Roger De Coster is originally from Belgium, but ‘The Man’ and his name are global.
And throughout all he has done in the sport all over the world, Roger has probably had his greatest impact on the sport of Supercross and Motocross right here in America.
Why? Over his multi year professional racing career, he is probably the most prominent individual in popularizing the sport in the U.S.A. In those years, winning so many races, and five World Motocross Championships in the premiere 500 Grand Prix class, Roger always took the time to come back to ‘bring motocross’ to America.
After retiring from racing professional, he turned to helping others. Moving to America, he had titles such as: Adviser, Race Director, Race Promoter (Roger promoted the USGP MX at Glen Helen!) Team Manager, Manager of the US Motocross of Nations team, and more.
He helped Team Honda starting in 1981 for over a decade, nurturing Supercross and Motocross champions along the way: Donnie Hansen, David Bailey, Johnny O’Mara, Rick Johnson, Jeff Stanton, Jean Michel Bayle, Jeremy McGrath, and others.
Then in 1995, he become team manager of Suzuki’s Supercros and Motocross efforts. More championships, many with Ricky Carmichael, one with Chad Reed (AMA 450 MX) and the current Supercross Champion Ryan Dungey.
In 2011, Roger embarks on a new chapter in his passion and profession – Race Director of KTM’s North American Supercross and Motocross effort.
Roger was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me, the week before his team’s inaugural performance of 2011 this Saturday at the Anaheim Supercross.
Amanda: Roger, before we get to the 2011 season and happenings, we always like to tell people that are new to the sport at least a little bit about your history. You are a five time World 500cc Motocross Champion. Does that ever get ‘old’ hearing that fact – “Five time World Motocross Champion”?
Roger: I guess over the years I have gotten used to it. I know our sport is still very small compared to the main stream sports in the USA, so we still need to do much more to inform and educate people about supercross and motocross.
You also helped popularize the sport in America. What do you remember most about the very first time you came to America?
The things I remember most, that first time coming to the USA. When we first landed it was the stretch limos at JFK airport, and Cops twirling their batons while chewing gum in downtown New York. Quite different that was we were used to in Europe at the time.
You are one of, if not the only rider, in the history of this sport, to win both motos of your final race – the 1980 Luxembourg Grand Prix. What do you remember about that day racing on that circuit in Ettelbruck. What were your feelings?
I felt real weird in some way; I had decided that it should be my last race and at the same time, I felt certain I would win that day. There was nothing that could stop me and everything went very easy: qualified first, won both motos with big margins.
Then on the podium it started sinking in, this was the last time I would be standing there as a GP winner. Was I doing the right thing by retiring? After all, I won so easy that day?
OK, fast forward to today. You are in a new position. You are Race Director / Team Manager for KTM’s Supercross and Motocross Team. What is the first thought that comes into your head when I mention that?
It is going to feel strange walking into Anaheim Stadium Saturday dressed in Orange and facing the rider I helped win the Supercross title last year, and now racing against him.
Compared to the teams you have worked with in the past, what is different in working with and for KTM?
The biggest difference is that our team is not a Japanese supported team. Our support and headquarters come from Austria. We are the only non-Japanese team now in U.S. Supercross.
Let’s talk about your riders, what do you like personally, and professionally, about Andrew Short?
It has now been a good two months that we have worked together. Andrew is very dedicated. Besides doing his home work on the race track, he likes to spend time in our race shop and being around the bikes and mechanics more than most current racers. He also knows how to work on his bike quite well. He has an easy personality and gets along with our young racers like Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin.
What do you like personally, and professionally, about Mike Alessi?
Mike Alessi is a hard worker, and that is his best attribute for me.
KTM has tremendous talent coming to the team from overseas. You have MX 2 World Motocross Champion Marvin Musquin from France, what do you like personally and professionally about Marvin?
Unfortunately I have not have so much time with Marvin, because he got hurt while racing the Paris Supercross. But the most noticeable for me is the timing and control he has on the bike. He can make very quick decisions on the race track, such as when to jump, or not to jump.
And you have Ken Roczen, a very ‘mature’ 16 year old coming from Germany. What are you thoughts personally and professionally regarding Kenny?
I do know Ken a little more; we had him come over and ride at RC’s Supercross track a few years ago, and also helped him a little with engine stuff last year.
Ken learns very quickly and unlike most racers doesn’t mind the PR side. He is pretty impressive with the fans and the press, considering that English is not his first language. On the track he is a real racer and doesn’t give up until he gets the checkered flag. Ken has exceptional corner speed.
You and KTM obviously have some goals for 2011, but also in the future. Can you tell us a little about your goals, not only for this year, but for future years?
For the future the goal is to win Supercross championships, but we have to be realistic. This is the first year of Supercross for our 350, but I hope for some podium finishes and in the 250 Lites class, I believe Ken will be competitive and win some races.
Roger, thank you as always for taking time out of your busy schedule. I appreciate it, and I know the fans do too. Thank you.
Thanks Amanda. We’ll see you soon.