Mitch will go go down in history as the greatest tuner in motocross history—thanks to over 200 AMA Pro victories for his bikes and riders.

By Eric Johnson

GOING BACK TO YOUR FIRST 125cc TITLES IN 1991, WAS ADAM CIANACIRAULO’S 2019 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON AS SPECIAL TO YOU AS THOSE? It was special because Adam went through a lot. He had a lot of adversity to get through because of the injuries. When a guy gets hurt, you have a little pep talk to say it’s all going to be okay, but how many times are we going to talk about that? There were questions in Adam’s head about whether it was ever going to happen. He needed to win just to get that monkey off his back and to move on. It was perfect timing and it is fantastic. I happy he moved to the 450-class with Kawasaki, because that’s what was supposed to happen.

Adam Cianciarulo Mitch Payton ChampionshipIt was a very long journey to the number one plate for Adam Cianciarulo, but Mitch stuck with him until they achieved their goal

Adam Cianciarulo moved from Pro Circuit to become Eli Tomac’s teammate at the Kawasaki 450 team in 2020—until he got hurt.

Jeremy McGrath 1991Jeremy McGrath rode to fame and fortune as one of the original members of Mitch’s Team Peak Honda squad.

YOU’VE BOUGHT MORE RIDERS UP TO THE BIG LEAGUES THAN ANYONE ELSE, SUCH AS A JEREMY McGRATH, RICKY CARMICHAEL, RYAN VILLOPOTO AND ADAM CIANCIARULO, WHAT’S IT LIKE TO HELP A KID GET TO THE TOP? People say that about having Jeremy or having Ricky or even RV or Adam or whoever, but they were good already. We didn’t make any of those guys, they made themselves. I give them more of the credit than myself because I think they had it already. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to race against any of those guys if they were on a different brand of bike.Mitch was the number one desert racer in the late 1970s only to suffered a paralyzing crash. When he got out of rehab, he opened up a small Husqvarna shop and with the help of his loyal crew of friends built it into a powerhouse.

YOU BEEN AT THIS FOR 30 YEARS. DO YOU DREAD STARTING OVER WITH A NEW BIKE? When we have a new bike, we have some new challenges. Obviously, because it’s different. Whenever you have success with last year’s package, you’re pretty happy with it. But, you can’t run it again so you have to start over. I think we’re going to get there. The base of the 2020 bike that came out in production came out for the better, so that helps. That’s a big asset for us to have.

WHAT DOES MITCH PAYTON AND THE MONSTER ENERGY/PRO CIRCUIT/KAWASAKI RACE TEAM FACE BEFORE A SEASON STARTS? First, we have to clean up all the old  stuff. Put stuff away. Clean the truck. There is a lot of shop work. We’ve already started development on the new engine and we’re also doing a little bit of chassis stuff right now. In the next three or four weeks, we should probably make some good strides with the engine and then we’ll probably be ready to do some serious testing. That will tell us where we are at compared to last year’s bike.

Cameron McAdoo will be riding for Mitch in 2020.

Jordon Smith_2019 Arlington Supercross-112Jordon Smith (28) and Garrett Marchbanks (24) will be teammates at Pro Circuit this season.

YOU ALWAYS SAID THAT YOU’D HIRE A RIDER WITH PURE SPEED OVER ANY OTHER TALENT. IS THAT STILL TRUE? Yes. They’ve got to be fast. You can work on their fitness and all those other things, but if the kid is not fast, it is hard to make him a lot faster. Getting Jordan Smith is going to be good and I think McAdoo has improved immensely this past year. He’s been a fill-in guy for the last couple of years and been bounced around on bikes a few weeks before a series starts — and he’s done good in that position. I would expect that with a good testing program and a good off-season, he’s going to be winning races too. I expect him to.

The Taj Mahal of motocross.

ARE YOU AS STOKED TO GO RACING AS EVER? DOES IT GET OLD? No, it doesn’t get old. Every year we have different guys and you have to learn about them and they have to learn about you. You want them to have goals. If they reach their goals, we reach our goals. They’ll never forget their first race win and they’ll never forget their first championship.


Photos: Kawasaki, Yamaha, Brian Converse, KTM, Pro Circuit, Daryl Ecklund, MXA, MXA archive, Husqvarna, Troy Lee Designs

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