A year ago at this time, JAB Motorsports’ Matt Lemoine was recovering from a tore ACL suffered at his home race in Arlington. Last year marked Lemoine’s first full-time 450SX season since turning professional in 2007. But after much deliberation during the off-season, Lemoine had enough confidence in his team, and his bike, to return to the 250 class. The decision has paid off. Through five races, Lemoine has four top tens, including a season high fifth in Detroit. We talked with Lemoine earlier this week about Detroit, his team and more.
Racer X: Aside from the opening round, it’s been a great season for you. Are you happy with how things are going?
Matt Lemoine: Yeah. I think the first round was my best round, but I had some bike problems and it ended up resulting in a crash. Not getting any points there kind of sucked. But I’ve been picking it up weekend-by-weekend, which is key. Hopefully we can keep the ball rolling and get some better results in these last four races.
When we spoke before the season, you were still undecided on whether you were going to ride the 450 again, or go back to the 250. What untimely lead to the decision to ride the 250?
Adam Smith and everyone at JAB Motorsports got me a bike that’s competitive. It’s still hard to run the 250 class if you don’t have a good bike. Going up against the Pro Circuit guys and the GEICO guys, and even Star Yamaha and KTM, all those bikes are so good. If you don’t have a good bike, it’s not even worth racing against them, because you’re already beat before you get to the starting line. I was comfortable with it, I was happy with it, so we decided to go with that.
Detroit was your best finish since Arlington in 2011. What was it about the track that made you feel comfortable? A lot of riders were struggling with how slippery it was.
With all the ruts that we’ve been having it’s pretty much has a lot to do with a good start. Because if you can get a good start and ride the ruts okay and just stay consistent then you will finish up front. I think this weekend was more so just charging the whole time and just riding smooth and not making any mistakes. They had a couple big rhythm sections this weekend and I was nailing those each and every lap and that was a positive. I just felt super strong. I just got on a new program with my trainer Gareth Swanepoel. I think working with him is really starting to show now.
There weren’t many opportunities to pass in Detroit, as most of the guys were doing the same thing. What do you have to differently on tracks like that? Also, how do you prepare for such tracks?
I think it starts with getting a great start. If I could get a great start I’d be golden. But I can’t seem to buy a start. When it comes race time … I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I practice them [starts] during the week and get them down, and each gate drop on the weekend means so much. The biggest thing is riding smooth and strong. There are so many fast guys that you have to be strong and charge the whole race. It used to be you could do ten hard laps and not have to worry about the last five. Now, and even in the 450 class, you have to do 20 laps [15 in 250s] hard. It’s not like “Get into a rhythm and stay there” type deal. You have to really put the hammer down the entire race.
Do you think that speaks to the level of the competition?
Yeah, for sure. The top ten guys on the East Coast are really well known guys that are really fast. If you look at the practice times from second and third place to fifteenth place, it’s like a second, which is only like a tenth of a second between each guy. It's pretty crazy. You can’t afford to have one lap that’s three seconds slower than the next lap. This past weekend it was so easy to make a mistake, so you really had to be smooth, because you get tired when you make mistakes.
You’re are back with the same team as a year ago. Has anything major changed or it is still the same setup with your dad as team manager?
Yeah, my dad is still the team manager. He’s a huge part of it. My mechanic Tim Bennett has been helping me out a lot on the weekends. I actually worked with him in 2010, and in 2011 I think, so it’s good to have him back. I can’t thank Adam and Jackie Smith at JAB for putting everything together. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be racing dirt bikes right now, that’s for sure.
How important is it to have that comfort level with your dad and people you’ve worked with previously at the races?
It’s awesome. The thing is, it kind of sucks at the same time, because they don’t beat around the bush with you. They tell me, “Hey, you're sucking. You know what you need and you need to get it done now.” You know, it’s your dad. There are times when we butt heads, but at the same time it’s awesome working with him because he knows all the stuff that goes on during the week. He sees everything. It’s not like he’s just showing up to the races on the weekends and him doubting what we’re doing, or what I’m doing. It’s good to have someone in your corner that’s wanting to win more than you, actually. My dad wants nothing more than to see me do well. It’s awesome to have that.
You mentioned that they don’t hesitate telling you how you’re riding. Everyone reacts differently to criticism. Some riders really want to be pushed, while others like a hands off approach. Are you the type of guy that needs someone to say, “Hey, you’re just not getting it done right now”?
You know, when people tell me I can’t do something it fires me up more to do it. At Daytona in my last practice, I had gotten fourth in the first one, seventh or eighth in the second one, and the last one I got fifteenth or sixteenth and I came off the track and they were like, “You suck.” [laughs] That fired me up so bad. I was like dead last on the start but I rode good, because that fired me up. I’m the type of person that will listen to whatever anyone has to say. It doesn’t matter if I do it or not, but I will listen to what you have to say, no matter if it’s good or bad. When they say something I will definitely listen.
You’re one of the veterans of the class, and throughout your career you have been a top five, top ten guy. What’s the ultimate goal going forward?
Just to ride like I know how to ride. I think if I do that, the results will come. This past weekend, getting in the top five was awesome, but ultimately everyone wants to win, everyone wants to get on the box. If you’re not on the box, I don’t think anyone cares, to be honest. So, that’s the ultimate goal. Also, we want to build the team up and possibly get more riders and keep it growing and keep it going. My goal is to keep racing dirt bikes. I want to do good, and unfortunately with the economy and the way things are, if you’re not doing good you won’t be around too much longer.
So the ultimate goal is to build this team to where you do have extra riders?
Yeah, for sure. That’s what we want to do. Obviously more people equals more money and more sponsors. You have to start somewhere and keep it going and keep building. This year we have more support than we had last year and hopefully next year we can just keep building. All it takes is a couple guys to step in and the sky is the limit.
You mentioned that you are training with Swanepoel this year. As an ex-rider, what does he bring to the table?
This is my fourth or fifth week with him, and I think the biggest thing is just training smarter. He gives me awesome advice with my program. It’s so hard to explain, but I just feel so much better about what I’m doing. He is a smart person. He is also working with Cooper Webb and Broc Tickle as well and those guys are accelerating. I’m just happy to have him on my side.
With you being in Texas and him in California, how does that work?
We talk over the phone and he sends me all my information and schedules throughout the week and I’ll upload all my data online and we will go over it.
There are four rounds left in the series, what’s the ultimate goal?
There are a few guys that I need to beat every weekend so I can move up in points. The biggest goal is to get the best results and take each hand I’m dealt and do the best I can. I definitely want some more top fives, but a podium is what my main goal is.
Thanks, Matt. Who would you like to thank for helping you this season?
I want to thank JAB Motorsports, Never Summer Industries, Silkolene, FLY Racing, Novik Gloves, JM Racing, Speed Graphics, Rekluse, Shoei, DT1, FMF, Dunlop, Dubya USA, VP Racing, Scott, Carrillo, Guts, Mika Metals, Galfer, Truck and Auto Repair, Cmsfleet.com, Alpinestars, DVS, and Jay Bird Sport.