A few days removed from winning a battery of titles at the 2012 Loretta Lynn’s Amateur National Championships in blazing hot Tennessee, 15 year-old minicycle sensation Adam Cianciarulo sat at a table inside Pro Circuit Racing in Corona, California and pondered a few things. Permitted to talk about his impending professional debut set for the spring of 2013, teenaged Cianciarulo let this writer in on just what was coming at him.
“Kawasaki just signed a deal for me,” said the then-diminutive teenager. “It’s a five-year deal, and it’s to be with here at Pro Circuit with Mitch Payton through my Lites career, which is a dream come true for me, for sure. It’s an unbelievable feeling. I’ve always wanted to ride for Mitch, since I was a little kid. It’s where I want to be. I’ve always wanted to work my way up to that team and now I have that lined up. I want to make the best of it. I want to have a great pro career and this is the first step. It’s a huge step, so it’s all on me from here!”
Kick the transmission up a few years to the late autumn of 2019, and Adam Cianciarulo is on fire, especially since coming off a dazzling victory at the recent Monster Energy Cup. America’s new 250cc National Champion, the young man from Port Orange, Florida is now poised to line up behind the starting gate as a Monster Energy Kawasaki 450cc factory rider come Angel Stadium and the Anaheim Supercross in January.
A long, twisting journey whooped-out with big wins, big injuries and big heartbreaks, Cianciarulo has never given up his goal to be multifold champion at the very highest level of the sport. About to take his final huge step up into the 450cc big leagues in the most prestigious form of motorcycle racing in the world (sorry MotoGP, but the Monster Energy Supercross Series is now an equal match), Cianciarulo is looking at 2020 as an opportunity to put his name up in lights as the world’s number one supermotocross racer.
Cleared to test the KX450 for the entire month of November, RACER sat down with Cianciarulo and asked him to recount his recent journey to the premiere level of the sport where he hopes to fulfill the rest of racing his dreams. Relaxed, appreciative and in good spirits, AC was in a talking mood and we were all ears.
“After the Monster Cup we went to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico,” started Cianciarulo of the beginning of his off-season. “I was super-excited to kind of just take a week away to relax. I actually hadn’t had a real vacation in quite a long time, so it was cool to get away a little bit, but we’re now right back to it testing. We’re testing some suspension stuff, and a couple of other things as well. I’m just getting ready and we’re getting the bike ready to go back to Florida for the month of November so I can go back east and let the real training begin for Anaheim.
“And to now ride the 450 for Kawasaki, it’s one of things that in racing – you accomplish a goal and that’s great, and it’s cool to be proud of it and to really look back on your journey. However, at the same time, you want to win again and you automatically go to the next goal, and that’s definitely where my head has been at. I love riding dirt bikes. Even though it is, technically, my job, I still enjoy doing it, so I was really anxious to get on the new bike and start making improvements, and I was totally prepared to get to work.
“In what was to be my first race on the 450, I tried to come into the Monster Cup with an open mind and not too much temptation. I felt pretty good at the practice track beforehand. I think when I initially got on the 450 that I wanted to be smart and ease into it, and that’s exactly what I did. I started ramping it up a little bit in the week leading up to the race. I felt like we had a good shot to be battling and maybe be in contention to win the race. I certainly didn’t close my mind to that option. It worked out perfectly, just being up there. Even getting a bad start in the second race and having to come through and race those guys and make some passes, I felt like I got a really good experience out of it. I got some good laps and we got some good stuff that we can definitely lean on going on into the regular season. Man, what a special night for me.
“In retrospect, it was kind of funny how the Monster Cup worked out. I don’t really look at how Vegas ended last May and with me crashing out of that supercross championship. It’s all too much in a negative light now, to be honest with you. It’s just a part of my story, and I use it for motivation and fuel to kind of propel me to something that I wasn’t sure that I was fully capable of beforehand, and that was when the 250cc outdoor motocross championship started.
“Coming off of supercross where I had such a great year and it ended the way we didn’t want it to, it definitely motivated me a little bit more for the outdoors. It definitely made we want to come out swinging and put the Las Vegas crash out of my mind as quick as possible. Nothing puts the past behind faster than a win. To be able to start the series at Hangtown and win, and then to be able to win the next three races like that was something out of a dream, especially because I’d only won one outdoor national in what was my whole 250 career prior to the ’19 season (Note: Budds Creek in 2017). I think that when I came into the pro ranks I was seen as the ‘next big thing’, or whatever it was that they wanted to call me. It appeared like I had everything handed to me, and I think for fans, that’s kind of hard to root for. I think once people got to know me a little bit, then they saw my struggles. I think that everybody can relate with a struggle and that everybody can relate to a comeback story. We all have stuff that we have to go through in our lives, and I think people rally behind that. Not just in motocross, but in other sports and in life, as well.
“I can say from a personal perspective that the 250cc outdoor championship would have meant far, far less had I not had to go through what it took to get there. I’m stoked just to even still be in the sport, let’s put it that way. And to accomplish that on top of what I feel already, and just feeling that gratitude to still be a part of it, you can imagine how good it felt to win the 250 title. It was definitely one of the proudest moments of my life, for sure. I’ve been through a lot of adversity, and we all know that.
“After we won the championship, a number of my friends, industry members and even fans asked me what it felt like to cross the finish line when I clinched the title. You know, that’s a tough question to answer. I think when I was going through a lot of the stuff I went through, even when I was at rock bottom, I would always just imagine what it would be like to win a championship and how it would feel to go over the line. I would just imagine that over and over again in my head. I put it so high in my mind that when I actually did cross the finish line at the Ironman, I was almost numb to it. I was almost unsure of how to feel; it was so much relief and elation.
“Looking back on it all now, I think you have to be careful, for sure, with how much of your own self-worth that you put into the results. It’s how we are brought up, you know? We live and die with how we do on the weekend. Yes, it’s challenging and it can be tough, but it’s also what makes it so rewarding when it works out in your favor. That’s why we train every day and why we do what we do to the extent that we do it. We do it for that rewarding feeling. You can’t have that feeling without some risk. Obviously it is love/hate when you’re not getting the results, but you’re always striving for more and always reaching for the next thing.
“So now, Eli, myself and the entire Kawasaki team are totally preparing for Anaheim. I’ve been around Eli a little bit here and there since I joined the team. He came out the couple weeks before Monster Cup and he’s been awesome. He’s been a great teammate so far. I have nothing but great things to say about that guy. You have a guy of his caliber on your team, it’s a pleasure to be on the same team and to be able to learn as much as I can. It’s been nothing but positive so far. I’m really excited to be his teammate and hopefully we can to put the two Kawasaki 450s up on the podium quite a bit this year.
“For me with this first year on the 450, first and foremost, I want to be at all the races, do all the laps, and just gain experience. I think the challenging part of it – and this is highly publicized – is how long the season is and how grueling the schedule is. Long season, a lot of laps, I think that’s all something that I’ll need to adapt to. At the same time, I feel like I’ve been mentally preparing myself for this moment since I was a little kid. I feel like I’m prepared as I can be, and I think the next couple months is about getting the bike the absolute best we can have it going into Anaheim. And also myself, just getting into long motos and making sure that the speed is there.
“All of this is a dream come true for me. It’s really easy to get caught up in it all as a racer at this level. We are all focusing on the results and focusing on winning and winning championships and that’s our job. That’s how it should be. At the same time, every now and then, you have to stop and reflect on how lucky we are to be doing this. You know, for the amount of guys that started off in this sport as amateurs, there are not too many people who make it to the position that I’m in now. I’m riding for factory Kawasaki in the premier division in the most popular racing series in the entire world. From that perspective, I’m just grateful to be here and I think it’s good for me to have the perspective that I do, as well. It calms my nerves a bit just knowing that I’m already in a great spot. Basically, the way I look at it is a bonus. That’s not to say I’m going to try any less, I can assure you that. It’s certainly a nice feeling to have and I’m very grateful.”