Interview: X Games Gold Medalist Mike Mason
Mike Mason has done a lot in his career and life, which hopefully you’ll understand more as you read the interview. His latest accomplishment – winning X Games Gold in Moto X Speed and Style at X Games Los Angeles 2012.
What was it like growing up in Carson City, NV?
Growing up in Carson City was awesome. I was fortunate enough to be able to ride right out of my parent’s house and into the hills.Ã‚Â I had guys like Dustin Miller, Brian Foster, and Matt Buyten as my neighbors, so it was pretty much get out of school and go ride until dark!
Coming up through school dirt bikes were all that mattered to me, if I wasn’t riding, I was in the garage with my dad working on bikes or building tracks for my toy motorcycles in the back yard. A lot of the other kids in school were going to house parties and being idiots, while I was hanging with my best friends doing something productive and also having the time of my life!
How were you drawn to dirt bikes? And tell us about your first dirt bike experience.
My dad always raced. My first memories were being at Silverstate raceway, our local motocross track, and racing my BMX bike around the pits looking for something to jump. I remember idolizing our local pros like they were gods. When I got my first bike for my fourth birthday I couldn’t believe it! I remember my dad taking me to a sandpit to try it out, I was so nervous. I remember thinking a JR50 was just the fastest thing ever and it scared me. After a couple months though I was digging jumps in the yard and trying to jump as far as I could. After a couple blown out rear wheels I think pops knew he had his hands full for the next 10+ years!
Tell us about your dirt bike career before you committed to Freestyle Motocross.
Before FMX I was pretty much your average privateer. I traveled the country, raced some Supercross and outdoor nationals. I struggled through them for sure, but the experiences I gained I would never trade for anything!
In 2001 I tried my hand at the National Arenacross series and that’s pretty much what paved the way for my career. They had a half-time jump show which paid $500 a night, so my theory was, I had decent enough tricks to maybe make a grand a weekend. And if I could make all four mains of the races that would be a bonus. In two years of that series I won the majority of the jump offs and was top 13 in the overall standings, outdoing my expectations! The Arenacross series was also ran by Clear Channel at the time who ran the FMX comp series IFMA’s, so winning those jump off’s helped get my foot in the door to what would ultimately become my career.
When did you decide that FMX would become your career?
Towards the end of 2001 and most of 2002 I became injury plagued. My shoulders and knees were garbage so I decided to take some time off, get my body fixed up and get back to 100 percent. When I came back in 2003 I raced a couple supercross races and a couple outdoor races, but I felt different. I lost the drive to go out there and try my hardest for no money.
The fun was gone; it was now about doing what was going to be best for my life. I honestly told myself I was done with dirt bikes.Ã‚Â I was going to quit, find a job and start something stable for my future. Somehow though the timing worked out perfect. Dustin Miller had just bought 7 acres and built a FMX compound. I had no bikes, so he even offered to lend me one of his spares just to come out and ride with everyone and have some fun.
At this point my mind was still set on not riding dirt bikes for a living, but I was having a damn good time. Miller lined me up with a couple of shows on Marc Burnett’s FreestyleMX.com tour so I figured I’d go have some fun for the summer and see what happened.
Sure enough the tricks started coming around and before I knew it the shows were starting to line up. I figured 500 bucks a weekend to go ride my dirt bike was way cooler then working all week. From there it was just a snowball effect – I learned backflips, started traveling a lot more, and stacked up a good savings account and that’s when I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life!
When was the first time you heard about X Games?
I’ve been a fan of the X Games since day 1. I can still remember watching the old school BMX dirt contests back in the day and just being so pumped on it. When I heard FMX was going to be in it in San Fran, me, Dustin Miller, and a few buddies actually road tripped from Reno to San Francisco to watch. I remember just thinking how crazy it was that all these dudes actually got moto into a mainstream gig like X games. I was pumped.
A few years later Miller was invited to X and he was cool enough to let me tag along with him. I’ll never forget that feeling of watching my best friend ride a contest that I thought was so far out of reach for normal guys like us. To me X Games was on a pedestal, there’s no way a kid from Gardnerville, Nevada should be out there riding, and even medaling. He made me proud that weekend and I felt my life was complete, never in a million years did I think I’d be invited to participate in X games.
The first time I rolled into the Home Depot center to start my X Games run in 2006, that’s a feeling I’ll take with me to the grave.
How did you find out about being accepted to your first X Games?
I heard there was a chance I was going to be in X games 12, It made me so nervous just knowing that I was even considered for the event. This is the event I’ve watched on TV for 10 years, this is the event where millions of viewers watch, and this is the event that you either become a elite guy in the FMX world or just another dude.
When I got the email confirming I was in, my heart sank into my gut. It was a month before the contest and I knew I had a lot of work to do. I did not want to go there and be some guy who put half effort into it and walked out not taking full advantage of the opportunity.
I rode my *** off for the next three weeks trying to learn anything I could, but nothing was coming to me. I think I put so much pressure on myself I actually started riding worse. By the time I was at Home Depot, I lost all hope in being a contender. Luckily it was the debut of the 115 foot ramp, so I at least had a big jump to have some fun on. I figured at that point in time the Holy Grab was my most crazy trick, so I spent all practice dialing it in off the 115.
At least if I wasn’t going to ride that great I’d try and earn some street cred for being gnarly on the big jump. Well that was one of those contests where I believe it was just meant to be. So many of the top guys took themselves out that year. I ended up qualifying second!
I couldn’t believe it, and now the pressure was really on. If I could somehow repeat my qualifying runs in the finals I’d have a good shot at a medal. I remember wanting to puke that morning, that was hands down the most heavy situation I had ever been in. Somehow I managed to block it all out during the comp and I rolled out of my first X Games with a Bronze medal! That one will always be the most special to me.
You’ve made six previous X Games appearances before this year, explain what those years were like?
Each year of X has been so up and down for me. 2006 and 2007 I felt I was still competitive in FMX so I really aimed for medals and set my goals high.
In 2008 Speed and Style came out and I thought that was a event that I could do well in, but it just didn’t click for me, I crashed myself out of the event.
2009 was probably the best I was ever riding. I felt my tricks were on point with my other competitors and my runs were solid, but the judges felt different and it was my worst result. It really drained the competitive momentum out of me, I was over it.
In 2010 I just basically went there to collect a paycheck. It’s sad to say, but I had no drive that year and it showed. I wasted a spot that some other rider could have had and made more out of.
When 2011 came around I knew I didn’t want to be that guy in FMX anymore, but I wanted another shot at Speed and Style. The invites came out and I was nowhere on the list, it bummed me out big time. I felt I could be competitive in that discipline and I was willing to work hard to go after another medal. Thankfully my little Twitter fan club piped in and made a rally for me and it worked. I got one of the last invites!
I spent two months riding my butt off to prepare for that event. I didn’t want it to be another let down, I actually wanted to earn a medal. I felt so good that night, all of my heats went perfect, and I even won the race of the Gold medal round. Nate (Adams) beat me overall, but it didn’t bother me at all. I was totally okay with the Silver medal.
This year though I wanted redemption, I wasn’t going to settle for being okay with Silver, I wanted at least one Gold before my career comes to an end. I worked twice as hard, and cleaned up where I felt I was weak in 2011. I felt prepared this year and I think my confidence showed on the track. I led every race and luckily my trick score was just good enough to edge out Nate for the Gold Medal, another moment I will never forget in my lifetime – the best feeling in the world.
Coming in this year it was clear you had a Hunger for X Games Gold, and you did it in Speed and Style. How bad did you want that Gold medal this year?
Like I said above, I wanted this Gold Medal, bad! I switched bikes because I felt last year the two strokes was a bit of a disadvantage.Ã‚Â I wanted to be on a level playing field with the rest of the guys. I rode countless laps and went through all my tricks daily just to get that extra bit of comfort. I even started jogging a bit just to get a little more stamina. Four laps inside Staples Center aren’t the most grueling on your body, but I wanted any extra inch I could get.
Who knew in 2012 Mike would win the Gold Medal!
Getting that Gold was a dream come true.Ã‚Â Hard work does really pay off, I’m learning that with Speed and Style. I know I’m not one of these young kids who can do all the crazy tricks in FMX no more, but I do feel guys like myself, Ronnie Faisst, etc… Have found our spot in this sport.Ã‚Â Honestly a medal in Speed and Style is more gratifying than a medal in FMX to me.Ã‚Â I like the feeling of having to be solid on a track for four laps while throwing out three big tricks, it makes me feel like I got some skill! In a FMX run I feel like I have an hour in between each jump to think of my next trick, it doesn’t challenge me to come up with a sixty second run, I could do it all day.Ã‚Â Four flawless laps on a pretty technical track takes some brain power out of me and I like it.
Explain your X Games training regime?
I like to take at least a month before X Games and clear my schedule. I don’t want any distractions, I just want to ride, workout, and clear my head. I’ll mainly focus on the track when it comes to practicing. I’m pretty confident with my tricks, and I know there are spots on the track I can be faster and more aggressive, so I start attacking those areas.
I’ll usually use the first week to get a solid bike set up. My mechanic Cliff Campbell and I will run through some different motor and suspension specs until we find a happy medium on the track and ramps. Once my bike is dialed it’s all about laps. I’ll start getting to where I’m consistently clicking off a solid four laps and keep pushing and pushing until four laps doesn’t bother me.
By the last week before X I like to be doing 6-8 lap moto’s riding at 100 percent. I’m out in the heat and usually on more technical tracks, so it gives me comfort knowing I can click off 8 laps on a hard track, so that once I get to Staples, four laps should be piece of cake. I also take the month before X Games to do a little cleanse and detox. I cut all soda and garbage food and try to get my body healthy again. It has a little to do with X, but also a lot to do with just giving my poor little organs a break from the FMX life.
You beat one of the most successful Moto X competitors in X Games history, Nate Adams. How important was it for you to beat Nate?
Beating Nate was exactly how I had it drawn up in my head coming into the event. Nate is such a awesome competitor, he makes you strive to work hard and be the best. If you come into a event at 85 percent you know Nate already has the advantage.
Last year I learned a lot. I went for a conservative route against him in the final thinking it might be enough and it wasn’t. I wanted another shot at him, but this time I wanted to give him my 100 percent. I knew the worst I was going to do was a Silver medal again so I wasn’t going down without a fight. I kept telling myself on the starting gate that all 4 laps were going to be my hardest laps. Each lap I landed a trick and was that much closer to the checkered flag – I pushed harder and harder.
Even if he was to beat me again at least this time I knew I left everything on the track. When we crossed the finish line I was sick to my stomach, I knew I just did everything I could to get that Gold and now the 10 seconds of waiting was killing me. When I saw I had won – I couldn’t believe it, it seemed not real. I just wanted to grab Nate and squeeze him. Competing against this guy has made me a stronger person – he brought out a side in me I never thought I had, and the fact that I beat him and he was still super pumped for me just showed he will go down as one of the best dudes in moto.
When you landed that huge Holy Grab and the crowd went wild, did you know you had earned the Gold Medal?
Honestly, I was doubting myself until I saw I won. In my mind on the track while we were racing I assumed Nate stuck all three of his tricks, three tricks that were better than mine, so I knew I needed three or more seconds on him on the track to have a shot. When we crossed the line he seemed close to me so I was thinking he was going to beat me, but it was going to be close.
I sat there and prepared myself for heartbreak, and when the scores came up I was in shock, I didn’t know what to do, so I just dropped my bike, ran around like a idiot, and held my hands up like I was the Karate Kid. No clue why I did that.
How are you celebrating?
Well of course the first thing I did was crack a beer and have a shot, but it’s back to work for me. I’m leaving to Mexico for a Nuclear Cowboyz show and then I’ll have a mini vacation back east with my parents for a couple weeks.
I want to get back to the grind quick though. I’m loving this new 450 and I want to get comfortable on it and try and learn some new tricks. I’m already thinking about next year, with Nate being 100 percent healthy, and me needing some harder tricks to battle with him again.
It might sound silly but this Speed and Style thing is pretty motivating for me. It’s cool to have people talk about you again and say you’re a favorite for the event. I’ve only got a short amount of years left in this sport, I want to do the most I can with what I’ve got.Ã‚Â Speed and Style has given me that new life, something to work towards.
What is next for Mike Mason?
Umm … I’m not sure? A girlfriend? Maybe a new dog? Surgery on my head to grow more hair? Only time will tell …