Heading into the 2021 Triple Crown Series Jess Pettis was not only getting ready for his rookie summer in the 450 class, but he was also just five short months out of reconstructive knee surgery. The fact that Jess was even on the starting gate at the opening round was impressive enough, but what he did after was truly amazing. After winning multiple motos in the first few rounds of the MXTour, Pettis was in the hunt for the 450 title with two rounds to go. Unfortunately, a big crash at Round 7 ruined any chance of him winning the 450 championship. However, he was able to come back for the final round at Walton Raceway and finish well enough to hold onto second overall in the 450 class. It was an impressive summer for Pettis and now he’s back down in Florida training for Supercross at Baker’s Factory. We caught up with Jess as he was relaxing after a hard day of motos at Aldon Baker’s famous training facility.
MXP: Hey Jess, you mentioned last week that you were down and out with a bad cold. Are you back to 100% yet?
JP: I’m feeling a lot better and yeah I’m almost back to 100%. I ended up getting a sore throat and then it turned into a really bad head cold. I couldn’t really do anything so we just shut things down for a few days while I recovered.
Seeing that you’re at one of, if not the most famous training facilities on the planet does Aldon get you guys to do anything special when you’re down and out with colds or the flu?
He has a Hyperbaric Chamber that I was going to when I first started to feel sick, but once I got really stuffed up going in the chamber hurt my head. So in the end I just got more rest and in a few days, I began to feel better. I’m back riding this week and I feel pretty good.
So before we get into this I have to ask you, are racing the 250SX West Series or the East Series?
I’ll be racing the 250SX West Series so my first race will be at A1 in January. We’re staying in Florida until the end of December and then we’ll be renting a house in California for two months while I race the West Coast races.
That sounds great Jess!
Yes, it should be good. Since I’m driving to each race it’s just a lot easier to travel to each West Coast round. The East Coast races are really far apart. Also, there’s something special about racing at the opening round in Anaheim.
I agree! Okay, before we talk more about your training at Baker’s Factory I want to ask you about the final round of the Triple Crown Series at Walton Raceway. With your massive crash at Deschambault and the back injuries you suffered in that crash, how the hell did you show up at Walton two weeks later and go 5-5 and hold on to second overall in the 450MX Series?
Good question Palms! It was definitely a challenging day and looking back now I’m not really sure how I got through it. I think it was just a combination of mental strength and good old adrenaline (laughs). The hardest part was probably during practice because it hurt to just ride around the track. Once the gate dropped for the motos my adrenaline kick in and it made racing possible. It was also hard just riding around in 5th place and not really battling with anyone, it made the motos feel long.
So the goal at the final round was to hold on to third overall and collect the large bonus money that came with it, but you did even better than that?
Well, first of all, once I got home from Deschambault and took a few days off I started to feel better and slowly the pain went away. Once the pain started to go away I began to think about racing Walton and trying to hold on to third. If I didn’t then Cole was most likely going to finish third and I didn’t want that to happen. I mean, you never want your teammate to beat you. So I saw a couple of doctors and talk to my surgeon and they all agreed that unless I had another big crash I wouldn’t be putting myself at any more risk. The fractures to my back were on the outer edges of my vertebrae so my back was stable. They basically said that if I could deal with the pain then go for it!
Wow! That’s amazing. So you went for it and it all worked out?
Yes, once I got through the first moto we looked at the points and figured out that if I could go out in moto two and finish inside the Top 5 again then I might be able to hold onto to second overall in the series. Obviously, my bonus money would be even better with second overall so I went out, finished 5th, and ended up second overall. After the race, I was really sore but thankfully it all worked out.
That was most certainly an epic effort on your part and it put a big exclamation mark on your rookie 450 season. Overall, were you happy with how your summer went?
Yes, I was happy with it, especially considering that before the series my doctors told me that I shouldn’t have been riding yet. I was basically five months from full ACL reconstruction to the starting line at Walton Raceway and that just isn’t usually done. I came into the series a little unprepared and rusty but my team worked hard to get me comfortable and we were able to find success early.
Here is a question I’ve wanted to ask you for some time. Did the success you found early in the series put more pressure on you than perhaps you wanted at the time? Meaning, you came into the 450 series not quite as prepared as you would’ve liked yet you started to win motos immediately and held the red plate early on. That success definitely didn’t allow you to ease into your rookie 450 series the way I’m sure you would’ve liked to?
I would agree with you! Coming in my goal was honestly to finish Top 5 in the opening few rounds and then by Sand Del Lee, I hoped to be going for podiums and maybe a few race wins. But we were upfront right away and were able to not only run the pace of Dylan but in a few motos, I was a little faster. That did raise my expectations quickly and from there I wanted to win every moto and I was pissed when I didn’t. But I don’t think that is why I crashed in Quebec, that was just a mistake on my part.
I wasn’t suggesting that is what caused the crash in Deschambault, I was thinking more of the opening moto at SDL when you were leading early but you didn’t look comfortable. You had a big moment over the old finish line jump and almost crashed, and then Dylan reeled you in and won the moto.
I remember that moment (laughs) and yes I almost ate it. That moto was actually a turning point for me because coming into SDL I felt like I could win every moto. However, in that opening moto, Dylan caught me and blew by me, and won. In between motos I was so pissed off because I had nothing for him and you’re correct, I was riding tight and trying to force things. You cannot ride a 450 like that and hope to be successful. So I came out and won Moto 2 and then went to Deschambault and won there and I think at that point I had the red plate again. Of course, the following day I crashed and lost a lot of points to Dylan, but overall I feel like I learned a lot this summer.
My next question was going to be about what you learned during the summer but I think you answered that. So moving on and the upcoming Monster Energy Supercross Series. You’re back training at Baker’s Factory and back on a 250 for SX. First off, how did it feel getting back on a 250 after racing a 450 all summer?
Actually, it felt great! I went to Quebec to test in the fall and as soon as I got back on the 250 I was comfortable. We have a great package and my 250 is so much fun to ride. We have taken what we learned last year and put it into this new model and so far the bike is really good.
Okay, so you’ve been at Baker’s Factory now for two weeks. Other than being sick for a few days how has it been going?
Things have been great and it’s been awesome being back here and back on a SX track every day. With knowing what to expect this time around I came in feeling so much more comfortable and confident. Even though I’ve only been here a couple of weeks I feel it in my riding already.
In the latest issue of MXP Magazine, we did a story with Mike Brown and he was saying how fast you were going last year before hurting your knee again at the opening round. He said that you were as fast and on some days even faster than the other 250 riders at Baker’s Factory and that this year he expects you to be even better. Those are definitely some kind words from Brownie.
When I arrived here last year I didn’t really know anyone except for Seth Rarick. I knew Dean Wilson a little but not really that well. So I was definitely nervous for the first few weeks and it took me a while to feel comfortable. But this year I feel much better as I know exactly what to expect. I know where to put my bike in the shop, I know the schedule, I know where to eat and where the gym is, and also I know everyone here. Aldon liked what he saw from me last year and he wanted me back so hopefully we can get some solid work done and be ready for Anaheim 1 in January.
Yes, it must have been great driving through the gates of Baker’s Factory this year and knowing exactly where to go and what to expect. So the plan is to just train and get yourself ready for A1 and the rest of the 250SX West rounds?
That’s it! Each day we’re working towards that goal and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s been tough for sure with the injuries I’ve had, but the one thing good that has come from it is that it’s made me appreciate riding and training that much more. I think it’s also made me more mentally strong and that will no doubt help moving forward.
Well Jess, I know I speak for everyone in Canada when I say that we all hope the next two months of training go well and we cannot wait to watch you battle in the Monster Energy Supercross Series.
Thank you Palms! That really means a lot and you know I’ll be doing my best when the gate drops to make Canada proud.