Photo: Chase Yocom

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 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.

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This week’s “Privateer Showcase” interview is with one of the hardest working privateers currently on the circuit, AJ Catanzaro. AJ has been contesting the Western Regional 250SX Championship with the Blue Buffalo / Slater Skins / Yamaha team, and in the East, he is riding a Pilgrim Powersports backed Kawasaki 450. The #95 has not missed a round in 2017 and has made seven of the eight 250SX West main events and three main events out east on the 450.

Last weekend in East Rutherford, AJ’s heart and desire got the best of him in his 450SX Semi qualifier, and he ended up mowing down Dakota Tedder while fighting for the final transfer spot. The pass attempt failed miserably and put both he and Tedder on the ground. AJ ended up getting penalized and given last gate pick in the LCQ, but he was still able to put his 450 in the main and score his best 450 finish of the year.

AJ is contesting the 250SX west on the Blue Buffalo / Yamaha. Photo: Hoppenworld

We gave AJ a call to talk about the incident with Tedder and find out what is going on for him outside of racing.

AJ, how’s it going? Where are you based out of at the moment and where are you riding and training?

I’m in Reston, Virginia. That’s like eight miles from Washington, D.C. I moved here three or four months ago, pretty much at the start of Supercross. Tomahawk MX is my home base. It’s about fifty miles west of here. We have Budds Creek and a good amount of tracks within 100 miles of here, but Tomahawk is my home base. That’s where I do most my training out of as well.


You did 250SX West as well as the 450SX at the East rounds. Was that a lot of back and forth to train during the week for SX?

I think most people won’t believe me when I say this, but I haven’t practiced on an SX track since 2015. I’ve just been riding outdoors or nothing at all. I am having an SX track built there [Tomahawk MX], so that will definitely be my home base at that point. This year—I probably shouldn’t be saying this—I only have six hours on my practice bike and it’s the end of the season. That’s preseason and midseason included. I have a lot of things going on and my priorities, at times, are elsewhere.


Let’s talk about last weekend. (laughs) In East Rutherford SX, you were part of two of the most exciting 450SX semi races in history. The first semi was insane, and then your semi was just as chaotic. You went for it in the last turn of your semi for the last qualifying spot and completely cleaned out Dakota Tedder. Take us through it.

I’m sure rewatching the footage that most people can understand I was not in control. You have to go back to the second to last turn. In my head earlier in the race, I got a little bit heated. I wasn’t riding well; I hadn’t been riding well all day. People were going by me that should not have been going by me. Once I saw the Ronnie Stewart incident with Tedder and saw Tedder take out Alex Ray, I was like, “Hang on a second; I could still have this.” Then I put in a charge on the last lap and reeled in Tedder from like seven seconds back. Coming into the second to last turn, I was telling myself, “I have to hit this turn the best I have all day and just banzai the sand to have any chance,” so that’s what I did. I railed the turn—came into the sand probably 5 miles per hour faster than I had all day long—and of course, as soon as I enter the sand, Tedder is on the brakes cutting to the inside.

Watch video AJ getting into Dakota Tedder in the final turn of the semi.

Oh yeah, Dakota was covering that inside.

Well, if you rewatch at the footage after my explanation you can probably get a better grasp, but you can see me get in the brakes. One, you can’t brake that hard in the sand and you certainly cannot brake hard in sand that has rollers, so I braked as hard as I could. Then I ended up on the hay bale with both my feet off the pegs at this point. I don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure at that point I thought the only thing that would save me is throttle, so I just throttled into him. Completely not a move I would normally make. Normally I’m an in control rider, but it is what it is. Even if I did do something like that intentionally, I wouldn’t take somebody out like that. (laughs) Let’s put it this way: I wouldn’t take myself out.


It looked like you threw the shoulder in and everything (laughs), kind of like a “if I’m not making the main, you’re not making it either” moment.

(laughs) At that point I didn’t know what to do. I just tried to save myself from not going over the hay bales. I might have shouldered him also because my leg that hit him was the leg I just had ACL reconstructive surgery on. Maybe subconsciously I didn’t want my leg to hit him and just wanted my upper body to hit him. I read an article that JT [Jason Thomas] wrote, and he said it was a pick up pass in every sense of the word, but it wasn’t. I’m not the type of rider that would do something like that.


Did you and Tedder talk after the semi incident?

I wouldn’t say we talked. (laughs) I don’t remember the sequence of events perfectly, but I’m pretty sure I went up to apologize and say, “Hey, listen, I wouldn’t do something like that intentionally. I was out of control.” He immediately started yelling at me and saying that was B.S. and this and that, so I got pissed off and started yelling back. I told him all you have to do is watch the footage to see that it wasn’t intentional. Right at that point, he started talking to John Gallagher from the AMA. John watched the footage and then came over to me and told me I was getting docked and given the last gate pick in the LCQ for attempting to cut the track. Then I really lost it. Now I’m arguing with John Gallagher. It doesn’t take a dummy to look at the footage to see I’m out of control. It was just frustrating.

AJ told me he’s looking to take his privateer effort to a new level in the future. Modeling the effort after what Ronnie Stewart has been able to accomplish with his private effort. Photo: Chase Yocom

That’s a confusing one. I would understand, if the pass stuck, not allowing you fifth place in the semi, but docking you to last gate position for the LCQ for that makes zero sense to me. How does he come up with that? That is on top of my list of whacky calls in a year full of whacky calls.

I don’t know, I feel like he just waves his finger in the air and points at something. Wherever it lands, that’s the decision. Once he comes over and says that, though, what am I gonna do? The LCQ is already lining up at that point, so I can’t appeal it. My plead to him was, “Listen, you’re telling me if I slip a peg, get out of control and launch the bike off the track into another lane or the crowd, you’re going to dock me? That was a mistake, and you’re going to dock me? I don’t understand, and I feel like I need an explanation.” I get worked up just thinking about it.


What was it about that MetLife track that created this action? I’ve been in the press box for years, and I’ve never heard so many worker bees screaming at the action like casual fans in my life.

I think the layout itself, if it wasn’t so rutted, was an awesome layout. While walking the track, I was pumped to go racing. It seemed like a fun layout, but as soon as you rode it with a foot deep ruts everywhere, it was no longer fun. That being said, a lot of the good racing was due to the nice bowl turns and the fun flowing layout. Then again, I think it was also due to people being a little bit out of control and uncomfortable. Speaking for myself, I was not comfortable at any point throughout the day on any part of the track. (laughs) I felt like a fish out of water.


Although you did have your best 450SX main event finish of the year with a 17th.

Yeah, that’s when I normally do well. I need to stay positive in moments like that, because I know the type of rider I am. I’m a good technical rider, and if I’m feeling super uncomfortable and out of sorts, I have to tell myself that everyone else is feeling worse than I am.

We expect AJ’s number to be quite a bit lower than #95 in 2018. Photo by: Hoppenworld

What’s your weekly schedule like? Are you flying to races? I ask because you have done every round this year, right?

Yeah, I fly to the races. Mondays I have my MX training camps at Tomahawk MX. I train other riders in that. During the week I spend a lot of time scheduling my whole summer. From May to November is when I start up the Moto X Academy full time again. It takes so much time setting up each one of these camps individually and setting up insurance for each one of these tracks. It’s almost like a full time job. Once SX ends, that season starts rolling.


What does the Moto X Academy camps consist of?

They’re one day riding camps from 10 am to 5 pm. They pretty much cover everything in a day. It’s structured to tend to not just the beginners and new learners. Faster riders—A class guys—will not be held back. I spent a lot of time structuring these camps, and I think we have it down to a science. It’s cool to see how seamlessly the camps are going off. Last summer, we did probably 25 of them in 7 or 8 different states. This year, we’re going to even take it to Australia.


Thanks for talking to us today, AJ. We will try to get the word out on your camps for you. Are there some sponsors you would like to thank?

Yeah, my 450 sponsors are Pilgrim Powersports, East Coast Fiberglass, Federal Hill Home Theater, Complex Building Solutions, Aj Catanzaro Moto-X Academy, Oneal, Evs, Northeast Dirtbike, Morvelo, Lululemon, Arai Helmets, Factory Connection, 100%, Works Connection, Rynopower, Hinson, Blue Buffalo, FMF, Spectro Oils, Twin Air, Moto Seat, 139 Designs, Hellion Designs, Hardcolor Powdercoating, Ride Engineering, MotoTape, Pro Taper.

I also want to thank my 250 sponsors, the Blue Buffalo/Slater Skins Yamaha Team.

To find out more info on how to find a AJ Catanzaro Moto-X Academy near you, click here.

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Dan Lamb is a 12+ year journalist and the owner of MotoXAddicts.