The checkered flag stopped waving an hour ago but in a grassy parking lot in Tampa a crowd was still growing, Coors Light still flowing and commemorative t-shirts were still being passed out and pulled over heads. Aside from one subtle clue it could have easily been mistaken for a championship celebration: the person responsible for the party – the reason for the gathering – was struggling to have a good time. Chad Reed just wanted to go home.
It was 10:45 p.m. on Saturday, February 24 and three dozen people were gathered around Reed’s Team CR22 truck as his four crew members packed up, working around the revelers. Children played, running with the elated enthusiasm one possesses when fighting the urge to fall asleep. Selfie-seeking spectators loitered with their screens aglow, ready for the chance to grab a moment with Reed. He obliged every request.
Wearing street clothes – dark work shorts, a navy blue t-shirt and team hat – his smiles revealed both gratefulness and grimace. For a professional motorcycle racer, a two-time Monster energy Supercross Champion competing in his seventeenth consecutive season in the series, the 2018 Tampa race wasn’t a good night. He was nineteenth in seeding, transferred through the last chance qualifier and didn’t finish the main event because of an electrical problem. After his bike cut out for the third time, he pulled into the mechanic’s area and handed the motorcycle to Mike Gosselaar. Instead of heading back to his truck in warranted frustration, Reed stood in the dirt and watched the rest of the race.
Maybe he wanted to study the lead riders, who, in better circumstances he believes he can still beat; maybe it was just because he loves motorsports and wanted to watch the battle between Eli Tomac and Marvin Musquin; maybe he wanted to spend a few more moments absorbing the one thing about this night that actually was an accomplishment. Competing an hour away from his adopted hometown of Dade City, FL, in front of 42,411 spectators, Reed became the new ironman of supercross by starting premier class main event number 228, surpassing a record Mike LaRocco had owned for 12 years.
After winning the last chance qualifier he gave the crowd a nac nac over the finish line and was directed toward the podium where the event announcer whipped up the crowd in recognition of Reed’s long – and continuing – career. After 90 seconds, the moment was over. He went from genuine joy and thankfulness right back to preparing for the one record he truly has his heart set on: oldest supercross winner, which is 33 years, 11 months. Reed turned 36 on March 15.
The post-race party was a chance for Reed’s fans, friends and family to observe a rare achievement, put life on pause and just appreciate what a great ride it has been, even if it was up, down and sideways at times. “That’s what 228 meant to me,” said Chad’s wife, Ellie from her dining room table less than 12 hours after the party died down. “You reflect on how much you’ve actually done but you’re in the zone and [sometimes] you forget to stop and look up and go ‘hey, what did we do?’ And that’s because [looking at Chad] you’re so head down, ass up, go, go, go. Nothing is enough for you. But he’s always been that way.”
When Reed showed up in Anaheim on January 6 for the opening round of 2018 he was still hobbling from the two fractures he suffered in October to the talus bone in his right ankle. Medically speaking, he really had no business racing a motorcycle. The talus sits below the tibia and fibula and forms the lower part of the ankle joint. It bears the entire weight of the body and, for Reed, that body was nearly 20 pounds over his preferred racing weight of 170 when he started the season.
Chad Reed makes the long walk back to his truck after taking a DNF in his 228th supercross main event.
Plus, he could count on one hand the number of hours he’d spent on a motorcycle since May 6. And now he was riding a new brand – a Husqvarna FC 450 he bought with his own money. Team CR22 isn’t the second coming of Two Two Motorsports (2011-2015), which had a full staff and a $4.2 million annual operating budget. When the injury hit, however, cobbling together his own effort was the only way a season was happening. He was going to have to fight on his own. Again.
Loyal sponsors, such as Fox, Boost Mobile and others helped in their own way. Speedzone’s Dustin Farthing threw in the Peterbilt 387 truck to use for the season; Chad pays for the fuel and driver. He also created a VIP fan experience where 10 people can join the team on race days. With a single Instagram post on November 30, 2017, CR22 received 2,000 email inquiries within a few days. For $1200 per person, fans spend an entire day with the team, including an exclusive meet and greet with Chad, signed swag, track walk access and premium seating. The VIP program became more than just a fan opportunity. It’s helping CR22 get to the races. When Two Two closed down the Reeds were able to pay all their bills but Ellie said Chad hasn’t collected a significant paycheck in almost eight years. The 2016 Yamaha contract was only a $100,000 salary with a slight bump for 2017.
“I mean, we came into the  season where I was like, ‘how are we going to pay our mortgage?’” she said. By then, their inner circle had shrunk. Friends who said, “He doesn’t know when to give up” or “Doesn’t he know when enough is enough?” were clipped. When his agent appeared to give up hope, they parted ways.
“There’s so much more there,” Reed said. “I honestly believe that I can still win. That feeling of going out and riding and going at the level, like when I see – and I’m around it – nothing special’s getting done. These guys, the Tomacs, the Andersons, they’re not doing anything that hasn’t been done before. And I don’t believe they’re doing anything that I can’t do. And this year is so different. I’m not in shape. My foot still is not 100%.”
The Reeds have always felt like they were in a school of salmon, fighting to swim upstream to survive, shouting ‘can’ when others said ‘can’t’. What they are doing is perceived as going against the current and they are ok with that. But why? Why is Reed still racing at 36, and already promising to return in 2019, where he could become the oldest main event qualifier in the history of the sport?
To answer that, it’s important to understand how he got here.
Jay Foreman had never seen so much drive in one kid. The Team Manager for Suzuki Australia, Foreman couldn’t believe how quickly Chad Reed thrashed bikes. He was eating through a clutch a day on his RM 125s; the countershaft sprockets sometimes came back to the shop missing teeth. The bikes got no rest. At a natural riding area called “Crazers”, Reed often rode 10 minutes through the bush with a 20-liter drum of fuel between his legs. When it was empty, he rode home, filled it up and came back. He developed this habit when he heard a story about how Ricky Carmichael didn’t stop riding until he had burned through five gallons of gas a day. It could have been a tall tale, completely fabricated, but this was Ricky Carmichael and Reed had a poster of the guy hanging above his bed. What he knew for certain was that Carmichael, who was only two and half years older, was already winning championships on the other side of the Pacific so Reed told himself, “Yup, that’s what I got to do.” So be burned through as much fuel as he possibly could. And he took full advantage of the fact that Foreman’s shop was 20 minutes away from home. He’d ruin a bike and simply take it back for another one.
“It didn’t matter who was around helping him, he was going to make it,” Foreman said, dispelling any notion that Reed caught lucky breaks. “Nothing was going to stop him. He wanted it so bad.”
Foreman has known Reed since he was a boy and watched him grow up. He rode for Suzuki in the Australian Jr. championships and when it was time to turn pro, he made it clear that he wanted to bypass the 125cc class completely. He found the displacement gutless and he’d been riding 250s since he was 12. It was a highly unconventional move. “And a hard thing to convince my bosses at Suzuki Australia,” Foreman said. In New Zealand riders could move to the senior (pro) division at 15. In October of 1997, Foreman sent him to Australia’s neighbor to compete in their professional motocross season on 125s and 250s. Foreman said the deal was that if he could beat rising star Josh Coppins (who was 20), then he could bump straight to the 250 class in Australia.
Reed doesn’t recall racing in New Zealand as being a tryout period but he was definitely dead set against racing a 125 and was up for any opportunity to race pro. “When I make my mind up, it’s going to happen,” Reed said. “I wasn’t intimidated, nor did I look at those guys, such as Cameron Taylor, Andrew McFarlane, Michael Byrne, Peter Melton and say, ‘Oh my gosh, these guys are gnarly’. My cousin (Craig Anderson), who was the Australian champion, would kill them and I got to see everything he did and I rode with him all the time. In a naive, overconfident manner, I didn’t believe I had to worry about anything and the 250 class was where I needed to be.”
In one of many examples of growing up fast and finding his own way, Reed went to New Zealand alone. A man named Dave Craig looked after him but they couch surfed their way around the two islands, practicing whenever and wherever they could. It was during these months that he blossomed into a young adult. Reed didn’t beat Coppins but Foreman granted Reed’s wish to compete on a 250 in Australia’s 1998 National Motocross series. The fact that a 15-year-old could go to a foreign country alone and adapt well enough to stay in the championship hunt was impressive on its own.
Figuring it out is part of the Reed fabric. His parents never mollycoddled him. They couldn’t. They were too busy breaking their backs and blistering their fingers to provide for their three kids. Robyn Reed cleaned the schoolhouse and was often out of the house by 4:00 a.m. Mark Reed was a concreter and left around 5:30 a.m. In West Wallsend, New South Wales Australia, the Reeds lived across the street from the K-6 school. Aunts and uncles were nearby but Chad remembers he and his younger brother, Troy getting themselves out the door in the mornings.
The obsession with motorcycles started in July 1986. An uncle on his mother’s side was a local racer and he introduced four-year-old Chad and his aforementioned cousin Craig (four years older) to motocross. One of his earliest memories was the horse truck arriving and taking away Fern, who was sold so his parents could buy him a Yamaha PW50. Within a 45-minute drive, Reed and Anderson had five different racetracks to choose from, including the Cessnock ‘Motorcross’ and Lake MacQuarie Motor Bike Clubs. Chad can still hear the heavy metal clunk of the forward falling starting gate at his first race. “When it dropped it literally just scared you, scared the hell out of you,” he said. “It was a daunting experience but I remember deciding that motorcycles were what I wanted to do.”
Anderson said they often rode every day, straight into the bush until sunset and then came home through the dark. Progression came quickly. “We didn’t get taught. We just figured it out,” he said. “And both of our families had little money. Our bikes looked like shit and our tires were always bald.” Anderson knew his little cousin had a special desire to succeed from the time he was six years old and despite their age difference, their competitiveness pushed one another to be better. Chad wanted to both be like Craig and beat him. Being four years younger, Reed was always at a displacement disadvantage. It just meant he had to ride that much faster.
Racing in America wasn’t just a goal; it was something he talked about constantly and he wore the heads off a friend’s VCR watching videotapes of Jeremy McGrath. When Reed was 13 he moved to Kurri Kurri where Mark purchased 25 acres. The first track they built was crude, about the width of a skid steer, and tight corners were often preceded by long, fast straightaways. Blowing the corners meant getting tangled in the shrubs and tea trees of the bush.
In Kurri Kurri, Reed excelled and picked up support from Suzuki. He was known to finish a full day of racing, come home and continue riding on his own property. He burned nearly 200 liters of fuel a week and at $1 a liter for avgas, affording Chad’s dream was a stretch. The Reeds lived in a trailer for two and a half years while Mark built a modest 1,000 square foot home. Affording handlebars even required creativity. Suzuki had a large supply of stock takeoff bars and grips from the team’s stable of race bikes and Mark scooped them up and put them on Chad’s practice bikes. He went through them like tear offs.
“I picked up Chad’s RM125 once to prep it and it had bent up stock bars and a leftside grip stretched over the throttle tube,” said Kristian Kibby, a mechanic for Team Suzuki Australia who now works for GEICO Honda. “To top it off, the grips were wired on with some old fencing wire, similar in gauge to a coat hanger.”
When Reed was around 14, a development tour was organized that gave young Australian talent the opportunity to travel to the United States to ride and race. It had an expensive price tag and Reed can’t recall if he was actually invited but he knew he was in no position to pay for it. What he does remember is being a young teenager and “realizing that it’s a very political world we live in and it’s not all based on talent,” he said. Kibby asked Reed why he didn’t go. The amount of spite-filled cockiness in his reply was unforgettable: “I don’t care because I’ll kick all their asses when they get back,” Reed told him. The kids came home with enviable amounts of swag, including helmets painted by Troy Lee Designs.
“Of course he would have been slightly jealous and had a chip on his shoulder,” Kibby said. “These were Australian kids with money that probably didn’t have the burning desire Chad did and they were the ones going on the trip. I bet he stayed home and practiced even harder.”
As if the sting from not being able to go to America wasn’t enough, his high school math teacher always told him he was dreaming when the subject of racing came up. “You think you’re going to go out and do what Jeff Leisk did?” Mr. Rumford would ask Reed. He was a motorcyclist and remembered Leisk’s accomplishments, which included several podium finishes in AMA Supercross and runner up in the 1989 FIM 500cc World MXGP championship. “I remember looking at him and saying, ‘No, I’ll be better,’” Reed said. After a few years of racing in the United States, Mr. Rumford sent a letter of apology to Reed.
Even though Reed skipped straight to the 250cc class in 1998, Suzuki Australia’s introductory salary for young rookie motocross riders was still only $5000. But that was $5000 more than Reed had ever had and it brought him one step closer to the ultimate goal. To save money, he co-piloted a team van with Kibby while his teammates jetted in to the races. Only 16 and still on a learner’s license, he wasn’t legal to pull trailers, but they shared driving duties. Reed enjoyed the process, which included pumping gas from a metal drum stored inside the trailer because there was so much mileage between fuel stations in South and Western Australia. They ate sausage rolls, meat pies and other mystery foods from stores along the way; Reed’s beverage of choice was chocolate milk, while Kibby enjoyed Jolt Cola. Reed had no music preferences – still doesn’t – and when Kibby’s CDs weren’t spinning, they talked about racing and life. Kibby once asked what he thought about Carmichael, who was winning the 125 class in the United States. “I remember Chad saying ‘I have two hands, two feet and a heartbeat and so does the next guy. I can do whatever that guy’s doing.’” Chad was simply echoing what his father had taught him, that no one is above any one, that all can be beaten.
As confident as Reed was, there were still doubts. He was 16, his siblings and friends were at school, his parents were at work and he was bored. One can only ride so many practice laps and he didn’t enjoy training in a gym. Still doesn’t. His favorite non-riding routine was to pull on a set of board shorts, ride his BMX bike three miles to the Kurri pool (“which felt like so much longer”), swim 20 laps and ride home.
“It was a huge shock,” Reed said of adjusting to the life of a professional athlete. “Here I am, it’s 1998 and I’m a kid, really kind of lost and I didn’t know what to do. I was like, ‘do I go back to school and try to do the both?’ [racing and school]. I ended up sticking with the motocross thing.” Today, he chuckles when he sees a teenager whose life and routine are under constant scrutiny and surveillance via various handlers. With that kind of pressure, it doesn’t surprise him that so many careers are over with at 26. “You’ve got to figure some things out on your own.”
In August, at the end of the 1998 MX season, Reed broke his lower leg while trying to pass Andrew McFarlane and secure a 1-1 finish. It was on the final straight away of the final lap at Hervey Bay, a rough, sandy course in Queensland, 12 hours north of Kurri Kurri. His leg required surgery and six screws and he used a Suzuki scooter to get around town and see friends. With forced downtime, he stepped out of his racing bubble and lived the life of a normal teenager.
On August 30, he rode his scooter to a birthday party about a mile from his house. Many of his friends and former classmates were there (he dropped out of ninth grade in October 1997). One was Ellie Brady. The first time he saw her was in seventh grade on the first day of high school. She was in the library and they made eye contact from across the room. She had brown hair and lively brown eyes, but it was those teeth that struck him. “Smiley teeth Ellie,” he called her. The daughter of a school teacher and a coal miner, Brady had spent her whole life in Kurri Kurri and planned to become a teacher like her mother.
At the party they connected. Brady sat on his lap and they joked about how Chad’s cast stuck up from his knee like a fake leg. She finally had the chance to really study him and noticed his stunning blue eyes. “When I want to have children, I’m going to come find you so my kids can have blue eyes like yours,” she told him. Today, she laughs about how bizarre and bold that sounds but she remembers being completely sincere and nonsexual about it.
When the party wound down, the boy with the broken leg kissed her before he left. He was cocky but cute and she liked his infectious personality. If he’d been healthy, he wouldn’t have been at that party. It was the best broken bone he ever had.
Brady quickly learned that her dirt-bike-racing boyfriend had a dream to relocate to the United States. She knew of his profession in theory but didn’t know exactly what it all meant and she didn’t consider herself part of the plan. “It was never like we got together and we’re going to be together forever,” she said. “It was like ‘ok, we’re just having fun and dating’. But it kept getting more serious.”
In late December 1998, Reed went to America. It was part of a contract clause he’s still particularly proud of because he fought hard for it. In addition to a $25,000 salary with Suzuki of Australia, he wanted to try a few races in America before the Australian Supercross season began in late January 1999. Foreman greenlighted the request and joined Reed. They arrived just before New Year’s Day and picked up a flogged and battered factory RM125 that had been used as a dyno bike. It didn’t even have graphics. Reed spent the entire month sleeping in the living quarters of a horse trailer owned by Allen Knowles, a friend of Foreman’s who often took visiting riders into his Rowland Heights, CA home. Reed spent his spare time mountain biking in the hills above Anaheim, eating at Marie Callender’s restaurant (chicken and pasta, every night) and watching WWF with Danny Ham (another Australian rider) in the living room until the small hours of the night, “laughing like schoolchildren while my wife and I tried to sleep,” Knowles said.
At the Suzuki test track, he watched Greg Albertyn flail through the huge set of whoops. “This is impossible,” Reed told himself. Then Larry Ward rolled out on the track and smoothly skimmed across them. Impossible changed to “I could do this!” He was such an excited and wide-eyed kid that he can still hear the sound Jeremy McGrath’s YZ250 made when the defending champion turned laps on the Yamaha test track across the canyon. “I couldn’t wait to get done riding so I could drive over there and watch Jeremy.”
The trip suffered a setback when he caught a hairline fracture in his right thumb at an annual warmup race. He rode practice at the supercross season opener at Anaheim but was still too sore to race. He lined up a week later in San Diego with a throbbing thumb and won his daytime qualifier to transfer into the evening program.
In a rented Penske truck that carried a sad assortment of plastic totes and cheap lawn chairs, the 16-year-old blended in with the rest of the privateers in the back of the Angel Stadium parking lot. He couldn’t even grab the attention of the very man that loaned him the motorcycle: Team Suzuki’s Manager, Roger DeCoster.
To say his presence was overlooked by the media is an understatement. His name got a mention in the body paragraphs of Cycle News but only in the context of listing the riders that qualified for the main event. On ESPN2, Art Eckman said “Reed” when running down the list of riders in the Suzuki Starting Grid but Reed’s actual name didn’t appear in the on-screen graphic. A Harold Hageman #874 showed up at the bottom but Hageman didn’t actually race in San Diego. Hageman finished seventeenth one week prior so the most logical explanation is that the template was pulled forward and Hageman’s name wasn’t deleted. Reed, running #967 or #997, nobody involved can quite remember, never got a single second of television time. He finished seventeenth. About five years later, after Reed started winning championships in America, Foreman had a conversation with DeCoster about the apparent 1999 snub. “I should have taken more belief in your word about how good he was,” Foreman remembers DeCoster telling him. “I made a mistake. I couldn’t see it in him. I just thought he was arrogant, and I didn’t like that.”
Reed likes to joke that he wasn’t French enough to turn heads. Today it seems ludicrous that a future champion was nearly invisible at his first race in America. The 125cc class story lines, however, were quite full. There was the battle of the Caseys – Casey Johnson and Casey Lytle – who were Yamaha of Troy teammates and Alessio Chiodi, the two-time 125cc World MXGP champion, was on his own three race American tour. He finished fifth at round one in Anaheim – his first ever supercross in the U.S. – and backed it up with a fourth in San Diego. Later that summer he won his third world title. Reed went back to Australia without ever making a ripple in the States.
It was three years before he came back.
He returned to Australia and pounded laps on the supercross track he and his father built on the Kurri Kurri property. The land was thick with tea trees and the family cleared them by hand, often leaving behind the small stumps that were difficult to dig out. Friends who rode there still speak of the little landmines that gave them flat tires or ripped their feet off the pegs. Mark and Chad did their best building the course but the landings of the jumps were often as steep as the takeoffs, which required more-than-precise timing.
The 1999 Australia Supercross Championship opened in late January at Newcastle Speedway. It was Reed’s first professional supercross in Australia and it was the first race Ellie attended. Her whole family came and her sister and their friends wore shirts that spelled “R-E-E-D” with the letters sandwiched between thick black lines (Reed between the lines).
Reed crashed twice and was in seventh place on lap 15 but still pulled off the win against his cousin, Anderson, who was the defending champion, and Peter Melton whom he passed on the final lap. In a post-race protest, detailed further in Australia’s Transmoto magazine, officials ruled that Reed had cut the track and he was credited with fourth place. According to Andy Wigan’s article, Reed confronted the officials and the protesters who were still gathered: “I won fair and square and you’re all scared to admit it. You know what? I don’t even care, cos I’m going to whip you all so bad next week. And you all know it!” Reed had plenty of speed and the acumen for the discipline was certainly present but he spent a lot of time on the ground and the media didn’t let him forget it.
“I’d tell him, ‘don’t let it worry you. You’re pushing the boundaries. You’re going to crash,’” Foreman said. “The magazines would say, ‘this guy is never going to do anything until he stops crashing.’ He took massive offense to that.” Even with the round one setback, he won the championship, becoming the youngest to do so.
In 2000 he moved to CDR/Fox Yamaha but had to learn even more independence because the race team was based in Melbourne, over 10 hours from Kurri Kurri. He managed his parts stock and maintained his two practice bikes, changing tires and top ends on his own. He looks back on this fondly, believing it helped him grow up a bit. His relationship with Brady flourished as well and when she wasn’t in school, she helped in the garage, which had formerly been a toilet block container. Ellie cleaned filters and held the tire irons. “This garage was the shittiest thing you’ve ever seen,” she said.
“It was literally an old shitter,” Reed said, laughing. In 2000, Ellie was 18, a high school senior, working part-time at a grocery store and had been accepted to university. Late that year, Chad got an offer to compete for Jan de Groot’s Kawasaki team in the 2001 250cc World Motocross Championship. He went to Japan in the fall to test with the team and he raced the Bercy Supercross in France. When he came home he knew he had a big decision to make. At the time he didn’t know it was going to be the most difficult decision of his life, one that deeply affected his relationship with his parents.
Reed wasn’t able to take either of his parents to Europe; they had to work and were still raising two kids. Chad knew he didn’t want to go alone but caravanning around the old continent with his folks was never part of his plan anyway. His first instinct was to take Ellie, whom he had been dating for nearly 18 months. His parents suggested he take a friend instead. Two teenaged boys alone in Europe. Reed knew that would turn into a “shit show”.
The issue over the companion escalated into an argument and Mark tried to barter, offering to pay for the flight of anyone else he wanted to take. Finally, a line was crossed; Chad said his father told him, “If you take Ellie, I wipe my hands of you.” The hurtful words left scars that remain today and put a heavy strain on their relationship.
“I’m trying to contemplate it,” Reed said. “So, I said, ‘Alright, I’m going to make this call.’ I took it personal. All these years later, that’s what’s so badass about what we achieved [is that] I made huge decisions on my own.” Reed absorbed the blow on his own and elected not to tell Ellie. She didn’t know the full details until much later but she could sense the tension.
Next he asked if she even wanted to go. He knew she was scheduled to attend university and he was worried about her getting homesick because she comes from a tight family, which included two sisters and a brother. But Ellie was open to the idea and they spoke with her parents who gave the teenaged couple their blessing. Of course, the first question Ellie’s dad asked was “How is he going to support you?”
Reed’s Kawasaki contract – sent Down Under via Fax – was worth $80,000 (USD) with expenses paid in Dutch guilders (physical Euro banknotes didn’t go into circulation until 2002). They would be living on their own in Belgium, driving through foreign countries and managing their own logistics. It wasn’t a simple backpacking-across-Europe excursion. Reed looked Mr. Brady in the eye and assured him he’d take care of his daughter. Ellie deferred her education for one year and prepared to leave her home country for the first time in her life.
“And as much as I wanted to – or at least as much as I had confidence in myself – I never saw myself failing, right?” Reed said. “It was just [telling myself] ‘you’re going to make it’. That was the only option.” In late January 2001 Reed won the first two rounds of the Australian Supercross championship, beating his cousin on night one and Peter Melton on night two. Days later, with just two gear bags full of personal items, they left behind their humble homes, their friends and families, and took on the world.
Ellie was the first one to cry. It was around their connection in Hong Kong and Chad thought to himself, ‘oh no.’ She chalked it up to a combo of homesickness and the thought of making another 10-hour flight when one had just ended. She recovered and they continued to their new – albeit temporary – home in Lommel, Belgium. “Everything we bought, everything we purchased, everything we did, was the…
“Bare minimum,” Ellie cut in. “We tried to save our money.”
The only event outside Europe that season was in Australia and they drove to the rest of the races – Belgium, Germany, Austria, Sweden, France, Switzerland, etc. – in a little motorhome. That alone provided a lifetime’s worth of stories. A day or two before Reed’s nineteenth birthday they got to the end of their driveway and didn’t know which way to turn to go to round one in Bellpuig, Spain, about 15 hours away. Remember, this was 2001; the cell phone they shared did nothing more than make phone calls. So, they went to a gas station and Ellie bought a map and learned how to read it. “The amount of fights and arguments we had over directions–” but Ellie interrupted: “I think we did pretty good! We’d do well on “The Amazing Race.”
On April 1, it was Chad’s turn to cry. It was also the moment Ellie truly discovered her role. Round two was in Valkenswaard, Holland. Reed came into the weekend exhausted after hammering moto after moto at a local sand track. In the race, he crashed three times and struggled in the deep, sandy ruts that were unlike anything he’d ever seen. He finished outside the top 15. When he came back to the truck, he removed his helmet, sat on a bike stand in the back of their camper, and sobbed. Ellie saw him, steeled herself, and laid into him.
“WE DIDN’T COME ALL THIS WAY FOR YOU TO BE SITTING IN HERE AND CRYING IN THE TRAILER AND RIDING LIKE SHIT!” she yelled. Seventeen years later she retells the scene with the exact emphasis and tone she used in the Netherlands. He felt like a failure and Ellie wasn’t going to let him do that. They had both sacrificed too much. “Ellie bought into the goal and that was to make it to America and do whatever it was going to take to do it,” Reed said. “And I think that made us stronger. That brought us closer. We worked as a team.”
Reed spent the early part of the season outside the top five while Mickael Pichon ran away with the championship. After five rounds, Reed was eleventh in the standings. At round six, on May 27 in Spa, Belgium, Reed got his first podium, a third. The season wasn’t half over and Reed was already in discussion with a team in America and it wasn’t a secret.
At round 12 in Lierop (September), he became the second Australian to win a World MX GP (Jeff Leisk, 1990). By that point in the season, however, Reed had already signed with Yamaha of Troy to race the 125cc (now 250) class in the United States in 2002. It was a move that surprised de Groot, who wanted to keep Reed so badly he told Pro Circuit’s Mitch Payton that Reed was all signed up in Europe for 2002. Reed was willing to stay and try to win a title but wanted a guaranteed spot with Team Kawasaki USA in 2003 in the premier class. They couldn’t do it.
In October, Reed returned to Australia and won the final two rounds of the Australian Supercross Championship (beating Travis Pastrana, the 2001 125cc East SX champion). Later that fall, they arrived in the United States just like they arrived in Europe less than a year earlier; wide-eyed with only a couple of gear bags in tow. With little money and a tight budget, they spent six weeks in Sharon Richards’ two-bedroom condo with Sharon and her then 21-year-old daughter. Richards was director of client services for the agency that orchestrated Reed’s contract and she remembers them being two sweet, impressionable and excited kids, happy to be living a dream come true. She helped them navigate purchasing insurance, an automobile and a small house in Southern California.
Yamaha allowed Reed to race the first three rounds of the 250cc supercross season while he waited for the eastern regional series to begin. On January 5, 2002, he finished sixth in his first ever premier class attempt. On February 9, he won the first of six straight 125cc races. In his no filter love-it-or-hate-it manner he let the crowd know that A: this was his lifelong dream, B: he didn’t really want to be in this class and C: “I expected to win tonight.”
A little over two years later, he was the premier class champion.
“Those early memories are probably the ones that make me most proud because we were so young and made such huge decisions and things like that and you don’t realize that it could have went one way or the other back then,” Reed said. “I feel like all these years later, that’s the core of who we were. And here we are.”
“And you get here and you forget that you racked up 228 starts because you’ve literally been head down, ass up going, one thing after another,” Ellie said. “We’re workaholics when it comes to that. We just thought about racing.”
The morning after the Tampa Supercross, there is no sign of life outside the lakeside/golf community home of Chad and Ellie Reed. All four garage doors are closed and no vehicles sit in the tiled circular driveway. Spanish moss trees form a natural privacy barrier around the property. The neighborhood is so quiet at 10:30 a.m. it feels abandoned. Inside, kids in pajamas race around the living room, tumbling over couch cushions and gymnastics blocks. Ellie is vacuuming while her three children – Pace (3), Kiah (5) and Tate (7) play. They’re especially happy this morning because it’s rare when dad is home for breakfast on a Sunday in winter. Still sporting bedhead, Chad makes a pot of oatmeal. Pace eats his so fast everyone wonders if he threw it all on the ground or fed it to the dogs; his face is covered in chunks of cooked oats. But Lulu the Shih Tzu and Milo, a French Bulldog puppy, are loitering on the other side of the kitchen and the floor is clean. Pace grins and laughs. Chad smiles.
This is Chad at home, the Chad that only family and close friends get to have. This is the father that shows up at school functions, soccer games, gymnastics practice, that rescues turtles, helps with homework and puts kids to bed every night he’s home, where they talk about their day before turning out the lights. At home is where Chad perfects his baking skills with a damn fine chocolate soufflé, where he’s known to crack open a cookbook and try something new. The kids especially love daddy’s eggs. And, in case you’re wondering, the two boys got daddy’s piercing blue eyes.
“He is the sweetest, happiest childlike adult I know,” Ellie said. “I hope one day the other layers peel off and people get to see that. But, of course, it’s the other side of him that helped him get to where he got professionally.”
The kids’ lives might be very different from how their mother and father grew up in Kurri Kurri but Reed knows there’s plenty of value to pass on from his own humble upbringing. “My dad wasn’t an athlete but I remember him coming home and his hands were red and raw from being a concreter. I want my kids to know that you have to work for it and I want them to have their own dreams.”
At the races, he balances Chad the racer with Chad the dad, turning one persona off and operating in another. But he doesn’t hide it when he’s upset or frustrated. They don’t want their kids to be satisfied with performances that are less than their best. “The way I grew up, I’d be more disappointed in them if they come off and they’re ok with losing and average. I don’t think [being OK with losing] is a healthy thing. Maybe people will frown upon that but…” he said, trailing off.
Reed isn’t at all ‘OK’ with his own results in 2018. Even given his circumstances, he thought they would have been better sooner. Those who feel Chad is well beyond his peak are not difficult to find; his last supercross championship was 10 years ago, when he was 26 years old. Plenty, however, still want his autograph; they line up an hour before the official signing sessions begin. Maybe they want to see a champion one last time before he’s gone. Maybe they’re like Chad and they just haven’t had enough.
Foreman, the Suzuki Australia team manager, said he’s never seen a rider that likes riding a dirt bike as much as Reed. And his ability to adapt – to a new country, a new brand, a new setting, a new way of life – made him even more special. As a professional, Reed has had moments, years, bikes and teams that he didn’t gel with, that made him wonder if it was time to move on. There was a period when he thought 26/27 years old was his time, too, just like it was with Jeff Stanton, Ricky Carmichael, Ryan Villopoto, Ryan Dungey… But then something reignited the passion.
The thought of not racing anymore seems nonsensical, especially since Chad and Ellie, feel like they’re still arriving. “That’s always been our thing,” she said. “You never arrive. It’s not, all of a sudden ‘good, we’re here, yes!’ No, it’s like you’re constantly trying to get somewhere.”
Maybe Chad Reed is still dreaming. He’s dreaming of another podium, another win, another title, another year of doing the one thing he’s loved more than anything since he was four. If he races in 2019 it will be year number 22 as a professional athlete. It doesn’t matter what he wants to do next. Because he hasn’t reached this finish line yet. Because right now he’s still swimming upstream.
And if this whole thing really is a dream? Well, he doesn’t want to be woken up.
If you enjoyed this story and want to see more, consider becoming a patron. For as little as $1 a month, you can become part of the We Went Fast team and get access to exclusive content, swag and even help me pick/choose/find stories.
Thank you for reading.