After subdued ‘One Last Ride,’ Chad Reed still wants final farewell to fans

Leave a comment

It turns out the final race of Chad Reed’s “One Last Ride” might not be the end of the two-time champion’s storied career in Supercross.

Which is sort of perfect.

What better way for Reed to have a farewell tour than in an unconventional way, thus saluting the myriad roles he deftly has filled over the past 18 seasons at the top rung of dirt bike racing?

  • The hard-nosed rider who gritted through broken bones, concussions and “coughing up a ridiculous amount of blood” (on an infamous day 12 years ago in Detroit) to win races and championships.
  • The daring businessman who sank millions into his own team to maintain high standards of success.
  • The silver-tongued Australian who bluntly called out rivals in some of Supercross’ best feuds while also talking straight bout the series’ big-picture challenges.

Reed, who is Supercross’ all-time leader in starts (264), podiums (132) and top fives (132), might not have the victories or titles to match the greats he rode against – namely Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart, Ryan Villopoto and Ryan Dungey – but his longevity at such a high level makes him a legend.

Chad Reed at a news conference before the Anaheim, California, event (Feld Entertainment, Inc.).

And it often seems to happen through sheer force of will.

“The one thing I would like to be remembered as is just a guy who just did it his own way,” Reed said in a Zoom conference call with several reporters Thursday night. “Outside looking in, it might not have looked as the right way or correct way or the best way. But every decision I made was the decision that was best for me at the time, and I’ve stuck by that.

“There’s been teams I loved and teams I didn’t really love. I’ve been critical of people and personnel and the influence that they have. And I put my money where my mouth was and ran my own team. … I always did it my way. Nine times out of 10, whatever my agent told me, I’d do the opposite because I didn’t believe in it. I just did my own thing, really.”

NEXT UP: Reed eyeing sports cars, Rolex 24

He will suit up for the final time this season Sunday as the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series closes its three-week run at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah, with Round 17 (3-4 p.m. NBCSN; 4-6 p.m. NBC).

Returning after an 85-day pause for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the final seven races of the 2020 season have been run without fans. Reed understandably says it’s “far from what I pictured as my last seven races” and has left him longing for a few more appearances before packed stadiums of 50,000 fans.

“It’s a weird ending for all of us,” he said. “I don’t think I’m alone in all of this. I think wrapping up a career, a championship, there’s going to be something surreal about this moment. It is what it is. I’m thankful I get the opportunity to still go out and race, but definitely, there is that pipe dream of coming back next year and doing a race or two or three, who knows. Maybe none.

“I just love the sport. I love we have young kids coming up. I’ve had a blast. It went way too fast. It feels surreal. I still feel like an athlete. I still feel I think like one.”

It probably also feels surreal because Reed, 38, is racing against some riders who are more than 10 to 15 years younger.

Jason Anderson, 27, once wore Reed’s replica goggles before becoming the 2018 series champion.

(Feld Entertainment, Inc.)

“They’re all good kids,” Reed said. “It’s been interesting to interact with them and hear their stories of how they used to view it on TV at a young age and now you race with them. It’s hard to put that into words. I don’t feel like I’ve been around forever. I just think I’m one of the boys, but I’m a little more seasoned.”

“Toughened” might be the more apt description for the No. 22 rider, whose stories of determination and persistence are legion.

He won the 2008 championship despite breaking his right scapula in a morning practice in Detroit. Reed went to the hospital to ensure he had no internal injuries, refused pain medication (because an IV wasn’t permitted by the AMA once an event started) and returned to ride from last to 12th in the main event.

In 2006, he separated his shoulder in a crash and then lost consciousness while holding weights during the X-ray, requiring a CT scan. Two days after the injury and concussion, he finished second at Daytona.

It all seemed normal for Reed, who began racing at 12 in Newcastle, Australia, and won an early race by taping a broken wrist (“woke up the next morning and couldn’t move it”).

When he moved to New Zealand after turning pro as a 15-year-old, he quietly took two weeks off after breaking his collarbone rather than tell his parents (who were instrumental in his career along with Ellie, his wife of more than 15 years who often documents the ups and downs of her husband’s career on her candid Instagram account).

Chad Reed makes a jump at Anaheim (Feld Entertainment, Inc.).

“I’ve always loved the term ‘gritty,’ ” Chad Reed said. “I never frowned upon it. It was always the fear of not racing and not being able to compete. So many times in my career, I could say it was ridiculous to try to swing a leg over a dirt bike, but sitting in the stands or my motorhome always seemed way more painful than getting out to try to race the best dudes in the world. And I was thankful for the most part, I always pulled it off and done quite well while doing it.”

Reed, whose 44 victories rank fourth all time behind Jeremy McGrath, Carmichael and Stewart, hopes to race in a few events in 2021 but hasn’t determined where. One likely venue would be Anaheim, California, where he has eight victories (tying him for the track record with McGrath, Carmichael and Stewart), including the first in 2003 that quickly established his connection and resonance with fans.

“I basically loved Jeremy and replicated Jeremy,” Reed said, referring to the seven-time champion McGrath, whose brash “Showtime” persona and swagger once drew some comparisons to Dale Earnhardt. “And fortunately for me, there was this young punk Ricky Carmichael who stole the crown from the king, and people loved to hate him. They needed somebody else to love, because Jeremy was on his way out, and I inherited Jeremy’s side of the fence. I was really fortunate fans were always on my side early in those years.”

(Feld Entertainment, Inc.)

He gave them something to cheer during heated rivalries with Carmichael and Stewart, whom he has called the best rider he’s faced (see the video above).

“Ricky and I always had this respect for each other because he is older and in it before I was,” Reed said. “James and I came in at same time. It was more personal and lasted longer. Once they retired, it’s such a different feeling.

“I look back, and though you dreaded the moments then, that’s the highlight reel in my head when I think of good times in Supercross when it was thriving at its highest point. And I was a big part of it with those two individuals that are in their own right the greatest athletes at time. I feel proud I was part of it.”

Chad Reed laughs with old rival James Stewart before a recent race at Tampa, Florida (Feld Entertainment, Inc.).

He knew he was ready to wind down his career when he began excelling in sports cars last season, and he has dreams of racing in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and possibly at Bathurst in his native land someday.

“I always thought as long as I wake up in the morning and want to be better at (racing motorcycles), as long as I go sleep thinking about it at night, that’s as long as I want to do it,” he said. “And then I started doing some car racing last year, and my mind was consumed by something completely different, and that was the sign. It literally happened overnight.”

Reed probably won’t leave bikes behind entirely, though, even after his racing career is over. Having ridden for six different brands in Supercross, he talked at length Thursday about eventually becoming a team manager and possibly running a factory team like the legendary Roger DeCoster, a motocross champion who found a second career in running programs for Honda, Suzuki and KTM.

Chad Reed took a lap before the Atlanta Supercross with his three children (Feld Entertainment, Inc.).

“The schedule doesn’t scare me,” Reed said. “I’m probably most fearful of not being able to pack my bag and get on a plane 17 times a year. I’d love the position of a Roger DeCoster.

“I would have a huge desire to take over a factory race team at the highest level. It’s always hard to talk about this while you’re still racing, but I think that Yamaha probably needs my help the most. It’s near and dear to my heart. The years you look back and think, ‘Those were the core years,’ I was riding blue. To see them at the level now is less than the highest level in my opinion. A team like that would be fun.”

In the meantime, though, there’s at least One Last Ride – or rides – for the most accomplished international rider in Supercross history.

“I’m in shape, and I absolutely want to come back and race” next year, Reed said. “Emotionally and physically, I don’t want this to be to the end. To experience fans again and just what I get from when they turn the lights off and do opening ceremonies with the fireworks and the anthem.

“I want to experience that one last time.”

‘His Mona Lisa’: Roger Penske adds his golden touch to iconic Indy

AP Photo/Jenna Fryer
Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS — The purists can relax: Roger Penske did not remove troughs from the men’s bathrooms at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He replaced them, of course, with the shiniest, sleekest basins on the urinal market, thus preserving one of the speedway’s treasured if unusual features while still insisting every inch of the facility be brought up to Penske code. It’s been six months since Penske completed his purchase of the 111-year-old national landmark, a fixer-upper that he already has lavished with some $15 million worth of improvements.

“It’s like you just bought a Ferrari,” said Penske, “but it was rained on.”

Penske gave The Associated Press a two-hour tour of the speedway this week, showing off with dizzying detail the new landscaping, paved lots, planted trees, picnic tables, widened pedestrian paths, hand dryers in every bathroom, improved sight lines, pressure-washed buildings, freshly painted signs and LED monitors everywhere.

There is not a lone pièce de résistance; Penske is equally proud of every change, including a 104-by-20-foot video board on the Pagoda, a lift in the winner’s circle to raise the winning car and, of course. those old-school troughs.

Two days before the speedway opened for a historic NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader race weekend, the 83-year-old Penske was pushing a car onto the lift as he quadruple-checked its functionality. He went through another dry run of the lift, ensuring it lined up perfectly for postrace celebrations and alerting an employee to some manufacturer stickers he wanted removed lest the public seem anything short of Penske perfect.

“This is his life’s work,” said Chip Ganassi, a longtime rival car owner. “The way he talks about the place, the energy in his voice over every element. This is his Mona Lisa.”

A car drives past the 16th Street entrance to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which has been refurbished by Roger Penske over the past six months (AP Photo/Darron Cummings).

Penske, for the record, is a billionaire transportation titan with a record 18 Indianapolis 500 victories.

He has powerhouse teams in both NASCAR and IndyCar, but the latter is now even more of a beloved project. When Tony George approached him last September to inform him the Hulman family was looking to sell the famous speedway, Penske pounced on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The deal was finalized in six weeks and he got the keys – he literally has a set of keys that opens doors inside the speedway – the first week of January. He quickly was climbing through the grandstands in a freezing Indiana rain as he personally inspected his sprawling new property, one of the most famous sports venues in history.

Penske is meticulous and every element of his operations reflects an immaculate and organized culture. When “The Captain” talks about sprucing up the speedway, he often references Augusta National, home of the Masters and a gold standard among golf tournaments in terms of resources, presentation and hospitality.

It is Penske’s expectation that fans will view Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the same level of admiration, awe and respect that Augusta receives.

“It’s my job. I’m not looking for a gold star or a blue ribbon, I just want to be sure the guests, the fans that come, ultimately when they can come, will have the experience that I hope they will,” Penske said. “I want to take Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the next level.”

He envisions three IndyCar races a season, a return of Formula One, a crown jewel sports car race and an improved NASCAR weekend that potentially could see the Cup Series shift to the road course and away from the 2.5-mile oval.

The updated rear facade of the Pagoda at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (AP Photo/Darron Cummings).

The platform above the new Pagoda video board is wide enough to fit 18 Indy cars – or a musical act for a concert in the plaza. The monitor itself could be used for a movie night, and Penske said eventually IndyCar races in other cities will be aired on the screen for watch parties.

He knows off the top of his head that 25,000 linear square feet of fencing – almost two laps around the oval – has been erected on the grounds. Penske said 4,000 cans of paint and counting have been used and can point out areas that have been updated. He marvels at the 400,000 square feet of asphalt that has been paved, particularly in lots once notorious for being muddy messes.

He can spot the new trees on the property and notes that 3 acres of sod were put down. Penske marveled at the immaculate grounds of the Brickyard Crossing golf course on the property, so he put the groundskeeper in charge of the entire place.

They temporarily closed the Crossing so energy could be focused on the rest of the grounds in time for this weekend’s race. Ganassi said as he flew into Indy, the green grass was what most struck him from his aerial view.

The place looks brand new and yet the work won’t stop any time soon.

Penske hopes to host 175,000 fans – half of capacity – for the rescheduled Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23, and he wants them to be wowed. There will be no fans this weekend, and even race teams are highly restricted on where they can go.

Mark Miles, the day-to-day head of the speedway, recalled that Penske executive Tim Cindric said “the place looks 25 years younger,” which Miles said is an understatement.

“It’s not just fresher and younger. There are areas that are just better,” Miles said. “The scale of the improvements, the comprehensiveness of the improvements, is remarkable. But the one thing that is really going to blow people away is the new big board on the back of the Pagoda. The mayor’s office downtown can hear the audio system on that. We’re looking forward to being able to show these things off.”

A new sign at Indianapolis Motor Speedway greets visitors as they enter the north entrance (AP Photo/Darron Cummings).