With time comes clarity. At the age of 26, Ken Roczen is one of the Supercross veterans. As his 30th birthday is closer than his 20th, he is beginning to discover a different attitude toward his career and what success looks like.
The drive remains, but in the first five rounds of the 2021 Supercross season, Roczen has appeared much calmer and more poised than ever before.
“I’m more comfortable than I was back then,” Roczen told the media after winning his second consecutive race Tuesday night at Indianapolis. It was the first time he’s won back-to-back races since he shattered his left arm in a Round 3 crash in 2017. “I’m just more mature mentally when it comes to the racing side of things.
“I’m really comfortable and open-minded. I’m listening to everything – and also the critique. I’m picking everything apart when I watch the race.”
Various portrayals of this new attitude have been a running theme with Roczen in 2021. One expects to hear this type of description when results are modest. It can be a way of explaining away a less than perfect effort.
But Roczen has mentioned a variation after every race – after his second-place finish in the season opener at Houston and his fifth-place result the following week. His priorities have changed. And the result has been that his results have improved.
At the age of 19, Roczen won the Supercross 250 West title in 2013. He finished second in the 450 championship the following season, but it was three years later in 2016 when people seriously began to talk of him as one of the sport’s superstars. Pundits believed it was only a matter of time before he won the title.
In 2016 Roczen had a good, but unremarkable start to the season.
He finished fifth at Anaheim 1 and sixth the following week in San Diego. His next six attempts all ended on the podium. He won twice and finished third three times in the final six races, but a 20th-place finish in that race coupled with a stellar season for Ryan Dungey kept him from winning to championship. Roczen finished second.
Then came 2017. Roczen came out of the gate fast, winning the first two rounds back-to-back. A horrific crash shattered his left wrist in Round 3.
Until this week, Roczen failed to score consecutive wins over more than four years.
“I only had four wins last season,” Roczen said. “That was the only four over a thousand days, so it’s not like I’ve won a lot since (2017). I’m just enjoying every single step.”
The last four seasons have been tough. Roczen has battled more injuries, fatigue and a bout with shingles. He chose to sit out last year’s outdoor season to fully recuperate. Also to spend time with his newborn son Griffin Roczen, who joined the family in September, and his wife Courtney.
It may have been the best decision of his career. That pause in the action reset his mental compass.
“It’s really difficult to compare even though I was great in ’16 and ’17, I’m mentally in a completely different spot,” Roczen said. “Back then I feel like I rode the highs a lot more than I do now. In general, I just quite a bit older and a lot has happened between there and now. So it’s really hard for me to compare that kind of stuff.”
Roczen turns 27 in April.
“I had fun out there. I’m still over the moon about it, but at the same time I’ve learned from the past to keep it super-mellow,” Roczen said. “When I show up on Saturday I’m going to try and do the same thing again, but I don’t let this high get too high on me.
“But of course I’m over the moon.”
Mindfulness, gratitude and managing expectations are now a constant mantra.
“I’m just thankful to be in this position,” Roczen said in a press release following his fifth consecutive top five last Saturday at Indy. “I’m going to continue leaving everything on the track and keep thriving the way I am right now. I’m going to enjoy this today and tomorrow, then come back like nothing ever happened and try again on Saturday.”