On other fronts, too, McGrath is typical of guys not long out of their teens. Should he break Johnson's record, for example, he may want to do some tidying up at home; most of his Supercross trophies hunker by the front door of his house as if massing for a quick exit. He agrees that he needs to buy a trophy case, but that could prove to be a chore for a man whose dining room is furnished only with a heavy bag and a stereo. He walks into his bedroom, picking his way around scattered suitcases and hummocks of clothing. "My room's trashed." he says apologetically, "but my closet's pretty clean."
McGrath's bedroom may be messy, but when he is astride a motorcycle, everything is in order. Supercross's looping tracks are designed with fans and chiropractors in mind. One crowd-pleasing section of track—often referred to as Whoop-de-dos—includes a series of two-foot-high bumps spaced between two and three feet apart. During races, which cover 20 laps and last roughly 20 minutes, riders hit this section and other slam-bang features dozens of times. McGrath whips around the track as if it were freshly laid blacktop, his turns smooth, his jumps precise, his approaches fearless.
Such cool has its history. When Jeremy was seven months old, his mother, Ann, and his dad would ride their motorcycles on the beaches and trails near their house in San Francisco. Jeremy would ride along, his chubby legs straddling Jack's gas tank.
"One minute he'd be sitting up on the tank holding on to the crossbar," says Jack, who owns an auto repair shop in Menifee, Calif. "The next thing you know, he'd be lying back in your lap, asleep."
Apparently Jeremy's urge for big air also goes back a ways. By the age of six he had already jumped off a six-foot cabinet, working his way up to the roof of the family's house. "He thought he was Superman," says Ann, who keeps the books at Jack's shop. "He's never been afraid of much."
His roof vault cost him just a few bits of tongue, thanks partly to the fact that the McGraths lived in a single-story house. Now that their son regularly descends from far greater heights, Ann and Jack can only hope for the best. By motocross standards Jeremy has gone relatively unscathed—his most serious injuries have been a broken leg, a twisted knee, bruised ribs and a separated shoulder. There have, however, been close calls. Leading in a race in San Bernardino, Calif., in 1991, he crashed on the backside of a jump. By the time he squirmed out from under his bike and started running for the side of the track, the trailing riders were vaulting the jump. One struck McGrath broadside and sent him flying through the air. He escaped with only bruises and some short-term mental wobbles.
"We realized he had a concussion because he kept asking the same questions for 25 minutes," says Ann. " 'Where am I?" and 'Did I win the race?' "
Even in an addled state McGrath remains focused; his aim is to become the best rider Supercross has ever seen. Well on his way, he is under mounting expectations and pressures. Yet he is unconcerned. Securing a place in history is certainly important, but there's also the matter of more immediate gratification.
"Oh, yeah," he says, smiling. "Plenty of big air, for sure."