It is hard to believe that Steven Clarke is still only 22 years old. It seems he has been around forever and since being on a 65cc bike he has been travelling all over the world racing trying to better himself. From Belgium to Finland to Australia, to the USA and Canada and back to England – Clarke has seen and experienced it all.
But the one thing no one expected to see was Clarke racing at Milton Park last weekend and putting his HM Plant KTM on the podium!
It was a great performance to give Clarke his first ever Maxxis podium so we thought we should speak to Clarke to find out just how it all came about.
Steven was very candid in this interview about his 2011 season in the British championship and you have to admire someone with so much honesty. We also talk to him about his thoughts on Jimmy DeCotis and Davi Millsaps as well as what it is like to race AMA supercross.
Clarke could probably write a book on his motocross experiences but for now this interview will have to do. Read on and get a glimpse into the highs and lows of one of the most well travelled British motocross riders there has ever been.
I guess we may start at the weekend -Well done on third overall! Although I don’t think people even knew you were going to be riding let alone end up on the podium! So how did it all happen?
It was all last minute really. I raced the East coast supercross in America is only supercross only so after Las VegasI was freelance and I didn’t have much going on. My dad had asked me if I wanted to ride when I came home and obviously the answer was yes. So he made a few phone calls and I had been racing KTMs and I really enjoyed riding that bike, so I decided to try and sort something out on KTM and between KTM UK an HM Plant we got a little deal going to where they give me a bike and I can run under the awning.
I haven’t actually raced a motocross race since Hawkstone at the Maxxis in 2011. I have been pretty much doing supercross only since then.
I thought Milton would be a pretty good track to come back to being a lot shorter and tighter rather than a deep sand track to be fair!
Just talk us through the races, your speed was good all weekend long.
It pretty much started straight from qualifying. I was third quickest time and it felt good straight away sometimes you just get out on the track and you just gel and no matter what the circumstances you just had a good day. I made a bit of a mistake in the superpole so that put me tenth.
I had a pretty good start in about fourth and made a few quick passes. I bided my time behind Nev and Lenoir until about three quaters of the way through the races then I just picked my passes smart and came away with a second.
In the second race someone crashed into me from behind in the first corner so I was dead last to get up. So that made it hard from the get go but it put me through my passes to see what I was made of and to get back to where I did (sixth) I thought I did pretty well because I was a fair ways back at the start. I set some good lap times towards the end of the race so my fitness was quite good.
The last one was a mud bath -all greasy and slippery. It was a lot to do with using your head and basically I just sat behind Irwin and Mackenzie. I lost vision about four laps into the race with water under my tear offs, I kept the goggles on and was just very careful. I bided my time and when it was three laps to go I decided to drop the hammer and ended up with a fourth and third overall.
That was my first ever podium in the Maxxis ever so that was nice!
It has to feel good the way you did it as well.
Yea exactly, to come back from not racing a motocross race since 2011 and I have probably only done about ten days on a motocross since then. I was doing Supercross in American or Australia. It was nice and I put myself in the position of no pressure over the weekend and just whatever happened, happened. I wanted to see where I was at but I think that helped. From qualifying I was having a blast and it just clicked into place.
Going back to when you rode for Rob Hooper a couple of years ago I think people expected that coming from America you would be top 5/3 all year. In fact people probably expected you to do what you did at the weekend to happen all year in 2011. What went wrong that year? Was it injuries, confidence or just adapting back to British motocross and it being totally different from America?
You know I can’t sit here and lie and say it was injuries because it was all down to me really. A lot of it was in my head. I had been in America for a few years and everything was going great over there I came home and I wasn’t ready for it.
I didn’t train enough basically, let’s just put that in. I didn’t put enough time in one the off season and when I came home it caught me off guard.
Once I started doing not so well at the first couple of races I started beating myself up a bit too much and it went that way. It wasn’t fun at all that year, I lost that fight. Then after I went to Australia and I had a big wrist injury which put me out. So it was sitting on the couch watching everyone else ride put that fire back in my belly really.
Was that the crash over the triple?
Yeah it was that crash over the triple that did it. But it wasn’t so much the injury that took me out for so long. I had a complication with the healing process, a few of my bones in my wrist didn’t heal up and I ended up having to have a second surgery where they took some bones out and had to put some metal in but that is part of the sport and I have to take the good with the bad.
Being off the bike for so long made me realise why I do it. I got that love for the sport back and my theory since then has been if I’m not having fun on the bike there is no point doing it. I can honestly say that I wake up now and I get to ride my bike and it makes me happy. It shows in my results, even this weekend despite not having raced or trained for outdoors, I just rode from the heart using my talent and it shows what I’m capable of.
You have a lot of experience racing in America, Australia and the British Championship but is it hard now to go to do those different championships and just drop in without being able to prepare full for them?
It is not easy, I wouldn’t recommend it! It is not easy to change but if you can get a good set up with your bike and it is the same as you raced before then it is isn’t as hard as people think. But if you are going country to country racing different bikes it’s hard.
I have been racing Suzukis my whole career and I went to America for the supercross this year and jumped on a KTM and I think I got four days of SX training in before the first round. That was tough because I had to get used to a completely different bike in a different country and it took me halfway into the season to find my feet.
But like I said I am happy on the KTM, I rode a bog standard KTM this weekend and I was mixing it up with the best in our country. And I think if I could have gated in front of Elliot I maybe could have battled him.
It’s onwards and upwards from here. I think there are four rounds of the British championship left and up next is Foxhills – which is one of my favourite tracks from all over the world. I have three weeks now to prepare and I just had a crazy day today doing a 34 mile road bike ride plus circuits and strengthening my chest and shoulders. Hopefully I can show up and Foxhills and do even better.
What is your schedule for the rest of the year? Are you going to do any Grand Prix?
I haven’t really got one. When I negotiated this deal with Roger I said I didn’t want to have to do specific races because I wanted to do the races when I felt ready for it. I’m sure further into the season and once I get back into a groove with my training program I will hit more and more races.
I don’t think I am ready to show up at the Beach race this weekend because that is too different from what I have been used to with supercross. It is freelance at the moment and I really appreciate Roger and KTM UK for going out on a limb for me. It means a lot to me and a lot of people had wrote me off which is hard to take.
I am just glad to come home and mix it up with these boys. Elliot has that number one plate and everyone has been chasing him. If I can be the one to beat him -that is the goal I am aiming for. I am sure Roger was pretty pumped to have two of his riders on the podium. But there is more to come from me.
As far as GPs go there are talks of that but I am not ready for that at the moment because there is a big difference between a 20 minute Maxxis race and a forty minute GP race.
You raced the East Coast with Jimmy DeCotis. He is doing the GPs with Pro Circuit right now, do you think part of his struggles is coming from racing a short supercross race and going straight into GPs because as you just mentioned you aren’t ready for the GP motos yet and it seems Jimmy isn’t quite ready yet either.
Jimmy is one of my best friends, I talk to him two or three times a week. I was just talking to him two nights ago. He thought he was going to be ready just because he was coming in to the Pro Circuit team. Again it caught him off guard with how fast everyone else is. Everyone in America puts themselves in this bubble, they think they are the fastest riders in the world, and a lot of the time they are but he wasn’t ready for it (GPs).
He is slowly finding his feet, he has never been to Europe whereas I have been back and forth. It takes a good month I would say for you to settle in and get used to the food and the time difference, the different tracks.
He is a really talented rider and he has just been struggling. When you are on a team like that you put a lot of pressure on yourself to deliver results and when they don’t come you start second guessing yourself. I told him ’you’re a talented rider, ride from your heart, throw some whips in practice and the results will come – don’t put too much pressure on yourself.’
I guess you can kind of relate with what happened to you in 2011. I suppose he is going through a similar thing and you can help him with that.
Yeah he is going through the exact same thing. I was talking to him for an hour and a half and I try and help him through. He is lost, it is a different world being in Europe as opposed to America. But he will get there – I have got a lot of faith in him. He is a really good rider and riding on one of the best teams in the world but he is following in Tommy Searle’s footsteps so he needs to pick it up sooner or later.
Just going back to the supercross you have raced it and been in the Millsaps training facility. What is it like to go through that and to ride supercross and be able to do all the things that a lot of kids in Britain will not get to experience?
It is unbelievable. I do all the preparation at MTF. For people who haven’t been there it is basically a boot camp for motocross. Anything you can think of to make you better as a rider, they have a big gym onsite a full motocross track round the outside of two supercross tracks, a full irrigation sprinkler system, two water trucks, tractors, Bobcats, track and maintenance people.
Anything that comes up to benefit the riders they have, even silly little things like having handlebars on the rowing machine or pull up bars. There is a basketball court, a volleyball court, a kitchen with a cook, a games room. It is basically heaven for motocross!
You do all your preparation there and then you show up at the Supercross and being from England I have done our supercrosses where there is 3,000 people in the crowd which is quite a lot, but then you show up there and there is 70,000 people and it roars! You have your helmet on and the bike revving and you can still hear the crowd. It is amazing and there is nothing that can really describe it.
Looking at it from the outside the starts seems so important in supercross and the Americans are always really good at them at the Nations. Is that something you really focus on when you are there?
Yeah, 100%. No matter what country or track the start is key. That’s one thing we really worked on at MTF, Davi Millsaps mum, Coleen, does the coaching and she has a real good eye for picking faults and finding the technique that works the best for everyone. There is one way she teaches that will work nine times out of ten for everyone. We practice anywhere from ten to fifty starts a day.
Obviously Davi Millsaps did really well this season and changed a lot of people’s perception of him. Did you see Davi when he was younger and he was working with his mum? Did you know he could do what he did this year?
Oh yeah for sure. I have been riding with Davi from when he was on 85s. I believe he was 13 when I went there the first time. He is like a big brother of mine and even today he speaks to me like I’m his little brother and he is really good to me. I have always been his biggest fan, my mum and dad are the same and his mum, despite whatever happened between them she knows if he puts in the work he can win and he can beat VIllopoto. He has more talent on a bike that any of those riders, it all comes down to preparation and being head strong. This year he really put in the work before the season and came out swinging leading the series until half way in until he reinjured his knee. I was actually there the day he injured his knee, it was just a stupid little tip over in a turn which is always the way it goes.
I’d put my money on him for winning it next year. Now that he is getting knee fixed he will be out of the nationals so he can really prepare for next season and stop Ryan Villopoto.
Presuming this year goes well for you, what are you goals for next year? Are looking to go back to America or stay in the British championship or do GPs?
I have this question a lot and my main answer is if I can wake up every day and ride a motocross bike instead of going to work then I’m happy. I don’t mind if I race in America, England, Brazil or Australia. It is all the same you line up on a gate with 40 other riders and you duke it out.
I would love to go back and do the supercross in America and maybe come back and do the British races. It depends how well I do this year I guess, maybe Roger might want to keep me on but it’s all up in the air I can’t just sit here and plan everything just because of one decent weekend.
I want to say a big thanks to KTM UK and Roger Magee at HM Plant. After the rides that I had in 2011 I thought it was going to be somewhat impossible to line up a ride this year but they have gone out on a limb and I really want to do well for them, myself as well as have fun doing it.
I also want to thank my mum and dad. Everyone knows you can’t make it too far without your parents behind you and my parents have sacrificed a lot for me going to America and giving me every opportunity to make this my job.
Interview by Jonathan McCready