Zach Osborne Interview

Shan Moore | December 27, 2020

Zach Osborne Interview

2020 AMA 450MX Pro Motocross Champion

The road to the AMA 450cc Motocross Championship was a long and, at times, frustrating one for Zach Osborne. But the Virginian didn’t quit when many others would have parked their motorcycles for good. Not Osborne, though. His persistence and determination over his so far 16-year-career as a professional motocross racer paid off with a number-one plate in 2020. But the 31-year-old isn’t satisfied yet.

Cycle News Zach Osborne Interview
Motocrossers aren’t supposed to win National Championships in their 30s. But no one told Zach Osborne.

By Shan Moore | Photography by Rob Koy and Kit Palmer

For the hard-core motocross fan, Zach Osborne’s 450MX Pro Motocross Championship probably seems like a long-time coming—and long overdue. For the ever-humble Osborne, however, it’s just been a journey. A long, slow build into who he is today and the rider he has become.

Osborne has seen it all, from massive success in the amateur ranks and a factory ride at the age of 11, to a disappointing couple of years at the start his pro career. From there, Osborne went to Europe for four and a half years where he got his career turned in the right direction. Now, in 2020, Osborne has seen the culmination of all of his hard work and patience pay off in his first 450 AMA Pro Motocross Championship.

Zach Osborne 2020 outdoor Nationals
Osborne carried the momentum of his final-round win in Supercross into the outdoor Nationals. He snagged the red plate in round one and never looked back.

Zach Osborne Interview | Never Say Die

“Definitely there were some periods of frustration and periods where I never thought I would be at the level I am today,” said Osborne. “Obviously, I’m glad I stuck with it and am where I am now. You just kind of got to take the good with the bad, or the bad with the good. Either way you want to look at it.”

That’s an interesting comment because anyone who knows Osborne, knows that he is the type who always focuses on the positive. And even when we talked to him just a few weeks ago while he was babysitting his kids while his wife was out shopping, he still can’t comprehend the fact that he won the title.

“It’s a little bit strange to even say it, because I never really put myself in that sort of class where I would win a 450 title,” said Osborne. “Some say it was a long-time coming. I guess for me it was only a nine-week wait. I had the red plate from the first round at Loretta’s and that was the first time I ever really put myself in my mind in a championship-contention type of mindset. Now that I know that I can, it’s a little bit different story. It’s been a long road to get there, for sure, but as far as me, personally, it was only a nine-week wait.”

Zach Osborne 2020 outdoor Nationals red plate
Osborne endured the pressure of holding the red plate all season and ended up holding the number-one plate for good at the final round.

Zach Osborne Interview | The Europe Years

Osborne turned Pro in 2006, but admittedly had a relatively disappointing foray into the pro ranks of supercross and outdoor motocross. Osborne struggled for two years and appeared to be out of options but was never one to give in, and then he decided to go to Europe in 2008 and that’s when things started to turn around.

“Europe for me was just a major learning experience,” said Osborne. “I was a highly talented amateur rider with all the tools from a very young age. Going there for me was kind of a last-ditch effort at racing. I went there on a two-race deal and stayed there on the same team for four and a half years. I just kind of found a passion for racing that I hadn’t really experienced in a long time or maybe ever, being around a group of guys that loved racing like I did and were there for the same goal. That’s my biggest takeaway. If you have the passion and you have the drive, then you can do about anything you want to do. That was a huge key for me getting back here. Also continuing success once I got back.”

Zach Osborne Interview | Hurdles

Zach Osborne 2020 outdoor Nationals round two
Osborne tasted champagne a number of times throughout the nine-round season, but none of them was probably as sweet as the one he tasted at round two when he nearly saw his championship hopes washed away due to a mechanical.

Osborne didn’t get off to the best of starts to the 2020 season, suffering a major injury in March while practicing the week before the Atlanta round of the AMA Supercross Series.

“It was the biggest injury I’ve ever had,” said Osborne. “I broke five vertebrae in my back, my wrist, some ribs, bruised both lungs. It was pretty dire for a couple days there. Definitely contemplated it. Then when I came back to riding, I wasn’t really riding that good. I wasn’t happy with where I was. It was weighing on me. Definitely a little bit of a period there where I wasn’t really too sure what the future held. I’m glad I stuck it out now.”

Osborne admitted that there were even thoughts of retirement at that point, but when he made the decision to continue, he did so in a big way.

“I think it was just a decision that I had to make,” said Osborne. “I wanted to continue, or I didn’t. When I made the decision that I wanted to continue, it was go time. It was time to go out there and put my best foot forward every time I raced.”

Zach Osborne 2020 Pro MX Champion
Those few races when things weren’t going his way, Osborne never gave up and always found a way to right the boat, often times with a win.

Even during the 450 Pro Motocross Championship, Osborne had more than his share of problems that could have ended his run for the title. After jumping out to a relatively comfortable lead in the title chase, a flat tire at Spring Creek cost him a considerable chunk of his points lead.

Earlier at Loretta Lynn’s, when heavy rain forced the promoters to cut the classes to just one qualifying session, Osborne’s bike wouldn’t start, and he was forced to qualify through the group B practice session.

“The thing at Loretta’s, it was tough on me because it was totally out of my control,” said Osborne. “The guys were doing everything they could do, so it was just kind of hard to watch and to accept for not only myself but for everyone involved, that we were maybe not going to get to race. That would be really tough on everyone, especially with holding the red plate. As far as the flat goes, I did not see my team. They wanted me to pull in, and I didn’t see them. It was just one of those deals where I just tried to make the best and make the most of what I had going on at that moment. I had to just knuckle down and do as best as I could and take as many points as I could.”

Zach Osborne and Adam Cianciarulo
Although Osborne held the points lead all season, Adam Cianciarulo kept it close. Osborne scored a big win in the heat of Florida.

Zach Osborne Interview | When It Gets Tough…

Later in the season, Osborne’s 1-1 sweep at WW Ranch in Florida was a major turning point, holding off strong advances from former champ Eli Tomac and Tomac’s Kawasaki teammate Adam Cianciarulo. The performance gave Osborne a considerable boost in points and confidence. Heading into the Florida race, Cianciarulo had been slowly but consistently cutting into Osborne’s points lead and was just 14 points shy of the Husqvarna rider. After Osborne’s double win, he headed to the next round in Colorado with a 29-point cushion. More importantly, there were just two rounds remaining.

“I think the weather worked to my advantage,” said Osborne. “It was hot, and I was prepared for that, riding every day. When the conditions are gnarly like that, I just feel a little bit of a sense that I’m kind of better. That’s my element. When the suck is high and the suffer is high, that’s when I feel my best. It was just kind of a mental win for me that it was hot that day, and I just went out there and kind of executed.”

Thunder Valley and Fox Raceway, the final two rounds, were all about managing the points lead, and Osborne was able to do so, with 4-2-5-7 moto finishes in the final four motos. In the end, Osborne beat Cianciarulo by 12 points in the final standings.

Zach Osborne at 2020 Pala Pro MX
Osborne was able to celebrate the championship with at least a few fans that were allowed to attend at Pala.

Despite being under a lot of pressure at the beginning of the series finale in Pala, Osborne was as humble as ever having just wrapped up the title.

“It felt good, a relief,” said Osborne. “I had a good lead in the standings, so I knew it was all about getting a good start and just staying off the ground and taking care of the bike. There was a lot of stress, but I knew my chances were good.”

2020 AMA 450cc Pro Motocross Champion Zach Osborne
Osborne celebrates his first Motocross National Championship.

Zach Osborne Interview | Dealing With Adversity

When asked about the rocky parts of the season, Osborne gave a typical “Osborne” answer.

“I’ve just kind of learned to embrace the situations that I’m dealt,” said Osborne. “There’re times in my life where if you would have told me, you’re going to be on this team doing this, this, and this, I would have been like, ‘heck yeah, sign me up.’ So, for me it’s really important to just keep all that in perspective and really focus on all the good things I have going on and focus on my family. There’s always something wrong that you can focus on if you’re looking for that, but there’s also always something that’s right. So, for me that’s the main thing, just staying grateful and staying vigilant in the goals that we have set within the family and within myself. As far as changing, I don’t really see any reason to change. I would like to think I’m a pretty humble guy. I just try to stay grounded. Everybody puts their pants on the same way every day. We just have to be the best person we can be.

“I think that my grit is my biggest strength as a racer, really. I have sort of an innate ability to suffer and to just go as far as I can go. I think that is kind of why, on days like what we had at WW where it’s just really hot and it’s really uncomfortable, [I accel]. Also, that’s kind of how we train, is in the really hot, uncomfortable, crappy situations. So, for me, when the going gets tough or whatever you want to say, that’s when I get going and that’s when I feel the most at home. That’s probably mostly because that’s how I train.”

Zach Osborne at muddy 2020 Pro MX
Osborne proved he could rise to any occasion, including wet weather, during this year’s very different motocross season.

Zach Osborne Interview | What Ego?

Osborne has never seemed to have an ego and has always been willing to put himself in situations that other top riders might shy away from. Like racing a GNCC (which he did this year when the SX series was put on hold) or the ISDE (Osborne rode the ISDE in Sardinia a few years ago on a GEICO Honda). Most top riders might be afraid of getting beat or looking bad, even though they might be riding an unfamiliar type of racing.

Zach Osborne at 2020 Pro MX Finish Line
Relief! Osborne passed on the usual celebratory whip over the finish line when he clinched the 450 title after the final moto of the year.

“I don’t really have an ego,” said Osborne. “I got 30th at the GNCC that I did this year, and that was pretty straight up. I just got smoked. It is what it is. It took some learning. I’m sure I learned something about my motorcycle that day and I enjoyed the experience with the GNCC people and with my wife and the team there. It was just a good weekend. It’s an opportunity to race my dirt bike as a professional and get paid to do something that I love. It always kind of goes back to that, if you find something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s kind of where I’m at.”

Zach Osborne and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Team
Osborne greets his Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Team and longtime mechanic Dave Feeney moments after wrapping up the 2020 AMA 450 Motocross Championship at Fox Raceway in Pala, California.

Zach Osborne Interview | Accepting Change

Not only hardships on the track have put Osborne’s back against the wall, but there was even a disruptive change in team managers in the middle of the year when longtime team manager Bobby Hewitt stepped down and was replaced by Stephen Westfall.

“Obviously, it wasn’t ideal,” said Osborne. “Bobby kind of put us all in the positions that we’re in, including ‘Scuba’ who’s the new team manager. It was tough to see him go. He was a really influential person in my life and also in the team and around the team. So, it was tough. It’s one of those deals where you kind of have to pick up the pieces and move on ASAP. So, it sucked, but at the same time we had to move on, we had to move forward.”

At 31, Osborne is the oldest among the top pro riders. He has a family, as well, which many might see as a possible distraction.

2020 AMA 450cc Pro Motocross Champion Zach Osborne
Osborne celebrates his first Motocross National Championship.

Zach Osborne Interview | Family Man

“For me, a lot of people would use that word distraction in sort of a negative light, but for me, it is a positive,” said Osborne. “I tend to maybe overthink things a little bit here and there and be a little bit too obsessed with what I’m trying to do. So, for me, it takes the selfishness that you kind of need at some points as an athlete but also kind of need to lay down at some point as a human. It really puts that all in the balance to have kids that you need you and a wife that needs you. For me it’s just a big balancing point where it’s not just all about racing and all about training and film study and all the things. You can go and enjoy those bits a little bit more and you can come home and enjoy something completely different instead of being always switched on and in go mode or race mode. For me, that’s the biggest key to my family and the balance that they’ve brought to me.”

Cycle News Zach Osborne Interview

Zach Osborne Interview | Now What?

As they say, there is no rest for the weary, and the day we spoke with Osborne was his first day of preparation for the 2021 Supercross season, a championship he would love to win.

“Today was kind of the first day of that, getting back into it and really grinding,” said Osborne. “I’ve ridden a little bit and done a little bit of training over the last two weeks, but really nothing too serious since Pala until today. So, it’s go time now. I think we have eight or nine weeks left until the start of the season. They have a pretty clear-cut schedule as to what they’re going to do now. I’m looking forward to it. I’m as motivated as ever, really. I feel good about my supercross skills. I ended on a win and some good notes, so for me I think this is going to be kind of a stand-out year as far as the Supercross series goes.

Zach Osborne 2020 Pro MX Champ
Osborne says his next mission is to win the Supercross Championship.

“The 450 Supercross title is one that I don’t have so far as a racer and one that I’d really like to win. That’s kind of the crown jewel of all of dirt-bike racing, in my opinion, the 450 Supercross Championship. So, to win that would be unbelievable. I’m just going to stick to my plan and stay steadfast in my work. If it’s meant to be, it’ll be.” CN

Cycle News Zach Osborne Interview

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Shan Moore | Contributing Editor Moore covers all facets of off-road racing for Cycle News – from AMA Supercross and Motocross to GNCC and National Hare Scrambles events.