Photo: FELD/Monster Energy Cup

Q&A: Jeff Emig ahead of Monster Energy Cup

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MotorSportsTalk caught up with veteran motorcycle rider, champion and now FOX Sports analyst, Jeff Emig, ahead of this weekend’s Monster Energy Cup in Las Vegas, a $1 million motocross showcase event now in its fifth season.

MST: What additional variable does the return of James Stewart give to the race? 

Jeff Emig: “His time away from Supercross racing, especially under the circumstances, it’s my hope for him that it’s given him some perspective. He’s been wide open since he’s been a little kid. Funny how things work, when you sit out and are forced to take a break. You get some perspective, see it from the outside. I see him coming back rejuvenated, with a lot of motivation. I’d have something to prove to myself and the riders around me. As crazy as it may seem, this enforced suspension that he fulfilled, it may add some longevity to his career.

“When something’s taken away from you, I think it’s logical to think that should give you some more appreciation for what you have. It gives you perspective. He’s been racing his whole life and for 16 months, he wasn’t allowed to. So maybe now he can gauge the competition. Play some golf, have fun. Get rested and rejuvenated. Be ready to attack. Because of his ability throughout his whole career to be one if not the fastest rider, I’d say it makes him a dangerous competitor.”

MST: With Stewart suspended and Ryan Villopoto having retired earlier this year, how has it changed the dynamic in Supercross racing this year among the competitors?

JE: “The one thing I’ve learned in 30-plus years in Motocross and Supercross is that whenever someone is out of the picture, it opens it up for a new star to ignite and shine. That’s just given more riders for more riders to be on the podium, building confidence. Ryan Dungey has made a dramatic change for the good in his program, with how he holds himself, his leadership, speed and fitness in the last 12 months. He’s a different rider. But guys like Stewart, Ken Roczen will be a big challenge.”

MST: For Ryan Dungey, on the heels of his championship, how motivated is he to finally win his first Monster Energy Cup?

JE: “I would think he’s hugely motivated. He’s been second three times and fourth one time. Every event, he’s been all of the four he’s raced, he has been somebody that is a contender for the win. We did a thing on Supercross Live and where we had these exciting moments from first four years and Dungey was two of them! One was when he bent a shifter, air off the triple, and was shifting the bike with his left hand, that year he was fast enough to win the event. Then he missed the joker lane one year.

“It was such great television, to not only see his excitement by missing the joker lane, but then he goes to high five Villopoto and he’s like, ‘Hey dude, you missed the joker lane!’ We know what each rider said, and you see Dungey, and he’s like, ‘Oh, s***, I just missed the joker lane!’ That’s the type of thing that excitement that this format brings. It brings goosebumps just thinking about it. It allows riders to hang out, not worried about points, grip of cash especially of the first race. Three motos, if you lose the first one, the $1 million is out of play. It’s uber important to win the first race. Keep backing up. It starts with getting on-track for qualifying practice. Getting out of the gate strong is important. This sequence to the day is that a rider can earn $1 million if they’re perfect.”

MST: What do you like about the nature of the race format?

JE: “It’s way different in so many ways, which is the purpose of the Cup. It makes it a single event. No Supercross before it, or after it. It’s in the middle of testing, preparing the motorcycles for following year of Monster Energy Supercross. It’s kind of isolated, as an island of a race. You don’t think about anything else except this event.

“Now that the race has had four years under its belt, we’re on year five, I personally see an incredible drive and desire the riders and teams have to win the event. It’s not a one-time event. Now big names are started to get added. Monster Energy and FELD completely committed to making it a long-term event. Right now, there’s $1 million in play (for winning all three). My personal feeling, before the 10-year mark, it will be $1 million to win no matter what. The type of action the race has provided so far, will help build it into a major event on the calendar. Now we know this race isn’t going anywhere. It will be there annually.”

MST: What’s your take on the new track design and initial projections headed into the race?

JE: “I think, the team led by Ricky Carmichael, when it comes to track builders – in world of Supercross – he’s what Arnold Palmer and golf course builders are to golf. I think they’ve done a great job to make something new. One thing that has been … the builders, FELD, Monster Energy want to attract world riders.

“By eliminating the whoops section, it changes to make it from a stereotypical Motocross/Supercross race. That’s such a specific talent needed. This year, the track, to me, your cornering ability and bike setup and possibly even some flat, hard corners is kind of old school. I think there’s some of that built into the track. Good for some riders, and other riders. Obstacles, jumps, over-and-unders. But I think the race will be won and lost on flat turns. That’s my expert analysis.

“If there was a massive whoops section, James Stewart gets the nod. He’s a notch above everyone else. But we don’t have any of those.

“With my analysis at this point, if it had to do with flat turns, turning while leaning over, I’d give the nod to Ryan Dungey. We will wait and see if these factors play into the overall champion, or will someone in the middle technique wise find a way to get it done.

“I have some friends texting me, and I’m like, you want me to tell you on a Wednesday? I’m educated enough to know that I don’t have enough necessary information to give you an answer. A lot of guys can win. But pretty much every top guy is riding. This has the most talented field this year, compared to the four previous years.”

Monster Energy Cup Television Schedule

  • October 17, FS2 & FOX Sports GO – live at 9:30pm ET / 6:30pm PT
  • October 18, FOX Broadcast Channel
    • 2:30pm-4:00pm ET / 11:30am-1:00pm PT (Pre-NFL)
    • 4:30pm-6:00pm ET / 1:30pm-3:00pm PT (Post-NFL)
  • October 20, FS1 – repeat airing at 8:00am ET / 5:00am PST

3-time NHRA champ Larry Dixon gives back to save lives on the streets

Photo courtesy Larry Dixon Racing
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Three-time NHRA Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon is a man on a new mission: to save lives on the streets and highways as perhaps the fastest driving instructor in the world.

Because he’s not currently hurtling down a dragstrip at 330 mph on the NHRA national tour, Dixon is at a point where it was time for him to give back and help youngsters the way so many individuals helped him in his own life and career.

Much like when he became the protege of mentor Don “Snake” Prudhomme – first as a crew member and then as Prudhomme’s hand-picked choice to replace him when he retired as a driver – Dixon is now imparting some of his vast knowledge behind the wheel upon thousands of impressionable teens and young adults around the country.

Dixon recently signed on as an instructor with fellow former Top Fuel champ Doug Herbert’s nationally renowned B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe) driver safety training program. Since Herbert formed the free, non-profit program in 2008 to honor the memory of sons Jon and James, who were both killed in a tragic car crash, B.R.A.K.E.S. has trained over 35,000 students across the U.S. and five countries to be better and safer drivers.

MORE: Drag racer Doug Herbert turns son’s deaths into program that has helped over 35,000 teens

After putting two of his own teen children through Herbert’s program (with a third child to go through the program soon), Dixon was so impressed with the training that his kids received that he told his old buddy he wanted to become involved with B.R.A.K.E.S.

“I’ve known Doug since we were in high school,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “We both worked at a chain of speed shops in Southern California, Doug at one in Orange County and me at one in the San Fernando Valley in Van Nuys. We came up together racing Alcohol cars and Top Fuel cars kind of along the same lines. That’s how long I’ve known Doug.

Photo: Larry Dixon Racing

“I ran my son through the course a couple years ago when it came through Indianapolis (where Dixon and his family now live), and then my daughter signed up for a class a couple months ago, and that kind of got the talk going because I’m not on the (NHRA national event) tour now and I’ve got more time and the conversation just snowballed and here I am.

“I obviously believe in the deal if I ran my own kids through the system. The program is very methodical but still personal. When you put the kids in the car, you’ve got one instructor and three students, so they’re getting taught one-on-one almost.”

Even though he’s been driving for nearly 40 years, Dixon, 52, readily admits with a chuckle, “I’ve even learned things from the program already, which shows you’re never too old to learn.”

In a more serious vein, Dixon said from his perspective as both an instructor and a parent of two of the program’s graduates is how parents are so vital to the program’s impact.

“It’s mandatory that when you’re running a student through the program that at least one parent or guardian is also there, so the message you’re teaching the teens, you have to rely on the parent to not only be on the same page as what we’re teaching, but to also drive that message home for the rest of their lives.”

Dixon isn’t teaching students to drive 330 mph or to become aspiring drag racers. On the contrary. Dixon is right at home giving instructions on how students can avoid incidents or accidents on streets and highways at speeds typically between 30 and 50 mph.

“It’s more impactful as far as your legacy,” Dixon said of his motivation to teach. “Obviously, I’ve won a lot of races, but what I have to show for those wins are trophies but they’re in the basement, and if you don’t dust them, they get dusty.

“What I’m doing with B.R.A.K.E.S., you’re making a difference for people hopefully for the rest of their lives, and that’s bigger. I remember when I first got my own racing license. The first day I had my license, I was a race car driver but I wasn’t a great race car driver right away, I just had a license. It took a lot of years and a lot of runs and laps down the racetrack to be able to be good.

“It’s the same thing with a driver’s license. You go through the driver’s education course and such and they hand you your license, but that doesn’t make you a great driver. It takes a lot of road time to be able to get that experience. And the great thing about this course is you’re trying to ramp up that experience and put the teens in situations ahead of time so that when they’re in the real world, they’ll know how to react to them.

Larry Dixon is interviewed recently during his debut as a driving instructor for B.R.A.K.E.S. Photo courtesy B.R.A.K.E.S.

“These cars nowadays have so many safety features on them, but they don’t get taught. When you go through a basic driver’s education course, they don’t teach you that you can slam on the brakes and if you have an ABS (anti-lock) brake system, let alone how to use it, so that’s part of what we’re running the kids through. It lets them speed up and then slam on the brakes and feeling what ABS does and that a car isn’t going to spin out or flip over like you might see in a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie. Most people don’t know what you can do with a car and how great cars will take care of you as long as they use the tools you’re supplied with.”

Dixon has already taught three different classes in the last month, with five more sessions scheduled primarily in the Midwest in the coming months. You can immediately hear the passion and self-satisfaction he’s getting from being a teacher.

“I really do enjoy it,” Dixon said. “You get to see the difference you can make in someone’s lives. When you get them on a skid course and they’re learning how to get out of a spin or slide, they’re having fun but also learning a valuable lesson.

“After they’ve taken the course, they have a bounce in their step and know and understand cars better and have a good time doing it. That’s what Doug has done, out of his tragedy, he’s really making a difference in other people’s lives. We’re not trying to turn the kids into Mario Andretti or anything like that … just to be better and safer drivers.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski