Between the Motos II: Forrest Butler

Between the Motos II: Forrest Butler

May 17, 2012 9:55am
It’s been a trying year for the Palmetto Suzuki team. The team, on its ninth year of existence, saw its star rider Michael Byrne get hurt before the season from a mechanical problem, and riders Jason Thomas and Jimmy Albertson did not ride as well as they had hoped, but fill-in rider Matt Goerke held down the fort with solid results. Team manager Forrest Butler had to oversee all this, while dealing with some personal stuff that you wouldn’t wish on anyone. But being the optimist he is, Butler is pleased with his team’s progress as everything switches gears and goes into Hangtown.

Racer X: Forrest, thanks for doing this. Supercross was tough but motocross is here, so it’s a sense of optimism right?
Forrest Butler: Yeah it is. Supercross was tough, it’s part of growing a team and if you go back two years ago, we were just happy to be in the main events. This year, we missed out on one. The big bummer was [Michael] Byrne getting hurt due to a mechanical and that’s two years with us that he’s been hurt before the supercross season started. That’s a bummer because Michael is a guy that needs confidence and he had it, he was going fast and he was excited. He was doing the JGR testing for us and then got hurt.

[Jimmy] Albertson came out as a rookie in the class, and when the class was stacked, he made it into the first two. Then he got hurt at Phoenix pretty good. He got back, but that was the weekend that [Trey] Canard got hurt and I think that rattled Jimmy a bit. In that two week period we picked up Matt Goerke to fill in for Byrne, and not a lot of people knew what he could do. The first week on the bike he didn’t make it to the main, but from there, he was solid. He never had to go to an LCQ all year.

At the end of the day, that was Matt’s first time riding full-time 450 supercross, he was always a 250 guy. To me he was impressive because as an owner of a team, that kid wants to be in the top five every week. He got faster and faster and had a bit of a slip at the end but he was a lap away from getting fifth at Daytona. He just tries super hard and he’s fast.

With JT, it’s tough because he’s like family to us. We’ve known him forever and we’re tight with him. He’s like a brother to me. Gosh, JT’s made a long career compared to other guys. I guarantee you he’s had the longest career without a factory ride. He’s been at it for 15 years at the top level.

It was an year of ups and downs for Jimmy Albertson in his first full season in the SX class.
Andrew Fredrickson photo

He was a factory Husqvarna rider though!
(Laughs) I lived with him back then and that’s not what I would call a factory ride. But yeah, he lacks confidence sometimes, but in San Diego, he got tenth. He can still go fast at times but we need to get his focus and confidence up there. We’ve got to get him finishing out strong here and see what he wants to do. As we all know, he gets pretty angry on race day sometimes.

We’re days before Hangtown, how’s it going?
I think we’re more prepared than we ever have been. On our level, you’re always trying to catch up and be ready, but we’re good. When Byrne started back riding, we needed him back on the track for sponsor reasons but we decided to let him take his time and do some outdoor testing for us. And it was a great decision, I think. He’s a phenomenal tester and everyone is pumped on the outdoor settings. The JGR guys really have our bikes better than they have ever been. I’m fully confident on all the guys there. I went up there and spent a week with the guys, they really have it together. The motor, suspension, the JGR package has worked out the way we wanted it to and why we did it in the first place.

Yeah, you guys partnered up with JGR this year for your motor and suspension development, how’s that going?
It’s really great and that’s not to talk down on our old sponsors, those guys were awesome but we’re at that point where we want to get the one-on-one attention. We’re battling for top tens in the best class in the world. We have our own testing time with them and we’re they’re number one team besides of course, their own team. It’s a big expense, but it’s very important and gives us time to work together with them. Also with them being in North Carolina and us in Florida, it works out that way also. We’re not flying guys across the country to test.

You haven’t been at every race this year with stuff going on at home, can you talk about that?
I didn’t talk about it much before, but lately it’s been okay to bring it up I suppose. My wife and I had our third baby on November 30th, a little girl and we had a scheduled C-section delivery and all that was normal. I was going to fly out the next day to go do some testing but our girl, her name is Kyle, was born with complications and it’s been five and half months and she’s still in ICU. She’s been diagnosed with a muscle condition, Nemaline Myopathy, which is extremely rare. We didn’t get that diagnosed until about three weeks ago and for last five months there has been a baby there that is struggling. Sometimes I didn’t want to talk about it but now I can. Every day for the first month was just waiting for the doctors to tell you it was over. But she held on and fought with all these issues, but long story short, she’s slowly overcome almost all of them except for the muscle stuff. She’s got a chance to make a recovery but it will take a number of years and she’ll be behind others. It’s one of those things that growing up in racing and having friends get injured, and you not want to talk about that has made it realistic. It’s one of those things you think can’t happen to you but it did.

With Bryne getting hurt, trying to find riders, that thing going on with my daughter, it’s been tough to get things going. My brother Karsten and Vince from have been so awesome, it’s been amazing. If it wasn’t for those guys, the team wouldn’t have fallen on its face, but it wouldn't have been anywhere near as smooth as it has been. I’ve said that before on your show but bottom line, Vince is the best partner I could have and my brother is my best friend. There was never a hiccup and it didn’t matter what I was doing or what was going on, they just told me that they had it covered. Palmetto Suzuki, man those guys were there also for us. They are a great partner with us and just like everyone else, stepped up for me.

The JGR guys, they took us on as a brand new program and then this happened. They just handled it, they had our back and they stepped up. Every single guy there has been awesome. We’re right before Hangtown and everything is done. We’re ready to go.

Matt Goerke provided a spark to the team as a fill-in ride for Michael Byrne.
Andrew Fredrickson photo

You guys have yourself quite a program here from some humble beginnings, do you ever look back and go ‘Wow, we did it’?
I don’t want to be cliché and all that and start saying like everyone else that we’re going for championships and all that but we’re happy where we’re at, just climbing slowly. This year is the ninth year of the team and to me, at this point, when we make ten years, I’ve seen a lot of teams come and go. Vince and I have been together for six years now and we laugh about some of that.  It’s more like ‘I can’t believe it’s been ten years’ and it’s just a chance to get better and better. You can come in with all the money in the world but you’ve got to build the roots. We’re looking at the next five years, we have a master plan and we’re working on 2013 already. With the way the class is stacked, we’re looking at being top ten all the time. Yes, those riders cost more but there’s also more sponsor money coming back in.

Honestly, I do look back at times, but I think it's natural to always be looking to change the future.  We have a growing amount of teams, competition is tighter, fans are growing and the growth of our BTO Sports team is part of that.  But this year with what my family is going through with my daughter, it has also made me look more into the future of the business side and why are we spending all our time at work away from our families.  And the answer is simple: it’s because it's our jobs and this is what we do - and most of us do it because we love it.  But it is also big business and its time to start working on the political side of things for both the teams and the riders so that we all have a more grounded future with our promoters and our series that we compete in.  To me, it's a necessary next big step, because there are 20 solid teams now that are spending A LOT of money, and it would be a good thing to start having more of a solid value behind our investments with our promoters.  Ultimately, I think it would benefit us both and give both sides more firmly planted roots in both SX & MX. would like to thank Palmetto Motorsports Suzuki, FLY Racing, MMI, JGRMX, Alpinestars, Smith, Factory Effex, Zap Technix, Wiseco, ASV, Hinson, Outlaw, Engine Ice, RG3, Dubya, Motorex Oils, Atlas Brace Technologies, Pirelli, Talon, FMF, DT1, ICW, RK / Excel, Galfer, VP, LeoVince Carbon Fiber, Pit Posse, Moto Tassinari, Boyesen, Torc1 Racing, Clutch Factory, ASMF, FLmx,, Mechanics Wear, Dream Traxx, Safety Kleen