There is no doubt, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna rider Zach Osborne did it his way. Maybe forced, or pushed, he traveled to Europe, made a hell of a lot of friends, won some races, and learned more than he ever would have if he just raced at home. Five years in Europe—racing in countries he probably hadn’t heard of before arriving to race the World MX2 championship—without question made him the man he is today.
Now, more than a decade after his first and only MX2 victory at Istanbul in Turkey, and at 31 years of age, he is the AMA 450 motocross champion. It is a story worth being told.
A down to earth guy who had a will to win that equaled that of any of the former champions of the sport and respect for those people that have made him one of the most popular riders of his era. It didn’t matter how fast his bank account was growing, or how big his friend list was, he was staying strong to the people who he respected and respected him.
But it isn’t all just about the likable American, but the people who have helped him along the way. Guys like Steve Dixon and Ash Kane, and that small group of believers on the Steve Dixon Yamaha team back more than a decade ago—back when Zach wasn’t wanted in America.
I still remember Zach winning a moto in Ireland at his debut GP, and standing next to Ash Kane, an industry guy who loves the sport and a major reason Osborne was in Europe racing. Kane said to me as Osborne was running up front in Ireland that he has so much potential and it will be reached. I don’t think even Ash Kane could have seen what was coming.
I remember his 2009 MX2 overall victory in Turkey and him being unsure on how to celebrate in Istanbul as the haunting noise of the mosques broadcasted their hymns giving him an eerie feeling. An American in Turkey wasn’t always a welcome tourist, but I remember his easy-going nature and his friendly banter about it as this young kid started to learn how to win on the professional scene.
I still remember Steve Dixon helping Zach race some Monster Energy Supercross races in America. Yes, a preseason racing supercross in the US when he was still in fact preparing for the MX2 MX World Championship series. Not the perfect prep for motocross, but that is just who Steve Dixon is because he knew where Zach eventually wanted to be and what his dreams were.
It is little surprise that Osborne has never forgotten what Dixon did for him, and the fact he understands that friends are why so many people love this new AMA 450 motocross champion. So many racers leave Europe to make millions and forget where they came from. I can name a number of GP riders who had success in US and changed. They became outspoken and to be honest, they became different people, but Zach wasn’t one of them. He is the same Zach Osborne who arrived in Europe back in 2008, just a little older, and a lot wiser.
The two time AMA motocross champion sat down with the media and talked about his season and his thoughts on retirement after being badly injured in March of this year.
Congratulations on the championship. You took the long way around to this championship didn’t you?
I would like to think that every experience you can learn from or allow it to be a failure or setback. All those years doing what I do and trying to claw my way back to where I am today. Nothing prepared for the pressure of today or last night trying to sleep. I am looking forward to going to bed.
You talked about thinking of retirement in March. How serious was the retirement plans, did you talk to Husqvarna and talk about it?
It was more me and my wife and maybe more me, because I was afraid because it was a big decision and I needed to take some time and find out if I could still do it. I had a massive injury with five broken vertebrae and two that were 50% compression, a broken wrist, punctured lungs and it was a big deal for me. It wasn’t a scared thing, but I was struggling to get going again and, in the end, it was the right decision and also my wife’s support to not allow me to quit.
What is it about Husqvarna that got you to the next step?
When I took the deal obviously I was transitioning into the new coming of Husqvarna and I was doing a lot of off-road stuff and I thought that was the direction I would go and if I did good they would resign me and if not maybe they have space for me to do something else. That was the opportunity and sometimes they would sign me when they shouldn’t have, and we are a group of guys who love to go racing and we have fun every weekend. It shows in the results and the atmosphere in the team. I have said it a million times, I would love to film our team truck lounge because we have so much fun. All the guys gel well, and nobody has an ego issue, and we are all pulling in the same direction and that is rare in any sport. We have hit something off the wall, and I hope it is that way forever.
Would you have made it to where you are now without the European experience. Had you signed with an American team back at the start of your career and not gone to Europe, would you have still gotten to where you are now?
No, I wouldn’t have, but who knows. I don’t believe I would be there without the experiences I had and not just racing experiences, but life experiences. I had everything I wanted as a rider and I had it all and lost it all and went down a different path. The rubber had not met the road for me until I went to Europe and I have to thank the guys on the team I rode for in England, the Dixon racing team, because they rekindled the fire and a passion that I never really had and it brought racing to me in a different light and we just had a good time and it is the same as the team I am on now. When I went to Geico it was too stiff for me and I needed that atmosphere and when I came to this team, it was like WOW, it can still be fun racing in America.
Can you pinpoint the point in your career where you turned the corner to be a championship guy?
Hard to say, I would like to think maybe 2016, the year before I won my first championship. I was close to winning some supercross races that year and it broke me down, because I was prepared, and my bike was good, and everything was planned out. I failed like four or five times that season and until that point I got fed up and won a race at Budds Creek at the end of 2016, but when you get into the 450 class it is the same battle all over again. This year I wanted to win a race and I won the first race and then the second race and it’s kind of went from wanting to win to hey, maybe we can win the title. Then it was like a different level of pressure and precision needed. Training and all the things that happen and finally be in a position to win and that what got me to where I am.
Does it feel weird to be the oldest champion to ever be?
Maybe, winning is like a stepping-stone and once you win you want to win more and fifth isn’t good enough anymore. Everything you have going on you take a step up, that is what happened this year.
It has been awesome to watch you this year a guy who isn’t sure where you would fit in. You had it in you man and talk about that.
I mean, it is one of those thing, an evolution that happens over a year, but just nine weeks ago I was winning my first national, so to have it happen in one year is pretty incredible. I have felt some serious pressure and I am so happy I could make it happen.
You are a family man, and your kids keep your grounded. How has that dynamic helped you this season?
Osborne: I mean the main thing they will love me no matter what, whether I win or not, and they are my main focus. When I go home and I have that comfort, it is an awesome feeling. I asked my daughter will she watch Loretta’s and she said well, are you going to win this weekend. And my little guy, he loves being at the races and its been fun watching him playing in the dirt and we built a track, and he was stoked on it, but I was even more stoked. That is the amazing thing about being a parent.
You have been through a lot this season, and you didn’t get a lot of time to celebrate. Do you have something planned, maybe a vacation with the family to regroup before you jump into supercross?
Well, I just had pizza with real cheese on it and backed that up with a doctor pepper and found some chocolate I found in the motorhome. I would love to go on vacation, but I don’t want to do all these things like wear a mask. I want to go and enjoy it. We will stay in California for a couple of days and go back to Florida and find somewhere to go. I will start riding again in November and hopefully for a January start in supercross. I just want to chill, and I can be happier just relaxing anywhere. My kids are at school and my daughter is into gymnastics and we have to pay attention to those things, but we will get some vacation time.
How were the nerves today?
I had a decent point lead coming in and it was about getting two good starts and keeping my bike intact. The stress was high because we wanted to win the championship, but it was hard to be nervous because I felt good about my chances.
How different was it to win the 450-championship compared to the 250 championship minus the size of the bonus?
I mean, I would say the first one in 2017 was the climax and hard to beat that, but this one is right up there. A hard-fought season and I am older than anyone who has done it, so that is an accomplishment, so there was a lot stacked against me. When you are in that situation and the moto is long and the track was rocky, and you hear a noise, and everything was magnified by 50%.
On your age, do you have a goal how long you want to do this for?
My deal with Husqvarna is for 2021 and they have talked about maybe doing 2022, so for me, as long as they want to keep me and I am relevant and I am doing good, then I want to continue that. It would suck to fade away and not be relevant and as long as I can contend for championships, but past 2022 I don’t know about that.
You mentioned maybe retiring in March, but how much has this changed you attitude to 2021?
Massively, I mean that is the reason I considered it, because I was riding crap and to know I can do it, and I have the bike and team to do it, it inspires me and as long as that helps I will continue.
You finished Salt Lake in good form, but how much has your current form helped you for 2021?
It helped me a lot. More than anything a weight lifted and a 450 championship is a big deal in our sport and it takes some pressure away and I can ride freely and ride and I know I can do it now and I hope I can continue doing what I am doing.
Photos by: Simon Cudby