Interview: Kehoe, Erik
American Honda Motor Corp.
Professional MX Team Manager
|Mr. Erik Kehoe|
Angela: Erik, let’s start with your history ….
Erik: Motocross has been a major part of my life. My first race was in 1973. In 1976 I started racing world and national mini championships, and then started racing professionally in 1981. I raced professionally from 1981 to 1994.
During the 1994 Mt. Morris race I had a very hard crash, and I broke my back. I had surgery and 5 or 6 of my vertebra were fused together. I still have a rod in my back. I realized that I couldn’t train or ride like I used to, and that was the end of my racing career.
My first year as a professional, I raced with team Yamaha. I was on the team with Bob Hannah and Broc Glover. Yamaha had a lot of high profile factory guys at the time. Rick Johnson and I both raced on the team together, and had many races along side each other. After my ride with Yamaha, I then went on to get a Honda support ride.
In 1985 I got a factory Suzuki ride and I rode with them until 1989. I rode on a support ride with Honda after that. In 1993 I got hooked up with Honda of Troy and rode for Phil Alderton until 1994. And then that’s when I got hurt.
At the end of the season after I was injured, Phil from Honda of Troy decided to form his own team. Phil offered me a position to start managing his motocross team in 1995. That’s when I started working on the business side of the sport.
Did your racing career help prepare you for the job you have today?
Absolutely. In addition to my clothing and helmet contract, and support from Pro-Circuit, I had several outside sponsors that I had to go out and pursue and get the contracts. I was making my own flight arrangements and I had a box van. I basically had my own one-man race team.
Our motocross team today has four riders and four technicians. Of course at Honda we really have a much bigger staff. We have a lot more involved than riders and technicians. We have support staff that specialize in suspension, frame geometry, …. everything.
|Team Honda’s ’02 championship|
We have so many great people involved with the American Honda Team. Mike Battista handles all our suspension needs and works directly with Mike Gosselaar who has been a factory Honda mechanic for many years and knows the bikes very well. Both Mike Gosselaar and Mike Battista work together on the suspension set-up and chassis design to make sure the bikes handle correctly for each individual rider.
Ron Wood is involved with all of our testing and Jonathan Hyland works directly with Ron. Lars Lindstrom works with our guys preparing for testing. Alongside him we have Steve Reed who handles all of our data acquisition. We’ve got a lot of interesting stuff happening with gathering data on the bikes, and testing, and it’s a tremendous effort on his part. He coordinates all of that and keeps all the data straight and helps communications with Japan.
Tom Gildea and Mark Hough are our two transport drivers. They get everything we need to the race, and do a great job with making our mobile shop available when we get into town, and handle the tent setup and accommodations.
Cliff White, the Chief Engineer/Technical Director at Honda, handles all the technical development of the bikes with the race team. He has been with Honda for many years and he knows those bikes inside and out better than anyone. I tell you, he has really helped those bikes develop to where they’re at today and has been able to give the guys the right equipment to be able to win on.
Jeff Stanton is a consultant with the team and comes out to the races, works with riders, and is part of the support staff. He has many championships under his belt and is a huge asset to the team.
|Erik with Jeff Stanton|
Chuck Miller has been instrumental in turning around Honda’s racing efforts. He is the manager of all motorcycle racing at Honda. He’s in charge of road racing, motocross, off-road, and he’s my boss. Chuck is definitely a major part of Honda’s turning things around and putting together a championship team.
Brad Chapman handles all of our part needs. He organizes, streamlines, and makes sure our guys get the parts they need to the truck to rebuild the bikes for the next race.
Dan Betley and Andrew Hopson have done a great job with the development of the 125. Both have worked very hard with the satellite team Factory Connection. The 125 Honda is competitive this year and it’s working really well.
Sebastien Tortelli’s mechanic is Shane Drew. Shane has been with Honda for a long time now and does a great job.
Ernesto Fonseca’s mechanic, Kenny Germain has worked together with Ernesto for a few years and they are a good team.
Ricky Carmichael’s mechanic is Chad Watts. Chad does a great job of supplying Ricky with the bike he needs to win. Ricky has been proving that the equipment is good, and has been out there winning, and now a supercross championship.
And Nathan Ramsey’s mechanic, John Mitchell, we call him ‘a.k.a. Bundy’, has been doing a great job winning championships in the 125 ranks, and is now doing a good job in the 250 class.
Greg Wright is the Public Relations Representative for the team. He handles all the media and press.
The office administrator, Andrea Mollica handles all the behind-the-scene responsibilities. She does an incredible job keeping everything organized. Making sure everyone gets paid along with making the appropriate accommodations for travel. It wouldn’t be able to happen without her.
About 25 people altogether for a 4-man team. It’s definitely an effort and every one of them is a huge and important piece of the puzzle.
Tell us about 2002 so far?
It’s going really well, and it’s been a learning experience for me, coming from Yamaha of Troy. It’s quite a bit different here. There are more people involved with the American Honda Team and it’s a lot more of a corporate environment.
The Honda organization is very serious about winning and they have the resources to make things happen. What ever is necessary to win they will make it happen. That’s a big difference there. We are racing the 250 premier class where as the Yamaha of Troy was a 125 effort. And stepping up to managing 4 top level 250 guys, it’s a major difference.
Starting out the season it was pretty rough. Ricky took that hard tumble in Anaheim. Everyone was concerned and no one wanted him to start out the season like that. But since then we have had podium finishes. At Pontiac Nathan took his 1st 250 win on the new 450, we are very excited about that. Ricky Carmichael has turned this season around completely and has had numerous wins and now the 250 Supercross Championship. We’ve been having a great time. I think it just shows the effort the team has been putting out. Everyone’s been working really hard and all the pieces of the puzzle have been coming together.
Usually on Mondays we have meetings at the office. We go over the weekend, strategy, planning and more. Tuesday and Wednesday are usually open for testing and practice for the riders. During supercross season we fly out to the race on Thursday. Friday is practice. Saturday is the race. Fly home Sunday. And depending on my schedule I try to get out to the test track and attend the tests. Sometimes there is too much paperwork and phone calls that keep me in the office during the week.
My typical week would be when I fly home, catch the first flight out and head home and believe it or not load up the CR250, go to the local track and hammer out some motos and get some training in. There is no better cure for jet lag than going out and doing some long motos. It also keeps me in shape and it’s fun to go out and get a good work out.
I try to spend a lot of time with my family. My wife Shannon and I are the parents to a 13-year-old daughter named Bliss, and we have a 3-year-old son, Alek. There is definitely a balancing act with a full time work schedule and the family but I love being at home with my family.
What type of obstacles do you face as the team manager?
Sometimes there’s a balance in trying to keep everyone happy. Having so many people involved and trying to keep American Honda’s best interest in mind all the time. Getting the individuals to see the overall big picture. A big corporation like Honda has certain goals in mind and individuals need to be reminded of these things so everyone can see the big picture. Keeping everyone working towards the common goal of winning championships.
Let’s talk about race day. What goes on then?
All the technicians are working on the bikes and it’s a constant evaluation of how the bikes are performing at each race. The technical manager Cliff White is constantly helping the technicians and making changes to adjust to individual track conditions. Dunlop does a great job of supplying us with tires for different terrain and conditions. Mike Battista, Mike Gosselaar and the technicians decide what necessary changes need to be made to the bikes.
With the riders, they go out and ride practice, come back in and view the videotape made from our transport driver. Tom Gildea does all the filming of the practice sessions so the riders can evaluate themselves on the track and what they could do differently to improve. Jeff Stanton is on hand to help with the riders also. We’ve got autograph signings. We organized a line to get as many spectators through as we can to get the riders out there for an hour and sign as many autographs, talk to some people, mingle with the fans and get up close and personal.
With our crew it makes things a lot easier when you have a team of guys who are professionals. It makes my job a lot easier when everyone has a job to do and they do it.
John Mitchell is the biggest character on the team. He can put a smile on everyone’s face with his funny personality and his jokes. And Ernesto always makes sure that we are all up speed on the latest rap music that he plays in the truck. The guys there at the track are serious about winning and serious about doing their job but at the same time they all have fun with it.
|Erik at Day In The Dirt 2001|
Can you give us a manager’s perspective and insight on your guys?
RC definitely has a program that is working for him. He takes everything very serious, and it’s all about winning championships. He has a schedule and a regiment that he follows all the time. His mom Jeannie, is a big part of his training routine and his dad “Big Rick” he takes care of all of Ricky’s bike maintenance at home, and is a big part of his winning. He always gives 100% as you can see on the track. Whether it’s his practicing, or his training or racing out at the track he is always giving it everything he has. When you have racers like that you don’t mind giving the 100% effort behind the scenes also.
Ernesto has a lot of natural talent. He has an easygoing personality. Definitely has the ability to win championships in the 250 class. He just needs a little more experience on the 250. He’s shown he can race right up front with them. Definitely we look for him to produce some championships in the future. Ernesto and I have worked together for 3 years at Yamaha of Troy. Ernesto is originally from Costa Rica, but he does love being here in California. His family comes to support him all the time, and he has a great Costa Rican cheering squad.
Nathan has helped Honda with their 4-stroke program. And now especially after winning his first supercross on the 450. He’s done a terrific job with that, and helping Honda develop it. He’s probably one of the most fit competitors out there. He’s has a family, a little girl and his wife Monica. He’s real down to earth. Always talking about his family. He is real serious when it comes to winning.
Sebastien is past world champion, is a very tough competitor and is very serious. Unfortunately he has had some injuries. He had major shoulder reconstruction during the off season which put him behind everybody. Now he has came back very strong. He has worked on different aspects of his program and I know he has improved his starts quite a bit. It took him a while to get his shoulder strong and get back into it but now he is healthy and 100%.
What do you value most about being at Honda?
This is one of the most powerful motocross teams in the world. I am proud to be a part of this organization and I am proud to be given the opportunity to work with these riders. I get a lot of joy out of that.
Our team is made up of 4 guys who all give 100%, and all of our staff gives 100%. And everybody works really well together. I think that’s what makes a winning program.