Jalek Swoll entered the 2022 Monster Energy Supercross season with a ton of confidence that came as the result of a career-best effort a year before.
Two hard crashes later, nothing has changed.
Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California was alternatively savage and sublime for Swoll at the start of 2022. In his first attempt there, in the season opener, he crashed and sustained a concussion.
Swoll wanted to race the following week in Oakland, but his Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing team wanted him to heal for another week, knowing full well that it would take him out of championship contention. It was more important to take care of their rider. In Swoll’s words, they were protecting him from himself.
“We put in a lot of work,” Swoll told NBC Sports. “I sucks to not deliver the results I want, but the team still believes in me, so we are in a good place.
“It’s been a big learning curve this year. I never raced in the West and it didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but I believe without that A1 setback I would be pretty good, and right up there with those guys. I’m not dwelling on it too much. I’m just ready to get into this break, put in some work, and rewrite the season for us all heading into outdoors.”
The concussion and two-week break at the start of the season was a setback, but not nearly as much as one might imagine. It should have stalled his momentum, and by the raw results, one might say that is true. Swoll returned to action at San Diego and finished seventh in both his heat and feature.
“At his point in racing, any little break and you feel it – especially when guys can get those laps and get first race jitters out of the way,” Swoll said. “You can feel (the break) as a racer. If you know, you know. It’s kind of hard to explain. No excuses though. We just have to come out and execute and be better the next go round.”
In his next start, Swoll was up to speed once more – picking up where he thought he’d left off at the end of 2021.
Swoll stood on the podium in his heat race. In the Main, he scored the fourth top-five in his short Supercross career.
The next round was the Glendale Triple Crown and in those three races, Swoll finished sixth, fifth and seventh to earn a sixth overall. Swoll finished fifth in his heat at Anaheim 3 and then took another hard hit early in the feature.
The whoops have been challenging for every rider in the field, and on that particular night, “the pointy boys were biting.” Both of Swoll’s accidents have come in the whoops section, in part because the West Coast dirt is harder and more prone to cupping at the top instead of creating a rut.
“I feel like I’ve been getting better,” Swoll said. “Without my crash (in Anaheim 3), I feel like that would have been my best (Supercross) result.
“I crashed early, but I passed a lot guys. I was going forward and felt more like myself. It’s a bummer that crash happened because I felt like I was in for a really good night. It stings, but I’m trying not to dwell on these things. I’m capable of doing what I need to do.”
This is not spin from a rider trying to justify his place on a factory-supported team. Objectively, Swoll is on pace for his best season yet. With four races remaining, he still has an opportunity to make some noise and earn some top-five finishes.
In 2020, Swoll’s results were grouped between sixth and ninth. Most of his 2021 efforts were in that same range, but he had three breakout performances when he finished second at Arlington and scored another pair of top-fives. He finished fifth in the championship, seven points behind fourth-place Seth Hammaker.
While his Lucas Oil Motocross results have not been as uniformly high, Swoll scored his first Moto and feature win at High Point last June. It was the first MX Nationals win for a black rider since James Stewart performed the feat seven years previously on the same course.
In the 2022 Supercross season, Swoll has finished between fourth and seventh – when he’s finished, that is. He can feel the difference in those two positions on average because it means he is racing a different group of riders with an enhanced level of skill.
Swoll won’t finish among the top-five in the championship this year, but that doesn’t matter. The silver lining surrounding his accidents means that Swoll can concentrate on podiums without the need of protecting points.
“It could be a blessing, to be honest, because I’m just going to go out and compete so I can get on one of those top three steps in the last few rounds,” Swoll said. “The pressure is off.
“All I have to do is go out there and race and let the guys in the points deal with that. I’m just going to go out and do me – not put anyone’s title at risk – but go out there and leave it all on the track. Prove to everybody that the season got halted by that crash and it wasn’t me being off pace.”