INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: JON PRIMO
So often it’s the factory riders who are lauded, while the mechanics and service technicians are kept in the shadows. Putting the spotlight on the grinders–those who put in long hours at the shop in preparation for the next race. It’s a thankless job, but as Pro Circuit Kawasaki mechanic Jon Primo says, “I love my job!” Primo has spun wrenches for the likes of Marvin Musquin, Shaun Simpson, the late Andrew McFarlane, Dean Wilson and Arnaud Tonus. MXA’s interview extraordinaire, Jim Kimball, caught up with Jon Primo recently while the wrench was taking a break from building Arnaud Tonus’ race bike.
By Jim Kimball
Jon, how did you first get introduced to motocross?
It was 13 years ago. I first started with school back home in France. I would say that the equivalent here in the U.S. is maybe like Motorcycle Mechanics Institute, but more technical. I lived close to Bud Racing in France. Phillip at Bud Racing taught me everything that I know today. I was there with him pretty much all of my holidays and on my weekends off. I was really wanting to learn, so I started like that. Then I went with a privateer team on the Pro Tour and I worked my way up to the GP’s. Later, I finished Vice Champion with Andrew McFarlane, and then went to Kawasaki Monster in 2006 with Tom Church. Then after that I got an offer to work at KTM, but at first it was for KTM R&D to work on the 350SXF project, which was with the linkage. We did a lot of testing, and I learned a lot, but then they closed the R&D department to let the production people take over. I was moved over to the race team and I worked with Shaun Simpson. He got hurt, and then I was assigned to Marvin Musquin, and we won two World Championships. That was a really good experience, and then I came over to the U.S. with Marvin.
What made you leave Red Bull KTM and Marvin Musquin after first winning a World Motocross Championship, and then coming to America with Marvin?
It was not an easy decision. I have always had a good time with Marvin, and we were like a link in a chain. We were really close, and we were sharing a lot of stuff. He could talk to me about anything, and vice versa. It was really good to work with him, but ever since I was a kid I always dreamed about working for Pro Circuit. When the opportunity came, I talked to Marvin about it. He understood, and told me I would be stupid not to take it. Sometimes you need to see what is best for you, and not only for your rider. You need to be kind of selfish. We both agreed that we were both happy about our decision, but I still talk to him. He is a nice kid and I do not regret anything.
What are the differences between working at Red Bull KTM and Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki?
KTM was easier, I would say, because we did not have to do engines or suspension. We just had to take care of the practice bike and do our race chassis, which is easy. With KTM I had more free time, but I think it’s good to be involved. When you do your engine, and then you do more stuff on your bike, you learn a lot more. If something comes up on race day, such as if the rider feels something or you hear something on a bike, you can tell what the problem is. You do not have to wait for somebody, like the team manager or chief engine mechanic, to make any decisions. Instead, you can do stuff on your own.
Can you please take me through a typical work week during the Nationals?
Our week plan is pretty busy. My guy, Arnaud Tonus, is in California, so I have to take care of his practice bike, along with the race bike. When I can, I go to the track with him. On Monday, we get the parts ready that we need for the weekend, and then take care of the practice bike. On Tuesday, it is the engine day, so we build our race engines all day long. Then on Wednesday we fly to the race. On Thursday we go to the track and rebuild the race bike. We clean the bike, prep it, grease, and check everything. We take the bike all the way apart and put it back together and make sure everything is fine. Friday is technical control at the race track. We set up the tent, check the bike over again, and do a couple of things that we need to do. Then on Saturday we race, and Sunday we go back home to California. We have Sunday afternoon off, and then we go back to work on Monday.
Some of the riders on your team live in Florida, so they have a separate practice mechanic that lives there, too. It has to be extra busy for you, because you do both jobs.
It keeps me busy for sure, because we do a practice engine, race engine and go to the track. The other guys have a practice mechanic, and so it frees up the race mechanic during the week. It is easier for them for sure, but I am not complaining. I love my job! I enjoy doing it and it is what it is. We need to work, and hard work pays off.
Who did you wrench for after joining Pro Circuit?
I first started with Darryn Durham. Then I worked for Dean Wilson and then again for Durham, and Arnaud Tonus has been my latest rider.
Is it difficult switching riders?
I would say it is difficult. You create a friendship and a relationship. Your guy trusts you, you trust him, and he knows that he can count on you when something happens. He knows the bike is going to be good. It is a hard and long process to have a rider trust you. It is best to keep the same rider, but sometimes you can’t do that because your guy is moving up to the 450 class and he already has mechanics over there. So you have to stay where you are at, or your guy does not ride good enough to stay on the team, so you have to move to another one. It is not easy, but I never had any problems with any rider actually. I am pretty easy going. Otherwise, I have had riders with good mentalities and are friendly, which makes the job easier.
Do 250 team mechanics have to work twice as hard as 450 mechanics?
There is a big maintenance program for being on a 250 team. Most of the 450 teams go two races on one engine. Plus, most have a dedicated engine guy, so they just have to take the engine off the bike and give it to the engine tech. With us being a 250 team, we open the engine every race. The bike is safe, don’t get me wrong, but we want to be 100 percent sure that the bike is good. We want the best for the riders. It is way more work, but like I said, I learn a lot.
Is America your home, or will you return to France?
I do not know. I am not at that point yet. I have been here six years, and I kind of miss home sometimes. I wish I could go back and forth twice a year instead of once,just to see the family. My dad was sick for a while, so it was really hard to not be able to be next to him. I talked to him and he said, “Son, do whatever is the best for you. When you were at school we always wanted the best for you, and don’t think about us. We have done our stuff and you need to think of yourself now.” Still, I am not at the point where I would call America home yet. I have my Green card. I did all of the paperwork, but I do not know. It is really hard for me to say. I love the country, and I love the work here. There is good stuff everywhere. If I could be home in France for twice a year and then work here and live here, that would be the best.
What do you do during your free time?
During my free time, which is not very often, I like to take a day where I do not do anything. I will stay home, catch up with my paperwork, and clean the house. If I have more free days, I go cycling, jet skiing or do something different than work. It’s nice to have a day where I do not want to think about dirt bikes, or watch races or anything. I try to switch it off. Then, when it’s time to go back to work, I switch back into racing mode.