Top two amateur moto grads talk about racing at Unadilla National, their first-ever pro moto event.
For Shane McElrath and Matt Bisceglia, this past Saturday at Unadilla National was a profound moment that marked the beginning of a new chapter in their lives. Both of the young riders competed in the first professional motocross race, under the watchful eye of their respective teams, Lucas Oil/TLD Honda and GEICO Honda. With brutal track conditions and a completely new racing strategy, it was a trial by fire. Or in the case of Unadilla, rain.
What was the most challenging part of the weekend for you?
Shane McElrath: With Unadilla being the last three rounds, neither the team nor I thought much about the points chase for the season. But coming off my recently injured shoulder, competing at Loretta Lynn's and all of the recent adversity, being confident in myself was the toughest part.
Matt Bisceglia: For me, it was just getting used to everything. Everything was so different. I was on a bike that I only had three days with and the track was very rutty and rough. I wasn't very comfortable all day, but I made the best out of it and the team was awesome. I can't thank them enough.
How was the bike setup? Was it much different from what you were on at Loretta’s?
Shane: Going into Loretta Lynn's, I hadn't done much testing at all. Because of my shoulder, I only rode about a week before, and when I did, it was on my practice bike. I had been struggling with my suspension and was toughing it out, trying to adjust to it. A couple of days before Loretta's, Tyler Keefe, my team manager, said he had a different suspension setting that I could try during practice. It was a pretty big change, but it was in the right direction.
Matt: My bike setup was completely different. Just about everything changed from what I was on the week before. In the end, we figured out more of what I like and didn't like.
Before qualifying, what was your goal as far as results in the motos?
Shane: Before qualifying, we were instructed to go out and put in hard sprint laps to get a good time. I still wasn't sure how everything worked, but I did what I was told. I didn't try to get any particular position, I just focused on my lines and being as fast as possible.
In the first practice session, the track was pretty mucky and it was hard to be consistent and fast. I ended up 16th. The track had rutted up and got a little better by the second practice, but I ended up 16th again. I never put too much focus on how I qualify, I always feel much better when I race.
Matt: Before qualifying, my goal was to get in the top 10. Even after practice I felt like I could do that. I was in about 12th place feeling good,but I fell about half way through the first moto and ended up 37th.
What do you feel was your biggest strength? Conversely, your biggest weakness?
Shane: I think my strength was that I had so much fun. It played such a huge role in my riding, and my mechanic, my team manager, and my family were all just as stoked as I was! I'm not really sure what my biggest weakness was, probably that I had an upset stomach. [laughter]
Matt: I felt my biggest strength was my endurance. I was able to ride hard the whole race. My biggest weakness was my qualifying laps. It was a challenge adapting to the new environment.
Coming into this race, people told you that the pace is much more cutthroat. Having heard that, did it still catch you off-guard?
Shane: Leading up to Unadilla, I received so many different opinions from all kinds of people. I had been picturing things in my head for weeks and I had some kind of an idea on what I was going to be facing on race day. I tried to just focus on myself and my performance instead of anything or anyone else.
Matt: It did catch me a bit off-guard, yes! The top guys are really intense. It will take a little time to adjust, but I feel this weekend will be better.
The track was crazy rough and rutted at Unadilla National. How did you adjust to it?
Shane: The track conditions were actually more to my liking. I love ruts and the roughness. With the heavy rain that came on the Friday before, it made for perfect conditions on Saturday, race day.
Matt: The track was crazy! It was so rutted and rough, I had only ridden in those conditions once before, so I had a tough time adjusting to it.
What was the coolest pro experience for you off the track this weekend?
Shane: The coolest experience from this weekend was when Zach Osborne took me to the will call booth to help me pick up my credential. When I got it, I felt like I was one of the stars! I was already super excited from the moment I woke up, but everything just flowed throughout the day and I had a blast!
Matt: The coolest experience off the track was all the people who were pumped to see me racing. I had quite a few fans, and that made me feel great. A lot of people saw me on TV at Loretta's the week before, so a lot of people wanted pictures and autographs. That was pretty cool.
What were the nerves like? How did you control them?
Shane: There was really only one time that I was nervous and that was on the starting line for the first moto. I didn't set any goals except to go out, have fun and do my best, so I was pretty calm for my first pro race. I’ve been more nervous at a local race
Matt: The nerves weren't too terribly bad. I was a little nervous, but I was more excited than anything. Knowing that I was on the gate at a pro national was really cool. It's been my dream since I was a kid.
Did your teammates have any solid advice for you?
Shane: Malcolm Stewart helped me out a lot. On race day, he told me to just have fun and to not go out to please anybody.
Matt: Yeah, my teammates were all awesome! They all made me feel really welcome and helped me out a lot. Zach Osborne and Eli Tomac helped me a bit with qualifying, and Zach went out of his way to let me follow him for a lap, which was helpful.
Any changes to your approach going into Utah National this weekend?
Shane: I don't want to change anything. I'm going with the mindset to learn the most I can and to have fun with it. It's all about gaining experience and getting my feet wet these last couple rounds.
Matt: We have a few minor bike changes that I feel will help. Besides that, not too much. Just knowing what to expect will help more than anything.
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