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Jeff Ward: Racing Them Right  

By James Holter

Jeff WardJeff Ward knows racing.

The eight-time AMA Pro Racing champion’s career began in the youth ranks in the 1970s, progressed through to his national motocross and Supercross championships in the 1980s, followed by a four-wheeled career at the top levels of the Indy Racing League, and finally continues with his highly successful campaign in the AMA Supermoto Championship, where he is the reigning title-holder.

But along the way, he’s adopted another role as well: mini parent. Ward’s kids, Brandon, 15; Ayrton and Alain, both 10; and Siena, 8, are all active in racing.

Here’s what Ward has to say about approaching an amateur career right.

Advice for busy parents: Having my wife so involved really helps, but still, we’re always juggling. It’s pretty non-stop every day. I try to keep them on a good training program, but I try not to get overstressed if we miss a day. At this age, it has to be fun.

On moving up: I know what it takes to make it in the sport, and if you have talent, you have talent. Speed’s just part of it. At the top level, you also have to deal with pressure and physical demands that you don’t see coming up. When I became pro, it didn’t have anything to do with how well I did as an amateur. It had to do with how I trained and how I prepared myself at that level.

On school: School’s really important to us. That comes first. My kids don’t think they can slack on homework and just ride and ride. They have to do their homework first. Ayrton is just a fanatic about riding and he will double up on his homework and get it done early if it means he gets to ride more.

On pushing kids too hard: You see some kids whose parents ride them too hard. They’re making them do things that result in the kids getting hurt. I’ve been at the track a few times where parents are trying to get a kid to jump a big jump. I can see that the kids don’t have the skills yet, but I’m not sure the parents do. Sometimes, I’ll ask the parents if they ride. If they say no, I tell them that I’ll unload my bike and let them try it.
They’ll jump it when they’re ready to jump it. Confidence is important and kids sometimes have to develop confidence slowly.

When to get serious about racing: Just do it however much you want to do it. If the kid wants to go every weekend, then go. But don’t push them. I have one son who likes to ride but doesn’t want to race all the time. Let them race when they want, and you’ll all have a better time.