Courtesy of Monster EnergyMonster Energy: You’ve been at this for 20 years. How does this season compare to the rest?
Mitch Payton: I mean, it’s always a better season if you’re winning. And right now it’s a long shot to be able to win this season [the Lites East].
On the East, anyway...
Yeah, Dean [Wilson] didn’t ride that well. It was a rough start and he just didn’t put laps together and was too far back.
But you’re still winning races. You’ve won...
Oh, no, no, no... We’re doing it; it’s just, you know, you can’t be inconsistent. Dean had two bad races right off the bat and that put him behind. And to win a series, like we always have said, if you just stand on the box all the time you usually stand a chance of winning [a championship]. And this is the third time he didn’t stand on the box. He’s got a couple of wins to his name, too, and that’s great. I actually thought Blake [Baggett] stood a chance at winning and he just got kind of tangled up there riding behind [Ryan] Sipes last weekend. He probably rode a little too conservative; took a little too much time and wasn’t aggressive enough. But he needed to do it early because his lap times were really good and he rode good in the heat. He could have rode better. He had the holeshot. When you have the holeshot, that’s when you want to get with it.
You’ve always been the benchmark in this class, so do you feel like other teams are catching up to you?
Well, I think everybody tries harder. And we help Factory Connection out and there’s nothing wrong with their program. They’ve had a solid program, just like we have, since the two-stroke days. That’s a great team to compete against and we’ll always be a good team to compete against. And that’s one of the reasons why we do help [Factory Connection]; we want to have another manufacturer on the product and they’re a great team.
Well, Pro Circuit as a company with your exhausts and your engine mods and whatever, right? But that’s different from Pro Circuit the race team, because I know you want to beat those guys...
Well, you always want to win, but so do they. It’s a big picture kind of thing.
You’re always in the hunt, year after year, despite gains all of the other teams make. How do you do it?
Well, that’s the biggest thing we tell everybody: there’s no guarantee we can win every year. The best thing we can do is be in contention, build good equipment, have good riders, have them in shape and try to succeed. And I’m proud of both the guys this year [in the Lites East]. Both of them have had setbacks, with Blake not qualifying and Dean having, like I said, the two bad races early on. That could happen to any one of the other guys, also. So, that’s just the luck of the draw. And look at the 450 class; you’ve had so many different winners and all that stuff. And that’s just the way it goes.
Ivan Tedesco pulled two massive holeshots again tonight.
That’s awesome. I love it.
I know you were pumped on that early in the year but it’s still happening.
Yup. And Ivan runs honest-to-goodness stuff that you can buy and that’s a good proof of what we’re doing, you know? And we’re really happy about that. Ivan’s a great rider; he’s rode for us. We want to help him out and Hart and Huntington’s a great team. And they’re proving that they’re going to be here this year, next year and so forth. They’ve got Dodge sponsoring him and now they have the funding to do it the correct way and they’re proving it.
I know for a long time you’ve wanted to get something going in the 450 class; what’s stopping you?
Everybody that we talk to doesn’t want us in that class for whatever reason. Just, that’s the truth.
So, it’s like other people saying, “No, no; don’t do that?” Are they afraid you’re going to lose focus on the Lites class or are they afraid you’re going to beat them in the big bike class?
You should ask them that.
Okay, so on the West Coast obviously you’ve got Broc [Tickle] who sort of hurt himself and then Josh [Hansen] who’s hurt. It’s like two injured fighters going into the final couple rounds of the fight. How do you see that playing out?
I feel good about it. You know, Josh is hurt, Tickle was hurt and actually [Eli] Tomac had crashed and got hurt a little bit, too; knocked himself out. But it doesn’t really matter. We’ve got a few races to go and it’s whoever does their job. I believe in our guys and we’re going to be there to win and we’re going to go for it.
That coast obviously looks better for a title for your team than the East does...
It does now.
Having two guys up there, first and second, you can’t ask for much more than that, can you?
It’s what you always want. It’s hard to do. You look at the class forever and if you have two guys per coast it’s always hard to have them one-two. We’ve been fortunate that a lot of times they are one-two or one-three. And, you know, we’re stoked about that, but the main goal is to win. And this side here [the East] is getting harder to do. It’s not over; it could still happen. I’ve seen weirder things happen. So, we’ve got to fight for it until the end.
You went one-two your first attempt with Jeremy McGrath and Steve Lamson, right?
Yeah. Well… They went one-two and actually I think maybe even on the East Coast they went one-two.
Brian Swink and Jeromy Buehl?
Yeah, maybe. I’d have to go back and look.
It’s obvious you’ve been around, and in 20 years you’ve seen a lot. Think about where you were 20 years ago; would you have thought you’d be here now?
No. I think 20 years ago we were fortunate to do what we did then. You know, the best that we have is as a satellite team we won our very first-ever race. We won an East and a West and an Outdoor. We won our very first race on a Kawasaki 125. We won our very first race on a four-stroke. We won our very first race on the perimeter frame of the Kawi. We won the very first race we ever raced with a fuel-injected bike. We’re competitive no matter what we’re given. And some of that is also luck. It’s fortunate or whatever but you have to prepare for it; shit happens.
That’s funny that you actually acknowledge that some of it’s luck because racing is crazy like that; that some shit just happens.
Some things are luck.
You’ve lost a few with bad turns of luck, too. How hard is it to keep pushing when you’re let down like that?
You want to cry. I mean, I had [Chris] Pourcel for two years for the Outdoor title and those were within inches both times and we didn’t close the deal, you know? But that was racing luck. That was something that should have happened but didn’t happen. And that’s going to happen to us again and it’s going to happen to other people again. So, it’s just the way it is. And that’s what makes it good for the fans. The sport is great; it’s healthy right now even though the economy is down. It’s coming back. Manufacturers are starting to sell a few more bikes, and life’s good.