The 1990s were certainly a different era for the sport of supercross/motocross. On this week’s episode of the Squad Pod, available now on the Vurbmoto Podcast Network, the legendary Jeff Emig came on to discuss some of his career milestones. One of those milestones was Las Vegas 1995, the final round of the series that season. Coming into Vegas that year, Emig was in a battle for second in points with Larry Ward and he felt that he was getting closer to his first win. At the same time talks about a potential rider’s union were heating up and tension between the promoters and riders reached an all-time high that day. Oh yeah, the lights in the stadium went out as well. Here is an excerpt from my interview with Emig as he recalls the night from his perspective.
Vurbmoto: The night that the lights went out in Vegas, you got your first 250 win. Was there a weird vibe at the race that day? In Jeremy’s book he kind of said that there was a rider’s union going on and talks of that. Just walk me through that day, how weird it felt, and then you get your first 250 win.
Emig: That was interesting because first off I was knocking on the door that year trying to get a win. I was just a couple of clicks off and of course during that time period McGrath was really dominant. He had just found the formula and everyone else was kind of just searching. For sure, the fact that we didn’t have some sort of championship points fund, that was on everybody’s mind. At the time there had been a couple of different attempts where there were some individuals that were pushing for some sort of rider’s union, some sort of group. Like, let’s get together as one group and have one voice. I think the majority of the athletes felt like “Hey supercross is growing and you’re not paying us shit”.
Well that morning, there was some sort of letter, like a physical piece of paper, that was floating around about riders banning together. At the time we had three different promoting groups. You had Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group on the West Coast, I believe it was called PACE, that was Gary Becker and his group, they had the races in the middle of the country, and the West Brothers had the races on the East Coast. That’s how I remember it. I could be off a little bit, but I remember there being three promoter groups that made up supercross. There was kind of talk about how we need to boycott. It was words and attitudes like that and then there was an issue with the lights. Everyone was like, “Hey, let’s not race and we’ll twist the arms of these promoters and make them pay us”. It was very, very political.
There was a lot of tension around the pits and riders were talking blah, blah, blah. My team manager at the time was Keith McCarty. Keith is a pretty smart guy. He says, “If you think by not riding tonight that you’re going to force these promoters to give you something that they aren’t giving you now, you are sadly mistaken”. He goes, “This is not going to be the way to do it”. He also goes, “Look, you worked your ass off this week also. You’re trying to win your first 250 supercross and you’re having a good day. By not racing that’s just not the right answer.”
Also, the fact that there were fans in the stands that had come there to see us race. Of course, there were a few of us that broke ranks. I felt like I was going to do what was best for me and what my values were and what I wanted to do. The biggest thing was that the fans were there to watch us race. They installed some artificial lighting. The diesel generator powered lighting around the stadium and it wasn’t great, but it certainly wasn’t bad. I mean, I used to go ride Starwest on Tuesday nights because it would cause me to focus more on the little things. I’m like, I go ride that for free and it’s darker than this, you know?
Larry Ward and I were really tight in points for second in the championship. There were championship bonuses on the line and so we’re all like…are you gonna go? I’m not gonna go…are you gonna go? So, in the end Larry Ward and I decided that we were going to ride and some didn’t. Then I ended up winning the main event and at the time I had a $50,000 race winning bonus, which was huge at the time. It was good money! I get my name in the record books and all these sorts of things. It wasn’t about that. It was about the fans being there to watch us race, I think it’s safe to ride, so I’m going to race.
What was interesting is that, I think it was Bill West, he saw me after the race because all of the promoters were there that night. Like I said, there was a lot of tension, I mean shit was going down you know? After I came off of the podium I saw Bill West and he comes up to me and pulls me aside to say, “I really want to thank you for racing tonight” he goes, “I really think you made the right decision”. We talked and I said, “You guys got to get us a points fund, this is bullshit, dude”.
We still went out and promoted the race for you, okay but, you guys got to get something going in the future. I think maybe Gary Becker had popped his head in at that time too, if I remember correctly, and he shook my hand to say thanks for racing. If I remember correctly this wouldn’t have even been their race. This would have been a Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group even. You kind of saved the day, but for the riders who didn’t race, they made their point. So, at the time if McGrath wasn’t in the race you didn’t beat the best. There is no denying that, for guys like LaRocco, Kiedrowski, Lamson, McGrath, a bunch of these guys, they didn’t race. So, it was kind of like okay the fans got a race, the rest of the group put their foot down, and in the end that next year is when the promoting group came up with the championship points fund.
I also thought it was kind of ironic that at night the lights had a problem that this letter circulates. It was like, was that related? I thought that was kind of weird.
Right, like who went and pulled the fuse, right? I mean who knows, but that’s the way that things happen in life. There are these weird coincidental situations where you’re like there is really no rhyme or reason why that happened that night of all nights. When was the last time that the lights went out at a stadium on a perfectly clear night?