MXA INTERVIEW: MITCHELL HARRISON TALKS ABOUT HARD DECISIONS, DRAMA & TRAINERS
As with anything, timing in motocross can be everything. In the midst of a strong 250 outdoor season, Mitchell Harrison was in a unique spot. While his name had yet to be linked with his current employer Star Yamaha, many expected he would return for a third year with the team. But by the end of 2017 outdoors there was still no Press Release announcing his return to the Blue Cru. While initially things may have looked a bit bleak, Harrison was suddenly being courthed by several premier teams! Ultimately, the Michigan native would sign with the Rockstar Husqvarna team. Noted for their family atmosphere, and nurturing owner Bobby Hewitt, Mitchell Harrison just may become the sensation of the 2018 250 class. MXA recently tracked down the 19 year old while he spends time in California learning the new bike and team.
By Jim Kimball
MITCHELL, YOU HAD A COUPLE OFFERS FOR THE 2018 SEASON, WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE ROCKSTAR HUSQVARNA? I did have a couple of offers from JGR and Husqvarna, and was talking to JGR for quite a bit. But it took a while as they were still trying to figure out what they had going on with Jeremy Seewer. We were almost getting the terms done, and then Husqvarna called last minute. I had not signed anything, and told them that I was available, and listened to what they had to say. They are two great teams, and very similar in how they are run. It was a hard decision but ultimately I thought that Husqvarna was my best decision. They are a great team, and I feel that they can get me to where I really want to be as a championship contender.
IT MUST HAVE BEEN A DIFFICULT DECISION AS BOTH TEAMS ARE HIGHLY THOUGHT OF, AND HAVE GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH THEIR RIDERS. Well, the family environment is a big thing with the JGR team and actually the same thing with Bobby Hewitt and the Husqvarna team. I talked to Bobby. He is a great guy, who really believes in his riders, and I think that is what really caught my eye. But so were JGR and Jeremy Albrecht. They are great people. That’s what made it a hard decision because they are both so good with their riders. Bobby is also one of those guys who really believe in me, Jason, Dean, Zach, and Michael Mosiman, just everyone within the team. Husqvarna is hard to beat right now. Obviously, you can see that they are winning pretty much everything. You look at the recent Monster Cup, where KTM and Husqvarna took the top three. Right now, the Suzuki is a little outdated, but they are coming out with a good new bike soon, so we will see how that is. But I think right now Husqvarna is the bike to be on.
ROCKSTAR HUSQVARNA TEAM OWNER BOBBY HEWITT SEEMS TO TAKE A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO MANAGING A TEAM. Yes, he definitely looks at it completely different than any manager that I have been with. He tries to be more personal with us and he really loves what he does. He believes more in progression than just overall performance. Of course he wants us to win, but he would really rather take a struggling rider and make him a champion, and I can really respect that. That is amazing that someone is willing to do that and that is really incredible to have in this sport.
LOOKING BACK AT 2017 YOUR SOPHMORE SEASON WENT PRETTY WELL DIDN’T IT? Yes, I think the sophomore season was a good year. Obviously if you look back at my rookie season, it was not the best. I had actually wanted to stay amateur another year, but I jumped into the pros. That was my decision and it was a struggle. In 2017 I wanted to be more top three and top five, but if you really look at my rookie year and then just to do that the next year, was very difficult. I think my Supercross season was as expected, I wanted a top five and almost got a top five, but it was definitely a lot more progress than crashing out almost every round. It was actually consistent and I could ride with the guys who were winning for half the race or so, but they were just a bit on another level. But then in the outdoors, I showed what I could do. Everyone thinks I am just an outdoor rider, but I have a lot of Supercross success. I did a lot of Arencross as a young child, and I think I am also a Supercross rider. I almost took a podium indoors. But I love grinding it out in the outdoors as well, and that second in a moto at Red Bud really heightened things up, and I got a lot of top fives which I felt was great. Obviously, I would have loved to podium more frequently, and that was what Star was looking for, but it did not happen, and it was unfortunate. But I think this next year is going to be one of looking at podium rides all the time. I believe I can do it, especially on this bike.
THERE WAS SOME CHANCE THAT YOU MAY STAY WITH STAR YAMAHA WASN’T THERE? Yes, we were definitely considering it. I did not have any real offers earlier in the summer, so it is good to stay on a factory team and Star Yamaha is a great team. I love Bobby Regan (Star Yamaha Team Owner). They have great bikes, but obviously later, they did not want to go that route and signed Mitch Oldenberg, but you know that is O.K. I got another great opportunity with the Rockstar Husqvarna Team, and now I am looking to make the most of it. I hopped on the Husqvarna, and I felt at home right away. I love it, so it should be great.
HOW BAD WAS THE DRAMA AT STAR YAMAHA? Well, there was definitely some tension between Cooper (Webb), and Jeremy (Martin). It really seemed like Jeremy and the team was against each other, but I tried to be friends and get along with everyone. I wanted the best environment possible for myself. Jeremy is one of my best friends, so it was a little awkward under the tent. But I made the best of it, it was my rookie season and I was having a great time. I was running under one of the best teams in motocross, living my dream, so I could not complain too much. I think it was still a good atmosphere.
MANY OF THE STAR YAMAHA RIDERS TRAINED WITH GARETH SWANEPOEL, WHY DID YOU DO YOUR OWN THING? I did train with Gareth for that first year, but I did not really think that he was what I needed at that point. But I was not training on my own. I have been working with Dylan Turner. He trained with Jeremy Martin for a lot of years, and captured the 2014 Motocross Championship with him. I worked with him a little bit in amateurs and he really caught my eye, but I had to go with Gareth in the pros for that rookie season. Dylan helped me a lot in the progress for my second year as pro, and got me to a higher level. He is a great on the bike trainer as well, so he helped me with everything, he is a great corner trainer and I think he helped me tremendously for that second year. I am going to be with him next year and really as long as I can still have him.
IS IT FIRMED UP WHICH COAST YOU WILL RACE? It is not too firm, but I am pretty sure West. Obviously, we are not told anything yet. We don’t know everything, but that is what I think.
HAS THERE BEEN ONE THING THAT HAS STOOD OUT THAT IS DIFFERENT THAN YOUR YAMAHA? Well, is an Austrian brand and it is not a Japanese brand and they told me that it was going to be different and it is. It is more of a plusher feeling instead of stiff with an aluminum frame. The power delivery is a little different, but I definitely like how the frame is. It just feels like more of a broken in bike when you get on it, and I love that sort of thing. The whole class is going to be stacked, so I think I am good enough to be winning and that is what I expect to be doing.
NOW YOU ARE GOING TO BE IN CALIFORNIA FOR SOME TIME, AND THEN LATER MOVE BACK TO FLORIDA? Yes, we are going to get some stuff done, and tested here. I should hopefully be back in Florida in late November. I would like to get back and train with Dylan and he can see how I fit on this Husky, and we can really get back to our intense training. But right now it is great to be out here riding with all the fast guys like Dean, Jason, Zach, and Michael, so it is good to have all of those guys to ride with, and especially watch.
IN 2016 WITH STAR YAMAHA YOU WERE LIKELY THROWN INTO A STRESSFUL TEAM DYNAMIC, BUT ROCKSTAR HUSQVARNA SHOULD BE A GREAT NEW OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU. I agree that I think it is going to be an amazing opportunity for me, and it is a great bike and great team. Star was a great team too; I cannot really say anything bad about them. People will have their opinions and I just want to leave that for what it was. They are a great team, but I think Husqvarna is going to be a really good team. I love the bike already, so that is a great beginning, and there is no reason that I should not be up top.
HOW ARE YOU FEELING ABOUT 2018? I definitely feel that I should be up front, and I feel fit enough and strong enough and fast enough that I should be in that podium to win range. That is what I expect out of myself and that is what the team expects out of me. I am not there to finish second, obviously, nobody really is. Obviously, it is going to be a stacked class, but I believe in myself and I am excited to be racing in 2018.