Archives | The Birth of a Legend: Jeremy McGrath
This Archives edition is reprinted from issue #3, January 22, 2013. CN has hundreds of past Archives editions in our files, too many destined to be archives themselves. To prevent that from happening, we will be revisiting past Archives articles while still planning to keep fresh ones coming down the road -Editor.
January 23, 2013 is a historic date in the history of Supercross. On that date 20 years ago, Jeremy McGrath won his first of what would eventually be a record shattering 72-career AMA Supercross wins. McGrath’s victory on that mid-January night in Anaheim in 1993 is an enduring memory for many longtime Supercross fans, but for two people in particular—McGrath and Jeff Stanton—it’s a night they’ll both remember for a lifetime for very different reasons.
For McGrath, a Supercross-class rookie who had dominated Western Region Supercross for two years, the victory that night provided the confidence he needed to let him know he could ride with the elites in the premier class.
It was one of those breakthrough moments that opened the floodgates. The young star would not be denied after that win and he ushered in an entirely new riding style that a generation of riders would emulate. For the supremely confident Stanton, his defeat made him realize, perhaps for the first time, that time stands still for no one. Great champions fade and young guns move up to take their place. For Stanton, a three-time Supercross champ, all that became perfectly clear when his younger teammate made the pass that would in time become one of the most historic and fabled in the history of the sport.
The contrast between the two factory Honda teammates couldn’t be starker. Stanton, doggedly determined and consistent, but not particularly flashy; McGrath, late to the game, the ultimate Gen Xer, a former BMX racer who brought the low-flying, rhythm-pumping style of that sport to Supercross. “MC” was charismatic, a Supercross hero for the new digital age and the sport’s first crossover celebrity. His Nac-Nac helped launched the freestyle movement. But all that would come later. At Anaheim in 1993, McGrath was just a promising, understated rookie, who, by his own admission, wasn’t necessarily expecting to win, much less go on and dominate the championship. Stanton was the number-one plate holder and the man most pundits expected to repeat as champion, yet he had a fairly slow start to the ’93 campaign, scoring a sub-par fifth at the season opener in Orlando before rallying to get on the podium with a third at Houston. Stanton was looking to get back on track at round three in Anaheim.
“How you start the season is not so important,” Stanton said in a TV interview before Anaheim. “It’s how you finish the season that counts.”
McGrath, meanwhile, admitted to a bad case of rookie nerves in the first two rounds where he scored fourth and fifth.
A total of 55,817 fans were on hand for the AMA Camel Supercross at Anaheim that night. Rain had plagued Southern California for days prior, but it cleared on race day and the dirt had been kept under tarps so fans and racers were greeted with picture-perfect conditions. In the first heat, McGrath was running a solid fourth, but then Jeff Emig and Steve Lamson got into a bar-banging battle allowing MC to slip past to take second behind Mike Kiedrowski. In the second heat, Stanton got off line and hit a haybale (in the days before Tuff Blocks), fell back, worked his way to the front again only to be passed by Guy Cooper and fellow Michigander Brian Swink late to finish third.
In the main, Stanton looked like he’d been saving his best for last. He quickly took over the lead coming out of the first turn when holeshotter Erik Kehoe came up short on a small exit jump. McGrath got a great start and tucked in behind his teammate in second and the Honda factory boys ran one and two. On the second lap, Stanton nailed everything perfectly and put a little daylight between himself and McGrath, but a lap later MC rallied and was back on Stanton’s tail. On the third lap, the pass that would become iconic happened. It was early in the lap. A mid-sized jump led immediately to a 90-degree left-hand turn. Stanton approached it wide and McGrath simply stayed on the gas, shot inside, hit the jump passing the leader mid-air and flicked it into the turn. For the first time in his career, he was leading an AMA Supercross main.
“That’s a pass I’ll never forget,” McGrath said a decade later of his seminal encounter with Stanton. “In fact, I’d say there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t think about it. People ask me a lot what was my most memorable race and I always go back to ’93 Anaheim. That was my breakthrough, the one where for the first time I could see myself being a Supercross Champion.”
The crowd cheered loudly when their own hometown hero (MC lived about 50 miles south in Murrieta, California) took over the lead. It was a surprise to see the rookie put it on the veteran champ, a surprise that is, to everyone but Stanton.
“I knew what kind of speed Jeremy had,” Stanton said. “We rode together quite often. Back then Honda’s test track was in Simi Valley, and we spent a lot of time riding together. Even when he was on Mitch’s [Payton] team on the Peak bike, a couple of days a week we’d either test or ride. You always had your eye on new guys coming in, so I wasn’t surprised with the speed Jeremy had.”
Almost everyone in Anaheim that night expected the relentless Stanton to come back and show the rookie a thing or two, but it never happened. McGrath pulled away and built up to about a six-second lead on the final lap.
“I tried to come back on him, but he was pumped up in front of his home crowd and wasn’t going to be denied,” Stanton said. “Jeremy brought in a new style of riding that came from BMX, like manual [a BMX technique of keeping the front wheel lofted over obstacles even when the bike is not under power] and staying low off of jumps and carrying speed from point to point better. He’s the one who brought that in, and it’s been finely retuned since then.”
McGrath went on to win 10 out of 14 races in 1993 en route to winning his first championship. He would, of course, go on to become the King of Supercross, with seven championships and 72 wins—records that will likely never be broken. And it all started 20 years ago on a night in Anaheim that would forever change the world of Supercross. CN