Steve Boniface was part of the “French invasion” that took place in American motocross in the early 2000s. Boniface was one of nearly ten top French riders who found inspiration and speed from Jean-Michele Bayle’s success, and was able to make his way to the States in pursuit of the championship dream.
Boniface landed on American soil in the winter of 2001, and was immediately armed with a potent Amsoil/Factory Connection Honda ride (now known as GEICO Honda). His career in America lasted from 2001 through 2009. During that time, Steve was a consistent front-runner who scored several podiums.
Boniface retired in 2009 and eventually became a regular working stiff—but with a few twists. We caught up with Steve at a recent Anaheim Supercross, and he filled us in on what he has been doing over the past few years.
Racer X: Steve, what do you have going on in your life today?
Steve Boniface: Well, pretty much since I stopped racing in 2009, I took two years off and just relaxed, and got my head together. Then in 2011, I got a job working in the computer industry. So I started a new chapter of my life and began working for a company that does marketing and advertising work over the Internet. Back before I retired from racing, I had met the owner [of the business] while riding bicycles. We got to be friendly, so when I was looking for a job, he invited me to work for him, and I’ve been with him since.
That’s cool. Is it a big company?
No. When I first started we were around thirty people, but he [my boss] then sold the business for a good deal. He quickly started a new group, and I came over with him. So right now, we are about five people and we are looking to build a bigger company. The business is called RSR Interactive.
Well, congrats for landing on your feet and getting a good job. Some guys really struggle to come to terms with life after racing, but you seem like you are doing well. Tell me about your personal life?
Well, when I retired from racing in 2009, I was living in Corona. But Corona is good if you’re racing, but it is not ideal otherwise. So we moved closer to the beach, and we chose the area of Irvine back in 2010. Then in 2011, I got married to my longtime girlfriend Laci. We actually met and started dating when I was living in Texas and riding for the Boo-Koo-sponsored team, the one with the TV show. So after we got married in 2011, we had a baby daughter in 2012. Her name is Mia and she is the love of our lives.
Your wife is a Texan? How does she find life in SoCal then? That is quite the adjustment.
Ha! Yes, I think she had a hard time at first, but now she likes it here.
You had a pretty long career—racing both the MXGP circuit as well as nine years in America. Looking back on things, what are some of your favorite racing memories?
So, for me, I think about some of really early years as some of the best times, before I came to the USA. Those were just some fun, easy, innocent times. But, as for results, the highlight would be my supercross results. I had some good years in both the 125cc class as well as the Lites class. I think I had something like four podiums over three years, and quite a few top-fives. But I am happy with what I have done; I left it all on the track. However, now, when I look back, I can see some of the mistakes I made, and I understand things better. I guess that comes with age. But, for me, I also had some injures that came really at the wrong times. It seems like every time I came back from a bad injury I got hurt again. That was very hard for me, and really took a toll on things. But overall I was very happy with what I did in supercross.
Why do you think you didn’t do better in the outdoors?
Well, it is hard to say, but maybe it was something more or less with fitness. Riding at that high speed and in the heat and humidity is really hard and takes a special training message. Maybe I didn’t prepare myself good enough, so I wasn’t able to ride better than what I did. But I believe I performed at the ability I could have, but because of the intensity of the outdoors, it takes another level of preparation.
I understand you’re really active in the bicycle world now, and riding and racing a ton. Do you think you are in better shape now than when you raced?
Yes, for sure. But it’s not easy when you train for motocross to do as much pedaling on the side as I do now. When I raced, it would’ve been nice to be in the shape I am in now, but my life is very different. For racing motocross, the traveling is one thing that makes it so hard. I rode almost every day, but it’s not always easy to put the time you need in during training.
What do you think of the trainers in the sport, and how those things have evolved?
Well, for me, my dad raced, so he was my coach growing up. But he was more of a riding and sporting coach, and not so much on the fitness side, if that’s what you mean. But I think it’s good for some guys; however, for me, I was probably not ready for one. Maybe it would have helped, but for me, I didn’t feel that I needed it. It comes down to personal dedication, and I was dedicated, but perhaps just not as well guided. Maybe some people just need to be told what to do, with self-motivation and then go on without trainer. It’s hard to say, as everyone is different. You just have to figure out what works for the individual.
How close do you still follow the sport?
I still follow it very closely! I always go to the first few races of the season since I live so close to the California stadiums. But I haven’t been to outdoors in a long time. But supercross, yeah, I follow it. This year, and watching from the stands, I am really, really impressed with the speed of the top guys. I didn’t stop too long ago, but even now the guys are much faster. I am really impressed with the riders today. Maybe because I’m not as close to the sport so I can see it, but it’s impressive just how much better they have become.
Who was the biggest influence on your career?
Oh, for sure my dad. He was racing when I was born, and he was a professional racer back in France. I was born at the track, and my dad was a coach for the French development team.
Wait. Hold on—the famous French program? The one founded with Jacky Vimond?
Yes, that is it. My dad actually took it over when Jacky moved on, and it switched over to a full-time school/coaching program. We were at a top elite sporting facility in the South of France, so we were all living and riding there, and going to school. The French Federation was helping to pay for things, so that was a big deal. But the program was only for the young guys to prep to move the next step, so it was a program designed around kids that were just about to turn pro. As soon as I started to race the GPs, my dad and I had to build our own team. But my dad did everything he could to help me reach the top, and he even came with me to the USA.
That’s awesome. Is he still here in the States?
No. He is back in France with my mom—he moved back in 2005 or 2006.
Okay, so you were part of the French invasion. We had guys like Tortelli, Pichon, Vuillemin, Roncada, Sorby, Matt Lalooz, yourself, and Johny Aubert. That is a lot of fast guys for a small country. What was the deal, and where are all the French riders today?
I know! The top French riders that were here, they came because they were really good supercross riders. Most the guys, guys like Vuillemen and Pichon, they came first a few times before the GPs started and had good results. So then the following years, they were able to sign for good rides right away. But those guys were really good at supercross. And I think that’s because back then we had a supercross series back in France, and it brought a good amount of competition. That then opened the doors for guys like me and Sorby to come over. For sure we benefitted from the older generation of French guys. But, yeah, there were maybe eight or nine French guys that came over here. It was like a trend, though, with the teams. The same thing happened with the Australian guys. At one point when [Chad] Reed was winning, like back in 2004, everyone was looking at Australia as the next place for riders—it was just the trendy thing to do.
I had never thought of it that way, but I think you are totally right.
No, it’s true. Now there’s a trend to look back within America. Now it’s all the kids coming out of the Georgia and Florida training facilities. Even some of them might be foreign, but now the next wave of guys is coming from within America, and they are all down in the South.
Switching gears here—how was the money for you?
I make okay money, but nothing like what the top 450 guys made. It was not enough to retire on, but was a good living for sure. For my years in USA, I would say that I made an average of maybe $90-100,000 per year in salary. Sometimes we had good bonus money, sometimes not. But that’s not enough to be set when you’re done racing. It’s also important to note that I was also in the good years of racing, though, when the number of riders making good money was much bigger because the industry was stronger. I saved some money, so it was okay, but living in Southern California, it’s certainly easy to spend away.
Tell me about your decision to retire.
Well, the first thing that led me to the decision was that the money went away in 2008. The industry was hurting, and in 2009 lots of rides were going away. I was getting closer to 30 and really didn’t want to ride for free and take those risks. I was just not comfortable to take a ride that might only pay enough to maybe cover my rent. But then I got hurt at Bercy, and thus the combination of both of things happened and I decided to start thinking about something else.
And how was that process?
No, it wasn’t easy to find another job and learning what real life is. I’m lucky I was able to do my own schedule, and with what I am doing now, it is like a dream job, but it’s still very different and maybe hard to adapt. But I think that what makes it easy for me was that you have to believe you made the right decision. If you’re fine with that, then it makes it much easier. I can see how some guys maybe have a hard time, though, if they think they aren’t done. But this was my decision.
What does the future hold for you?
Good things! Hopefully I can move over and eventually start my own company, where I can build my own business with what we are doing now. But that is down the road.
Hey, should I include that? I do not want to get you in trouble with your boss.
Yes, It is okay. My boss is like my mentor; he has had big success and I think he would support me. If I could walk in his footsteps, that would be awesome, and aside from that, just trying to be the best at something else, and to raise my family—but only after Mia settles down. She is a lot of work right now, at just 3 years old.
For more information on Steve’s bicycle racing career, keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming April issue of Racer X Illustrated.