Photos by: Cycle Dump
These “Privateer Showcase” interviews presented by Race Tech Suspension at MotoXAddicts tell the stories of the guys in the trenches week in and week out trying to chase their dream of racing professional motocross and Supercross. While the riders at the front of the pack get the money, the T.V. time and the glory that goes with it, there’s a huge pack of guys just hoping to get a spot inside a factory semi. We tell their stories.
This week’s “Privateer Showcase” interview is with the only teenager contesting the 450MX class, Jeremy Smith. Jeremy started racing pro in 2015 at the age of 16 and scored points in his first year, but while that is not that out of the ordinary in motocross, the fact that he had only been racing motocross for four short years at that point is.
While every other current professional motocross rider was chasing Loretta Lynn’s titles on 50’s and 65’s, Jeremy was a young aspiring BMX national champion. Just six years ago, though, he decided he needed a motor and took his talents to the motocross track. The question now is, can he follow in the footsteps of other former BMX riders turned professional motocross riders like Jeremy McGrath and Gautier Paulin and turn his BMX upbringing into a prosperous motocross career?
So far in the 2017 Lucas Oil Pro MX Championship, the #309 has scored just two points, but because he is a struggling privateer racing on his and the Smith family dime, he missed the first three rounds of the season. He started his season at High Point with a DNQ and did not race in Tennessee, but he fired back by qualifying inside the top twenty and scoring national points at RedBud. After a tough but decent outing last weekend at Southwick, we decided to give the New Jersey rider a call to get to know his story.
Jeremy, where are you originally from, and how old are you now?
I’m 19 now. I’ll be 20 in October. I’m from New Jersey. That’s where I ride and train for the whole year. I don’t really train anywhere else.
Oh, wow, you’re still a puppy. You have a lot of time to get there still.
Yeah, I’m still one of the youngest in the class. Most of the 450 guys are older than me. I can still give it a few years and see how everything goes.
You turned pro pretty young. You turned pro in ’14, right?
In 2014, I got my pro card, and in 2015, I raced the outdoors. That was my first year. I made every race I tried for, so that worked out pretty well. I even scored points my first year. It was pretty hard for me because I was still a full time high school student. I didn’t get to train like other kids, so that made it tough for me.
What was your amateur career like?
I went to Loretta’s once in 2011 and finished 12th in the Super-Mini class, but I started pretty late because I raced BMX my whole life. I didn’t switch over to motocross until I was 12. I rode a little bit, but I was never that fast. I’ve only been racing motocross for six years.
Sounds like you’re on the Jeremy McGrath or Gautier Paulin program. Both raced BMX, and Paulin was even a World Champion in BMX, I believe. Both of them picked up motocross really fast and obviously went on to decorated careers in moto. Did you feel like the crossover to moto was pretty fluid?
Yeah, I think it helped a lot, especially with jumping and everything. In BMX, you have to be real smooth, and I think that transferred over to how I ride today. I’m not super aggressive or ride the limiter right now, so BMX definitely helped with the pressure and all that. BMX is only 30-second races, so everything has to be spot on.
What made you make that switch? At what point did you say, “I want a moto underneath me?”
I honestly got bored of BMX. They’re such short races and you just sit around all day. I won multiple championships and I still didn’t see much of a future in the sport, so I moved on to motocross. I enjoyed it a lot more, liked the challenge and wanted to go pro at it.
I raced a little BMX growing up, but I honestly don’t know too much about the sport. At what level were you winning titles?
I was at the expert level which is the highest level at each age group. If I had ridden a few more years I’m pretty sure I would have went pro at that too. I won eight national championships in my age group, and I was on a really good team, but I really just didn’t want to continue with that. There’s not much money in it at all. A lot of pros today say at a national—if you win—you only win like $500. You do all that travel just for that. You can’t really live off that.
You rode 250 Supercross this year and even scored some points. Because of BMX, does SX come more natural to you than MX or is it about the same?
Yeah, with stuff like rhythms and triples, it definitely helps. I had trouble with the whoops because I don’t have enough practice at that. There’s nowhere around here to practice, so I was just learning each round and kind of guessing as I went. During the week I’d ride outdoors and race SX on the weekends, so that was tough.
So you just started racing motos on 85’s and quickly made it to Loretta’s in the Super-Mini class? That’s a quick progression.
Yeah, when I started racing I was on 85’s. In my first year, I didn’t come close to making it to Loretta’s, but in my second year that’s when I went to Loretta’s. I improved pretty quick, but I got hurt for a few years. But then I just moved up to the A class and got my pro card. I decided Loretta’s really wasn’t worth it. There’s tons of guys going and not really getting much out of it. I just went the pro way.
You’ve pretty much been on the 450 from the time you turned pro outdoors. What was the reasoning for jumping right on the big 450?
Because it’s really hard to build a good 250 motor and I think the 450 suits my style better, but you can pretty much ride a bone stock 450 and be competitive. And that’s what I’m doing right now actually.
You didn’t race the early rounds this year outdoors, but you’ve now put in some good rides.
I didn’t start this year until High Point, and I had some issues in the mud and wasn’t able to qualify. Then RedBud went pretty well for me. That was my first good race.
Yeah, it was night and day difference from High Point to RedBud. How do you from qualifying—or not qualifying—with the forty-fifth fastest lap time at High Point to qualifying in the top twenty at RedBud?
I’ve actually always been known as a strong qualifier. Last year I qualified 13th and 15th at two rounds, so that definitely wasn’t me that round.
Is RedBud normally a track you like a lot? So far it was your best race this year and you put a national point on the board.
I’ve always enjoyed that track. I’ve only raced it once before this year so I can’t really say I ride it much, but I’ve always liked the layout and it gets super rough. That’s the tough part about the track.
You qualified decent at Southwick as well. Is sand something you normally like. You were near the top twenty there as well in qualifying.
Yeah, I was 22nd I believe. I was in the A [450 qualifying group] and there were a lot of B guys that got on the fresh [smooth] track and got good times, but that race went alright for me. In the first moto, I had a great start but a bike flipped into me and bent my shift lever all the way down. I couldn’t get out of first gear so that was a bummer.
How was the second moto for you? You were running up near the points.
It was better. I was running around 16th or 17th for over half of the moto, but at about ten-minutes to go I hit a wall and dropped back pretty far. I guess I’ll take that and come back better.
How many more rounds do you plan on hitting this year?
I won’t be able to do the next two—Millville and Washougal. They’re just too far away. I should be able to do the last three, which are Budds Creek, Unadilla and Ironman.
Because you’re so young, have you gotten any attention at all from any satellite teams or anything about possibly helping you? I didn’t realize you were as young as you are.
Nah, I haven’t heard much. Not many people know about me. I’m just trying to get some good results so people can realize who I am.
Right now who’s helping you out getting to the races?
Right now, it’s just me and my family that do it. My dad and my brothers help me out a bunch. We have a motor home and go to the races. I don’t have any big helpers. We just do it on our own.
You saw no future in BMX; is this different? Do you see a future for yourself in motocross?
Yeah, I definitely want to give it a shot for at least another year if I can’t get help by then. I definitely feel like I can be in the top twenty. If you can be in there every weekend, somebody will pick you up so I’m trying to get in there every weekend.