By: Racer X
There’s so much talk right now about what will happen with 450 class free agents, but there’s already been a major move in the 250 ranks, with two-time 250 National MX Champion Jeremy Martin switching from Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha to GEICO/AMSOIL/Honda. That’s a big, and surprising, move. Why the switch? We had a chance to talk to Jeremy and find out.
Racer X: Hey Jeremy, let’s start with your debut a few weeks ago at Glen Helen. I know you didn’t go out and crush everyone, that would have been a really good debut, but 2-2 is pretty good. How did you feel about it?
Jeremy Martin: I thought it was a pretty solid effort to go 2-2. I wasn’t too far behind the three-time world champ, Jeffrey [Herlings]. So I thought for just getting on the bike and first time in a race situation and really riding it on a rough track, I thought it was solid. He didn’t beat me by 30 seconds or by 20 seconds. He was within distance.
What made you actually decide to do it? Was it just to get used to the bike?
Yeah, the biggest reason why I decided to go and race was just to kind of get a head start with the team for 2017. We could both kind of see how we work in a race environment. I was just really looking forward to getting out there and trying to end 2016 on a decent note since it was so rough earlier in the year. In supercross losing the championship, losing the championship in outdoors, getting hurt… I was just really looking forward to having one race that was solid. I would have loved to have won, but I think that’s the happiest I’ve been racing in a long time. I was smiling on the line and pretty much the entire weekend.
Obviously you missed the last few nationals. Were you training at all? How ready were you?
I wasn’t really ready at all, to be honest! I definitely took a lot of time off from Washougal on. I took all the way off until September 1 until I got to ride the new bike. I was out there suffering in both motos and about 20 minutes in and I was like, yeah, maybe if I would have had a few less beers and a few less candy bars and stuff like that I don’t think I’d be hurting so bad!
This is puzzling to see you move onto a new team. You obviously had great success with Star, winning two titles with them and plenty of races. I think at one point we thought you were going to a 450. So just take us through this whole process of how you ended up still in the 250s, but with a new team.
My whole goal was for 2017, I wanted to go 450. I was in the talks at the time with RCH, so we really thought the deal was going to go through, then unfortunately some things fell through. It left me really kind of looking for a ride. Then I really sat back and looked and realized that a lot of the 450 rides were taken and that it was getting harder and harder as the year went on to find a ride. I didn’t win the supercross championship and I was like, man, I really want to knock that one off my bucket list of things that I want to do. I thought, maybe I can do a 250 supercross deal and then go 450 outdoors. I never really got the opportunity to do that with the Star Racing team or any of that so it left me looking in other directions to basically find a ride, that just so happened to be with the GEICO/AMSOIL/Honda team.
So the obvious thing would be, if it didn’t work out with RCH or any 450 team, why wouldn’t you just go back to Star? Was that an option?
I wanted to work directly with factory Yamaha. I wanted to be under the factory Yamaha tent. I was looking for a change and there wasn’t anything there for me. I wasn’t offered anything.
Why would you want to change?
The reason why I was looking for a change and didn’t want to go in the Star direction was I was looking for more of a family atmosphere where we really worked well together. I had many successful moments and many successful times with Star, but I was looking for just a little bit better of… I just never really felt like Star and I really had the same views on how we trained and went about business and racing.
One thing that everyone has talked about is, Star hadn’t had a lot of success and then all of a sudden you and Cooper Webb both kind of caught fire around the same time, and all of a sudden it took the team to another level. Then we all started wondering how you two were going to be able to work side-by-side. Did you and Cooper actually get along? How did that actually work from your eyes?
Cooper and I kind of came up together at the same time. Bobby [Regan, team owner] was able to basically approach us… I didn’t have anything else at the time leaving the amateur ranks. Bobby gave me an opportunity. In 2013 I did the supercross season and got hurt, and then me and Cooper went into outdoors as rookies. In 2013 was our first full year together racing underneath the same tent and you could definitely tell that we were both kind of motivated differently. I’d definitely say Coop needs to be more fired up and have people talk to him and get him really motivated, and for me I’m a little bit more laid-back when I come up to the line. We just both have different traits and different things that motivate us. I think that’s the beauty of racing is not everyone is just one way. We’re all different and we all perform differently and are motivated by different things.
So what happens in 2014, when you guys are both actually up front and one and two in points for a while? What was that like when you guys were both on the podium in the same moto?
It was definitely tough in 2014 when we were under the same tent and we were one and two in points because I would win and he would be pissed, and then when he would win, I would be pissed. Obviously our goal and our dream is to win championships and to be the best. At that time Cooper was trying to take what I wanted, and I was trying to take what Cooper wanted. So there was definitely some tension, but the respect as an athlete and the respect as a competitor was always there. We were just going for the same thing, so the tension was going to be high. Also, hey, it’s a good story so definitely the media would play into it.
[Laughs] Yeah, I get that! I’ve joked with Bobby Regan about this a million times and he doesn’t shy away from it. He comes from a football background and he admits that he’s not afraid to get on his guys. A lot of teams in this sport won’t ever get on their riders to try to motivate them, but he’s not afraid of that. I think it’s worked well for some guys. How did that approach work for you?
Bobby’s football mentality approach, I think it works on some people but to be 100 percent honest it didn’t work on me. If anything it made things a little bit worse. I think it had some positive effects on people maybe like Cooper and a few other guys on the team, but personally for who I am and what makes me work, his approach just didn’t work whatsoever.
How about the bike? Once you got the new-generation YZ250F in ’14 you started winning a lot. Then this year I know that you were struggling a bit to get it where you wanted. Was the bike ever an issue?
I think that the bike that Yamaha made was awesome. It led me to many successful moments. It was a great machine and I really, really enjoyed working with Yamaha Motor Corporation, but I definitely struggled with it a little bit this year to get it to handle the way I liked it to and to get the engine package to be a little bit smoother and not so aggressive, a little easier to ride over a duration of 30 plus two. So it was something that I’ve always kind of fought the bike a little bit, but that was more directed towards motor setup and how things were built. I think there were some riders on the team that liked the engine to be a little bit more aggressive off the bottom and to be a little bit stiffer suspension, and it might have worked for them and led to very successful times, but for me, I personally always like a smoother package and a softer setup. So I always kind of fought that a little bit.
You’ve had some upheaval all around you. You were at Ricky Carmichael’s for a few years, then you moved from there, then you hooked up with Johnny O’Mara as a trainer. Then you left RC’s and now you and O’Mara have split. So there’s been a lot of change for you in the last 18 months or so.
Yeah, so definitely I’ve had a lot of change in the last year or so. I was originally at the Carmichael Farm from 2013 through the end of 2015. I learned a lot from the Carmichael family. I’m forever thankful for everything that they did for me. I’ve learned so much from them. I mean, Ricky was a multi-time champion and he’s one of the most well-respected riders out there in the industry. But for me, the Carmichael Farm was kind of wanting to change some things, and I had committed to a deal with doing three or four riders max, and doing it in a certain way where you really weren’t competing with each other. I kind of signed on for that and that’s what I like. They were kind of going in a different direction, more like maybe the Baker’s Factory, where they all ride together. So I was kind of looking for a change, so that’s kind of why I came back to Minnesota. Then Ricky set me up with Johnny O’Mara and we hit it off right away. We love to work hard and everything like that. I learned a ton from Johnny. I kind of got to a point where he got me to where I reached the limit and I was ready to just kind of do my own thing again.
I know that you had some health issues this summer. I think the way you explained it to me was you didn’t quite get to the point where you were full-on Epstein Barr, right? It definitely wasn’t good either, but it wasn’t as scary as it could have been?
I was definitely pretty worn down this year. I didn’t get Epstein Barr or mono or any of that stuff, but I think I was really close. I didn’t feel good at all. Twenty minutes into a moto I started having stomach issues. I had nothing left and I never felt like that before. I didn’t really understand why, and I wasn’t going to come out and directly tell people and make excuses. There are some things that are personal and you’ve got to respect that.
Is this something that you’re still fighting or do you feel like you’ve recovered?
I definitely feel like I’m night-and-day better than what I had been all year. I think I still have a little bit to go yet because I burned the candle so hard for so long. It’s a slow process. I’ve done some research and stuff online and I know how long it takes. We’re getting closer to that time, but I think it’s going to be a little bit more time. I’m going to be 100 percent for 2017 and I’m very excited.
Okay, so we talked about you and Cooper battling each other at the races, which was tough, but he’s moving on to the 450s now so that wouldn’t be an issue. It seems like the opportunity was there for you to just come back anyway and that rivalry wouldn’t even be there.
We really thought that the RCH deal was going to go through. I had signed a 60-day letter of intent and had the final version of the contract right there in front of me, and unfortunately something happened last minute and the deal fell through. By that time Star had already signed most of their guys for the 2017 season, and it just left me looking for a new option for a new job. Basically I think between Star and I, we both felt like the relationship had already reached the point where it was bad and it wasn’t going to move forward anymore and we should just end on mutual terms. The way the relationship was going, it was probably better that we moved on anyway.
Can we talk about High Point? That was a bizarre situation where both you and your brother ended up having bike problems in the same day. The team explained it to me, but what’s your outlook on what happened that day?
I don’t know what happened there that day that Alex’s bike and mine blew up. It’s something that I’ve picked my brain about, but I still don’t know.
The cool thing about this GEICO deal is that it does have a 450 component built in, which is good because we’re seeing with a lot of other riders this year, getting a 450 deal is not easy. So you’re all 250 in ’17 and then you are 450 for sure in ’18?
My deal with GEICO/AMSOIL/Honda in 2017 is I’m going to be full 250 for supercross and for outdoors, and then I get to finally move up in 2018 and be on a great factory bike for GEICO/AMSOIL/Honda in the 450 class.
What do you think about your 450 prospects? Everybody says, these smaller guys, it’s going to be tough for them. You’re not the tallest guy out there. Do you think that matters at all? Have you ridden 450s? How do you feel about riding 450s?
I’m cranked up to race the 450 in 2018. I thought I always rode it really well as an amateur. If you go back and you look, I always did really well and won many races on it. I always felt right at home. I’m a hard worker. I’m in good shape. I’m always ready to put forth 100 percent effort. I’ll be ready for the 450.