The journey for Michael Leib has been filled with twist and turns. Different roads seemingly colliding at every turn. The journeyman has split his professional career between Europe and the U.S., never really finding a footing in either. Now the Southern California native is content on staying stateside for 2014 and beyond, hoping to find comfort in his own backyard during the 250SX West Region. We caught up with Leib to find out more about his support this year and his journey through the professional ranks.
Racer X: Not sure if you’re aware, but your sixth in Oakland matched a career high. What was it that clicked for you?
Michael Leib: I don’t know. It’s kind of funny because I got a pretty horrible start. I started moving forward and people started making mistakes. Actually, I didn’t even know I finished sixth. I thought I was in ninth or eighth. I always tell my mechanic not to give me positions or anything like that because I don’t want to think about it and I just want to race forward. So it was kind of cool, because I actually did a lot better than I thought I did.
That’s a different technique—in regards to not wanting to know where you stand. Why is that the case?
I just feel like the less I’m thinking about where I’m at on the track the more I can focus on moving forward and simply getting as far forward as I can. It’s just something I’ve taking a liking to over the last couple years.
Although you’re on a privateer effort this year your starts have been excellent. What are you able to attribute that to?
Rocket Exhaust and Josh Pitts at Renegade Fuels, they’ve put together a package engine wise that is absolutely ridiculous, especially for a privateer bike. I’m super thankful for that. It’s nice that they’ve come up with something that we can actually sell while I’m racing—to customers and things like that. It’s a really good all-around fit. I can get to benefit from it racing and hopefully Rocket will get some advertising out of it and people will see that are engines are no joke and we are getting good starts against the best bikes in the world and it’s not just by chance.
While you haven’t raced supercross that much, between racing in Europe and injuries, you have been a professional for some time. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen over the past few years?
Honestly the biggest thing that I’ve felt has changed has been the intensity. When I came back from Europe in 2012 and started racing supercross I feel the intensity was a little bit less. Now it just feels like … even in practice it’s a brawl to get a good spot. I feel like the bikes and the equipment are getting better and better, which makes it harder and harder to catch up as a privateer team. I still feel like we’re doing a good job at it though. But the intensity is on a whole new level.
Do you feel that it has to do with the 250 Class being full of younger kids trying to make a name for themselves?
I feel like it’s a lot of things. I feel like supercross has reached a level to where to get a gain on somebody is ridiculous. Whether it’s engine development or suspension development or all around training, everyone has put so much effort into so many different areas that we’re all really good in a lot of things and to get that extra push is something everything is searching for. I feel that it’s just elevating and elevating and going and going and that it makes it tough to find any ground on your competitor—whether it’s mechanical related or rider related.
I would be going to school and not racing dirt bikes, flat out.
As a privateer team how tough is it? How much work goes into trying to find those little edges?
A lot of work goes into it. I don’t think enough of what we would like to go into it, just because of financial resources. It’s having the extra head laying around, the extra engine part, all sorts of things. It’s who do you have around doing suspension and things like that? Luckily guys like Race Tech, and people like that, have made the transition really, really nice for me. I feel like for a privateer effort, we are really moving ahead of the game. Obviously we are running against factory bikes and getting good results. I just think there has been a massive push to find new gains.
Since turning professional you’ve been quite the journeyman, splitting time between Europe and the U.S. As of right now are you content on trying to stay in the U.S. this season and going forward?
Yeah. I kind of feel like something I’ve done in the past is jump around too much. For example, I would do four of five supercross races here and then go to Europe and then come back. I don’t think people have gotten a chance to know me and I don’t think that I’ve had a chance to get comfortable and settled. I feel like jumping around has been nice and a great experience and I’ve learned a lot about myself and my racing, but at the same time it’s time for me to stay home and do the best I can here. Try and get noticed a little bit more and not just be around once in a while, but be around all the time. And keep my results where they need to be and hopefully get myself a job and a ride of some sort.
It wasn’t always the best of situations for you in Europe. How much were you able to grow as a rider while getting put into situations you weren’t as comfortable with?
It’s funny, because I spent three years over there [after turning professional] and every time I would come home things would kind of come in and then go out the window. I was put in situations where I couldn’t speak English with my mechanic. Things like that make me appreciative. All around I was able to appreciate not only my racing life but my personal life. Being around my family and how important all that stuff is for me. To be able to simply live in Southern California and have twelve tracks in my backyard, it’s stuff like that. I was really able to grow from as a person, and I feel like growing as a person kind of transitions to helping me as a rider.
Back to this year, your mom and dad with On Track and Rocket Exhaust, respectively, have been a huge part of your program. Where would you be without them this year?
I would be going to school and not racing dirt bikes, flat out. There are a ton of people behind me in my corner fighting for me, but without my parents and the small group I have around me I wouldn’t be going racing. None of this would be possible. I’m extremely fortunate to have them around me and in my corner.
A lot of readers and fans know a rider just by results on the track. They don’t really know much about a rider away from the track. What are some things you like to do away from the track?
I spend a lot of time riding my BMX bike. My trainer Randy Lawrence and I, we get out quite a bit. It’s funny because my family always gives me a hard time, but I really like to spend my time away from the track away from the track. I love riding and I love training, but I’m someone that has my personal life outside of my racing. I feel that’s something that I developed living in Europe. You learn to respect different aspects of your life. Racing, or anything in life whether it’s your job or whatever, can control your life and it can consume everything you have. I like to keep racing fun and keep it enjoyable, but it’s not something that I do with 100 percent of my time. I like to do things outside of my racing and I enjoy life for what it is as well. That helps me keep a clear head when race day comes. It’s hard for me to get burned out that way, so I just try and keep myself busy with different aspects of my life.
A rider’s career doesn’t typically last 10 or 12 years. Have you gotten to the point where you feel like you need to stop as smell the roses?
I think a lot of that can be contributed to being a privateer and dealing with the stress that comes with it. Obviously I have a lot of people around me handling a lot of things that I just simply don’t need to handle. Like bike work and engine stuff. I do think it’s a lot more simple doing it this way. It can be hard to keep the fun factor. To me, the fun factor is really important. Because if you’re not enjoying what you do then you won’t be successful at what you do and you’re not passionate about the direction you’re taking in life. I feel like that is something that is important to me and we all need to kind of stop and smell the roses.
Thanks, Michael. Who would you like to thank for helping you this year?
AG Motorsports, Aguirre Imaging, Applied, Asterisk, Atlas, Autism MX, AXO, Cometic, Cosworth, Crank Works, CV4/Xeldyne, Cycra, Dedicated Athletics, Deft Family, Dunlop Tires, EKS, Eleplast, Factory Metal Works, Faster USA, GoPro, Hinson Racing, Hot Cams, ICW, Injectioneering, J27, K&N, LBD, Malcolm Smith Motorsports, Motion Pro, Moto Seat, Moto Stuff, Moto 2 Fitness, On Track, Pala Raceway, Peters Auto Mall, Race SoCal, Race Tech, REC-MX, Renegade, RK/Excel, Rocket Exhaust, RPM Science, Seal Savers, Shoei, Split Designs, Sunstar, Tamer, Vortex, and WPC.