For 2007, the Factory Connection (GEICO) Honda team made a splash by spending some of its pro budget to hire amateur rider Trey Canard. By 2008, Canard was winning the Lites SX East Region Championship for the team, and soon the floodgates opened to talents like Justin Barcia and Eli Tomac. Now, other teams, most notably Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha, have used the same playbook to hire champions like Jeremy Martin and Cooper Webb.
These days, a variety of teams are mining the amateur ranks looking for the next big thing. Chase Sexton was one of the kids carrying some hype this year, and the GIECO Honda squad just made it official that he’ll be their latest recruit. He debuts for them this weekend at the Monster Energy Cup in the Amateur All-Stars race. We called him to talk about the new deal.
Racer X: Well, give us the news. You were a Yamaha guy and now you've signed a deal with GEICO Honda. How’d this all come about?
Chase Sexton: Well, first of all I spent some time in Minnesota training with Christian Craig. We had been talking to Jeff Majkrzak, the owner of the GEICO team, and then Christian [note: Craig is Jeff's son-in-law] talked to Jeff also. We had been talking to some other teams, but being in Minnesota definitely helped a lot, and, yeah, I really like the Honda, and that's the bike I chose to ride.
Over the last ten years, this team might have the best reputation of all for bringing amateurs into the pros. Did that factor in with your decision?
Definitely. It's cool, a lot of championships won by this team, and they've had a lot of success. I wanted to be in the best position to win, and that's what I did.
Do you have your timing for turning pro mapped out yet?
Well, I know I could do the last few nationals next year once I'm done as an amateur at Loretta's, but I'm just not sure yet. The latest for my pro debut would be Hangtown in 2017. I know I have the speed; I just need to show them that. If I'm ready by Hangtown next year, that could even be a possibility, but I feel like full time in 2017 would be the best choice. I want to be totally ready. I don't want to be a top-ten guy when I start; I want to be top five, podiums, or even winning. So, by 2017 I think I'll be more than ready, but I'll still be 17, so I'm still young.
So how close to the team will you end up being? Obviously you're not racing the same events they are. So how often do you work with them for the next year?
These last two weeks, I've been riding with all of them—Christian Craig, Malcolm Stewart, RJ Hampshire. And even when I ride the public tracks, I'm out riding with Andrew Short and stuff. You definitely know where you are as far as speed and stuff.
Will you keep doing that, or do you just go back to your own place and your own deal?
Pretty much I'll be with them any time I'm out in California. I actually just got an apartment out here, so I'll be riding with them all the time. It's really good to know where you're going to be at, speed wise, by riding with them.
What was your program before this? You're listed from Illinois. Then you hooked up with Christian this summer for some work in Minnesota.
I still did a lot in Illinois. I would go down to Robbie Reynard's for like a month each winter. Otherwise I would just be riding indoors with my dad all winter here in Illinois. It was nothing special, but I feel like it worked. I feel like getting to the next level, this is what it's going to take, riding with other fast guys like this. But I got a lot done even during the three months it was snowing at my house. It wasn't anything special, just rode.
Yeah, but that is impressive. I'm sure most of the guys you were battling with were living, riding, and training full time at facilities down south.
Definitely, those kids have been at a MTF or a GPF or any kind of training facility their whole life. I kind of liked staying at home and just riding. But I would be blind coming into the races, because I didn't know how fast I was going. Now, I know where I'm at, and definitely being out here has helped me with my speed. I'm definitely pumped on it.
You have Monster Energy Cup on tap this weekend in the Amateur All-Stars Class. What’s that like?
The track was tough the first two years I did it, but last year it was a lot more comfortable. It's cool, but when I'm out there riding, it's not like you notice the big crowd and stuff. It kind of reminds me of back home. I grew up riding indoor races, so it feels natural. I really do like supercross. I loved doing Monster Energy Cup. It was really fun to race in front of that many people, even though, like I said, once you're out there on the track, you don't really notice it. I like the track though.
So no pressure to make a huge splash or jump something big?
No, it's just like any other amateur race. Go out there and ride like I know how to ride. I don't ride over my head, and especially not there because that track could bite you.
The new standard for amateurs is to lock in this type of ride. It almost feels like a requirement for success. Did you feel pressure this year to get that done?
I definitely knew that this year or next year would be the two biggest years of my career so far. Getting this kind of ride is a huge step in my career, so, definitely, it puts a little bit of pressure on you. It was tough, but the kids that didn't get the ride will now have more pressure than me. I didn't expect to get this ride this quick; a year ago I was on superminis, so this all happened pretty fast.
At Loretta's you were fast, but no titles. Happy with the riding at least?
Oh, yeah. I knew I had the speed. I didn't get good starts though; the only moto I got a good start I ended up winning. Some of the kids were on full factory bikes. The Yamaha I had, it was a great bike and I loved the Yamahas, but going against the factory bikes, it's hard to compete. I don't want to make excuses. On the bike I had I could have pulled a holeshot if I nailed a perfect start, but I'm really looking forward to this weekend at Monster Cup because I know my starts will be there on this bike. Should be a good race.
Whoa, so, down the road, we could be looking at a real sleeper here. You didn't ride and train like mad all winter every year, you didn't maybe have the full-factory bike, but now you're going to get that stuff. You're going to be unleashed.
For sure, I'm riding the best equipment, or at least even with anyone else. I'm so pumped about it. No excuses now—I really want to show everyone what I've got.
Okay, one last thing: what's it like working with [GEICO Honda team manager] Mike LaRocco? Does he speak to you? Just scowls and stares?
[Laughs] At first, honestly, I was a little scared of him! The first time I was out here I stayed with him and he actually opened up a lot. Now I almost can't get him to stop talking! Once he gets going he's not as scary as he looks. He's a good guy and I'm pumped to have him as a team manager.
Is he still testing for the team?
He's supposed to. He didn't do supercross testing last year, but he said he could do it this year. They told me he can still do all the jumps. Outdoors, they tell me he did long hours for testing. He'd get to Glen Helen at nine a.m. and ride until six o'clock. So when he rides, he rides a lot.
You might not want to go out to Glen Helen on those days.
No, you definitely don't want to mess with him!
Okay, so no pressure this weekend?
Yeah, definitely to win would be awesome, but all the work is done now. We're just going to have some fun and see how it goes this weekend.