It’s not often you get the opportunity to interview Jeff Emig in Europe. But fortunately for us, Emig was in Germany working for US TV and MX Vice decided to grab a few words with the four-time US National champion.
Emig of course was one of the best US riders ever and his rivalry with Jeremy McGrath is the stuff of legend. Emig’s CV read like this; one US SX championship, three Outdoor national championships and three MXDN wins. That’s quite a record! But Jeff was also known for his cool style on the bike and putting Shift racing on the map in 1997 by winning the 250SX and MX championships in maybe the coolest looking gear ever.
In this interview Emig talks about team USA losing in Germany and, like DeCoster, didn’t hold back on his thoughts on Ryan Dungey’s performance. Emig also talks about his rivalry with Jeremy McGrath in an era that for many fans was the coolest time in motocross.
What are your thoughts on team USA today? It was a close race but they just came up short.
Yeah, if you put in the perspective of playing golf – you need to shoot par. You don’t really need to do anything special, just do what you’re supposed to do. But Tomac has a big crash, Ryan Dungey doesn’t ride like himself – he was a mess today. Justin Barcia did exactly what we expected him to do in the first moto but the last moto a first turn crash and he is at a deficit. Now you don’t need par you need some eagles or a hole in one to win the thing.
If you look at the Belgian team they had some great rides but they were in a nice position and they were really luck they didn’t have to count Desalle’s last moto. They were right in the thick of it all day and that’s what it takes to win.
You have won and lost Des Nations yourself so were you able to relate to what the riders were going through in the third moto?
I know the question you’re asking but I was doing a US broadcast and I was really focusing o the success of that and my own performance and the thoughts on the riders were secondary at that point because I was trying to nail the broadcast for the fans at home.
But now when I sit back and absorb it I certainly know what they are feeling and it sucks. I lost two years in a row before coming back in 1996 and winning again. My final MXDN was in 1997 and we didn’t win there either. I can say that winning this event is so much greater than losing! It is beyond a single event at home. You have the weight of the country on your shoulders and you have just let them down now for two years in a row.
Your best year was 1997 you won everything in America what are your memories of that year?
Yeah, except Motocross of Nations! I just remember dominating everything and then coming to the Nations having won the year before it was going to be a full calendar year of domination. I felt coming into that race in Belgium that with Steve Lamson and John Dowd we had a great team. Going into the last moto there was no chance and that sucks because you really want to have a chance.
The atmosphere with people cheering on their country instead of just an individual rider makes it a completely different animal. We also don’t have naked people running around in the states like they do here!
How was your rivalry with Jeremy McGrath in the 90s, you were both winning championship against each other but was it a friendly rivalry?
Most of the time in Supercross it was him! But we had a phase there when we were really going at it. I look at it like a Bjorn Borg/John McEnroe or Larry Bird/Magic Johnson rivalry. There are great rivalries throughout sport but I saw it at the time as being really frustrating.
But now I am well past my career, you think about how special it was to have that sort of rivalry because of the level of competition between each other and the fact that 14 years after our last race you are asking me this question. So I guess I am pretty lucky that I was able to live that because not every racer does, they don’t get that opportunity.
Sometimes McGrath over shadows you because of his supercross titles but you won more outdoor titles than him…
Well he won eight titles, I won four combined and certainly his amount of wins and his domination in supercross gives him a certain level of respect. The fact that I was able to win a supercross championship in 1997, by winning five main events and stopping his win streak, I am really proud of that. I wish I could have continued to do more but with my career being cut short with injury I really believe my best years were yet to come whether Carmichael was there or not.
Your riding style was always very smooth with great technique was that on purpose or just natural talent?
Yeah it was on purpose because if you are out there riding all crazy your fitness has to be higher and I didn’t want to train any harder than I had to! I had to be smooth and I call it being efficient and there are certain riders out there that ride with their technique and are efficient and that allows them to have a longer duration.
Watching the racing now through you work with CBS, do you still wish you could be out there racing Ryan Villopoto/Ryan Dungey etc?
That urge has gone. I look back on my racing career with great memories. It is such an honour to have been in that position. Of all the riders that you grow up racing with and, somewhere along the line, they don’t make it to that level to be Supercross champion, motocross champion and stood up on the podium at the Motocross of Nations, being a little kid that grew up racing dirt bikes… that was a dream that was never going to be achieved. I never thought that would happen, and the fact I got to live those dreams – it’s an honour.
Even the broadcasting that I do now, I grew up with a speech impediment and have stuttered my whole life to have done a three hour show on the Motocross of Nations on CBS sports network and to be the host of the show – I’m not supposed to be doing this, how did I get here?!
It’s the same thing with my racing career and my broadcasting career, you keep setting the goals and dreaming of doing this and that so now another dream of mine has been achieved here today even though I am not on the bike.
Just a question on styles… you and McGrath were aggressive but you were smooth now you have the Ricky Carmichaels and Ryan Villopoto style of just all out aggression. Does that make them quicker or is it just different eras?
That’s just their style. Whatever gets it done. I am kind of disappointed I didn’t get to see Ryan Villopoto ride here. At the end of our championship he definitely had the confidence to be better than Ryan Dungey. I think Dungey came here a bit shattered in his confidence and it showed today. He is not going to be happy with it either no matter what the rest of us think.
Villopoto would have been good to see but I was really interested to see Jeffrey Herlings ride too. I haven’t got a chance to see him ride yet but we did get to watch a bunch of practices together and I’m sure one of these days I will get to see him ride at the Nations.
Interview by Jonathan McCready