Chad Reed Interview: Taking On The World | Features
Chad Reed goes on the record with ADB Motocross Editor, Lee Hogan, to talk growing up in Australia, moving overseas to chase his racing dreams and now his transition into life after racing.
Chad Reed is our very own Michael Jordan. The guy who put us on the map and laid down the solid path for fellow Aussies such as Andrew McFarlane, Brett Metcalfe, Michael Byrne and, more recently, the Lawrence brothers and Mitch Evans.
But nobody has managed to stay on that path to international success anywhere near as long as Chad Reed has, right the way to the pointy end where it narrows to two or three riders going to war for the number one spot. And to then finally get there. To be recognized as the best there is.
Chad accomplished that multiple times, while we all rode on his coattails in living rooms across Australia. But it wasn’t all champagne and caviar for the kid from Kurri Kurri. I watched Chad as a Junior, looking at us with contempt as his cousin Craig Anderson and I battled for the No. 1 spot in Australia. Not because he didn’t like us, but because we had what he wanted. He didn’t want to win any more Junior titles, he wanted to beat his cousin and me, along with everyone else in the MX1 class, and he wanted to do it as a 15-year-old! We all knew Chad was something special before he turned Senior early in 1998. But nobody could have expected the meteoric rise that we would play witness to.
ADB: I’ve told the story in stadiums around Australia many times during our interviews about you growing up in that caravan in Kurri Kurri, waking up to water the track at around 4am so by the time the sun came up the track was tacky and good to go.
CHAD REED: The 4am thing was a lie, haha. I used to water the track the night before and then get up at 6am to put more water down. But I let that rumor spread because it sounded kinda cool! The stuff about the caravan thing is 100% correct. We grew up in Wallsend, near Newcastle, where my parents bought a property on 25 acres. We couldn’t afford to put a house on it and we needed some kind of roof over our heads. The main room of the caravan had a double bed and bunks. I had the double bed and my parents slept in an annex just next to us. They put pellets down in the annex so when it rained the floor wouldn’t turn to mud.
What’s crazy to me is how close we were as a family during that period. It was hardest on my mum because, as a mum, you just want to provide and nurture your kids. I never thought I was hard done by because it was like a constant holiday for me at that age. Just constantly camping out in the backyard.
There were almost folklore stories that we heard about you putting through 40 litres of fuel into your 250cc two-stroke a day because you were practicing that much. I remember being your teammate at CDR in 2000 hearing rumours that you were going through a practice bike every two weeks.
CHAD REED: It’s funny because when I first went pro with Suzuki at 16 in 1998, Jay Foreman was my team manager and mechanic and had dealt with my bikes for years already. Jay knew how hard I was on equipment. I’d just ride them into the ground and my old bikes needed to pretty much be thrown in the bin. I would have a 20-litre drum of fuel, my mate would carry another 20-litre drum for me and we’d head out to a track called Crazers near Newcastle.
It was this bad-ass natural-terrain track. And I’d burn up every drop of those two fuel drums in a day. In one week I went through three practice bikes. In two of those days I went through two brand-new bikes.
When I was with Craig Dack at CDR Yamaha we tried to tell him what I was like with practice bikes because you can’t pull the wool over his eyes. But he learnt quickly that every couple of weeks I’d need a new one. I was like “yeah, Dacka, I’m doing all the maintenance”. But to be honest I could have been doing more. I was just a kid that wanted to ride 24/7.
So let’s set the record straight. How many Aussie Junior titles did you end up with compared to your cousin Ando?
I truly can’t remember. The championships were never like I won this or I won that in Juniors. We went to win the Junior titles but I don’t really remember the number. It was all about turning Senior and, even when I was a Junior, I’d be out training with Ando to see where I was at.
Fast forward to the 1998 MX Nationals at Harvey Bay in Queensland and that last-lap crash in moto two. While going for the overall you broke your right tibia. Was this the lowest point in your three-year Senior stint in Australia?
When I look back I don’t think it was. It was low because I’d never broken my leg before. It was my first year as a Senior and I’d learnt a lot that year. I think braking my collarbone in 2000 riding for CDR was my lowest point. That collarbone cost me the Thumper Nats, MX Nationals and Supercross Masters championships, all of which I was leading comfortably at the time. That was a costly injury!
Your beautiful wife Ellie has been by your side since day dot. You were high-school sweethearts in Newcastle. She is without a doubt the Reed family backbone that keeps everything ticking along. Has her role changed much in the journey that took the two of you from Newcastle to Europe and then to settle in America for close to 20 years now?
Yes, I think when you look at the role she played, she was a full rookie when we left Oz and took on Europe. You quickly learn a lot about life when you’re thrown in the deep-end like that. She wasn’t there to dress up and look good in the dirt. She was there supporting me and it was really a sink-or-swim situation. I feel Europe was a great place to do that. It’s not as cut-throat as America. She went from the cheerleader, to girlfriend, to wife, to team owner and baby mumma and is a lot of the reason why I have been able to have such a long career. She loves me having a goal, a purpose and I’m a much better person for that. I just feel like she’s always let me dream. Always let me strive to be the best I can be and I’m so grateful for that. And it’s just this last year, at 37, that I’m seeing her find the balance as a mum and finally doing things for herself. That has literally taken 20 years or so to find that happy balance.
You’ve had many incredible seasons. Your first year as a Senior, 1998, was mind blowing on the Suzuki 250 two-stroke … 2001 in Europe on the Kawasaki, almost winning the world title at your first and only attempt … 2002 winning the 125SX East title. And, of course, 2004 and 2008 winning the AMA 250SX Championships. Which year stands out to you?
When I hear you say all that, it’s 2001 in Europe on the Kawasaki that comes to mind. Because I took such a huge gamble as an 18-year-old and I feel like I gambled not just on my career but in life. And I feel like I won. I didn’t dream of racing Europe, all I ever dreamed of was going to America. So for me, when America wasn’t answering calls, and Jan De Groot called to offer me a ride in Europe for Kawasaki it was time to grow up in a hurry. And I decided I needed to do that to get my ticket to America. I didn’t have my mum and dad to come with me and I thought: “You know what, I’m taking my girlfriend.” And I had absolutely no blessing from my dad to take Ellie. And right there and then my relationship with my parents disintegrated.
Your dad has always been a hard, tough man, and your toughest critic. Old school tough. A lot like my Old Man was and also your cousin Craig’s dad. But your mum is a gentle soul and lovely lady. Tell us about your relationship with your parents throughout the whole journey?
My parents come from that generation where your [Lee Hogan’s] dad, Craig’s dad, my dad they did things a different way. It was before “watch what you say to your kids”. My dad was hard on me! He knew every button to push. He never slapped me around or anything like that, but the constant little comments here or there. Like “you’ve got nothing for Craig”. Just little jabs that fueled me. And I’d be like, “watch this, Dad”.
My childhood, I wouldn’t change a thing. I loved my childhood. My parents instilled in me great morals and work ethic. I’d see dad leave early in the morning to go concreting and not get home until late. He worked so hard to provide for us and I’m forever thankful. The issue I had with my parents was them dealing with me heading to Europe and taking Ellie.
This forever changed my relationship with them. And we still don’t talk to this day! My dad gave me the choice when I left for Europe in 2001. He said: “If you take Ellie to Europe with you then I am wiping my hands of you. I don’t want anything to do with you.”
And I thought about it long and hard and thought “you know what, for me, this is a one-shot chance” and I took it. It was 100% based on what I thought was right for me and what was best for my career. At 18 I thought if I failed that I would know that I’d made the decision myself. But, to be honest, I could just never get past the position my dad put me in. I thought that when I had kids I would understand more what my dad was thinking when he made that call, but now that I have kids of my own it baffles me even more.
One of the toughest things you’ve ever had to go through in your life was the passing of your very close friend and one of the best Aussie racers we have ever seen, Andrew McFarlane at Broadford in May, 2010. Did you ever question the road you were travelling during that period?
I think that a lot of people, including myself, you kind of need to make yourself numb to a lot of that stuff. I’ve had friends pass away, take their own lives, end up in wheelchairs and you bury it deep down inside. But Andrew passing was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. I’d literally just had my first kid born two days before, I was walking up the stairs into my house bringing our newborn and expecting a phone call from Andrew saying “broooo, congratulations mate”.
But it was Natalie calling to let me know. My stomach sank. It was all just too much. I won my first race back [after the funeral] at Hangtown and then it just wore on me. It was hitting me hard. In the back of my mind, without even knowing it, I was second guessing myself. I feel that year was such a challenge in so many ways. I basically went off the grid. It was a $2 million deal for two years. And I said “I’m done. I don’t want to do this. It’s not making me happy.” And I walked away … They didn’t support me at all and I wasn’t mentally and physically where I needed to be. I said: “I think you need to keep your money” and I didn’t fulfill my end of the bargain. And for four months I didn’t ride a bike, or train. I just went soul searching. And from that point on I honestly felt like I was a better person, a better dad from that point on. And I came back stronger. Andrew passing had so much more of an effect on me than I realized at the time.
You’ve almost clocked off on this incredible career of yours. What would you like Chad Reed to be remembered for? Your legacy?
I’ve been asked this question a lot! Through parts of my career, when people either loved you or hated you, were some of the most memorable moments. It makes me feel very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had. I think my longevity makes me really proud. And I think the reason why I’m retiring is because I’m finally at peace with what I’ve achieved.
Where to now for Chad Reed?
The end of this AMA Supercross series has thrown us a curveball. I was working with Lamborghini and all that got put on the back burner because of Covid-19. I’m happy with retiring. I don’t want to do 21 races in 2021. But I’m sitting here today and open to doing a race here or there. I’m still fully focused on making the transition to sports cars. This doesn’t mean that just because I’m retiring I can never race again. I don’t think I have that in me, to just pull the pin. You’re never guaranteed tomorrow and you don’t know what tomorrow brings. My kids are loving BMX and dirtbike riding. I want them to learn the fundamentals.
I would personally like to wish you health, happiness and all the success in the world alongside your amazing family in your future endeavors. You’ve done Australia proud all these years and carried that burden of responsibility on your shoulders just like it was part of the role you’d taken on. Well done, sir!
Thanks, man! It all happens too fast. As fast as it’s gone, I’ve enjoyed it. I’m retiring at a point where I have perspective. That’s what I’m most proud of. I went through the same thing that Ricky [Carmichael] did at 26 and 27. I weathered that storm and I think children bring clarity and, for me, it all makes so much more sense. Had I retired at 27, I don’t think I truly knew who I was. The stories I have now, the memories are just truly amazing. And I’m just so thankful for what I got to experience … representing Australia at the Motocross Des Nations. I miss those hardcore events and it’s so hard to explain.
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