5 Minutes with... Michael Sleeter

February 12, 2010 11:00am | by:
Now in his tenth year as an AMA Pro, Michael Sleeter’s career and life are taking on new responsibilities. Not only has the 29 year old established his own team, but he has recently been married, and is expecting his first child with his wife, Sarah. While racing the West Coast SX series on a 450, with teammate Sean Borkenhagen on the Lites bike, Sleeter has also been hard at work developing the all-new KTM 350SX-F – among other new KTMs. With the West Coast Supercross series soon going on hiatus, we had a chance to catch up with Michael as he relaxed in his KTM Factory Service/One Industries Team pits.

  • Michael Sleeter
  • Sleeter's team.
Racer X: Michael, let’s start out with your team: Although you have been aligned with KTM for some time, this year it’s different.
Michael Sleeter: Yeah, this year has been a lot different. I’ve been the main test rider for North America for a couple years; I share that responsibility with the guys over in Europe, where they have quite a few in that area. But over here I’m the sole guy doing all of the development - especially for the all-new 350; actually, all their new 2011 stuff. They also like me to be racing just to have a presence and be credible to the company. There’s a lot of stuff that’s changed with my racing program for 2010; one of them is that I truly started a team – with the help of my wife, Sarah. I could have easily just done it on my own out of my van as in the past; having a great bike and just racing for fun - keeping it what it was. But now I thought I’d invest a little bit of time and effort into what I have - the KTM Factory Services/One Industries Team. This team stems from KTM’s in-house motor and suspension development. I took it upon myself to market and advertise that since we don’t really have a title sponsor besides One Industries and FMF.

How difficult is it to be a team owner and racer, and a full-time test rider?
It’s tough. My results show this year that I’m not riding to my potential and it upsets me. I’m riding well, but I’m not racing that well - just because I’ve only been out to the supercross test track practicing six times this year. I’ve really been slammed with finishing the final production run for 2011, which is my main goal and my pain purpose at KTM. Along with that responsibility, I’m the KTM Amateur Team Manager now. But as I said, this race team is self-inflicted; they didn’t ask me to do this. I did this on my behalf because I felt we needed a satellite team from KTM. NCY/KTM out of Escondido, California, supports my Lites rider, Sean Borkenhagen, with bikes. He is not in any way, shape, or form supported by KTM directly. He pays for his entire product from Factory Services. Actually, he even pays for his own entries and whatnot. I just basically give him a mentorship, and help him out what with what we can with parts. I have a small parts budget and it has held through so far. .

You said that you haven’t really been that happy with your individual results this year, but how about as far as your “team presence”?
You know, that’s been really more gratifying than anything else. Six years ago, I was a guy out in the east forty in my parents’ fifth-wheel trailer with my brother driving to the races, and us arguing the whole way. And what’s really cool now is that my brother [Scott Youngstrand] is part of this race team; he’s the head R&D mechanic, and he gets to come out to the races on the weekends. Sean helps him out and pays his expenses on a per-day fee to work on his bike, so he literally has a factory mechanic working on his bike. As for myself, I’m happy to say I hired Jade Dungey to work on my bike - Ryan’s older brother. It’s really been good, and we have a lot of great people behind us. One Industries has stepped up and let us use their rig. It’s really basically a bunch of people that are supporting the cause and helping out, and every sponsor of the team has just really stepped up. It has been good.

  • Sean Borkenhagen
  • Sleeter
  • Sleeter
Obviously, you’ve been doing the West Coast Supercross series, but what else?
We will do Glen Helen, Hangtown, hopefully Texas, and for sure Washougal. I don’t know if we’ll be in this truck; we might even be in a van. Being a test rider is my main job - to make sure we have good product, and that the bikes are ready to go. But hopefully with this team we have a good presence on the track. If something comes through next year or years after where I can get a title sponsor, have the big semi and stuff, then that would be great. Now, my main goal is to support KTM and have a bike out there - besides the factory bike of Tommy Searle. If it wasn’t for my little effort, we’d just have Tommy Searle only – although Philip Nicoletti as a privateer has been doing phenomenally this year. I’m currently the only guy riding the 450 class on a KTM, but it’s good.

Let’s talk about your KTM test-riding job: I would imagine that right now is probably one of the most important times in your history with KTM, with the 350 coming out.
Well, I’ve been with KTM going on six years now. I got to be one of the first guys to help develop the 250F for them, which was really, really cool. But still, it wasn’t at the level where I’m at now with the 350; I have around 100 hours of riding the bike, and it’s going to shock the motocross world for sure. It’s the forefront of technology: It has fuel injection, electric start, and of course the linkage perception that everyone said would be really better. We’ve significantly added that to our motocross/supercross market. It’s technology that KTM is using to push forward in these tough times when everyone else seems to be holding back. I’m pretty proud to say I’m a part of it.

Besides all the dirt-bike testing and your racing, you’ve got a lot going on in your personal life too, right?
Yeah, Sarah and I are really excited. We’re really somewhat recently married, and now have a little one on the way. We’re definitely not messing around. We’re on our way to having our first child. Our baby will come from a longtime motocross family, as Sarah is Dan Reardon’s sister. Sarah’s from Australia, and both of our families are so excited. It’s the first grandchild for both of our parents! I have a lot my plate, and as I said, a lot of it’s self-inflicted, but I absolutely couldn’t be happier.

That’s a great way to finish up, Michael, but is there anything that you want to add?
You know, Jim, I definitely want to thank my wife, Sarah, and her company, Haven Sports Management. She is behind the scenes and the biggest part of this race team. She chases up all the emails, all the press releases, gets all the contracts done, and she’s not making a dime off of it; she’s doing it to help me, Sean, and everyone involved. Hopefully, next year this team can grow, and she can get something out of it. One Industries, KTM, FMF, DVS, Maxima, Transworld; the list goes on and on and on. A tremendous thank you to both sides of the family – the Reardons and the Sleeters – for being behind us. It’s like making a dream come true with all that support! KTM has just been huge in supporting me. Casey has [Lytle, Team Manager at KTM] been taking toolboxes and easy-ups in his semi and really helping out the cause!