After swapping teams four times, racing three different series’ and winning two FIM World Supercross Championship events this year, Shane McElrath can rest in the fact he is a champion.
While en route to victory, the 28-year-old rider experienced several bumps in the road that left him wondering if he would be able to complete a full season, much less score a series championship.
It started in Monster Energy AMA Supercross competition in March.
McElrath had signed with Rocky Mountain ATV/MC-WPS-KTM and was midway through the season when he suffered a concussion during qualifying at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The injury relegated him to the sidelines for several weeks. Meanwhile, various sponsorship issues arose with the team, so the two parted ways in late April.
“At that point, I was supposed to be with that team for Supercross and motocross. And so that kind of left us in a bad spot,” McElrath said.
With an extremely limited selection of rides, McElrath didn’t secure a spot on the starting gate for Lucas Oil Pro Motocross until Dean Wilson’s lingering injury from the St. Louis Supercross round kept him from returning to his Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing machine.
McElrath was knocking on the team’s door for weeks until he was handed the Husqvarna ride for the first four rounds of the outdoor schedule.
“To us, that was best opportunity that we could’ve gotten, but it was probably the shortest term that we could’ve gotten also,” McElrath said. After four races, Wilson was still healing and McElrath continued riding for Husqvarna on a week-to-week basis over the next four events.
“It was like ‘Will I see you guys next weekend?’ That was pretty tough,” McElrath recalled.
His main goal was to finish the full motocross season, but after round eight, his time with the Rockstar Husqvarna team concluded. Another rider injury served as opportunity for McElrath, with him joining the Muc-Off/FXR/Club MX Yamaha squad to replace Phil Nicoletti.
With no promise of payment, Club MX team manager Brandon Haas handed Nicoletti’s Yamaha to McElrath — simply giving him the chance to finish the 12-round series.
“In my career, I haven’t been able to do much on a 450. I really just wanted to finish,” said McElrath, who finished 10th in the standings.
McElrath then stepped into his contract with Rick Ware Racing for the inaugural World Supercross Championship — a two-year deal that he had signed earlier in the year. While the international opportunity seemed to hold promise, there was still uncertainty between McElrath and his wife, Joy, about how it would play out.
“I think we were both a little hesitant at first to the idea of going global with WSX and didn’t know much about it,” Joy McElrath said. “But once we got more familiar with the idea and were hearing more people commit to it and seeing it develop, I was excited.”
The two have experienced some of their toughest moments this year, between McElrath’s injury, his commitment to continue racing and their priority to take it on together.
“This sport is a lot about talent, but so much of it is mental strength. It takes a lot for these guys to go through the ups and downs of this sport,” Joy McElrath added.
Despite the recent low points, Shane McElrath found it easy to combine his passion to win with Ware’s determination to become a WSX champion. “When I first talked to Rick, he approached me about doing World Supercross and he mentioned, ‘I want to win a world championship and I want you to do it for me,’” McElrath said.
In order to give Ware his best shot at earning a title, McElrath decided to enter the SX2 class, or 250cc division, for WSX.
Though he had been competing in the 450 class for the past two years in AMA Supercross, McElrath was more optimistic about his chances on a 250. And so, between the final round of Pro Motocross on Sept. 3 and the opening round of WSX on Oct. 8, McElrath spent two days testing on his new Yamaha YZ250F before traveling with Joy to Cardiff, United Kingdom, for round one.
“I got on the 250 and it was a big culture shock,” McElrath said with a laugh.
Suspension and engine adjustments were his primary concern leading into the first race, but with the time constraints limiting the team’s ability to make changes, McElrath jumped on an essentially stock bike to hit the track at the British Grand Prix. To McElrath’s surprise, his consistency in the three-race format landed him the event win and points lead, even with a 4-3-5 finish.
“After round one, I knew my starts needed help, but everywhere else on the track it was fine,” McElrath said. “We had a good base line after the race.”
The bike was shipped to Australia for the second and final WSX round, where McElrath was waiting to put some laps in. After two more days of riding — one dedicated to optimizing the engine and the other devoted to suspension — McElrath’s confidence soared.
Lining up at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia, McElrath had a one-point buffer as the points leader, with Chris Blose and Mitchell Oldenburg within striking distance behind him. However, McElrath finished 2-2-1 on the night, which proved to be enough to lock up the world title and his first championship.
“It was a long year. Going here, there and a little bit of everywhere. To end the year on a high note was really good, considering what we went through,” McElrath said.
Two months after the final round of WSX, McElrath is searching for a ride in AMA Supercross. His deal with RWR is set through 2023 for the global campaign, but his future in American Supercross remains hazy.
“I’m planning on being out there for all 17 rounds,” McElrath said. “Lord willing, that’ll be the case.”
Since turning pro in 2013, McElrath has been no stranger to the winds of change.
Through his 250 and 450 career, he has raced for seven different teams and experienced a mild range of success with each one. Finally, he can add World Supercross champion to his list of accomplishments before turning the page to a new year of adversity and, hopefully, triumph.
“We all work to win, but in the end, there’s only one winner,” McElrath said. “Our faith is the biggest part of keeping us persistent at moving forward, so we’ll see where God takes us.”