Photo by: Simon Cudby

Before 2012, nobody outside those that follow amateur racing closely knew who Shane McElrath was, but someone over at the Troy Lee Designs squad was paying close attention and gave the good ‘ol boy from North Carolina a shot with team to end his amateur career with them and start his professional career.

With the new ride and the confidence that comes from knowing a team of that caliber believes in your abilities came eye-catching results that demanded he be noticed. Shane went on with TLD to finish second in 250B and 450B at Loretta Lynn’s in 2012 and ended his amateur career with a Monster Energy Cup Amateur All-Star Moto win in 2012 and two second place finishes overall in 2013 at Loretta Lynn’s—behind Matt Bisceglia in both—in Open Pro Sport and 250A. With that, Shane was officially on the map.

The TLD team graduated Shane to their professional team in 2014, and just like in Shane’s amateur career, the good finishes did not just fall into his lap. In Shane’s ’14 rookie SX season, he finished ninth overall. He finished as high as fifth and showed occasional flashes of brilliance, but he could not locate that podium.

In year two, though, Shane started finding the podium, scored two second place main event finishes and quietly finished the season second overall to Cooper Webb. It was so quiet that when I asked three people at Anaheim who they thought had finished second to Cooper Webb in 2015, none of them answered Shane McElrath.

When Shane entered his third season, expectations were a lot higher than any previous season, and it appeared that the expectations might have gotten the best of him. Shane did score two thirds in ’16, but when he wasn’t on the podium his results were all over the board. There was nothing in 2016 that had anyone expecting the dominant performance we saw out of Shane at the opening round of the Western Regional 250SX Supercross Championship in Anaheim on Saturday.

Shane celebrating his career first win with a very proud TLD team. Photo by: Simon Cudby

Shane celebrating his career first win with a very proud TLD team. Photo by: Simon Cudby

At the 2017 Anaheim 1, SX Shane flew in under the radar and left with the spotlight firmly cast on him. In his heat race, he got a great start and after stalking one of the championship favorites, GEICO / Honda’s Jeremy Martin, he passed him for the win. In the main, Shane wasted no time getting to the front around the first turn. From there, the #38 went wire-to-wire to claim his first-ever supercross main event win over arguably the fastest rider all night long: Star Racing / Yamaha’s Aaron Plessinger.

It was a huge monkey off the back and an even bigger milestone and accomplishment for Shane. After it was all in the record books, Shane sat down and answered a few questions from the press.

Shane, they say the Anaheim 1 main event is the hardest one to win. You chose a heck of a race to get your first win. Talk about what was going through your head as the laps wound down.

It’s kinda hard to put into words, and I now know what people mean when they say they have no words to describe it. At that point, it’s kind of hard to think about the race itself. You’re pretty much focused on everything but you and your riding. That’s what we do during the week—every week—is practice with our teammates. We do long motos with people right behind us, in front of us. That’s kind of what I had to picture it as. I just tried to keep going and keep pushing. The track was pretty tough with breaking down. The layout was kind of simple, but it was tough to be consistent. I’m pumped that I could do it here.

Shane #38 passed Jeremy Martin #6 for the heat race win. Photo by: Chase Yocom

Shane #38 passed Jeremy Martin #6 for the heat race win. Photo by: Chase Yocom

Leading it’s usually hard to win that first one. Aaron was starting to catch you at the end of the main event. Were you controlling that? Did you know where he was? Were you starting to think about things?

I pretty much was from the get-go. Like I said, the track was pretty tough. It’s kind of hard knowing what’s behind you, if someone’s catching you or where they’re making up time. That’s when you make a mistake and just try to shake it off. We had a few laps where it seemed like every other place you would catch me then I would pull back away a little. then I got three laps to go [on the pitboard] and I was just trying to be as clean as I could. I was just trying to hit everything I could, and keep the pace up. At the same time, try not to let the nerves get up there. This is the biggest supercross race. We all want to win and it’s the first race of the season, but to me this was just about getting the season started in a good position. I was pumped to be able to do what we did with it.

 

Now that you have one race under your belt with the new format, what are your thoughts on it?

Normally it’s the outdoors that separate the men from the boys, but some of the Supercross races were like 11 and a half minutes before. I think it kind of puts to use all the training that we do. We’ve been in the off season since pretty much the beginning of September. This is kind of what we all work for. I think it’s going to help everybody out for their confidence and even their riding going in the outdoors. For the fans too, I think it makes for better racing. Over time, I think it’s going to separate more people I think.

 

I think you surprised a lot of us tonight. Did you surprise yourself? Or did you see something over the off season that told you, you had a lot more speed?

We’ve definitely been putting in a lot of time and laps—and doing our work— and that’s what the biggest part was for me after getting hurt at Southwick. I had a month off after that and then when outdoors was over I was just starting back riding. since then I haven’t really had any time off. Other than the Holidays. For me it’s like I’ve been doing the same thing over and over. We’ve had time to get healthy, and be prepared. I think that’s the first time in a few years that we’ve actually had that opportunity.T hat was the biggest thing. Pretty much the last two weeks, since Christmas, it’s kind of like you’re almost in a little bit of a conservative mode because you don’t want to do anything stupid to risk it. With my injuries last year, it’s hard not to think about that but at the same time we ride how we ride and that’s kind of all we know. It’s a big step for us and for a confidence. I feel like we’ve always kind of been lacking in that area a little bit because of injuries. We definitely put in the work, but didn’t have high expectations. We knew what we had to do. we’ve been working on starts, sprints, and long motos. I tried to just replicate a practice day.

The excitement was real for the veterans first-ever win. Photo by: Chase Yocom

The excitement was real for the veterans first-ever win. Photo by: Chase Yocom

Watching this offseason [at the test tracks] it looks a lot more follow the leader or chasing each other rather than guys doing individual laps, is that something that’s helped you?

Yeah, we can benefit by doing motos ourselves, but once every few weeks if we want to Tyla [Rattray-Shane’s trainer] would let us. For the most part it was just always Alex [Martin], Freckle [Mitchell Oldenburg] and myself, and we would just rotate the order. Whether it was sprints, motos or whatever. Jordon Smith has been on the East Coast. We’re a team and we all work together and we all push each other. That’s a big part of our team and it’s like one big family. I think that plays into the whole mood of the races on the weekends. I think that’s a big part of who we are.

 

You were kind of unknown as an amateur and then Troy Lee Designs / KTM picked you up. Six years ago did you know you were ever going to be a SX winner? Was that a realistic goal for you coming up?

Growing up watching Jeremy McGrath, Travis Pastrana and Ricky Carmichael I always dreamed of racing supercross. That’s what I grew thinking making it was. It wasn’t long ago I was thinking about that and I kind of exceeded my expectations or my dreams from when I was a little kid. I never really thought about it until then. I have a good opportunity to keep going with this, and a good team to be with. That gives me motivation. It’s not always fun, but for the most part it’s fun but for the most part we enjoy everything that we do. We push each other out on the track, but when we come off we’re all good. I think that’s the biggest thing.