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Cianciarulo: That Championship Season

1 week ago | Words: Eric Johnson | Photos: Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki, Rich Shepherd, Monster Energy

Legendary Super Bowl-winning coach Vince Lombardi once proclaimed, “If you’re lucky enough to find a guy with a lot of head and a lot of heart, he’s never going to come off the field second”. A demonically determined and wise old man who was never at a loss for words, Lombardi’s quote – when pulled out and held up to the light – almost perfectly personifies the plight both Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki racer Adam Cianciarulo and team overlord Mitch Payton have been on since the Spring of 2013. For it was that year that the minicycle sensation made the graduation into the American professional ranks via Payton’s race team. Highly competitive right from the onset, it wasn’t long after that the bad luck and bad breaks darkened Cianciarulo’s door at the most inopportune times (as in, when AC looked to be on his way to a certain championship or two … or three!). But the young man from Port Orange, Florida, hung tough and come late August at the Ironman National in Crawfordsville, Indiana, it all came right when the six-year veteran placed second in the opening moto, and upon doing so, wrapped up the 2019 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross 250 Class Championship. A slow train coming for the supremely gifted and determined 22-year-old, it truly was the manifestation of a dream came true.

EJ: So what’s happening, champ? Always wanted to say that to you.
AC: Just enjoying my time at New Smyrna Beach over here. It’s a super-nice day here. It’s a little bit hot, but my girlfriend and I rented a house on the beach here for the week. Obviously, I grew up in this area so I’m just hitting it with a bunch of friends and family I don’t get to see too often. We’re having a good time. We’re having a storm roll in this weekend, though, so we’re trying to enjoy it while we can.

“I’ve never accomplished what I’ve accomplished this year, so it’s a different feeling and it’s difficult to process.”

Has the afterglow of winning your first AMA Pro Racing title worn off yet?
I kind of woke up Monday morning and that’s when it really hit me with what we were able to accomplish this year. A lot of effort goes into it on my end and on the team’s end. You work and work and work towards an end goal and then when you accomplish that end goal, well, I’ve never accomplished what I’ve accomplished this year, so it’s a different feeling and it’s difficult to process. I feel like at the beginning part of this season that I really believed in myself and I believed that I could do it, so it’s not so much a disbelief feeling, it’s just more of a shock and awe feeling that it’s over, you know? Obviously, we’ve been chasing that title so long. When it finally happened, it was very exciting for me.

The racing gods finally smiled down on you and kept the bad luck and bad breaks away from you all summer, huh?
I wouldn’t say that I believe in luck too much. I know that’s probably difficult to imagine me seeing with the stuff that has happened to me so far in my pro career, but I really just think it’s about where you are at mentally. I really do kind of believe that you kind of attract what you think about and what you believe, and I think that for the longest time there that I had myself convinced that maybe things couldn’t work out good for me. You know, like I was always running into a problem, or after some things happened, I got this ‘why me?’ mentality. I feel like once I dropped that ‘why me?’ mentality, everything came at me a little bit easier and things just flowed easier.

And for the people very close to you, such as your parents and Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team owner Mitch Payton, the title had to mean a hell of a lot. Thoughts?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, starting with Mitch, that guy has been just such a huge part of my career. As big as you possibly can be. I’ve been very close with him and his family and they’ve helped me so much. We’re friends aside from the workplace too. I think we all get along together really well. To see him happy and to finally get that win for him… man, that meant the world to me because I care about the guy so much. And that goes for the rest of my team as well. And then there is my mom and dad and I was able to spend some time with them this week just kind of reflecting on everything we had to sacrifice and everything that we needed to do to reach this point. I’ll never forget where I came from. With my mom and dad, although they’ve kind of taken more of a back seat in my career, I certainly would not be the man I am or the racer I am without either of them. It’s been cool to just kind of reflect on the journey and enjoy the ‘we did it!’ moment.

Do you think if you had won a championship earlier in your career, it would have meant quite as much as this one does? Does that make any sense?
Absolutely. I think I’ve always been extremely competitive and winning to me is just such a good feeling, so it’s hard for me to answer that. I will say that if I did win right away – say if I would have went on and won that supercross championship my rookie year when everything flowing the way it was – I just couldn’t imagine being the same person that I am now. I just had to figure it out for myself. I feel like I’ve been through a lot. I’ve also overcome some things. On the mental side of things too, I think I really figured out who I was as a person. You can’t really put a value on that. I wouldn’t change the journey, that’s for sure.

“That confidence and that belief in everything I had was instilled in me at a young age because I was able to win races. I never really lost that. But then a few years ago, I really didn’t have any confidence. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it again.”

You remained poised; you never gave up; and despite the injuries and mistakes and setbacks, you just kept punching and kept your eyes on the prize, huh?
Yeah, it all definitely made me mentally stronger. I feel like I hit rock bottom at a certain point and you lose all the confidence and everything that comes with that. That confidence and that belief in everything I had was instilled in me at a young age because I was able to win races at a young age. I never really lost that. It was always just flowing and flowing. Then you hit rock bottom. A few years ago, I really didn’t have any confidence. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it again. So to come from that place and to be able to rebuild myself into a champion – obviously with the help many, many people – I feel like I can’t ever come back from anything too much lower, at least from a mental standpoint. It’s definitely all made me stronger and made realise how much I can overcome and adapt to. It made me realise, really, how strong you can be.

After winning five of eight races of the Supercross series and heading into the series finale at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, you were in control of your own championship destiny. Then came a very late race crash, and with it, the flameout of the 2019 AMA 250SX West Supercross Championship. After you did your best to shake all that off, what was your mindset leading into this summer’s Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship?
Well, it’s crazy because I think if this would have happened during my first couple years as a pro, I wouldn’t have been able to bounce back from something so devastating, really. What helped me recover mindset-wise in between those races was kind of in the past. I know I’ve talked about hitting rock bottom in the past, but it was more than that to me. I was not myself. I was facing a lot of personal challenges too that I don’t really talk about too much – just some depression and some anxiety. Growing up as a kid, I was putting too much of my self-worth into the dirt bike. That bottom that I hit just gave me some perspective, so when that did happen in Vegas in May, and as devastated as I was, after the shock and awe of the event, I looked around and realised, ‘I’m still good. I have a great life. Whether I won that title or not, nothing is going to change in my life’. I fell back on that mindset instantly. I swear, it was almost like a complete rejuvenation for me; almost like a reminder. I’m glad it happened because I needed the reminder that it wasn’t what I should be judging myself on. It’s just crazy how it all worked out. And yeah, after I lost the title in Vegas, it did make me angry too and I did want to go out there in the Nationals and dominate. I was able to do so, starting the series off with four straight wins. It was just a complete dream scenario for me. If I could go back to that night in Vegas right now, I’d let it slip away again just to have this whole story come together. I was just so grateful to feel that.

“I was facing a lot of personal challenges too that I don’t really talk about too much – just some depression and some anxiety. Growing up as a kid, I was putting too much of my self-worth into the dirt bike.”

Dylan Ferrandis raced to nine moto wins and four Overall victories during the title fight. He raced you really well and kept you honest the entire series, didn’t he?
Yeah, man, Dylan was unbelievable this year. He made things very, very difficult on me. We didn’t give each other an inch and it was just an all-out war; just non-stop. At the beginning of both seasons, he didn’t come out winning races right away, but you just had that sense that he was going to figure it out with how he rides the bike and with his talent and speed. Sure enough, he came on strong in both championships. He obviously got one championship from us in supercross. Even as late as the Washougal race, I found myself thinking, ‘Man, this guy will not go away. He’s like a thorn in my side!’ Looking back on that now, I’m glad I had somebody like him pushing me and pushing me and pushing me. When I look back in 10 years or whatever, I’m going to be so much fonder of the title because of how hard it was. Dylan made it very difficult on me, as did a lot of the other riders. Definitely nothing but respect for Dylan.

You’ll be Eli Tomac’s teammate on the Monster Energy Kawasaki 450cc team come 2020. Was it a relief to get that contract done and signed?
Yeah, absolutely. A dream come true. I’ve been on a Kawasaki since I was seven years old and just to come up through the whole system, through Team Green to Pro Circuit to now the factory team, is a dream come true. And Eli is a guy I have looked up since I was an amateur. I’ve always liked watching him ride and to go in there and be beside him, a proven race winner and a proven champion, I couldn’t be more excited to get in there and get the work started and start learning and to start figuring out how to crack the code of the 450 class. Definitely easier said than done, but just looking forward to getting to work and having fun riding my dirt bike.

So now that the off-season is upon us, what will be your masterplan during the months leading up to Angel Stadium and Anaheim 1?
With winning the championship, there is a sense of we did it and everybody is stoked, but any racer will tell you that your mind quickly changes onto the next thing. That’s just the human nature of it. You just want more. Even me winning a lot of races this year, I wanted more and more. Even just a few hours after I won in Indiana and lying in bed on Saturday night after I won the title, 95 percent of my thoughts were just thinking about how I was going to be on this 450. Like, ‘What do I need to do? What do I need to work on? What do I need to do to get stronger?’ My mindset is already there and I’m already trying to figure out what I need to do, but in a physical way, I’ll be getting on the bike here the second week of September. I’ll probably ride a couple days of Outdoors and then get going on supercross. We’ll get some testing in and get all dialled for the Monster Cup. We’ll do that as a little warm-up race for the new season. New team for me and a whole new environment. There’s just a lot of enthusiasm and we’re just really ready to get going.


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