Behind each of the professional Supercross racers we watch every week is a story. We've heard many of these stories from their mouths. After going to a local race and seeing a moto mom helping her daughter at the gate and working on the bike, I had the idea for this feature. Moms play a huge role in our lives growing up, but we don't normally think of them as playing a huge role in our racing. But they obviously do. Whether it's emotional support, making food for the track, or going to the track and holding a stopwatch and putting fuel in the bike, moms play their role. For this second edition, I talked to the King of Supercross, Jeremy McGrath's mom.
For the full interview, check out the Vital MX podcast right here. If you're interested in the condensed written version, scroll down just a bit further.
Jamie Guida – Vital MX: I appreciate you saying yes to doing this.
Ann McGrath: Oh, my pleasure. At this point in my life, we don't get asked very much to do interviews. So, it's kind of fun for a new thing to talk about.
Vital MX: Where did you grow up and what hobbies were you and your family into?
Ann: Well, I have an interesting beginning. I was born in Scotland and my family immigrated to Australia when I was five years old. I grew up in Australia for most of my life. I was in boarding school, so I played tennis a little bit at school, but I wasn't a very sporty kid. I liked reading. That was my thing. I came to the United States when I was 16 years old, and then I met and married my husband when I was 19. Here we are 54 years later still together.
Vital Mx: What kind of change was that coming from Scotland to Australia and then to California after being in boarding school? I would imagine that was a shell shock.
Ann: Yeah, you could kind of say that. The move from Scotland to Australia was, I was little, I was five, so, you know, not a big deal. The move from Australia to here. Well, I was kind of a rebellious 16-year-old and looking for something different in my life. Fortunately for me, I had an aunt and uncle that lived in San Francisco, and they were happy to let me come and live with them for a little while. I lived with them until I went back to school for a year because in Australia the education system back in my day was different than it is now. You could leave school at 14 and go to work if you didn't have aspirations of going to University. I would have loved to do it but couldn't afford to for sure. So, at 14 I graduated from school over there and went to work, got my first job, and I worked for two years and then decided I was coming to the United States. When I got here though, my aunt said, "Oh no, you need to go back to school because you need to have a high school graduation from the United States." So, I went back to school. They said, "You've got to do two years." I said, "No, I don't think so. I'll do one year." I finished my work in one year and I graduated again at 17 and went to work. That was my life until I met Jack.
Vital MX: That's pretty impressive. “I'm just going to knock it out in one year. Let me show you.”
Ann: Sometimes life isn't exactly how you'd like it to be, so it's time to do something different. So that was me. Time to do something different.
Vital MX: Then you met Jack. What was that like meeting an American boy? Was he into motorsports at the time, or what were the things that that he was into that maybe were new to you?
Ann: He was into streetcar racing, and I loved it. I knew a friend of his and he introduced us. We met one time and then we didn't see each other for another year. We met again at a party. That wasn't too successful. But shortly thereafter I was out with my girlfriend one Friday night, maybe Saturday, I don't know. Anyway, street racing in San Francisco, in the late sixties was a big deal. We went out to Brotherhood Way and I happened to see his car and flagged him down and he said, "Yeah, okay, I'll come to pick you up after I'm done racing." So, I don't know, around midnight or something like that he came, and we met, and we went to Mel's Diner, I think, to grab some coffee and a burger. And that was that.
Vital MX: (Note: I’m picturing the movie, American Graffiti. Go watch it) What a cool story. I like that. I just can't imagine how awesome that time frame was.
Ann: It was pretty fun. We had some hair-raising things happen, and we had some funny things happen when we were street racing. We started dating in January. As it turned out, we ended up getting married in August of that same year. In all that time every Friday and Saturday night, we'd be out racing. Jack, at that time I think we had a Corvette. What else did we have, Jack? (Jack McGrath is in the background filling in details) Oh yes, we had a '55 Sedan Delivery. Street racing was a big part of our lives. Jack also rode motorcycles. He got me into riding motorcycles. Not that I was ever very good, but I was game for a while, you know? We'd go to Hollister Park and ride around. Then in late '71, after Jeremy was born, we were riding motorcycles still. When he was a baby, we would go to Hollister and he'd go with us. As he grew up, he could hold on, and he'd sit on the tank of Jack's bike and Jack would ride him around all over. That was how we spent our weekends out riding motorcycles, just trail riding, nothing fancy. We didn't race motorcycles.
Vital MX: How were Jeremy and his early personality? Was he a competitive kid?
Ann: No, no. He was kind of reticent. He wasn't very outgoing. He was a regular kid, but not competitive in the word competitive. He had a lot of fun when we lived in San Francisco. At three or four, he had a Big Wheel, and of course, in San Francisco, we lived on the Avenue, so there are hills. He would go to the top of the hill and ride his Big Wheel down. Before he got down to the corner, he would drag his feet so he could turn the corner and not go out into the street. The kids who lived on our block would come knocking on the door. Eight, nine-year-olds, “Hey, can Jeremy come out and play?” He was not quite four and they would drag him up to the top of the hill and let him ride down there. He would be dragging his foot, swinging his tush around the corner. I threatened him with his life if he went out in the street. But that's how he got started.
Vital MX: I was going to tell you at the end of this that Jeremy is one of the coolest humans on the planet. He exudes coolness. That's funny that even at four years old, the older kids knew this kid is cool.
Ann: Yeah, it is funny. They had a blast, though, and, you know, no iPads, no technology back in the day. It was you and your bike or you and whatever you had to play with. Even then, we had no idea how this would turn out. But he had a lot of fun even in those days.
Vital MX: When does BMX racing come into play?
Ann: At about ten years old, he came to Dad and me and he said, "I think I'd like to have a motorcycle." Well, you know, as I said, we had motorcycles, but racing motorcycles for him scared the heck out of me. So, I said to him, "I don't think so. How much does a motorcycle weigh?" We figured out about 200 plus pounds and said, "You're a little bit young to be handling a 200-pound motorcycle. What else could you do? What else would make you happy?" Because before that, we'd done the whole soccer, T ball, Pop Warner football thing. He'd done all that, but he wasn't a team sports person. He was a bit disappointed when I said no motorcycle at ten. Then he came back to us, and he said, "How about BMX? How about a bicycle?" I said, "Yeah, okay, the bicycle weighs 15 pounds. You can have a bicycle if you want to race BMX. Let's do that." So, that was it. He was ten years old. At that time, in the area where we live, which is now Murietta or Menifee, there were probably ten or 15 tracks within fairly easy driving distance. Lake Elsinore, of course, was the closest. Then Hemet, Corona, Norco Desert, Hot Springs, and Yucaipa. So anyway, a lot of tracks. He started doing it and then he loved it, and he was pretty good. He would ask, "Can we go here? Can we go here and here?" We said, "Okay, all right, we can do that." Then it turned out he was racing every single day after school in the evening, every single weekday. On Saturday we would hit three, sometimes four BMX tracks. So, that was from ten until 14. By the time he finished and was tired of it, at 14, he was national number 19. He'd been California's number one because BMX is broken up into districts. He had a lot of fun doing that. But by the time he was 14, and because we hit it so heavily, he said, "I think I'm done with this." In our heads, we're thinking, 14 now what? On the day of his 14th birthday, his dad and I are looking at each other and saying, "Okay, I guess so". Jack went down to Malcolm Smith's motorcycle shop in Riverside, bought him a Yamaha, and brought it home, and we surprised him for his birthday that night with a brand-new motorcycle. He was shocked. Shocked. That's how it got going.
Vital MX: You mentioned when he was a little younger, as a mother, you were worried about his safety. Moms are usually fearful of those kinds of things with their kids. So, how do you deal with that once you decide to go get a motorcycle?
Ann: I mean, I had a motorcycle, and Jack had a motorcycle. So, why would I deny my kid a motorcycle? We lived on five acres, so there was plenty of room for him to ride around. It was never the intention to go racing. You can have a motorcycle and go have fun, invite your friends over. Jack built him a track in the backyard and we thought, "This is going to be good. He'll be close to home. I'm there. We'll see what's going on. Everything's peachy". I wouldn't deny him a motorcycle at that age because he's old enough to handle it. Why would I deny him what I already had? He was coordinated and I didn't have any fears in that direction. Did I think that he might get hurt someday? Oh, yeah, of course. That's the mom in you like you said. But it is what it is. You deal with it as things come along. You deal with it. Little did I know, the pressure would get a little bit more as time went on. But, you know, lots of people have criticized me and said, to my face, criticized me and said, "How could you possibly let your child do that?" My thought on that is, it's what he loves. Why would I take that away from him? That's a possibility, that something could happen. Yeah, that was always there. Still there to this day. He hasn't given up motorcycle riding just because he's 50 now.
Vital MX: He started racing about a year later if I remember around 15. How seriously did you guys take racing? Did he ever do Loretta's or anything like that?
Ann: He got that for his 14th birthday and that was November of whatever that was, '85. Then in a few months, one of his buddies that he used to race BMX with came knocking on the door and said, "Hey, I have a motorcycle now and I know Jeremy has one. Can we go racing?" I'm like, "Racing? Where"? Because mind you, we've done four years of traveling everywhere. He says, "Perris Raceway". That's right up the road, 20 minutes from our house. I said, "Okay, if we go racing, what do we have to do?" He's like, "We just go, we race, and we go home." I said, "You mean that's it? We stay in the same place all day?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "Oh, okay, that's not too bad. All right, let's try that." So, we went to Perris. That was his first race, and he did very well. We thought this is not too bad. You know, it's 20 minutes from home. It's all right. He can practice in the yard. No big deal. Then on it went. Around race two or three, they didn't have enough kids for a beginner gate and a novice gate. So, they put them together in two separate starts, but in the same moto. The novices went off first and then the beginners went off second. Well, at this particular race, he ended up completely winning the race. The promoter said, "You have to move up." We said, "What are you talking about? This is like his third race." He said, "Well, he just won." We said, "Yes." He told us you can't do that. "These people are protesting you. He's moving up." So up he went to the novice. Then the career goes on and a friend of a friend of ours said, "You should take Jeremy to Loretta Lynn's." I don't know what year that was. I think in '87. He and his dad went to Loretta Lynn's, and we were just having that discussion. Honestly, I don't remember what his finish was. I know that he signed up as a 125 C rider, and he may have won that race and he got protested. But one of the ladies that we raced, her son raced against Jeremy in amateur stuff. She happened to be there, and she said, "You can't protest this. He is who he says he is. He is a C rider, but he's very good." Anyway, however, it turned out, I didn't go to that race. That was him and his dad. So, he did do Loretta Lynn's. We did go to Loretta Lynn's two more times, I believe. I think it was at Loretta Lynn's where he won the Kawasaki in a balancing contest. That was pretty fun. Then he did race Ponca City and won.
Vial MX: What's the age difference between Jeremy and his sister, Tracy? Is she going to these races and enjoying them? It's hard sometimes when racing because it takes up so much time and it's very expensive to find a balance where both kids get to do things and enjoy things. And I just wonder how she was enjoying the process of him racing.
Ann: There's a 3, 3 ½ year age difference. She loved it because most of the boys had little sisters, and so she made friends. Some of her friends that she still has today are people whose brothers raced against Jeremy. So yeah, she loved it. Remember when he was 16, and she was only 13. As I said earlier, we had five acres so she would have her pig for whatever year the 4H thing was. But that didn't hinder us from going racing. Although Loretta's and Ponca were the only two, we didn't do Mini O’s in Florida, we didn't do Texas, and we didn't do a lot of the other amateur races. We pretty much stayed in California. As far as Tracy is concerned, yeah, I think she had a good time. She enjoyed it because when we were there, she would find the other girls and they would go do whatever, hang out, do whatever they were doing. She was always, and still is to this day, supportive of everything that Jeremy did. As time went on, when we got to travel, she got to travel. We would go to Europe, she would go, and she always went with us. She's had lots of experiences that she wouldn't have had either if it weren't for Jeremy's racing career.
Vital MX: Everything I've ever read about, seen in interviews, or even personal conversations I've had with Jeremy points to great parenting. When receiving the Edison Dye Award at Glen Helen, they touched on what a great guy he is, how he was with fans, and how humble he is, even at a time when he was the biggest star in the sport. I think that says a lot about you and Jack's parenting.
Ann: Thank you. We appreciate that. As far as parents, we're thrilled about the man that he has become, his dedication to his career, his dedication to his family, and the difficulties he had when Kim was sick. He's a great guy. If he weren't my child, I would love to be his friend, you know? I mean, he's my child and I'm his friend, but if he weren't my child, I would love to be his friend. He's a regular guy. He's a little bit OCD with the cleaning of his garage. But as far as his personality, he's a good man. He turned out to be a very good man. He's dedicated and loyal and respectful and considerate.
Vital MX: When Jeremy finally goes pro in ‘89, things are starting to take off. What were your expectations as a mom? What are your fears? Do you fear whether this is a career that is sustainable, injuries, etc.?
Ann: We didn't think a whole lot about that. By the time ‘89 rolled around, we knew that he loved what he was doing. We knew if you have a passion for what you do, you will give it every effort, every true effort. Jeremy's version of how his career got started and my version, I read his book and where he says, “My parents gave me $500 and told me, ‘Here you go’.” That's not exactly how it went. At least it isn't in my mind. We supported him as long as necessary. But as far as injuries and career, did we ever think it would turn out to be what it was? Oh, no. I mean, we knew he was good. He enjoyed what he did. We loved watching him. Was I nervous? Oh, yeah. Oh, man. I've gone to Anaheim and just cringed. But you get past that. You get past that because you have to. You want to enjoy what your child is doing and he's good. He's good at it. So, the enjoyment far outweighed the nerves.
Vital MX: He gets his first professional win in ’90, and wins the 125 championship in '91. We jump ahead to '93, his rookie 250cc season, and wins a championship. That must blow your mind. The whole world changes almost overnight.
Ann: Maybe it seemed overnight to people who didn't know him. I didn't know how his career would turn out, but we knew he was good. He told us, "Mom, dad, I can do this. I can beat these guys." We're saying, "Okay. Good if you can do that. Well, get out there. Let's see it. Let's see what happens." In '93, Florida was the opener. Jack went with him to Florida. I did not go. I didn't see him race in '93 until Anaheim came around. Jack had called me and said, "Oh my gosh, you have to see this". Anyway, here we are at Anaheim 1, and he's going to win. I mean, I'm jumping out of my skin. It was fabulous. Jack and I are sitting in the stands because we were nobody, and we're sitting in the stands and I'm yelling, "Hey, my kid's going to win this race." We take off to try to get down on the floor, and Jack can't go down the stairs. So, he hops over the wall and ends up getting arrested. I run up the stairs the other way and go run down through the tunnel. But then they don't want to let us out there. It was quite the fiasco. But to stand there and watch your child fulfill his every dream, I mean, he was riding Honda, his dream. He was winning his dream. 65,000 people sitting in the seats calling your kid's name, that's just unbelievable.
Vial MX: I would think as that grew and he becomes the King, has 72 Supercross wins, and seven-time Supercross champion. He's an idol of our sport. It had to be blowing your mind, all the success and the fans and everything he got to enjoy.
Ann: It was thrilling to see him do his thing. After a while, we knew he was going to be a star, and that was fun for us. The fans, Jack and I still talk about that. To sit in a stadium with 70,000 people just cheering your child on and idolizing him just like you did. It's unreal. You think, how does this happen? Because he only raced for two years and won in his rookie season. So, in 93 it was quick. You're right. To some people, I guess that seems overnight. To us we just figured, okay, well, here we go. We're on the treadmill. Let's go. But in '97, when he switched to Suzuki and they booed him, I was standing up in the stands in Anaheim just crying my eyes out. Four years earlier they were chanting his name. Now he switched and they're booing him. It broke my heart.
Vial MX: Jeannie Carmichael told me a story very similar when Ricky was racing Jeremy in Anaheim and the crowd was booing Ricky. That has to be very hard. You don't think about that. I'm sure I've booed people at football games or whatever, and you don't think about the fact those are humans. They have families. You don't think about that.
Ann: That's true. I'll tell you, a funny story. We were at Perris Raceway watching car racing, I think, and there was a guy with a motorcycle jacket on. I'm one of those chatty kinds of people. So, I slide over next to the guy. I'm like, "Hey, you're a motorcycle fan." He's like, "Yeah." I said, "That's awesome. That's terrific. Who do you love?" I forget who he said he liked. I said, "Oh, okay." I was kind of surprised he didn't say Jeremy's name. So, I said, "Do you ride?" He said, "No, I don't ride." "But you love motorcycles?" "Yeah, it's great." "Who do you not like in the pros?" He said, "I don't like McGrath." I said, "Seriously, you don't like McGrath? Why?" He said, "I stood in line one day at, probably Anaheim, but I stood in line one day and I was there for 3 hours, and I got to be two or three people from the end and they cut the line off and I had to go away. That guy would not sign my autograph." I said, "Oh, really? That's a bummer that you were there for 3 hours, but have you ever thought about this as a workday for him and he has things to do? He has a schedule that he has to keep. He has things that have to happen before racing." He said, "I don't care. He should have signed my autograph." I said, "You've got to remember, this is a workday. This is not fun. You're there having fun, but this is a workday for this guy." Anyway, he kind of went on a little bit and I kind of slid away. Jack had been sitting behind me and he moved up a couple of bleachers. He could see the writing on the wall. I said, "Have you ever met Jeremy?" He said, "No, no, I've never met him." I said, "So you don't have any idea what he's like. You just know that he didn't sign your autograph, and that's enough for you to say that you don't like him." He said, "Yeah, yeah, that's enough." He said, "You must like motorcycle racing. Who are you?" I said, "I'm Jeremy's mom." He about croaked. That's all it was. It was a funny story. But even in the stands, at the races, I've heard people booing. Not Jeremy, but booing somebody, and I have turned around and laid into a couple of people. Exactly like you said because they have families. They have brothers and sisters, moms, dads, grandparents, children, whatever.
Vital MX: With fame, sometimes personalities can change. Was there ever a time that you had to pull Jeremy aside and reel him in a little bit?
Ann: No. At some point in our lives, when Jeremy decided that this was going to be his career, we then took the tact, it's not my butt on that motorcycle that's yours. You are responsible for how you deal with your career. You are responsible for how you treat people. You are responsible to get yourself to the gym and be ready. You are the one responsible to do these things. So as long as he did his job, which he always did, the rest you take in stride. If there were moments when I thought maybe he could have done something a little bit different, I don't recall that there were. But if there were, I wouldn't have said anything because once you decide to make whatever is your passion, your career, it's up to you now. It's not up to me anymore. It's up to you. It's your work ethic, it's your dedication. It's your responsibility to not become an egomaniac. In our opinion, he never did. I don't think we ever had an occasion where we had to sit him down and say, "Hey, you need to check yourself."
Vital MX: One of the most impressive things in his career to me was the '95 Motocross Championship. People thought he was not that great outdoors, or he doesn't care that much about the outdoors. He made up his mind, "all right. I'm going to show you". He went out and he kicked butt, and he won a championship.
Ann: Yes, absolutely. He should have won in ‘96 as well. But for some stupid little thing that he did. That cost him another championship. He should have won and didn't. But you know, that's the way it was meant to be I guess. So, yeah, when he makes up his mind to get something accomplished, oh yeah, it's done. He doesn't Mickey Mouse around. If he wants what he wants, he goes after it, and he will get it. That's just the way he is. He loved Supercross. Motocross was a means to an end, but Supercross was what he lived for. That's what he dreamed about since Jack took him to Anaheim in, maybe the mid-eighties. He would have been 12 or 13. It was then that he said, "Dad, I can do this". We're saying, "Hmm, sure. Okay."
Vital Mx: When you look back on his career, and his growing up, what are your fondest memories? They don't even have to be moto related.
Ann: For us, the day we gave him the motorcycle on his 14th birthday. There was nothing like that. The look on his face, was because we hadn't discussed it with him at all. He had no idea that he was getting a motorcycle. I'll never forget the look on his face. That was a cherished moment for me. Other than that, his win at Anaheim in '93. That was pretty incredible. As a little boy, he was on a Pop Warner team with Temecula, and that was pretty cute. All the boys boarding the bus, they'd won their season undefeated. They were heading out to Hawaii to play a Pop Warner Bowl game. There was that. He was on the bus taking off on this trip at ten years old and we didn't go. That was the first time we left him and off he went. That was another cute one.
Vital MX: What are you most proud of with Jeremy?
Ann: I'm proud of the man that he is. That he's such a good guy. I think one time in BMX, we drove to Sacramento for a BMX national. Maybe it wasn't even a national, maybe it's a triple point or something. I don't remember now. But there were only six people in his class, and he got sixth. I said to him, "Listen, if this is not what you want to do and you don't want to be here, here being any national that we go to, then all you have to do is tell me. I'm not going to waste my time and my money. Money was limited. I'm not going to waste my time and my money taking you somewhere you don't want to be. So, if you don't want to be here, don't be here." But that was the only time that I can ever remember. So, what am I most proud of? I'm proud of the man that he is, that he made every effort to be. To fulfill his dream and to be a good man. I mean, when his wife was sick, he was dedicated to helping her and being there for her every minute. Now it is all about his girls, and at the same time trying to fulfill his obligations to his sponsors. He's still that dedicated person. He's still that man that every parent would love to have. Yeah, that's what we're most proud of, that he turned out to be a good man because the star thing is, that's fun, but it goes away. What do you have at the end of the day? You have a person left. Do you like that person? Do you love that person? Absolutely.
Vital MX: Wonderful. Ann, Jack, thank you so much for taking some time for me this morning. I think this is going to be a really interesting article.
Ann: Oh, you're very welcome. Thanks for thinking of us. That was sweet of Jeannie (Carmichael). We love Jeannie. We haven't seen each other in many, many years. But did she tell you the funny story about Ricky coming to stay with us and Jeremy taking him to Lake Perris?
Vital MX: She mentioned the time that he came out there. She didn’t talk about that story, though. We're still recording. If you want to tell it, that'd be awesome.
Ann: Oh, he came out and he stayed with us and we loved him. He was such a cute little guy. But Jeremy had a boat, and we went to Lake Perris. He's like, “Oh, this is fun, riding around the lake”. We said, “Jump in”. He said, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no”. “Yeah, go on, come on, jump in. Come on. We're all going to jump in”. “No, I'm not jumping”. “Why?” He was really agitated, and we said, “What's the problem”? He said, “I don't want to get bitten by an alligator”. We said, “Oh, this is not Florida. There are no alligators in California”. He was not having it, not having it. He was terrified of getting in the water. Jack eventually threw him in, which probably wasn't the best thing to do. But anyway, that was the story. To this day we remember that. He probably does, too.
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