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Between the Motos: Kevin Windham

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Despite rumors to the contrary, which weren’t unfounded, Kevin Windham will be returning to the GEICO Powersports Honda team in 2010. In this lengthy interview for this week’s Between the Motos, we talk to him about his year, his family life, and where he’s going from here. Check it out.

Racer X: You’ve spent a lot of time not at the track this year. Last year as well. What do you think of that? I’m sure there are positives and negatives about both...
Kevin Windham: It’s definitely a double-edged sword, for sure. You want to race and you try to do it well – and at times this year, it was pretty half-assed on my part, which makes it not a lot of fun. But you sit back, and I’m a racer at heart, and going into the 2010 season, I’m more excited than ever to have the opportunity to go race motorcycles. It’s clear what I like to do. It’s like an addiction, racing. It’s something I don’t ever really want to let go of. It’s funny to sit back and think about planning for a season, and with every child you have, your outlook changes a bit, and your preparation changes a little bit, because your concerns change. For example, me packing up and going to California is a thing of the ‘90s. I can’t really do that so much anymore. So you find ways to get it done. This is definitely an addicting sport, and one that I’m not ready to let go of.

Yeah, you guys just had another baby, didn’t you?
Yeah, number four! We just had a little girl, Elizabeth Rose, and it’s awesome. She’s a really good baby, and you know how babies go; you’re up every three hours, and then once you get the oldest two off to school, you just get in that groove of figuring out everyone’s duties and getting it done.

You guys have a lot of kids, but it used to be that the common way of thinking in the motocross world was that once you got married, and definitely once you had kids, you were done. You should quit racing. But that has changed a lot over the last decade or so, hasn’t it?
Well, I don’t think that kids have much of an effect on my performance. Like I said before, you have to delegate better and work around it, but I look back to when I was childless and I’m like, “Damn, I must’ve been lazy, because what did I do with all my time?” Now, my plate’s full. I have a lot to do every day, some of which has to do with motocross, and a lot of which doesn’t. You just find a way to get the job done. It’s similar to the economy, where you find ways to trim back. In this case, you find ways to not waste time and try to get everything done. There are definitely things that I can’t do anymore, because of the kids, like I said before, with the long trips to California – for months at a time – can’t really happen. With each kid, we have more enjoyment in our lives, and different things that each one brings to the table, and our family size is getting large, but we can’t imagine life without any of them. It’s good for us, and it seems like it’s been perfect for me. And anyone out there who knows me, or who are parents, they know that there are certain times when kids are acting up because you have a seven-year-old that’s being rebellious, and a one-week-old that’s crying, so that’s all the motivation you need to go into the gym and pump some iron! Sometimes my getaway is to go into the gym and spend a little time by myself.

Well, part of your ability to do that comes from the fact that you were able to build the base in your career, and with financial stuff, so that you have your own tracks and your own gym, so that has to make it a lot more feasible to balance everything as well, doesn’t it?
Yeah, the house is very well set up for everything I need. I have my supercross tracks, and my gym is very large with everything I would ever need and more, so that makes it convenient, for sure. Another thing, after being in the industry this long, I really know what works for me and what doesn’t. I know what I need to focus on, and it gets easier with time.

Yeah, so you can work smart instead of hard. I get that. I wish I was better at that myself. So talk a little about your season. You had the new bike, and other variables, so talk about it form your perspective.
This year was rough. I’m not going to lie, it was a difficult season for me, and in hindsight I’m so glad it worked out for me to go and have another chance to put my best foot forward. In ’09, I was trying everything under the sun and I had gotten a little frustrated, and I was having trouble with making progress, and it’s funny because my whole life I’ve been taught that only the top guys get the good equipment, and you need to good equipment to be competitive, but what I came across at the end of the ’09 season was pretty amazing, and I never would’ve thought I would experience this, but after spending some time with Ziggy at Factory Connection, we were riding stock suspension – stock components, of course Factory Connection valved and all that. My entire life, riding on these $30,000 forks was the way to go. It was the cat’s meow. Now, all of a sudden, it took us an entire season to find out that stock is best! Obviously, it came with the revalving and the work that only Factory Connection could do for me, but it’s stock stuff. We had worked with what had worked in the past, and we were quite frankly barking up the wrong tree the entire season. It’s nice to be back with the team this year. It was rough going, for sure, and I’m so happy that Honda decided to support us. It’s a leap of faith in this economy and with these things going on to commit to a team, and they’ve done it. It costs a lot to put us out there, so I got a fresh start on this bike, and a whole new direction, and I know that it works. Our team has a little bit different infrastructure now and I’m going to be working more in tune with Ziggy, and I think it’s going to be a good thing for us. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to fix what I had wrong with me on ’09.

We heard all the rumors about you maybe joining the L&M Yamaha team, and even Suzuki, which is the last factory ride you had before coming on board with FC. Were you really in talks with those teams?
Yes, for sure. I was at a point where I thought that maybe the big-bike program at Factory Connection Racing might dissolve, and I was faced with the reality of really needing to go out and look for a job, because I didn’t want to retire, period, and I definitely didn’t want to go out the way I ended ’09, so I felt like I had a lot to prove and I was trying my best to find a place to prove it. At one point, it looked like we were really going to have to make a move, but at the same time the guys at Factory Connection Racing were working hard to get things done, and obviously I wanted it to get done, and then they came through for me. And like I said before, it’s a big leap of faith for those guys, and I really appreciate it. It’s going to be great for us, and it’s good to be able to approach ’09 and the new settings with them. I mean, when was the last time you found out stock worked better than the works stuff? I’m confident, but it took a lot of time, and it got scary there for a while, and I wasn’t looking to retire. Finally, they came through for me.
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You’re notorious for your feel on the bike, and you told me a story before about being able to tell the difference on a bike between an aluminum and a carbon-fiber skid plate, so it seems like if you feel that stock is legitimately better, it definitely is, at least for you.
Yeah, the feel I have is a big plus for me, but it can also be a big negative as well. I’m working hard to cut out the negative aspects of being so picky. I know what I like, and I can feel it, and I want it, and that’s what some of my competitors have done in the past that was so impressive to me, which is to be able to go really fast on a bike they didn’t think felt right. I use Ricky Carmichael as an example of this. He can go almost as fast on a bike that he thinks isn’t good as one that he thinks is perfect. I can’t. I do think that in testing, though, that I can help a lot, and with the all-new CRF250R, I think we can work together to come up with better settings. But when we stumble upon something that works, I think my team has faith in me that I know what I like and they can trust in my feel to be able to make a change or do whatever’s necessary, and that’s a good feeling. I’m a rider that rides by the seat of my pants, and feeling’s everything for me.

My own amateur analysis of your psychology is that once you get upset with something like that, you won’t get past it. You’re stubborn, but not without reason because your feel is so good. Does that make sense?
Yeah, I mean, obviously when we were looking, and we were barking up the wrong tree, we had gone in a direction where the components weren’t allowing us to make the changes necessary. There was nothing that we could’ve done in that direction that would’ve worked. Ziggy – Rick, from Factory Connection – obviously works with tons of amateur guys, and he gets feedback from people on all different levels, from Beginners all the way up to me, and he’s just a smart guy. He started doing his research and crossing things over, and the second that I rode something that worked – which, for the first time in my career, was stock components – I wasn’t used to that, but I knew it. It was like putting the shoe on the wrong foot. But the second I felt it, I knew that it worked. It was instantaneous. So I credit Ziggy a lot for his thought and his ability to use everybody that he’s working with to gain as much information as possible on a bike that can truly work. You’ve just got to give it what it needs. We were building everything up and stiffening everything up, and then we came across that stock components work the best.

Talk a little bit about the Nationals this summer. First, there was Unadilla on a 250F, and that seemed okay, since you were way heavier than everyone, but then Budds Creek must have been pretty embarrassing for you. How did it make you feel?
It was pure insanity, really, to go out there and expect to do something when I wasn’t really prepared for it, and then expect the results to be good against the best in the world. It was ludicrous. The Lites thing was something where I felt like if I was going to ride outdoors, I wanted to do it because it was fun, and at the time I wasn’t having fun on the 450 for reasons we talked about earlier, so I tried to use the 250F as something to get me excited to ride. It was fun to ride, for sure, but not fun to race, you know, at 200 pounds. I had proven in practice that I could run with the guys, and I had the third-fastest laptime in practice at the race, but I got to the first turn in just about last, and when the race shook down, and I was behind all those guys, I couldn’t carry my momentum anymore, and the race was thrown out the window. Once I got through a couple laps, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to charge that far through the pack. I was 60 pounds heavier than a lot of those guys. It was a huge disadvantage. So, racing wasn’t fun. I was riding around in 20th eating a lot of dirt. That wasn’t my plan. Short of them moving my gate 30 feet forward, I wasn’t going to get a start, and that made for a long weekend. Then, going into Budds Creek, I was back on the 450, and I had my hands full, and I didn’t have any real prep time to get ready for that race, so it was hard to expect anything different in hindsight. It was a big eye-opener for me about how I need to handle this stuff, and it’s so hard to sit back and do things that are fun, like going wakeboarding with your kids – things you hadn’t done your entire life because you’d been racing – and then you realize, “I miss racing. I want to race.” But I found out that it takes more than just desire to go do it. It was a mistake. I learned a lesson, and I hope not to look that bad for the rest of my career.

What are your plans now, in the next few months before Anaheim? Are you doing all your testing near home?
No, I’m doing some out there in California, and some back east like in Georgia, and some at my house. I’m just rebuilding my infrastructure and trying to get pieces in place like practice mechanics and trying to figure out how I can ride at home. Like I said before, I need to divide my time between my job, which I love, and my children, which I love. Oh, and my wife. Dottie’s sitting here and told me to make sure I said, “my wife.” So, my wife, too. But she doesn’t take much time. She’s easy like Sunday morning. But I’m working on getting all that stuff going, and working on gyms with Planet Fitness, and doing all kinds of stuff. With everything I do, I’m led by the heart, and right now I’m just focused on getting going on the bike. I’ve been doing some riding at the house, and I’m doing some testing and working around Ziggy’s schedule and the team’s schedule to get it all done, and we’re focused on what direction we need to take this from the base so that we can be ready for Anaheim I and the rest of the season.

Thanks for the interview, Kevin.
Yep, no problem.
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