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5 Minutes With... Mitch Payton

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Mitch Payton, owner and operator of the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki race team, was making an observation: “I’ve had a thousand people in here this week,” said Payton, referring to countless riders still looking for work this late in the year. To that end - and with Anaheim I rapidly approaching - Payton took a break from his porting bench to provide us some insight on his team, the Motocross of Nations, the state of the sport, the Balloon Boy, and the rapidly approaching 2010 racing season.

Racer X: Mitch, as far as riders are concerned, how was the last month for you and the team? I mean word had it that everyone came through this shop looking for work…
Mitch Payton: Well, it was difficult because we couldn’t hire riders until we had an agreement. The agreement didn’t happen until fairly late and then that started the process for us. Then, dealing with the first couple of riders took a little bit of time. Then, all of a sudden, you had 10 guys calling you looking for rides who didn’t have anything. We had to figure it out and just slowly make a list and go through results and look at everything and figure out who we wanted.

Who was at the top of your list?
Actually, even in the beginning, I wanted two guys. I wanted to keep Christophe and I wanted to keep Jake [Weimer]. So really, my mindset was real simple. That was what I wanted. At whatever cost, I wanted to make sure to secure those two guys. I thought they both did a really good job for me and I believe in both of them. They can both win supercross and they can both win outdoors.

Mitch, with two spots open on your roster for 2010, just how many guys walked into this shop looking for a job?
Really, it was one spot. Tyla [Rattray] carries over to 2010. I would say, like for real, a list of 10. Then we narrowed it down to a small group. And then it became very difficult. I saw qualities about every kid that I liked when I got down to that point that I thought would be great to have. But I could only have one and that’s the decision we made.

Why did you go with Dean Wilson?
Because he’s been successful as an amateur. I think he’s got good speed. I think he’s got good drive. I don’t think he has a lot of hang-ups. I don’t think other things in life interfere with him. I think he wants to race. I think that’s pretty cool to have the single focus in your life right now.

Okay, internet-based enquiring minds want to know: Why did you hire Josh Hansen?
The reason Josh is going to be here is that I have a title sponsor [Monster] that has painstakingly spent in extreme sports and action sports. Their Super Bowl is the X Games. And it was really important to Monster to be at that event. Just to be there and compete – and they won. They considered that to be a really big value and I think they want to secure that. It’s a huge brand worldwide now and they have the polished individuals, but yet they have the skateboard guys and the freestyle guys. You’ve got to have both sides of the fence.

And you have Hansen!
We have the good, bad and the ugly. You really have to kind of have everything. He represents a group of people, or he has had, that is the crazy side. But to me, he’s been really good. He’s very polite. He’s very presentable. I think he can turn it around if chooses to. It’s up to him. I know he’s failed a lot, but if he decides to put in the work he has to do... Here we go again. People say, “Why do you give him another chance?” He’s not a bad kid for me. I like him. He’s easy to deal with. He’s fun to have around. He’s no trouble. If he does succeed, then we would have done something for him that he’s wanted to do for five or six years – maybe longer.

Do you know what bike you’ll put him on yet?
We’re not sure. He’s our utility man.

If you put him on a 250F on either coast, can he win a title?
It’s possible. Once again, heart and desire, not skills, will win that championship.

I was standing with you on the podium after the Motocross of Nations in Italy and you sure looked happy. What did that race mean to you?
When the decision to take Jake [Weimer] came up, I had already committed to Roger [DeCoster] that I would go and help everybody – even if we didn’t have a rider. Then Roger DeCoster decided, “Maybe we will take Jake because if you count down on points he would be the next guy in line if Ryan [Dungey] wasn’t in the class.” So, then we thought about it and I thought, “You know, he has won a couple and he can do it.” And they made the team and the decision was made and the internet starts again and all the negative guys started saying our guys were B-rated or C-rated guys. That probably wasn’t so great for tem to hear. And then you go over there and we had a shitty pick in the qualifying races where we started on the outside. That wasn’t great. The people at home, even my parents, my mom and dad were like, “Were you guys sandbagging?” I was like, “No! That was real. We got beat.” You don’t realize that there are guys all over the world that can ride good. The French can ride good and so can the Italians.

Before the last moto in Italy, when we were three points down on the French team, what were you thinking?
I stayed in the tower for all three motos, and after every moto, we’d add up the points and then try and figure out which moto each country would drop. After the second moto, we dropped Jake’s second moto which was a 25th. But Italy had a DNF. We were still alive, but then the last moto was like, “If Dungey can be up there and Ivan can be up there, then it’s really just how the French and the Italians dealt with the moto.” The French were looking pretty good – better than the Italians. Just after the first lap, you had [Antonio] Cairoli in the first turn out. France, after the first lap, was out. And you had Belgium, with [Clement] DeSalle dead last. After our guys came around on the first lap and you looked at the board and you counted it up, they were pretty golden (laughter).

After the race, Roger mentioned to me that of all the years he’s been involved with the American Motocross of Nations effort, the win in Italy was one of the most meaningful. What did you think?
I think it was awesome. I was pumped for all of them. I was nervous before the first moto, after the first moto... I was a little disappointed after the second and nervous before the third. And then as it happened, it was great. I was actually more happy for those guys because it was tough. All of them, like Jake, said, “Dude, I was more nervous for that than any Anaheim because you think you’re going to let everybody down.” Ivan was nervous a little bit, but kept it together. It was all good.

Okay, eight weeks until Anaheim I. Is it time to start pouring coals to it?
We need to get everybody to the track once, and then it’s a matter of routine.

How do you feel about your team for 2010?
I feel our team is going to be real good. I think that we’re healthy and we should be there in both championships, East and West. I also think we’ll be there for the outdoors.

How do you feel about the overall health of the sport heading into 2010?
The sport in general I believe has hit bottom. I know here at the shop we had a lot of bikes sitting up front and I think the week before last we sold seven used bikes. To me that shows that people are loosening up. People are tired of doing nothing. I’m over it. I’m so sick of hearing about the economy. That Balloon Kid was great because it gave everybody something to be excited about! (hard laughter)

You mean six year-old Falcon Heene who was, theoretically, flying over Colorado in a balloon?
Yeah! The economy became second fiddle to the kid on the balloon! They’ll talk about that for like three months now and then something else will happen. Some movie star will get in trouble. I think the balloon guy turned the economy around. Balloon Boy! (hard laughter). Turn that tape recorder off!

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