ICYMI | Catching Up with Jess Pettis | Presented by KTM Canada

By Billy Rainford

Presented by KTM Canada

Career #15 Jess Pettis is currently working hard with his rehab after successful ACL surgery. He popped it at Walton Raceway last summer and raced the rest of the season without it, winning the 250 Canadian Triple Crown Series MX title.

He was set to race the 250 East Supercross series and spent a couple months leading up to Round 1 at Baker’s Factory in Florida. Unfortunately, he kicked a lane marker in Houston and injured his knee enough that he decided to have the surgery done so he could focus on heading to the 450 class here in Canada.

We interviewed him last week for the Frid’Eh Update and here’s the conversation in case you missed it:

Jess Pettis from Prince George, BC is career #15. We really hoped to know him more as #134 this past winter, but his Monster Energy AMA Supercross season was over just as it was about to start. That early crash in Houston did some more damage to his already-ACL-less knee and it took him out of competition for the series.

Last summer, Jess absolutely dominated the Canadian Triple Crown Tour 250 MX series, running an almost blemish-free series, finishing 1-1-2-1-1.

He didn’t race the Supercross portion of the series as he and the entire Red Bull Thor KTM Canada team stuck to their guns and repeatedly lied right to all of our faces (I mean this jokingly) claiming Jess simply needed a little knee scope to be back to race form. I’ve joked with Jess about this since finding out his knee hadn’t had an ACL since he damaged it at Walton Raceway! So, his running out the season at the front of the pack is now made even more impressive.

He got the opportunity to train for the 2021 SX series at the famed Baker’s Factory in Florida with none other than Aldon Baker and the gang. Don’t worry, I asked him about how this all came together in our interview. It’s a pretty good (and fortuitous) story.

Check it out:

Jess went 1-1-2-1-1 in the 2020 Canadian 250 MX Nationals to take the title. | Bigwave photo

Direct Motocross: Hi, Jess, thanks for talking with us today. Let’s first back it up to the 2020 season here in Canada. You went almost undefeated in the MX series. Can you sum it up for us?

Jess Pettis: The Motocross season was great. It was a roller coaster with some ups and downs, but on paper it was really good. Obviously, I dealt with some stuff internally with injuries which is always tough to go through. We kept that on the quiet and got through it.

I ended up almost going undefeated and re-tore my ACL in Walton which was a huge bummer as everyone knows now. I rode with a ballooned knee for the whole 3 or 4 rounds and got through it to win the championship. I kept it on the down-low.

That was big for me because at one point I was close to pulling the plug and just going to get my knee fixed and calling it a year. Internally, we decided to just dig deep and deal with it lap by lap and it worked out in my favour, so I’m pumped on that.

I got my second 250 championship which I was really stoked on because it was the way I wanted to leave the 250 class and 250 career and go out on a bang there.

So, then after you lied straight to my face at Sand Del Lee (haha)…

(Laughs) I lied to a lot of people’s faces!

I first interviewed Jess at Oak Hill in 2011. | Bigwave photo

You decided to skip our SX portion but you still wanted to do the AMA stuff. Can you take us through how that timing all came together and how you ended up going to Baker’s Factory?

I skipped the Canadian Supercross and went to get my knee scoped and cleaned up. Then I hopped on the phone with my buddy, Seth Rarick, and told him I wanted to race Supercross and I wanted to come to Florida and where do I go? I don’t know much about places to train down there. I was talking with Dean Wilson about it, too.

Seth told me that it was good that I called because he was just talking to Aldon and this might be great timing because we were just on the topic about trying to find a rider to fill a position at the facility.

It’s pretty strict there with KTM, Husqvarna and Gas Gas riders only so it was kind of hard to find someone to fill that spot. He said he’d talk to Aldon and see what he had to say.

It wasn’t exactly what I was asking for but, of course, that would be amazing! That would be top notch.

Aldon gave me a call and said they’d love to have me as part of the program. He said he’d heard nothing but good things about me and that I work hard and am a good kid. He asked me if I’d be interested in coming. I said of course I wanted to make that happen!

I had to get approved through (RogerDeCoster and Ian Harrison and KTM North America and that happened in like two days and it all got cleared.

A week-and-a-half or two weeks later I was in Florida starting the boot camp.

So, you had had your knee scoped heading into that, but you had no ACL and still did all that hard training, right?

Ya, and it was kind of hard because my knee really bugged me last summer and I went down there and I didn’t know the first day if I was going to be able to ride. There was a bit of a gamble on that, but thankfully it felt good.

I rehabbed it and it was a part of my program with Aldon to do a lot of knee strengthening and, man, we got my knee feeling literally 100%. It felt great. I kind of questioned why anyone would get an ACL surgery! It didn’t even bother me once for two-and-a-half, three months of riding. I had a few crashes and tip-overs, running…everything.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case when I got to Round 1 and a hay bale got kicked out in front of me and I kicked it like a soccer ball and it wrenched my knee and it went south from there.

It’s kind of a situation where it feels good every day but it’s those one-off times when it pulls your knee or your leg the wrong way and that’s what does it, I guess.

I think he still holds a grudge because I out “high-lined” him on a sledding trip with Kourtney Lloyd from Cycle North Powersports in PG back in 2013. | Bigwave photo

Back home, we assumed that was where you actually popped your ACL but that just did some other damage. You went and had surgery in Tennessee and now everything is going well, right?

Ya, I ended up tearing my meniscus at Houston. It got strained and just inflamed everything. It was one of those things where I had to take some time for my knee no matter what, so I figured I might as well get my ACL fixed at the same time and I won’t have to deal with it again.

I didn’t want to rehab for another couple months and be back in the same position this summer.

I got a really good surgery in Tennessee. Mike Brown and a few other people had gone to see him and had really good results from his procedures so I got it done a week or two after I hurt it and started the recovery game which as everyone knows with COVID, getting in for surgeries and stuff is next to impossible, so I did everything as quickly as I could down in the states before I came home to quarantine and all that good stuff.

So, now you’re doing some rehab in Vancouver, BC and staying out with Dylan Delaplace and the family, right?

Ya, I’ve been in Vancouver for the week and doing some therapy and physio and check ups with the Red Bull physiotherapist who works with a lot of the top athletes. He’s putting me through the wringer and tests for my knee, so I’m in good hands, thankfully.

Red Bull is a huge supporter for me and you really see the companies and the sponsors who are behind you when you’re out and need the help with rehab and stuff. So, a big shout-out to them for helping me out and getting me into some good hands. I’m just working my butt off at the rehab grind. Six days a week is kind of mentally tough but I’ll get through it and I’ll be back on the bike soon.

He actually re-tore his ACL at Walton last summer and kept it a secret for the remainder of the MX season. | Bigwave photo

Speaking of that, when do you think you will be back on the bike?

I don’t exactly have a date yet. I’m kind of going week by week, month by month. I’m shooting for mid-May. I think that should be enough time to be ready on the bike and get some seat time. Obviously, not an ideal situation, but I have to deal with those cards.

We’ll see, once I get a little bit closer. The schedule is always up in the air with the times right now with everything. The more time the better, but I’m shooting to be ready come race time, regardless. My focus has kind of shifted at the moment to rehab only.

You’re moving up to the 450 class this season. Out of curiosity, how much race experience do you have on one?

Not a lot, racing. I spent a winter on a 450 for some training and a few local races here and there, but not too much experience on the 450. The bit of time I spent this fall on my KTM 450 I felt right at home. I’ve got a bit of a laid-back, smooth style so I think it will suit me well. We’ll see when we get back.

It’s a new challenge for me. I don’t know where I’ll stack up but I expect a lot out of myself. I want to fit right in with those guys at the top right away. I don’t see why I shouldn’t.

I’ve raced a lot of those guys. I don’t really know who else is coming up from the states but it should be good. I saw where I stacked up a bit last year with lap times comparable. Obviously, it’s a little different, 250 versus 450, but I feel like I can be in the mix.

It’ll be a little bit of an adjustment but I think it’ll suit me well. I always enjoy racing guys that’ll raise my level. It just makes you a better athlete, so I like challenges.

Jess racing some Arenacross for the Leading Edge Kawasaki team back in 2014. | Bigwave photo

Let’s assume the schedule goes as shown right now. Is there a track that you’re looking forward to racing on the bigger bike?

Hmm, let me think here. What have we got? I think a couple of those new tracks will be cool, if they do go out west. I think it will be a good variety for everyone.

River Glade will be nice…get up to 5th gear on that straightaway and get up to probably 160kph, so that should be interesting!

OK, what about your future in AMA Supercross? Will you try again in 2022?

Ya, I’ve talked with those guys already about it, trying to come up with some plans. I want to be down there. I left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, leaving and not showing what I’m capable of doing down there. I know I’ve got a little bit of unfinished business.

Obviously, I’m out of the game and people probably forgot about me and what I can do, but I want to do it and next year I want to see how everything is going to line up.

At the end of the day, when my career’s done, I want to say that I gave it a good shot. I think it’s still good timing and to go down there with a good knee would be great (Laughs) and healthy to show my best potential. It would likely be in the 250 class, I think. I still have a lot of stuff up in the air. It’s still almost a year from now.

What have you been able to do for fun?

Not a whole lot of fun. For me, fun is like mountain biking, road biking, and stuff like that…snowboarding is always fun. I’m pretty limited as to what I can do with my knee.

I have been going hard on a project. I’ve had a house for a while and I built a basement suite, so that kept me occupied for about a month or 6 weeks, and I just moved into that. I’m pretty stoked to have my own space. I learned some stuff outside of Moto.

Our schedule is so busy that we don’t usually have time for that stuff. I think it’s good for me to learn some stuff outside of that and sort of broaden the mind and learn a bit more about life stuff, which has been, not fun, but a cool experience. It’s a challenge away from racing.

Jess moves up to the 450 class in Canada this season and expects to head south for Supercross again in 2022. | Bigwave photo

Now, I’m trying to get you to do one of my favourite cycle routes in Canada – Marine Drive in West Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay. Are you going to get out there and try it today?

I am. I talked to you about doing a cycle down here and you gave me a little advice on where to go. It’s beautiful down here with the ocean and the good weather so I always love a nice ride along the water. I’ll keep you up to date on how nice of a ride it is.

Editor’s Note: He didn’t do it. He went from UBC and around Stanley Park a couple times. Also a nice ride, but not quite the same, in my opinion. Next time…

OK, Jess, I appreciate you taking the time with us today. Good luck with all your rehab and we’ll see you at the first round. Who would you like to thank?

Thanks for the interview. I’d like to thank the whole Red Bull KTM Thor racing team. Red Bull has been great helping me with this whole rehab. Also, Oakley, Alpinestars, WP Suspension, FMF, and all the team sponsors, and friends and family for sticking with me through the downs. I can’t wait to see everyone at Round 1.