Chris O’Neal is a jack-of-all-trades in the sport of motocross. He has raced on the expert level, performed on the freestyle motocross tour and even graduated from the Motorcycle Mechanic’s Institute. Basically, motorcycle oil is running through his veins. But after not finding much success as a rider or mechanic, O’Neal has switched over to the media side of the sport and is hoping to find a niche there. He recently spent some time out at Honolulu Hills Raceway in Taft, California, documenting the Warthog Racing SX Academy on film. Unfortunately that ended when the sponsorship dollars ran out. Chris has a few other ideas up his sleeve at the moment, so we rang him up to talk about what he has going on.
Racer X: Chris, I checked out your Facebook page, and I learned that you’re from Connecticut, you enjoy motocross, photography, videos, traveling and dogs, and you’re in a relationship with a woman. You’re also a graduate of MMI.
Chris O’Neal: [Laughs] Yep, that all sounds pretty accurate.
So, how do you go from working on bikes to taking pictures of bikes?
Actually, if you start from the beginning, I turned expert in 1997 in NESC motocross, and then I went to MMI, and then I started doing freestyle motocross. In 2001, I did the IFMA tour for a little while, and then the injuries just racked up big time. Then, I went to film school in Arizona and was doing some stuff with Greg Godfrey and the Nitro Circus before I started wrenching on bikes again and I was as full-time mechanic for Chad Charbonneau and Mike McDade. I lived down at the GPF facility in Georgia for awhile. Larry Winters from Serious Racewear hooked me up with some cameras and I started using my photography background from film school and started doing photography in New England pretty much full time. That was going really well, but all of a sudden it abruptly stopped. Then, I got together with the Warthog team for a while, and I’ve been doing all of their press releases. I did the MDK/KTM team photo shoots and press releases, too. Most recently, I switched back over to video to help the Warthog team do their supercross academy, but that came to a halt because of sponsor problems. It’s unfortunate, because that was such a good thing and people loved seeing the progression of the riders.
Now, I decided that I’m going to continue doing Privateer MX TV. I’m going to basically pack up and go on the road and film privateers. So, if anyone wants to contact me, I’m willing to go on the road and film them and help them get exposure. As of right now, I’m trying to find sponsors for it. DeCal Works has been great so far. Next week, I have something lined up to go shoot Doug Henry riding his new cage bike, so that should be good. But right now I just need some sponsors to back the show.
Wow, is there anything that you haven’t done in motocross?
Yeah, I’ve done just about every job in the motocross industry except the one that makes money! [Laughs] I just really enjoy the media aspect of it. Wrenching and riding are a lot more stressful.
So, Privateer MX TV is essentially going to be a video resume of a privateer, right?
Yeah. It’ll be whatever I can film. If I spend a week with them, it’ll be the progression of the week. It’s all about them, because there are so many kids out there that are really good but nobody knows who they are. I just like to help kids out because, from my motocross background, all of that stuff wasn’t available.
How much would something like that cost?
I have all the equipment that I need, so it’s more or less travel money I’d need to go to the different locations.
Would this video just stay on PrivateerMXTV.com?
I’m in the process of finding a web designer to get PrivateerMXTV.com up, but if you type in PrivateerMXTV on YouTube, all of the videos are on there. Once I get the website up, I’ll just transfer them over. I’m also in the works with Moto Concepts. They’re interested in a full-time media guy, so I may do the same exact thing that I’ve been doing, but specifically with Moto Concepts. That would be really good.
If you could do it all over again, is there anything you’d do differently?
If I could do it all over again, I’d just devote more time into one thing instead of focusing on the distractions. Now, being 30 years old, I don’t care about anything but having a secure job in motocross, because working in motocross is like not working at all.
Where’s the passion for motocross come from?
I actually didn’t have a bike until I was 12. I got into it and raced my first race at Southwick, and although I got lapped, I was hooked. I made it to expert and won the qualifier for Loretta Lynn’s, but I wasn’t allowed to go so I kind of gave up racing full-time and went to college.
How much education do you have?
I have an Associate’s Degree in Motion Picture and Television and I have an MMI degree.
How was the SX Academy going out at Honolulu Hills?
It was going good, but the sponsorship money backing the videos that I was doing fell through, so I wasn’t getting paid, so I couldn’t stay there any longer. And they weren’t open for me to get my own outside sponsors for the videos, so at that point I decided to come home.
It sounds like a cool concept.
Yeah, it was really great. Everything was going according to plan. It was cool to see my friend from Connecticut, Josh Clark. He never stepped on a supercross track ever, and last week he was within one second of Tyler Bowers. His progression was amazing and it was cool to document every day like that. I am in the works of trying to do something like that at a facility I have in North Carolina, but it would be a lot to pull together.
The videos I was doing got a great response, though, especially because of the raw footage I was doing.
Give Joe Gibbs a call.
Yeah, I’d love to do that!
So, are you based back home now?
Yeah, I’m in Connecticut right now and every day I’m plugging away to try and get sponsors for the videos. Once I get enough funding I’m going to go on the road. But right now I need the riders and sponsors to determine where I’m going to go. I have different sponsorship packages available for any budget, but I need about ten thousand dollars to really get the ball rolling.
If someone wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way?
They can email me at email@example.com.
Well, we wish you luck, Chris, and I hope to see some more work from you in the very near future.
Thanks a lot. Hopefully things pull through with this or Moto Concepts – or any other team, for that matter. I could do anything from photos to videos to press releases to interviews...
To changing the top end...
[Laughs] Actually, at the SX Academy I was helping Jesse Casillas change tires and setting sag. I can’t tell you how many times I was setting sag when I was supposed to be filming.
Judging from your experience and background in the industry, you shouldn’t have trouble finding a full-time position in the industry.
Yeah. It just seems like every time I get something, it falls apart. I just really want to be involved with a professional team that has their stuff together. Also, I just want to give a big thanks to Scott Kandel at Warthog Racing Academy and Ron Joynt at DeCal Works.