“I’m just grateful that Jan De Groot brought me to Europe and gave me a chance. I’m just a 19-year-old kid living my dream.”
The date was Sunday, September 3, 2001 and the site the sandy Circuit of Lierop in Holland. 19-year-old 250cc world championship rookie Chad Reed had just won the Grand Prix of Dutch Brabant, the first major international victory of his career. Atop the victory podium with factory Kawasaki team owner Jan De Groot, Reed, all the way from far flung Kurri Kurri, Australia, had won Australia’s first World Championship Grand Prix in over a decade, and while thrilled with the result, his mind was already elsewhere.
“I felt I could win here in the GPs,” added Reed that cloudy afternoon in the Low Countries of Europe. “It’s been an important part of my preparation for America, coming to Europe.”
And so it was. By the end of September, Reed was off to America in a quest to fulfil his lifelong dream of becoming an AMA Supercross Champion. And we all know what happened next.
15 years and multiple American supercross and motocross titles later, Chad Reed is not only one of the most successful and decorated racers of the last decade, but one of the very best riders the sport of motocross has ever seen.
But that was then and this is now. Straight off the 2016 Monster Energy Supercross series, where he placed a very respectable fifth overall for the Yamaha Motor Corp., Reed is now poised to go back to where it really all started for him, Europe and the MXGP World Championship. With the urging and support of backers Yamaha and Monster Energy, come Sunday, June 19 at Matterley Basin, Winchester, Reed will compete in the MXGP of Great Britain. A week later at the Mantova circuit, the Australian will line up for the MXGP of Lombardia-Italy.
Then, come the month of September, Reed will also compete in both Monster Energy MXGP of Americas and Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina as well as the Monster Energy MXGP of USA at Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino, California.
With all of this on his plate in the immediate future, on the eve of his departure for Europe, Reed took some time to talk about the supercross season that was and the summer this is to be. Equal parts enthused and intrigued to see what the two GP dates will bring him, Reed, arguably the most popular motocross/supercross racer on Earth, was ready to, well, get the show on the road…
DBR: Chad, you’re off to Europe to compete in two MXGP races, one in England and just one a week later, one in Italy. If I have it right, you have not competed in a Grand Prix since you left Europe for the United States back in the autumn of 2001, correct?
Chad Reed: Yeah, I haven’t raced a GP since I left there doing it full-time in 2001. Obviously, a lot has changed since then. We had a blast that year. I’m excited. It’s not a perfect scenario. I’m probably not as ready and comfortable as what I’d like to be, but I think it’ll be fun. I just want to make it for what it is. I’m not going for the championship or anything crazy like that. It’s low pressure, really, and I just want to go and try and have fun. Obviously, I want to be competitive, or as competitive as I can be, but for me I just want to go and have some fun.
DBR: Considering all that you’ve accomplished here in the US in the last 15 years, I’d imagine it has to be pretty cool to be able to go back overseas to Europe and jump back on the MXGP circuit again. You were only there for a year back in ’01, but you definitely have a history there, don’t you?
Chad Reed: Yeah, I was only there a short year, but during that short year I learned so much. I was young and everybody treated me like I was one of their own. When you’re so young and those people were so nice and looked after us… Yeah, it was fun. We have great memories from that one year. I’m looking forward to it. Like I said, the GPs obviously have changed a lot in the last 15 years. It’s crazy. It trips me out that it has been 15 years since I’ve raced a GP. Obviously, I’ve done quite a few Motocross des Nations and for the most part those race events are run by the same people and with the same format and all that kind of stuff, so it’s not like I haven’t been over there and been involved in the same running of everything. Yeah, to officially go back and do a GP will be fun. And actually, the year that I was there, I never got to do a GP in England, so that’ll be cool. Wait, Ellie [Reed] just reminded me I did the Motocross des Nations in England at the end of 2008 (at Donington Park). I was there, but my performance was pathetic (laughter). So, yeah, it’s been a long time.
DBR: You were only 19-years-old when you did that 250cc Grand Prix season. To leave Australia at that young of an age and base yourself in Europe to try and become a champion, man, that’s a pretty big gamble, isn’t it?
Chad Reed: It’s kind of one of those things that, yeah, it was a gamble, but for me it was an opportunity of a lifetime, you know? I did it how I wanted to do it. I, for the most part, ruined the relationship with my parents and did a lot of things that I wanted to do. I wanted to do it my way and go and race GPs. I took my girlfriend with me at the time, Ellie, and just did things differently. It changed me for life and kind of made us who we are today. For me, it wasn’t a gamble; it was just an experience of a lifetime. I just always wanted to go and race on a world stage. Obviously, my first goal was supercross because that was my first at the time, but the US wasn’t hiring Australians at the time so I had to go and make a name for myself in the GPs. As it turned out, it was an amazing experience. I’m glad I took the opportunity that I did, but it would have been nice to maybe stay another year. Jan De Groot begged me to stay and try to contend for a world championship, but for me at the time, I just wanted to get to the US and race supercross. Yeah, looking back on my time, it would have been cool to have given my shot at a world championship.
DBR: So just how did this two-race, one-off MXGP program fall into place? I mean it’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of effort to pull something like this off, isn’t it?
Chad Reed: Yeah, for me it was with doing supercross-only with my Yamaha contract, I had some time off after that series, and with Monster needing some American-based guys to do some GPs, they asked if I would do it. The thought of going back and doing some GPs in my somewhat off-time sounded fun. It sounded like it would be something cool and interesting. The original plan was to take my family and we were all going to go, but plans have since changed a little bit, but it’s a two-year thing so I plan on going back next year and taking the whole family. We want to make a trip of it and Ellie and I can go and look back on things and go around Europe.
DBR: And there can be no doubt that the motocross fans of Europe are going to be thrilled to see you race over there – especially those who can make it out to the GPs set for Matterley Basin and Montova.
Chad Reed: Yeah, I think at least from my social media pages, everybody is very excited. England has a very strong moto following and we never get to go there. There are no off-season supercross races there and now it seems like they don’t really have those anymore, so I think those fans are starved a little bit to see supercross and supercross riders. It seems like they’re really excited about this. Italy is probably one of my favourite countries in the world and I’m excited. I’ll be based there and I’m going to hang out there. I’ll bounce back and forth between riding at Maggiora and Yamaha Rinaldi. They’re the factory Yamaha team of Europe and they’re based in Parma. And if I have time, maybe I’ll go over to Tavullia and see Valentino Rossi a little bit and ride the Ranch. Yeah, I’ll kind of be going back and forth and I’m not sure if our schedules will meet.
DBR: I’m not just saying this because I’m talking with you right now, but to my way of seeing things, overall and all things considered, you’re the most popular motocross racer in the world right now. I think it’s good for the sport that a racer at your level can go around to different nations and meet and race for the fans. Agreed?
Chad Reed: Yeah, I mean for me personally, it’s a lot to take on and I’m as competitive as ever. I mean I want to do well, so I take that on a little bit. Being popular – you know I came from Australia and I went to Europe and then I came to America – I do have a world following and it’s nice to be able to get out and do this. That’s what I love about MotoGP. For me, I grew up in Australia, so anytime you wanted to do anything, you had to travel and you had to get on a plane and you had to go overseas. For me, I think that’s fun. I think getting on a plane and seeing new people and new fans and new places is always exciting.
DBR: Will the Michelli Rinaldi-led Monster Energy Yamaha Factory MXGP Team provide you with the bikes and all the logistical support needed while you are in Europe?
Chad Reed: Yeah, we’re fortunate enough in that Yamaha has a really solid production bike and we’re just, literally, taking some suspension and a few little pieces and what-not with us. We’re just going to run a straight-stock engine with a pipe and an ECU on it. Those things rip. Like I said, I want to do well, but we’re just going to have some fun and to enjoy the time and to see fans and try and get some results while we’re there.
DBR: Have you been able to watch any of the of the ’16 MXGP races on TV or on the internet?
Chad Reed: I have, actually. Yeah, I’ve been keeping up on it. For the most part I keep on it more than the AMA stuff. It looks like that series right now is really competitive. You know I haven’t raced Tim Gajser and I haven’t raced Romain Febvre, but for the most part, the rest of them I’ve raced numerous times at the des Nations. It seems like that whole crew racing over there has stepped it up and I think Gajser and Febvre have lifted the level up. It seems like the pace is high. It’s like it is here – you really need a good start to be up front and try to go with the good guys. You know I haven’t really rode motocross to my full potential, or how I think I can ride it, so I’m just hoping to go get good starts and make it fun and to ride motocross the way I know I can. That’s really the biggest thing for me. I’ll be happy just to go and tear up some outdoors and ride the way I know I can. That’s what I’m most looking forward to.
DBR: And what of Antonio Cairoli? I remember watching you two guys chase each other around during the opening moto at the 2009 Motocross of Nations in Franciacorta, Italy.
Chad Reed: Yeah, Cairoli is one of my good friends. I talk to him all the time. He’s a good guy. I’m looking forward to it. It seems like he’s been struggling a little bit with an off-season injury coming into the season, but it seems like he’s starting to hit his stride and win some races now. Yeah, and that race in 2009, he was the World Champion on the big bike over there and I was the AMA champ over here. We went to Italy and had a good battle in the first moto. For me, if I’m battling with him, I’m up front and that would be a good thing. I’d love to go and battle with Cairoli.
DBR: I have to ask you, way down deep, what type of results over there would please you?
Chad Reed: I don’t know… I want to do well. I really, really want to do well. Since 2011, I have just stunk and really, really sucked at outdoors. I feel like I’m better than that. I just want to go to Europe and have fun and I want to ride good. For me, if I go and have fun and I’m riding good, I think I can surprise. If I ride like I did the last three years, then I’ll struggle and it won’t be any fun. And that’s not the plan. The plan is to try and go and have some fun and for me fun is riding to my potential and running up front. That’s the goal. It is what it is. I just need to make the most of it and go have some fun. I think good starts will help me and put me in a good position. I hope to be up front and see if I can grab a tow.
DBR: And come September, will you compete in the Charlotte Motor Speedway and Glen Helen United States Grands Prix?
Chad Reed: That is the plan, yes. For me, these two European GPs are going to be held in early summer, so I’ll get to have some down time after this. The two American races sort of fall during crunch time when I’m getting ready for Monster Cup and all those types of things. We’ll see how those events are. For me, it’s like those two American rounds are so far ahead that I’m not even really thinking about those two yet. I want to get through these two GPs first. I’m excited. Since closing TwoTwo Motorsports I don’t feel like I’ve gotten the break that I’ve wanted. I kind of wanted to recharge and I never got that, you know? We shut down TwoTwo and then I was excited to try and get a job and the job that I wanted didn’t really come that easy. I signed my Yamaha contract at Anaheim I. I spent the off-season with sleepless nights trying to figure out how I was going to do it. I was just holding my breath during the off-season. I’m pumped that I got through supercross healthy. It was a solid year. It wasn’t stellar, but it was solid. I’m going to do these two GPs and have some fun and then I’m going to go to Australia for a month and just recharge the batteries and let all my worries go to be honest with you. After that I’ll worry about those two GPs at the end of the year when I get back. I’m excited to go over to Europe and do well. We’ll see what happens.