What Comes Next: Shane McElrath
Motocross - Sacramento, CA
If only the earth could speak its memories, then a dig through the dirt at Hangtown might reveal Brad Lackey on his way to a National and World Title in 1972; or David Bailey and Broc Glover taking each other out right in front of the announcer’s box in 1984; or the downpour in 1991 that lasted all day, wreaking havoc on the track, and creating the new “South fork of the American River.” Hangtown has yielded victories for some of the greatest champions motocross has known, including Bob Hannah, Mike LaRocco, Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart, and Jeremy McGrath, to name a few.
For amateur racers, Hangtown offers up a small taste of that glory, with its two-day amateur event preceding the Pro National on the very same track, on the very same dirt, that the greats have taken on, and conquered, for the last 46 years.
Over its 46 year history, multitudes of amateur riders have lined the gates at Hangtown; but few ever get the chance to transition to the pros, to ride amongst 39 other top motocross racers in the world, on one of the most iconic tracks the sport has ever known, in front of crowds upwards of 20,000 people.
Troy Lee Designs / Lucas Oil / Honda rider Shane McElrath is one such rider. Just one year ago, McElrath raced the Hangtown Amateur Classic. When we caught up with Shane to ask him about the experience, he said, “It was pretty sick getting to ride that track. I’d never been there before, and there were some pretty good guys there. And then we got to hang out all day Saturday and watch the pros. It was pretty sweet just being there, getting to ride the same track that they did. It helped a lot with confidence too just knowing that I get to ride this track.”
Like so many professional motocross racers, Shane McElrath’s connection to the dirt bike began in childhood. His dad was a local pro, who passed his passion along to the rest of the family, including McElrath’s brother, sister, and mom.
His progression to the pro level started off gradually. Over time, what had started as a weekend hobby became something that he wanted to do every day. When he decided to be homeschooled in his senior year (2011) so he could train and race, he says, “It hit me that I had to take everything serious now.” In McElrath’s point of view, it happened at the perfect time. He was old enough to be more independent, and ready for the challenges that would come from pursuing a career in motocross.
The following year, he picked up a sponsorship with TLD after meeting the team manager, Tyler Keefe, at the 2012 Loretta Lynn’s Amateur National Motocross Championship. Says McElrath, “I ended up flying out here in September of 2012 and then tested the bike, ended up loving it and ended up signing a contract. It was pretty sick. That was my first time flying on a plane too. I had never even been past Texas from the east coast and it was something else to get to come out here and test ride a factory bike and be in that atmosphere.”
From there, McElrath began intensive training with everything going towards motocross. “I was loving it,” he says. “It sucked being away from my family and stuff, but it was cool to experience everything on my own. It happened pretty quick.”
The Hangtown Amateur Classic was one of McElrath’s final races as an amateur. Shortly thereafter, he separated his shoulder and was forced to take some time off before Loretta’s, his last race before going pro. He made his pro debut at the 2013 Unadilla National. During his first few races as a pro, he was hindered by the shoulder injury, but all-in-all, they served to help him get his feet wet and prepare him for what was to come.
This weekend, McElrath returns to Hangtown just one year after racing there as an amateur, but this time, he’ll find his place on the gate next to the fastest riders in the world to battle for the championship.
He’s humble in his aspirations: “I know that I have the speed and I can last too. I just gotta work on my mental state, keep working hard and focus on myself. I’m not really expecting anything out of it, just to finish the whole season and be there every race and finish the whole season safe.” For McElrath, this is just the beginning. For those of us watching, we can’t wait to see what the future holds for this up-and-coming pro motocross racer…
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