When the gate dropped on the 2018 Western Regional 250SX Championship at Anaheim 1, Troy Lee Designs / KTM’s Shane McElrath worked over what many were calling the deepest 250SX region in many years. Shane went wire-to-wire to win at A1, and it looked like this just might be the year for quiet kid from North Carolina. But from there, Shane could not find his way back to the top step of the podium, and a crash and 15th place finish in Oakland seemed to really take the wind out of his sails. It also took him from one point behind Aaron Plessinger to a massive 19 points back. For the next four main events, Shane could not find the podium, but then came Salt Lake City on Saturday.
With Shane seemingly out of the conversation for wins out west, he appeared on the dry dusty rocky hard pack of Salt Lake City as a new man. At the end of the first lap of the main event, Shane was fourth with the top three riders in the series—Adam Cianciarulo, Joey Savatgy and Plessinger—all right in front of him. Normally I would type, “one by one” he went past them all, but after passing Plessinger for third, Shane blew by both AC and Savatgy in one whoop section to take the lead. AC made his way into 2nd soon after and kept Shane honest the rest of the way, but Shane crossed the line with his first podium since way back in Glendale and his first win since A1.
The win kept Shane alive in the Championship, but with a 24-point deficit and three riders ahead of him, his title hopes will likely have to wait for another year. After the race, Chris Cooksey caught up with Shane to talk about his hard pack skills and his future 450 plans.
Shane, congrats on the win. You looked amazing. What is it with you—you’re from back east? How are you so good in hard pack?
I was forced to live in California for five years. TK [Tyler Keefe] has always said that I’m so good with throttle control and I guess that’s something that I have to work on a lot riding in California. That’s just something I’ve grown up being aware of. I was taught a lot of things when I was younger, but those don’t come into play until you start working on them. I’m always trying to work on something. I work on being better. I work on being more efficient and even using the clutch like that. It’s really tough. Anybody can work on it during practice, but in a race—especially on a track like this—it’s so tough to be smooth on the throttle because you just want to go. You get inpatient and you’re like, “I gotta be easy, i gotta be easy,” and that’s really hard to do.
Those whoops looked absolutely scary! They were huge and they were slick, so you really couldn’t get a drive over the top of them. Did you look at those during the hot lap and say, “Yeah, I’m gonna skim” or did you look at the rut and maybe think about jumping like the rest of the guys?
I did take a look at them on the hot lap and I lined up not knowing what I was going to do. I was like, “I don’t really don’t know where to go in the whoops.” I tried a few different places the first couple of laps and I finally just went to where nobody had really been. Just trying to find some good ground. I seen Joey [Savatgy] going out there a little bit but those whoops for me were ones where you really couldn’t go straight on the ruts. I really scare myself when I do that, but I know that I have to commit and know where I’m gonna go or else my bike doesn’t work good. It’s really tough, but that’s something that’s really beneficial on a track like this.
You’re a guy that’s been mentioned quite a bit as a guy that would like to move up to the 450 class. Have you looked at that? Do you have a contract for next year? Where you at?
I am contracted with TLD through next year. So I’m on a Lites bike. The plan is to stay with TLD until I move up to 450’s. The factory KTM team is a dream and something I would love to be on but as far as a time frame, we don’t know.
There’s nothing in there that says they can buy you out and take you over there?
I think TLD is kind of like that stepping stone. TLD is the KTM Lites factory team. There is a correlation there, but I don’t know to what extent. Obviously, if KTM doesn’t want me they can just not give me a contract, but I don’t exactly know how that works.
Hypothetically, if factory KTM asked you to go there on the 450 for 2019, would you do it? Or do you want to stay on the 250?
I don’t know. I would like to see how outdoors goes. I really want to do good outdoors. I like outdoors, but I just haven’t had a good consistent outdoor season yet. I do want to ride a 450 and I’m pretty good on a 450, I just feel I have a lot to do in the Lites class. That’s what I really want to do.
Photos by: Simon Cudby