Story By Pete Peterson // Photo By Chris Tedesco
Team DNA Energy Drink Jeff Ward Racing Kawasaki came together late in 2011 to field a team for the 2012 supercross and motocross seasons. The team struggled with some injuries indoors, so we got on the phone with Jeff Ward to see how the season looked from inside their team, as well as talk about the Outdoor series, set to kick off in two days at the Hangtown opener.
Pete Peterson: Did your supercross race team meet your expectations?
Jeff Ward: Yeah, I believe it did. We knew coming into it how late we were getting everything going and having to get bikes and parts and testing and tracks and all that stuff, and with Josh being hurt, not even sure if he was going to ride Anaheim; and unfortunately he got hurt [again] at Dodger Stadium, and it set him back, but it also allowed him to let his knees heal up even more. But I think we were pretty much on par with where we thought we’d be and the bikes are great, Kawasaki has a great bike to begin with so at least that was an easy part of it, but getting everything else put together was a rush. But once we got going and into race mode and practicing during the week we got up to speed.
PP: Has this year been enjoyable?
JW: Yeah. Like I said, at the beginning it was hectic… But once we got a few races into the season and we had everything we needed it just became a normal [routine of] preparing and testing and getting to the races. Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s really cool to be a part of something that you’ve got your heart and soul into and wanting your guys to do good. We’re just starting out, and I’m looking forward to next year, to be honest.
PP: You said looking forward to next year or looking forward to the outdoors?
JW: I mean supercross next year. The outdoors, yes, Josh has been testing outdoor stuff after he got hurt and just really riding a day at the track before going to supercross, so he wasn’t really focusing on trying to really put a huge effort into rebounding after his shoulder injury for that, but outdoor testing has been going really well, so yeah, I’m really excited about this weekend at Hangtown because he’s been looking great on the outdoors. His fitness is reasonably well for the minimal amount of races he’s had, so his expectations going into this weekend are just to do strong motos and get through the first three of four without any injuries and then he should be a lot better off for the last half of the season.
PP: How much do you coach your riders?
JW: Both Kyle and Josh, they’ve been there, done that, but I’ve also won seven championships and that was for a reason, not out of luck, so there’s gotta be a pattern there, a mindset, the big picture. A lot of guys get wrapped up in just one weekend and get themselves in trouble or get hurt trying to push stuff that they shouldn’t push through. So I’m out there, I’ve got eyes around the track, watching riders and lines, and telling them what to do, and they go out there and try ‘em. It always helps to have someone that’s been there. When I was racing we had guys, I mean like racing the des Nations, having Roger [DeCoster] telling me things other people don’t see. And you go out there and it’s like, ‘Woah, why didn’t I see that?’ But when you’re riding there are so many other things going on, it definitely helps to have somebody that’s been racing their whole life that can give some advice.
PP: How about actual technique advice on the practice days?
JW: I go out there and watch them, and when there’s other guys on the track you get to see them as well and you get a gauge, I mean of course there’s laptimes and things of that nature, but it helps to have somebody out there… But they’re different styles. I’ve never been big on ‘You need to change your style, you need to have your elbows up,’ or, ‘You need to sit here on the bike.’ Kyle Chisholm and Josh Grant are just two totally different, opposite-style riders, you know? Josh is super aggressive, staying low and working the track where Kyle’s just kinda sitting in the middle of the bike and just letting the bike do the work. You can’t change that. That’s what got them where they’re at, they’ve been doing it since minibikes, so you can only try to help them improve in other little ways. And a lot of it is the mindset of believing you can do it, and then also training hard and knowing you’re putting everything you can into it to not leave anything on the table that weekend.
PP: What are your goals and expectations for the Outdoors?
JW: I really feel that, well, Kyle got hurt a little bit here at the end of supercross, his wrist has some tendinitis, but he’s over that and he’s been riding really well and consistent. His biggest thing is going to be his starts. He’s gotten terrible starts all supercross [season] and he could always tuck around the inside at a supercross and come out top ten and finish seventh or eight or whatever, but you don’t tippy toe around the inside of an outdoor and come out in the top ten, you’re going to come out 30th so he’s gotta nail his starts and if he does that he’s going to be a top ten guy every moto. And then Josh is the guy that can holeshot and run with the front runners. I feel he should be getting some podiums. Probably a top five guy, and if he rides the way he rides he should be in that top five every time and getting some podiums. And if he can stay healthy and ride himself into outdoor race shape, because he hasn’t done it for a couple years, not that he’s not in shape as far as mentality to push through a hard day and get through it and realize he can do it, he [just] hasn’t done that for a while. So that’s where I think we are right now going into Hangtown, definitely a top ten for Kyle and then Josh can be top five for sure and if he gets the breaks and the starts he should be on the podium.
PP: You’re on Kawasaki. With Ryan Villopoto not competing, does that put more pressure on your team?
JW: No, we’ve never really looked at it that way from day one. I know they’re really excited about how we’ve performed all year and our presence and what we’ve got going this year and for next season. I think just how good Josh is riding and how good the bike looks, it’s gonna be great for them because I think we’re gong to be running up there and making the bike look good. But there’s no pressure. Villopoto, I guess there’s more pressure on the guys under that tent, on Weimer maybe and Tyla Rattray on his bike. But I know our guys out in practice have been riding their pace week in and week out. But with the start, and track conditions… it just depends on who’s feeling it that day and both Josh and Kyle ride all conditions reasonably well.
PP: How about more support with Villopoto out?
JW: We did everything ourself this year. We asked for no help, we didn’t want to be a burden on them, we came in late and worked around getting everything we needed. We wanted to show what we could do on our own. Paul [Delaurier] down at the shop’s done a great job. It’s been an open door, if we have a question they’ve [Kawasaki] never hidden anything and they’ve helped out in the beginning to tell us here’s what you need to do with this and that, little things that they came across… But we’ve never asked for any performance parts or any suspension or anything like that. And they’re pretty happy with how we’re doing, which even makes it better when we do well.
PP: Without naming your riders, what are your predictions for Hangtown and the Outdoor series?
JW: My predictions, I feel Dungey is probably the strongest guy, mentally and physically. For the longterm championship, that’s where I would put my money. Stewart, no doubt the guy can ride fast on a tricycle, so it doesn’t surprise me that he’s hauling ass on a Suzuki because he’s hauled ass on a Yamaha, and he hasn’t stayed off the ground on anything, Kawasaki or whatever, so it’s a crap shoot more than a Dungey, I feel.
PP: What rider today reminds you most of yourself?
JW: It’s hard to say. Carmichael, when he was riding, I thought was very similar to me coming up. And then he got a little more aggressive than what I was, a more out-of-control type rider where I was more a line selection type guy than he turned out to be. Right now, probably Dungey. Not his style, but more that he’s methodical with where he puts his bike, and his lines, and his mentality, and stuff like that. Riding style-wise we’re totally different. He’s taller, I’m shorter. Just the way he reads the track and goes about his day to day business [we're similar].
Jeff wanted to be sure to thank all the sponsors that came on this year, at with late notice, to make this race effort possible: DNA Energy Drink, Kawasaki, Element Cases, Dubya, Dunlop, DT 1, FMF, enzo, Galfer, Ironclad, Kawasaki Genuine Parts, Pepboys Auto, D.I.D. GoPro, Hammerhead, Vortex Ignitions, Real Water, VP Racing Fuels, Rockwell, ProTaper, Hinson, NStyle, XTrig, Talon, Scion of Escondido, Racerlife.com.