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5 Minutes with...John Mitcheff

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Driving east on the 91 Freeway in Corona, California, I looked over, as I always do, at the big phosphorous white Pro Circuit Racing building. With an hour of free time on my hands, I decided to hit the off ramp and dive in and see if Mitch Payton and company were in. They were not. “They’re all out testing today,” said the friendly dude behind the counter. “Is John Mitcheff in?” I asked. “You know what, I think he is,” he answered. “Head on back.” So I did. And there he was, Mitcheff and Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team manager Zach White sitting in the race shop, talking quietly. I said hello to John and asked if, perhaps, Ryan Villopoto’s 2008 Motocross of Nations bike was still in the shop. “Look behind you,” drawled Mitcheff. And there it was. I first met John in 2004 when he was wrenching for the now-defunct Team Subway/Coca-Cola race team. Quiet, yet always friendly, it was cool to see Mitcheff ultimately land at Pro Circuit. The rest is history. Now a multifold AMA National Championship-winning mechanic, Mitcheff is best known for his work with three-time AMA Lites National Champion Ryan Villopoto. Both Villopoto and Mitcheff are soon to be on their way to the Motocross of Nations in Donington, England. Amazed at the effort and professionalism that went into the overall effort, John gave us the skinny on the bike, the preparation, Ryan, and just what the future held for the dynamic duo.

Racer X: Damn, John, Ryan’s Motocross of Nations bike looks immaculate. How long have you been working on the thing?
John Mitcheff: We started working on it when we got back from Steel City. We had two bikes to build and basically three engines — one for each bike and a backup engine. We’ve been all done for about four or five days now.

  • John posing with Ryan Villopoto's 2008 MXoN bike
So is this the A+ race bike in front of us?
Yeah, this is the actual race bike here. The other bike is the backup bike.

Okay, I know you can’t talk too much about the engine in the bike, but is it a good one?
Oh, we’re all good. They’re all brand-new — everything is brand-new. You can’t take any chances over there, so everything is brand-new. All three motors that we have are brand-new. Everything.

And the bike leaves for Europe tomorrow?
The crate leaves on Monday, so we’re going to load everything up tomorrow. Kawasaki is going to come down and do the paperwork and then they’ll pick them up on Monday and take them to LAX and fly them over there.

When do you leave?
We leave Tuesday, the 23rd, I believe. That way, we get there on Wednesday and then we’ll go straight to Kawasaki UK and unload our crates and put everything on the truck and drive to the track. That’s the plan right now.

Do you know much about this Donington track?
We’ve watched tapes on it from the GP this year. It’s hard-packed and kind of has big jumps, but they’re mellow. It just depends on the weather; if it is going to rain, then it might be a little different. We have three sets of suspension, one on each bike and one set of suspension set-up for hard pack conditions. We kind of have all of our bases covered if the track changes from muddy to loamy to hardpack. Either way, we’re covered. So, I think we’re going to be good.

Last year at Budds Creek, did you think Ryan was going to do as well as he did or were you shocked?
[Pause] Um, I was shocked the first moto, but after seeing it the first moto, I kind of knew he could do that second moto, too. He’s solid there at that Budds Creek track. Everybody knew that. But it also helped with those guys [Carmichael and Ferry] giving up that inside gate. That was the whole key — that inside starting gate. It was fun to watch, that’s for sure.

How do you guys feel about this year? Do you feel just as good about things?
Yeah, I think we have a really solid team. I mean, James [Stewart] is riding awesome right now and Ryan is riding awesome and then Timmy [Ferry] finished a good, solid season in second. And the track there is kind so supercross-looking. From watching the GP race from there, those guys don’t have a lot of good style. They jump high and they don’t scrub jumps and stuff, so I think we’re still going to be fast.

Will this be your last race with Ryan?
No.

So you’re going to move with him to the factory Kawasaki team?
Yeah, actually we had the meeting yesterday with [Mike] Fisher at Kawasaki and I’ll probably be starting there right away after we get back from the Motocross des Nations. We’re going to start testing the 450 stuff right away after we get back. So I guess this will be the last race bike I prep here, anyways. I’ll be moving to Kawasaki. It’s good for me. It’s closer. I live in Newport, so it’s closer to home and stuff. I’m pretty excited about going. I’m pretty pumped.

  • John and Ryan will be working together again in 2009.
Can Ryan give James a run for his money at the Motocross of Nations over in England?
I don’t know. We were watching the GP track and it might be a good race between small bikes and big bikes because it’s kind of tight. There’s not really a disadvantage for the 450 except for some of the jumps. It’s so tight. I noticed when we were watching the GP race that the 450s had to kind of set the corners up, where the small bikes could turn. It’s going to be close. James is riding awesome right now and he’s going to be the man over there, for sure.

You’ve been with Ryan his entire professional career, correct?
Yeah, this is my third year with him. When he came on the team as a rookie I got put up there with him. I’ve been with him ever since,

Why do you guys get a long so well?
I’m a quiet guy and I’m pretty laid back, I guess. That’s what everybody says. He does his thing and I do my thing and when it comes time for the races, we just click and get the job done. I think we’re both kind of quiet and that’s why we get along so good.

James is moving from Kawasaki to Yamaha and that kind of shakes things up, huh? What do you think about 2009?
James is going to be solid on any bike that he rides. He could ride a Husqvarna and probably still be solid. Supercross? Ryan just has to have a good season. It’s going to be a learning period for him, you know? It’ll be his first year on the 450 and all of them guys have a couple of years under their belts, though. I would say the main goal for him in supercross would be to just finish in the top five in every race. And in outdoors? I’ve seen Ryan ride a 450 outdoors and he hauls butt. I think in the outdoors, it’s going to be good racing.

Okay John, best of luck to you and Ryan over in England…
All right. Thanks, Eric. I appreciate it.

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