John Dowd was late to the motocross party, not racing until he was 20 and turning national pro at age 21, but he seems to build more fans each year as he continues to hit select nationals well into his forties. In 2009, on a rainy day in Massachusetts, “Dowdy” put together a second place finish in moto 2 at the Southwick National. That and a tenth place in moto one put him onto the overall podium with a third place finish. Pretty impressive for a 44 year old.I recently got a chance to talk to John at Mototown USA, an indoor MX facility just outside of Hartford, Connecticut. Once John finished building a fresh set of whoops with his bobcat tractor he hit the track for many not-your-average-vet-racer-speed laps. I slowed him down enough to ask him a few questions about Southwick, the new minimum racing age, being a mini dad, and about how his fans give him strength to stomp on the younger pros.Pete Peterson: You had a great race this year at Southwick. Were you really feeling it that day and expecting a great finish, or were you surprised the way it played out?John Dowd: It was a surprise. I felt pretty good going into Southwick, just because it’s Southwick, and had actually been riding quite a bit over the summer, doing local races. I felt like I was in decent shape, but I knew I wasn’t in 100% shape to go thirty minutes strong, which showed. I felt like I had some pretty good speed, especially in the second moto there, but I just ran out of steam, basically. But it was definitely fun. Southwick sand, mud, a few guys crashing, it was just a fun day, for sure.PP: I think you set a record there, 44 years old, on the podium at an AMA national. Pretty impressive.JD: Well, I think I just broke my own record, actually. I don’t want to say it’s not a big deal… It’s definitely cool. I guess at some point, somewhere along the way my name’s gonna be in the record books for a few things, so I’ll take it.PP: There’s a new rule by the AMA to make new racers enter the pro ranks at an older age [18 by 2012]. You got into racing at an older age than most incoming rookies. How old were you when you started?
JD: I was actually 20 and I raced a couple races. I was definitely older than the regular rider coming in the way everyone does it these days. I just never got really into it before that, so that was my path, and in some ways I think it was good. I think that’s what allows me to be out here at 44 at a national and still riding halfway decent. I think mentally I still enjoy it and I’m still excited about racing. It’s just the traveling week to week that gets old after a while.PP: Were you seeing young kids coming into the sport already burned out to a certain degree?JD: I believe maybe there’s a certain window, a time, maybe it’s 20 years or whatever… Doing something for 20 years, religiously, I think anyone’s going to get a little burnt on it sometimes. I believe if you start racing when you’re five, if you can still be out there by the time you’re 40 that’s a pretty long span to be focused and trying to keep that intensity towards something, you know?PP: So growing up you went to a regular high school and had a regular youth?JD: Yeah.PP: How do you think that ‘regular person’ perspective helped you when all the benefits started rolling in?
JD: I think it was good and bad. The good things about being older, I didn’t really have a hard time working at it. I realized what I had a shot at. I had already been working full time before I started racing and I knew what I was making working 40-50 hours a week so it really didn’t take rocket science to realize, ‘Hey if I go out and train a little bit and work and just put some effort here I could maybe make something of this.’ Just learning to appreciate the opportunity I had was one of the benefits of starting a little later. On the negative side, there is something to be said about youth, just physically and being a little more aggressive sometimes. So I don’t know if I would say [staring late] was a better thing or worse thing, but the way I had it, I didn’t have any choice in it, so I just made the best of it.PP: You’re a dad now. You have a son. He races motocross. You’ve seen so much from the inside of the sport at the highest level, do you have an approach or any recommendations to any dads out there?JD: My approach to our racing with my son and myself is that I want to make sure he’s out there because he wants to be out there. I push him a little bit, but I always told myself I wasn’t going to get crazy and push my kid so hard that you’re going to drive him out of it. You try to keep him focused, and keep showing him how to keep it fun, because I believe the more fun you have with it the better you’re going to do, and you’re going to put more effort into it. So we do our thing and I just try to keep him having fun and focused. I try to teach him the right way to do things, how to be safe and smart on the track, and I push him sometimes a little bit but I try not to go overboard with it.PP: How old’s you son now?JD: He’s twelve now.PP: And who’s the faster between the two of you?JD: Unfortunately for him I’m still going pretty good so I’m faster. That’s actually our deal. I told him I’m going to keep racing until he can beat me. He has aspirations of maybe when he grows up being a national rider. He and my wife joke around that it would be pretty cool if he could actually qualify for a national and I still could at that time. I don’t know if that’s possible, that’s gonna be six years… I don’t know, that’s kind of a far one, but we joke about it. It’s kinda fun to talk about it.PP: You made such an impression in 2009, what are your race plans at the national level for 2010?
JD: It’s kind of a bummer I did so well last year, it’s going to be tough to beat. I’d love to get out there and do one better, but whatever, I’m going to show up at Southwick either way. I love being there, I love racing there. I’ll just give it my best shot. Hopefully I can get myself in good enough shape and try to mix it up again with the boys.PP: Do you see fans out there that are screaming for you more than the other guys?JD: You know what? I honestly this year couldn’t believe… It was a dreary, ugly day, I mean it wasn’t even that there were a lot of people there, it wasn’t a record attendance or anything but this year I swear it seemed like they were louder for me than they ever were. I was a really weird thing. I believe that’s half the reason I was able to keep going. I was so tired at the end of that race I could barely stand up, but you know, the fans all screaming and stuff… They’ve always been good for us local guys, myself, Doug Henry, and a couple of the other guys, it’s just the fans out here are really hardcore for the locals and it’s just great. It’s fun to get out there and try to do good for ‘em, give ‘em something to cheer at, so I’ll be there this year.Dowd’s sponsors for 2010 include Moose Racing, Chapplin Kawasaki, Pirelli, Parts Unlimited, Smith goggles, Shoei helmets, Pro Circuit, Renthal, Kenny G’s Performance Tuning (Ernesto Fonseca’s former factory mechanic, now open to the public in New England area), TSS Graphics, Alpinestars, Factory Connection, Works Connection, Cycra, Motion Pro, and Spectro.