Don't underestimate Supercross racer Jeremy McGrath. Beneath the
Gen-X getup--homeboy jeans, body pierces and the spiky hair that
changes color with the seasons--beats the heart of a showman,
not a slacker.
"I'm a big believer in image," says McGrath, 26 and sporting a
near-natural brown 'do this spring. "It's gotten me a lot of
attention." No doubt, but McGrath's real appeal is his
unprecedented success. Since he started racing in the American
Motorcycle Association's Supercross series in 1993, he has won
51 races--almost twice as many as any other dirt biker--and four
straight national championships, from '93 through '96. This
season McGrath has won six of 11 events in which riders muscle
250cc dirt bikes around temporary courses built in arenas and
has a 59-point lead (a win is worth 25; second, 22) on Kevin
Windham in the standings.
None of which has escaped the notice of the swelling legions of
Supercross fans. This year the series is averaging more than
50,000 spectators per race. "Jeremy McGrath has done for
Supercross what Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt did for
NASCAR," says Bevo Forti, a former mechanic and a 20-year
veteran of the Supercross circuit. "Ten years ago our fans were
motorcycle enthusiasts, but now we've added race fans who are
into extreme sports."
A few years ago McGrath began winning by such wide margins that
on the last lap he had time to perform Nac Nacs, his patented
feigned midair dismounts in which he slings one foot over the
seat and returns it to the foot peg before landing. Crowds went
wild, and other riders soon imitated him. "You pay dearly out
there if you don't do it right," he says. "Riders are going no
hands and no legs just to get the fans' attention. I'm one of
the tamer guys now."
McGrath has had, by Supercross standards, a long career,
interrupted by only a few broken bones and torn ligaments.
That's partly because he is so adept at handling his 215-pound
cycle and because he works with a personal trainer who puts him
through three hours of riding and two hours in the gym at least
three days a week.
It's strenuous, soaring and bouncing on heavy machinery 28
weekends a year, and there is only one rider over 30 competing
in Supercross this year, 32-year-old John Dowd. McGrath figures
he has maybe three more years left racing dirt bikes, but he's
considering a second career, in open-wheel auto racing. "I know
I would have to devote myself fully to racing cars, but I love
being an athlete," he says, pausing to consider the
possibilities. "It would be a great way to keep my career
COLOR PHOTO: JERRY WARD [Jeremy McGrath]