THE YOUNG & RECRUITED

For many years, the industry’s top brands and bike manufacturers have offered what is called “trackside support” to the amateur motocross community at all of the top races around the country. However, it seems the new buzz around the pits is something called “full factory support”, a term of status that used to be saved for the professional ranks once you crossed that bridge from amateur to pro. Yes, you read it right. Top tier teams on the FIM World Supercross Circuit and AMA Pro Motocross Nationals are providing a proving ground for selected young athletes to represent their brand throughout the amateur nationals all the way to their first pro contract. Although this might not be new news to some of you, the details and amount of support these young riders are receiving has skyrocketed over the last 5 years. But what exactly does this all entail? I decided to do some digging and check with my connections to find out.

BY SPENCER OWENS

Track side support is just that, support at the races. Many companies, brands and organizations offer sponsorships to the amateur motocross community. They provide assistance if needed at all the big racing events. These companies offer riders discounts on parts, accessories and gear especially if they have a strong race program and show that they have the potential to become a professional motocross racer. I mean come on, it’s great marketing for these companies to have these young athletes connected to their products. If you were lucky enough to be sponsored by these select brands, then riding and racing was a little easier Need tires? No worries! The crew at Dunlop is more than happy to give you a fresh set of MX52’s. Had a tough moto and ripped the one and only jersey your mom paid an extra $15 to get your last name and number put on? Cheer up! Chances are your sponsored gear brand is there to hook you up with a new one. Maybe you ran out of tear offs or need a new lens for your goggles? Hallelujah! Your goggle company is there to take good care of that vision problem. The convenience of track side support alone is worth it but depending on your contract details you could receive some great discounts on all the things you need because let’s face it, being a privateer and having no support means the parents are footing the bill for EVERYTHING; bikes, parts, gear, training, race fees, travel expenses, and anything else that goes into becoming a pro racer. Bottom line, trackside support for an armature rider and family is everything!

So, what’s different with “Full Factory Support” for these amateur riders? It means you’ve upgraded to the big leagues. Now this isn’t exactly a “new” term in the motocross industry however it is new to today’s generation of amateur racers. Factory Support means the riders are fully supported by a factory ranked team and all they have to do is show up to race. They pit with their team next to the big rig full of all the things they will need to race their best race. Gear, goggles, boots, tires, not to mention, you’re riding with the best equipment and parts money can buy. If your bike has trouble in the race, your team mechanic is standing by to fix it. Got a crick in your neck from a crash, well your team trainer is there to help you work it out. Need a blood sugar boost, go on into the rig and grab yourself something to eat. Sounds pretty rad right? And while no one wanted to comment on exactly what a contract looks like everyone I talked to seems really excited about this new type of program. 

“It’s just exciting to have the kids around with so much happiness and excitement for the sport. It’s a lot of fun and really takes you back to the fun and roots of the sport. It’s why we all love it.” – Will Hahn (Yamalube STAR Racing Yamaha)

Over the years we’ve seen organizations like “Team Green” formed in 1981 have an amateur program that produced talent like Austin Forkner, Adam Cianciarulo, and former champions Justin Hill, Dean Wilson, Blake Baggett, Ryan Villopoto, James Stewart and the G.O.A.T himself, Ricky Carmichael but this type of program is not the same as a “Full Factory Support” program. Even the bleeding army of orange, the “KTM Orange Brigade” formed in 2012 started out originally providing a type of trackside support system for their amateur riders. Recently similar amateur programs have formed like the “BLU CRU” and the “RM Army”, which are all great racing programs, but it seems the big story here is the fact that top tier teams such as Troy Lee Designs KTM, Yamalube STAR Racing Yamaha and GEICO Honda have created an elite amateur program under the factory tent for selected amateur riders. Truthfully, they’ve been doing this under the radar for years. Take Troy Lee Designs KTM for instance, they signed current pro Sean Cantrell at the age of fifteen in 2014 when he was racing in the Schoolboy and 250B classifications. After winning multiple Loretta Lynn titles Cantrell, now eighteen years old, has made his pro debut under the Troy Lee Designs KTM tent at the opening round of the 2017 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Nationals at Hangtown.

TLD KTM’s Mitchell Falk.

Honda Racing Corporation and GEICO Honda team manager Dan Betley said: “The benefit of signing a young athlete to our “Factory Support Program” is that they become exposed to our team structure early and gain an understanding of how the team functions on a day to day basis. We also get to evaluate not only the rider’s talent level, but the environment he is being raised in.”  Will Hahn (assistant team manager for Yamalube STAR Racing Yamaha) agrees “I think it’s the type of deal where it can always be risky, but for the most part it pays off. If you let a kid slowly ease into the program, then his jump to the pros is not so much of a shock. He will know what to expect and how to handle most situations.”

The goal for these teams is to build and create a place for today’s top amateur talent to progress seamlessly into the pros at age 18. Just recently, Yamalube STAR Racing Yamaha signed 250B/A championship contender Challen Tennant (Age 17), an 85cc Supermini powerhouse and Multi time 65cc-85cc title champion Matt LeBlanc (Age 13) to the program for 2018 and beyond. Tennant is scheduled to finish out the Fall/Spring nationals in the 250 A division, and make his pro debut at Hangtown alongside the team. LeBlanc is the newest addition to the STAR Racing squad, but sources tell me that this has been in the works for quite some time. After an impressive performance at Loretta Lynn’s this past summer, the team decided to make it official. When asked about signing Matt LeBlanc, Will Hahn said, “Matt’s racing ability is awesome, and he also comes from such a humble family with great morals. He was truthfully an obvious choice to bring on board! We know his skill level as of right now, and we are currently trying to get him over here to California to start testing and working with our guys. Before you know it, training with Swanie (STAR Racing Trainer Gareth Swanepoel) early will have him even further ahead of the ball in his career!”

Matt Leblanc’s Yamalube Star Racing Yamaha YZ85.

Just up the 15 freeway from STAR Racing in sunny Southern California, we have the infamous GEICO Honda 250 squad. If you’ve been an avid fan of the sport, you’d know that the FC Honda program has been around for many years and has had great success with race wins and series championships. Today’s top riders like Eli Tomac, Justin Barcia, Justin Bogle, Jordan Smith, RJ Hampshire and Chase Sexton all graduated from the amateurs to the pros with GEICO Honda. The difference between these riders and the amateur riders of today are that all of the riders listed above signed with their factory support team when they were in their final armature year (A class) as opposed to being signed at a much younger age like GEICO Honda youngsters Jo Shimoda (Age 15), Carson Mumford (Age 15), and the newly signed Hunter Yoder (Age 12).

The expectations of our young athletes is to hopefully continue to improve and grow on a GEICO Honda motorcycle. And then when the time is right move up to our GEICO Honda pro team”. – Dan Betley (GEICO Honda)

Like every recruiting backstory, Schoolboy 2 and 250B title contender Jo Shimoda signed with the team in late 2016 after pulling together multiple jaw dropping rides in front of the head honchos at GEICO Honda all throughout the 2016 amateur circuit. After that, the team decided to bring the talented young athlete from Japan aboard. 2017 was his first run on the Honda CRF 250, and team mechanic for Jo Shimoda, Cameron Camera, mentioned that We couldn’t be prouder of his development and progress.

JO SHIMODAGEICO Honda’s Jo Shimoda.

Rewind back to the year 2015 when the most sought out child prospect and certified 85cc ripper Carson Mumford was added to the Honda program.  #122 spent most of his amateur days riding under Kawasaki “Team Green” organization, until he finally firmed everything up with GEICO Honda and put his name to ink on the final contract to ride the Honda CRF150 in late 2015. “Signing with GEICO Honda was a dream come true. Although Kawasaki did want me to stay, this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I know going from a 2-Stroke to a 4-Stroke is tough and hard for some, but personally for me I got use to the factory bike super quick and felt very comfortable on the 150cc 4-Stroke right off the bat. I definitely noticed a huge difference”, said Mumford, after riding his new factory built machine for the very first time. 2017 is Carson’s 2nd year with the team and as of this week he has officially moved up to the Schoolboy 2 and 250B so this “new” program seems to be working. The young rider from Simi Valley, California will race the next 3 years as an amateur, and make his pro debut with the GEICO Honda squad in 2020 if all goes as planned.

On Saturday October 14th at 1:30PM in Las Vegas Nevada, among the top teams and talent in the “Party in the Pits” at the 2017 Monster Energy Cup, GEICO Honda unveiled their newest 150cc “Supermini” machine and its rider, Hunter Yoder. The 12-year-old rider from Menifee, California has had the industries eyes and ears since he made his mark on the scene in 2009. Yoder made an immediate impact on the “Orange Brigade” KTM program in the early stages of his career. He has won multiple titles and was referred to as a young “prodigy” for quite some time around the pits. As of right now, he is the youngest racer to be recruited by a factory organization. He has had much success in the 50cc and 65cc classes, and 2018 is scheduled to be his breakout year in the 85cc and Supermini classes. I had a chance to sit down with Hunter over the weekend, and when asked, what was it like to be recruited at such a young age by one of the largest team’s in the industry, he replied: “It’s definitely different and a crazy feeling. I mean, this is a full factory tricked out bike that I’m riding now. So, it adds just a little more pressure on me *laughs*. But for the most part, I just try to go out there and do my thing. Obviously, it’s truly amazing to be on a full factory team riding a full factory CRF150R, and I’m beyond excited to start racing next season!”.

HUNTER YODERGEICO Honda’s Hunter Yoder.

Riding a full factory machine at such a young age is quite the accomplishment and very important to a rider’s career development but, education is also a very important factor. Will the industry be able to accommodate these young riders and their educational goals? One big change for Hunter this year is that he will be homeschooled. “Public school was getting to be too much in the sense that I just couldn’t keep up with balancing the work all while trying to test with the new bike, getting practice time during the week and oftentimes traveling mid-week to the races. The team is really great about supporting me and making sure my work gets taken care of”.

As a young kid growing up in the stix of Southern California dreaming of being a professional motocross athlete, hearing the term “Full Factory Support” as an amateur would have been nothing short of a dream for me and my family to say the least. And although trackside support is still a big need in today’s amateur racing paddocks, it’s so incredible to see these top tier teams reaching out to the lucky few and providing them with an opportunity and a real chance at a career in the sport they love. As for me and my career well, let’s face it the closest thing to a factory contract I’ll ever see is signing with Red Bull KTM on MXGP 3 video game.

2018 AMATEUR MOTOCROSS COVERAGE