Interview with Pro-Circuit’s Mitch Payton
Mitch Payton is a name that is synonymous with supercross and motocross racing in the USA. And, really, the entire world.
Mitch was a successful off road desert racer, until injury curtailed his racing career. But Mitch focused that same desire and energy into supercross and motocross racing by starting his own company Pro-Circuit. Pro-Circuit is a true American success story. From humble beginnings, Mitch has created one of the most successful brands and racing teams in all of motocross and supercross.
The list of riders and championships almost reads like a “who’s who” of racing. From riders including: Jeremy McGrath, Ricky Carmichael, Ryan Villopoto, Ben Townley, Jake Weimer, Christophe Pourcel and many more.
What do all those riders have in common? They won supercross and motocross championships while on Mitch Payton’s Pro-Circuit teams. Not only that, but many, if not all racing teams use some of the tremendous parts and accessories that Mitch and Pro-Circuit have produced over the years.
Mitch was kind enough to recently grant us some time to talk with him about Pro Circuit, the sport, and more.
There has been some rumors floating around about Christophe Pourcel and a potential 450 program that you might be working on. Is there any truth to that?
Mitch Payton: No, I don’t think it’s going to happen. Obviously, to do a program in the 450 class, it takes a quite a bit of money to get it off the ground. You need a title sponsor, and you need a manufacturer that’s willing to help you as well.
And the way things are right now, everybody’s really tight economically. If you look at all the manufacturers, it appears like they’re just sort of ‘batting down the hatches’ and waiting for the economy to turn around until they can get their sales numbers back up to what they used to be.
My 5 year old son made sure tell me to tell you that you need to get Pourcel back. That’s his favorite guy.
Mitch: Oh God, I know we all want to get him back! And, hopefully, something will work out and he’ll wind up back here in the USA. I really want to see him have a ride. He deserves it. I think he’s proven that. He’s got two supercross titles, a world MX championship, and two years in a row has been inches away from a national mx championship. In my eyes, that’s pretty good success.
What do you think has made your team so successful? We can look back 20 years ago – you signed a group of young riders, some of them going on to such great success – such as Jeremy McGrath and winning two 125cc West Coast Supercross Championships. The list goes on and on and on of all the champions that you have helped nuture and produce. What has been the key to that success?
Mitch: I think that has a little bit to do with just the business side of it. You know, with Pro Circuit, we’ve been fortunate from the 2-stroke era, and to the 4-stroke era, in that we’ve always tried to produce parts that the factory guys want to use and race with.
That development and evolution kind of trickles down into everything we sell. With what we have the top guys racing with, we’ve always learned, and been able to put that out on the market for people to buy. Through that, I guess we gained relationships with kids that are talented at a young age, and then, hopefully, if they enjoy dealing with us, they want to stay with us.
Mitch Payton, Las Vegas Supercross in 2007. His team riders that year would go on to win the East Supercross Regional series (Ben Townley), the West Supercross Regional series (Ryan Villopoto) and the 250 AMA MX Championship series (Ryan Villopoto).
The list of racers you have helped development is long and very distinguished. It’s pretty impressive some of the names that are on that list and how well they’ve done. Turning the focus to next year, you lose two supercross champions in Jake Weimer and Christophe Pourcel both moving up to 450 Supercross, but you have signed Broc Tickle for 2011. Broc was one of the only riders in 250 MX that was competitive that was not on your team or the Geico Honda team. How excited are you to have him on board for 2011?
Mitch: I’m really excited, actually. We spoke to Broc even a year ago, and there was interest from him, and we had him on one of our short lists of guys we were looking at. It just so happened that this upcoming season it looked more possible, and with the timing of us losing a couple of guys, and him being available, we think this is something that is going to work out.
You have also signed Blake Baggett, and he looked really sharp until he got hurt this year. How is his progress with the injury, and getting used to the new bike?
Mitch: He’s been riding for probably a month or month and a half now, and Blake’s a kid that we’ve, once again, had a relationship with since when he was on 60’s and 85’s. We’ve known him and his family for a long time. He worked his way through the Team Green program, and we kind of had our eye on him. Last year we were not able to take him. We took one other Team Green rider, which was Dean Wilson, and then at the end of this season, Blake was available – he is a kid that we knew the history of, and trusted that he could be a good rider for us.
Speaking of Dean Wilson, he had a fantastic season this year. What kind of expectations did you have for his first year, and what are your expectations of him for 2011?
Mitch: You never really know the first year. You get an opportunity to hear about them and then our guys have seen them at the amateur races, and you watch his results in that series a little bit.
But, the step up to the pros sometimes … sometimes guys can come in and do really well, … and then sometimes it takes them a little time to kind of get it rolling and, and whether they are going to be able to pick that up and carry on from their amateur side to the pro side.
I think Dean over-delivered from a lot of people’s aspects. There was probably a lot more hype around a couple of other kids that were young, coming in the class, and they were getting all the PR and the buzz at the beginning of the year. And I think Dean went on to surpass all their results. He’s a good rider, and a good kid. He enjoys what he’s doing, which makes it easy. He’s a great supercross rider and he’s really good outdoors. I think he proved that outdoors he’s a front-runner for the series championship in 2011.
Can you explain how the relationship with riders like Tommy Searle and Max Anstie works for 2011? They will do West Coast Supercross, but there is also collaboration with Team CLS Kawasaki for the MX2 World MX series …
Mitch: Yes. Well, actually those guys, they kind of don’t ride for us. They ride for the CLS team over in Europe. And that program was started actually about a year ago when we went over to Italy for the Motocross des Nations. We sat down and talked with CLS. They had a Kawasaki team, but they weren’t having the results they wanted. And they weren’t having the structure, I guess, that it took to do it 100% right.
CLS had mentioned that they would like to work with us, and we thought that would be a good opportunity to tie up with the team in Europe, especially when the age limit was going to be 18 and over here in the USA. It was looking as though that might be the future of where some Americans were going to go for a couple of years.
You know, it could be that when a kid is 15 years old, instead of getting to ride supercross and MX outdoors the next year, that was a good opportunity for some of those kids that didn’t want to just hang around and ride amateur for two more years to go to Europe and race. So we thought if we could get a partnership with a team over there, we could emulate what we’ve done here and help get the program off the ground with them.
That would be a good stop off place for some of our kids, and I trust them. They kind of stepped up to the plate and been very open to doing it the way that we do it – as far as not shooting from the hip on so many different things. They’re really taking the information we have, and using it in their racing over there. They turned their program around and had a lot of really good results. They won a GP, were fastest in time practice, and won a couple heats. So, for them, it was a large step forward from where they were at. And I think hopefully this year with Tommy and Max over there, they can get better results, too.
And Josh Hansen will be back on board with you & Pro Circuit for 2011 West Coast Supercross?
Mitch: Yeah. Josh should be back with us to ride Supercross. And he’s over in Australia right now riding the Supercross series there, and he’s leading that series at the moment.
You have a tremendous track record with making just great modifications to the entire bike. What is the hardest thing you had to learn about making those modifications, and how did you go about learning it?
Mitch: Well, meaning from the very beginning?
By ’91, had our race team. But we already had pipes and motors on, I would say, at least a minimum of a couple of the factory teams every year. One year we had pipes on every factory team.
So, in the beginning, I would say that was probably ’83, ’84, ’85 when we were trying to develop pipes. The after-market area, … the factories always looked down on it, like it was not even as good as stock. And maybe even back then, it wasn’t.
But we wanted to try to learn how to do it correctly. it wasn’t something that everybody, … you weren’t the embraced guy when you tried to get somebody to run something. They were almost like they would do anything to not run it, but if they were forced to run it, yeah, they’ll run it.
It was a lot of work, but we were fortunate enough, like ’85, we helped out Jeff Hicks on a privateer Honda, Fred Andrews, and we had Danny Storbeck as a privateer on a Yamaha – those guys were hole-shoting real works bikes at the time back then.
And, towards the end of that year, Rick Johnson was going to have to ride one more race. And he called and wanted to have us do an engine and help him out. He thought it was just as good if not better than his factory bike. And the next year he would go on to race for Team Honda. He said “Hey, I want to run your stuff next year.”
So, 1986 was the first year of the production rule. And we were fortunate enough to work with Rick Johnson and, try to get some pipes on the Honda guys. And Rick won the Supercross title that year and that got us a lot of credibility with the factory teams. Then the next year we had factory Kawasaki running stuff and then we were helping Suzuki with their 125’s.
Then in ’89, we did all the engines for Honda’s 125 team and we helped with their 500 bikes. We were getting in the door, and it blossomed even more from there with our own teams too.
Do you make yourself available in the same manner to everyone on your team, or do you deal with them differently, based on their personalities?
Mitch: I think everybody’s a little bit different, so I try to be different, I think you learn, … you attempt to try to learn how each guy ticks a little bit. Probably the most important thing is to be there for them.
If they have a bad day, something going on that’s not positive, I’ll try to sit down and talk to them, and help them get through that spot and kind of get them back on track.
And be there to push them also. You know, it’s not a sport for the lazy to succeed, so you have to push them. I always like them to do more than they think they can do, and then by doing that, they’re kind of surprised at what they can really get out of it.
I really do appreciate you taking a few minutes to talk to me. Thanks very much.
Mitch: Brian, your welcome. Thank you too.