The Beast from the East, Damon Bradshaw, made quite a name for himself in his somewhat short career. He made his pro debut in 1988 at Spring Creek and finished his career at Broome-Tioga in 1997, and we can’t forget he didn’t even race in 1994. Nevertheless, Damon was a fierce racer with an intimidating presence for his competition, and he was loved by the fans. His legend still lives on 25 years later. He spends his time now as a brand ambassador for Western Power Sports where he interacts with customers and dealers, riding and reminiscing. I asked Damon if we could discuss some things that I hope you guys haven’t heard from him before. We stayed away from the ’92 championship loss that he has discussed so many times before. We talked on other career topics and then relived a few races that I found interesting. And at the end he answered some questions from our Vital MX Forum members. Damon was very gracious giving me two hours of his time, so I want to say thank you for that. I also want to thank Jeremy McGrath and Ricky Johnson for their time giving their memories of Damon and a couple key races. And thanks to the Forum members who got involved in this one. It really added to the fun of this project for me as well as Damon. Enjoy!
For the full interview, check out the Vital MX podcast right here. If you’re interested in the condensed written version, scroll down just a bit further.
Jamie Guida – Vital MX: Let’s start with the early days on 80s. You won, I think, three Loretta’s titles. You have said in interviews that there wasn’t a lot of pressure on you at that time from sponsors, but you put it on yourself. To me that still seems like a lot for a kid. I think, 7 to 11 years old, and to be going after championships. That’s just not typical of a kid that age to have to deal with that.
Damon Bradshaw: Yeah. I think it was a tremendous amount of pressure. And, you know, I dealt with it pretty well on the outside, even though it was a lot of sleepless nights. And that progressed all the way through my career. But it was expectations of myself. My parents pushed me the right amount. Yamaha was there and along with all the other sponsors, and it really didn’t come from them. It was just once you reach that level, or at least for me, and you are able to win. The quote from Ricky Johnson at Osaka that night on the podium when we were standing there, he said, “You made a big mistake tonight”. And I looked at him and was like, “What the hell is he talking about”? And he goes, “From now on when you don’t win, everybody’s going to want to know why. It ain’t going to be that you got beat or this or that. They’re going to want to know why”. I didn’t realize it at a super young age, but it was myself. It’s like, when you didn’t win, it could never be that you just got beat. So, I just put that pressure on myself and later on in my career, it wore me down to the point of calling it good at a young age.
Vital MX: A lot of times the stereotypical moto parent is the one putting the pressure on their kids. You said your parents did the right amount of pressure. Did mom and dad ever say, “Damon, it’s okay to get second. It’s not the end of the world”? Basically, you’re in a career at seven years old.
Damon: I think they knew that I was hard enough on myself. With my dad, it wasn’t that it was okay because he knew that I wasn’t okay with it. And there’s a difference when a parent is leaning on a kid and the kid is okay with, and I guess I should say you don’t want anybody to be okay with getting beat. But if you put forth 100, 110% and you got beat, that’s all you can do. And so, I think that should be accepted. But the times maybe that I was beaten that my dad could see that I wasn’t putting forth the effort that I needed to put forth, and that’s really what he wanted. And that was something that I’ve tried to instill in my kids to this day, whether they were racing bicycles or playing football or now with work. Do all you can do. You put forth 100%, and you do it the best you can. And eventually, somebody will notice that, and you will be taken care of for it. That’s not always true in today’s time because there’s a lot of people that go to work or do whatever they’re doing, and they do the bare minimum to get by. And that just wasn’t the way I was raised. I’m still that way. That could be a whole nother day of talking about kids back in that time that were ruined by their parents or teams or whatever by that amount of pressure to deal with. And once they got a chance to choose, that’s when they just bounced. And they were out once they got old enough, and they had a lot of talent. I mean, there was a lot of kids I feel were ruined because of this whole thing we’re talking about. But then I kind of had it bounce on me a little bit with my oldest son. You know, he was racing downhill mountain bikes and he was getting ready to move to the 16- to 18-year-old class. And we were racing bicycles and I enjoyed it. I mean, we’re going to ski resorts, he’s racing downhill, it’s a cool place to hang out, you get to go hike on the mountain and look at the course. When that transition came, girls and partying and whatever seemed to be more important. And he had talent. I mean, he did a lot of winning at that young age, but that next step was going to be huge. Now you’re racing against 18-year-olds and you’re a young 16. And he didn’t make that transition. And I didn’t lean on him. I was like, “If you want to go racing, we’ll load the truck up and we’ll go race. But if you don’t, I’m okay with it because I was determined not to be that minibike dad or the T-ball dad thing. But I look back on that and I needed to have pushed him a little more than what I did to try to get through that segment in his life. Because let’s say three years later, maybe not three years, he wanted to kick himself in the head for not taking that opportunity because we already had some people that we had talked to about him going to Europe and racing. That’s where I think you really have to be to make a career out of it. So, I kind of learned that on a different perspective, and I almost feel like I failed a little bit at it because I was so nervous about pushing too hard. My theory was, if I lean on him and I want it more than he does, then what kind of effort is he going to put in? If he doesn’t put forth the effort when we go, I’m going to be pissed. So, I don’t want to be in that position. So, it’s a fine line. It’s as hard for kids and their parents.
Vital MX: That actually rolls into a question that I had coming up. From 16 to 18 is only a couple of years, but maturity wise, it’s a lot more than a couple of year gap. Is 16 too young to be a professional athlete? A lot of kids aren’t ready for what’s expected at that point.
Damon: To be honest, it’s probably way worse nowadays. Now you have all of these camps that these kids are going to at a really, really young age. When I was 8 to 14, or 15 it was a family thing. You’d go to the track; you’d ride a few times during the week, and you might do a little running or a little bicycling between here and there and go to the race and camp on the weekends and have fun with all your friends. And so would your mom and dad. Well, now that regiment is starting really, really early. And it does surprise me of how long some of these guys are lasting that have been through that. They start as a kid, that regimen of being at this camp and the training and da da da da da. I don’t think all that training is so important until you get a little bit older. But, you know, nowadays these guys are able to hang in there a little longer than back in the day. And whether that’s because they can choose and just do Supercross only or blah, blah, blah, I don’t know. It would be hard for me to say that 16 is a little young. I’ve never really thought about that. But still, it’s 16 years old, man. I mean, you’re still a kid. And I think if you can still have fun with it and it hasn’t completely turned into a job, then that’s all good. But everybody’s different. I mean, I think I turned it into a job. I can’t say that because my whole thing was whenever I turn this into a job, and this is no fun anymore, I’m going to find something else to do. And that’s basically what I did. I got to the point where I didn’t want to be at the track anymore. I wasn’t putting forth the effort. I didn’t want to let the team and the sponsors down and I was okay to own that. You know, I had four years left on my contract at Yamaha and I went to the table at a pretty damn young age and just said, “This is not making me happy and I’m tired of letting you guys down”. And so that’s when I went away for a while. So, to start it at a later date, I mean, there were guys that were late bloomers, and they didn’t bloom till, whatever, 18, 19, 20. So, I don’t know if that would have been different for me. I think that’s really a hard thing to say, “Yeah, it’s too young”, because every kid is different”.
Vital MX: Do you ever look back and feel like you missed out on anything as a kid? Were you too focused on racing and what that meant to go do other “kid stuff”?
Damon: No, no. I got to ride my bicycle. I tried a few ball sports and I got to be a kid. None of that would I have ever changed? Like I said, it was fun. You know, we’d go to the track, we’d go camping, we’d have bicycles, we’d do all of that stuff. So, I think I was still a kid while still progressing at being a professional athlete later on in life.
Vital MX: Sticking with the youth aspect and becoming a professional athlete, in stick and ball sports there are programs when these guys transfer into the pro ranks that are meant to help with finances, and adjustment into the pro ranks. Would you like to see something like that in our sport?
Damon: I think so. I think it would be good. I mean, you know, the kids are at a young age making a lot of money, and you put a lot of trust in agents and financial guys. In the big scheme of things, there’s probably not a handful of good ones out there that you can really trust that make great decisions. That was a big transition for me when I was done. My whole theory behind that is you let people do what they’re good at and you do what you’re good at. Not understanding it as well as you should, you put a lot of trust in other people and then they steer you wrong. And then towards the end you’re like, that was not smart. I should have understood this more. I should have paid more attention and been more involved and been smarter about it. I think we know that’s not going to be a Feld thing or an AMA thing because we see how they take care of riders, which in my book is not very good. But it’s like with me, we got to a certain point, 16, 17 years old, and my dad’s like, “This is getting above my head. We need some professional help”. Which was a good idea. And we had somebody that did well for us. But in the end, there were some problems that we didn’t understand. So, it gets really hard, man. I almost think you need at a young kids age like that, coming in and making that kind of money, you need multiple people that aren’t connected. Because then I feel like you have one watching the other. Your parents are still there if they understand that type of thing. And they’re watching. But then again, you’ve seen it happen, where parents and the kid, that becomes a problem. So, I think they have to separate. And that was one thing that was hard for my parents when I went to my first national. All of a sudden, we go from amateur ranks and my parents being full time a part of this to now they’re a spectator and they’re still trying to watch over the money. But by that time, I had an agent. And so, they’re trying to watch that and it’s very creative. If that’s not your cup of tea as a parent, how do you understand all of that? You’re not a financial advisor or an agent. I think they have to filter through and do some interviewing and feel comfortable with multiple people. Because, you know, these kids can go and make a shit ton of money and if somebody’s being dishonest, then when they’re done, things aren’t set the way they should be. I think it can go both ways. You can have some investment stuff and that all changes over the years, whether it’s the market or it’s the real estate or it’s this or that where you invest your money and everything changes. But, you know, there can be some mistakes there that were not on purpose. The kids in some way need some guidance. Brian Lunnis made this comment to me when we started working together and he helped me with that. You know, “There’s a pie and there’s only so many pieces in it, and you’ve got to leave a piece for yourself. You can’t pass all that out”. And what he meant by that was time for yourself to at least have some sort of life and not burn yourself down. And he helped me with a little bit of that because I was very bad at saying no to anything, you know, any type of interview or whatever Yamaha wanted me to do. I did it all. Then all of a sudden, you’re sitting there, and there’s no piece of pie for you. Later on, I got better at that where it’s like, I need some time to myself to do something that I enjoy. That probably happened when I had knee surgery. That was the longest time I’d ever spent off in my career, which I think was four months, four and a half months, maybe, something like that. I got to do some things at that age that I didn’t necessarily get to do without the pressure of going, I should be doing something else. So, I think that’s an important thing for those guys. And I think some of them are better at it than others. Just like what Cooper Webb did this past year. It looks like to me he went out and had fun riding his motorcycle. And that’s another point. I don’t think these guys get to do that much anymore. Even as a professional, I couldn’t wait to finish that testing because I wanted to go play. I wanted to go play on my motorcycle, go play in the hills, hill climb, cliff jump, whatever. I don’t think those guys get to do that anymore. Even being around (Ryan) Villopoto and talking, he’s like, “Oh, no, no. As soon as we were done testing, two or three of us, we’d be gone”. Not saying riding laps is not fun for those guys. But going out and playing on your bike, I taught myself as much doing that as I did doing 100 laps on a supercross track.
Vital MX: You made your pro debut in ‘88 at Millville, where you got a fourth. Was there anything surprising that day or did you take anything away from that first pro national?
Damon: It was definitely a surprise for me, but I was somebody that had absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. So, the pressure of that was probably the least amount of pressure that I ever experienced during my professional career. I wanted to do well, but I didn’t know where that was going to fall. I didn’t know that I was supposed to get 10th or 11th or 12th or 15th or fourth. I just came in with a completely open mind and rode the way I knew how to ride. And here I was racing against guys that I had watched at Supercrosses. Now all of a sudden, I’m racing against them. A few of the guys I knew and had raced against in amateurs. But, you know, not many of them. To me that was probably one of the easiest professional races.
Vital MX: The same year is the famous race where you beat RJ in Japan. We know the story of what he said. He was a longtime friend and what I want to know was just how did that one event affect you? You beat a guy that maybe was a hero to a degree.
Damon: You know, it was all good. It goes back to that same comment, you know, “Now you know what you’re capable of and everybody else does”. And it wasn’t necessarily a fluke where everybody fell down. I just got through clean. I mean, the track was hard to pass on, but somebody of RJ’s caliber, he banged on me the entire race and I was just able somehow or another to keep it together. Well, now it’s expected. And so that just compiled the pressure on me, and just made it worse. Now when you go and you don’t win or you get a bad finish or whatever, even though maybe you fell down, it still didn’t make it any easier for me pressure wise. Having that success early definitely made it more tough.
We called up the Bad Boy himself, Ricky Johnson, and got his thoughts on the event. Here’s what he had to say.
Vital MX: What did you know about Damon Bradshaw before he turned pro? What were you hearing?
Rick Johnson: I was like his big brother. My dad painted his helmet when he was on 80s in ‘85, I think it was. He had a replica helmet similar to mine. I met him through Cliff Lett. Cliff was around the Yamaha support team but before Cliff did that, he actually built bikes for me, and I raced against Cliff. So, I was very familiar with the Bradshaw’s. I was close with Randy and Marcia and Zach. I stayed at their house down in Charlotte. So, Damon and I were pretty good friends. I mean, there was obviously a big age gap. He was a kid compared to me. I think I was 18 at the time, and I think he was 12 or 13 maybe. He was the mini-bike star for Yamaha, and I was one of the factory riders at the time.
Vital MX: When he comes up and races you in Osaka, Japan, were you feeling threatened for the future? Did you know he was a guy coming?
Rick Johnson: Did I feel threatened? No. I did know he was fast and very capable and all of that. Did I know that he was going to take a turn for the real arrogant, cocky guy? No. And so, our relationship went back and forth. I was close to him, kind of a big brother mentor to him. And then when he came onto the scene and won Japan, and he won it fair and square. There’s no doubt about it. I don’t fault that at all. But I’ve said this before, the race started off I was in second and I thought, “okay, I’ll just follow this guy. I’ll follow him for a while and make my move a little later”. If it was somebody else, a little older or something like that, I probably would have gone at him a little quicker. Then it started to get rutted up and I couldn’t get a clear shot at him. Not without taking him out, even though I did try to bump him out of the line at the end, I fell down. But yeah, I thought, I’ll be cordial for now. So, he won fair and square, and it was great because that was where I got my first win. My first supercross win was in Tokyo. Japan was a great place for new guys.
Vital MX: Can you give me your most memorable Damon Bradshaw moment? It could be on the track, off the track, just something that really stands out.
Rick Johnson: For me, it was staying with him and his mom and his dad, Randy and Marcia, and wrestling in the living room. I’ll never forget, Zach was little, maybe about seven or so. I remember I picked him up and threw him in the air and I threw him into the ceiling fan. I didn’t mean to. And the ceiling fan smacked him in the back of the head, or his arm or something like that. I really enjoyed my time with Randy and Marcia. Then later, when I retired from motocross, and we could put the stumbling block or the friction block of me being the guy of the past and him being the new guy, and really enjoy each other. To this day for the Baja 400, we’re racing against each other in trophy trucks. That’s my favorite Damon Bradshaw moments, the stuff away from us being on each other because it got kind of ugly. Damon was really aggressive, and he took on the, I’m going to say, sort of the Bob Hannah attitude. I was the older dog on the block, and so I didn’t like it much. It got to where you’re trying to take each other out. That’s the part that I didn’t like about my relationship with Damon Bradshaw.
Vital MX: How much do you get to see him now? I haven’t known him long and was surprised at how nice he was based off the image I had.
Rick Johnson: I’ve known Damon his whole life. I identified with his asshole side because I did the same thing. If you look at my 1980, 1982, and 1983, I was just a dick because the guy who was the most dominant guy was constantly preaching about how he had to hate everybody to beat them. Broc Glover was my mentor, but Bob Hannah was the number one guy. So, I thought I needed to be an asshole and take people out like him and (Kent) Howerton going at each other. I mean, I did the same move to Bailey as Hannah did to Howerton. In the same turn at Saddleback, that Magoo Double. David cut over on me and I knew in my head I’m blasting him; I’m doing the same exact thing again. So, when Damon took on that persona because that’s what you think you need to do. I had kind of that brash, take no bullshit attitude, you know? I wasn’t a dirty rider unless you hit me first, and then all bets are off, you know? So, he had Hannah who was an asshole and was unbelievably successful. He had me that was kind of an asshole and successful. And more than anything, he’s a redneck. I say with all respect, but he’s a country boy, and country boys are grown up. When he came out, he was like, I’m going to show them, and I’m gonna show them how tough I am. And he did. He put a fucking whipping a lot of people’s asses, including me multiple times. But it’s tiresome to be an asshole. At first, it’s cool because you walk around with a chip on your shoulder, and you think you’re tough and all that stuff. But at the end of the day, as you can see with Damon, and I’m the same way, I would rather hug you than punch you. I don’t give a shit if you’re my enemy or not. I don’t want to be a dick. I don’t like it. It wears me out. But that’s part of growing up. When you’re 18 years old or 17 years old, you’re the smartest guy in the world and you think you’re the toughest guy. And that was Damon. And he was flamboyant, fast. I mean, my favorite moment of Damon Bradshaw wasn’t a race that I was racing. I think it was at Miami on a 125 (1989). That son of a bitch fell down, I think eight times. It was just ridiculous how many times he fell down. And kept getting back up and passing everybody then falling down and getting back up. And just the tenacity was like Hannah, feet off the pegs, sideways, doing all your stuff, and then you put on top of it a great-looking kid with a great head of hair. He was perfect to take over my spot at Fox. And Fox just ran with that, you know. He was the right guy for the right time at the right place and everything. It’s just gnarly how the pressure got to him. And that’s what I hated to see, because when I wasn’t racing against him, I was cheering for him, as I said that with my respect for him.
Back to Damon Bradshaw
Vital MX: All right, Damon, 1989 is your first full season. You raced San Diego on a 250, and then you start the East Coast Supercross Series in Miami. You go on to win six races and the championship. Outdoors that same year, you get second overall. Again, so much success so fast. Had you ever experienced much failure or loss that would prepare you for things to not go well? Were you thinking, I’m going to be the greatest ever?
Damon: No, I didn’t think that because it was a very competitive sport and injuries were something that could happen and did happen to me a few years later. And I did a fair amount of crashing in those first few years. But I don’t think I ever looked at it like that. I just wanted to win. And once I had a taste of that and knew that I could do it, I just kept pushing for that. I wanted nothing less than to win, which hurt me at times. Settling for that second or third probably would have been smarter at times. But again, it wasn’t me. And I don’t know if I could have had some better guidance at that time, you know, sometimes accepting that third or fourth is going to be okay because we’re looking at the end result. That first year in ‘89 my contract was performance driven and I knew that. I didn’t even know what my salary was, but I knew what I got to win. And so that was all that was in my eyes, winning as many races as I could win. If it meant taking a chance and possibly throwing it away or winning, well, that’s what I did.
Vital MX: The following year, you moved up quite quickly to the 250 class and win the first two. Then in San Diego, you have a crash all alone after passing Chicken. You guys had already had some run-ins. Do you remember that night? Were you trying too hard to prove a point to Jeff? Because I think you even broke your ankle that night.
Damon: Yeah, absolutely. I remember it completely. It was just a thing to where I was riding. I was confident and the rear tire just broke loose. I came out of the corner, the bike slid sideways, and I landed up on that thing sideways and it pitched me off and I landed on my foot. I look at that as a racing moment. I don’t think it was being dumb or trying to do something that somebody else wasn’t doing. You know, everybody was doing that same obstacle.
Vital MX: There were numerous crashes throughout your career that just seemed like a momentary lack of focus from the outside watching. And I’ll reference Miami ‘89, which is your first win. I think you crashed three, four or five times that night, and RJ actually touched on that in his audio. Some of those crashes, you’re just by yourself.
Damon: Probably pushing too hard and that track was not super forgiving. It changed every single lap. It was like riding on a sponge. There was a lot of room for mistakes, especially going how fast I was trying to go because I was playing catch up the entire race and it just kept me going. And there were times I fell down by myself, but I just think it was a changing a track. And, you know, I was probably riding a little harder than I should have been. But fortunately, it was one of those things that pushing, and fighting paid off in the end.
Vital MX: You’re super, super competitive. Where does that come from? Is that something within your family? Are you competitive in everything?
Damon: You know, my dad raced before I ever even started. I never got to ride with my dad. He tore his knee up on a job, and that was pretty much the end of his riding career. But I’m pretty confident, it’s just bred into the Bradshaw side of us, and I guess I realized it probably more even after my kids and seeing some of the paths they’re taking. My youngest is different than my oldest. So, I think it’s definitely a bread thing. And the anger of things not going the way you want them. It’s all there.
Vital MX: I’m very competitive, you know, the first person to the car wins or who can carry the most groceries in wins. Everything’s a competition, you know? And then I played you in pool. We’re not going to say who won the most, but once I finally beat you, I was done.
Damon: Yeah, yeah. I think a lot of people are. Channeling all of that is tough. And I think that was one thing in my career, channeling all of that aggression properly is a chore for somebody. It’s hard to tell a 16-year-old. I think about that with a lot of riders that were shortly after me, that had a lot of talent and just needed some guidance in some way. I’ve even talked with people that tried to work with them and they were like, “Dude, there was no guiding. That was the way it was, and we weren’t going to change it”. And I think back to that because I experienced all that. It’s like, man, could I have tried to go to that rider and help him? I’ve experienced all of that stuff and maybe channel what his talent is in the right direction. I don’t know. I never did try, and I never have worked with any riders. But to me, I’m always my worst critic in that stuff. You know, you just don’t feel like you’re very good at it. Coming up, I tried to listen to everybody, whether it was RJ or whether it was somebody in a convenience store. If they had some advice for me, I listened to it and may or may not try it. Probably did. And if it worked, I used it, if it didn’t, I pitched it out and kept going.
Vital MX: You had a lot of great competitors and rivals. I’m going to name a couple of guys and I want you to give me a positive and negative quality of each of them. We’re going to start with Jeff Stanton.
Damon: Oh, man. Probably not the most talented guy as far as having that, we’ll just call it a David Bailey or a Bayle style. But just sheer hard work. Bulldog strong.
Vital MX: Jean-Michel Bayle.
Damon: Very talented, very smooth, but just not mean enough. Meaning aggressive. I just think that’s maybe the way he was put together because I felt like he was a guy that was always good. He was always smooth and had a great style. But if you fought him, he was okay with that. He would take that second or third. But the night that maybe you weren’t on, if he could take advantage of you easily, then he would. But I felt like those times that he was good and maybe I was riding the ragged edge if he would have had a little bit different mentality then he would have been more successful.
Vital MX: Mike Kiedrowski.
Damon: I think to me, he’s kind of like a Stanton. He just worked hard. He trained hard. Super quiet, and not very outspoken, but he got the job done and he was successful.
Vital MX: Jeff Emig.
Damon: Oh, man. I don’t know, Jeff’s hard. I don’t know what weakness. I think he was pretty well-rounded and obviously, he was successful. I knew that I didn’t like riding behind him or around him. Unlike somebody like Mike Kiedrowski or Jeff Stanton. You just have to learn how to race with guys and some guys you feel more comfortable racing with and racing very tight. Jeff wasn’t one of those guys. If I was in the position, I knew I had to pass him and go on. I didn’t ride right there with him and have a lot of fun like I could with Jeff Stanton, whether they won that day, or I won. You either had to pass him and go on or he was better than you that day.
Vital MX: Well, this is the big one, Jeff “Chicken” Matiasevich.
Damon: Obviously, Jeff had a lot of talent. I just think maybe by being more serious about the racing and focusing on it, maybe more so than some other things in life, he would have been way more successful because all the talent was there. And I don’t think he was one of those guys that worked very hard at having that. So, I would say if he had more focus, better guidance, and worked a little harder at it, he would have been much more successful.
Vital MX: We’ve talked about the pressures and the mental side. You mentioned stepping away at the end of ’93. At some point you took up a hobby that seemed to reinvigorate you a little bit. When did flying planes come into your life and how did it come into your life?
Damon: I think it was probably the early nineties, somewhere in there. I ended up getting my license, I think in ‘94. I don’t know if that started during my knee surgery or what. I don’t really know the exact time frame. I had a friend of mine that had been friends for a long time, grew up on the lake, you know, water skiing and doing boat stuff. He decided to go to Embry-Riddle, the flight school down in Florida, and got his aeronautical science degree. And then about that time he was done with school and coming home. So, for those guys that want to be an airline pilot or commercial pilot of some sort, they have to start building time. So, they typically go and become an instructor at a local airport, and they start teaching and flying circles around the airport. When he got home, he needed to build time. So, we ended up buying an airplane together and I would pay for everything, and he would give me instructions because he needed to build time to move on to the next step. That’s kind of how it started for me. That’s what ended up, the hunting and the mountains and whatever, but that’s kind of what ended up drawing me to Idaho. And I just recently got another similar airplane to what I used to have, and I’m in the process of getting it going. And I’m really, really, really looking forward to that again because I haven’t flown for a few years. I just got busy. It was a thing like for some people going and playing golf or whatever, it just takes your mind off of everything because you have to be so focused on what you’re doing. And it’s an easy way for me, especially where I live, to just go and get away from people. I just like to go with some friends, but completely just get away to where you don’t see other people. And that’s pretty easy to do in an airplane in Idaho.
Vital MX: Towards the end of your career, you went to Manchester Honda, which you’ve said was really a fun year. You found the passion again. After that, you did some Arenacross on Yamaha’s, which you said was for some good money. And then later, even after that, you found what we’ll call a second or even a third career with monster trucks and winning a World Championship within that series. When you look back on your career, do you consider it a success? Overall, the whole career?
Damon: Um. I would say yes. There’s a lot more that I would like to have accomplished by all means. I definitely would have liked to have won a Supercross championship and an outdoor championship and was close. But close doesn’t get you anywhere in that situation. So, if I had to look back on it, that’s the only things that I feel that I wished that would have happened. But they didn’t. And I feel very fortunate that I can still be sitting here talking to you and other people about the past. And people still want to listen to it and either get something out of it or a laugh or whatever. I feel fortunate to have done that because, you know, when it comes to accomplishments compared to a lot of these guys these days, I don’t rank in there, but I know I put forth a hell of a lot of effort and I wanted to win. I enjoyed putting on a show for people, whether it was a good race or whether it was entertaining fans. And when I was driving a monster truck, I enjoyed that.
Vital MX: I love the way you answered that, because my next question actually gets into your image and the cockiness that surrounded you a little bit. But the answer you just gave shows that you have no ego. I remember back to one of the live RacerX shows on Saturday night before Supercross, and you were under the tent waiting to be called up. I was talking to you and you’re like, “Oh, they’re having me up again. They’ve already had me up last week or whatever. I don’t think anybody cares”. I said, “Yeah, Damon, they do care”. You don’t seem to see yourself the way the fans see you, that you are still considered with as much esteem as the guys that won multiple championships. You’re just a beloved rider of our sport.
Damon: Well, I appreciate that. I don’t think it’s something that I planned that way. And to be honest, as long as I’ve done this stuff, whether it was interviews or the podcast with Matthes, I don’t mean it in a way that I don’t want to do it. But it’s weird because I still get nervous about doing that stuff. And the only way to get over it is to do it. Now to do that at Supercross is much easier for me than it was those first few times. I had just come back. I had been away for ten or 12 years, and then I’m back and they have me there. I was super nervous about it because I really hadn’t followed things. And those guys are so knowledgeable about what they do. I kind of wanted to kick myself because I just didn’t know more of what was going on. It was like throwing me in the fire. But I enjoy doing that. I enjoy having that opportunity and being able to go and talk to those guys because I have tried to follow it more. But that’s not solely what I do with WPS. I do so many different things. It’s hard to be damn good at one of them. It’s kind of like our reps, you know, they can’t know just one product. They have to know a lot of products. Well, that’s kind of how I am to where you have Brand Managers, they know that product. I need to know a little bit about everything and in between. But I appreciate that. I mean, you can’t say that it doesn’t make you feel good that people still enjoy hearing you b.s. about the past or present and how you feel about it. And someone reminded me of it the other day and it just came to mind. When I was growing up, I also looked up to Bob Hannah, and I got compared to Bob several times at a younger age, just kind of how we looked at winning and how we went about it. Bob was way more successful than me, but we had kind of the same mentality. We wanted to win, and didn’t care what it took to win. It was kind of like Dale Earnhardt Senior, either lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way. But the guy made the comment, “Hannah was a prick”. And I say, “He’s always been a prick”. I’m not around him nearly as much as I used to, but he hasn’t changed. He’s still Bob Hannah and he still looks at it the way he does. And it was kind of funny because I’ve known him from a different side. I knew him very little as a racer. When he was in his prime, I snuck into the pits just to get a photo. Well, finally, I got to the point of getting the photo after he’d come in from practice and wiped off and he was sitting there a second. You’d have thought I asked him to cut his damn arm off when I just asked for an autograph. And I’m like, “Yeah, that guy’s an asshole”. But for whatever reason, I still continued to like him. But it wasn’t so much as a person. It was how he was on the racetrack and how he was toward his competitors. I think that’s what made me like Bob. And then later on, years later, we did a ton of flying together and I learned a ton from him that probably helped keep me alive in my airplane when we were doing crazy stuff in Idaho.
Vital MX: My image of you was always that Bradshaw’s kind of cocky. He’s a little bit aggressive. You had the feathered mullet, the bitchin gear, the zebra Fox gear, the AXO gear was bitchin, too. And you had a little bit of a reputation for messing with the competitors and the shit-talking and all that stuff. Do you look back on any of that and regret any of it? Do you think any of it hurt you?
Damon: No, I don’t. And I wouldn’t have treated that any different. There was sometimes when I was probably having more fun than I should. A couple of different times racing with Jeff Stanton and just a day that I was on, and things were clicking, and I felt I could do no wrong. I could make up time where I wanted to, and Jeff was the Steady Eddie like he always was. And I was being a prick and it ended up biting me. I should have just not screwed around, went on, and tried to go on about my business and win the moto. But I was having fun racing with him. And I think he did too. And there were days that I couldn’t do that. I had to leave everything on the table and Jeff would leave everything on the table and we were a bike length apart at the finish line. But there were days that you’re just spot on and maybe your competitors were not. And whether he notices or not and he’s trying to take an advantage. So, being too cocky in a few of those scenarios bit me. On two or three different occasions that probably wasn’t so smart, but the way the rest of it played out, I wouldn’t do it any different.
Vital MX: What’s the best bike you ever rode or raced? And what were you looking for in a bike?
Damon: There were some early years at Yamaha when the bike was really good that I remember. Then we went through some years the bike wasn’t so good. I was never a big fan of the 125. That’s the reason I wanted away from it as quickly as possible. And I only rode it one year and then moved on. The ‘96 Honda that I rode was an amazing bike. But to be honest, my Arenacross 250 two-stroke was probably one of the best two-stroke 250s that I ever rode. Wyatt Seals was the mechanic, Pro Circuit was doing the engines which I had to have them detuned. The first engine they built was just too much for Arenacross. That bike was as solid and as good of a two-stroke as I ever rode. Even over the factory bikes. It just worked so well. It had a lot of low-end bark and I didn’t like the bike to need to be high RPM to work. I liked to be able to shift to that next gear and keep it at a lower RPM. And there were a couple of years there at Yamaha that the bike would not work down there. It had to be turning more RPMs to produce and I didn’t like that. I felt like it hurt me at a hard, slick Supercross or even outdoors. It was really hard to shift up to that next gear and use it more like a tractor. That was one thing that I felt the ‘96 Honda was good about. You come out of a corner and shift up to the next gear going into the whoops and it would keep that low RPM, the suspension could work, and you’d build speed going through the whoops. So that was what I looked for.
Vital MX: Last question in this segment, you mentioned a couple of times working for Western Power Sports. You’re doing some adventure riding, all kinds of cool events, and things. Maybe expand on how that came about and what you’re doing for WPS these days and what your schedule looks like for ‘23.
Damon: So, ‘16 was my last full season with the monster truck stuff. It was going to continue in ‘17, had contract issues with those guys. And we had already been talking about this plan of what I thought with WPS. They were doing some ride days, they would have a Brand Manager fly into these ride days and have everything shipped, have an EZ Up shipped, and they’d go to the track with a rental car and some product and set up and support the event. I started with that in ’17, and at the time I was flying in, borrowing a bike from a dealer with Bob Lowry and doing the ride day. And I’m like, we need to look more professional. We need a van. I need to bring my own bikes. And I will drive because I enjoy driving, because I go and borrow this bike and have to take it back to the shop, pain in the butt. So, we moved on to that very quickly. Our reps and our dealers put these ride days together at a certain track and they invite customers, and we try to get as much dealer participation as we can. Get them to come out and hang out with their customers. I’m usually there and obviously a part of it is I get to ride with everybody. I look at it as a relationship building thing. It gets the dealers out of their shop. We know they have options when they go to buy accessories. We hope that they grab our book. And I enjoy that. I get to spend time with dealers, go and visit with them. And now with the adventure thing, we try to put together some adventure rides with our dealers. We’re in the process of trying to put together a program for our dealers and our reps to reach a certain level to where we bring several of them in, and I take them for four or five days and go show them a little bit of Idaho. I’m fortunate I get to do a lot of different stuff. I mean, I go to a UTV event and then motorcycle and then off-road and then track and then, you know, adventure. I like to mix it up. If I had to go ride moto at 20 events a year or 22 events a year, that wouldn’t work. But I get to still do a little bit of moto. And now with doing the trophy truck stuff with a friend of mine, David Payne, is a whole new thing that I always dreamed of getting that opportunity but never thought it would happen. We’re putting together a race team and going to try to do a full schedule with that next year. That falls into place with what I primarily do with WPS and Yamaha.
Vital MX: Nothing wrong with that career path.
Damon: Yeah, it hasn’t been bad. It keeps me busy, and I enjoy the four-wheel stuff. I don’t miss the corporate b.s. with it, but I do miss the friends and entertaining the fans.
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