Racer X: Jimmy, it was my second year competing in this poker tournament, and judging from what I saw, there’s no doubt that it’s getting bigger and better.
Jimmy Button: Yes, it sure is. I was pretty fortunate that I had the turnout that I did from the professional poker side of things. Over the last eight or ten months, I’ve been going and doing a lot of those guys’ charity events. I did one while I was at the World Mini a few months back. I’ve been trying to do their events to help them out, and vice versa. It kind of gave me a little bit of credibility so that those guys then came out and did my charity as well. I also had a couple of those guys come out to the Road 2 Recovery golf tournament, right before the Las Vegas supercross. So, I’ve been trying to branch out and get those guys to come out and do stuff, and they’re all into motocross, which is great. So that kind of makes it a little more legit in the poker world, and I think with having those guys known that they’re going to be at the event, the regular players, like myself, are then able to sit down and play next to a professional player and learn and have fun with them. I think that makes it more appealing to the regular player. It helps the foundation, plus it’s only three hundred bucks to play next to some of the best players in the world.
Everyone knows that you’re a former professional and factory racer, but not a lot of people realize your passion for poker. Where did that come from?
Yeah, back in the day when we’d fly to races, I remember having poker games and stuff like that on Friday nights before a supercross. Jeremy McGrath, Jeff Emig and I would have small games, just for fun. After I got hurt, because I can’t do anything physical, I still had that feeling inside me where I wanted to compete. And so I tried finding some sort of outlet for that, and poker was the only thing I could find that gave me that competitive feeling back, so that’s the reason why I’ve taken to it so much. I play quite a bit now, and it’s simply because I can’t jet ski, I can’t ride a motocross bike, I can’t go mountain biking, I can’t do all those things I used to do. Those are fun, physical activities, but they’re also competitive. And since I have a passion for poker, I thought I could help the foundation, too.
I started playing a few years ago, and I can relate as I find poker competitive, fun, and it gets the adrenaline flowing. And that’s why we all started riding dirt bikes, right?
How far did you make it in this year’s tournament?
[Laughs] Uhh, I went out eleventh – bubble boy! It’s my claim to fame. I played a really big tournament up in Vegas during the World Series of Poker, but right before the main event. It was a charity event for Phil Ivey, who is a professional player, and he had about 120 players, and they were all pros, and they were all invited. And I actually got an invite to play, which was amazing because it was a really big buy-in, and they comp’d my buy-in, which was super cool. So I went out tenth in that thing as well, missing the final table by one! But it was amazing to play with all those pros, and the fact that I made it that far was pretty cool.
The main prize for the Road 2 Recovery tournament is a $10,000 seat into the 2009 World Series of Poker. Have you ever played in the World Series?
No, not yet. I got really close this year, because I play online at FullTiltPoker.net, and I played two of their qualifying tournaments, and again I was bubble boy. One of the tournaments they gave away two seats and I got third; in the other they gave away eight seats and I got ninth. Those tournaments are five- or six-hour tournaments. It’s a little disheartening and the computer almost went into the wall, but I’ll get there. I’m on the right track and I’m learning quite a bit. I’ve taken a poker boot camp for three days right after the Lakewood National. I’ve learned quite a bit from that, and I’m willing to put in the time and effort.
As you mentioned earlier, there was a handful of poker pros entered in this year’s tournament, including the winner, Tiffany Michelle, and 2006 World Series of Poker champion Jamie Gold, Jennifer Harman, Todd Brunson, and Jeff Madsen, among many others. How did you pull such star power? Honest and truly, I just asked. Again, I think it goes back to moto. People like motocross; it’s a cool sport. Especially an event like the U.S. Open – it’s in Vegas, it’s a cool event and a party atmosphere, so it’s a good time and a majority of those guys live there. Tiffany actually just flew into Vegas that morning because she was just coming back from a tournament overseas. She was born and raised in Valencia, so she has been to [the] Anaheim [supercross] probably ten times. For her getting involved it was a no-brainer, but I’ve know Jeff Madsen for a year or so, and a few of the other ones were just really cool and said they would come out and support us.
One of my fellow co-workers, Steve Cox, seemed a little disappointed with the pros because he got sent packing by Brandon Cantu, but I told him that’s the magic of poker – amateurs can play with the pros. That’s so true. I don’t care who you are, you’re probably not going to go tee it up with Tiger Woods, you’re not going to hit a fastball from Roger Clemens, you’re not going to line up in between number seven and twenty-two. It just isn’t going to happen. I don’t care how much money you have and how powerful you are, it’s not going to happen. You’re not going to walk to the grid with Dale Jr. and Kevin Harvick, and this is one of the only sports where you can basically be average Joe off the street and you can go sit down with the best and watch and learn, and unfortunately for some, get taken out by one.
I went and checked out Tiffany Michelle’s website (www.tiffanymichelle.com) and she already has a blog up about winning the tournament and she said that if she finishes in the money next year she’s going to donate five percent of her winnings back to the Road 2 Recovery Foundation.
Yeah, she’s been great! I took her around on Friday and walked her through the pits and to the semis, and Tiffany has been to races before, but never that close. She thought it was the coolest thing and she is offering me any help that I need; if we want to do more tournaments, whatever. All the players that were at the event want to wear Road 2 Recovery patches on their clothing next year at the Worlds Series of Poker, which is really cool. When you see it on ESPN, the camera just sits on people, so if our logo is out there, maybe it will get people to go to our website to check it out, which is great.
Do you have a final tally of how much Road 2 Recovery raised? It definitely was our most successful to date. It’s kind of weird the way it works with gaming and everything, but the money all goes to the MGM and they total it up and give us a status report, so we’re waiting for that. I think we’re going to be maybe somewhere in the $50,000 range, which is great.
Well, I just want to thank you and your mom and Jenny Coombs and Chuck Baldwin and everyone at Road 2 Recovery for putting this on, but I’m sure you have some people you’d like to thank as well. Yes, for sure. My mom, Anita, came on a couple years ago after she retired from her regular job, and I think she actually works more now than she did before, but she has been super great as handling these events. But she got together with a lady up in Vegas named Lisa Wheeler who has been super great for helping us out in the poker community. I also want to thank all the guys over at FullTiltPoker.net for giving the gift bags to everyone, and of course Monster Energy, Toyota, Curtis and Company watches, and all of the manufacturers. Also a big thanks to all the players and to the websites they’re sponsored by. They give them the support to come out to our event, so I can’t even thank everyone enough for doing all that they did.
So, you’re saying there is a chance for maybe more of these poker tournaments?
Yeah, we might end up having a couple of them a year. I don’t think the other one will be involved with a race, but you never know – maybe Anaheim.