Uniquely Jeff Emig
Words by Andy Taylor | Photos courtesy Taylor Creative
Everyone who watched Jeff Emig race a motorcycle in the early ’80s could see he had the flow—a natural control. Head up. Eyes forward. Back straight. He was poetry in motion when he was on a motocross track, touted from his early teen years as something special. He had “it.”
Though it didn’t necessarily come easy. Emig’s ability on the bike was more the result of being able to summon a singular focus. Champions have a unique power to quiet the outside world at the moment everything is on the line. Like his motorcycle, when Emig rode, he screamed: “Race me.” “Push me.” “Tell me I can’t.” On the bike, everything made sense. His world was simple, and he the master of it.
Off the bike, Emig struggled with expressing himself. The idea of speaking in front of a stranger was daunting, a terrifying endeavor. Imagine being a natural-born champion, yet privately fighting something most of society takes as everyday routine.
Today, Jeff Emig can be seen in broadcasts every weekend throughout the winter as the voice of supercross. Thirty-five years ago, he was a simple Kansas City kid who hauled ass on a dirtbike, but who also secretly struggled with the demons of a speech impediment. Staring down at the gate was nothing compared to the logistics of a basic conversation. Emig had a stuttering problem. He couldn’t get the words out, while on the inside his frustrated mind was always going as fast as his Supermini. In his youth, it was easier for Emig to choose silence rather than face the snowballing humiliation of tripping over his words again and again.
Imagine lining up for a supercross main event as a top contender. Fifty thousand fans are on their feet, shouting waves of electric energy. Blazing pyrotechnics cut through the damp night sky. Heart rates accelerate. Your entire life has been pointed toward this moment—toward this race. And all that fills your mind is the dread of that approaching microphone.
In Emig’s days as a professional, the trackside commentator would walk down the line and have each rider introduce himself to the crowd. The closer the microphone got, the more Emig’s spirit sank. There he was, trying to do his job and race a motorcycle, with a black hole growing in his stomach at the idea of speaking into a microphone. He had a secret disdain for the announcer holding the mic and coming ever closer to his spot on the line. Emig always made it through just fine, but shifting his mind back to the business at hand wasn’t easy, and it took its toll.
For years, it was difficult for Emig to comprehend how this distraction affected his racing. For him, there was speaking and there was racing; the two did not intersect. But, over time, he realized confidence was being ripped from him—and on the stage where he needed it most. Professional motocross is a level of top-tier competition, a mental battlefield, and Emig often started his bike on the gate with his confidence at a devastating low, all because of his relentless struggle with that microphone.
As Emig entered the peak of his career, he made a decision: It was time to face this thing down. On the motorcycle, he was a champion. He learned to gain strength from failure, and understood the force and wherewithal it took to reach a transcendent moment. It was time to use unstoppable will to find his words.
If you would have walked up to someone at the Loretta Lynn’s Amateur National in the mid-’80s and told them Jeff Emig would be the voice of our sport in the future, they would have laugh-spewed sweet tea in your face. But it’s only because most people don’t have the thing in them, the thing that would rather die than quit, nor do they understand it.
Emig reached for the same determination he used to beat the world’s best motocross racers. He attacked the problem as a competitor. Toiling through countless hours of grinding therapy sessions and exercises, he fought through his obstacles. Every champion is born with the power to tirelessly chase a goal until it is in their grip. Jeff Emig had reached the pinnacle of racing and now had a new rabbit to chase.
The days following retirement can be brutal for a professional athlete. Remolding a career after a lifetime of relentlessly pursuing one goal—motocross glory—requires dipping a toe back into the motivation well. For Emig, it was more than finding something he enjoyed and the drive to do it. He had to overcome a lifelong obstacle more perplexing than the gnarliest of rhythm sections. The beauty of being on the motorcycle was living in his own secluded domain. Now Emig felt thrown into the lion’s den. Speaking had always been a nagging part of his job—an afterthought, more than anything. But now he would need to do a lot more of it.
But there’s a common theme in the life of Jeff Emig: He sets his mind to it, and it happens. From racer to announcer, Emig applies the power of will to all of his challenges. But perhaps Emig’s most important quality is his humility and willingness to be just as open about his struggles as he is his victories. For Emig, his early failures were a learning experience, building blocks on his journey to becoming an icon of the sport on and off the motorcycle.
Along with his goals in business and sport, Emig still has places he wants to go in life, and goals to achieve on the way. He genuinely loves helping people find the drive to realize their dreams. He doesn’t unmask his life struggles for enjoyment; he does it because he understands the importance of lifting people up, of helping them reach new levels of potential. His desire to break boundaries brought him to the summit of motocross success as a multi-time champion, one of the greatest professionals the ’90s ever produced, and the same hunger continues to drive him forward off the track. He hopes in the future to communicate such a desire to anyone who will let him. The innate ability to catch sight of a goal and unyieldingly chase it is what makes a champion, a champion. For Jeff Emig, there is no other way to go about living.