In recent years, and as far as the sport of motocross goes, Ryan Dungey and Jeremy and Alex Martin have certainly brought a lot of attention to the state of Minnesota. Through supercross championships, motocross championships, and a myriad of high profile race wins, the Land of 10,000 Lakes has become paramount in producing world class motocross talent.
One racer, though, seemingly hasn’t been all that illuminated by that Minnesota spotlight. Somewhat outshined by the aforementioned throttle twisters, one Mitchell Oldenburg is poised to break out during the 2018 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship. The pride and joy of Staples, Minnesota—a town of 2,981 inhabitants that developed around a sawmill back in 1889 (seriously!)—Oldenburg, a member of the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM outfit for the last few seasons, there were many rumors that he was headed to the Rockstar Husqvarna squad for 2018. That deal never materialized, however, and in mid-October he was signed to race for the recently rebadged Monster Energy/Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha team for both 2018 and 2019. Although his ’17 supercross plight was thwarted by a broken collarbone suffered during practice at Petco Park in San Diego, Oldenburg resurfaced at Seattle and found himself on the podium there, as well as at Salt Lake City a fortnight later.
Reserved, yet quietly confident, the well-spoken 23-year-old racer who has called Alvord, Texas, home for a decade now (his family owns and operates Oak Hill Raceway down there) is ready to go racing, and as you are about to find out, isn’t ready to accept anything less than victory.
Racer X: Mitchell, thanks for your time in doing this interview. So, what do you have going on this week leading into Christmas?
Mitchell Oldenburg: I’m actually in Texas. My wife graduated college today. She graduated from TCU, and so we were actually at ceremonies and stuff all day.
Very good. And you have to love a state like Texas, huh?
Yeah, I love it here. This is home for me now, and I love Texas and the Fort Worth area. It’s beautiful out here.
So I’d imagine with the 2018 season a mere three weeks away, you’ll have to get back to California very soon.
Yeah, we’ll be back in California within the next two days.
Okay, so word basically broke that you had signed a two-year deal with the Monster Energy/Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha team at the Monster Energy Cup last October. In what was a quick transition for you, how has all the riding, testing and training with the team been going thus far?
Yeah, everything has been going good. The switch was actually pretty easy. I’ve known [Team Manager] Wil Hahn for quite a while now, so that was an easy way for me to get into the team; I already knew a lot of the people on it. Everything has been good. I’ve been working with Swanie [Gareth Swanepoel] now, so that’s been a little interesting. I’ve been kind of figuring that program out. I worked with Tyla [Rattray] for two years, so not much of a difference. I’m just kind of doing what I can and putting the work in and, yeah, everything has been going relatively smooth. No hiccups. Just plugging away.
Your Monster Energy/Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha deal seemed to come a bit out of the blue. Would you agree with that? And if so, did the deal come together pretty quickly?
It was a pretty hectic couple of months there. I had some things with a different team [Rockstar Energy Husqvarna], and unfortunately those things fell through last second. Yeah, the Star thing kind of came up out of nowhere. I made a phone call and within 30 minutes it was, “Let’s get this thing done now.” It kind of caught everyone off guard, including myself. I’m just happy everything worked out the way it did. It honestly could not have worked out any better for me. Hopefully it all translates into this year and we get some good results and build from there.
Jumping headfirst into an entirely new race team and race program couldn’t have been easy. How was that for you?
I honestly thought it was going to be a little bit harder than it was. It almost felt too good to be true, you know? Like I said, I knew quite a few of the guys on the team already and I felt like I gelled really well with everyone right off the bat. By the end of the first week, I already felt like I was at home and was super-comfortable right off the bat. I’m a big fan of change. I think it’s good. It keeps you on your toes.
Your 2017 250SX West Region season went off the rails at round two when you hit the dirt in practice and broke your collarbone. You missed the next four rounds, but then resurfaced again at Seattle and raced to a podium finish. To come off the bench and have both the speed and conditioning, that’s impressive.
I had a great off-season and I felt like I was ready to go coming into the year. Unfortunately, I got hurt right away and didn’t get a chance to show my speed and show what I’m capable of. So, coming back from injury, I had one thing on my mind and that was getting podiums, and we were lucky enough to get that done. I felt like I had finally put everything together. Overall, I felt like I had made some big improvements with myself and my confidence, and I feel like I’m very well-prepared heading into this new year and ready to get racing again. Going into this year, I would say that, yeah, I’ve gotten a second and gotten a third, so now I feel like it’s time to win and I feel like I’ve been in the class long enough that it’s time to get it done.
You’re background in the sport is both unique and interesting. Your family owned a motocross track in Minnesota before moving southward to Texas to take possession of Oak Hill Raceway. Talk about a commitment to the sport of motocross.
Yeah, for sure. It’s been a journey, to say the least. Just starting off as a privateer and doing everything on my own and driving to all the races with my girlfriend and my brother in a van and to finally be getting to this level and being on the podium at races is kind of an unbelievable experience for us. I finally feel like we’re breaking through, and it’s just a matter of time until we are able to get it done and be race-winners. I feel like I’ve put in the work my whole life and things are just starting to click, and I feel like we’ve made improvements every year. I feel like we’ve never really taken a step back. As long as we keep improving and keep learning, I feel like 2018 is going to be a good time.
You’re on one of the best 250cc teams in the world and it’s obvious that you are a talented, competitive racer. However, you were not really a heralded amateur racer at all. I don’t mean it the wrong way, but did you sort of come at this professional thing in a somewhat roundabout way?
Obviously, I wanted to do well and I wasn’t afraid to put in work, but I just didn’t know what work to put in. I didn’t really have much direction, as some people may think. A lot of people thought my dad was hard on us and this and that, but I’ve never had my dad tell me to go ride or do a moto or go to the gym or do any of that. What I did was all kind of self-taught and from watching other people and what they did. It was kind of tough for us. I always felt like I was better than I actually was, and it took to me turning pro to look at myself in the mirror and say, “I’m not that good.” Where I got to [at that point] was just done with talent. I just didn’t know any better. I didn’t know what it took. My first summer doing some outdoor races (2013), I was blind as anybody going into them. I had no clue what was going on. I had no idea there was only 45 minutes between motos. I had no clue what to expect, and it obviously showed in my results that year. But, yeah, the amateurs were fun, but it was more of a family vacation for us.
Yeah, it strikes me that there was no master plan to make you an amateur motocross sensation with designs on being a factory motocross professional as quickly as possible. True?
Yeah, for sure. I mean, I had a track in my backyard my whole life, so with having the track and then moving to Texas, a lot of people kind of thought that was for us to kind of take that next step to becoming professionals. Really, though, it was more just to get away from the cold weather in Minnesota. The winters up there are pretty miserable and my dad came in one day after working in the cold and said, “I’m over it. Let’s move south.” That day my mom was on the internet looking at places for sale. Racing was just for fun for us. It’s always been just for fun for us. I didn’t really start taking in seriously until my last year in amateur racing, and at that point it was already too late. In my eyes, I felt like I should have been going a little bit sooner than that. But, yeah, we had a blast racing dirt bikes and that was that.
I’ve come to learn that once you did, in fact, turn pro, that your eyes were totally opened up with the reality that you had a lot to learn. Can you talk about that?
I mean, I’m still learning and I’m still breaking bad habits. I feel like if you’re not learning, you’re not improving. It’s been a journey, to say the least. Every day at the track, I still have one, two, three different bad habits I need to break to take that next step and to be where we need to be. It’s good. It’s good to see a lack of some things because it means you can improve, you know what I mean?
Absolutely. And I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a professional motocross racer speak so honestly about himself.
Yeah, if we’re seeing bad habits and we’re seeing myself doing wrong things, it’s kind of a good thing. It’s like, “Okay, we’re already here, but when we break these bad habits, we’re going to be that much closer to winning.” I try to do all that I can and I know the team does all they can for me to succeed, and we’ll just keep building from there.
To what you just spoke of, what, in fact, are you focusing the most on the be ready when the gate drops on 2018?
I think for now, it’s just intensity in practice. In the last year I was hurt a lot, so I didn’t race much and I wasn’t getting that race intensity on the weekends. Right now I feel like my fitness is good and my speed is good, I just need to get that intensity there and be able to ride at that intensity with no mistakes and I think we’ll be alright. I’m just working really hard on that with all the guys on the team and doing motos with them.
East or West Region? Do you have a preference?
I’m open to anything. As of right now, it’s West. It’s so hard to tell because a lot can change in the next three weeks, but right now it’s West. I’d rather be West. I’m ready to go racing. I’m sick of watching these guys.