A lifetime of steadfast faith and fighting has paid off for Canton-born supercross racer Shane McElrath.
Last week, he won the FIM World Supercross Championship (WSX) Championship in the 250-cc class in Australia.
Supercross is dirt bike racing on a track built with steep jumps and obstacles. Events usually take place inside a sports stadium.
It’s hard to imagine that a guy who hoisted a world championship trophy just last week wasn’t even racing six months ago.
In 2021, the future was looking bright for McElrath’s career.
He dueled Chase Sexton in the 250SX Regional Supercross Championship but finished in second place. Sexton joined Honda Racing Corporation’s team in the AMA’s 450 class, a “promotion” from the 250 class.
McElrath, meanwhile, had nothing. He “pointed out” out of the 250 class, meaning he amassed too many top finishes and could no longer race in that class, and no 450 teams came calling.
“With the current state of our series in America, there are very limited opportunities out there because it’s a stacked class,” he said.
So, he found himself in limbo. McElrath credits his family and God for getting him through that time.
“It was a test of our faith. My wife and I felt like we continued to get kicked around. We don’t understand why we’re going through these things, but we know that You love us, and we’re going to keep going,” he said.
A new opportunity
In April 2022, everything changed for McElrath and his racing career. Rick Ware approached him about joining his racing team based out of Mooresville.
“He came to me and said he wanted to be a world champion. At the time, we didn’t know what that looked like, but Rick said he’d do whatever it took for me to be a world champion,” McElrath recalls.
FIM’s new series — the World Supercross Championship (WSX) Championship — was preparing to launch its “pilot” run for 2022. It consisted of two events, one in Wales and the other in Australia, with three races at each location. And the team would have less than six months to get ready.
“We started from scratch. I didn’t know if I could beat those guys starting from scratch,” he said. McElrath elected to join the 250 class.
“It gave us the best shot at becoming world champion,” he said.
And when the first event arrived in October, McElrath admits he didn’t feel overconfident.
“I felt a little underprepared, but we went there with the mindset to do our best. We never stopped working, and we never settled,” McElrath said.
He brought along a familiar face — his younger brother, Kyle McElrath, who pursued his racing career a few years ago. Kyle had a passport and a VISA and knew his way around the bikes, so he joined the team as a mechanic to help his brother’s world title pursuit.
Take the lead in Wales
At the first event in Wales, McElrath finished in fourth, third and fifth over the three races.
“That was the least prepared I’ve ever been for a race,” he said. “But I wanted to represent well. I was trying not to get discouraged.”
Despite a generally poor overall performance over the three races, the other racers — top among them Brit Max Anstie and Mitchell Oldenburg — experienced problems.
“My starts weren’t very good in Wales. That was due to lack of prep-time. I’ve not had starts that bad in my career. Crossing the finish line, I thought, ‘there’s no way I won. I rode well, but I started so far back.’”
But McElrath had won, in essence, as his average put him in the overall championship lead coming out of the first event.
“I knew consistency had to be my goal. There was very minimal room for error,” McElrath said.
In the days leading up to the Australia event, McElrath spent a lot of time practicing and tuning his bike — a Yamaha YZ250 — to perfection.
“My team was reassuring. They said, ‘You’ve got the speed. You’re fine’,” he said. “I increased my time by 30% in the two days after Cardiff. We got the bike working a lot better. I raced pretty well in Cardiff, but a lot was left on the table. That was my big goal: I’m the championship leader, but I need to race better.”
Finals in Australia
At the event in Australia, Anstie won race one, and McElrath finished second. Australia-born Aaron Tanti won race two, with McElrath finishing second and Anstie third.
“My starts were subpar for my standards, but I had two of the fastest lap times. I got some help with some of the other guys that got bad scores,” McElrath said.
The championship came down to a battle between Anstie, who had a first and third-place finish, and McElrath, who had two second-place finishes, in race three. McElrath led Anstie by 10 points.
“We were lined up side by side on the gate, too,” he said. “I told myself, ‘You don’t have to do anything crazy. All I have to do is beat Max’.”
McElrath took an early lead over Anstie, and the two ran away from the rest of the field. McElrath said he blocked out the other racers.
“I’m not going to play it safe, but I’m not going to play it stupid,” McElrath said.
Anstie moved into second and chased down McElrath, eventually getting to McElrath’s rear wheel on the final lap.
“It was us two battling to the end,” McElrath said.
Despite Anstie’s bold moves, he ran out of time to make a crucial pass attempt. McElrath crossed the finish line first and won the world championship.
A sense of freedom
“It feels really good,” McElrath said of his championship. “Especially after the year we’ve had. It’s been a trying year. I felt a little underprepared, but we went there with the mindset to do our best. We never stopped working, we never settled and we came out on top.”
Having his wife, Joy, and his brother alongside him in Australia was the icing on the cake.
“We go everywhere together,” McElrath said of his wife. “We’ve done that since we’ve been married. We just celebrated five years of marriage on Sept. 30, so it was a bit of an anniversary trip.”
And thanks to his brother’s mechanics chops, the bike ran well and helped McElrath go 2-2-1 in Australia.
“To get to do this together wasn’t really a thought early in the year. To get to win the championship with [Kyle]you couldn’t have written it any better. I’m proud of him. It was new for him, also. It was so cool to share it with him,” McElrath said.
McElrath said his next goal is to move up to the 450 class.
“I think it has to be the goal,” he said. “If you develop in the 250 class, you ultimately have to move up. I had some pretty good years and developed well, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. It’s a bit of a bummer because I had to move up to the 450 class, and then I had a couple of years’ worth of injuries. So I never really got to build.”
He said winning the WSX 250 championship helped him gain some confidence back, build the team back up and continue progressing.
“I feel like we did exactly that,” he said. “Going into whatever’s next — whether it be AMA Supercross or not racing again until WSX next year — I have a few options with how I want to go about things. I didn’t have that freedom before.”