By Eric Johnson
Mitch Payton is the greatest engine tuner in motocross history and has helped everyone from Chad Reed to Bob Hannah to Ricky Johnson to Jeremy McGrath to the next big thing.
For a team that has won upwards of 30 AMA championships since its creation in 1991, Last year (2013) was a rough and tumble year for the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki outfit. Hit, and haunted, by a hybrid of bad luck and injuries, the most the accomplished 250 team of the past two decades could only manage to conjure up two main event victories and an average overall finishing position of 12.8 in both the East and West Regional Supercross Series. Hard times.
And while the 2014 season has swung a brighter lantern over the Corona, California-based operation, it has not been all energy drinks, champagne, victory speeches and Monster Girls. On Saturday night inside the opulent, sprawling “everything is bigger in Texas” AT&T Stadium, however, the metronome of racing luck, success and fortune got in step with the team when rookie Adam Cianciarulo, 2012 MX250 champion Blake Baggett and hard charging journeyman Martin Davalos went one-two-three in the opening round of the 2104 250 East Regional Supercross Series. It was a long time in coming, but it was one of those sensational podium sweeping displays of Pro Circuit total domination.
On Monday afternoon, while the team was celebrating with its traditional Monday-after-victory pizza party, we pulled team founder, owner and operator Mitch Payton away from the pizza boxes and led him over and into his cluttered, well-lit maelstrom of an office and started firing questions at him about the triumph in Dallas and just where he – and his three riders – go from here.
MITCH, YOUR GUYS WENT ONE-TWO-THREE ON SATURDAY NIGHT IN TEXAS. IT’S BEEN A WHILE, HUH?
It was really good. I’m really, really happy for all the guys. They all worked really hard in the off-season. Obviously, the 250 East guys benefited a little bit with the testing we had down with the 250 West Coast guys because we had some new stuff we were testing. They were able to hop on it all immediately and I think it shortened up their testing curve a little bit.
For each one of the guys… If you start off with Martin Davalos, you know Martin was looking really good all of-season and was really happy with his bike. He thought all the improvements were spot-on for him. He looked solid from the first lap of practice, really to the main event, until he made a mistake, but I was really happy with how he rode. I’m still convinced he’s going to win races.
MARTIN CRASHED NEAR THE HALFWAY MARK, DO YOU THINK THAT MISTAKE WILL RATTLE HIS CONFIDENCE?
He’s fine. You’re never going to quit falling over once in a while, but I think where he’s at as far as what he is doing is really good. I think Martine is going to be fine. He just needs to stick to exactly what he’s doing. I believe is his program, I believe in what he’s doing, I’m confident he’s going to win. He just needs to do the same exact thing he did this week: Get good starts and have the track down and I think it’ll happen.
BLAKE MENTIONED THAT HE TIGHTENED UP. HE HASN’T BEEN ON THE BIKE THAT MUCH SINCE HIS BROKEN FOOT.
Blake rode awesome. I saw him only the second day he came back to riding after his foot healed. He didn’t think he was riding that well, but I thought he looked really good for the second day. I was like, “Wow, this looks awesome.” On Saturday, he wasn’t real happy because he was a little bit off, but after he got a little more time on the track, he got all the obstacles down and he started working on the groove of the track a little bit.
His heat race was good and his main event was great also. He was close. He was right there and made a couple passes. I don’t want teammates to slam each other, but I want them to race hard. Whoever wins—it’s up to them. I think Blake is going to get some wins. I think he’s smart enough and mature enough that by the end of the series he’s going to be right there for the championship, too.
AND THEN THERE WAS ADAM AND THAT BIG SUPERCROSS DEBUT VICTORY.
Adam has grown so much. From even to when he started the outdoors until now, he’s grown a lot and I think he’s a lot stronger. I’m really proud of him and I think he rode really well. He did a good job. For his first race - and they hype that goes with that – he was able to deal with it. He had good practice sessions, a good heat race and a great main event. Hats off.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WITH ADAM NOW?
I’ve been with Adam since he was on 85s. We helped him on 85s and Super Minis and then a little bit of amateur and now pro. But, I’ve been with Blake since he was on 65s and 85s and throughout his amateur career, too. It’s just that Adam’s the newest one of the batch. It’s great to see it happen and it’s what’s supposed to happen. Team Green bringing the kids to us, that’s the way it’s supposed to happen.
Ricky Carmichael was a Pro Circuit rider at his first Pro race and at his last race at Loretta Lynn.
IS IT COOL THAT YOU HAVE AN EFFECT ON YOUR RIDER’S LIVES?
It is cool. You go back far enough and we helped Ricky Carmichael when he was on 85s also. We dealt with Ricky his whole career. He rode 85s, and as an amateur and then pro. He rode for other manufacturers and then at his very last race at the des Nations we were there. They were family and I want to keep it that way.
YOUR TEAM HAS A FAMILY-LIKE VIBE. DO YOU FEEL THAT?
Usually it does. You spend a lot of time with them and you’re devoted to them and each one is trying to succeed. You really want every one of them to succeed. It’s nice to see each one of them have success. It’s important when they’re coming into the program to set the their goals. Dean won a championship and then Blake won a championship and then they have injuries or a bad year and you want to see them get back on track. That’s what families do: They hang in there when everything is not so nice and you fight through it to get back on track.
Each one of my riders has ups-and-downs and we just have to work through that to get them all successful. Right now it’s nice to see the East Coast look lke they will all be successful. It’s a good start to the series and I want to keep it that way and all three of those kids deserve it. They’ve all worked really hard and I think we’re going to see more of what we just saw.
Ryan Villopoto was part of the Pro Circuit family.
YOU ARE PAINTED AS A HARD, COLD GUY WHEN IT COMES TO DEALING WITH YOUR TEAM. WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON THAT?
I can be hard and cold, but the hard and cold is usually just honesty. When you’re not putting in the effort, I think you should hear about it. I think our people work too hard for the program. When you have someone that’s not doing what they need to do, then they should be held accountable. When everything is going fine and we look like everything is smooth then there is a happy vibe. Even when times are rough, I will be always behind my guys and loyal to them.
IT DRIVES YOU NUTS TO NOT WIN AND YOU BURN THE MIDNIGHT OIL MOST NIGHTS. DO YOU EVER FEEL LIKE GIVING UP?
It’s a difficult thing when things start going bad. It’s easy for everybody out there to say, “Oh, those guys don’t know what they’re doing anymore!” I feel like we put in the effortto be successful every single year. And we usually have the levels of success driven off of the talent that we have, the luck we have and the injuries we don’t have. That’s what makes you successful.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WHEN PEOPLE SAY, “EVERYBODY HAS CAUGHT UP TO PRO CIRCUIT.”
I don’t really care what people say. We’ve been around for a very long time and whether we raced two-stokes or four-stokes, we’ve competed against everyone. We’ve had success and we’ve been beaten, but over the long run, we’ve always there and we’ve always been an A player.
You can’t always guarantee success. Yes, I’d love is to win three championships this year and we’re going to try and do that. If we get two of them or we get one of them, then that’s where we end up. But, I promise you it will be the same effort whether we win three, one or none. Take last year as an example. Everyone thought that it was a really bad year, but I wouldn’t have changed anything we did and I wouldn’t have changed our lineup. I thought we had very good riders and they were deserving of race wins. But with the amount of stupid little injuries we had, it really cost us.
DOES SWEEPING THE PODIUM LIKE LAST WEEK IN DALLAS MAKE IT ALL WORTHWHILE?
It makes it worthwhile. It makes it good everyone. That’s what people expect from us and that’s what we expect. It’s obviously what I’d love to have happen.
KTM Motorcycle tests