Main event winners Sexton and Smith recall second round.
San Francisco will go down as one of the toughest mud races in recent history, where Chase Sexton picked up his first Monster Energy Supercross Championship round victory since joining Red Bull KTM for 2024 and Jordon Smith found himself back in the 250SX winner’s circle. Both riders were available to the media following the main events for this Debrief feature.
Chase, a lot of struggles [in the off-season], no secret now, and you even talked about it when you got third [at Anaheim 1]. I want to talk a little about those struggles and what it means to you to pick up this first win of the year here as the defending champ…
Yeah, I wouldn’t say it was the best off-season I’ve ever had – I definitely had some struggles. I was okay when I was in California, I went back to Florida and Kenny [Roczen] would see it first-hand… I would have multiple days where I would just kind of not be able to ride and I was just really just uncomfortable getting used to a new bike. I have to give a big shoutout to the team, they have put so much effort and hard work into getting me back to where I need to be. I was saying before this weekend, I’m like, ‘man, I’m kind of bummed it’s gonna be a mudder’, because the progress we made from last week to this week is pretty crazy and I felt like my normal self leading up into this race, so obviously, stoked to get a win even in the mud. But yeah, I’ve just got to give a big shoutout to the team. They put a huge effort in and are really willing to try anything to get me comfortable and that’s what I’ve been looking for.
Typically when you’re leading mud races, they they seem to drag on for a long time, so what was this one like from your perspective, at the front of the pack trying to navigate the conditions, but also with Eli [Tomac] behind you as well, kind of maintaining that pressure.
Leading the race in a mud situation, it’s obviously where you want to be because you’re not getting roosted, but it also seems like it lasts forever. The first couple of laps when I was by myself and I wasn’t dealing with lapped traffic, it felt, not easy, but I had a good flow. I was able to hit my lines and then once we got into traffic being able to pick around those guys was key, so yeah, I could hear Eli – I didn’t really know how far behind me he was. It’s really hard to look at the pit board when it’s kind of far away and you’re also in the mud, so I didn’t really know where or how close he was. I could hear him, kind of, and was just trying to hit my marks. It’s tough trying not tp make a mistake out there. But I was fairly consistent every lap and was pretty happy with how consistent I was.
You were pretty vocal in the last few weeks about how the motorcycle was coming into the season. When you get a result like this, does that give you a sense of relief?
Yeah, today was very different. Obviously there’s not much bike set-up stuff you can do… You just have to ride a ride around it and have a good balance and stay on two wheels, but for me, even last week after A1, I had a really big weight lifted off my shoulders being on the podium. Obviously, I didn’t ride good and I was pretty far behind Jett [Lawrence] at the finish line, but to get that result… at one point I was like, ‘man, we’re gonna be lucky to be top 10’. So there were pretty some dark days in the off-season to have the team getting me comfortable – it’s a completely different motorcycle, it feels nothing like what I was on before. We didn’t do any changes [today], but like I said before, I was kind of looking forward to a dry race because we did make some big changes with the forks this week, which was the part I was struggling with. We were really comfortable on Thursday, I had two of the best days I’ve had on a KTM, and felt like I was even better than I was last year.
Can you just take us through that start again? You had a crazy jump and then also talk about that first turn, because it looked pretty sketchy and then there was a ton of carnage going on behind you.
The start was, honestly, it’s almost like a feeling that you have, if the gate’s going to drop. That could sound stupid, but I thought it flinched and I honestly just went and I had a feeling that it was going to drop and it did. So yeah, it was definitely a good start, I’ve done it a few times now, but you don’t get away with them that many times [laughs]. I came into the first turn and, I don’t know, I just hit like a really big soft spot coming in and I didn’t really expect it and it almost threw me over the bars and then Kenny went around me… I didn’t see what happened to him. I was lucky to get in the lead and from there I just kind of set sail.
When you were coming up on Jett, did you realize that was him? And then when you made contact, what was going through your mind? Take us through that.
Well, I didn’t really know who it was. I thought it was a Honda and then I saw I had a lapper in front of me and he went left and I was like, ‘okay, he’s gonna let me go by’ and then I saw Jett was in the rut, so I had to like wheelie up and over around his bike and was able to get around him without having to come to a complete stop. That’s just what these conditions bring. If you are a little bit uncomfortable or your balance is off, you can go from being really good to really bad and that’s kind of what you see in mud races – you can either be really good or really off and it’s just kind of how you feel that day.
Did it kind of spike your heart rate and throw you off at all?
No, I was pretty calm. Honestly, the whole race, like, even with little things with lappers or a little mistakes, I really feel like this year I’ve kind of grown as a racer. I’ve been pretty calm, as far as my mistakes, and I’ve been in a better mindset, so that one didn’t really bother me and I was able to move around him and get to the finish line.
You only had one qualifying session and then they changed the track quite a bit before the racing started. How hard is that to come out and race on a track you have very little experience with? And do you think the outcome would be the same if they had left the track just like it was?
To be honest, I love having one qualifying session. I tend to learn tracks fairly fast and I don’t know if that’s just something I was god given or what it is, but I learn tracks fast. Even yesterday, I was hoping for one and they ended up doing one, so I was happy with that. After the qualifying, I felt ready to go racing and they did make some track changes, which I think were good for everybody because if they would have left it how it was, we would have been even more out of sorts out there. It would have been pretty bad, especially the whoops, the whoops would have been kind of gnarly if they left them. They could do less practices on a normal day and I’d be just fine [laughs] – it was all good.
A couple of weeks before Anaheim, could you believe the position that you’re in with a 3-1? As you say, you’re very comfortable on the bike now, and it looks like you’ll be able to go toe-to-toe with Jett, Ken, Eli and those guys from now on…
I didn’t think we’d get here this fast, to be honest. I thought I was gonna really have to be patient and just try and work into a good position with the bike and I knew it was gonna take a lot of time. We were testing some big, big changes the week of Anaheim, so the the week before Anaheim, they got me pretty comfortable with the rear of the bike and I was pretty happy with it, but it wasn’t complete yet. This week we did some big changes and I feel like we’re getting really, really close to being very… I mean, we are good, but there’s always little small stuff you can make. I think from here on out, I expect myself to battle with whoever’s up there. Honestly, it could be a different podium every week, there are so many good guys – you can’t really single out a person. It’s going to be a brawl and I’m here for it – I definitely think I’m in the right head space and position to battle for wins for the rest of the season.
This is the first win for you in a long career, since 2018 when you won Daytona. What does this mean to you to get back up on the top step of the podium? And then how hard was it to stay up front and win this mud race?
Yeah, it means a lot. It’s been a long time coming. After my win in 2018, I felt like I was on the right path to win a championship and just kind of keep going up upward in my career. Things change, got injured in 2019, 2020, 2021… raced a total of like 10 races in those three years and had like no time on practice or anything. And there was times that I didn’t know if I was gonna keep racing or not, so to be back here to get a win in these conditions was unbelievable. It was very challenging. I mean, it was survival out there, it was really good to get off to a good start, get the holeshot and after that just stay up [laughs].
You had a really big lead, I think almost 20 seconds at one point, and you had a really close call in this rhythm section right here at that point. Did you purposely back it down? And then at the end, did you realize Levi [Kitchen] was catching you so quickly?
It was kind of hard for me to see my pit board, but I did come around lap two or three and I couldn’t see anyone on the straightway behind me, so I knew I had it pretty decent lead. I was trying to just ride as hard as I could, as smart as I could, for as long as I could. And, yeah, I hit a rut and almost went over the bars in this rhythm section, and after that kind of backed it down a little bit… I didn’t hit that jump anymore – I was just trying to hit the jumps that were safe enough to hit. I could see Levi behind me and then I wasn’t sure if he was in second or if he was a lapper, because we had passed so many people at that point, and then I did see, I saw my pit board had ‘+7 on 47’ or something like that, so I knew it was Levi and I kind of just kept tabs on him. Then, the last lap I thought I had a pretty good lead and I kinda got stuck behind RJ [Hampshire]. Like I think, it’s just hard to get out of the line and I was just like stuck following him and then I heard [Levi] coming in the last turn and I was like, ‘oh, I better go’, but yeah, it was good.
Obviously staying up in a mud race proves some consistency and you were pretty consistent last year. Is that something you worked on through the years, to try to improve that? And then now you’ve got the points lead, that might be all the difference.
Yeah, consistency is definitely one of the things that I try and work on every day. We try work on the bike to help… I can be pretty picky sometimes with my front-end traction and stuff, so it’s something that we’re trying to improve on every day, still trying to improve. As far as the mud races go, I’ve been pretty bad in mud races in my pro career, especially as of lately. At the mudder in New Jersey last year, did terrible, I think I got 18th, then at High Point in the mud, did not do good there either. We got here today and Bobby [Regan] said, ‘Jordon, I’ve seen you ride in the mud, you just need to try and survive today, get as many points as you can’. And I was like, ‘alright, Bobby, well I’m gonna try to prove you wrong, but you’re kind of right’. I do feel like I’ve gotten better in the mud though, like just riding at the practice track, and I think also riding outdoors last year helped me because it is muddy outdoors. Like, it’s been a long time since I rode ruts like that before outdoors, so I think that helped me as well.
You mentioned on the podium that there were some changes made that you weren’t completely comfortable with that obviously worked out. Can you tell me what specifically those changes were?
Just some suspension changes. We had changed, a front fork going into this week and after practice, I wasn’t fully comfortable with it, so we were gonna soften it up a little bit, but we ended up going even softer to a softer fork that I had rode before and I was a little nervous just with the deep ruts and stuff that the front was gonna get kind of pulled down with the deep ruts. Also, we decided to run a paddle [tire] before the heat race and I was a little nervous about the paddle, because right out of the gates was really, really like, slick. It actually was pretty hard-packed, it seemed like, so I didn’t know how the paddle was gonna go. But, yeah, they all worked out, Star has done a lot of mud testing in the past and, yeah, it worked out pretty good.
As you’re out there riding, you see a couple of the guys’ bikes expire. Does that kind of register in your head as you’re going through your race?
Yeah, I mean, it kinda always goes through your head in a mud race. Especially on the Yamaha, we have a cable clutch and so you really have to be pretty aware of rolling the clutch back… if it gets too tight, then you’ll kind of be dragging the clutch the whole time and you’ll burn your clutch out in like a lap, so you have to be pretty aware of that. I was definitely aware of that going into the race.
I can only imagine the things you gotta focus on at the end of a Supercross race are intensified when it’s muddy. Just take us through those last two laps, how hard it was to stay focused and how mentally draining it was to dodge all the carnage…
It’s tough. You are out there and it’s like Levi said, like anything on the podium tonight was gonna be like a win, you know, I mean, if you get through this one and you’re remotely close in points, you’re happy. So, yeah, with two laps to go, I could see Levi there, I think he got it down to like maybe three or four seconds with a couple to go, and if you hit one rhythm section and they miss it, I mean, that could be four seconds right there, literally, with how muddy it was. I was doing the rhythm, like right off the start and I was trying to just keep doing that double and single over table and then just kind of taking it easy the rest of the way. But, yeah, it’s definitely hard to stay focused, keep hitting your lines, especially that last lap – it felt like that last lap was forever. I’m glad that I didn’t know that Levi was so close until last turn.