High Roller: Adam Cianciarulo comes up big in Vegas

By Eric Johnson

At the San Diego round of the 2017 Monster Energy Supercross Series, Adam Cianciarulo, dressed in street clothes and looking out the throng of fans surrounding the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki pit area, talked about what kept him going through all the bad luck and injuries he had suffered through in his abbreviated career. “There’s nothing like that,” remarked Cianciarulo about just what it feels like to win a supercross main event, something that he had not been able to do going all the way back to Detroit in the March of 2014. “That’s the best 45 seconds you’re ever going to feel in your life. I mean I think about that all the time. I mean everything I do this season will be to get back to that point.” And during the nine-race 2017 AMA 250SX East Championship the 20 year-old did, in fact, get to experience just what those 45 seconds felt like again when he won the main event at Daytona Beach, Florida. Five rounds later, this time last Saturday night on the high-speed circuit that played host to the Dave Coombs Senior East/West Shootout in Las Vegas, Cianciarulo was able to pull down another big win as he absolutely dominated the bicoastal main event with a masterful gate drop-to-checkered flag victory. Yes, 15 laps and another 45 seconds of bliss for dam Cianciarulo. A few days ex post facto of his Vegas jackpot, this writer caught up with the pride of New Smyrna Beach, Florida while getting things sorted out in Southern California in preparation for the fast approaching Hangtown Motocross Classic. .

So what’s the 2017 East/West Shootout champion up to this week?
I just got done testing at Pala today.

Knocking out all the outdoor stuff for Hangtown?
Yes sir. We’ve been at some tracks back in Florida, but no testing. Today was the first actual testing day with Bones [Bacon] and the guys. We’re trying to get the settings dialed-in this week. We have another test tomorrow at Glen Helen. We’re just trying to get this thing dialed this week.

For the fans out there who might be into the technical-side of the sport, when you guys talk about dialing in your settings, what does that actually entail?
Let me see… I think in order to be competitive in pro motocross racing, not only do you have to have the rider with the talent and the speed and the fitness and the capabilities to run up front, but you also have to have a really good setup and what that means is being comfortable with your suspension and with your motor setting. Maybe a racer won’t like a soft feeling of the bike and might like it a little bit stiffer and a little bit more predictable. Some guys like softer settings. We also go to a lot of different tracks with a lot of different dirt, too, and the bike works differently on different dirt. So we try to get suspension settings and also motor settings that complement each track, whether it be slick conditions, or rutty and rough and muddy. I think it’s all about finding the right balance of the rider. There are really no right or wrong answers when it comes bike setup. I know everybody is different and prefers a different feel. It’s just all about being comfortable and making it to where you feel like you can go as fast as you can on the bike you’re riding.

Supercross is now done and you’re about to go full-bore into the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. How difficult is it to shift gears, both mentally and physically, to get spooled up for such a radically different form racing? It’s a whole different deal now, isn’t it?
Yeah, it definitely is. And it’s interesting Eric because this is my first year really getting to transition from supercross to the outdoors. Before this year it had always kind of been one or the other. It’s definitely one of those deals where you don’t want to put too much emphasis on outdoors too soon because you want to do the best you can in supercross, but at the same time you don’t want to find yourself behind the eight ball when it comes to Hangtown because it comes very quick. You know, after St. Louis when he had a couple weeks off from the 250 East, I got to ride outdoors in the heat in Florida. I did some 30-plus-twos on a rough track and then you go back to supercross and you kind of feel like you’re on vacation. It’s definitely a different ballgame, but there is still a throttle on the right and two wheels spinning around.

You’re coming off a very good supercross season and in great shape, you should be right in the mix to contend for the 250cc championship. Thoughts?
Yeah, I definitely feel very confident in my ability. I think it’s one of those things where you can’t go in saying, “I want to win the championship.” You have to take it race by race and if you study any past championship, they say the same exact thing. It’s just one of those deals for me where I’m going to have to bring it every moto. There are going to be a lot of fast guys, as always. It’s going to be about putting yourself in the position and doing the best you can with it. I’m excited. I feel like I’m at a point in my pro career. I got a couple wins this supercross season and I feel like I have a lot of room to improve and I look forward to doing that over the course of the summer.

Jumping back to the stadiums here, that was a flawless performance you put on at Sam Boyd Stadium last Saturday night. I watched the race from atop of that locker room building and you made it look almost effortless…
Yeah, thank you. It did kind of go perfect. It was interesting because I actually been fighting a virus, a little head cold, for the past couple of weeks. I had it in New Jersey and I couldn’t shake it in time for Vegas. I thought I might dull expectations in my head, but even on Friday morning on press day, even though I still felt sick, I felt so comfortable on the bike and I felt so good. I don’t know what it is about the west coast dirt, the slick stuff, but I felt really good from press day forward. Even moving into practice and the heat race and the main, it just seemed like everything clicked. After practice went well I just kind of had this goal of getting the holeshot and, honestly, leading every lap. That was my goal and that just what I felt like I was going to do. It’s hard to explain. Both races I’ve won, Daytona and Vegas, it was like I knew I was going to do it before I did it. I could see it happen before it actually did. It was cool to be ahead of the craziness that was going on behind me and just kind of do my own thing and end the season on that strong note.

So you were aware of what was going on behind you, huh?
Yeah, I heard the crowd go crazy a few times with the riders behind me. I knew somebody has crashed on the opening lap and it turned out to be Joey, and that gave me a little bit of a gap right away. I ended up getting about a five second gap on Justin Hill and it kind of gives you a little bit of comfort to know that you have a teammate behind you. Obviously, we’re out there and we’re competing and he wants to beat me, but it just gave me a bit of calmness and I was able to just ride my race and focus on my lines and hit my marks. It was one of those races to where I feel like if you marked where I went around the track every lap, I was probably within a foot of the same line every lap. It was a difficult track. Vegas always is. And the roost was pretty gnarly heading out of the stadium. I hadn’t actually ridden Vegas since I was there racing the Amateur All-Star class at the Monster Energy Cup. I forgot how bad that roost hurts and that was definitely one of the reasons why I wanted to go ahead get that holeshot.

A hell of a lot of drama unfolded as the race went on. In fact, in the waning stages of the thing you were within a few points of actually winning the East Region Championship. Did you go back and watch it on TV?
I did. I had to find the race on YouTube that night when I was laying in my hotel room. It was crazy, man. I just heard the crowd going nuts so many times during the last five laps or so. I knew I definitely didn’t have a lot of eyes on me; I knew the eyes were on the battle behind me, for sure. When I rolled over the finish line after I won the race, I actually turned right and rolled into the rhythm section and Justin Hill came up and congratulated me and told me good job. I was actually watching Joey and Zach go through the last set of whoops before the last few corners there and I watched that whole pass happen. Joey is a buddy of mine and, obviously, we’ve both been through a lot of adversity this season and we’ve been able to overcome that, but to watch him get taken out like that with two corners to go was weird because I never felt like that before. When I watched that happen I just didn’t even know what to think. It was definitely an interesting emotion I was feeling. The whole race was something I’ll never forget, for sure. You know people are calling it one of the greatest supercross races of all-time and I’d probably have to agree with them. It was pretty nuts.

What did you think of the Osborne move?
It was one of those deals where it was for the championship and emotions were running high. Of course Joey was my buddy and I don’t want to see him get taken out. That was my teammate and that’s never fun. Zach and I got into it earlier in the year (Note: the two clashed during practice at the Indianapolis Supercross) so it wasn’t like I was cheering for him. I kind of understand in the fact that it was for the championship and in the last corner and you’re kind of going for it, but at the same time, for me, it was difficult to watch.

I spoke with you at a few of the West Region rounds you attended as a spectator and you talked about how much it meant for you to get back to racing and to try and go out and win races again. And you won races. You also had the most holeshots with four as well as the lowest average finish in the entire 250SX class at 3.8. All things considered, what do you think? Good year? Great year? Are you happy?
I’m happy with my year. I’m happy, but not satisfied. Like I said before, I really feel like I have a lot more in the tank. I feel like there are a few races, for sure, I wish I could go back and redo. It’s just kind of a part of learning curve. It had been a few years since I raced supercross and it’s easy to get lost in the excitement of it all. I just wanted to go out there and win. I wanted to do that so badly that I kind of got distracted from the process of it all; distracted from the process that it takes to win a race. It’s a very hard thing to do. It’s just one of those things where you kind of have to execute what you know how to do and not get so caught up in just winning. That was me in the beginning of the season. That’s all I wanted to do. I was just going to twist that throttle until I crossed the checkered flag first. I felt like once I kind of calmed it down and started worrying more about myself and what I’m doing, I think it definitely started to come around for me. But like I said, there were a few races there where I didn’t do what I wanted to do, but all in all I’m happy with the year and happy with how things are looking heading into the summer.