INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: BOBBY HEWITT
The motocross industry is small, and there’s a finite group of key players responsible for pulling the puppet strings. Bobby Hewitt belongs to that esteemed collective. The Texan has a very interesting story about how he came to prominence in racing circles, making a successful transition from amateur racing to eventually becoming Husqvarna’s factory effort. Meet Bobby Hewitt, hear why he stuck with Jason Anderson through thick and thin, and find out which team rider he has nicknamed “Sally.”
By Jim Kimball
MXA: Bobby, you have a rich history in motocross. What were the reasons behind starting your own team? Bobby: Back in 2003 my son, Hunter, was racing with Team Green. There were a lot of parents traveling to the races, so we started to think about joining together and taking the bikes to the races as a joint effort. That way the parents and their kids could fly to the races, and we wouldn’t have this big circus traveling from race to race. For whatever reason, the parents decided that I would be a good fit to orchestrate it all. They felt like my temperament and the way I handled myself was a good fit for being the manager. I never was one of those “Mini Dads” that flew off the handle or made a big scene. I decided to go forward with it. I didn’t have any motocross team manager experience at all. I had owned several companies in Texas and had a lot of success, so I had the fundamentals. I met with Dave Gowland at Kawasaki, and that’s how Team Green Extreme started. The first year we had guys like Austin Stroupe, Ryan and Tyler Villopoto, my son Hunter, and Kyle Cunningham. There were some big names.
Your team transitioned to the Pro ranks, where you were still backed by Kawasaki. However, in 2010 you switched to Suzuki. Why? Kawasaki came to me in 2009 and said that they were trying to sign Chad Reed. They told me that if they signed Chad Reed then they would be pulling the resources for my team. Even Mitch [Payton] and his program [Pro Circuit Kawasaki] would be cut back a little bit to in order to do the deal. As we all know, Chad did sign with Kawasaki. The good news was that I had developed a pretty good relationship with Roger DeCoster at Suzuki. I was loyal to Kawasaki through and through, but it was an awesome opportunity for us because we had always been a privateer team. We never had full factory support, and we did our bikes through Pro Circuit. When we switched over to Suzuki in 2010 it was the first time we had full factory support. We had riders like Ryan Morais, Jake Moss, Blake Baggett and Tommy Hahn. I got introduced to Rockstar thanks to Roger [DeCoster]. I was really excited about the opportunity to work with Roger and all the guys at Suzuki. Then Roger left Suzuki and went to KTM. When Roger left in 2010 I went from having full factory Suzuki support to no factory support for 2011. You have to remember that in 2009, the OEMs really got hit hard by the economy. Thankfully my deal was already signed and put in place for 2010. Suzuki honored the commitment, but they pulled out in 2011. In a very short time I went from a privateer effort, to full factory, to full privateer again with no support of any kind. We had Rockstar as our title sponsor and we started developing a relationship with them. Their program as a whole was growing and becoming more of a presence in the pro pits. We were no longer the team that had to park in the back of the pits any longer. We were starting to get some higher quality riders and get more recognition.
“I like to think Jason believes that if he had been with any other program when he was just starting out then he probably would have gotten fired and his career would have been over before it ever got started.”
You have a much different philosophy other factory efforts in that you really give your riders the freedom to pick and choose what they want. I truly believe that no two riders are identical. Take a look at Jason Anderson and Christophe Pourcel. They don’t have the same riding style. Everything about them is different. I want to build a bike around the rider so that it gives them the confidence they need–a kind of bike that feels like it’s a part of you so that you can do anything on it. I don’t care if my riders want to run stock triple clamps or whatever else. I always use Jason and Christophe as an example. Jason is the mod[ification] king He wants his engine to have all the horsepower that is available. Christophe is the opposite. I told him that the only way I could slow his bike down more and make it more like stock is if we went down to the dealer and bought one. They’re that different. Both of them ride very well, and both are very competitive. It’s just different riding styles and a different feel that they want. I think that’s why we’ve had so much success with Davi [Millsaps] when we led the championship for most of the 2013 Supercross season and finished second in points. I built the bike around him, and he absolutely loved it. I didn’t care what components or handlebars were on the bike. I didn’t even care what kind of power he wanted. We did whatever made him happy.
You believed in Jason Anderson from the very beginning and stuck with him even when he wasn’t winning. Your relationship with Jason is much different than the typical rider/team manager scenario. Heck, you benched him at one point! Why did you stick with him? I like to think Jason believes that if he had been with any other program when he was just starting out then he probably would have gotten fired and his career would have been over before it ever got started. What a lot of people didn’t know is that Jason has so much natural talent. All through his amateur career the only time he rode motorcycles was for fun. He wasn’t one of these kids that rode his bicycle all day for training and then went to the test track and pounded out motos. He would ride in the desert for fun and at a local race here and there, but he would literally just show up at the Amateur Nationals and do really well. He had natural ability and could go very fast. Jason could do a lot of things on the motorcycle that most people have to train every day to be able to do. It took Jason for me to bench him and send him home to really think about what it was that he wanted to do with his career.
You wanted to show him that the life of a professional racer was more than being in the spotlight? Exactly. There has to be that commitment in order to be successful at the Pro level, and it’s not a commitment for a day here or a day there. It’s a lifestyle that has to be lived every day if you really want to be a champion. There’s no way of cheating the system. I will say that when I do give Jason a break I tell him that I understand he wants to let loose and be a kid. I just don’t want to hear about it. He’s allowed to have fun and enjoy things he can’t do when he’s riding and training for those 50 other weeks of the year. I think that’s when it really clicked for Jason. When he came back he wanted to be a champion, and so he committed himself to it. I benched him in 2012. The 2013 season was much better, and he won the 250 West Supercross title in 2014.
What are your thoughts on the different riders that you’ve hired through the years? It was really funny when I hired Davi, because everybody told me that I was an idiot for signing Davi. They all said he wouldn’t train or do what he was supposed to do. People said the same thing about Jason, and that I needed to get rid of him. I feel like I’ve got a management style and the kind of relationship with the rider where I can get the best out of them. I was never a five-time World Champion like Roger DeCoster, but I’ve managed people my whole life. I understand how to connect and communicate with people. When I said I wanted to hire Christophe Pourcel, everyone said, “Do you know how big of a headache he is? That’s the worst thing in the world you could do”. Honestly, there isn’t anybody I don’t get along with.
“Christophe is very detailed. If you press him right away then he gets flustered. He wants to be able to process things. Over time I have grown to love having Christophe here.”
Well, Pourcel doesn’t have the best track record. He’s not the most easygoing rider in the paddock. Here’s the thing. If you can’t get along with me then you can’t get along with anybody. I’ve had success and I’ve had failures, but anybody who knows me knows that I don’t care if you’re the president or you’re the guy that sweeps the floors out in the warehouse. I’ll give you the same respect on any level, because we all put our pants on the same way. I told Christophe that the main thing that’s really important to me is communication. That’s how we started our relationship. I could see where other programs and people had misunderstood him, or how he may be perceived as difficult. One of the things I noticed the first day we were out riding and testing with him was that because he is French, and although he speaks good English, he is very methodical. He wants to rehearse what it is that he wants to say in his mind before he actually speaks. When he speaks it’s sometimes a little broken up because of the language barrier. He’s very precise on what it is he’s communicating, whether it’s the bike or the gear or how he feels about anything. What I found out, and we’re all guilty of this, is that when the rider pulls into the pits after a race we’re right there bombarding him with questions. I found out real quick that if you’ll give Christophe ten minutes and let him gather his thoughts and go through it in his mind about what he wants to communicate, then he’ll tell you everything that you want to know and them some. Christophe is very detailed. If you press him right away then he gets flustered. He wants to be able to process things. Over time I have grown to love having Christophe here. I get along with him and Samantha, who he recently married.
What does the future of the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna race team look like? We signed an extension with Jason through 2018, and we have Christophe through 2017. We’ve become more and more involved here at Husqvarna. Actually, Husqvarna asked me to be the Director of Motorsports in North America and oversee all the programs. That’s not just Supercross and motocross. I told them, “Guys, I promise you I will never leave as long as you’re still racing.” Jason is kind of a feather in my cap. He started with me. He’s never ridden for anybody else, and I doubt he ever will. All my riders are very close to me, but Jason is like another son. I’ve also become very close with Christophe. I told him one of my objectives this year is to show the public the real Christophe. He’s one of the funniest, most sincere and outgoing guys that I know. The public needs to see that side of him. I’m proud of the fact that Jason has stayed with me, even while being offered substantially more money to go with other programs. I’m very proud of the fact that Davi was able to have success with me. I think he’d be the first to tell you that if he could choose to come back to any team that he would probably want to be here.
“Jason Anderson is “El Hombre;” Martin Davalos is “Juan Pablo;” Zach Osborne (above) is “Sally;” and Christophe Pourcel is “Magic Man,” which comes from the movie Talladega Nights.
The team camaraderie seems very high at Rockstar Energy Husqvarna. Absolutely. Everyone here has a nickname. I don’t call anybody on my team by their real name. Jason Anderson is “El Hombre;” Martin Davalos is “Juan Pablo;” Zach Osborne is “Sally;” and Christophe Pourcel is “Magic Man,” which comes from the movie Talladega Nights. He waits until the last second of the last practice to put down the fastest lap. It’s a lot of fun. You have Jason, who’s jersey is untucked and flying out the back, and he’s all over the bike. Then you have Christophe, who rides like a ballet dancer. He’s so precise on his landings and with the way he does his corners and just keeps his speed going. It’s really nice to watch both of them and see what they’re able to do in a completely different style. I feel fortunate to have both of them on my team.
Have you accomplished everything you’ve wanted? Absolutely not. I am proud of the way that I manage and present myself. I always tell the guys to be humble. I even said that when we had Davi [Millsaps] and we were leading the championship. It’s important to be just as humble going up the ladder, because coming back down is ten times harder than it is going up. We need to always stay humble to ourselves and understand that not everybody stays on top. You don’t want to treat anybody any different when you’re winning or when you’re losing. This industry is just too small. I’ve had success, and I feel that I’m still the same guy whether we’re doing great as a team or not. I’m just a country boy from Texas who has a passion for this sport. I really want to be in it for a long time and contribute. I’ve done it for 13 years, and I totally love what I’m doing. I don’t think very many people in general ever get to the point where they absolutely love what they do and can’t wait to get in the car and go to work.