Over the last few years if you thought of Thad DuVall you’d think of a couple of things; an AmPro Yamaha GNCC racer with incredible speed and a tendency to land on his head. Well, that’s what you thought of with the old “Bad Thad” DuVall. For 2012 Thad is on a new bike, a Honda CRF-450, and through three rounds of the National Enduros and 2 rounds of the GNCC Series he’s yet to turn himself into a human lawndart. After a trying off-season that had him contemplating getting a real job, DuVall is approaching the 2012 season with a new attitude and with two top-five finishes to start the year in GNCCs it seems to be working.
I was looking through the results and since you moved up to the XC1 Pro Class full-time you’ve never started the season with two top-five finishes like you have this year.
Yeah, starting the year out with two top-fives is really good for me. Staying consistent is the whole motto this year; if I’m in the top-5 every race I’m happy. It’s kind of a little different this year, I learned a lot coming into this season and I know when to back it down and ride my own race. If someone is faster than me they’re going to be faster than me no matter what, so there’s no reason to take that risk. I want to finish races and be there in the end, if it’s 6th then okay I get 6th, but I want to be there every weekend.
Let’s back up a little bit and explain your whole deal for your team this year with Offroadchampions.com and Shenandoah Honda backing you, how did all of that come about?
It’s kind of funny how it all came about. I posted on Facebook about how I was going to have to get a real job next year and it wasn’t even 15-minutes later and I got an email from Erik Nijkamp, the owner of offroadchampions.com, and he said he was interested in giving me a ride and stuff. He said he knew John Ross the owner of Shenandoah Honda over here in Virginia and that he always wanted to put together a team but was never able to follow through with it. We all got to talking and hit it off real quick and the more I talked with Erik and the more I talked with John it was looking like I was going to ride for them two out of John’s shop, which was a good deal for me anyways, I was going to get bikes and everything. We talked some more and ended up deciding to get something together and send it into Honda, if they said no it wasn’t a big deal since I already had a ride with John and Erik. Honda came back and said that they’d help me out 110%, that if I gave them the effort they’d give me the effort. It’s nice having them behind me too and it’s kind of cool how something that started out so little turned into me being pretty much a factory Honda rider at the moment. At Florida I was the top Honda finisher and then in Georgia Nate and me battled it out and we’re both Honda supported. With my deal it’s cool because there were so many sponsors that stepped up to help out and some new sponsors came along that were really interested in me. I can’t thank my dad enough, he was in the industry for so long with the ATVs and he still knows a lot of people. He was calling around and was asking people to put in a good word, and he knew Scott at IMS who works closely with the guys at Honda and I think that really helped. If it weren’t for him I don’t think I’d have the deal that I have now, he knows a lot of people and he helped out a bunch.
How hard has it been switching to the Honda? You’ve been a Yamaha guy for as long as I can remember.
At first I was a little bit worried, I kind of was like, ‘Man, did I make a mistake?’ I started riding the Honda more and more and more and it just suits my style better and it’s the lightest 450 so that helps out a bunch. I still haven’t really learned how to ride it yet, everyday I learn more about the bike It’s cool for me because everyday I’m learning something new and I don’t think I have it figured out yet. So, to get two top-5s on it to start out the year it’s something I can build on and shows how comfortable I am on the bike. Nothing against the Yamaha or anything, but I think that the Honda is a better bike for me in general.
We saw at the first few rounds of the National Enduros you struggled with a variety of problems with the bike, but finishing two 3-hour races it seems like you’ve got those sorted out.
Coming into the first National Enduro I had maybe 5 hours on the bike. The first two National Enduros were more like, okay, what’s going to happen and what’s going to go wrong with the bike; we did the testing at those. We came into the season with a little less testing than I wanted, I think we had maybe one hour of testing coming into those. The first two Enduros were good and we thought we had everything worked out coming into the 3rd one but we ran into a few little problems here and there. But, John Ross is so anal about things and if something is wrong with the bike he wants to find it out. I’ve been over testing with him a lot and I think we’ve, fingers crossed, got everything figured out with the bike. I mean, we’ve even changed some stuff between Georgia and this coming weekend in North Carolina and hopefully everything comes out good.
Last year in North Carolina was probably the worst race you’ve had in a long time, are you looking for a little redemption there?
Yeah, you know, North Carolina didn’t go too well last year–I dislocated my hip and broke my arm. I really like that place and I’ve always done good there, I really want to get a bit of redemption and get another top-5 there.
You’ve kind of gained the reputation in the GNCCs as the guy who has the speed but never finishes the races, and I know you have to be tired of hearing that stuff. It seems like this year you’ve kind of taken a different approach to racing, but how hard is it for you to back it down when you’re in 4th or 5th instead of pinning it?
It’s hard for me. At Florida, you know, I really wish I would’ve caught Rory but I never felt really comfortable. I was never the fastest guy there and I ended up getting 4th then in Georgia I was running 5th and put the hammer down and ended up catching Nate but when I caught him I wasn’t comfortable running his pace so I backed it down and he pulled away from me. It’s tough for me to do that because I’m known for if someone is in front of me I’m going to catch him. The biggest thing is for me to just know my limits these days. This is my job and I have bills now and everything and I need to pay those. I need to learn when to calm it down and settle for the place that I’m in and it’s tough because everyone knows how I am, the “Bad Thad” and everything and I still want to be the fastest but I know my limits now.
One thing people seem to forget is that when you crash it’s not because you’re an idiot and do it on purpose or something, you just really want to win.
Yeah, I mean, there’s always a fire in me that wants to win. I really can’t explain how much I learned from Josh Strang at Power Line Park. We’d go so hard for a bit then when he’d mess up he’d kind of slow down and realize that maybe we need to slow down a bit because it’s a little sketchy. I think I took that into consideration a lot this year, like if I almost wad my brains out I’m kind of like, okay, let’s slow it down a little bit and finish the race.