Editorial: Judging J-Law

Jean Turner | April 21, 2009

No matter how bright he shines, a proverbial dark cloud seems to hover over Jason Lawrence. The 22-year-old is suspended, yet again, and can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble long enough to complete a series.In a press release sent out yesterday (April 20, 2009), the AMA announced that Lawrence is suspended for the two remaining rounds of the Supercross season (after already being suspended from Seattle last weekend by the FIM) on account of his “on-track altercation between himself and fellow Supercross competitor Broc Hepler” at the Jacksonville round. Lawrence was also slapped with two fines, one from the FIM totaling $3000 and another $10,000 fine from the AMA.This is not a career first for Lawrence… nor is it even a first for this year. Lawrence was already suspended this season following an altercation in February at the San Francisco Supercross, which effectively ended his shot at defending his Lites West Championship. Over the last several years, J-Law has had a number of fines and suspensions along with a fair share of arrests. He has spent the majority of his professional career on probation and remains a magnet for controversy in the supercross community.A look back at both his criminal and professional records shows why…

August 2006: Convicted on charges of Willful Resist/Delay/Obstruction (of a Peace Officer) in Riverside, CaliforniaMay 2007: Scuffle with Ryan Villopoto at Hangtown in which Villopoto delivers an uppercut to J-Law with his KX250F. Villopoto is fined $2500 and Lawrence (who the AMA called the instigator of the altercation) is fined $7500 and put on one year probation.October 2007: At 20 years old, Lawrence is arrested and convicted of a DUI in Riverside, California.April 2008: Jason Lawrence wins the AMA Supercross Lites West championship.May 2008: Lawrence is taken off probation and returned to good standing with the AMA.June 2008: Lawrence rolls his mechanic’s rental car in Wortham, Texas at the Freestone National, resulting in a suspended fine of $25,000 issued by the AMA.July 2008: Arrested for disorderly conduct at Red Bud. The $25,000 suspended fine issued a month earlier is imposed, and he is suspended indefinitely by the AMA.July 2008: Lawrence issues a public apology, admitting he “let a bunch of people down” and promises to “correct things and learn from my mistakes.”November 2008: Lawrence’s suspension is lifted by the AMA.January 2009: Lawrence is penalized for cutting the track at Anaheim I, and docked one position in final results (fourth place to fifth).February 2009: Lawrence receives a two-round suspension due to his involvement in an altercation in the San Francisco Supercross pits involving Josh Hansen and Steve Boniface (after he sat out the night program, which a press release issued by his team said was on account of food poisoning).March 2009: Lawrence competes in his first-ever premier class race at Daytona and notches a remarkable second-place finish after leading much of the race.April 2009: An on-track altercation in Jacksonville involving Broc Hepler results in a $3000 and suspension from the following round from the FIM. The AMA would go on to fine him $10,000 and suspend him for the remainder of the Supercross season.May 2009: Lawrence’s probationary status will be extended by 12 months, placing him on probation until May 3, 2010.

Either his results or his indiscretions always seem to have him in the spotlight – a fact which Lawrence began to resent in 2008. In his apology letter, Lawrence said, “Being a champion, I’m constantly in the spotlight and my every move – good or bad – is discussed and debated online and in the press. It’s a lot to handle and in all honesty, I’ve had a bad year dealing with it.”After his indefinite suspension, Lawrence remained scarce for the last half of 2008. Not much was seen or heard from Lawrence until late in the year when the AMA announced his suspension was lifted, and the Troy Racing team listed J-Law on the roster.Whether or not his sponsors were going to stick by him was unclear and the big question was whether or not Yamaha was still on board. Though they wouldn’t comment on the matter, it appeared as though Yamaha washed their hands of any association with Lawrence. Yamaha had nothing to say about Lawrence’s plans for the upcoming season and did not admit to knowing anything about his program for 2009.The questions would be answered at Anaheim I by simply seeing who and what Lawrence showed up with.While the personnel and equipment remained largely the same, the name of the race team went from “Yamaha of Troy” to simply “Troy Racing” with the Yamaha logo removed from everything in the pits. Taking it a step further, the Yamaha logos were even removed from the bikes, along with the signature blue plastics, which were replaced by white ones. Aside from that, there were plenty of sponsors still backing him, however, such as Boost Mobile, Monster Energy, One Industries and AM/PM.Team manager Chris McAvoy talked about the team parting ways with Yamaha.“We were trying to take two different teams, Star Racing and Yamaha of Troy, and put them together,” McAvoy explained at Anaheim I. “With financial stuff, it was better for us to go in another direction, so Yamaha went with Star and we went our own direction with Jason [Lawrence] and Nick [Wey] which would also bring up more of the sponsors, which is AM/PM and Monster – they helped us out big this year.”McAvoy also went on to revealed that even with the new sponsorships, Lawrence ultimately dipped into his own pockets to fund their ’09 program, making him part owner of the team.Another change to J-Law’s program was returning to Ryan Hughes as a trainer. Lawrence always seemed to perform best under the tutelage of Hughes – a former bad-boy, himself.


After Lawrence earned his Supercross Lites championship, the two had a falling out and parted ways, but at the start of the ’09 season, Lawrence was back with Hughes.“He and Jason are exactly the same,” McAvoy commented of Ryan Hughes. “That’s why they clash sometimes. But Ryno’s already been there, done that and sometimes Jason wants to [go down that road]. But Ryno’s always like, ‘No, no, no. You need to listen to what I have to say.’ And at the end of the day, Jason does and it’s going great and that’s why they’re both successful.”“I see a lot of myself in him,” Ryno agreed in an interview January of ‘09. “He’s a little bit more free-willed than I am, but the determination, the hard-headedness, the my-way-or-no-way, the f*** you attitude, that’s me, and that’s why we click.”Hughes also commented on their falling out in ‘08.“Of course, we had our troubles, but that’s life. I just let him get through all his deals and his learning lessons. I waited fir him to come back to me. I’m always here for him with open arms. I don’t care if he quits on me ten times. I don’t judge people that way. If you want to come and you want to work, then my gym’s ready.”“You just gotta know how to deal with Jason,” Hughes added. “When he’s on, you accept him that he’s on. When he’s off, you accept him that he’s off. Don’t try to judge or try to figure anything out; just let him be.”That’s exactly the problem everyone seems to be having with J-Law: judging him, and trying to figure him out. While some are ready to watch him swing from his own rope, others equate him to a legend – comparing him to the likenesses of Bob Hannah and Ricky Johnson.Whatever people’s opinions are of Lawrence, they’re sure to be quite polarized, ranging from: “What’s the big deal? So he rolled a rental car! Let the kid race!” to “What if he really hurts somebody on the track? Why doesn’t he ever learn?”But whether you love him, or love to hate him, there’s no denying his incredible skill on the bike. He’s a hard-worker, and of course, he always keeps things interesting. That’s why so many of us still find ourselves pulling for him, and then sharing in disappointment when he takes one step forward and two steps back.J-Law’s life reads something like the movie, Good Will Hunting – you’re rooting for him because his talent is simply amazing. If there’s one thing both fans and haters can agree on, it’s that they would love to see Lawrence’s attitude stop getting in the way of his potential. The difference is where they place the blame: on the AMA or on Lawrence, himself.Despite his sordid past dragging behind him like a boat anchor, Lawrence has managed some major achievements such as winning the Lites West Supercross title, and leading the charge for most of the Daytona Supercross. And while there are plenty of times when he stumbles over his own attitude, Lawrence has also shown moments of class. While running out front at the Daytona Supercross, for instance, he practically pulled over and let Reed by. After a tangle with Canard in their heat race at Anaheim I, Lawrence openly admitted that he was at fault. “I felt bad,” Lawrence said. “I apologized to him after the race, but stuff like that happens.”Unfortunately, the Lawrence we’re more familiar with is the one who is all-too-often his own worst enemy. While Lawrence admits he has the desire to portray himself with “the class of a true champion like Ricky Carmichael,” he always manages to fumble and wind up back in the doghouse.In Lawrence’s apology letter in July of 2008, he said: “Things are pretty much rock bottom for me right now. I’ve run into some problems away from the track that have affected my results and it’s become apparent that I’ve got to address them. I am taking action to deal with these issues and to make sure incidents like [that] don’t occur again.”While the letter seemed sincere – something from his own mouth and not a canned statement from PR – the favor it won him was short-lived. It’s painfully evident that he’s still on the same path… or at least hasn’t addressed the right problems yet.Should Lawrence ever avoid suspension long enough to last an entire season, there’s no doubt that he’d be spectacular, and he’s likely to earn a huge following since Joe public loves nothing more than a reformed sinner. Whatever side of the controversy you’re on, any true fan can admit they’d love to see Jason Lawrence have a chance to really shine. But his time is running out, and the patience of the AMA and FIM is wearing thin.

Jean Turner | Contributor

A former staffer at Cycle News, Turner continues to contribute to the website and magazine as a columnist and someone we can count on to whip up a few thousand words on an off-road race when needed.