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Privateer Profile: Jesse Black

It’s the week before the Steel City National which means we can usually expect some visitors from the AMA Toyota Motocross tour stopping by the Racer X headquarters. For the past few days we’ve had David Bulmer from ayearinmx.com fame gracing us with his presence, as well as the Team Solitaire semi. Today we ran into a few of the Solitaire mechanics preparing for this weekend, so we went out and chatted with Ryan Clark’s main mechanic, Jesse Black, for today’s Sponsorhouse.com Privateer Profile.

Racer X: Jesse, sum up your 2007 season for us so far.
Jesse Black: The whole season in general has been a learning process for us. Last year we came off some pretty good finishes in supercross and the nationals, and we had high expectations coming into this year. We didn’t really fare so well in supercross—we barely finished inside the top 20 in the World points, and that kind of left us scratching our heads. We had a good program and we were better prepared than ever, so we were expecting a lot.
       Coming into the nationals we were starting all over and Ryan had a pretty good finish at Hangtown, so we were pumped about that. And we just started slowly not getting results again, and so we made a pretty big change after RedBud. Halfway through the nationals we switched to MB1 suspension, and that sort of breathed new life into our program, especially with Ryan. He started getting into the top 10 in the timed qualifying, and his confidence really went up. Ever since then we’ve been battling for  top 10 finishes, where we should be. And at Millville he got tenth overall, so the next three nationals we expect to be in the top 10.

Let’s back up a bit. How did you first get involved in motocross, Jesse?
I grew up near District 5 in western Maryland, so I grew up racing at High Point, Steel City, Pleasure Valley and a few of the outlaw tracks. I started racing and riding when I was 13, and my first bike was a CR80. I also grew up learning to work on my own bike and I evolved into a pretty good Intermediate rider through District 5. Then when I graduated high school I was working for my father’s surveying company, and didn’t really want to do that for the rest of my life. I knew I wasn’t going to make it as a racer, so I elected to go to the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute. I had a pretty good mechanical background just learning on my own, and I went there and learned a ton and could apply myself a lot more.

Team Solitaire's Technical Director, Jesse Black.

So for someone who would like to get a job as a professional rider’s mechanic, would you definitely recommend attending MMI?
I would, unless you know someone or something like that. But the way bikes are evolving now, with the new four-strokes and fuel injection, MMI is definitely a very good place to get your foot in the door.

When you attended MMI, were two-strokes or four-strokes more prevalent?
I attended in 2000, so the Yamaha four-stroke was out, but that’s about it. But that’s how I learned how to work on four-strokes, because I grew up riding and working on two-strokes. A lot of people  and backyard mechanics are kind of afraid to work on four-strokes these days.

Tell us how you got hooked up with Team Solitaire.
Well, after MMI I continued racing and got up to the local pro level, but I moved out to Phoenix and I knew Ryan Clark lived out there because I followed his column in Racer X all the time. I always rooted for him and I saw him at the Vegas supercross, and I saw that he switched to Honda, and I’ve always been partial to Hondas. I went back to Phoenix and emailed Ryan about possibly working on his practice bikes. At the time I was out of MMI for about four years, but then I went back as an instructor for Honda for a year. So when I initially contacted Ryan, I was a Honda instructor at MMI, so Ryan thought that would be a good fit. That was two years ago, and I’ve been with Ryan ever since.

Has this gig been everything you expected it would be?
It’s not as glamorous as everyone thinks. There are long hours. Most people ask me what I do during the week, because I guess they think it’s only a weekend job or something. I live right beside Ryan, so all week we’re riding and testing and I’m working on his practice bikes. We’re just always trying to improve. We got a good program right now.

Are you strictly a mechanic, or do you work on other facets of the team as well?
The way our team is structured, I help a lot with everything. My job title on my business card is Technical Director. I’m in charge of ordering all the parts and keeping them in inventory. I work with all the sponsors and the aftermarket companies, with either improving their parts and giving them feedback or testing them. When I started with Ryan he was doing everything, and he just had his first kid and wanted to step back a bit, so he trusted me to take over some of the responsibilities. I’m also in charge of the other mechanics on the team, which includes J.R. Boyd, who is our Lites mechanic, and Arthur Clinton, who is Jiri Dostal’s mechanic, and he’s out of Washington State. And interestingly enough, both of those guys were my students at MMI. J.R. was from Phoenix and I hired him first, a few months after I started working with Ryan, and Arthur started at the nationals this year with Jiri.

I see a frame sitting on a stand behind you. Do you completely tear Ryan’s race bike down to the bare frame in between each national?
Yes, we tear them all the way down to the frame every national. We rebuild the motors every two nationals. We do all of that ourselves right here on the truck. The bigger teams are able to ship their motors back to the guys in the shop and have motors on rotation, but we have one backup motor on the truck and we do all of our own motor rebuilds right here.

What’s the toughest part of your job?
Everyone says it, but it’s definitely the travel. I love going and seeing different places, but it’s the two days I lose sitting in an airport and on an airplane.

So you have any plans in the works for 2008?
Oh yeah, we have some pretty big plans, and I’m sure there will be some press releases going out here soon. Our recent partnership with MB1 suspension has been great, and I think that’ll help us for the future. The ultimate goal is to one day be on the level of a Factory Connection or Pro Circuit team.

Team Solitaire's owner, Ryan Clark.

Do you still find time to ride yourself?
Occasionally I do, but it’s so hot back in Phoenix that I haven’t rode much this summer. But after High Point earlier this year, I went back to where I grew up, which is in western Maryland, about 45 minutes from High Point and did some riding.

In closing, I’m sure you have some people you’d like to thank for getting you here.
First off I’d like to thank Ryan Clark for giving me this opportunity, and I’d like to thank my family and my girlfriend and everyone on the team that I work with: J.R. Boyd, Arthur Clinton, Jed Mingo our truck driver, and all of our sponsors for supporting us and making Team Solitaire possible.

You can visit Team Solitaire online at www.teamsolitaire.com.

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