Want your mind blown on a Monday morning? Here’s a fact about Aldon Baker: He started training Ricky Carmichael for supercross in 2001, and since then his clients have captured 12 of the last 16 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championships. (If you really want to dig in, the four years that a Baker-trained rider didn’t win the title, his client did not compete in the full season due to injury or retirement.)
Last week KTM announced a new alliance with Aldon, which means he’ll be training KTM or Husqvarna riders exclusively from now on. We called to ask him more about his new deal, and also pick his brain on prep for Lucas Oil Pro Motocross.
Racer X: Explain this. We see a press release with you shaking hands with Pit [Beirer] and Roger [DeCoster] and everything. Is a little bit of an alliance going on with you and the KTM group?
Aldon Baker: Yes. I already have three of their group anyway, so it makes sense that I was thinking of filling the position with one more. From their end they wanted it to where if I’m going to fill that spot it needs to be with one of their crew. Which is a good thing; it kind of helps me too because it stays in one big group. So I’m excited. Obviously, I think it’s a good team to be affiliated with. I’m really happy. There was talk about a year ago, but the circumstances were just not right yet. So now I think we’ve got a good understanding of the concerns that I have, and also with being able to make sure that I pick a rider that I feel will work on my program. Even if they have a guy that they have a deal with to ride with them, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll have to train him or I’m going to train him. It’s a good alliance where I’m committed to them, they’re committed to me, but we can still discuss who the rider is, and how they fit in and who would work best and all that. It’s really a good relationship that formed.
Is it only just adding a fourth guy? I know since you opened Baker’s Factory you’ve mention having some young guys or a 250 team on the side. Is there anything like that?
The cool thing with them is we’re open to discussion. I haven’t found a fourth guy that I feel that would complement the group. My main goal is not to mess with that what I have. I think the group that I have are really doing well and are really solid. They agree with me in that. Ideally it would be good to fill the fourth spot with a 250 rider but the KTM 250 team is obviously a Troy Lee team. Tyla Rattray oversees not all their guys but some of them. What I would rather be is more kind of scouting to see if there’s a particular one that can really fit in well with what I have. And if that’s the situation and all parties decide that that’s going to be good from their point, from Tyla’s point, too, then maybe we can move over. There’s no kind of fixed rules; it’s more just I’m in alliance with them and I’m going to obviously train their guys. The biggest thing is just providing a facility, which I have, for them, which is good. There are plans to start working towards providing that 250 side that I think will benefit their program.
But not maybe just one guy, maybe like a larger program down the road or something?
More just actually providing a facility. I’m not saying that if the 250 riders come and ride out here, I’m going to become their trainer. I’d oversee some stuff and kind of help them benefit from the experience that I have, but that would be more just to provide a facility for them. So if KTM riders wanted an East Coast base where they can have something different, then they come here to ride, to practice and prepare.
You and Tyla have like 15 different connections already. He already worked with you, so I’m sure you guys are friends, right?
Yeah. Well, that’s the thing. He’s just getting started into his new career and kind of learning his methods of how he translates stuff and how he reads athletes and riders. I think he’ll do well. But it’s kind of cool to see him putting his own little spin on it. I’m obviously good friends with him and I support him and help where I can. So it’s a good setup. I think all around we have a good thing going and if we can build on that and obviously help both the KTM and Husky riders along the way, that’s the goal.
It always was a little weird. I know that in the end there’s not as much secret stuff going on down at your place as people probably think. But just a few years ago you had a KTM guy and some Kawasaki guys. It was all over the map. So is it a little easier for even testing or personnel or anything if it was just we’re all part of the same group? Was that ever actually a problem having multiple teams at the same place?
No, it was never problem really because the teams were all in their own right very professional. Each guy had his own mechanic. So really there was never a problem. The only thing you had to coordinate was when each team was coming to test. So if Kawasaki came to test in Florida I’d always try and make sure that KTM wasn’t coming to test at the same time. But we never had any problems and I think it really worked out well. Even when you’re testing it’s a lot of suspension, and suspension is so different for each bike and each guy, so really I didn’t see any problem you’d have in that scenario. But it definitely is easier to be under one umbrella where they’re all coming from basically one setup. The communication gets a little easier. It’s just easier to keep that thing running.
"Outdoors I feel is a lot more physical. If you’re having issues with strength and dealing with the other physical parts that can make it miserable. Where supercross is not that physical."
So when you say you need a fourth guy, do you just get like 1,000 resumes thrown your way or is there a certain thing you look for?
Yes, there’s definitely been some people that want to be on the program, but the first thing is for my end is to say, okay, well, how would the others feel about that? They definitely want that exclusivity and they’re all trying to win. So with basically the list that I have to sort of pick from I always ask them first, and get a feel if they have any concerns. I think the main concern from the guys I have now is just to not have another 450 guy. And I respect that. I agree with them. I think four 450 guys is tough. There’s only three spaces on the podium! You kind of got to be careful. So I think in a perfect world probably a 250 guy could fit in, but it depends what stage that 250 ride is at, also. So we’ll discuss, but at this point I don’t have one rider that I really feel like, “Wow, that’s what I’m hunting down. I’ve got to get that guy.” That’s not the situation.
Let’s switch to some talk about the outdoors. It seems everyone is switching over now, but has the switch already been going on much earlier than just the checkered flag at Vegas?
Yeah, we’ve been trying to do at least one day a week of riding some outdoor to try and bridge that gap because obviously we don’t get that much time between. You’ve always got to gauge on how the supercross is going. Thank God we were in a position where supercross was going well and we could take a day and change it up and get some outdoor riding and get an idea. They’re totally different setups so it is tough. But I think it’s been good. We’ve got in quite a few days of outdoor riding and getting at least a feel for what you want, which hopefully is the goal for them. Finding that setup that you want right out of the gate.
Does it ever actually happen full on? Have any of your guys ever gone through the opener at outdoors and been like, we’re right where we need to be? Or is it always somewhat of a work in progress?
Yeah, it’s always a work in progress. I think especially outdoors, the guys are so used to supercross. That’s what they race mostly. They’re trying to get that different feeling knowing you have to make things softer. You can’t be running it as stiff as supercross, but you still can’t go too far either way. And then the tracks are different. Hangtown’s one where you either feel like you get it or you don’t. I don’t know why. I can’t put my finger on why that track, that opener, is so tough. And maybe it is because the guys are a little bit still in supercross mode, and it is what it is. But that one’s a tough one. You’re always trying to figure out where you can get a good balance going in there and then at least do well right out of the gate.
We have definitely seen Hangtown be completely misleading as to what the rest of the year will look like.
Right. But the cool thing is everyone’s got to deal with it. Last year we were way off. We had to really kind of get on it and figure out a couple things, which did take a couple rounds. But this year we had a little bit more time on this newer bike to get a better feel.
How much does it change on the physical side? Do you actually change the workout regimen, the training regimen much because of the length of the motos, or having two motos?
Yeah, it does a little bit. We know the motos are back to back and it’s longer and obviously it’s hotter conditions. When we can, I try and increase what I call the load amount a little bit. But that also depends where the guys are at. We try and increase a little bit more of that endurance. The heart rates aren’t that high compared to supercross, but it’s longer. So I try and balance it out a little bit. That normally starts at least four or five weeks out, increasing the load.
The heart rates in general are lower than supercross?
I think people get mislead because when you think of a supercross race, when you really find out that it’s 17 minutes, that doesn’t ever sound difficult. But if you ran at your absolute top speed around a track at 100 yard dash pace for 17 minutes, that would be really hard. Seventeen minutes can be long!
That’s the thing, it’s shorter. So it’s like a sprint in a way.
So it’s not like you have to get in necessarily better shape, is it just different shape? It’s not like you can do supercross not being in shape. I think that’s where people get mislead sometimes.
Yeah, I think it’s just different. And also outdoors I feel is a lot more physical. If you’re having issues with strength and dealing with the other physical parts that can make it miserable. Where supercross is not that physical. It’s more being precise. But the outdoors too is obviously longer. You don’t have things coming up there to you like in supercross where the timing is critical. But you’re hitting things so much faster. So it’s just a lot different. But I do feel like overall it’s definitely physically more challenging.
My last thing is the weather down there in Florida. You’ve been working down there for 15 years now. Lately I’ve heard some riders saying, “Man, I’m not sure this is good. I feel like sometimes riding that all week in the heat drained me.” Do you work around the weather? Is there any way to negate that or is it actually better to ride in the hottest weather possible.
It depends on the rider. Some guys adapt to the heat a little bit easier than others. But you’ve got to be careful. Really when you’re over this side the quality has to be really good and not so much quantity because you are sweating a lot more. So in a way you’ve got to monitor that really well. Even with heart rates and the intensity, it makes it a little tougher when it’s hotter. When you adapt to that and you go to races that are in those situations, you’re definitely going to be a little bit better off. But you never know, too. Last year I didn’t feel like we really went to a race that was brutal with the heat. So you never know. I’m okay with it. I don’t go to races hoping it’s going to be hot as hell. It’s still going to be tough and it’s still going to take it out of the guys, plus it’s not always about this weekend, it’s the next one and the next one. So you just prepare as well as you can and then deal with the conditions as they come. I remember when we would start off in California and then go to the Texas National on our way back here, and we hadn’t been riding in that humidity.
You told me something crazy one time where the heart rates even change depending on how much traction the track has. Like if it’s harder and slippery you just can’t attack as much. That’s mind-boggling.
Exactly. You can’t push as hard. You kind of got to go back into finesse mode, so you can’t push as hard and the heat rate stays down. And then you go to the outdoor tracks and obviously they prep and water and dig those tracks deep, and you’re dealing with some really, really tough, rough conditions that develop.
You’ve said determining what kind of load you can put your guys through depends on reading them. Are you just literally looking at them to see how tired they are? Or is there a test that you can do?
It’s a bit of both. You can read the rider and how he’s feeling with the difficulty and loads, but there are markers with regards to recovery ratios and load ratios for sure. That’s where the science behind it is important. That’s different for each guy. Those are the markers you’ve got to watch. The only thing is those markers are there, but you’ve got to figure out what is changing them. Is it the mentality? Is it the way he addresses it? Is it because he’s got more stress on him than what he should be? There’s a lot of little things that you’ve got to put in line with what you see on the scientific side. So it’s a bit of both. You’ve really got to monitor the guy. Some days I’ll back it down to a little bit of a lower level, and you come to find out he coped with it too easy. Eventually you start to read how each rider addresses the way they ride and how they train and what motivates them. It’s not as simple as A plus B.
The only reason I ask is because we always hear that your program is so gnarly, and it obviously is, but you also try to accommodate for how each person is feeling. But we only see and hear about the hard part!
That’s the thing, yeah we’ve all seen the rough stuff. You’ve got to make it through the season and that’s what the tough thing is here. You’ve got to be good all year round. So yeah, if you just throw the person into the ground it isn’t going to help. But each guy has different ways they address and how they cope with the loads. I do my best to adjust it according to each guy to try and get the best out of each person.
But sometimes you need to just whip on them and say, “No, I don’t think you’re tired, I think you just don’t want to do it today!”
I’ve been doing it long enough where you can see if someone’s attitude isn’t really addressing what their physical ability can do, and then you’ve got to kind of pull that person aside. And my job is to get the best out of the athletes each day and make it count. There’s racing almost every weekend. We can’t be wasting time. And depending on the experience of each rider and where they’re at, that has to be taken into consideration because you need that athlete to have confidence in the program and what they’re doing.