ANAHEIM, Calif. – When it comes right down to it, Ohio’s Willy Browning is as fast as anyone out there on a minibike – and the industry’s looking forward to seeing how the east’s most decorated minibike racer stacks up against the west’s top guys when Maxxis AMA MiniMotoSX – America’s No. 1 participatory indoor motorsports event – goes off at Vegas’ Orleans Arena on May 1st.
A former MMSX runner-up (2004), Browning - 5’-5” and 135 pounds of pure speed - is not only built for the sport of mini or ‘pitbike’ racing, he’s also parlayed it into a successful sidebar story to his big bike racing career…a career that hits its pinnacle this past week when he captured the 2009 AMA Arenacross Lites championship for the Suzuki City/SpineChillers team.
Browning, 24, figures this’ll be his fifth year racing mini bikes. Although if you track it back to the yellow Yamaha PW-50 with the #1 number plate his dad got him when he was three-years old, then you could probably tack on a few more years to that initial figure.
“I rode that bike (PW-50) around a little bit, bounced off a few things in the garage, took a couple other good spills – so we put it up for a year until I was like four,” said Browning. “Then we broke it out at this local supercross track, Action Sports (near Pleasantville , Ohio ), when I was four-and-a-half and started riding there and have been racing ever since.”
That little PW-50 made it all the way to Tennessee a bunch of times, to a ranch owned by famed country singer Loretta Lynn. Browning wrung everything he could out of that minibike, bringing home a couple top-five overall AMA Amateur MX National Championship finishes in the process.
Minibikes would eventually give way to 65s and 80s and Browning continued to shine, collecting a couple more top-five finishes in the 12-13 and 14-15 80cc class national championships at Loretta’s.
Fast forward back up to 2005 and Browning got a call from an MX industry photographer buddy regarding teaming up on a story for a then-new Source Interlink Media publication focused exclusively on the now-burgeoning sport of minibike racing.
“I think around four years ago was my very first race, right when MiniMoto Magazine first came out,” recalled Browning. “Prior to that I always had a Z-50 or XR-50 around that I’d goof around on in the backyard. But when Mini Moto came out my buddy Jeff Kardas was working for them and we did an article together, built a 50 with CHP – and they’d also build me a 110, without ever seeing me ride. This was all around the second MiniMotoSX.”
So Browning was dialed and diggin’ racing the minibike scene. He’d race the second MMSX, then begin a reign of dominance over another minibike racing event that still holds strong today.
“The Vegas (MMSX) race has always been real fun, even though that race doesn’t ever really go my way (Browning’s best finish was 2nd the year Chris Gosselaar won, ‘04),” said Browning of his minibike racing highlights thus far. “Hopefully that’ll change this year. And I’ve won that Texas Pit Bike National the last four years, so that’s been cool – made some good money at that.”
So what does it take to make the transition from AX champ to challenging for this year’s coveted MMSX crown? In Browning’s case a lot less than you’d think. “I’ll be totally honest, I hardly ever ride the things. I throw a leg over maybe once or twice before I go out to Vegas or any other big races,” said Browning. “I dunno, it just kind of comes natural I guess. Because I’m small and don’t weigh much, that helps. But the biggest thing is that my bikes are so good.”
Browning can’t sing the praises of his minibike sponsor – CHP – enough. Ever since the Texas-based company got him dialed on a 50 and 110, Browning has been a ‘haulin’ butt’ billboard/success story for the minibike hop up company. His results speak for themselves, but Browning says he wouldn’t have achieved such lofty status had it not been for the hyperfast minis CHP builds him.
“CHP man, I swear to god I don’t think there’s a better bike out there than what they can build me,” he said. “My motors are durable. I basically change the oil in my bikes and that’s it. Pretty much the ticket, really. And this year we’re working with the Fox Shocks guys to dial in our rear shock and front forks. But I can’t say enough about CHP. Pretty crazy how much they’ve done for me.”
Browning will face a formidable task in unseeding the reigning MMSX champ, Derek Costella from CHP’s chief rival in the minibike aftermarket industry – BBR. So, like with the Suzuki vs. Yamaha Reed vs. Bubba showdown happening in Monster Energy Supercross, the same stands for this one winners-take-all showdown on minibikes in Vegas next month.
“The usuals,” said Browning on who’s favored to take MMSX this year. “Costella, (Ryan) Abrigo (Browning pauses)…shoot, I don’t even really know. Don’t keep up on it. But anybody can win that race. From a no-name to a big name.”
Browning figures that, much like with the big bikes in AX and SX, the start is key to success at the Vegas MMSX. “You always need a good start,” he said. “You get a good start and you can almost always walk away with it. And make sure your shoes are tied tight. Last year somebody in the first turn ran up on my shoe and pulled it off. I had to go a half lap then come back and pick it up. So that was pretty interesting.”
As for the rivalry with Costella as those two being, arguably, the nation’s top minibike racers, Browning chooses to play it down. “I just don’t’ stress about things like that,” he said. “He (Costella) gets good starts and he can ride – that’s about it.”
And what would happen if the two squared off on big bikes? “I’ve never actually raced him,” said Browning of Costella. “He’s a West Coast guy. Maybe we’ll meet at a West Coast or something sometime. But I dunno…not sure what schedule I’m going to do next year.”
One thing’s for sure, Browning will bask in the glow of his AX title in the coming weeks, then will break out his 110 – at least a couple times – before he, Costella and the other top minibike racers get set to throw down in Vegas. Browning vs. Costella…CHP vs. BBR…East vs. West…it’s gonna be big, you can count on it!
The annual AMA/Maxxis MiniMotoSX is the largest indoor motorsports competition of its kind. With more than 700 registered riders the event literally allows for mini bike enthusiasts to become part of the show. As one racer put it: “At MiniMotoSX you don’t just show up and watch racing in Vegas – you boot up and get on the track yourself, race in front of a packed house at the Orleans.” Featuring numerous classes at all age and ability levels, AMA/Maxxis MiniMotoSX delivers an unforgettable day of racing action for both fans and racers alike, along with an affordable ‘Vegas experience’ given the hotel and ticket package at the Orleans Hotel and Arena, April 30th – May 1st. Registration for the event is open right now on www.minimotosx.com
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For TV airing dates/times visit www.motorsportshour.com
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