERS THIS PAST SEASON WERE ACTUALLY DETUNING THEIR 450S. “There are some Supercross tracks we get to, and we will see the 250 class qualify faster. Some people stay in second gear on a 450 in Supercross, even in the whoops. If that is the case, you are riding in just first and second gear, and that is it. When I was on the Star Racing bike, I could ride in first gear at times, and I would hit some of the whoops in fourth, and the whoops in Arlington, early in the year, I was hitting them in fifth. So, you can really use the whole power of the 250, whereas the 450, you are just barely hitting the gas. It is crazy how fast the bikes are and how tight the tracks are.”
While Shane was injured, he would continue to show up to the races to support the team.
WITH NO DISCREDIT TO THE MOTOCONCEPTS TEAM AT ALL, I WAS SHOCKED YOU DIDN’T HAVE ANY FACTORY 450 OFFERS AFTER FINISHING SECOND IN 250 SUPERCROSS AND THIRD IN MOTOCROSS. “My last year in the 250 class was my best year of racing professionals. At the time, it was pretty much like if I won the championship, Star Racing would make a spot for me, because they already had other commitments to other riders. I am not mad about it at all because it is strictly a business. All the factory teams were already filled, and, in my case, there were already three guys moving up to factory 450 rides. On top of all that, there are the riders with multi-year contracts. It was strictly the case of I did not win the 250 Supercross title, and there was no factory rides available. The opportunity that I got with MCR was really a good opportunity for the situation I was in, and frankly, I did not do that well with it. They are a great group of guys over at MCR and it went by so quickly that we did not even hardly get to work together. I raced three races, but only two main events; that is embarrassing and bad. It is hard to accept that, but I must use that for next year. I am thankful for the opportunity I got with the Rocky Mountain team.”
“Now, we centralized our lives a little bit and it is very nice and a lot less stressful.”
WITH ROCKY MOUNTAIN NOW, IS THE TEAM BASED IN FLORIDA? “Yes, the new part-owner of the team, Mark Lane, owns 83 Compound. So, that is our team headquarters now, if you will. My wife and I are back in our house here in Florida and just happy to have a set schedule for at least the next little bit of time, because in our industry things change so much. We moved out to California for the Star contract, and we ended up moving four different times during the past two years. Now, we centralized our lives a little bit and it is very nice and a lot less stressful.”
Shane looking incognito on his Rocky Mountain ride a few months ago.
HOW ARE YOU VIEWING THINGS AS WE HEAD INTO 2022? “I am really excited for the opportunity, and the state of the team because they are a team that has been around for a long time, and they have a lot of experience. This year is almost a restart and a refresh for the whole team. There are three guys now, a lot of new staff, and a new part-owner. We also started taking on some of the team aspects in-house, but we never took a step backward. It was a lateral step and now we continue building, so it is exciting to think about where we are at right now, and we are early December. We have time to build. We still have a few things to work out, but we are in such a good position that we are going to be race-ready. I am super excited, really given the time, compared to last year, it is like technically this is still my rookie 450 year. That is how I am viewing it.”
I’M ASSUMING YOU THREE AT ROCKY MOUNTAIN WILL BE RIDING AND TRAINING TOGETHER. “I have ridden with a lot of different people, and I have trained with a lot of different people, and I think it is important to me to always must learn new riders, learn new personalities, learn how does this guy do well, and what parts does he struggle in. I am always learning and studying, and the more people I get to ride and train with, the better because I get to take things from them and apply them to my riding and racing. If they work better, sweet, and if not, then okay, maybe I will keep doing this step a little different.”
IS IT AN ADVANTAGE HAVING ALL THE TIME YOU SPENT ON THE TROY LEE DESIGN KTM? “It is crazy because after getting off the TLD KTM and going to the Yamaha, that was a big transition, just based on the chassis. Going from a steel frame to an aluminum frame, took me longer than I thought it was going to. Now going back to KTM, it was right away like “okay I remember this.” I know what this feels like and what this is going to do, and it has been really encouraging. It is really stressless because I am not questioning “what does this do, what happens when the bike gets to this point?” I feel like it has helped me to start ahead of where I have been the last couple of years of switching brands.”
Before racing for Star Yamaha, Shane was previously on the Troy Lee Designs Red Bull KTM team.
YOU TOUCHED ON THINGS CHANGING BETWEEN ROCKY MOUNTAIN AND KTM, CAN YOU EXPAND ON THAT? ARE YOU ON FACTORY BIKES? “Technically no, we are not on factory bikes. It is something that is hard to explain but Factory KTM and KTM Corporate are changing their business model. Along with that is their factory-supported teams. It is not necessarily like a taking away of things though. Not much has changed other than a lot of the labeling of it, and the marketing side. The gossip is that the team lost this, and the team lost that but internally it is not necessarily the case. A lot of people like to speculate about that. It is a big change, I guess per the sponsors’ list, or per the contract, but all the logistics of it not so much.”
WILL YOU BE ON THE NEW FACTORY EDITION VERSION? “Right now, no. We had an option to be on it. The main reason we are staying on the old bike is that there are no parts guaranteed. We were told “we can get you bikes, no problem. It is the parts that we cannot guarantee” and the promise date of the parts was a little too close to the start of the season, and that was given everything goes smoothly. We will stick with what they have been on for the last couple of years, and all of us have been okay with that. It saved us a lot of time and a lot of stress and headache. We are just kind of picking up where the team left off.”
Rocky Mountain will be staying on the previous year model of KTMs for the upcoming season.
UNDERSTANDING THAT, WOULD IMAGINE THAT IT IS A GOOD THING TO BE ON THE CURRENT MODEL. “I went through the same thing last year; except we did not really have the option. We only had one new bike, and it was Vince’s. He rode a stock bike and then it was like a couple of weeks later, they finally got an exhaust for it. Then a little bit later, they got other parts, so Vince was the developer. There was no case that all of us could have gotten a new bike last year and had anything for it. Many don’t really understand the logistics of trying to make the new bike just as good in six months, as the last four years that the bike has been developed. A lot of people do not see that side of it. It is funny to hear people talk about this situation, but it takes a lot of the stress away.”
Shane and his wife Joy have moved to Florida to work out of the 83 Compound, owned by Team Part-Owner, Mark Lane. Mark’s son Ethan also races for the team’s amateur program.
WHAT ELSE DO YOU HAVE GOING ON NOW, BEFORE THE START OF SUPERCROSS? “I am happy with my set-up so far. I am focusing on improving my fitness and improving my body. We spent Thanksgiving with the family in North Carolina, came back and got back to work. I am not doing a lot of searching. It is time to work, time to grind and in my case, I am catching up a little bit on the physical fitness and the riding shape because I have had a long time off. For me, that is to be expected and I have accepted that. It is just grind-time really.”
DO YOU HAVE A TARGET OR GOAL IN MIND AFTER THESE FIRST COUPLE OF ROUNDS? “Based on last year, my first goal is to make it through the first round, as I did not do that last year. As we get closer, let’s narrow our focus to our goals, and just develop as a racer in the 450 class. That is no easy task given the number of people that have been there for a while, as they are still super good racers and are still fast. I am expecting it to be tough because none of those guys want a “kid” coming in and beating them.”