JGRMX News, Happenings & More
Meet Jonny Oler, the man responsible for ensuring that Autotrader/Suzuki/JGRMX riders Justin Barcia and Weston Peick are getting the most out of their works Showa suspension. Oler has been with the North Carolina-based Joe Gibbs Racing motocross team since its inception. Through the years he has worked with some of the most talented and fast racers on the planet. Jonny was instrumental in helping JGRMX develop a proprietary shock. He has experienced the highest of highs and endured his fair share of tough moments. He is, without question, one of the most interesting personalities in the paddock. Find out what Jonny Oler thinks about suspension technology; which riders are best at providing feedback; building the JRI shock; and how to get the most out of your suspension.
Jonny Oler (center) talks suspension setup with Autotrader/Suzuki/JGRMX team rider Weston Peick, while Spencer Bloomer (far left) and Weston's mechanic Glenn Hobson (right) listen in.
How does a kid from Wyoming end up in North Carolina, starting on the ground floor at the then-upstart JGRMX race team back in 2007?
My grandparents opened a motorcycle dealership in Wyoming way back in the day. It was open in the summer months. They sold old Harley-Davidsons, BSAs, and a bunch of the English brands. Then, in the winter time, they had a taxidermy service. My dad grew up racing, and eventually he wanted to start his own motorcycle dealership. He opened a Rickman and Husqvarna dealership that, in a way, was in competition with my grandfather. That caused some friction, as you can imagine! My dad was pretty successful, and my grandpa finally retired, so now there aren’t any more issues [laughter]. I grew up spending time in the dealership, and like most motocross nuts, I began riding motorcycles at the age of three. I had a new bike every year, which was a great advantage. Unfortunately, the weather in Wyoming isn’t so good for riding, because of all the snow.
Where did you learn your mechanical skills?
I learned a lot about motorcycles through my dad and grandpa. My grandpa passed down his knowledge of motorcycles to my dad, and then he passed that down to me. My dad was always into vintage motorcycles. I had a lot of motorcycle history with regard to the development of different bikes through the ages. Also, I was an avid racer. I tried to take racing as far as I could. Once I turned 18 years old I wanted to get the heck away from my parents, like most kids do. I packed up my bags and went by myself to California, but it was a dumb idea. I didn’t have the support of my parents after I moved. I wanted to live the dream, turn Pro, and dethrone Jeremy McGrath in Supercross. That was the plan anyway. I rode a few Supercross races, but I just barely made the night program.
What did you do after realizing that racing professionally wasn’t going to work out?
Fortunately, I had a few friends that were working at Yamaha Motor Corporation. I got a job at Yamaha building bikes for the testing program. On the side I would ride and race, but that fizzled out after a while. About that time my mechanical skills took over. After working for Yamaha for a few years I took a job at RG3, selling triple clamps and making service calls. That allowed me to learn the suspension end of things through Rob [Henricksen] at RG3. At a certain point I was getting fed up as a sales person and decided to quit. Rob, being the awesome guy that he is, asked me what I was going to do. I told him that I was going to work at 7-Eleven, because I was so burned out on the job [laughter]. He told me that I was making a bad choice. He proceeded to ask me if I wanted his help in getting a job. I thought it was strange that someone would want to help me after finding out that I planned on quitting. Rob is just that kind of guy. He knew of a job opening at Showa. With Rob being well respected in the industry, he could basically just tell Showa that I was interested and I’d have the job. I was thinking the job would involve collecting data and building spreadsheets, which is something I really enjoy. It turned out that the only job open was as a suspension technician for factory Honda. The title sounded pretty neat, and I figured it would be a good way to get my foot in the door.
What riders did you work with while you were doing suspension for factory Honda?
I came in right at the end of Jeremy McGrath’s career. I also worked with Travis Preston, Davi Millsaps, Andrew Short, Tommy Hahn, and Kevin Windham. I didn’t really enjoy the job, because I was basically just a monkey rebuilding suspension all day long. I was always elbow deep in oil and contact cleaner. My job as a Honda suspension technician wasn’t the most fulfilling job, but the challenge of suspension was awesome. Showa had me fly to Japan for an educational trip so I could learn the fundamentals of suspension. I was able to visit Showa, and that was an eye opener. To see how they manufactured suspension was amazing. Then I came back to the U.S. and was back to the grind.
Here's a throwback photo! Oler (far left) talks shop with Justin Brayton, while Patrick Barker (foreground) works away.
How did the opportunity to work for JGRMX come about?
Before I answer that, I have to tell a back story. One of the race team semi truck drivers, Tom Gildea, had asked me where I wanted to move. He knew I was tired of living in California. Having traveled around the U.S. for a while and going to the races, I realized that I wanted to move to the east coast. I liked the country feel around High Point, which is in southern Pennsylvania. Tom told me that I should look at North Carolina. He said they had the Lake Havasu of the east coast, which is Lake Norman [note: a popular lake located northeast of Charlotte]. I kind of brushed the idea off. Then, a month later, Jeremy Albrecht called and told me that Joe Gibbs was starting a motocross team in North Carolina. He asked what I thought of working for them. Little did Jeremy know that I was ready to make the move regardless of what happened.
Were you shocked that Gibbs wanted to start a motocross team in North Carolina?
To be honest, the name ‘Joe Gibbs’ didn’t click right away. I was aware of who he was, but I didn’t grasp who he actually was. The father of my girlfriend at the time found out about my job opportunity and told me that I had to take it. He went on and on about how he was a Super Bowl-winning football coach and was big in NASCAR. Like I said, I was convinced that I was moving to that area anyway, sight unseen. I told Jeremy that I was into the idea, so they flew me to North Carolina and I checked out the place. I was awe-struck by it all. At that point it was a done deal. I started at JGRMX pretty much right at the beginning.
Is it hard to believe that you’ve worked at JGRMX and have lived in North Carolina for almost ten years?
It is crazy to think about. There have been highs and some lows, as well. You take the good with the bad.
Talk about the proprietary shock that JGRMX developed a while back.
That came about because the new Yamaha had that goofy shock with the reservoir pointed sideways. It meant that we couldn’t use our existing works suspension. We had to update and get new stuff. At the time, the asking price for works suspension was astronomical. Coy [Gibbs, JGRMX team owner], being from the car world, asked why we couldn’t just build our own shock. I snickered and thought it was foolish. However, Coy contacted some shock manufacturers that worked in NASCAR. They approached us, and we started working on some drawings. They wanted to know what features and dimensions we were looking for. They had a prototype built in about a month. It was crude, but it was in the ballpark. Going into 2010, we decided that we were going to take the plunge and make our own shock. Luckily we had a Roehrig suspension dyno, because it probably would have been an impossible feat. I wouldn’t say the settings were great right away. Justin Brayton could probably attest to that [laughter]. Some of the shock’s features were from the car world, so those parts weren’t as dependable as they needed to be for motocross. We tested each little part and continually made improvements to the seals, pistons, bodies and shims. The JRI shock really evolved quickly. The first year it was pretty good, and by the third year we were really far along. The JRI had become something that looked nice, was very light, and we could fine tune it. At that time we had James Stewart, and in early testing he preferred the shock we had built over something different.
JGRMX was one of the first in the industry to obtain a Roehrig suspension dyno, which is a very expensive piece of machinery.
We were probably the first non-factory race team in motocross to purchase a Roehrig. Honda had one while I worked there, and of course Showa has long had one. Coy is a funny guy. He tends to not want something, but when he finally decides to do it he goes full bore. He bought the $250,000 machine. There was a learning curve on how to use it, but as the years have rolled on we find that it’s more and more useful. We have a huge amount of data from the past that we can use to support our future data. It’s an amazing tool. What other team is able to spend quarter of a million dollars on a tool? We’re lucky.
Do you use the Roehrig suspension dyno for every set of suspension that you build?
I use it for probably 95 percent of the suspension that I build. After I develop a setting at the track with the riders I come back and confirm on the dyno. If I still have some lingering issues then I’ll tune the suspension on the dyno before taking it to the track and have the riders test it.
Last year the team was using Kayaba suspension components, but with the switch to Suzuki for 2017 you’re again with Showa. Has it been difficult getting suspension settings dialed in for the team riders?
This year has actually been the easiest of all. The bike is a pleasure to work with, because it takes to the changes and is easy to see the changes. Looking back at the team’s history, we started with KYB, went to Showa, and then built the JRI shock. After that we went to KYB, and now we’re back with Showa. Being an ex-Showa employee, I tend to favor Showa anyway. With the Suzuki being easily tunable and the suspension offering infinite possibilities, it has been a pleasure. Having only about two months on the bike heading into the 2017 season, we were, and continue to be, farther along than we ever were in the past. This year has actually been pretty easy.
You’ve worked with a lot of different racers. What percentage of those racers would you consider to be really good at testing suspension and providing accurate feedback?
I would say that only 5- to 10 percent of racers have been really good. In my experience, I find that a rider who was a phenom as a kid doesn’t generally offer as much feedback. I think that’s because they have gotten catered to and are taught how to complain about a bike. Their job in developing a bike is that engineers ask them what’s wrong with the bike as soon as they pull off the track. In those situations, the rider tends to not think about what’s really going on with the bike or how to fix the problem. On the other hand, a rider that didn’t get support and had to do his own adjustments at the track is more in tune with what’s going on with the bike. They learn how to diagnose the problem and come up with a solution. The less support a rider has had in the past tends to give them the upper hand when it comes to testing and giving feedback. We’ve had some really big names on the team, and also some lesser-known names. It seems like the lesser known riders are usually pretty good at providing feedback.
Are you surprised with how quickly suspension technology has changed in the past decade?
Yes, and no. It seems like the technology in suspension has been the same for quite some time now. There is still a damping system with some type of spring system. I read an article about 15 years ago where they asked the top suspension guys what they thought was going to be the future of suspension. A lot of guys mentioned coatings and improved valving systems. One guy brought up computers, and I laughed to myself. Then I thought that it could be possible. Now, 15 years later, suspension is still basically the same. However, the tolerances have gotten really good, as have the coatings. The ability to tune the damping system is really intricate. Now there are so many areas of tuning that it’s very easy to screw up.
What about all this talk surrounding air forks?
Suspension manufacturers tried to do the air thing for a while, but there was air suspension back in the 1970s. It’s not turning out to be something that people are liking. I don’t know if it’s more of getting a reputation, or it truly doesn’t perform as well as conventional spring-style forks. The systems that most everyone is on right now is pretty old technology, but it’s getting more fine tuned.
Everyone makes a big deal out of works suspension. Would works suspension make a significant difference to the average rider?
It comes down to tuning the suspension for the rider. As long as you have your works racer on works suspension, and that suspension has been developed and tuned for that racer, then it’s a really good package. If you put a Novice rider on any generic setting, then the works suspension may work worse than OEM/stock suspension. Production components are really good. The settings are chosen so that they work for pretty much everyone. I don’t think it’s necessary for anyone other than the top riders to have works suspension. That is, unless they have the time and support crew to develop the suspension specifically for the rider.
What’s the number-one piece of advice you can offer someone with regard to suspension?
It all goes back to the basics. Bleed the air out of your forks every time before you ride. Check your sag regularly so that it’s set up properly. The bike does perform best when it’s at the right angles. If you want to get into tuning, learn how suspension works. In almost every component a clicker is essentially a needle closing off a hole. If you figure that oil is flowing through a hole, and you close that hole off, the oil doesn’t flow as easily. That will slow the oil movement. Understand that going in on the clickers makes things go slower. Take notes where the clickers are at. Make small adjustments, and always take notes on where you’ve been. That way if you’re going the wrong direction you can have notes to show you how to get back to square one. It’s the simple stuff that makes a big difference. Also, don’t be afraid of your suspension. I find that a lot of riders are scared to touch their clickers.
Sometimes riders mention late in the season that they’re still working on getting suspension settings dialed. How is it possible that teams haven’t mastered their settings after so many races?
There are two ways to look at it. If you’re changing the bike too often, the rider is never comfortable. That’s because the bike doesn’t ever feel the same. That can be a negative. However, if the rider is having problems with how the bike is performing, the team should definitely be working to improve it. Each and every race offers new circumstances and challenges. Racing constantly tests your settings. I like to try and improve throughout the whole year. At the same time, if you find that the rider isn’t sure what he’s on anymore because he’s so confused, then it’s a good idea to let the rider stay on a certain setting for a while to find comfort. Sometimes if you’re changing settings all of the time and improving things, the rider might not know it’s an improvement, because the bike feels different over and over again.
Nearly ten years ago Coy Gibbs, son of Super Bowl winning coach Joe Gibbs, had a crazy idea--starting a motocross team. Or at least that's what the racing industry thought. Coy was privy to the idea that a professional motocross team could be successful outside the two-wheeled hot bed of SoCal. Through the seasons Gibbs has managed, and grown, his JGRMX empire. On the eve of his ten year anniversary of launching the motocross race team, we sat down with the owner and operator of JGRMX.
You’re coming up on ten years of owning and operating the JGRMX race team…
Ten years of wasted life [laughter].
Would you do it all over again if given the chance?
Absolutely. What’s funny is that I recently added up all of the money I spent over ten years. Obviously, there was a ton of help from sponsors, but that didn’t cover all of the bills. Even with the money we put into the company, I would gladly do it again. I love moto. It’s definitely a passion of mine. These days I’m working more on the four-wheel side, but I still love moto. It’s a cool sport.
As a race team owner are you happy with how things have gone for JGRMX?
It’s tough. I know that it’s hard to win a championship in any sport at the highest level. That’s how I measure success. Winning motos and races is cool, but winning a championship is the long-term goal. It took us a while on the car side. I’ve come to realize that it takes a long time to establish yourself. In the beginning of my motocross venture my dad told me that it would take ten years before I would get the framework to even compete for a championship. I told him that he was an idiot and that he didn’t know what he was talking about [laughter]. Here I am ten years in and I agree with him. It takes a long time, unless you have unlimited resources and are throwing money around like crazy. We don’t necessarily have that option.
When word spread that JGR was starting a professional motocross team based in North Carolina, the industry on the whole believed that fielding a race team outside of the hotbed of Southern California was a losing venture. You’ve proven the naysayers wrong.
I didn’t see any difference then, and I don’t see it now. Honestly, being centered in North Carolina is an advantage. A lot of riders are moving east if they haven’t done so already. I do think that we’re a little bit too far north. It would be nice to be located a few hours south for better weather. Someday we’ll cover one of our Supercross tracks and we won’t have to worry about weather. Logistically, I don’t think it’s any more difficult being in North Carolina compared to California. Everything can be shipped. It’s not like we’re moving cars around. I feel bad for the NASCAR Cup guys. They race two west coast rounds back-to-back, so they have to meet in the middle of the country and swap vehicles. It’s a nightmare. At least the moto side gets to run the same race bikes.
What has been your biggest challenge as a motocross race team owner?
The biggest factor in the last ten years that made things extremely difficult is that the economy plummeted right after we started the team. That was a really tough time. Three or four of the past ten years were very difficult financially, which hurt.
How were you able to weather the storm, so to speak?
It was a nightmare. We put a ton of money into the company to survive it, but like I said, I would do it all over again.
Coy Gibbs and Josh Grant celebrate the team's first win, which came at the prestigious Anaheim Supercross opener in 2009.
Was the team’s first win, which came at the Anaheim 1 Supercross opener in 2009 with Josh Grant, your most cherished moment as a team owner?
That sure was a good one. I was down on the floor with a couple laps to go, and all of a sudden there was smoke billowing off the back of Josh’s bike. I was freaking out [laughter]. That win was a good memory. Looking back, I would say that I really liked 90 percent of the riders we’ve worked with. Obviously, the business side comes into play sooner or later. Even so, their personalities have been really good. They have been fun to hang out with. I still enjoy watching Josh [Grant] race to this day. He finished on the podium at Hangtown, looked fast, and rode well. I’m happy for him.
Even though most of your focus is on the car side, are you still plugged into motocross?
Definitely. I don’t follow it on a day-to-day basis, though. I’m not going to lie, I like being on the moto side more than I do on the car side, but I don’t have a choice on that. Still, I talk to Jeremy [Albrecht, JGRMX team manager] and David [Evans, sponsorship acquisition and activation] all the time. I also text the riders. What’s funny is that I’ve learned not to call the riders, because they won’t pick up the phone. After calling four or five times in a week I’ll start texting them, and that seems to work a lot better. I’m excited about the direction we’re going with the team, so I stay plugged in as much as I can.
Are you happy with the team’s manufacturer support from Suzuki?
It has been awesome. Suzuki is great to work with. We switched over on our own. We were begging them to allow us to join their group. They were gracious enough to let us do it. What I see on the car side, with our relationship with Toyota, that’s what I see on the moto side with Suzuki. It’s the way it should be.
You had the vision of starting a retail business to complement the race team. What was your thought process behind that?
For me it has always been that racing comes first. That’s the most important area to me. However, I saw how quite a few companies have survived through lean times by building and selling motorcycle parts. We spend so much money and effort developing parts that I don’t think many people realize how much goes into it. There’s the development cycle, followed by testing, and sometimes more development before it ever goes out to the public. We have to get it right. I think it’s cool that we can bring parts to the public that were made for the team. I don’t know if I can ever justify the amount of money we spend by selling those parts, but it’s neat to be able to offer some of those parts.
Has your dad helped you with the motocross race team along the way?
For sure. It’s funny working with your dad. It’s a treat [laughter]. We have polar personalities. I’m more like my mom. Watching the way he handles people and builds teams is remarkable. With all the success he’s had in his life I stopped trying to chase him a long time ago. He’s a freak. From winning Super Bowls to winning championships in NASCAR, and all of the other great things he’s done, it’s pretty amazing. I’m fortunate that I get to sit next to him and watch how he handles himself. What really stands out to me is that so many high-powered people are complete embarrassments to their families. They do stupid stuff and screw up along the way. My dad has never embarrassed our family. That’s pretty unique for a guy in that situation. I’ve always been proud of him for that.
What has been your proudest accomplishment?
I’m different than most people, in that I definitely want to win championships, but that doesn’t change who I am or how I feel about anything. Winning is just the goal. The best part is the journey. I’ve been with the same guys for ten years. We’ve built a lot of good relationships in the industry and met a lot of cool riders. I still remember my first day in motocross. I didn’t know anybody. I felt like the school nerd walking around. It’s cool being a part of the sport. What’s truly crazy to me is how Supercross is going. Look at television viewership numbers. We may be the only sport in America that’s up in the ratings. I don’t think we’ve reached the ceiling yet in Supercross. I obviously love it. I want other people to experience and fall in love with it like I did. That’s the big picture to me, and I’m happy to be a part of it.
Jeremy Albrecht has been the JGRMX race team manager since the outfit's inception back in 2008. "J-Bone" is essentially the glue that binds the organization together. He's responsible for working with team sponsors, communicating with riders and staff, parts ordering, and so much more. Prior to his tenure at JGRMX, Albrecht was a championship-winning mechanic with Jeff Emig and James Stewart. We sat down with Jeremy to talk about everything from Supercross to fill-in riders, two-strokes, wrenching for James Stewart, and Ryan Dungey's retirement. Photo: Brown Dog Wilson
The AMA Nationals kick off this weekend at Hangtown. What’s the status on each of the JGRMX Suzuki team riders?
Matt Bisceglia will be riding for the first time on Thursday. He’s excited to get back started. Weston Peick has been riding for three weeks. He’s feeling pretty good. Last week I saw him ride at Glen Helen in California, and he’s doing better than expected. Weston obviously won’t be 100% as far as fitness when the gate drops this weekend at Hangtown, but he’s feeling up to the challenge. Kyle Cunningham is excited to have a deal for the Nationals. He’ll be riding in the 250 class. Kyle did well in Supercross as a fill-in, and since Bisceglia isn’t ready to be firing at the first round we’ll have Cunningham on board for the full series. Justin Barcia is back home training at Millsaps Training Facility, and apparently he’s been riding a bunch. I haven’t seen him ride lately, but when he was up here in North Carolina a while ago he looked really impressive. Justin usually picks it up during the outdoor series, so I’m excited to see what he can do starting this weekend.
Reports out of California are that Weston Peick has been logging the most laps at the practice tracks. That’s a good sign.
I was happy to see how well he was riding when I was out in California last week. The guy has only been on the bike for a short time after being sidelined for three months. It’s nice knowing that Weston wants to race, even if he’s not 100%. Matt Bisceglia wants to race, as well, but he’s been out even longer than Peick has. Matt is coming back from two injuries. For Weston, he’s dealing with blisters on his hands and things like that. Peick is actually a month ahead of schedule from what doctors first thought, so he’s happy about that. I’m excited that he’s going to be at the first round.
Supercross presented its challenges this year, but now that the racing is heading outdoors it seems like Justin Barcia is fired up to score top results.
Justin is capable of winning races and being on the podium, but like any sport, it’s very tough at this level. The mental game plays into it a lot. The Supercross season hasn’t gone the last few years how any of us would have thought. There was definitely bad luck with some things going wrong, but that’s part of racing. It’s how you bounce back from the adversity that makes you stronger. Justin has bounced back from worse deals than this, so I feel like he can succeed. I noticed that every Supercross round where it was rutty and technical, like Seattle and Daytona, he rode his best. Watching him ride outdoors during our test session was impressive, like I said. So, yes, we’re expecting Justin to be like he has been every other year, if not better. I’m excited to see the riders on Suzuki race bikes. Everyone knows how well the bikes handle. Outdoors, where you really notice a difference in motorcycle performance, we should have the advantage.
Certainly Phil Nicoletti was itching to get on a 450 and race the entire National series this summer.
Well, continuing what I was saying about the Suzuki, one of the big reasons Phil is bummed is because he was looking forward to racing the RM-Z450. He had his best outdoor season last year, and he was happy even with the stock Suzuki. He wanted to show everyone what he could do, but he will have to wait a few months. Hopefully we’ll see Phil toward the end of the year. Right now it’s Justin Barcia and Weston Peick in the 450 class, and Kyle Cunningham in the 250 class. Matt Bisceglia is shooting for High Point, so then we’ll have two 450 guys and two 250 guys. The strange thing is that I haven’t had four guys on the team for very long this season. Once Phil Nicoletti is ready to come back I’ll have to figure something out, but the way our season has been going I’m taking things week by week.
How has your relationship with Suzuki been?
It’s been remarkable. Suzuki has been incredibly helpful and supportive. The same can be said for Yoshimura. We put the team deal together late in the year, and a lot of people had to jump through hoops. They put in the extra work to make it happen, and I’m fortunate for their efforts. Even the guys on our team had to log the hard hours, because they were ready to go racing with what we had. Initially it was hard on everyone, but long term this is the right direction for us. We are happy with where things are headed. Obviously, we wish our results were better. Fortunately, Suzuki understands how the sport is. There are other teams that in some ways have had things worse off. That’s how it goes. We’ve done the best job we could with fill-in guys.
Supercross was not kind to the JGRMX riders.
I can outright state that I’ve never been so prepared at the beginning of a season, only for things to change so drastically. I had it set up so Bisceglia would ride the 450 if we needed him in Supercross, and the same went for Nicoletti. Then we went to the first race and already needed a fill-in rider. We worked through it, though. Jake Weimer was willing to jump in for four rounds, and that turned into racing the whole series. We gave Cade Autenrieth the opportunity to compete in his first few Supercross races, and in his second race he finished 13th. That’s pretty special. We took some chances and did things differently than some people thought we should, but through it all Suzuki was supportive. I cleared all decisions with Suzuki and had Monster Energy sign off, as well. It’s important to keep all of our sponsors in the loop and provide the best exposure possible with the bad hand of cards we were dealt. Through it all I thought everything on the team side looked great. The bikes performed exceptionally. We do expect bigger things coming down the road, and I believe results will be better outdoors.
Speaking of coming down the road, the JGRMX race team is building up a 2007 Suzuki RM125 two-stroke. As a race team manager, you’re always working with cutting edge technology. Having said that, what are your thoughts on two-strokes?
People love two-strokes. It’s fun to hear them sing. Our best views on YouTube came from back in the day when we put Josh Grant on a two-stroke. I like that two-strokes are so different. Everyone races on four-strokes. I’m excited to see a guy like Weston Peick ride something he doesn’t normally throw a leg over and wind out will be awesome. The great parts about two-strokes are that they sound cool and the rider feels fast when he’s hammering the throttle. It will be interesting with a RM125, because most people Weston Peick’s size don’t ride a 125 [laughter]. That will be wild to see. I know that RM125’s handle awesome, and I can’t wait to see Weston ride it. Hopefully I can put a leg over it, too. I like two-strokes and see the value in them. If they break then they’re easier and cheaper to fix. If you’re racing it’s hard to beat the old four-stroke. Four-strokes pushed the two-strokes out of racing, but everyone still loves two-strokes. I’m the type of person who believes you should have both. If you’re playing around then hop on a two-stroke. If you’re heading to a race, then get on a four-stroke. Not everyone has those options. I personally don’t, but if I did, I would have both.
You worked on one of the most memorable 125cc two-strokes ever, which was the last two-stroke to win a 125 National Championship in 2004 with James Stewart. What was that like?
It was fun back then, but quite a few riders were still on two-strokes. We didn’t know any different. During pre-season testing we had James try the four-stroke, but he didn’t want to race it. My thought to this day is that James felt faster on the two-stroke, and it was technology that he was comfortable with. He chose the SR125, which was the factory race version of the KX125. Then, right off the bat at the Hangtown opener, Stephane Roncada was all over James. Roncada was on the KX250F four-stroke, and it looked like Stephane was barely pushing it. James was all sorts of bummed out. At that time he felt like he chose the wrong bike, but we couldn’t let him switch during the series. We let him ride the KX250F at the Glen Helen National finale, which was after he wrapped up the title. He won by I don’t know how many seconds [Note: 36 seconds the first moto, and a minute and seven seconds in the final moto]. The KX250F was more trick than the SR125 he had been racing. It had a magnesium carburetor and all kinds of other crazy parts. We only used that bike for that day. There have been lots of cool bikes, in general.
The Suzuki RM-Z250 race bikes have some unique parts on them for 2017.
It’s great to see Suzuki get excited about the 250 class, and they’re making trick works parts for the RM-Z250. Any time you can get a company excited about the smaller bikes it’s awesome to see. The 450 class is where the manufacturers put the money towards, but Suzuki is putting resources in the 250 class and also getting amateurs involved. Suzuki is also making products that people want. We are making Suzuki products, as well. I feel like a lot of the bikes are competitive these days. It’s really about how the company treats you and the cool parts that you can get.
You’ve been in the industry for a long time and have seen some of the sport’s best riders come and go. What are your thoughts on Ryan Dungey’s retirement?
It’s hard, because I understand where Ryan is coming from. It takes so much time and effort now in order to be competitive. In the old days, riders could have a little bit of fun and still do well on the weekends. Right now, you have to dedicate your whole life to racing. That means training, eating well, and doing that practically all year around. Maybe these guys get a week off after the Nationals are over, but really, racing takes over your life. Doing it over and over at the level that Ryan Dungey was at, it probably did take a toll on him. At some point, when you feel like you’ve done enough or have enough money, you decide that you don’t want to risk it anymore. It’s hard admitting this, but motocross isn’t the safest sport. I’d like to say the opposite, because my boys ride and they absolutely love it. However, you can’t go out to the track, tell them to give it their all, expect them to win, and also tell them to be careful. This isn’t a sport for being careful. I do think the Ken Roczen crash got to a lot of people. I bet Roczen can’t wait to race again. Our sport is really tough like that. My kid broke his collarbone, which is one of the easiest bones to break, and he still wants to ride. I’ve been busted up quite a few times, and I still want to ride. But when you’re at the level the top guys are at, where you have to go for it every lap, it wears you down.
Ryan Dungey is still young. Do you think age enters into the decision to retire?
Dungey is obviously smooth and fast, and he’s not old. I remember when Ricky Carmichael retired. I felt like he retired too soon. Mike LaRocco and John Dowd rode their careers out pretty good [laughter]. Look at Chad Reed. He’s still going strong. I don’t think retirement shouldn’t necessarily be about your age, because riders seem to get better in some aspects of their riding as they get older. Ryan Dungey isn’t retired because of his age. He probably wants to stop while he’s ahead and on top of the sport. I heard rumors of his retirement coming, and I could kind of see it.
Photos by Brown Dog Wilson
How is the wrist feeling?
It’s not bad; actually, my wrist feels a lot better than I thought it would. This past week I rode twice, and I was a bit flustered with how it felt initially. Then I took the weekend off to sign autographs and hang out at the New York Supercross. When I came back I rode on Monday, and the pain I had the week before had gone away by about 40 percent. That was huge. I’m trying to take things slow, or at least as much as I can, and follow the process. It’s instinctual as a racer to want to over-do it, because you think that you can make bigger gains, but that’s not actually true. I just have to get my days in and rest when necessary.
Have you begun testing for the Nationals, or are you trying to get a feel for the bike?
I started outdoor testing. So far I’ve only focused on suspension settings. By riding I’ll naturally get a better feel for the bike, and that results in finding out where I want to go in terms of suspension setup. I’m doing motos and getting in as many laps as I can. That will help me get the bike sorted out.
Despite your wrist injury, you were going to quite a few Supercross rounds, including the aforementioned New York race. What were your thoughts on that race, which had several “Wow” moments?
It was a wild weekend. There was a lot of good racing. It showed who had strength, and who didn’t. I was pretty disappointed in [Eli] Tomac, because I wanted him to take the championship this year. He was riding well, and he won so many races. For him to fall over in a turn and take so long to get going was a bummer to throw it away like that. It was such a basic crash. Then again, that’s racing.
You generated quite the buzz on social media when you posted photos of yourself practicing martial arts. Was that done to scare the competition, or do martial arts serve a purpose in motocross?
I’ve had a long-time friend that does all my acupressure when I travel to Chicago. He has his own practice there, which includes martial arts. I took advantage of the opportunity to do some of that when I visited, and then when I came home to California I kept with it. Martial arts are something different, and I have to use muscles that I don’t normally engage.
When will you line up to the gate?
The goal right now is to show up at Hangtown and try to race. I’m not saying that it’s going to be pretty [laughter]. If I’m out there getting top-15s and earning points, that’s all that matters.
Will it be hard going into a race knowing that you’re not exactly going to set the world on fire?
Yes, it’s definitely tough. I’d like to have another few weeks before I start racing the Nationals, but I missed almost the entire Supercross season. It’s better to go racing than sit at home and do nothing. Obviously it’s important to the sponsors that I be on the track. At the same time I need to get back into that racing environment sooner rather than later.
The JGRMX outdoor test track is lonely at the moment with Phil Nicoletti on the mend, Justin Barcia training at home in Florida, and you out on the west coast. When will you be heading back to North Carolina?
I’ll be flying out to Charlotte after the Colorado National and testing for a week. Then I’ll bounce back and forth between California and North Carolina throughout the summer.
What would you say if you had the opportunity to ride a Suzuki RM125 when you were visiting JGRMX next month?
Oh, man! I’d love to ride a 125, just as long as it didn’t bog on me and I could clear the jumps [laughter].
Well here’s some breaking news. The JGRMX race team and retail side are working together to build you a Suzuki RM125.
That will be fun. I haven’t ridden a 125 two-stroke in probably ten years. It has been a long time. I’m actually in the process of building a Suzuki RM250 two-stroke, which should be complete in the next few weeks. I honestly had no idea that JGRMX was building me a 125. Hopefully I don’t break the thing in half! I’ll let you in on a little secret…I’m not that easy on equipment.
We’ll make it work. See you at Hangtown.
I’m looking forward to it.
After a wrist injury sidelined Autotrader/Toyota/Suzuki/JGRMX's Justin Barcia before the 2017 Supercross series began, "Bam Bam" fought hard to return to race-winning form. We caught up with Barcia while he was in North Carolina to test outdoor settings for the upcoming AMA Motocross National Championship.
Justin Barcia will trade in stiffer Supercross suspension settings for softer valving when outdoor preparation kicks off next week at JGRMX. Photo: Brown Dog Wilson
There's no rest for JGRMX heading into the Easter break. Justin Barcia will be traveling up to North Carolina from his home base in Florida to test with the Auto Trader/Suzuki/JGRMX team on Tuesday through Thursday. If needed, everyone will stick it out an extra day and twist the throttle on Friday, as well. The goal is to develop a solid engine and suspension base setup. Barcia will be spinning laps at JGRMX's own testing facility, which features a National-length motocross track, as well as a Supercross and turn track. It will be long days for "Bam Bam" and staff, but the tireless effort is meant to yield top results this summer. Weston Peick will travel to North Carolina in the coming month to do his share of outdoor testing.
This next week we're happy to also welcome the Traders Racing 250 team, featuring Luke Renzland and Nick Gaines. Traders Racing will be dialing in their outdoor settings by working with the JGRMX Store engine department of John "Bundy" Mitchell, Gino Aponte and Dennis Kiser. With the weather looking especially good next week, the JGRMX outdoor track will be buzzing with activity.
Our own Spencer Bloomer, who does everything from develop race team parts to spin wrenches and work heavy equipment, will be tuning up the track with dozers and a water truck. At JGRMX every member of the operation is well versed in handling a variety of tasks. That's part of what makes this team so special. Look for photos and video from next week's festivities. Thanks, and see you in the pits.
It's every motocross rider's dream to turn Pro and secure a factory ride right out of the gate. However, in the whirlwind world of racing, landing a factory deal is incredibly challenging. Hemet, California's Cade Autenrieth has defied the odds. The 17-year-old, who has never raced a Monster Energy AMA Supercross, received the call from Auto Trader.com/JGRMX/Suzuki team manager Jeremy Albrecht to contest the final three 250 West rounds. Autenrieth will fill in for the injured Phil Nicoletti on the team. We caught up with the friendly teenager to talk about the deal, and what it will be like racing a factory Suzuki RM-Z250.
To begin, how did the JGRMX Suzuki opportunity come together?
We had just showed up at a race in Turlock for a Mammoth Mountain qualifier, and Buddy [Antunez] called and said that I might have an opportunity to ride the last three 250 West rounds for JGRMX. I hoped for the best. JGRMX set me up with a test in California at the Suzuki Supercross track south of Corona last week. Then, on Tuesday, I received the call from Jeremy Albrecht [JGRMX team manager] that JGRMX decided to pick me for the spot. It didn’t seem real.
Jeremy Albrecht was impressed how you improved in every practice session. Was it difficult adapting to the RM-Z250?
I realized immediately that the Suzuki RM-Z250 was quite a bit different from what I was used to riding. As the day went on I found a lot more comfort with the bike. What I really noticed was how the Suzuki turns really well. I could lean the bike over and trust that it would stay right where I wanted it. I rode a practice bike, and the suspension was a bit soft for me, so I’m excited to get on the race bike and see what I can do.
Autenrieth will sport the #330 in his first professional Supercross race, at Seattle, next weekend.
Did you have any plans to race the final three 250 West Supercross rounds before JGRMX called?
No, I did not. I was planning on racing the 250 Nationals my first year pro. Obviously I’m excited about the opportunity. I’ve never ridden for a team before. Some people might think that I feel a lot of pressure to perform, but honestly it’s more a feeling of excitement.
It’s a bit serendipitous that the world is finding out that you are the newest edition to the JGRMX 250 factory Suzuki program today, which just so happens to be your 17th birthday, don’t you think?
It’s like the ultimate birthday dream [laughter]. I still can’t believe that this opportunity has actually happened. I plan on taking advantage of the chance to ride a factory bike.
Can you provide a brief overview of how you started out in the sport of motocross?
I’m from Hemet, California. I started riding when I was five years old, but never did any amateur races. Then, once I got on a 85, I began racing locally. After that I decided to race some Amateur Nationals. My first one was at Mammoth, and from there I went to all of the major events. About that time I started working with Buddy Antunez. That was five years ago. The whole time I dedicated myself to motocross in the hope that I would one day get a dream ride. Somehow that dream has suddenly become a reality.
Buddy Antunez was hugely successful, especially indoors. What’s it like working with a five-team Arenacross champion?
Buddy is awesome to work with. He’s always looking for areas where I need to improve on, and that’s why I like working with him so much. Buddy has explained different riding situations and how I should react, and he always has an answer for a problem.
There’s a big autograph signing the night before the Seattle Supercross at Ride Motorsports. You’ll be seated next to riders like Justin Barcia and Jake Weimer, signing autographs and shaking hands with fans. Have you thought about what it will be like in the spotlight?
It’s honestly a dream come true. It will be a first for me. I’ll have a great time and enjoy every moment. Maybe it will be a little nerve racking, but it will be good for me. I’m looking forward to see what I can do on a factory JGRMX Suzuki RM-Z250.
Thanks for your time, Cade.
I appreciate it.
Kyle Cunningham is a veteran in the sport, beginning his professional racing career with the now defunct Yamaha of Troy team. The Texas native has done well for himself, placing on the podium and finishing fourth overall in the 250 East Supercross series in 2014. Last year, Kyle rode for the Motorcycle Superstore Suzuki program. An opportunity at JGRMX for Cunningham came about a few rounds into the 2017 AMA 250 East Supercross series. The Daytona Supercross was Kyle's first race with the JGRMX team. He will be racing the remainder of the series. Read about Kyle's transition to the team, visiting JGRMX for the first time, and what his expectations are.
What stands out about the JGRMX Suzuki RM-Z250?
Coming off the Suzuki from last year, and even riding a RM-Z450 in the offseason, I knew the bike would be good. The Suzuki chassis has a really nimble feel. It’s a bike that’s easy to turn. I’m familiar with how the RM-Z250 reacts in situations, and the bike does a great job with handling. The JGRMX/Yoshimura bike is one of the coolest bikes I have ridden in my career.
Explain how the opportunity with JGRMX came together?
It was pretty much a last-minute deal. I had been riding for another team at the first couple 250 East Supercross rounds, but things didn’t work out. I decided to go a different direction and had planned on showing up at Daytona on a 450. If necessary, I was ready to chase the rest of the series out of the back of a truck. Then I got a phone call from Jeremy Albrecht [JGRMX team manager] the day before Toronto. He asked if I wanted to drive out to North Carolina, do some testing on the RM-Z250, and race the bike for the remainder of the 250 East Supercross series. My mechanic, Austin, and I loaded up the truck on Saturday, and drove all Sunday from Texas to North Carolina so that I could ride on Monday.
Having spent the past two weeks at the JGRMX headquarters, what’s your impression of the place?
The facility here is awesome. Showing up to the team’s Supercross test track the first time was an eye opener. It’s really cool what they have going on. The Supercross track is super nice and probably one of the best practice tracks I’ve ever ridden. Being able to use the track, as well as the full-blown gym, as tools for my training is a huge benefit. Last week the weather was really warm, so Jake [Weimer] and I rode a lot of laps. At that point it was more about getting familiar with the bike. I didn’t change a whole lot with the bike. Then the weather got crazy after Daytona, with Charlotte getting snow on Sunday. It has been cold all week, but I managed to get two days of riding in.
What are your expectations for the remainder of the 250 East series?
Last weekend at Daytona I finished seventh, which was good. I had some good laps, but then some bad laps in the main event. There was a string of three laps where I tightened up and didn’t ride to my potential. Regardless, I feel really good on the bike. The more I get back into the racing environment the better my results will be. I was somewhat pleased in finishing seventh at Daytona, but I want more. I want to get up front and mix it up with the top guys. I know what we’re capable of, and that’s where I’d like to be. My goal is to take advantage of the situation, work hard, and show up every round like it’s my last weekend of filling in at JGRMX. I’m going to ride the wheels off the bike and do my very best to put it up on the podium. In terms of points, the first three rounds didn’t go as planned, so I’m out of contention for a good standing at the end of the series. However, I still have five races.
Where do you go from here?
I’m heading to California from Indianapolis so that I can do some testing and riding. It will be a change from being here in North Carolina, but I think it will be good to get time with the guys at Yoshimura and Suzuki. I’m just super pumped on the opportunity. I didn’t expect it at all. I’m very fortunate things worked out this way. Being able to throw a leg over the JGRMX Suzuki RM-Z250 is an exciting feeling every time. I’m still having fun and continue to love racing. Fortunately, something worked out to where I can get to the races on the weekend and be on the JGRMX bike.
Weston Peick was gaining momentum in the beginning stages of the 2017 Monster Energy Supercross series, but disaster struck in Arizona when the likable SoCal native crashed in practice. The impact resulted in a dislocated and broken wrist. Only the weekend before Peick finished fifth at Anaheim 2 and was sixth in the standings. We caught up with Weston to discuss everything from his injury to the switch to Suzuki, timed main events, and more.
What are your sponsorship and team obligations while you’re recovering from a wrist injury?
Even though I am injured, I planned on coming to six or seven rounds of Supercross. I want to be there to support the team and sign autographs. I think it’s important to show my face and make people happy. It’s either that or sit at home and not do much. I like coming to the races and supporting the team.
You flew in early for the Atlanta Supercross last weekend. Why?
We had a meeting with Suzuki in Rome, Georgia, which is a plant of theirs for the ATV/quad side of their operation. I had a red eye flight on Wednesday to get in on Thursday morning. We took a tour of the plant, signed autographs, and served the staff lunch. The rest of the day I hung out. On Friday, we went to Autotrader, which is a big sponsor of the team. We got a tour and signed autographs. From there we went to the Georgia Dome to sign autographs in the middle of the Arenacross floor.
What’s the status of your wrist injury?
The wrist is healing up nicely. It has been a long four weeks. Without a doubt it has been a struggle going from racing and feeling really good to sitting around in a cast. I’m looking to continue with my recovery so I don’t mess it up. The doctors have told me that I can get the cast off in a little less than four weeks, so I’ll be able to begin physical therapy. At that point I’ll have a better idea of when I can come back.
Take us through the crash and how it happened.
I rode press day at Glendale, so I had the track dialed and was feeling really confident. I was coming off three good weeks of racing. My speed was good and I felt confident. On Saturday, the track had changed quite a bit. They flooded the track before practice, so it was really muddy. I came up to this one jump that I was doing perfectly on press day. I jumped the gun. Since I nailed the jump on press day I thought I would be able to do it easily in practice. When I came off the face of the jump I got wheel spin because of the wet conditions. It shot me super nose low. I knew I was going to endo into the face of the landing, so I jumped off the bike. I landed on my left side, and then whiplashed my right arm into the ground. The impact blew apart my wrist. I suffered a dislocated lunate bone and broke my ulna. There was a pretty big surgery to fix that, and here we are [laughter].
Did your past experience racing a Suzuki RM-Z450 help jumpstart your 2017 season, given that JGRMX switched to Suzuki during the offseason?
Yes, and no. It was nice getting on a bike that I really enjoyed riding in the past. I rode a Suzuki when I had my own team and also when I was with RCH. I was comfortable right off the bat when I hopped on the JGRMX Suzuki. The bike works so well for me. I was really stoked when the JGR/Suzuki deal ended up working out. I had no idea that it was even possible, to be honest. I’ve enjoyed the switch, and I think it’s a really good brand choice.
What are your thoughts on the switch to timed Supercross races?
If the track was around a minute per lap, or even longer than that, then it would be fine. When they have a short course that’s in the 50-second range the track deteriorates so much that conditions get really bad. That puts the riders in a position of making more mistakes and crashing. That leads to more injuries. We all have to race the same number of laps, so it’s pointless to complain about the new format. However, I feel like if you’re going to make that rule, then also make the tracks long enough to be around a minute long.