MITCH PAYTON: “THEY’LL NEVER FORGET THEIR FIRST RACE WIN AND THEY’LL NEVER FORGET THEIR FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP!”
By Eric Johnson
MITCH, THE 2019 AMA PRO MOTOCROSS SEASON IS DONE AND DUSTED. WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON HOW THE MONSTER ENERGY/PRO CIRCUIT/KAWASAKI TEAM PERFORMED THE PAST 300-PLUS DAYS? I think it was good. If you look at the win ratio to the amount of events we competed in, it was really good. I thought we might be able to get both Supercross titles, but there were a few little hiccups at the end and it didn’t happen. We had a lot of wins this year. Even Martin Davalos won, so that was awesome. Garrett Marchbanks got second at San Diego in the mud and that was good. I think Supercross was what it was because of injuries and crashes. It would have been awesome to have Austin Forkner in the 250 outdoor series because he rode really well in the outdoors last year. I think he was a lot more fit this year and he would have been good. To have Adam Cianciarulo win the National title was really good. He gave a lot and to do what he did was phenomenal. It was good to see.
DID LOSING THE 2019 AMA 250 WEST TITLE MAKE YOU GUYS ENTER THE 250 NATIONAL MOTOCROSS CHAMPIONSHIP WITH A TAKE NO PRISONERS APPROACH? The night we lost the 250 West Adam and I talked a little bit and I said, “You just have to bury it and forget it. It’s behind you. I want you to look forward. I want you to win that outdoor title. You need to put everything into it. Use anything that happened this year for anger, not sadness.” Adam obviously worked really hard leading up to it and it showed at the first round that he was there. That was awesome. And Adam kept staying on the box, on the box, on the box. He kept winning motos and getting seconds. Usually, that’s the way you’re going to get it done.
GOING BACK TO YOUR FIRST 125cc TITLES IN 1991, WAS ADAM’s 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.
IT SEEMED THAT HAVING NICK WEY IN ADAM’S CORNER WAS A REAL POSITIVE INFLUENCE ON HIM. WHAT DO YOU THINK? I think it was a really good match. Nick had worked with Adam a little before. This year Adam changed a lot of things. He moved out of our old house and moved closer to Nick so they could just work together the whole time. He could live on his own. He wanted dad to take a back seat and he wanted to do it himself. It’s a big responsibility and he dealt with it perfectly. I think Nick had a lot to do with it because Nick has been through it. It’s always good for these guys to have somebody who knows the ropes. Nick rode for us and he was always just so close — right there. He had to race against some gnarly guys. Man, he had to race RC. Nick worked hard and he moved up to the 250 class and then the 450 class and rode and rode and rode. Then he got out of it. I think as you go along in this sport, you learn every year and I think Nick learned a lot. That’s what Nick offers Adam — experience.
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 29 YEARS. NOW IT TIME TO START AGAIN WITH THE 2020 KX250. 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 IN THE NEXT THREE MONTHS BEFORE ANAHEIM 1? First, we have to clean up all the old 2019 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.
WHO WILL BE ON THE MONSTER ENERGY/PRO CIRCUIT/KAWASAKI TEAM AT THE START OF THE 2020 MONSTER ENERGY SUPERCROSS SERIES? Austin Forkner is back. Garrett Marchbanks is back. And then we have Jordan Smith, so he’s new this year and we will have Cameron McAdoo. I think Jordan has been a championship contender already. It was easy to choose to go after him and I’m glad that he wanted to come here. He’s excited about it. He’s had the red plate before and he’s won races, to me that’s a big monkey off his back. We just need to help him, and if he is fit, I’m confident he’ll be winning races.
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 great 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.
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.
THE 2020 SEASON IS NOT THAT FAR AWAY. LOOKING INTO THE CRYSTAL BALL, WHAT DO YOU SEE? I expect the same guys to be up front. The Star guys are going to be fast. TLD is going to have some new recruits. Husqvarna has Michael Mosiman and he’s improved a lot this year. I think Mosiman will be strong this season. Suzuki? I hope they are racing this year.
Photos: Kawasaki, Yamaha, Brian Converse, KTM, Pro Circuit, Daryl Ecklund, MXA, MXA archive, Husqvarna, Troy Lee Designs