Jeffrey Herlings: "My accident made me consider walking away"

Motocross rider Jeffrey Herlings talks about his toughest opponent, his 2018 MXGP World Championship and last year's horrific accident that left him temporarily paralysed 

Jeffrey Herlings

What's the worse day you've had at work? Motocross champion Jeffery Herlings probably has you beat. 

Herlings was the favourite to win the 2020 world championship but his campaign was derailed by a horrifying crash that left the rider with a broken neck. 

"I was on the ground paralysed for thirty minutes," Herlings recalls. "That was scary and made me consider walking away."

But bikers are made of sturdy stuff and Herlings is back for the 2021 MXGP World Championship, hoping to repeat his 2018 triumph. 

He is also one of the featured riders for Red Bull’s ‘MX World’ Series – the episode is embedded below.

How did you take up the sport?

It all happened because of my father – he was a motocross racer and so he inspired me to get involved. And once I’d tried it, I loved it.

From a young age I was pretty good at it and so it developed from there.

Who were your idols growing up?

My two heroes were Ricky Carmichael and James Stuart Jr. Today you can go on Instagram and see what athletes are doing all the time, but this was a time before smart phones.

I just watched an hour of American racing on the TV once a week, and those two were my idols. Whenever I went to see them race live, it was a dream come true.

 What teacher/coach/teammate made the biggest impact on your development?

When I was first joined Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Stefan Everts was with the team. He was the most dominant motocross rider ever, he won ten championships and 101 grand prix wins.

I looked up to this him and he had a big impact on the beginning of my career.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

To use my head a bit more! When I was young I won a lot of races, but I didn’t use my brain enough.

It’s only a small, easy piece of advice, but Stefan Everts and hundreds of people have told me – “use your brain.” 

Have you ever come close to quitting the sport?

Definitely. I had an accident on track last year where I broke my neck and was on the ground paralysed for thirty minutes – that was scary and made me consider walking away.

The season before I had a foot injury, and I still limp slightly when I walk. It’s times like that when you wonder whether it is all worth it.

Jeffrey Herlings

Talk us through your pro debut – were you more nervous or excited? What is your defining memory of the occasion?

I was super nervous. My professional debut racing big bikes was at a race close to my house in the Netherlands.

All the star riders were competing, and I came 4th and 2nd. But I barely slept the night before because of the nerves.

 What would you say is your best singular performance to date?

I’ve had so many great races, but 2018 in Assen, the Netherlands was up there with the best. All eyes were on me because I was set to win the championship at my home race.

As well as the media attention, I had all the Dutch fans, my family, as well as the whole team there. I won both Motos and the world championship under all that pressure.

And your biggest career achievement?

Winning the MXGP world championship. It’s the biggest title I’ve won and there aren’t many higher honours in the sport than that. 

Who’s been your toughest opponent?

My teammate Antonio Cairoli. I raced him at his peak where he was one of the toughest guys to compete with, consistent and fast.

He was a very complete rider who could race any kind of dirt bike.

If you could repeat one race, which would it be and why?

I’d like to repeat Oss in 2018, because I was so busy that day. I gave interviews all day, had cameras following me around, and then I had to perform and win the championship.

One day felt like one hour! I didn’t have any time to enjoy it because everything flew by.

What are your goals for the remainder of your career?

It would be a dream to win another championship.

Last year I came close and after six races I was leading by a big margin. But due to injury I didn’t make it, so I want to win a title again.

What plans do you have for retirement? Do you have any particular interests away from the sport?

I like business a lot and already have a lot of real estate projects, I enjoy working on those away from racing.

When my motocross career is over I might look to become a trainer, or do a bit more real estate, or perhaps work with younger riders.

I have a lot of options and opportunities.

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The full docuseries starring Herlings’ teammates Tony Cairoli, Jorge Prado and more, is available to watch on Red Bull TV