In the final installment of our look at the development of the MotoAmerica championship, we talk to JD Beach about the challenges of being a young American racer, the growth of the series, his rivalry with Garrett Gerloff, being inspired by Nicky Hayden, and racing flat track
In many ways JD Beach is a throwback to a bygone age of American racing. The Washington State native is rightly regarded as one of the most versatile racers in the United States. One that is equally adept at sliding on the dirt of American Flat Track or going bar-to-bar in MotoAmerica on a Supersport machine. There's little doubt that if Grand National Championships were still decided by combination of Road Racing and various Flat Track disciplines, Beach would be a contender.
Brad Baker, the 2013 Grand National champion, leaves you in no doubt as to whether Beach could cut it with the best. The Bullet grew up racing against Beach in Washington State and the two became close friends.
“I think that JD could definitely be a Grand National champion contender,” said Baker. “I've no doubt. Before he focused on road racing, he was competing and focused on nothing but Flat Track and he was a top contender in flat track. So there's no doubt he's got it. Since we were kids racing together on 65cc bikes, he’s been one of my biggest, if not my biggest, competitor. If JD really wanted to put his head down and do Flat Track full-time with a good team around him and it being his only series, he’d be a championship contender. No doubt.”
High praise from Baker and in 2017 Beach showed just why he elicits such admiration. Versatility has been driven into him since childhood, and by winning on a Supersport machine, finishing on the podium in the AFT Pro Twins class, and ending the season by winning the Superprestigio in Barcelona, it came to the fore once again last year. That Spanish triumph was arguably the result that brought Beach to the attention of many Europeans, but he's spent a lifetime honing his ability to jump from one machine to another, and so it is natural.
“When I was growing up and riding dirt track my dad always made sure that I was riding lots of different bikes and classes,” said Beach. “He always wanted me to be riding something different all the time so that I would keep learning. When I go road racing it's on a very different bike to what I train on, because through the week I'm just riding my dirt bike all the time. Once I get to the race weekend and I jump on my road bike it's all very different compared to training, but that variety helps me a lot. I think that if I ever get the chance to have a wildcard in World Supersport, that experience of jumping from one bike to another would help me a lot.”
While Beach may be jumping from a Flat Track bike to a Supersport machine throughout the season, he's aware that the opportunity to jump from his Yamaha R6 to a Superbike, or indeed from MotoAmerica to WorldSBK, isn't an easy one to make.
“Unfortunately at the minute it is difficult to get the right package for a Superbike. There's a lot of good bikes in the Superbike class but it would be difficult for me to jump from the Supersport class because I already have a really good package with a great team. I've looked at my options for a Superbike ride but it's hard because Yamaha has been great to me over the last five or six years and it'd be difficult to leave them.
“If I had the chance to race in Moto2 or WorldSBK I'd definitely think about it though. It'd be cool to have a chance to ride in the world championship and prove to the world and the teams that not only am I a good rider, but also that our series is at a high level. Jake Gagne will race in WorldSBK next year so hopefully he'll be able give our series a lift.
“I think Jake is a great rider. He's very fast and he'll ride the crap out of any bike that he gets on! I think that him going to WorldSBK is good for American riders. I think everyone knows how competitive that bike is. It's been a struggle for a few years but it should get better and Jake should be able to prove that he'll ride it hard. He'll show that Americans are fast and can ride the bikes to the limit.”
Beach vs Gerloff
Over the last three years Beach was pushed to the limit by Garrett Gerloff. Their head-to-head tussles became the story of the MotoAmerica Supersport class. The Texan has come off better, with two titles compared to Beach's 2015 crown, but their rivalry has lifted both of their games to a much higher level.
“There's not been much between me and Garrett over the last few years. Our riding styles are completely different but the speed is very close, and every time I've been able to take a step forward I'd win races, but then suddenly he'd have worked on something and improve himself and he'd be winning again! It's a lot of fun racing like that because you learn a lot from each other.
“The last year was probably the biggest challenge for me because we had a new rear tire halfway through the year. In the past the tire had been the same size as a Superbike tire, which suited my style of sliding the bike, but the smaller tire really hurt me because you had to ride it differently. I like the bike to be sliding and to use the gas to spin the tire, whereas with the new tire you had to brake in a straight line and pick the bike up.
“It took me time to learn how to ride it and it was only in the last couple of races that I figured it out and to wrap my head around how I needed to change my riding style. At the last round I'd figured it out and win at the last round of the year. Honestly, though, I'm glad that Garrett was able to kick my ass at first with that tire, because it forced me to learn something else and change myself. In the long run that'll help me a lot.”
The adaptability on track is matched with a relaxed nature off track and very much a throwback attitude to the life of a professional racer. For Beach, the trappings of success aren't nearly as important as the journey to winning. Having moved to Kentucky ten years ago, Beach has been able to look close to home for inspiration.
Living with Hayden Gillim, cousin of Nicky Hayden, the pair were inspired by the 2006 MotoGP world champion. Building a flat track at their house, the MotoAmerica racers are able to roll out of bed in the morning and just jump on a bike. Even when he's had his moments of triumph it was looking at the grafting nature of Nicky that showed Beach the importance of hard work and resilience.
“Nicky was a great rider and a big star but for me he was always just a friend. He was always so helpful with everyone and giving them advice. He was a fast rider, but the biggest lesson I'll take from knowing Nicky was that you've got to work hard and never give up. It was when he was struggling with the bike that it really showed because he'd still put in the work. He'd come home after races and just hammering himself on his bicycle or the dirt bike. He always put in the work!
“I've so many stories about Nicky, but after his funeral we got a call to say that the track was ready at the house. We didn't plan to ride that day and it all just kind of happened but it was really cool. We were trying to scrounge together as much gear as we could find for people. It wasn't planned but I think that if Nicky had have been there he'd have thought it was really cool to ride that day. He just loved to ride and it wasn't anything serious that day it was just a fun day of riding with friends. I think it was a great way to honor Nicky.”
Beach also honored his friend by winning at the Road America round following his death with a Hayden helmet.
Eyes on the prize
For 2018 Beach will start the season as the title favorite as he attempts to regain the MotoAmerica Supersport title. The path to the title appears clear with Gerloff moving to the Superbike class, but Beach isn't taking anything for granted.
“Valentine Debise will be fast again and I'm sure that there'll be some other riders at the front. There's not been a lot of riders confirmed yet, and there's fast guys that we're waiting to see where they end up. I don't find it difficult to deal with the spotlight and the expectations that come with that. I race the exact same way if I had the number one plate on my bike or not. I'd approach everything the exact same if I was the guy to beat or trying to make a name for myself.
“There's only nine rounds in MotoAmerica this year so I'm also trying to arrange more Flat Track races. I want to have more races because racing is what I love to do. Hopefully I'll be able to put together a program for some AFT races. When I'm racing it doesn't matter to me what series I'm in I want to win.”
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