YOUNG UPSTART | He did what?
The confident 16-year-old rookie who stuck it to the haters
Certainly young Chad Reed had served adequate notice he was destined for success on two wheels. The 50cc PeeWee having been superseded by an 80cc machine, and Reed’s first national title; the 1997 Junior Motocross Championship. Bypassing the traditional 125cc division to move straight to the premier 250cc two-stroke category was a big call, causing many sceptics to comment that maybe this brash young upstart was getting a little ahead of himself.
But here was the kid from Kurri Kurri mounted on a factory-prepared MSR Silkolene Suzuki RM 250 ready for the first round of the 1999 Australian Supercross Championship at Newcastle Speedway, a venue hardly comparable to the glittering lights Reed had witnessed at the Hollywood Bowl.
“I’d been off the bike for three months with a broken leg,” recalls Reed. “And landed back in Australia after my first-ever trip to the USA, so to say I was amped up to race in front of my hometown crowd is an understatement.”
No one does parochial like the Novocastrians and the massive Saturday night crowd were just as charged to see how Reed would stack up against Newcastle’s other favourite son – and Reed’s cousin – Craig Anderson.
But come the main event and Reed was swamped out of the gate and he crashed in the very first turn. Remounting, he rapidly clawed his way back up into the roost of the leading trio, only to crash again. Back on his machine and still on the lead lap, Reed figured there was still a chance of a podium, particularly now that lapped riders were slowing the leaders, all of whom were showing signs of fatigue. But not Reed.
“I realised the boys were not very fast and extremely out of shape, so I ate ’em up in the last half,” he said.
And when Reed passed Anderson with only a few laps remaining, the partisan crowd realises he has a shot at the win. And goes apeshit.
“I was pretty tired by that stage of the race and knew Chad had it all over me on the final laps so I didn’t think much of it,” said Anderson. “I kind of accepted third while Chad set off after the leader.”
Reed catches and passes Peter Melton to take the win and immediately joins the pantheon of Hunter Valley heroes such as Mark Richards, Paul Harragon and Phil Lovett.
But before the champagne flows, accusations have spread that Reed had consistently cut the track over the closing laps. The allegations were based on the presumption that Reed couldn’t possibly have been as quick as he was without cutting the track, though one informed observer noted that the lack of sufficient hay bales and bunting, together with the substandard lighting, allowed for some creative clarification of the track boundaries.
However on the night in question there was a lot of hearsay evidence of who saw what, where and when. Officials, who always retain the right to be judges of fact on any evidence they care to nominate, had no qualms of relegating Reed back to fourth position.
And into meltdown.
“That’s bullshit!” he barked. “You’re all just pissed that I beat you and scared to admit it.”
Years later Reed was just as adamant. “They fired me up. I remember it like it was yesterday. The boys were just pissed the new kid came in and smoked ’em; they thought it wasn’t possible to be that fast without cutting. I told the stewards to put me last, looked them all in the eyes and told them I’d smoke ’em next weekend.”
The record books may not show Chad Reed as winning on his premier class debut, but the following week he did indeed smoke ’em, and went on to claim victory in each and every round thereafter. He won the title and became the youngest Australian Supercross Champion in the process.
Fast forward two decades and 228 AMA SX starts, Reed returned down under to win the 2018 FIM Oceania SX Championship. Maybe those officials just didn’t recognise talent when they saw it.