When the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross restarted a few weeks ago, Ken Roczen was just a few points behind Eli Tomac and in a pretty good position to challenge for his first ever 450SX Championship. Not only was he Tomac’s closet rival through the opening ten rounds but he was also heading to Salt Lake City, a place where he feels very comfortable. However, in professional sports things don’t always go as planned. As the racing began in SLC, Roczen was off the pace of Tomac and Cooper Webb. In true Ken Roczen fashion, he never gave up through the final seven rounds of Supercross; he even took home a main event win. But in the end, he came up shy of winning his first 450SX Championship. We caught up with Roczen late last week to get his thoughts on the title chase, his health issues, and his time in SLC.
MXP: Hey Ken, thanks for doing this on one of your off days between rounds in Salt Lake City. Obviously, these have been crazy times for everyone. After the SX series was shutdown back in March, did you think at the time that it would be 85 days until you raced again?
KR: No, I did not, but at the same time once they stopped the Indianapolis round it was wide open, and I think what made it tough for any of us was the unknown, meaning you couldn’t really completely take off and just enjoy the off-season. They said we’re racing mid-April, then it was end of April, then it was mid-May, then it was end of May. It just kept going like that so we still had to stay fit and ready. It wasn’t really an off-season.
What did you do over the break to stay ready and keep from going insane?
I live in a pretty cool spot in Florida, right on the lake. I have a boat and jet skis in the water. I have my own shop with a car racing simulator in it and my gym and road bikes. There is plenty of stuff to do. It never really affected the training side of things or anything like that. We were pretty solid and it was the first time ever really (besides my big injury) that we actually got to stay home and just be home.
I’ve heard a few riders talk about how cool it was to just be home and not have to get on an airplane every Friday. Like you said, first it was SX coming back, then it was the outdoor series, then finally SX. Was it tougher mentally or physically to stay ready for racing to return?
With the unknown, it was just tough with maybe SX back first and then it was outdoors back first. Then they said yeah, we’re going back to SX, so that side of things was tough. But it didn’t really bother me. I feel like I excel in situations that are thrown off a little bit, so I didn’t really think anything of it. It didn’t really affect me mentally or physically.
Thankfully everyone got through it okay and the SX Series was able to resume. I’ve personally never been to Salt Lake City but it looks like a great city. Aside from what is happening on the track, did you enjoy your time in SLC?
We stayed in Park City, and the reason we did that was because being here for 3.5 weeks, we wanted to take it as a little bit of vacation time as well since we were going to be racing a lot. We wanted to make it as easy as possible on us. We had a beautiful home in Park City, with lots of mountain biking and good times. In general, we definitely couldn’t have been in a better spot for the last seven rounds.
What were you doing on the off days between rounds to keep busy?
I was honestly trying to not stay busy, just because there really wasn’t that much time in between. The main focus was recovering and getting ready for the next race, so besides that I was riding mountain bikes around and just taking in the scenery.
The first race back in SLC was hot and dry and the track didn’t look like much fun. Despite the conditions and the lack of fans, did it feel good to be back on the race track again?
Yeah, it actually felt really good. Surprisingly after that many days off, it felt super natural. Now, was it ideal that fans were not present, no, but it was what it was. It just felt good to be back racing. The conditions were tough, especially the first race at such a high altitude and it being so hot; it was definitely a tough main event.
You recently announced that you were having issues breathing. First off, I think all of us applaud you for your honesty as not every athlete would be so forthright. Was this issue something that you’ve been dealing with for a while or did it just flare up in SLC?
It was something that I’ve been struggling with for a while. I got really sick in November and that’s when it kind of started. Once it kind of drug out I was thinking that I was maybe allergic to something. I didn’t really know what was going on. In the beginning, you know, you cut out bread, you cut out this and try to really figure out what it is. It’s been sitting with me for a long time and of course it hasn’t been ideal, but it’s a little bit more manageable. It’s not ideal in any situation or circumstance, but it’s a little easier to manage down at sea level racing. It’s been going on for a while and lately I’ve been doing breathing exercises to see if that helps to make it better.
During the main event at Round 14 you were battling with Webb for over half the race and even passed him at one point. With the issues that you’re dealing with, at a certain point in the race does your body start to shut down?
There were two different issues going on. I had shingles that started and a viral flare up again, which I really can’t control. I had a lack of energy and was just feeling lethargic and not aggressive by any means. I had no body strength to begin with, so it’s really tough making it through the main event when everybody else is on top of their game. There wasn’t really much I could do about it at that point.
That must have been very frustrating to say the least. However, you must be proud of how it went. You got back to the top step of the podium and had some time with the red plates. Overall, it was a very good season.
I’m happy with my riding, and I’m happy how the season overall has gone. I feel like I am back to having what it takes to get a championship. Obviously, there are some more things that I have to get under control. I know everybody is getting tired of hearing about it, but I’m trying everything I can and learning about it as well to minimize that. Other than that, the speed and everything is there. I’ve done my work, but unfortunately when you have these flareups, you could’ve done all the training in the world but you cannot ask for the fitness that you have in your body and the energy and the strength because it just simply isn’t there. Other than that, we got some wins, which feels really good. I felt right at home with that, because I haven’t been able to do that in the past couple of years. That side of things was good. Like you said, I had the red plates, I had some good battles and I am super happy to be back in a position of just fighting for wins and actually getting wins. So, we’ll try to get through this summer healthy and then be back in 2021 and hopefully make a run at this SX title again.
Looking ahead to next month and the beginning of the outdoor series, are you looking forward to heading outdoors and having that change of racing scenery?
I think all these times are still weird for everybody because as of right now there really are only two races announced. Nobody really knows what’s going on and where we are able to go because I feel like there is new stuff popping up every day. I honestly haven’t thought of outdoors whatsoever recently just because I’ve been super focused on this SX Championship. I don’t think any of us were thinking about the Outdoor Series so we’ll see what happens in the next few weeks.
These are definitely crazy times and it looks like it will be like this for some time. At least the SX Series was able to get all of their rounds in and still give everyone a proper 17 round series. Again, thanks for doing this, great job in the Supercross Series and best of luck for the remainder of the season.
Thank-you! Hopefully we can get a decent outdoor series in and then come back to a normal Supercross Series in 2021.