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5 Minutes with... Kyle Cunningham

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Certainly, in a summer of stand-out rides during the 2008 AMA Toyota Motocross Championships Presented by FMF, privateer Kyle Cunningham’s seventh overall in the 250 class ranks near the top. While fellow privateer Cody Cooper may have finished several slots higher (in 450 class points), what makes Cunningham’s finish so impressive was that he was in a very full field of 250F factory bikes! If you follow racing closely, you likely know that the heart and determination the 18-year-old Texan exhibited is not a complete surprise; after all he’s the kid that left his hospital bed to race a supercross in 2007. Midway through the motocross series, Kyle’s string of impressive rides caught the eye of several team managers, including Motosport Extreme Kawasaki’s Bill Keefe. Not only was Cunningham signed on to race at the final two rounds, he was also rewarded with a slot in the team’s 2009 roster. With a recent move to Southern California, I was able to catch up with Kyle courtesy of his sister, Kristin.

  • Kyle Cunningham was picked up by Motosport Extreme Kawasaki after battling factory riders as a privateer.
Racer X: Kyle, what’s been going on since Steel City?
Kyle Cunningham: I just moved out to California a month ago, but I still go back and forth to Texas because my parents live there. I’m renting Andrew McFarlane’s old house, and my teammate PJ Larsen is living with me. We go riding together and stuff like that. I just started training with Ryno [Ryan Hughes] when I moved here. Everything’s been going great. We just got our new ‘09s that we’re starting to ride and I couldn’t ask for more. The bike’s great. Along with riding and training throughout the week, I’m playing a little golf here and there. I’m feeling pretty good already. Hopefully, if I’m on the West Coast, I should be more than ready for A1. 

So you think that you’ll be racing the West Coast Lites Series?
It’s hard to say right now with how injuries and things can happen. We’re still figuring it out with the team and playing it by ear. But like I told you, regardless of which coast that I race, my training is going great. I feel like Ryan Hughes is a big help to me. I can already see a difference in one month. Wherever I get put, I’m ready to go out and podium – and hopefully win some races. 

Things are probably going to be easier for you now than they were the past summer... 
Yeah, definitely. This summer was one of those times when things happened, and I had to go do it on my own, but it ended up being good for me. Luckily, I had my parents, and my sister Kristin who works for the Leatt Corporation... I couldn’t do it without my family. To have my dad there at the line with me was a big help. Also, the Wonder Warthog guys stepped in and set me up on the side of their rig. From knowing me at Yamaha of Troy, Will Decker at Enzo also came in and helped me a lot. There were also people like Little D from FMF, MDK, Alpinestars, Rich Taylor at EKS (X) Brand goggles, and Eddie Cole at SIXSIXONE who helped out. It’s a very big deal for me to mention them, because if it wasn’t for them and my family, I definitely wouldn’t have got to where I was. 

Let’s hear more about your summer.
I took bad starts at almost every round, but was able to make the top five for three or four rounds. I had some bad luck here and there, but I definitely felt like I made a lot of progress. I ended up seventh overall. That’s what keeps you driving to push harder, and wanting to do better. Then I ended up getting to ride the Motosport Outlet bike at the last two races. I didn’t have much testing time – maybe a couple days – but for those guys to step up like that was incredible. Then I was able to get myself a good spot for 2009 with the team. What was really nice was that the mechanic that lived with me for a year and a half when I raced my last year as an amateur was able to come along with me. Bill Keefe and Bobby Hewitt made that possible this year! His name is Steve Westall, and I’m excited about working with him again. Everything feels like it’s falling into place. I was able to get this house, which is very close to Ryno’s house and to the test tracks. My lap times have been good. I feel like I’m a contender to get on the box and try and win the championship. 

  • Kyle Cunningham at Southwick
  • Kyle Cunningham at Southwick
Every once in a while, you’ll see a privateer do well – like Cody Cooper did in the 450 class – but the 250 class is so stacked... There were probably ten or fifteen factory guys that finished behind you!
I definitely have the love for the sport, and this is absolutely what I want to do. There’s not a day where it feels like work. I think I showed that I have the heart for it. With the people that I’m going to have behind me this year, I believe that I can accomplish my goals and definitely do great things for the team and myself. 

Two years ago, then Yamaha of Troy team manager Dave Osterman plucked you out of the amateurs and signed you on for 2007 – your first year as a pro.  I was surprised to see that you didn’t return to the team for 2008. I feel that any rookie should come into the pros with a two-year deal. One year is not enough time. 
I completely agree. Actually, it was supposed to last another year. Everything was looking good after Glen Helen. I got ninth the first moto, and in the second moto I got seventeenth – after going down in the first turn. It wasn’t the greatest race, but I definitely put myself out there and did what I could. Earlier in supercross, I had some injuries – I crashed at the test track the week before San Francisco. I collapsed my lung and broke a rib and lay in a hospital bed for five days. I was doing pretty decent in points and couldn’t really stay out, so I came back the following weekend and got ninth. When the series was over, I ended up tenth overall. I definitely had the speed to run up front, but I may have lacked a little bit of knowledge. In the pros, it’s a completely different story. But I learned a lot and that definitely helped me this year. When I was signing with YoT, and Dave was there, everything was going great. The team did a lot for me, and I’m still friends with some of those guys. But things fell through, and I didn’t get offered a ride the following year like I expected. I felt like I needed a year to build, then another year to go out and prove myself. Ididn’t really get that, but the past is the past – no hard feelings. In the long run, it probably worked out better for me. 

This coming year looks to be exciting for you.
I’m really looking forward to do the things that I want to do, like get up on the box and win races. Those are definitely my goals and that’s what I’m looking forward to. This is where I’ve always pictured myself. I feel like if I put everything together and get some starts, that my speed’s there, and that I can run up front with those guys and hopefully take home some wins.
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