Pat Smage, A Decade Of Titles

Smage talks about winning 11 US MotoTrials titles.

A decade is a long time to dominate a sport. Just staying healthy for that period of time in a sport involving motorcycles is an achievement in itself, but Pat Smage has managed to stay atop the US National MotoTrials rankings for more than a decade, and this past month he secured a record 11th national title. Dirt Rider spoke to the Wisconsin native about what it takes to stay at the top for the long haul.

Pat Smage
Pat Smage broke Geoff Aaron’s record of 10 US National MotoTrials titles by claiming his 11th title in 2019.Shan Moore

Eleven championships. That's a long time to be at the top. It was broken up two times, so really it's 13 years that you've been at this level. What has kept you interested for so long?

There are definitely times when I get a little burned out and I wonder the same thing. Certain off-seasons I’m just like, “How am I going to keep pushing? How am I going to get better? Do I still want to try to get better because the older you get, the better you get, the harder it is to improve…” So there are rough times in the off-season when I’m just trying the same thing over and over and getting frustrated and wondering if I need to do this or if it’s worth it.

Then when the results come, it’s always worth it; and definitely having the support of a great team [helps]. When I question myself, I just look at how much those guys put into me, and it just kind of remotivates me and makes me realize how lucky I am to be in this position. If it wasn’t for my family first but then the team, FactoryOne/RYP/Sherco, really just put so much effort, time, and money into supporting me. If I’m not doing it for myself, I’m doing it for the people who help me out.

Pat Smage rides up boulder at dirt bike race.
Smage’s win at the series finale in Oregon marked his 18th win in a row going back to last year, which broke Scott Head’s record of 17 straight.Shan Moore

So improving every year, is that the goal more than going for another title?

I would say so, yeah. I think as soon as you accept that you’re not getting better, that’s definitely the beginning of the end. There are times it has felt that way, but with everyone else getting better too it continues to give me a little bit more motivation to try to push the level of the sport in the States because the better I can get, the harder it is I can make it for the other guys to beat me, then the better off we’ll be as far as the state of the sport compared to the Europeans. They are obviously still at a whole different level. I’d like to think I help push everybody here to strive to be closer to that level. If nothing else, that’s my main takeaway from how long I’ve been doing it, is to try to improve the level of riding in the States.

Looking back from your first title to now, what's the biggest thing that you've improved on from that first one?

I’d say definitely my weaknesses back then were muddy events and hill climbs. I focused on improving everything, but that is definitely the biggest improvement since the beginning. Back then if I didn’t like to ride mud, if I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t put the time in, or I’d get frustrated early. Not saying I would give up, but I just didn’t put in the time that I needed to. Since then, I’ve really realized that and put a lot of time in on my weaknesses. Now I feel like I’m much more well-rounded.

Pat Smage rides up hill at dirt bike race.
The Wisconsin native hasn’t lost a national event in two years.Shan Moore

At this level, how much of it is mental? Are you able to improve mentally every year, or do you just have to say this year I'm going to be more focused?

The mental side is huge, especially in trials. You can think about what you’ve done wrong or what you need to do differently, since you’re riding the same sections three times throughout a seven-hour day. To be able to move on from a mistake and not let it affect your day is huge. I feel like I’ve gotten much better at that. If I do make a mistake, I can move on from it, but still the mental side is just really frustrating at times to me because you want to ride your best and if you’re not, it gets in my head and the pressure just builds. It takes some of the enjoyment out of it with the amount of pressure I put on myself.

It’s just a really hard battle for me to find the happy medium of putting enough pressure on myself to ride as good as I need to, without putting too much to where I don’t enjoy it. There have been times where I’ve been on both sides of that spectrum. It’s not easy to find that happy medium, but overall when it comes down to it, I just try to ride my best. No matter what my brain is telling me, I just try to put it together in the sections.

Pat Smage rides up mountain at dirt bike race.
The FactoryOne/RYP/Sherco rider is especially good in technical terrain and is one of the most precise riders on the circuit.Shan Moore

If you could go back and talk to that Pat Smage who won the first title, would you tell him to do anything differently going forward?

That’s a tough question. I think you learn from your mistakes, and maybe if I didn’t have those mistakes, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. I always wondered what would’ve happened if I would have been able to stick it out in Europe, but I can’t reflect on that too much or regret anything because the path I’ve taken has led me here. It’s awesome to be part of this team and just to be riding this long and able to support myself. Being married, living on my own, and supporting myself through the sport is something that not a lot of people have done or can say. I’ve got to be happy with that success and hope that when I’m done competing to find a home being at the nationals and find a job in the industry and help them grow the sport in other ways.

Now that you have 11 titles and 18 wins in a row, and you've accomplished just about every goal, is it going to be difficult to keep yourself motivated next year?

Yeah, for sure. Motivation is tough at this point. Again, I just look at the support I have and I think that will motivate me throughout the off-season. I see how good the other riders are getting and there are some younger kids coming up who are going to beat me at some point. It’s just kind of up to me how much effort I can put in. I know they’re going to be really strong next season. I hope I can use that for motivation to push myself and in turn help push them to grow the sport and make it stronger and [be] closer to the Europeans.