Between the Motos: Bill Keefe

April 2, 2009 12:21pm | by:
Bill Keefe is the team manager for the Canidae/Motosport Kawasaki team, which has seen some success in this year’s Monster Energy/AMA Supercross Championship, including a second-place finish by team rider Branden Jesseman recently. We talked to Keefe for this week’s “Between the Motos.”

Racer X: You’ve been a team manager in our sport for a few years now. Before that, what did you do?
Bill Keefe: I was at many places. Immediately before that, I was at Primedia working with the Dirt Rider guys in the marketing and sales department.

How long have you been involved in the motocross world?
I’ve been in motocross since I was a kid. I was an MXA test rider back when Lance Morewood... Back when MXA was really the only MX magazine. I raced motocross back then, and I rode for Mitch [Payton] – me, Troy [Lee], Jeff Jennings, we raced for him way back then on Husqvarnas. I’ve been in motorcycles most of my life, and then there was a time when I got involved on the automotive side, and I worked with NPTI, which was Nissan Performance Technologies, and they raced a GTP car that ran in the 24 hours of Le Mans, and Daytona, and all that. Automotive racing was really exciting and the technology was really interesting. But then, you know, I missed the motorcycle people. Motorcycle people are just great people.

They’re different, that’s for sure.
We’re more like a community. While we are all competitive, we’re there to help if somebody needs it. Not a lot of industries are like that.

It’s not like that in the car industry?
I didn’t find it to be that way, no. The car industry people would ruin people to gain in one way or another. I’m not comfortable in that situation, and I’m not that type of person. I think the motorcycle people are generally very good people.

You’ve been a team manager for the Motosport Kawasaki [now Canidae-sponsored] team for a few years, and also your son, Tyler, was racing for a while. Is that part of what brought you back to the motocross racers, to be there for your son?
Tyler was progressing, and he was going to race supercross and motocross either way. It seems like every five years or so, though, I change career paths, and that was about five years when this opportunity came up. Mark Johnson, who was the team manager at Motosport at that time, contacted me, and I spoke to him and Bill Butcher [of] and Mark Kvamme [investor in], and they decided this would be a good fit.

This year, you guys brought on Canidae dog food as a sponsor. A lot of teams have energy-drink sponsors, but not many have dog-food sponsors. How did that come about?
Canidae was involved in the NHRA in 2008, and when we met with the Canidae people, they are motorsport-type people. They understand the fan of motorsport, and they know that the fan is passionate. They’re looking to expand their reach, and they like motocross and supercross, and their colors are green, yellow and black and white, and we fit the green quite nicely. So, after a few meetings, they decided that we were a team that they wanted to be a part of. We work together on doing things that are market-driven, such as the handouts [of sample dog food] in supercross, the bag on top of the truck, and the flags... Their reps are there to talk to supercross fans as they come through the pits, and they talk about their dogs... A lot of people ask me, “Why pet food?” It’s really pretty simple: There are more guys on my team that have pets than have bikes. So, if you’re trying to reach people with pets, supercross and motocross is a great place. Our demographic is very pet-driven.

  • Tommy Hahn
  • Branden Jesseman.
Do they seem happy with it?
They’re very happy. Getting them involved with Feld, too, was an important part of it, with the Canidae Lucky Dog LCQ winner, so that they were able to reach out even more. They’ve got the ad in the program, people can see them on the floor, and they can see our truck and sample the product out in the pits and see our riders. They’ve got great penetration on all levels at supercross, and marketing and technically, it’s been a homerun. Each race we go to, their reps are there, and they purchase 40-60 tickets per event for workers and clients in the area. So they’re really integrated well into their local areas and dealers.

And you’ve still got Motosport as a sponsor, too, which is the largest online parts source for motorcycles, right?
Yeah, I think they’re number one.

So you guys have quite a strong set of sponsors on your team. It looks good for your team.
It’s a great situation to be in at this time to have those two, plus all of our other sponsors are very strong. To have an outside sponsor like Canidae, then have Motosport, Scott USA, Kawasaki, Pro Circuit, Maxima, and all our other sponsors... We’re in a pretty good position right now.

You also ventured into having a full-time 450cc rider this year, by moving Tommy Hahn up. It’s something that Pro Circuit has toyed with doing, but never pulled the trigger on. Why did you guys do it?
Two things: Tommy had good success last year on the 450, so we knew that the potential was there for success, and looking at our team as a marketing arm, and the coverage 450cc racing gets on television vs. what the 250 class gets, it’s a very powerful marketing tool to have a guy on a 450. We felt Tommy could give us the results that would be very marketable in that 450 class.

But he’s spent quite a bit of the year hurt, including now having a fractured scapula...
It’s frustrating, for sure. Pat Riley called it the “Innocent Climb” back when the Lakers dominated. It’s funny, because you do things the first time, and you have good success, and then you go back to duplicate it, and times are tougher, whether luck just doesn’t go your way, or you have new challenges, it’s difficult to repeat something that happens so easily the first time.

I talked to Tommy, and he seems excited about the outdoors. How does your team view the outdoors?
Well, we’re always optimistic at the beginning of the season, and with the package Davey [Coombs] put together with television, and with the live broadcast of the 450cc second motos, and the fact that Tommy is a really good starter – and hopefully has all his injuries out of the way – marketingwise, it should be successful, and hopefully we’ll be able to get some podiums and be in the top five more consistently than he has been in supercross. But we’ll be running three guys on the 250s and Tommy on the 450.

Did you say three guys on the 250s?

So, who’s not going to be around for the outdoors?
Well, Branden Jesseman’s deal is a supercross-only deal, and it was from the very beginning. Even though he’s been our most successful guy in supercross, the plan was only supercross for him. We’re both working hard to try to put something together and allow him to come outdoors with us, and these are tough times to add a guy, budgetwise.

And having five guys out of one truck probably isn’t easy, either.
Yeah, four works well, and three works okay, but five can be tough. But we’ll have Kyle, PJ, Hunter and Tommy.