AURORA, Ill., (Dec. 1, 2005) - TUF Racing founder Dave Antolak has been involved with the sport of motocross since its halcyon days back in the early 1970s. He was a racer for a while, back when guys were just starting to get the sport figured out. Then he did what a lot ofguys end up doing, going to college, getting a job, getting married -all the while still daydreaming about racing motocross.
A chemist by trade, Antolak figured out a way in the early 1980s tomove MX product around and make enough of a living at it to fund his racing. Some 25 years later he's still races, only now as the teamowner for the most successful Toyota AMA National Arenacross Series team over the last decade - Thor/Honda/TUF Racing.
This weekend marks the return to its home state of Illinois for theDeKalb-based TUF Racing shop. We caught up with Antolak as he was getting the team's bikes prepped for Friday and Saturday's action at the Rockford Metrocentre.
Antolak: I started racing in 1971 on a Yamaha DT 125 with electricstart that I converted to a motocross bike when I was 18. I worked as a mechanic to fund my way through college and to pay for my racing, so it ended up taking me six years to graduate. I graduated with a degree in chemistry and started to work for an engineer for a company that designed process control equipment. They made Infra-red gas analyzers and other types of equipment. I designed systems for places such asArgonne Labs, Universal Underwriters, Fermi Labs and a lot of stuff forthe steel mills. I stopped racing when I graduated to get married, buy a house, get a real job just like a lot of other guys did. But after afew years I wanted to get back into it so in 1982 I bought a new RM250and started racing again. I started TUF Racing in 1983 as a way to justify spending money to go racing. We would buy closeout items fromTorsten Hallmen Racing and sell them through ads in "MotocrossAction." We were one of the first mail order companies. Back then it was hard to find motocross gear. Then it just kind of took off from there. In 1985 I quit my engineering job and bought a Kawasaki dealership in Dekalb and we added Suzuki and KTM after that.
AX: Talk about how you got involved with Arenacross.
Antolak: In 1985 we started doing a supercross/motocross team with Alan King. We were one of the first priveteer teams on the circuit. After Alan retired we had Keith Bowen, Todd Dehoop, Mark Barnett, RonTichenor, Ron Leichen, John Dowd as well as a few others that I can't think of at the moment. We were the top privateer team almost every year during that time. We had many top five finishes in supercross.Leichen won the Toyko Supercross one year and Tichenor finished 3rd overall in the 125 Nationals in 1991. When the semi trucks and some ofthe bigger outside teams started it became too much time to keep up with the image factor needed to field a successful team. The Arenacross series fit the bill of satisfying my racing addiction and the time restrictions of running the business. The Arenacross series starts in November and ends in March, so it is in the slow season for the shop and fits in better with my schedule. So in 1996 we fielded our first Arenacross team with Jimmy Gaddis and Jeremy Buehl. We won somethinglike 90% of the races and finished 1st and 2nd that year. The next year I talked Buddy Antunez and Denny Stephenson into doing the series and we won again. Buddy went to the Suzuki factory team after that and we finished 2nd to him for the next four years. During that time we had riders like Chad Pederson, Jeff Willoh, Jiri Dostal, Isiah Johnson,Jason Thomas, Josh Demuth, Jeff Gibson, Chad Johnson - as well as quite a few other notable names. The Toyota AMA National Arenacross Series is a great series and the shorter season makes it much more enjoyable to do.
AX: Your team this year is right on the cusp of taking off. Talk about Brock and Jeff, your feelings on the first half of the season and your expectations for the second half of the season.
Antolak: We almost didn't do a team this year because of the split in the two series, but when Jeff Fox from Parts Unlimited and Chuck Miller from Honda approach you to do a team - it's very hard not to say 'Yes.'Then when Brock and Jeff wanted to ride for us it was impossible not to do it. We got a little bit of a late start so it has taken us a few races to get our act together, but with our first win last week in Charlotte I think we are just about there now. I think I have the two best riders out there, so I expect to win this thing. But remember, this is Arenacross and things can change in an instant. Last year Motoworld lost both of their riders in one night.
AX: Thor and Honda are your title sponsors. How did the relationship with these two marquee MX companies come about?
Antolak: I have known Jeff Fox for more than 20 years and he is truly one of the best persons in this industry. He tells it like it is and what he promises always comes through. Thor and Parts Unlimited have been with us from the beginning and have been a major contributor to our success both in racing and in our business. Chuck Miller at Honda is also a great person to work with we have worked with them as far back as 1997 when we helped Honda win its first and only Arenacross championship with Buddy. And we hope to give them another this year.
AX: What's your opinion on the new AX format (80 percent AMA AX class, 20 percent AMA Lites class)?
Antolak: I think its a much better format and that is what led us to follow the Toyota/AMA series. Riding only one bike makes it much easier and cheaper for teams to get involved.The program now is in a format that I think the general public can follow easier. One AX winner and one AX Lite winner, instead of riders being on the podium in both classes. At least I don't think that has happened yet. The program runs smoother and finishes at a more reasonable time. In the past most ofthe crowd was gone by the 250 main event.
AX: What's it like coming home to race Rockford?
Antolak: Well it's nice because its close and I don't have to go very far. Parts' headquarters are up right over the border in Janesville, Wisc., which is very close to Rockford. So we get a lot of the Parts people down to watch so that adds a little pressure, but we usually do well here.
AX: Talk some more about your retail outlet - how are things going this year?
Antolak: Well I have sold the retail outlet in the last few weeks. Andy Stacy is taking over and they are having a open house this week and we will be there to sign autographs on Thursday night (Dec. 1, from 7-9p.m.) followed by an all-day sale (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) on Friday.
AX: What other powersports avenues do you get involved with?
Antolak: I take care of all the UFO (plastic) sales in the U.S., which is getting to be a full time job by itself. We are the #1 plastic company in the U.S. and we are going to be added quite a few new products this year. I have also opened a indoor practice Arenacross track with a long time friend Ron Downen that is doing very well. Wehave 96,000 square feet and lap times are around a minute for the faster guys. This I believe is the largest indoor track in the country at this time.
AX: Are you into other things outside motocross?
Antolak: Not much really I still like to ride, and my son is 14 and doing really well racing so it looks like I will have a partner to go riding with for at least a few more years.
AX: One last question, Dave. What would be some of your suggestions on how could one improve the Toyota AMA National Arenacross Series?
Antolak: I have been told that they are going to use Toyota AMA Series as a qualifying system for supercross. That the only way a new rider will be able to ride a supercross will be to win the Pro-Sportclass a Lorreta's or get a specified number of points in Arenacross. I think this is a great idea.The Toyota AMA Series then would be aproving ground for all the upcoming riders kind of like a farm league so to speak. The fans would be able to come out and see all the new talent and on the other hand the teams can see how the rider performs before they sign him to the big bucks. I think with the teams watching this Series will find other riders that they maybe haven't been able to follow the amateur nationals, but are still able to compete on the pro level. This can only help both the series and the sport.
AX: Super! Thanks for your time, Dave. And good luck this weekend.
Tickets are available online at www.arenacross.com, www.tickets.com (Guthrie and Green Bay only), and www.centreevents.com (Rockford only).
For more information on the Toyota AMA National Arenacross Series log on to www.arenacross.com.