Monday Conversation II: Kyle Cunningham

You may not have heard a lot about Kyle Cunningham over the last couple of months in the USA, but that’s not because he hasn’t been racing. He has. As a replacement rider on the Serco Yamaha team in Australia, Cunningham finished second in the Australasian Super X Championship, and won the series finale this past weekend in Brisbane. We caught up with him on the V Australia 777 as it crossed the Pacific, and the equator, on the way back to LAX.

Racer X: Let’s talk first about how you got this deal lined up to head to Australia and race for the Serco Yamaha team.
Kyle Cunningham: [Matt] Schumann from 661 knew Gavin [Eales, the team owner] through a 661 deal because Gavin is a big distributor of their product, and they had a guy that got hurt, and they were able to work it out and asked me if I wanted to come out. I didn’t have too much going on at home, so I thought it would be a good experience. I’d never been overseas before, and to be able to come and do something different, you don’t really get that opportunity that often, so I thought it was a good idea. It turned out pretty good, and I got a lot of gate time, and I think it’s going to help me heading back into the season back home.

So what did you think of the series and mixing it up with guys you’re not really used to racing with?
It was definitely different. Stuff is really, really short out here until the last round, with 30-second lap times and five to eight-lap races, so it definitely helps to pin your ears back and let it hang out. But I got to race with some different guys who are great riders, and I’m sure they all want to make the trip out to where we are someday. It was a good experience. I had quite a few podiums, and my starts got better. To be around a different group of people and really get to do something different and see something different, I think it was good for me, only being 20 years old. I’m still young in the sport, and I have plenty of years left.

You’ve been a bit of a journeyman the last couple years with having a ride, then not having one, then getting another one... What were the last couple of years like for you?
I was at Yamaha of Troy my first year, and Dave Osterman kind of got that set up for me, but stuff went on over there, and Chris Macavoy took over, but it was good. I just didn’t really feel like I had the two years at the team that I really needed to do something. I struggled a little bit and got hurt out at the Yamaha track. It was a little bumpy. It was a learning curve, and I’ve definitely come a long way from then to now. I did the Honda thing last year with Butler Brothers in supercross and a few outdoors, and then I ended up racing them on my own with my dad, with just me and him going to the track every week and him telling me just to have fun and whatever we do, we do. MDK and the guys at Enzo did my bikes up really well, and I was really comfortable with what I was on, and I knew what my bike was going to do every weekend. I had my best outdoor season overall with a seventh, and it was a good time. I got to spend a lot of time with my dad, and he’s been huge for me, and my mom and my sister are always there.

And that led to you getting the ride at Motosport, right?
Yeah, it led me to getting the Canidae thing, but I did struggle a little bit. I had a wrist injury before Anaheim, and I thought I was racing the east coast, but I raced west, and I came around toward the end of the season with a couple good finishes. My starts weren’t great, and when you start in the back with the guys back home, it’s a pretty thick field. So supercross was a little up-and-down, but I started training with Randy Lawrence right before outdoors – about a month or three weeks before – and we made a lot of gains really quick. I was feeling really good on the bike, and after getting seventh the year before, I was pretty confident going in that I could get some good results, but then we had a crash at Glen Helen the week before the first round, and I wasn’t even going to race. It was a compound fracture of my finger after I hit a wall, and it took like a seven-inch gouge out of my arm. I had to get stitches in it. But I decided to race, and the first round was really just about trying to get points, and in the second moto, I managed to put up a 13th, which wasn’t too bad for me with the pain I was in.

Not at all. That must have been really painful.
Navarro helped me out a lot with that by making braces for my finger so that if a rock hit it, it didn’t bother me too bad. My season slowly progressed after starting out slow, and then it started to get better. I got to Texas and put up two top-10 finishes for a good overall, and it started going my way. I felt good on the bike and felt like I did the year before. The team was helping me out a lot, and it was good for me.

Then you got to Washougal and grabbed that podium finish!
In one moto, anyway. I went to Washougal, had a really good first moto, and my best start, which was an eighth, and I came all the way up to second, which was awesome, but then I got together with someone in the second moto and got KO’d. I struggled a little at the last two rounds with the mud, and I had a bike blow up, so they weren’t too good. But up until then, it was going good for me. I definitely showed that I had the speed, and my lap times were better and my endurance was good – especially with Randy helping me. And even going into Supercross over here in Australia, I think we’ve figured out how to be a little more consistent, and he’s taught me some things. He’s been around the sport for a long time, and he’s really a wise person in the sport. I think I’m only going to learn from him, and I think that’s only going to help me going into the season back home. I just want to learn more and try to be there every weekend instead of just a weekend here and then a weekend off, basically.

What do you have going on for next year?
Well, nothing! [Laughs] I’ve talked to a couple people, but the economy’s really bad back home, and everything’s real slow, so quite a few people are going for rides for pretty much nothing. Everyone’s kind of in the same boat. There are a lot of riders who are struggling to get into spots on teams, so I’m going to go home and sit down with a couple of people and see what we can work out for next year.