Chad Reed’s Last Ever Race in Oz?
The guys from AME Management – owners of the commercial rights to the Australian Supercross Championship – run a damn good show with their flagship event, the AUS-X Open, which is set to take place this weekend in Melbourne’s mega Marvel Stadium. AME ain’t shy to work every marketing angle, either. And why would they, when they’re investing so much into the sport and to create a great spectator experience – at the event or via the TV package. So when this week’s PR from AME drew attention to the possibility that the 2019 AUS-X Open may well be the final time that Chad Reed will race professionally on Australian soil, it was easy to write it off as marketing hype. But when you think about it, it’s actually more than likely to be true. And there’s little doubt that has something to do with the fact that ticket sales for this year’s AUS-X Open have been off-the-charts good.
Chatting about this – yep, yet another Chad Reed stat – in the office this week prompted us to reflect on the last time Reedy rocked up in Australia on an eleventh-hour Honda deal. It was back in 2010 at the Newcastle round of the 2010 Super X; Reedy’s return to racing after a disastrous season with Kawasaki and that high-profile bout of Epstein-Barr virus. And despite all the nay-sayers and haters and pundits who were calling Reed washed up and delusional in the lead-up to that Super X round, Reedy – rocking Fox gear for the first time since the year 2000 in Oz – came out and absolutely brained ’em. That win in front of his hometown fans re-ignited the competitive fire for the then 28-year-old, who as we all know went on to post several more race wins (and narrow title losses), own and ride for his own race team, and take over (and extend) the record for the most starts in AMA Supercross history.
So let’s revisit that Editorial piece about that memorable night back in 2010; a piece of content that first appeared in Issue #5 of Transmoto Magazine…
Back in the late ’80s, I was watching a popular primetime comedy show at the time – Fast Forward, I think it was. Not that I was a fan of the show, but one of its skits struck a chord with me, because it made an interesting point about how Australians tend to treat their sporting stars. The skit was about a bloke called Bazz, who’s over at his mate’s joint for dinner. It soon becomes apparent that Bazz was a legendary footballer back in the day. He’d captained the best team of the century, still held countless scoring records, blah, blah. But time hadn’t been kind to Bazz in the 20 years since. These days, he’s fat and unhealthy and he oozes uncouth. Burping and farting and abusing his hosts at the dinner table, he’s totally oblivious to how obnoxious his behaviour is.
The man of the house is making excuses for his crass mate, constantly reminding his incredulous wife that Bazz was a “once-in-a lifetime, medal-winning footballer” and that, despite what might appear to be inappropriate comments and vulgar behaviour, Bazz was infact immune to the social standards that apply to the rest of us. Being a sporting superstar had bought him that divine right. Apparently.
The point the skit was making – quite amusingly, I might add – was clear: in Australia, we love and revere our sporting heroes so much that we’re prepared to cut them a world of slack, no matter what they say or do. Think Shane Warne or Ben Cousins.
But this happens after our sporting superstars retire. While they’re at the top of their game, we’re not nearly as accommodating. In fact, our fascination with them is merciless. We scrutinise and judge their every move. If they’re winning, we expect it, and we accuse them of arrogance in victory. If they aren’t winning, we call their excuses lame. Think the Wallabies, the Australian Cricket team, Mark Webber. Tall Poppy Syndrome, right? Right!
Case in point: the trash-talk in the lead-up to Chad Reed’s whirlwind visit to Australia to race the Newcastle round of the Super X. Sure, Reedy had fuelled the fire by posting online shots of himself in five different brands of riding gear in the wake of his split with Thor. He was also having some fun on Twitter, sending mixed messages about what he was up to and intentionally giving the media a bum-steer.
But the rumour and speculation hit fever pitch. Everyone had an opinion about what Chad was riding or wearing, and they weren’t afraid to voice it. People said he’d fabricated the bout of Epstein-Barr virus to bitch out of his Kawasaki contract; that a retirement announcement was only days away; and that, incredibly, Chad was way past his prime and all but washed up.
This trash talk took on a life of its own (which is a fair indication of just how big Chad Reed the brand has become in recent years) and, to be honest, I got caught up in it. So prevalent was this view that Chad’s best days were behind him, I found myself starting to wonder if there wasn’t some truth to it.
But … Chad Reed … washed up? Surely not! This is a bloke who won the 2009 AMA Motocross title just 12 months ago. He won an AMA Outdoor round back in June. He was the 2004 and 2008 AMA SX champ, and almost beat Bubba Stewart to last year’s title. And he came back with a busted hand and thumb to outqualify Ryan Dungey just five months ago at the Daytona SX. Washed up? Apparently. So when Reedy rocked up for the opening round the 2010 Super X series, he was there to do more than give his hometown Newcastle fans something to cheer about. He was there to prove a point … and prove it on a bike the average punter could go out and build, not on the factory equipment claimed to give him an unfair advantage in years past.
Not content to merely do what he needed to win (which is pretty much how he rode the Kawi last year in the Super X series), Reed demolished a quality field at Newcastle on his TeamVodafone Honda. According to his old man, Mark, who is the world’s most astute judge of riding ability: “Chad looks as good, or better, on that Honda than he’s looked on any bike I’ve ever seen him ride. And he really hasn’t ridden the Honda that much yet. I watched him around our track at home this past week and I’ll tell ya, he can put the thing exactly where he wants it.”
Up on the Newcastle podium, Chad was obviously happy about being back in the winner’s circle. The champagne sprayed and he was the centre of attention. Life was back to business as usual. But you could see something was eating at him, too. And it soon revealed itself: “If you listen to what people have been saying, I’m done in this sport,” he said with a thousand-mile stare. “But I think my performance tonight shows that the fire is burning stronger than ever. I feel like I still have race and championship wins in me.”
Yes, Chad Reed has got millions of dollars and is adulated by every bloke to have ever thrown a leg over a dirt bike, but that doesn’t make his life easy or enviable. Walk a day or two in his shoes. The pressure from the media, sponsors and fans is absolutely relentless. At the end of October, Reedy was the biggest name in the sport not to have a ride yet for 2011, so he flew back to the States to test with a few factory-supported Honda and Yamaha teams in the hope of locking in a workable deal.
But despite all these pressures, Chad spoke with poise and dignity on the Newcastle podium, as he did when I interviewed him later that night for our website. And he left everyone mesmerized with how comfortable and fast he looked on the bike.
The whole episode sure taught me a valuable lesson: to not get caught up in hype or ever doubt a champion.
But I’ll tell you what: Chad had better not fart at my dinner table 10 years down the track, cos I won’t be making excuses for him.
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