Words by Eli Moore | Photos by Mike Emery
“J-Law was one of the last of a dying breed: the guys who seriously could not give a fuck what you thought about them. He is a dude who would rather head-butt a studded tire than behave in a manner that is ‘safer’ or ‘more consumer friendly.’”
I wrote those words in 2012, in a little blog that I managed in my spare time. I worshipped Jason Lawrence even then, two years after his unexpected departure from professional motocross. Whether people felt similarly or hated his very soul, it is an indisputable truth that J-Law impacted this sport in a way that no one in the modern era has matched.
Jason Lawrence is the man who rolled a rental car the night before a national, and people still rooted for him; he’s the man who said “fuck” on the mic in front of a full stadium after his first Supercross podium, and people still rooted for him; he’s the man who skipped a full season to serve a sentence in prison, and people still rooted for him. Then he left the pro scene behind, and five years later people still wonder if he will come back, so they can root for him. The world did not love Lawrence because he was a rogue who constantly got into trouble; plenty of riders have partied too much and made dumb mistakes. The world loved J-Law because he could do all that, then hop on a track the next day and run with anyone in the world. Even some greats of the sport have exclaimed that Jason Lawrence is one of the biggest talents they have ever seen. In just a few short years, he left his permanent mark on motocross.
In preparation for writing this article, I spoke with Lawrence on the phone. His exceedingly aloof tone straight from the word “hello” provided the unnecessary confirmation that this would be a far different phone conversation than any I’d ever had with a rider. His first words only further cemented that notion:
“I do not give a fuck about being in a magazine.”
My immediate thought was that this was going to be an uphill battle, trying to get Lawrence to open up at all when he initially seemed very hostile and standoffish. But stories I had heard of the legend of J-Law all indicated that he is a mercurial character, and once I had established a rapport, the conversation flowed much more smoothly. I had sent Lawrence some preparatory questions via email, something I dreaded doing because I knew with every fiber of my being that he would hate me for sending such cookie-cutter questions. He reinforced my fears quickly, exclaiming that the questions were “fucking horrible” and that he had considered axing this whole idea. Luckily, he felt that META was a solid platform for him to get his word across in an industry seemingly so concerned with where he is going. We established that this would not be a normal interview—just a simple conversation.
He knew what was on my, and every reader’s, mind, and before I even had the chance to ask, he gave me my answer.
“Let me clear things up: I have no plans for a comeback,”
he quickly blurted out. Even though he has been back on the bike and blowing up Instagram feeds with riding photos and videos, there is no J-Law comeback in the immediate future. Or so I thought, until he clarified: “If the right ride came, I would come back. I would love an opportunity to race outdoors. But I’m done sucking off the industry.” Somewhat puzzled, I mulled over his statement and was not too surprised by it. All J-Law wants to do is ride his dirtbike. Even when I asked him about his departure from the pros in the first place, he offered one simple answer:
“After I got out of jail, I tried to race, but I wasn’t ready. I decided then that I was done.”
In speaking further with Lawrence, it became clear that he is not a bad guy; his are modest pleasures. His refusal to play into the increasingly scrutinizing eye of professional motocross does not even seem to be deliberate. Lawrence was never groomed to be a professional athlete; he was just really great at racing a dirtbike. “I’ve been riding since before I can remember,” he said. “My grandpa would always take me to the track.” Estranged from his father, young Lawrence found some coveted normalcy at the motocross track with his grandfather, Don Heider. A former racer himself, and a motorcycle-shop owner, Heider took Lawrence under his wing, escorting him around the local New Jersey tracks. The young J-Law’s talent was undeniable, even back then.
“My goal from day one was to make it on TV in a main event. The championship and wins were all just icing on the cake,”
explained Lawrence, segueing into his professional career. J-Law is satisfied with what he did in the sport, and rightfully so; very few racers will ever have an AMA #1 plate sitting on their mantle, and even fewer can ever say they straight-up beat Ryan Dungey to get it.
Lawrence explained, however, that it was a different Ryan who motivated him in his championship season. “In 2008,” he shared, “I decided that I needed to step my program up because I got beat by Ryan Villopoto in all but one race in 2007.” His rivalry with the perennial AMA Supercross champ was never a secret; even as amateurs, Lawrence and Villopoto butted heads, and Villo was famously awarded the AMA Horizon Award at Loretta Lynn’s in 2005 even though Lawrence beat him in three out of three motos at the Ranch that year. Then, of course, there was Hangtown 2007, where Lawrence was able to push Villopoto’s buttons enough in practice to drive Villo to try to punch him in the face with a Bridgestone. It was probably the only time that Villopoto was pushed over the edge in a professional setting.
For Lawrence, it was part of the game. He was well aware of the mental aspect of motocross and sought to use that against his competitors. His 2008 championship year saw him pitted against Ryan Dungey, where Dungey famously blew a massive points lead to relinquish the championship to Lawrence. Lawrence explained how Supercross played out that year:
“Ryan Dungey is a great rider; he’s very consistent. But he’s very easily shaken. Ryno [Ryan Hughes] and myself, we shook him that year and we got in his head; that’s why he threw those races away and that’s why I won that championship. A lot of what I did to play with Dungey was in practice, with the lap times. I’d taunt him a little bit, anything to let him know that I’m onto him.”
But even before the mental warfare, Lawrence’s campaign in 2008 was different from any other season he’d had, because he was actually training. “Yamaha of Troy funded me the money to hire my own trainer. I got to choose the trainer, and my choice was Ryan Hughes. I felt that he was the best trainer in the game. It’s crazy how much that guy was able to step my program up. I owe a lot of credit to Ryan Hughes. I had things that I wanted to do my way, and he had things that he wanted to do his way, and we met in the middle. I’m really happy that we could do that, because if we hadn’t I’m not sure that I’d have that championship,” said Lawrence.
Following his Supercross championship, Lawrence got himself another first as a professional, winning the first 250 moto at the 2008 Outdoor National opener at Glen Helen, California, and beating the Ryans Villopoto and Dungey in the process, just before Villopoto set off on a 16-moto winning streak that season. “That was the only holeshot I ever got in [pro] Supercross or motocross, and it was the only win I ever got outdoors,” Lawrence said. But even though his biggest accomplishments have come in the stadiums, J-Law feels a deeper connection to the old-school roots of outdoor motocross:
“I like outdoors more, man. It’s all about the fans; they’re right there [next to the track]. Growing up as a kid, I never went to watch a Supercross. I went to many outdoor nationals—Budds Creek, Unadilla, Steel City, Broome Tioga—back in the day. I’m definitely more an outdoor fan, even in the way I feel about riders. Outdoors gives you more time to play people out and get past them. Supercross is like a sprint; it’s crazy.”
Perhaps it is his own past with motocross that keeps him in his comfort zone in the outdoors, far from the glitz, glamour, and spotlight of Supercross. Motocross is where it all started, and for a guy like Jason Lawrence, it’s where he is happy, even now. “Right now, I just do local Florida races,” he explained, “and honestly you can hear the fans [on the sidelines]. Everybody is hyped on the pro moto at these local races. I love it when the people are hyped for what you’re doing. If you’re not doing it for the people, and especially the little kids, what are you doing it for?” Lawrence’s time now consists of simple days at the track, pounding out laps with whomever will ride with him, and giving back to the younger generation. “I used to always think that training kids would be like lowering myself,” he admitted. “But now I see that these kids have so much they can learn from me, and why would I not share that? I’ve helped out a few little Cobra kids from the Northeast.” But even a career as a trainer is not something that is on Lawrence’s mind, nor is a serious play at a comeback to the professional scene. The hype is gone, the fame and the money gone too. But Lawrence still gets to go to the track every day and ride his dirtbike. That’s where he started, and that’s what he wants to be: just a kid enjoying his dirtbike.