Between the Motos:  Mike Genova

Between the Motos Mike Genova

January 3, 2013 9:25am
I first met Mike Genova on a rainy December day at Southern California’s Milestone Motocross Park. Genova had organized a pre-season press introduction and media lunch for his team, something that is a rarity in the sport of motocross racing. Genova was proud of his revamped team, which included the entire Alessi family, and wanted to get word out that MotoConcepts would be a contender for 2012. It was a bold move. Many of the pre-season pundits predicted the move would end badly for the unlikely duo. Mike Alessi was riding without factory support for the first time since he turned pro, his dad Tony was running the program, and the home developed “MCR 450” that the team was touting was easy cannon fodder on the message boards.

Well, it didn’t end badly. The team finished 2012 with some very consistent results. And after yet another rainy press intro, we caught Genova on the phone and picked his brain on 2013.

Racer X: Mike, congrats on a strong year last season. Lots of people predicted there would be fireworks with your team, but not the good kind. All I have to say is, you guys proved a lot of people wrong!
Mike Genova: First off all, thanks for chatting with us. To tell you the truth, we really don’t feel that much love. It is hard for a small team like us to get coverage compared to the other higher profile efforts, some of which don’t get the results we have earned. I don’t want to sound like I am patting myself on my back, but last year we pulled something off –- we finished second in the Nationals.

What would you say you guys learned, and lets talk about your program for this season?
So at each race, we are running one 250 and one 450 rider. We are trying to make our riders look clean and crisp, and not with that graffiti look that some of the other teams have. I think our bikes are some of the best looking ones out there, and I am proud of the image we have built. And I think we opened a lot of eyes last year. I hope that both the industry and fan base recognizes that it can only happen with a solid program –- which includes equal parts funding, racing, personnel, rider and equipment. You have to have good people with good stuff. Mike was riding consistent, conservative and smart week in and week out. As a team, we were very calculated about supercross -– finish the race, qualify well, and get through the program consistently. Mike was good indoors, and we just carried that momentum outdoors.

Mike Genova (pictured above) is the Team Owner of MotoConcepts Racing.
Matty Fran photo

Part of the deal is you cant get hurt. When you crash, you don’t get a "get out of jail free" card. You are done, and that’s it. Just ask [Ryan] Villopoto and [Chad] Reed about that. Mike chose to not be crazy in supercross and he got through the whole season well. He is perhaps the greatest starter of all-time, he is humble and doesn’t give us any shit, and I just really like the kid. Also, Tony and I get along really, really well. I let Tony do his own thing, and if he doesn’t know how to do something, he goes and figures it out, or hires someone who does. Tony can work for me any day of the week.

How is your program set up? I know the Alessi’s have a compound somewhere up there in Gods Country, but do you still have the race shop?
Yes we do. But it has changed a bit. So, last year Tony had his program up in the desert and that seemed to work. So for 2013, I added Tony to the team's payroll. Last year, he was paid by Mike, and was more like his personal manager. This year, Tony is on our payroll, and I gave him the title of Director of Racing for the team. He is really more responsible for developing the bikes more than anything. We really work together well, and I think I have been able to calm him down a little bit. He has allowed me to do that though. A lot of people think he is nuts, but he is really a good guy and has been open to change from some of his earlier behavior.

What is your biggest change for this year? From my standpoint, the Ohlins deal is pretty significant.
Well, lets back up. Our friends at the KTM Group are getting accolades for bringing out a new bike and winning with it. They did a great job, but we did basically something similar -- we took a stock bike, and then basically built our own bike as well, and we did it in four months. Our MCR450 has our own motor, throttle bodies, cams, chassis, suspension, all of it. It takes a lot of time to build something like that up. We have now had a year and a half to better refine the bike. The suspension is new and better. Visibly, that is perhaps the biggest change. We have direct factory support from Ohlins HQ in Sweden, and they have sent technicians to come and work for us. Tony has also been working on the 250 program -– our guys are mounted on Hondas and that is something that we are tweaking on and making stronger as well. But our bike was good last year, and is going to be better this year.

What are your expectations?
My expectations are that we run a good organized team that represents our company and sponsors well. As for performance, I expect holeshots and to lead races, and top five finishes. I do think we will be better than last year. On the 250 program, we have a couple of really good riders. Jake Canada and Gavin Faith are going to turn some heads. That is a tough class, but I think my guys are going to be good, and with the right amount of pushing, I think I have podium guys. Both need some help with starts, but the rest is strong. Jake is a bit under the radar, but I hope he will surprise people.

Your other company is called Leisure Concepts right? How is that business going?
It is going well and recovering since the whole housing crash in 2008, which stung us. But we sell hot tub accessories and the business has been around for a while. Currently, there are about 400,000 hot tubs sold new per year, and about 5 million out there being used, so our market is strong and fairly consistent. The market is not the biggest. It's kind of like motocross, very specialized.

You announced a new title sponsor, Smartop. What exactly is that?
Well, Smarttop is a new product my other company is releasing this year. It will revolutionize the hot tub cover business. All the other covers that come when you buy a new Hot Tub last maybe 3-4 years at best. Within the first year, they start to smell, then they get moldy, and eventually they water log out. Our new Smartop is a plastic hard shell that does not absorb water, and lasts forever.

Smartop is the new title sponsor for MotoConcepts in 2013.
Matty Fran photo

You also have your MotoConcepts product line.
MotoConcepts is going well. We are working on some new goggle looks. It was pretty easy to set up the motorcycle accessories product line, as the raw materials are similar to what we are doing with the Hot Tub stuff. But we are making some changes on the marketing side of things, and we are packaging things together and making it a compelling purchase for stands, googles and graphics. We think our products are a good value and the quality is very good. Business as usual on that end though, and motocross is tough work. It is not easy street by any means, but things are steady and moving in the right direction.

So, not sure if anyone else asked this, but where is Jeff Alessi?
I love Jeff like he is one of my own kids. I talked to him on Christmas day. His challenge is that I think he is tired of getting hurt. Riders get hurt, then they just get right back up and ride again. I think Jeff has lost a tick or two with the injuries over the years. He is not at the speed that he is capable of going. But he has never been better personally. He does not have a ride with us though. He wants to do it, and if we need a guy, he is there. He is working at the track and riding, but like any number of those other kids out there, he just does not have any funding. He could go over to Europe and Canada and make some money, but I don’t think he wants to, he wants to race here. I told him to take the money and run, regardless of where you are racing!

So what is with the big Suzuki “S”  on the front fender of the bike, and what is your status with Suzuki? You guys are still a privateer effort, right?
First off, I want to get away from the term privateer. That term is somewhat derogatory and suggests that we are a step down from another team. That’s kind of why there is no major money in this sport. If the real guys get the all the attention, then what does that mean for a team like mine? A privateer is Jeff Alessi showing up in his van. My program is just as expensive as any other program and I pay the same money for it. It is kind of damaging to call us that, as it immediately puts us at a level that is below other teams, and I don’t think we are. We are self funded. We buy our bikes, and then we buy from the dealer and make it better. There is not much difference between a factory team and my team. But to get back to your question, that big “S” on the front fender got people talking! We put in on there for Victorville Suzuki. They are a team sponsor, and per their request, they wanted to be on the front fender of the bike. It got a lot of attention that’s for sure and I think it sent the wrong message about our level of support. We do not get any support from Suzuki.

None whatsoever?
Nope. We reached out to them both during the season as well as in the off-season. They did not respond to our calls or our emails. At one point, we reached out to them early on looking for some help with the ignitions. We were having some issues and needed some direction. I offered to them to make the bike look like a full Suzuki, with all the proper colors and stuff. Even after motocross, Tony reached out to them, and got nothing. I think he was pretty bummed about that, given the results Mike earned. But you know, it's like a marriage, we could certainly use some of the support and parts. We wanted to at least start a relationship and have an open door with them, even if there was not any funding available. I was thinking maybe just give us a bike, one bike, two bikes, whatever –- but we cant get them to respond to us.

Holdovers Mike Alessi (left) and Jake Canada (center) will be joined by Gavin Faith (right) in 2013.
Matty Fran photo

Suzuki stepped up for Carey Hart’s program.
I think you probably know how it makes me feel! But I am okay with being an underdog, I think it hurts Tony and Mike more than it hurts me. In my opinion, it stinks, but I see everything differently and as an industry outsider. From my viewpoint, it is kind of whats wrong with the sport, things are based on the popularity and cool guy images of a few people. Don’t get me wrong –- I have nothing but respect for what Carey and Kenny Watson have done. Those guys do an awesome job and have some great sponsors. I am good with that -– they probably have done a better job on the marketing side, and with the tattoo shop and all that. People like to be part of that. But the look that they have in the pits, the beer pong, the loud music, that’s not my look. Maybe I am just an older guy with different tastes, but I go with what I like and feel good with. However, we have gotten the results with our program. I wish I had the extra funding they have, and now Ricky brings a ton of credibility to that team. But I am looking forward to seeing how they do this year. I wish them the best, they have done a good job. But I want to beat everyone, and I am not going to focus on them, or any of the other teams for that matter. We don’t focus on competition, we focus on what we am doing, and if we are good, we will beat them, and that says enough, with or without the OEM support!

You have been a team owner since 2008, spending a lot of your own money in the process. What is your take on the sport after all the time and money you have spent?
Good question! It is important that guys like me can succeed doing this –- otherwise the sport is going to suffer. The bikes are our platform to succeed, and thus we call the bike “the MCR”. In NASCAR, you hear about the Gibbs Car, The Hendrick Car, etc, and personally, I feel that is where this sport needs to get to. You don’t hear as much about the car companies in NASCAR. For me, the Home Depot bike has a good ring to it. We need to crack the big sponsorship battle. The thing is, motocross is cheap, relatively speaking. For me, $500,000 would make substantial difference to our team. I think a big fortune 500 company like McDonalds or Home Depot probably has a Christmas party bar bill of $500,000! But there is a reason why they don’t come to motocross, and I am not sure why. Ever been to an NHRA drag racing event? There are maybe 3000 people in the stands, and yet there is ten times the corporate money compared to motocross. And for what it costs to fund one of the drag racing teams, you could fund five teams in motocross. We need to look in the mirror and do something about it. If you take the energy drink and the one insurance company out of the mix, we would be in big trouble.

I guess if you frame it that way, it gets a little scary.
Yup. Look at unlimited hydroplane racing, back in the mid 1980s, you would get 100,000 folks that would go to those races. That was before the internet and before TV packages. You had Coors, Budweiser, and a bunch of others. That sport had a lot of money pumped into it, but it fell apart. If the energy drink companies pulls the plug, what happens to motocross?