Competing in the various EMX classes that run alongside the FIM Motocross World Championship is extremely important for those who strive to reach the pinnacle of the sport. Doing that requires a lot of time and effort, of course, hence why some shy away from the challenge. Todd Kellett has embraced that though and is now beginning to edge closer to the front of the pack.
MX Vice: We’ll start by talking about the end of last year and coming into this season…
It is definitely good. Last year I was having a good year; everything was positive and everything was great. Even so, there was nothing really on the table. I did not really have a lot of options until I won the Weston Beach Race and it was like it would be stupid to chuck in the towel now. We were so close and we are doing so well, so I just needed to get a deal that was right for me to continue. Thankfully Husqvarna UK and St Blazey came in and gave me an opportunity to give it another go.
We thought ‘just go for it, put everything into it’ and we would see what we can achieve. My dad retired recently, so that has been the biggest help resource-wise for me this season (having him around full-time). It is quite hard. In previous seasons Dad has been working so hard, Mum’s been working so hard and even my brother, Ty, has been away working, whilst I have been trying to ride at this level. Last year, through to Italy, I was literally riding, training and pretty much being my own mechanic throughout the week.
What about working?
I use the term ‘work’ loosely. I am a qualified level-three barber, so I do probably about three hours a week in my mum’s premises. On a Monday night I’ll just work cutting my mate’s hair, which gives me a little bit of pocket money and I enjoy it if it helps towards a chain or sprocket that week then I’m helping out.
You mentioned that before winning the Weston Beach Race, there were no offers?
Nothing, literally nothing. I was like, ‘sh*t, what are we going to do next year?’ Crescent gave me a great opportunity last year, after my year on a Honda that was just terrible results-wise. I was so thankful for Crescent to give me the chance to have another shot at the British Championship. What was a little crazy was after posting a fourth in Desertmartin, a fourth in Scotland and showing I could run top five there was just nothing out there. Literally, nothing out there.
I guess it is an indication of where the sport is at the moment as to why there were no offers?
It is quite funny, as I was talking to my grandad today about the current situation in motocross. It is hard to picture the paddock here in Kegums, Latvia, but there is the Grand Prix paddock, then there is basically a line of trees and the other side is the EMX paddock. Everyone in that Grand Prix paddock is maybe on a wage, riding for free or even paying to be in a decent team. Then everyone in the EMX paddock on the other side of the tree line here is working their ass off to get that same opportunity.
It is quite nice to walk around the Grand Prix paddock to motivate you and then go back into the EMX paddock and know that if you get the results the opportunity is there. Competing in this EMX class, you have to respect all these guys that drive here. They are breaking their backs and busting their balls to be here – the competition is tough. It is just amazing to be involved, as I never got to do EMX125 so now that I’m doing EMX250 I’m just embracing every race and experience. It’s just a dream for Dad and I – it’s mental. We never knew doing this would be a reality.
How tough is this EMX250 class? We have seen fellow British riders go to rounds this year and not even qualify, but run top ten in the UK.
It is amazing how tough this class is. At the first round in Italy I knew I had to qualify well, so you’re pressuring yourself right away knowing you have travelled so far. Thankfully I qualified! Then I went to Valkenswaard and I knew that was going to be even tougher to qualify with so many riders used to these tracks. I did not actually qualify straight away, so I had to go to the LCQ and that was scary. You just have to make it happen – that is your last chance or you are going home. Thankfully I had the ride of my life.
Yesterday I was here [in Latvia] and I qualified fifth, so I was really pleased with that and now I feel like the goal posts have moved a little bit for me as I know what I’m capable of at this level. Now my mentality has changed to ‘I will qualify,’ it is now the goal of qualifying in the top ten. I need to be in the top ten now, no ifs or buts. I need to be in that top ten and push the top five regularly. Staying upright in turn one will greatly increase those chances!
I just need to put the whole race together and not make it hard for myself coming from dead last to ninth! I can’t express how competitive the racing is you have twenty or thirty riders who are literally busting their balls to get to MX2. It is a five-bike corner on the first turn with forty riders trying to squeeze through. Both EMX250 races there has been a first-turn crash and I seem to have been pulled into it.
Can you explain the difference between the British Championship and EMX250, as a rider?
In my opinion, like I say, you have to qualify. That is the first thing, you have to qualify. You are not getting a free pass. If you do not qualify, you are going home and 2,000 miles is a bit of a trek for my Dad and Grandad who have spent the past few days travelling over here. I think the British could learn a lot from it in many ways. There must be thirty riders over a season, who are capable of winning an EMX250 race. That is the depth of the field you are competing with. Literally some laps there will be less than one-second difference in lap times from first through to twentieth in this class.
In the British Championship, I think, there are probably five guys who could win. So, for me, if you are in the top ten British Championship it is a nice race. You’re going to have some fun out there and you might have a couple of battles. In the European you are constantly in a battle, no matter whether you are fifth or thirty-sixth.
The person in front of you, or behind you, will be trying to take you out like their life depends on it. You can be thirty-fifth here and there is still going to be a good battle. When I came in from the Italian race, the first thing I said to my dad was it is like an LCQ in [Monster Energy] Supercross out there. I saw some guy come up the inside of me and then take out two people in one turn! It is next level.
It is a little intense then, right?
The intensity is ridiculous and is a complete shock to the system for any rider who comes in. Everyone is shocked at how hard everyone pushes at this level. You push as hard as the person in front of you and so on.
Is it cool riding against people you admire, like Nick Kouwenberg?
I met Nick two years ago at a German supercross race and he was just so cool, man. He was like ice cool. I ended up passing him in a race and was like ‘wow, this is just surreal.’ I really respect him as a rider. He has already won the EMX250 championship along with Mel Pocock and both guys are in this class, as they are unable to move into MX2. I have got a lot of respect for those guys. They are really nice guys.
What about the difference in tracks at this level?
It has been difficult for me, because they are like basically three new tracks for me. Valkenswaard I have ridden before, but not a lot. I’ve been struggling with that. I ended up walking the track maybe three or four times here, just to try and get my head around it. I’d go to sleep and do three or four laps in my head before nodding off. It is great for the other lads that they’ve been riding these tracks for so long through EMX125 and EMX250.
This is my first year, pretty much, racing outside of England. You have some of the older guys also who have been in this class now for a few years, so they know the tracks a little bit better than me. That is one hard thing that will only change by riding at this level in this championship. For me it makes the British tracks easier when I get back, as nothing back home is similar or rougher than the tracks I’m experiencing at this level.
There is an increased number of riders going around the track on a weekend also, which offers different lines and it gets a lot rougher. The tracks at MXGP are not graded from one day to the next – it just gets rougher. The lines are really good, but with good lines you get more riders on good lines and rougher lines. I cannot explain how rough it is – no one would get it unless you ride it.
Do you wish that you had come into the European series at the 125 level?
Yeah, for sure. Definitely. I was tied up with Kawasaki at that point though and there was no Kawasaki 125, so it was not going to happen for me. But, at the same time, there are a lot of friends who went to 125s and they are not riding anymore. There is a handful of us from my 85 career who are still going. It is me and Josh Gilbert who are doing it in the British Championship, but then there is Gradie Featherstone in the ‘States doing the supercross.
I think we are the main three riders who have done anything switching from riding 85s to a 250F. We never rode a 125 at this level, which I’m a little sad about as last year I had the opportunity to play around on a 125 KTM and loved it. Dad said that you cannot go through life without owning a 125 two-stroke, so I got a 125 and had a blast on it at some local races racing against 450s. You just can’t beat it. I would have loved to have rode EMX125, definitely.
How old are you now?
What would your advice be to 85cc riders back in the UK, knowing what you know now?
That is a really difficult question. Obviously I would love to say to them all come into the EMX125 class, but you cannot be under any illusion that it is going to be easy. You’re going to have to do three or four rounds before you can qualify or before you are even in the LCQ. You have to qualify for the LCQ! I think what you have got to do really, in my opinion, is embrace it. If you qualify, amazing, but learn from it if you don’t. You have got to learn. Every time you go on the bike you need to be learning and especially at these events. You have got to watch as much as you can and learn. These guys are the best in the world. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Your fitness is up there with the top level riders of this sport, but how much does it come down to the mental side now?
Yeah, I train with Liam Annetts at LAPT training and I’m loving it. I think ninety percent of the guys in the paddock are fit enough at this level, then they have the bikes and guidance to succeed. Everyone is impacted mentally, so it is just how well you can handle it. I have had some ups and downs, as my qualifying at the start of the season was terrible. In Lyng I qualified thirty-second in the [Maxxis] British Championship, which left me thinking I was never going to qualify for the EMX250.
It shows how much is in your head, as the bike and fitness were fine. It was just my mindset. If that is right for me than anything is possible. If I can get my head right and get around that first turn, anything is possible. I feel confident that I can run [Josiah] Natzke’s pace. Look at him – he has had a win and third maybe, then a win overall. It is incredible as I can run with him in the British Championship.
Did you set yourself goals at the start of the year?
I think we always have personal goals. Every man and his dog has got personal goals. I’m not very fond of shouting about it.
What would you be satisfied with at the end of the year?
It needs to be an improvement from last year. I was tenth last year and I’m currently sitting in sixth now, so that is positive. Just keep going I guess. EMX is going to be difficult though.
Are you looking forward to racing a hard-pack track next?
The next round will be Ernee and I’m looking forward to it, as it is a bit more like a British track. A little bit like Foxhill, with the hard-pack. I prefer hard-pack. The closest sand track is FatCat for me – it is four hours [away]. Then the next one is Russia and it seems everyone is concerned about that.
I think it is a little bit silly to send EMX there, if I’m honest. The positive thing about Russia is a lot of riders have not had a chance to ride the track, so we will be on the same level for once. The negative is that it literally comes down to funds. It is going to be £2,000 to send a bike. If you’re from the UK a visa will be £150. That is another thing you don’t realize, as you add that to the fuel and travel. I’m just lucky that Dad doesn’t have to take time off of work to drive the truck.
To be honest, we haven’t really stopped. We had Lyng and then we had Italy, Valkenswaard, Canada Heights, Kegums and then it is onto Hawkstone. There is just no letting off. It is ridiculous at the moment.
Who is helping you this year?
Husqvarna UK, Stuart Hodder and St. Blazey. They have just been amazing to me – I genuinely cannot thank them enough. CI Sport with the gear, CTI, Pirelli, Talon, Justin Morris, Liam Annett at LAPT and Mum and Dad.
Interview: James Burfield | Lead Image: ConwayMX