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Honda thought it would be a good idea to cross-promote water craft with motocross. Sounds good to us! What better way to do that than with host of Personal Water Craft TV Kevin Cullen, and Honda’s Ernesto Fonseca?

The first part of the day they went out to ‘moto’ on the lake, with Kevin teaching Ernesto how to ride the AquaTrax. The second part of the day Ernesto taught Kevin how to ride off-road motorcycles.

Eric Crippa always makes sure the machines are prepped, and Greg Wright makes sure the media can convey the story.

Ernesto, you went out on the new AquaTrax, what was it like?

Ernesto: It was fun. A lot of fun. I hadn’t ridden much on the water before, but it was a blast. I went out with a professional rider (Kevin). He taught me, and then I went out a did a few laps. Those things are fast!

You wouldn’t think you’d be afraid to go fast because if you fall it’s water, and you think you wouldn’t get hurt. But it was scary to go fast. If you are going fast and you try to corner to fast, it doesn’t work well. I actually crashed once. But it was fun! I rode for about 40 minutes.

What did the pro teach you that you didn’t know before?

Ernesto: If you try to turn too fast, you’ll just spin. It’s a bit like a motorcycle. If you turn too sharp the front end doesn’t move forward. You need to take your time, be smooth, and do it right. You can’t get carried away, or you’ll end up going slower. He taught me to let off the throttle earlier than I planned, and if I was patient, my lap times would improve. And they did.

This season in supercross, you’ve surprised a lot of people with your performances, and you’ve had to deal with some injuries, sometimes pulling off the track. Tell us about it …

Ernesto: Yeah, … I got hurt in San Diego. I tried to ride my qualifier, but it hurt and I got arm pump. I sat out the second Anaheim, and that hurt in the points. I was disappointed because I had done well in the first race of the year. Then I put extra pressure on myself.

As a rookie in the 250 class I needed to learn from my mistakes, and try not to let them happen again.

Is the 250 class harder than you thought?

Ernesto: I thought it would be hard, and it is. After you get a good result, you want to keep going, and keep improving. I’m happy, but I want to keep improving and get a little more consistent.

You’ve been on the podium. What is it going to take for you to win?

Ernesto: Definitely getting a good start and surviving the first corner. Everyone is running a very fast pace. Ricky seems to be the only one that can rise above the pack. I like to start making moves after the first five or six laps and people settle down. I need to be strong in the corners, and maybe a little more aggressive. It will take all that for me to win.

When you go to the starting gate, what is your mental state? What is your strategy?

Ernesto: In the past I didn’t think too much. And I was trying to make my moves too early. Now in thinking about it, like I said, I need to keep the pace for the first five or six laps, and then be aggressive once the race gets a bit settled down.

How about training? What do you do? How much time do you spend on the bike?

Ernesto: Right now, in the middle of the season, I try to ride three days a week before flying out to the race. Two of the days are very hard and serious training. The third day will be a little more fun on the bike. On the hard days, I’ll ride two 20 laps motos as hard as I can. And I’ll practice starts.

On the physical training, I do a little bit of cycling. I don’t do much with weights, because in the past if I did I seem to have trouble – I’d get pumped up too much. The biggest thing for me though is to spend as much time as possible on the bike so I’ll know how the bike is going to react.

Kevin, tell us about yourself.

Kevin Cullen: We produce the only personal water craft show in the world. It’s called Personal Water Craft TV, or PWCTV. It’s on in 129 countries in four languages. In the USA, we air from April thru September on the Outdoor Channel. (For more info and TV times check out http://www.pwctv.com) We are based about an hour north of Ontario, Canada. We live there because the air is clean, and we can get our boats in the water in five minutes. Ontario is the largest lake district in the world. We have over a million lakes.

What’s going on here today?

Kevin: Honda just introduced their personal water crafts, which have the name AquaTrax. They have two incredible models. We got a chance to work with their Motorcycle Press Division, which now also handles the water craft press.

We’ve heard for years that Honda was going to come out with a personal water craft. One of the models in a non-turbo, and it’s called the F12. This boat has 125 horsepower. It does it all, skiing, wake boarding, and handles three passengers. Great low-end power, very stable, and the hull designers did a great job because this boat is a pleasure to ride.

The other model is called the F12x, and it’s has the most horsepower of any water craft in the world. 160 turbo-charged horses!

First we went out on Lake Mead. We wanted to show responsible use and low emission four stroke technology in a National Park. The next day we went to San Diego. San Diego is a true destination for water craft. It was the first time taking them out into the ocean. It was great – we went past Aircraft Carriers and huge Navy ships in the bay. We had dolphins out in the surf jumping with us. It was spectacular.

And here today, we wanted to do something really special. We wanted one of the best supercross athletes in the world, and take him out and show him how to really ride a water craft, especially turning. Most people who ride water craft do ‘free riding’. They turn and jump where they want. But set up a few buoy markers, it becomes like a motocross track – different lines, entrance and exit speeds.

Believe it or not, it’s easy to get lost out there when it’s just buoys. We had four, and even though Ernesto is a seasoned racer, he got lost a few times. But his times improved almost every lap. He started at 38 seconds, and got down to 31 seconds, one second behind my time.

Cornering a water craft is the opposite of cornering in motocross. You need to keep the outside weighted, and keep the boat level. You can’t lean into the corners, or the boat will just spin out. If you get the pump out of the water, the engine is just going to suck air, and if you suck air, you’ll lose traction. When you see guys spinning around out on the water, that’s what has happened – the pump is sucking air and they’ve lost traction.

Ernesto is so talented, and a really nice guy. He did a good job too. If he ever decided to be a water craft racer, some guys would be in trouble!

I’ve never ridden a motorcycle in my life. But with the huge popularity of supercross, obviously there is a cross over in the two sports. One sponsor in water craft is Slippery When Wet, and that’s Bob Maynard who also runs THOR. I spent some time with Bob, and he’s a classic.

So, Ernesto and I came to the motocross track here at Lake Elsinore, and I was very, very nervous. I didn’t want to fall, get hurt, or take a trip to the hospital. Maybe it’s just me, but there is a distinction after a motocross race vs. a water craft race – I notice a lot more guys limping in motocross.

Last night I didn’t sleep at all. Today my palms are all sweaty. But once I got the gear on and we got on the track, I felt OK. I just couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. It was great!

I wanted to get on Ernesto’s 450 at the end of the day, but probably better that I didn’t.

Ernesto is a class guy. At the end of the day he took off his jersey, autographed it, and then gave it to me. Some of the water craft guys could take a few lessons on how to be gentlemen. At the end of the day, I’m glad we got to share what we do with Ernesto, and Ernesto got to share what he does with us.

Eric, what’s your story?

Eric Crippa: I work at the Motorcycle Press Department for American Honda. I do a lot of work with the CR models, introductions, bike prep, and making sure the magazine bikes are working properly and everyone is happy with their performance.

I also test with HRA (Honda Research America), test with future products and models, and test with HJAC (Honda Research and Development of Japan) in Japan.

I’ve been with Honda since 1979. Gunnar Lindstrom hired me to Husqvarna in 1973. We won a championship with Kent Howerton in 1976. Gunner went to Honda, and then he hired me again (laughs). In 1980 we won a championship with Chuck Sun in the 500 class. That was Honda’s first championship in the USA for motocross, and that started Honda’s winning streak. I believe Honda won championships for the next 16 years. I worked with the race team until 1989. From 85-89 I did testing with Roger DeCoster on the race bikes, and then I got involved in testing of production models.

The job has changed a bit over the years with more involvement of magazines – I’ve concentrated more on the press side of things. Every day can be different, and I just try to be as prepared as I can. We try to be organized before we tackle an assignment.

Here at Lake Elsinore, it was one of those special assignments. Today we had a TV show, our new AquaTrax, the CR 450f, Ernesto, an XR, and the show host. What the TV program wants to convey is that our new four-stroke AquaTrax are environmentally sensitive in water. Honda is one of the first ones to do it properly, and make it competitive.

First and foremost Honda has always been a ‘motor’ company. Our name is American Honda Motor Co. If it has a motor, we’ll build it! It took us a while to get into the water craft market, and the four-stroke motocross market, but when we did it, we did it strong.

I’ve ridden a long time. I used to race motocross, but I also did TT, Scrambles, Enduros, Desert, Half-mile, and Flat-track.

I was getting ready to race the Trans-AMA series back in the day, and the bike I was going to ride was probably the lightest open class bike ever – it was all titanium, aluminum, and plastic. It weighed about 190 lbs. The day before the series started, titanium was banned. I lost my sponsor and ride.

So I quit racing, and started working on bikes. That’s when Gunnar hired me. That was so long ago … parts of Hwy. 10 were just two-lane road. We didn’t even have box vans. We have regular vans with water tanks added so we could clean the bikes.

In 1978 Chuck Sun finished outside the top ten at the Daytona supercross. We were both disappointed. Sunday night I was sleeping as we were driving to Houston. About 10pm Chuck wakes me up and says ‘Hey, I hear a noise!’. And then the rod broke in the motor.

We got towed into the nearest city, and had a new motor put in by 5pm. Once we got into Houston, I looked in the phone book for a welder. I was going to make that bike steer! I didn’t know the welder I eventually found, and he didn’t know anything about us or motocross.

We cut the frame of the bike in half. Remember we only had one bike back then. I held the frame how I wanted, and he welded it back together. We just eyeballed it how we thought it should work. No measuring – just what looked good. We shortened the frame about one inch, and brought the rake in just a bit. The motor didn’t fit. I had to relocate the motor in the frame. It raised the crank, which raised the counter shaft sprocket, and that has an effect on the swing arm and suspension.

We finally got it all back together. We tried it out in the parking lot. Chuck said ‘It’s great – let’s race it!’ That weekend Chuck had the highest placing of any European manufacturer up to that point in supercross!

Looking back on that compared to what goes on today, it seems insane.

Greg, tell us about you.

Greg Wright: My official job is Motor sports Media Coordinator. Honda hired me in July ’98. I help with the media in all aspects of motorcycle racing. The biggest facet of that is supercross because of the number of fans and exposure, but it also includes road racing, motocross, and off-road racing. I work with the media at the races in assisting with interviews for print, tv, radio, and internet.

My boss at the time had an idea of what he wanted to accomplish, but before I was hired there wasn’t that job. That’s one of the great things about Honda – they do things 100%. They just said ‘Do it – run it – make it happen.’

I was 24 at the time. I traveled to 40 events that year. I didn’t know what to expect – we just did it. I learned a lot, especially a new respect for motorcycle athletes – all of them.

We’ve modified things over the past few years as we’ve learned.

What’s a ‘normal’ week like for you?

Greg: It’s chaos! (laughs) Today is a good example. We are now working with water craft media, which is new for us.

We are heading into a race this weekend. Monday I cold-call the media in the town we are going to – news stations, newspapers, pitch them a story such as ‘Ricky Carmichael …. ‘. Tuesday we send out press kits. Wednesday we follow up on the phone. Thursday fly into the city where the race is. Friday is practice, and I’ll help the media at the track to get their stories. Saturday is the race for supercross. Sunday fly back home. Just advance that one day for motocross season. Ernesto is a great story too. He’s one of the few top level Hispanic motor sports athletes in North America!

Two years ago, whenever someone wanted to get an interview, it was no problem. Now, with the growth of supercross and the media, we have to reserve time slots. There is so much on the riders schedules, especially with media and sponsors.

Two days ago we did a shoot at Lake Mead, show casing four-stroke motors and their low emissions. We believe we can run those new AquaTrax in state parks because of the low emissions. It’s going to revolutionize the water craft industry. Right now, many people perceive water craft as noisy, polluting, two-strokes. Yesterday we went to San Diego Bay. We shot some incredible footage there – riding with dolphins – that was so cool! And we rode right next to big battleships in the harbor. Amazing. We had guys on the gun ships looking at us with binoculars. Finally we had one of their ships come up to us and say we need to keep at least 300 yards away from any Navy vessels.

We wanted a unique shoot for PWCTV and for Honda. We took one of Honda’s famous supercross stars in Ernesto, and got him out on the water with the new Honda AquaTrax water craft, and then took the host of PWCTV (Kevin) and got him started on an off-road motorcycle.

So Kevin helped teach Ernesto how to ride water craft, and Ernesto helped teach Kevin how to ride motorcycles. Kevin did pretty good on the bike!

Initially, the AquaTrax will be offered in four states – California, Texas, Michigan, and Florida because production is limited. As we build more boats, we’ll add more dealerships and states.

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Ernesto on the lake

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Kevin and Ernesto for the TV show

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Ernesto and Kevin

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Greg Wright and Eric Crippa

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Ernesto checking on his student

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Lake Elsinore pits

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The new boats!

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Crippa makes sure things go right

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Kevin and Greg

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What does this thing do?

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