Over the past few weeks there has been a lot of discussion about one of the riders attempting to make the night show at the west coast Supercross events. Damon J. Smith is the rider’s name and he’s got quite the interesting story. I caught up with Damon to see what he’s all about and to give him a chance to voice himself to all the naysayers out there on the internet message boards.

Bolt-On: Hey Damon, how’s it going today?
Damon Smith: It’s going good…I just got off work and finished a nice workout so it’s a nice ending to my day.

Now for those who don’t know, who exactly are you?
(laughs)  Well, I never started riding with the hopes of being known. I started riding with the goal of challenging myself to see what is possible when you combine hard work, focus, a strategic plan, pure athletic ability and a PASSION for the sport.  But my name is Damon J. Smith, and for anyone that wants to know who I am I assume they can Google me.

(Laughs) Yeah, Google is pro. What is your non-moto background?
My educational background consists of a B.S. in MIS with an emphasis in Computer Science.

My work related experience includes a 10+ year career as a Design Engineer for Intel Corporation, I design everything from chips that run smartphones, laptops, servers and desktop computers. Pretty much 90% of all computers made in the last 10 years have a chip in it that I’ve worked on. I have had two radio shows on AM Talk Radio ranging from a sports show to my own show called the Damon J. Smith Show that focused on politics from a spiritual perspective. I have a publishing company that consists of a documentary on street kids in Brazil, my book title Don’t stop the Swagger and an awesome book called Rescued to Tell that was written by one of the street kids from our documentary.

As a youngster, I participated in baseball, soccer and BMX. My core athletic background started in high school as a 3-sport athlete playing football, basketball and track. In high school, my track and field personal best includes 6’6’’ in the high jump, 48’2’’ in the triple jump and 23’2’’ in the long jump.  As a high school junior and senior I competed in California’s State track meet.  I started on a basketball team that was 108-8 during my four years there and ranked in USA Todays top 25. And I played defensive back and wide receiver on my football team, which was one of the state’s best at the time.  During my senior year of high school I had multiple Div 1 schools interested in me, and I signed early with a full 5-year scholarship to play football at Utah State.

In college I ran track and played football. I ran track just for the purpose of working on my speed, but as a defensive back I earned all league honors 3 times and ended my career there with 17 interceptions for my career, which is still second all-time. As a senior we won the Las Vegas Bowl and were our conference champions.  After college I worked out for 17 NFL teams, but I ended up signing a 2-year contract with the Calgary Stampeders, where I played with Jeff Garcia, Doug Flutie, Dwayne “The RocK” Johnson” and many other impressive athletes.

Wow, that’s pretty impressive! So, tell us about “Don’t Stop The Swagger”.
Don’t Stop the Swagger was written after my playing days.  It started with a conversation I had with another athlete – my friend Kevin Bracy – and from that conversation, 9 months later I showed up at his doorstep with my book.

Simply put, its taking the athletic mindset and applying that to every aspect of life. Challenging yourself, working hard and keeping the right mentality.  In life, people tend to go through things, both good and bad.  But with the trials of life they lose their passion, fire and swagger.

When I wrote the book back in 2004, “swagger” was an athletic term that started back in the early 90’s with the Miami Hurricanes – it was sort of an underground term.  It wasn’t the buzzword that it is today.  It meant confidence, passion, excitement – the unwavering expectation that you would win no matter the circumstance.  Thus, that is where you get Don’t Stop the Swagger, which represents the fire inside all of us, regardless of how dark it may get.

(laughs) So in a way, you were repping swagger before it was cool. How did you get your start in the moto world?
Well I was always a huge fan.  I mean, I not only knew the main guys like McGrath, Carmicheal and Emig, but I also appreciated and had favorite riders like Ryan Clark, who was able to start his own team from nothing.  Back in 2005, before I even had a bike, I bought the VIP pass at Hangtown.  While I was watching practice I was focusing on this rider #123 who was racing on a 125. I thought he rode awesome, but he didn’t make it due to him being under powered on the start.  Since he didn’t make the program he ending up sitting next to me in the VIP section. We ended up talking through all 4 motos for three hours.  I gave him a copy of my book, and he told me I needed to get a bike.  The rider’s name is Brett Metcalfe – and now we are life long friends – or he’s more like my white step brother… or I’m his older black brother. (laughs)

That’s a pretty cool intro to the sport, not many people can say that. Out of all the races you’ve done, what has been your favorite?
Lorretta Lynns 2008

What have been your greatest racing accomplishments?
Qualifying for Lorrettas in 2008 after 2 years of racing

Qualifying for the Amatuer US open in 2009

Just improving year after year, which is really hard to do in this sport

And racing my first Supercross last year at Phoenix.

How did you qualify for your pro license?
The hard way: Traveling to all the outdoor Pro-Am’s
Now, there’s been all sorts of talk on the internet message boards and websites about you over the past couple of weeks. Have you read any of this stuff?
You know, I did not know about anything that was said until last week while at A2.  I don’t go on message boards because what other people think is none of my business.  But last week Don Maede came up to me and said, “hey I want you flip off these message board guys and tell them what you think.”  I did not feel comfortable doing that so I gave the fake middle finger to the camera, but I had no idea what he was talking about. Then right before practice at A2 one of the Dirt Wurx guys came up and said there was some things being said about me on some message boards, but he had my back.  Then I was like, wow, ok…I’m getting some criticism.  At that point I did not know what was said, but I knew people were watching my every move and critiquing my every step.  That was right before practice, so I had to make sure not to let anything get in my head so I would not go out there and ride for anyone else but myself. Because misplaced ego can get you messed up in this sport quick.

Supercross is a awesome sport, with extremely talented, mentally tough athletes who sacrifice their entire lives, and sometimes their entire financial situation in order to compete.  So I have major respect for this sport and guys like Windham, Stewart, Canard, Reed, as well privateers like Gared Steinke, Casey Hinson, the Blairs, Ronnie Goodwins – just guys that I watch that others may not pay attention to. Guys like Brayton, who just kept building year after year.  I have major respect for these athletes. I always have – that’s why I ride.  I love to ride.  I rode just about everyday up until I got my license. Then my program changed because of supercross. But anyway, I love the sport.  It’s brutal, but I love the essence of it.

What are your thoughts on everyone’s comments?
Well I love it that people feel strongly enough about anything to have an opinion and voice it. That’s what we need in this country right now – people with a fire inside who are willing to fight for something. Hopefully people will get just as fired up about the economic situation and the direction America and the rest of the world is heading so they can come together and fight for individual liberties.

This is said with careful consideration and respect for all riders, especially privateers. Most people don’t know that most privateers don’t make any money, yet they sacrifice everything – time, their money, their family’s money, and education – all for the hope that they get that factory deal. Let’s say you compete in the amateur national scene for 6-7 years, which is a moderate estimate for most kids. That means you buy at least two bikes, extra parts, modifications – add in all the travel cost and race fees and you’re easily at $30-40k for the year.  Then, after 6-7 years you’re at $250k plus (not counting all the work hours given up by parents & family, educational loss, etc).  It’s substantial and exponential when you really look at it.  Then you turn pro and there are only 1-3 guys out of the amateur scene that get a salary, which often doesn’t even come close to what their parents have already spent.  And you will not make a living on AMA purse or contingency, but guys sacrifice as if there is a huge payout.

That’s what a passion will do.  What’s my point?  I race Supercross because I want to challenge myself and because I’m passionate about the sport.  My approach allows me to be versatile and successful in many areas of my life.  But it also puts me in the line of fire for criticism, which I’m comfortable with.  People are always gonna have their opinions.  I commit to supercross in way that allows me to succeed in all areas of my life, not only motocross. This includes work, family, saving money, making it through this economic collapse and keeping my body in shape, which I always do no matter what.

My supercross practice regime started at the end of October 2010. I would drive to LA every two weeks or so to ride the supercross tracks because, again, I am a Design Engineer living in Northern California where supercross tracks are slim.  I would drive to LA on a Wednesday night, work remotely from  6am to 10am on Thursday, go ride at Milestone and come back and work remotely 6pm to 10pm, or sometimes longer. I would do the same on Friday and Saturday, then Sunday ride again at Milestone or Metcalfe’s track, drive home 8 hours right after and go back to work on Monday. After four days straight of riding supercross I would make progress and feel way more comfortable, but then during the two weeks without a supercross track I would lose what I gained when I hit the track again. Am I riding to the best of my ability, or am I riding well?  I would answer no.  But given my circumstances, I’m succeeding.  And if you look at the segment times it gives a better clue about my progress.  I am very thankful for the support I do have, but I’m not looking for a cheerleading section, and I do understand from experience that you’ll even be criticized for success.

Never in my life have I been at the back of anything.  I’ve always been the elite person blazing the trail up front.  But there’s always a process and you have to be willing to go through the process to do anything well in life.

If you go back and look at times since 2004, you will find many quality guys struggled their first few years. And you will find many guys that were way off pace.  But the criticism is on Damon J. Smith now. I’m living the chapter in my book titled, “Ignore the Unqualified Critics.”  Concerning me, if you look at the first timed qualifying session, I am actually faster than some guys. And I usually give up time on the back 1/3 of track, which has been the whoops. But a lot of time people don’t study the details.  Then again, people aren’t studying the details of this economic situation we’re in, so I sure don’t expect them to study my details.

But back to the comments… I’ve heard a lot of talk in regards to Austin Howell. I think a lot of people may assume things without seeing the footage. I believe the turn Austin crashed in was the same one Robert Noftz also crashed in during qualifying practice.  That turn started to get really rutted and slick as you went up the face of the single preceeding the double.  So I’m not sure what happened to Austin or how he crashed, but there’s film online for anyone to judge.  I have a lot of respect for Austin as I watched him through amateurs and rooted for him quietly, as he is also from Nor Cal.  I hope he recovers quickly.  All I can say is that I am a very conscientious rider and I am always aware of my surroundings in a way that will not endanger other riders.  I’ve never been hit from behind, landed on or been in almost any situations of that manner.  Heal Up Austin!

I’ve also heard people saying that since I’m sponsored by lawyers I must have some plan to sue the AMA or something crazy like that.  That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in my life.  That’s how a weak mind thinks – trying to figure out a way they can get the law to work in their favor to gain something they may not deserve.  Don’t get me started on this!  My situation is simply that these guys like my story, they like what I’ve done in my life’s entirety, and I have a personal relationship with them, so they’ve supported me in a major way.  It’s also a fun place for them to entertain clients.  That’s it.  Don’t make the simple complex.

I have no ill will towards anyone. People have a right to speak freely.  But the hardcore athlete part of me wants to say, “whenever you want to, let’s compare resumes.”  Whether it’s intellect, inner strength, work experience, athletic ability or whatever, I think I stand up to anyone.  I’m not doing this for the money, for photos, to look cool in the pits, to take pictures with the Monster Energy girls, or to walk around with my cool shades and hat on.  This is simply a personal challenge for a person that needs to push himself.

There is a chapter in my book called Keep Challenging Yourself… so I’ll leave it at that.

For all the haters out there, what would you want them to know about you?
Don’t Stop the Swagger

Would you ever fight Chuck Norris? Who would win? 
Well, Chuck Norris is a rather accomplished person.  And back in the day he was one of my favorite action actors.  And I can’t think of any reason that we would fight.  But at this point in my life I would only fight if my life depended on it, and If I was in that fight I have no plans of dying.

Yeah, I wouldn’t even dare fight Chuck Norris either. Dude is legit. Alright Damon, thanks for your time. Is there anyone you would like to thank? 
Wow, I a lot of people! My family, GODSOME, Kershaw, Cutter & Ratinoff,  Works Connection, Brett & Sheena Metcalfe, Shane Schaeffer of Schaeffer Tracks, Scott Davis of Estreet MX, Jack and Corky Azevedo of GFI/AMP Racing for support and good nature since the day I started racing, The Barhams, The Van Bebbers, Grayson Swift, The Alexanders, Scott Grosser for working on my bike since the beginning, Shannon Niday for just being the same guy since I first met him, Cam my mechanic, Andy at Guts Racing, Damien of Dirt DNA, Britt of Blazing Wheels Ministry, Gared Steinke, Preston Mull, Eric Nye, Tyson Volland, Steve Lamson, Buck Ford, Rafael Chao and his father… man the list is long of people I appreciate for the positive words, support and encouragement since the very start.  And there are even more people I’d like to thank, but I’m not sure if I should name them here because some people may not want to be associated with me now that I’m not the cool guy out there winning races!

Awesome! Thanks Damon.