INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: SUZUKI’S NEW 250 SHOE DANIEL BAKER

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Daniel Baker is part of the newly formed MAD Racing Suzuki 250 factory effort. 

By Jim Kimball

One of the highlights of the 2015 silly season has been the new factory-supported MAD Racing/Yoshimura/Dirt Candy Suzuki team. Absent from any factory effort in the 250 class, Suzuki is returning with established Pro Matt Bisceglia–formerly from Geico Honda–and new hot shoe Daniel Baker. While 20-year-old Baker may not yet be a household name in Pro racing, the Kentucky native did raise some eyebrows this past summer when he turned Pro. The move was unexpected, but a worthwhile venture for the then-Orange Brigade KTM supported rider. Baker finished as high as 12th in a moto and finished the series 15th overall in the 250 class. The results were good enough to capture the attention of Suzuki.

We caught up with Daniel, who relocated to Menifee, California, a few days ago, to get his take on 2015 and find out what’s ahead in 2016.

Baker (434) made an impact in his first 250 National, scoring points and finishing 20th overall at Hangtown.

Daniel, what was the reasoning behind your decision to turn Pro this past summer? My original plan was to race Loretta’s with the Orange Brigade team, which I had signed a one-year deal with the year before. I was going to move up after this season, but I killed it at the Mini Olympics, and also did really well at Daytona and Freestone. Christy LaCurelle from KTM approached me about turning Pro and racing the 2015 outdoors. It sounded like a good idea to me, because I was always a little older than the other amateurs. Many of the guys I had been racing against throughout my amateur career had already moved up. Christy presented me with a great offer to help me with all my travel expenses. My dad and I were so tired of all the costs associated with racing the Amateur Nationals. My dad had paid for everything. Believe it or not, agreeing to race professionally eliminated a lot of stress. I am still very grateful for that opportunity.

“I WAS REALLY WORRIED FOR NEXT SEASON, BECAUSE MY RESULTS WERE A LITTLE UNEVEN. I WAS AFRAID THAT I WASN’T GOING TO GET OFFERED ANY RIDES FOR 2016. I HAD MISSED A COUPLE ROUNDS AND WAS DEFINITELY PANICKING NEAR THE END OF THE SERIES.”

You turned a lot of heads in your first National at Hangtown, qualifying 12th overall out of unseeded practice, and finished 20th overall. Believe it or not, up until that point I had never done a 35-minute moto in my life. We had a couple weeks to prepare, but I was not even close to being ready for an outdoor National. I think that it was adrenaline that got me through the first couple rounds. We had one day of testing and setup, so that was able to get us through the first couple California rounds. After that it got a little bit more difficult. I was crashing a lot, and because I was brought on at the last second the Orange Brigade team didn’t have a budget for me. One day of testing just wasn’t enough, and I struggled with bike setup. I was really worried for the next season, because my results were a little uneven. I was afraid that I wasn’t going to get offered any rides for 2016. I had missed a couple rounds and was definitely panicking near the end of the series.

Did you race on the 2015-1/2 KTM 250SXF Factory Edition during the Nationals? No. I was racing on the standard bike. My bike was similar to my amateur bike that I had started on with the Orange Brigade team, but definitely a night-and-day difference from what Red Bull KTM and Troy Lee Designs KTM were racing.

Baker’s best moto finish came in the final moto of the season, when he landed 12th at the Ironman National. Daniel earned points in eight out of 20 motos this summer. 

What was the biggest adjustment in transitioning to the Pro ranks? As an amateur my dad would buy the parts that I felt comfortable with. At that time I had a east coast WP Suspension rep that would come down to Florida and help me out. Once I was on the Orange Brigade Pro team I had to stop talking to him and work with the WP suspension guys out west. It was just a bit stricter relationship with being on the Orange Brigade Pro team. I feel that I could have set my bike up better if I had a bit more say in things. I was comfortable on my practice bikes, but I would ride a completely different bike at the races.

It sounds like there were some unexpected issues. Yes, there were a couple. It happened so fast that I did not really have a chance to talk things over with my dad. There were some things that I just didn’t realize. In some ways it would have been good to have a bit more time to think things over. I am happy with the way it ended, and happy with the new team that I am on now. It was great to have the opportunity that the Orange Brigade team gave me. I want to make it clear that the bikes were really good, and the people involved were awesome, but it was a big change from what I was used to.

“GETTING BACK ON A YELLOW BIKE WAS A LITTLE AWKWARD AT FIRST, BUT NOW I REALLY ENJOY IT. I’VE BEEN ON A SUZUKI ALMOST THREE WEEKS NOW, AND ALTHOUGH AT THIS POINT WE ARE NOT OVERLY CONCERNED ABOUT LAP TIMES, MINE HAVE BEEN PRETTY GOOD. AT THE TRACK I AM JUST TRYING TO BE SOLID, PUT IN LAPS, AND LEARN. I REALLY DON’T WANT TO BE SOME WILD ROOKIE WHEN I START RACING SUPERCROSS.”

The return of Suzuki to the 250 Pro ranks was a long time coming. How did your deal come together? It has been pretty funny, as there have been so many random people coming up and asking me if I was on the new factory Suzuki 250 team. Everybody seems pretty pumped up about Suzuki being back in the 250 game. I actually rode for Bobby Hewitt when he had his Rockstar Suzuki team. I was the only amateur rider that he had. I was able to adapt pretty quickly to the new Suzuki in spite of racing KTM’s the past two years. KTM’s seem so different than any other bike. Getting back on a yellow bike was a little awkward at first, but now I really enjoy it. I’ve been on the Suzuki almost three weeks now, and although at this point we are not overly concerned about lap times, mine have been pretty good. At the track I am just trying to be solid, put in laps, and learn. I really don’t want to be some wild rookie when I start racing Supercross.

Was there any talk about you joining the Troy Lee Designs KTM program for 2016? There was a little talk about that even before I turned Pro for the outdoor series, and there was some thinking that I would transition to that team. The talk stopped as the season progressed. Near the end of the series I asked about a ride, and they said that they already had all their riders. I had some high expectations that I would be there, but in the end things worked out.

How much Supercross experience do you have? I have ridden Supercross about a dozen times since coming to California. So far I like it better than motocross. It’s really fun to try and find a flow. If you find that flow in Supercross then it seems effortless, while in motocross it’s just hard to find a flow. You just need to hold the throttle open and go for it. My first day of riding Supercross I did all the jumps, but man did I case and overshoot landings [laughter]. At first I was trying too hard and getting ahead of myself, but when I slowed down and put in more laps it kept getting better. Riding Supercross is completely different for me than riding motocross. Supercross is all mental.

Daniel Baker made the surprise jump to the Pro ranks before Hangtown. The move paid off, as he earned a two-year deal with factory Suzuki support.

What is your relationship like with Suzuki teammate Matt Bisceglia? Matt is great. We have ridden together every single day for the past few weeks. Having Matt as a teammate is awesome, as he is so knowledgeable about bike setup. Matt flew under the radar a little bit this past year, but he rode awesome, had good results, and even got a podium.

“I MOVED TO FLORIDA TWO YEARS AGO AND LIVED BY MYSELF IN A CAMPER, BUT AT LEAST I WAS ABLE TO RIDE A LOT. ONE OF THE REASON FOR MOVING TO FLORIDA WAS TO WORK WITH RONNIE TICHENOR. RONNIE IS THE MAN. HE TOOK ME TO A COMPLETELY NEW LEVEL WITH MY RIDING.”

Is motocross popular in your home state of Kentucky? There aren’t very many motocross tracks in Kentucky, and the only time you can ride anywhere is on the weekend. Of course, you cannot really ride in the winter, either. There may be an indoor track that you could drive to once a week, but if you really want to ride a lot you have to go to Florida. Until I was 16 or 17 I really wasn’t able to ride that much in Kentucky. I moved to Florida two years ago and lived by myself in a camper, but at least I was able to ride a lot. One of the reasons for moving to Florida was to work with Ronnie Tichenor. Ronnie is the man. He took me to a completely new level with my riding. I now consider Ronnie as a part of my family, and I will continue to work with him in the future when I move back to Florida just after the new year. I have been working with Sebastien Tortelli some in California. He’s a great guy, and definitely knows what he is doing.

Will the MAD Suzuki racing effort have factory Suzuki support? Yes, I guess the contract was just signed the other day. You could say that we are similar to what the Troy Lee Designs KTM team is to Red Bull KTM. We are Suzuki’s official 250 team. It’s been a bit of a process, as Suzuki has been out of the 250 game for some time. We probably have a little catching up to do. We weren’t 100 percent certain that we would be factory-supported until last week when the contract was signed. This team has been great. They are constantly asking Matt and I how they can help, or what changes we need on the bikes. They are looking out for our best interests, and are going to be there for us on the bad weekends and the good weekends. All our sponsors are awesome, especially Yoshimura, who has been a big help to the team.

What are your expectations for Supercross? It’s too early to make claims. I haven’t even really thought about that at all. I can say that I feel great on the bike and with the team. I believe that my rookie Supercross season is going to be better than my rookie motocross season was. I’m looking forward to it.

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