Anaheim 3, back again one last time and blessed with another 80 degree day at Angel Stadium. After practice, it was time for my favorite part of the day: to talk with some competitors.
I made my way to the Monster Pro Circuit Kawasaki pits, specifically to Lites rider #51 Ryan Villopoto. A professional motocross newcomer from Poulsbo, Washington, I graciously asked him for an interview. His reply was “Sure!”.
Angela: Ryan, you are 5th in points in the chase for the West Coast championship in the Lites class right now, how are you feeling about your status in the class?
Ryan: I’m feeling pretty good right now after gaining some points at the mud race in San Francisco, finishing ahead of Andrew Short and Grant Langston. Billy Laninovich finished right behind me, so I still need to gain points on him and Ramsey.
A: You had your first heat win race at Anaheim 2 and then again in San Francisco. How are you feeling about gaining momentum?
R: It’s good. At the start of the season I had to go to the LCQ to make it into the main event. I changed that around and won two heat races so far, now I just need to get a win in the Main.
A: You have tremendous speed out on the track. Where did you learn how to race with this intensity, and when did you get your start in racing?
R: I do a lot of riding out at the Kawasaki track and I ride with a couple of friends of mine that have supercross tracks. The more you ride the faster you’ll get. My grandfather used to race and owned a couple of motorcycle shops, and my dad raced, then I got into it and I’ve been riding my whole life.
A: At age 17, you are riding along side a diverse group of riders. What do you learn racing next to the big guys?
R: You know, I came to Anaheim 1 to learn and see how it was, and it wasn’t as big as everyone said it would be, even with me being nervous. I’ve got Grant Langston as my team mate and he’s been doing this awhile, so I watch him and learn. If I ever have a question about something on the track or need advise he works with me to let me know what’s up and he tells me what he thinks, so that’s pretty cool.
A: What’s the best thing about riding Supercross for you?
R: Getting on the podium is good! Coming through the pack is a learning experience. If you get the hole shot and stay up there it’s always the best. As for today, I am really excited to be here, and it feels really good coming out to race. The team is really good, our bikes are super good and everything is just working out.
Sounds like Ryan’s got some great racing ahead of him as this new comer steps it up with his incredible speed and agility.
After the San Francisco mud race, I wanted to speak with 3rd place finisher #27 Nick Wey. I found Nick spending time with his fans, autographing shirts and posters. I sat down with him to find out what he was feeling after his amazing performance at SF.
Angela: Congratulations on your hole shot and podium finish in San Francisco!
Nick: Yeah, you know I got a killer start and just tried to put in a some good laps, tried to gap everyone, and tried not to fall down. The start was super muddy, so we put a lot of emphasis on it and set-up the bike for the start. I just tried to stay in a place I needed without crashing.
A: How does it feel being in the lead during the Main with the big dogs on your tail? Almost everyone crashed once or twice – how about you?
N: I tried the best I could to lead a lap but they got me right before the finish. For a couple laps I tried to keep them as close as I could, but shoot, they were gone! So I just tried to ride smart. And yes, I kept it up on two wheels, so it was good!
I finished in third place. I was stoked for myself because I’ve been working so hard. And I was stoked for the team, MDK Motorsports, MSR, Honda, and Unbound Energy because they have been behind me 100% this year and have put together a great program, so it was good for me to get a good result for them.
A: The last two races you’ve had to go to a semi race to get into the main, how stressful is that?
N: Yeah, it was stressful at the mud race for sure because I crashed in the first turn in the heat and had to go to a semi. I had another problem on the first lap in the semi and was only able to get a fourth but shoot, I was sweating it a little bit for sure!
A: Who is your support crew that helps you build this successful team?
N: Brian, Eric, Danny and Mark are pretty much helping me out all during the week. I’ve been working and training with Randy Lawrence, and that’s working out great. Randy M. built a track for MDK Motorsports down in Menifee where I practice, so that is great also. I just want to do well for my sponsors. They put together a great program for me this year and my bike is working really well and I am excited about my chances of getting on the podium for the rest of the season.
A: What do you say to kids who are coming up in the sport looking for words of advice from you?
N: Shoot, I say practice makes perfect. Everyone is riding at such a high level, from amateurs to the pros. It’s a tough sport because there’s a lot of guys involved and the sport is becoming really popular and that’s good for everyone in the industry. But it takes a lot of work to make it to the pro ranks in this day and age.
A: Any shout-outs to your peeps?
N: Yeah, to the Dewitt crew back home in Michigan, checking the internet!
One factory rider we’ve missed so far this ’06 season due to a preseason crash, is #14 Kevin Windham. He was signing autographs (without a cast!), and I wanted to catch up with him and find out where he stands with the recovery on his injured arm.
If you remember back at the Anaheim 1 press conference, Kevin spoke briefly about his crash. “After hernia surgery, everything was looking up for me. I had motivation and was riding well, but a small crash during practice, coming out of a whoop section, I lost my front end, over a little double, I lost the bike and came down on my arm, breaking both bones, I had a compound fracture giving me 2 plates and 11 screws in a blink of an eye.”
Angela: I don’t see your arm in a sling any more. How are you healing up? Last time we spoke you were going to talk with your doctor the next day too.
Kevin: The doctor’s visit went awesome! My ulna, which is a small bone in my arm, is completely healed. I actually had three fracture lines and I had to have a bone graph as well, so it’s not quite ready, but the good news it that I can go back to full training. I just have to stay off the bike for three more weeks then I’ll start riding.
Hopefully after three weeks of being on the bike I’ll be able to come back to competition, which will be somewhere around Orlando, which will leave me with six Supercross races to ride this season. It’s good to have a target date you know? With an injury like this, when you first get hurt there’s a lot of questions as to how everything is going to come back together, but finally things are starting to pull through. I kind of made the turn on the injury and look forward to getting back out there for some of the supercross races this year.
A: How is your arm feeling?
K: Well, with such a bad break there was a lot of pain. The great thing about having surgery is that as soon as they put the plates in a lot of the pain goes away. So as soon as I had surgery things have been really good, as long as I do what the doctors say and I don’t push it to hard. There is some pain and there’s some muscle damage, but other than that the pain has been relatively low, so I have been very lucky with that.
A: How are you feeling being in the background as this fight for the championship goes on?
K: It’s been an exciting year so far. I wish Chad Reed could be up there a little bit tighter with James and Ricky going at each other. I think it will continue on and I hope it does for the remainder of the season, and that gives the fans something to be excited about.
My goal right now is to focus on the outdoors but I would love to come back and get a couple of good races under my belt and run with those guys later during the season. That would definitely be a good goal for me right now, but those guys are racing incredibly well, and I have a long road ahead of me to get on that level from where I stand today. It can be done, it’s just a matter of how long it will take.
A: Well, it’s great to see you here, getting back in the swing of things and getting healthy to race!
K: Yeah absolutely, it’s been a tough break but it’s been one where I’ve learned some things and I’ve looked at different avenues of the racing world. Racing is my life – interacting with the fans, doing interviews, web-casting and things like that, so it’s been nice to be behind the scenes … but I am a racer so it’s time to get back on the track. It’s just great to have a date to look forward to right now so I can work hard to achieve being ready for Orlando.
A: I know you can’t wait to get back to racing, but how long after you get back on the practice track can we expect to see you racing supercross?
K: On the 28th of February I’ll be 28 years old, so I have another year after that in my contract and after that who knows. I think 30 is pretty young to be thinking about retirement but I am not a spring chicken anymore either. There are some kids coming in here at 16/17 years old, guys like Ryan Villopoto & Jake Weimer coming up in the ranks. You keep seeing these new young guys coming in, so I guess the amount of guys older than me are getting fewer and fewer. Just as long as Mike LaRocco stays around then I still kind of have hope. I always pick on him about his age, but I still feel like I can do it, and as long as I have that feeling I am going to be around.
With age comes great experience and you see that with riders like Mike LaRocco who are still battling out there. Right now, the biggest part of the sport is the fact that it’s 16 races pretty much in a row for supercross, with only two off-weekends in a 16 week period. It’s tougher as you start to get a little older. It’s hard to get over let’s say a sprained ankle and be ready 6 days later. That’s the toughest part of what we do – the week in and week out without much of a break. You might see people up in their 40’s if you had a series where we took a few weeks off between rounds, but the schedule is really brutal. When things go bad, it’s like a domino’s effect in this sport. It’s tough to ride injured and it’s tough to make a recovery and be ready for the gate to drop the following weekend.
I am definitely ready to get back to racing. It’s been good to be around here but I am ready to go back to racing soon and I’m looking forward to the return.
I can see the fire in Kevin’s eyes as he talks about returning. Kevin’s a true racer, with so much resilience and determination to return. As he said, the Orlando supercross is his target goal if all goes well, and the outdoor nationals is his priority for the ’06 season.
With the East Coast Lites Series starting up very soon, I caught up with Yamaha of Troy’s hopes in that series, #30 Matt Walker. If you remember back to the Glen Helen national race in September, Matt suffered a devastating crash. It was great to see him out and about.
Angela: Lets just go back to the national at Glen Helen – what happened?
Matt: That race was tough. There was an altercation earlier in the race with Alessi, and I just remember him being behind me most of the race, and Tedesco being right in front of me. I thought there was going to be Deja vu with him trying to take my team mate out again. So I just tried really hard and pushed it a little too far. I was wheelying over these rolling whoops in the back section and my front end dropped in one hole and I went over the bars. There was a step up jump and I went face first in the step up. I broke my back and my jaw and got really messed up, that’s basically what happened.
I knocked out a lot of teeth and broke my jaw in two spots. The jaw is just healed enough that this week I get my teeth put in. But as far as riding goes it’s been six months and the riding is phenomenal right now, I am riding real good.
I got my lower jaw plated but the biggest problem is in my upper jaw with TMJ. The joint there is the only thing giving me a problem and it hinders my ability to open and close my mouth.
A: What about your mental state coming into the East Coast Lites series?
M: I am really strong right now, working with a lot of people to get me where I need to be. I am ready for the upcoming season, I think it’s going to be good! I’m going to show a lot of people a new Matt Walker at the St. Louis race. I’ll be ready! I’ve been riding for a while now, getting ready for the season. My form is good, judging from my speed vs. Chad Reed’s speed at the test track. We’re close at the test track, and now at the races he’s four seconds faster than the Lites guys, so it’s a big confidence boost for me. We’re on target right now.
A: Your thoughts on the upcoming East Coast series?
M: I think Davi Millsaps is going to be really good this year. His only weakness is his weight, he’s a big guy. He’s really good in the whoops, but not as good at starts. So if I can match his pace in the whoops, which I should be able to, and get a good start, which I have been on the test track, I should have him covered, but he’s the one you’ve got to look out for the most, for sure!
A: How about your training schedule?
M: My full time trainer is Robbie Ventura. He was a pro cyclist for years working with Lance Armstrong on the US Postal Service Team. Now he’s retired and helps me along with another cyclist Floyd Landis. Floyd is also a great coach. He’s America’s top bicycle racer right now. It’s an honor to be able to work with him. He helps me with getting checked out, making sure my blood levels are good, my target training is good, he designs my workout for me, the whole works.
Our plan coming into this year was to be under the radar. We didn’t want anyone to see me ride, and I don’t want anyone to know how fast I am. I’d like to go to the first race and destroy them and that’s still kind of the game plan. I don’t ride in front of anybody. I want to come in, show up on Saturday and stomp it.
A: You are with Yamaha of Troy now. How has this change been for you?
M: Yamaha of Troy is awesome and they treat me well. I get a lot of attention from the factory too. It’s laid back and that’s why I like being on this team because of the atmosphere and the people.
I’m glad to see Matt is ready to unleash the New Matt Walker in the East! Matt will be joining a big crew of riders at a special fundraising event the day after the Atlanta GA supercross race: the dmxs Ride 4 A/T, February 26th. Matt is passionate about helping others and it’s great to see the industry come together for this special cause.
Until next time …