It was pretty humorous, really. I had set out to interview 2007 Vice-World Motocross Champion Tommy Searle and his friend and business manager James Dobb in the pit area of Angel Stadium. The problem was, though, that the place, between roaring rock music, DJs, revving motorcycles and thousands of fans holding thousands of conversations, was just way too crowded and noisy to knock out any sort of interview. That’s when the good folks at Alpinestars offered up one of their Sprinter vans for us to sit within and talk.
So there we were: This writer in the driver’s seat, 18-year-old Tommy Searle in the passenger seat, and 2001 125cc World Champion James Dobb sitting on a stack of boot boxes between us: Three hard-going travelers telling war stories without even moving. It looked goofy enough that more than one person stopped in their tracks to look trough the windshield and wonder what in the hell we were doing.
But the upside of it all was that it made for a great conversation and both Dobb and his understudy were both eager to talk about their racing careers; just like Dobb, who came to America to race in the early 1990s before going back to become a world champion, Searle was about to mirror the same journey. In California to ride, train and watch some supercross before heading back to Europe to take on Antonio Cairoli for the MX2 World Championship, the duo were having a fine time of it. And that’s where we’ll begin: An American and two Englishmen sitting in a stationary truck placed smack in the middle of the main thoroughfare of the Anaheim SX pit area.
[Ed. note: It was announced yesterday by KTM USA that Tommy Searle just signed a contract with them to compete in America in 2009-2010.]
Racer X: Tommy, what are you doing here in California?
Tommy Searle: Just riding and we’ve come to watch these supercrosses. But mainly we’re here just so I can ride because it’s wet at home. We came out on the 28th of December and I’ll go home on the second of February.
Tommy Searle and James Dobb at Anaheim 2.
Yeah, I came here last year and the year before. It’s good. I like riding here.
Tommy Searle and James Dobb at Anaheim 2.
What do you think of California?
It’s so much different. If you’re back home and you see a motocross bike on a trailer, you’d point it out and probably know the person. But out here, every time you go out there are just so many people into motocross. Like my dad went out last night and he was speaking to a schoolteacher and she was saying most of the kids at the school have motocross bikes, which is crazy.
What do you think of supercross?
Yeah, it looks good. Last time, when it was wet, it wasn’t very good. I thought it was going to be fun watching them go around in the mud. I thought it was going to be different, but it ended up not very good. So, I’m looking forward to this one. This track looks different. It looks quite easy, but then there are a couple things that are really hard. But it looks like good fun.
What do you think of the atmosphere here today? The sun is out and people are everywhere and there is a lot of excitement in the air…
I was speaking with my dad earlier and he was just saying, “Everything here is so crazy.” But it wasn’t so much last week. When I came last week, the atmosphere was different. But today the atmosphere is really, really good with everyone here.
There’s been some rhetoric as of late from Europe that proclaims that the Grand Prix riders only want to come to the United States to race supercross. Do you think that’s true?
I think it’s just to have a change. I like the GPs and I’ve done them for two years and it’s gone really quick. So I have one more year and then I think it’s time to do something different and come here. I don’t know, really, I just like it out here and always have. I know that when you play PlayStation games, you play with all the riders from out here. Everything here is just kind of blown up a lot more.
James Dobb: I think it’s the pinnacle here with supercross and all. For any kid, in this day and age, to win the supercross championship is the pinnacle. And to come here, just with the atmosphere and everything is just what it’s all about, really. It’ so big in Europe with Americans, in general. It’s like if you come across (to Europe) for the Motocross des Nations or whatever it is. They bring the charisma with them and everything. All the magazines in Europe, they push America more than anything. So Tommy has been coming over to the Millsaps Training Facility for a few years before he even turned pro, so he knows it here quite well.
Dobb: I was actually here about three years before Greg. I was like the second person to come. Bayle was a different entity. He was the guy who could come across here and win. I came across and won a national and I think I kind of opened doors to where there was a thought of, “Maybe the Grand Prix riders can succeed there again.” Then there was a flow of them that just started coming and it was crazy. I came across because it was a good opportunity for me at the time and it was something like it is for Tommy. It was something I always wanted to do and it just wasn’t happening for me in Europe. I came here for not different reasons, but it worked out to be different. I went back there and got my results, where it’s been a bit different for Tommy, who has been succeeding in Europe already. And this year is looking quite well for Tommy. Hopefully, we can try and win that title and then come across here a champion. That would be great for his future.
Now how did you two first meet one another?
Searle: Well, he gave me a trophy one time, but I didn’t really meet him. I just went up and got my trophy and then came back. And then another time he gave me awards when I won challenges when he rode for KTM. But when I really met him was when I first went into the Adults [classes] and I pulled out of one race because I stalled the bike like four times and I was over it! I couldn’t start the bike and I was like two laps behind. So I pulled off and I was sitting in a little area and he came over and he was telling me off, really, and I had never even met him before!
Where was this?
Dobb: Hawkstone Park. The one thing I wanted English kids to see was that I was fortunate enough to have good things happen to me. There’s this European mentality that people get into: You turn professional and you forget why you race. You have to have that feeling and that emotion to go out there and win. So the first time I met him I pretty much gave him a bollocking and it’s pretty much not stopped ever since [laughs].
When did you start working together in a professional capacity?
Dobb: Probably about four months after. It was at the end of 2005. I started sponsoring a couple of kids while I was still racing. I had one kid and had tried to get Tommy, but Team Green had just signed him on. So I actually had tried to get him in the previous year and it didn’t work out. So then I obviously I fell into the work I am in now and Tommy was the first person I basically signed. So, obviously, gone from strength to strength. He’s lived with us the past few years and is kind of a part of the family now. So it’s been a great time, really, watching him mature and grow. Like me and my wife were just speaking the other week about how much he’s changed… It’s crazy to see pictures of him to when he first came to us to where he is now. It’s been fortunate for us that we’ve been a part of that, really. We’ve known him since he was 15.
So, Tommy, how did you feel abut your 2007 Grand Prix season?
Searle: It was a real good season. Like when I look from now to where I was at this time last year and see how much further I am this year than last year, I feel real good. When I came here last year everything went wrong. I hurt myself and then I went to Spain and everything was going wrong and then it kind of started getting better and better. This year everything has gone good. So hopefully we can keep building on this. But as far as last year in the GPs, I crashed on the start in the first race and then crashed again. Then, at the second race at Spain, I crashed out. That was the worst race of the year, really. I think it was because it was a new team and I was nervous and a few other things went wrong. But from there, I had like ten podiums and then got my first GP win at Donington in England. I also had a couple other race wins like in Sweden and Belgium. We also had the Motocross des Nations and I had a podium there.
It's official: Tommy Searle is coming to America in 2009!
James Dobb: I think in certain aspects that if you take Ryan [Villopoto] out of the equation — them days don’t happen often in your life, do you know what I mean? — and Ryan had one of those days. Tommy was fortunate in the first race. He passed Chad [Reed] and was comfortable in second and then obviously Chad made a good pass on him and maybe taught him a little bit, but he can put that in his cap and he’ll learn from it. But I think outside of Ryan, he was definitely the shining star outside of everybody else, really. Especially for Europe, he was the only one who really did anything.
It's official: Tommy Searle is coming to America in 2009!
Searle: I felt really good about that race, but Ryan was obviously so fast. He was the fastest guy, but apart from that, I felt really good.
What will be your first race during the off-season?
It will be the Mantova Starcross. That race will be in three weeks. I’ll do maybe three or four races before the GPs start.
Have you been able to visit any of the factory test tracks while you’ve been here in California?
Yes, I have. I definitely like them. I always wanted to ride one. I’d like to ride one just to have some fun on it, but we just haven’t had time.
Can you beat Antonio Cairoli in 2008? Did you feel like you were closing in on him as the 2007 season progressed?
Searle: He was obvious strong all year, straight from the beginning, but like I said, I wasn’t really prepared last year like I am this year. I know how I’m riding now and I think I can race with Cairoli all of the time now. And he’s going to stay down in MX2 again so obviously he’s going to be the main guy.
Where do you base yourself in Europe?
Searle: I stay about five miles away from Jamie’s house. My trainer lives there, so I live close to my trainer.
So you’re not one of those guys who bases himself in Belgium and Holland all winter and rides around in the sand…
Dobb: I don’t understand why any English speaking person would go there. The reason why is that you can only ride in the afternoons and you’ve got about a million people on the track at the same time. Staying in England just works so much better for Tommy. Stefan Everts [KTM sporting director] saw that it worked for Tommy being at home with his trainer. We have a fantastic facility. It’s quite good for him. It’s like what Ricky Carmichael has got (down in Florida). You’ve got your facility and workshop and everything just there. It’s all worth its weight in gold.
So is next year Tommy’s final year of Grand Prix racing for certain?
Dobb: Moving forward so you don’t have to do two interviews, Tommy has signed a two-year deal with KTM already for 2009 and 2010. He’ll do the AMA outdoors in 2009 and then he’ll do the full-season — supercross and outdoors — in 2010. So Tommy will come out here this November and he’ll then start his training and preparation for the outdoors. He will also be doing some supercross riding and will just getting into it nice and slow. We’re going to take our team and really do it steady.
Dobb: I think it’s like “When in Rome…” Do you know what I mean? You have to have the respect for the country that you are in. I think it’s good Tommy is English. Yes, the culture is different, but in some ways it’s similar.
So Tommy, what’s the goal for both the near term and long-term future?
Searle: Obviously I want to win the championship this year. Then I want to come out here and practice supercross for the first five months I’m out here and then go out and have a good outdoor season. Maybe I can get in top three there—we’ll just see how it goes. Hopefully, everything will go according to plan and maybe we can expect more. From there we get supercross underway and then just see whatever goes from there, really.