David Pingree has worn exactly two hats in his motocross career: One as a racer, and one as an editor for Racer X Illustrated. But he’s about to try on Hat #3, which is actually a manager’s headset. Ping is the new manager of the Troy Lee Designs Honda team, and he makes his debut on the infield this Saturday night in Anaheim Stadium.
David Pingree: Yeah, I am a little excited, actually. Also very stressed out!
I think everybody is ready for the season to start—we’re ready for a new beginning. And I won’t throw in an Obama joke there because I know he’s your man [laughs]. But you guys have been at work for probably quite a few weeks.
We have, but man, there are a couple of things that have just been killing us. One is that the opening round is usually January 5th or 6th or 7th, so it gives you a few days after the New Year when companies are back doing business, and if you needed to chase parts or something like that, you can do it. With it being the 3rd this year, if you didn’t have what you needed last week, you’re not getting it. We had to go down to Pro Circuit and buy some handlebars because we didn’t have them, and we’re chasing little parts that are last minute, and these companies basically shut down on the 23rd and don’t open up till the 5th. So yeah, I’m pulling my hair out.
Well at least Troy Lee’s race shop is in Corona, so you don’t have to go far.
No, that’s relatively convenient, but I just always saw this from the other side. As a rider, you hear the mechanics and team managers stressing out about getting ready for the season, and you’d go, ‘Why are these guys so nervous, I’m the one going racing?’ So now as the guy who has got to make sure that the bikes are built and all the sponsors are taken care of and pit passes and hospitality and everything else that goes along with it, I’ve aged probably about five years in the last two months.
It’s a little different from when you were a rider, huh?
It’s a lot different. You know, I always have known that injuries have been a difficult thing for this sport. You sell the sponsors, Okay, here are our guys, Jimmy Albertson and Jake Moss. Everybody gets excited about it and the sponsors put in money because they want to get behind it, and here we are two days away from the opener, and neither of our two original guys are going to be racing. Moss had a back injury and, as you probably will see later today in a press release, Jimmy Albertson broke his navicular on Monday and is getting surgery today. So we’re scrambling around to make something happen. Luckily we filled in with Chris Blose, who is doing amazing for us—he’s going to really turn some heads this year. And Sean Borkenhagen who is a rookie kid that we just want to do something with because we all really like him. He’s just a fill-in guy. And just yesterday we lined up someone else to…
Let me guess.
Okay, go ahead.
Umm, Steve Boniface?
[Laughs] How’d you know? He’s going to ride a 450 though, which we’ve never had a 450 supercross rider.
To be honest with you, I spotted it on one of Guy B’s posts on VitalMX.
[Laughs] So anyway, its super last-minute, but it all worked out as far as sponsors go, so we plugged him in and we’re going racing.
When you’re a racer, a lot of your time is spent in the gym with your trainer, cycling, etc…
[Laughs] Well, I don’t know how it is for a vice-champion, but a lot of the champions do it that way. What is your morning like now as a team manager?
I get to start it out now with gridlock. It’s awesome. You sense the sarcasm there? I love Southern California traffic. Beyond that, a lot of my time is spent coordinating with the mechanics, making sure they’ve got what they need and that they’re moving forward on the bikes and all that. If our team was older guys who had their own programs, I probably wouldn’t have to worry about them so much. But because I’ve got a couple younger kids, they don’t know what to do. As scary as this is, I’ve been kind of helping them with their riding and training programs and getting them focused and set in the right direction.
Ping, you helping someone with their training program is like me helping someone with their French!
I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s better than what they know. Anyway, between that and chasing sponsors and contracts—you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to get a contract out to someone, signed and returned. Well, maybe you would, actually. Especially in this economy, it’s like pulling stubborn teeth.
Where does the team practice at? Do you have access to the Honda test track?
We have limited access to the Honda track. Erik Kehoe is very generous to let us come out. We’re not Honda’s “official” Lites supercross support team—Factory Connection is—but we are their official Supermoto team, so he does give us some leeway there and let us come out. But we have to be very careful land considerate of when they’re testing and things like that. We are in the process of building out own test track, but it just kind of run in to some county issues.
Umm, he’s more like the Jerry Garcia. He’s awesome, l love Troy. We had a funny thing the other day; we were talking about our race day program, what’s it going to be, what’s our schedule like, and I said I’m trying to implement a little bit more structure. I said, Look, after the races, when the guys get done we’ll let them watch the 450 final, then I want everybody back because I want to have a team meeting in the truck. Just mechanics, riders and Troy and Bob Weber. And Troy goes, “Oh, I don’t know man.” He’s not feeling it for some reason. He then said, “Well, I was thinking I’ll probably be having a couple cocktails, so I don’t want to come in there all drunk. Can we just do it on Tuesday at lunch?” [Laughs] So I was like, All right, Troy. But he’s awesome.
Like yesterday, a perfect example. I’m out in the race shop and the bike guys are getting ready to go to the test track and race bikes are getting finalized. And this long-haired dude comes walking in, and I’m like Who is this guy? Troy is giving him and his friend a tour, and it turns out to be Slash from Guns ‘N Roses. He’s on his way to Glamis so he just stopped in to get some gear. So we met Slash yesterday—and he fired up a cigarette in our race shop!
Last week there was this young kid in the shop the other day, and I don’t follow NASCAR very closely. I see Troy taking this young kid on a tour—he looked about 17—and it turns out to be Kasey Kahne! So I meet him and he’s a super nice guy and he’s actually sponsoring our team this year.
I understand that both Kasey and Jimmy Vasser are helping out.
Yeah, Vasser has been doing stuff with Troy for a long time. Troy has painted his helmets and they’ve been buddies. Vasser now owns a winery, so Troy has made all the labels.
Oh man, I hope my wife isn’t reading this.
Oh, I’ll tell you what, she does not want to get together with Jimmy, Troy, or Kenny Adams, and go turn their teeth purple. I’ve seen it happen…
Is there any chance that Albertson will be back for some latter East region races?
We’ve considered it, but at this point… Our team does this on a shoestring budget compared to just about every other race team. When you consider the costs of going racing and the money Troy is able to pull together, it’s just really expensive. And this job is the first time that I’ve seen a spreadsheet of what it costs and what the sponsors are bringing in, etc., and it’s shocking. So I know for those guys, they’d love to go race the nationals. We’ve talked about it a bunch and we’re swinging hard on some big sponsorships, and it’s just a bad time to go get them. They want to eventually do supercross, motocross, and Supermoto, if the funding was there. But for now they’ve just got to stick to West Coast Supercross and Supermoto. We did consider, with Jimmy, going east. And if it wasn’t for that early Houston round, I think Troy would’ve found a way to do it. Jimmy’s got six weeks off, so if it wasn’t for Houston, we may have considered doing the East coast in the Sprinter van. I’m kind of bummed on that Houston round that they plugged in.
As far as the economy goes, it’s a shitty thing to talk about, but Troy and the whole team, you guys go to be proud after you see MotoGP teams like Kawasaki shutting their doors and Honda pulling out of F1, Subaru done with World Rally…. All things considered, we’ve been pretty fortunate so far.
We really have. There have been some teams go away, which is a bummer, but it’s just going to happen in a time like this. We’re doing our best to do things on a tight budget and Troy has been very careful. At the end of the day, Troy has a business to run, and if the bottom line starts getting really affected, the race team is the first thing on the chopping block. Troy loves racing—that’s definitely his passion, and the fact that they’re still doing it just shows his passion. Man, if it was my company, I’d be really nervous spending the money to go racing.
If worse comes to worse, will we see the old #101 out there?
[Laughs] I don’t think there’s any chance at that at all. Just between all the things going on—unless its Ben Townley! But I’ve been watching these young kids, the stuff they jump and the way they go through whoops—I don’t know, man. It’s been a long five years since I raced. I’ve gotten very old way too fast.
Yeah, I talk to Mitch Payton a few times a week, and he’s getting such a kick out of this. He’s heard all of the sad stories and excuses that the riders give. We got girlfriend issues. You know, Chris Blose is dating Miss Supercross. He’s dating her…
Until she meets Josh Demuth, right?
[Laughs] Right, but all of this stuff, Mitch is just laughing his ass of at me.
So, where are you going to stand Saturday night?
You know what, I already got this planned out. I hope my card gets me down there to that little tower down on the floor. I’m going to get down there and shove myself between Roger DeCoster and Mike Fisher. I’m going to try and bump the coffee out of Fisher’s hands. That’s what I’m hoping to do. “Make some room, Fish!” That’s what I want to say.
[Laughs] Well, I wish you guys luck this weekend. It has to be quite an adventure.
You know what, it’s awesome. I’ve actually really enjoyed it. Once we get to seven o’clock on Saturday night, that’s when the payoff is. I’m more excited about going racing than I have been since 2002 or back when I still had some skills.
Back when you beat Bubba.
That’s right. Bring that up again.
That’ll be the next interview. We’ll talk to Bubba about it.
He probably won’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t like me too much.
Good luck, Ping.