Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Series
Round 11: Utah National at Miller Motorsports Park
Courtesy of RoadRace Factory
Photos by GeoCrash Photography
TOOELE, UT, AUG. 15, 2015
Something very special happened this past weekend. Something that we don’t get to witness very often. For the first time in recent memory, a championship-leading road racer exchanged his road bike for a dirt bike and stepped into the highest level of motocross.
Jake Gagne, who is currently leading the MotoAmerica Superstock 1000cc championship, did just that: With one round and two races remaining, he had the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream – to race in an Outdoor National Motocross at the Pro level. When the idea was first hatched, there wasn’t any hesitation from the team or his sponsors; just the opposite, in fact. His team fully supported the idea, and so did Yamaha USA, which provided him with a factory-spec YZ450F.
His other personal sponsors – Bell Powersports, Red Bull and Alpinestars – jumped at the opportunity to be a part of this unique experience. A chance to be a part of history. A throwback to the days of the Grand National champs, when a rider had to excel at three different disciplines. In this day and age of specialists, we rarely get a glimpse of our athletes’ prowess in other sports. The buzz surrounding this decision and overall effort was electric.
To be fair, there were the detractors.
The whispers weren’t so silent about Jake’s chances of even qualifying for a Pro Motocross main. This isn’t like stepping off a road bike and jumping into a National Amateur event; Jake was jumping head-first into a stacked field of the best MX riders in the world. To add more fuel to the detractors’ fire, Jake was set to run in the A group for his practice and qualifying sessions. He would be banging bars with the likes of current Supercross Champion Ryan Dungey, current Motocross Champion Ken Roczen, and regulars such as Blake Baggett and Justin Barcia.
Jake was confident that he would make the main event, as all he had to do was ride smart, relaxed, and as fast as possible.
After the first two morning sessions, Jake had secured his place in the main event by qualifying in 23rd out of 40 open positions. It’s hard to switch your thinking from road racing to motocross when you hear “23rd place.” But it’s important to understand that there are more than 50 riders all vying for a spot in the main, and only 40 make it. There are riders who follow this series every weekend and don’t qualify, so 23rd is an incredibly respectable position, and the whispers of “He’s not going to qualify” were completely silenced. They were replaced with, “He’s got a chance at getting a point!”
If Jake was nervous about mixing it up on a Pro Outdoor National course like Miller Motorsports Park, it was hard to tell. Jake is a master at controlling his nerves, and he’s always calm, cool and collected. As he lined up at the gate for moto one, he looked as if he had been doing this since the beginning. He looked like he belonged there. His years of racing motocross as a kid obviously hadn’t faded, and he was back in his element.
The 30-second board was shown, and the field of 40 riders began to focus on one thing: the holeshot!
The start of a motocross race is 180 degrees from a road race. The gate falls and all 40 racers charge up the hill to an ever-narrowing first turn. It’s an all-out, elbows-and-handle-bar-banging, don’t-back-down brawl to get into turn one, and Jake cleared that first hurdle intact. When making the jump through the holeshot, he was still within the top 25 and off to great start!
The 30-minute-plus-two-laps moto was on, and Jake was settling into a decent battle and adapting to the ever-changing course conditions. As the race wore on, the ruts got deeper and deeper. Certain areas of the track began to dry out while other areas turned into mud bogs.
Toward the end of the moto, Jake entered a turn and hit a rut pretty hard. With his leg extended, the force of the impact pulled his leg back behind him and aggravated his bruised hip, which that he’d injured at Indianapolis. However, Jake was able to finish the moto and claim 22nd overall.
When he returned to pits and talked over the situation with his crew, it was decided that the second moto would be forfeited. It was deemed too risky to go back out and race again when his final MotoAmerica round is just a few short weeks away and the title is still up for grabs. Jake instead spent the second moto in the announcers’ booth.
When the team had loaded the transporter and everyone had a chance to catch their breath, the full impact of what they had just done finally sank in.
They’d witnessed a rare athlete silencing the critics and fulfilling a lifelong dream.
“Wow!” Gagne enthused. “This was perhaps one of the greatest experiences in my life! I grew up riding motocross and riding with a lot of the guys that are regulars in the Pro Motocross Series. I’ve always wanted to race in a Pro Outdoor, and I can’t believe that I actually got the chance to do that! When I qualified for the main, it was already a win for me.
“When I asked [team manager] Danny [Walker] if I could do this, he didn’t even think twice. He got ahold of Yamaha, who built this awesome bike! Keith McCarthy at Yamaha really got behind this project and was even here this weekend to support us. All the support I got from Yamaha throughout the testing with the crew… was really great!
“I really can’t thank everyone enough: Red Bull, Bell Powersports, Alpinestars, Spy Optics, and my entire crew! Scotty [Jensen], D.A. [Danny Anderson], Danny Walker, Carder, and my dad, who all put everything they had into helping make this happen.”
“This was perhaps one of the coolest things we’ve been able to do,” said team manager Danny Walker. “This was 100-percent Jake’s idea, and we’re just thrilled that we were able to put it all together. With the support of Yamaha USA and our sponsors, this whole thing came together quickly and without any issues.
“It’s not something that we see every day – you know, a guy leading his championship series taking a swing at another motorsport at the highest level,” Walker continued. “But my hat’s off to Jake! He did it! I think at the end of the day here, he proved his capabilities as an athlete – not just [as] a road racer but as an overall athlete. There are guys that race these Outdoor Nationals every weekend and don’t qualify for the main event. Jake qualified without having to go to the consolation race and placed 22nd in the first moto. That’s incredible!
“It was unfortunate that he was unable to race the second moto. It was the right call to make. He bruised his hip at our last road race at Indy and aggravated it again when he hit a rut out there in moto one. He has a championship to lock up, and I think he accomplished his goals with this motocross. I’d like to thank Keith McCarty, Bob and Jimmy at Yamaha USA for helping us get this together [and] our team sponsors who jumped on board to provide equipment and tools. I’d also like to thank Nick McCabe at Lucas Oil Pro Motocross and the entire staff for being so gracious and making this entire experience one to remember. Lastly, our team owner Jeremy LaTrasse… He’s been committed to our team since the beginning, and his whole belief in helping riders achieve their goals and pursue their dreams is clearly evident in this venture.
“It was a great experience and everyone involved was just such a huge help,” Walker said in conclusion. “Now we switch gears and prepare for the final MotoAmerica round at New Jersey Motorsports Park!”