Last week we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the GEICO/Factory Connection Honda team, and this week, we take a deep dive into the most celebrated small-bore team of all time. Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki is a legacy team in the pits with titles and wins everywhere you look. Mitch Payton’s shop in Corona, California, started really gaining steam when factory Honda used some of its stuff in 1986, and five years later, Honda came to Payton with the offer to run the 125 factory effort.
Ever since, Pro Circuit has been nothing but a championship factory on the track, even after a late switch to Kawasaki in 1993 that almost sunk the effort—but it quickly recovered and yielded another title. Then another. Then another.
Because of the great history, and because people love lists, we decided to rank all the Pro Circuit team riders.
1. Ricky Carmichael | 3 125 Class titles | 1 125SX title | 25 MX wins | 11 SX wins
Well, duh. Look, I was around when RC was a rookie. People thought he was good, but in no way did anyone see him do what he did. I remember when he won Gainesville ’97 and everyone said, “Ahhh, it’s his home track.” Then he just never stopped winning. So yeah, he’s an easy first on the best Pro Circuit riders ever. He was so good, team owner Mitch Payton let him ride for factory Kawi in ’99 for SX and then come back to the truck for nationals. He was so good, Payton let him wear Fox when his team was sponsored by another gear company in that ’99 season. In two-and-a-half years with the team, RC won every title he competed for with Pro Circuit except one—when Tim Ferry took the ’97 125SX East Championship. #NeverForget
2. Ryan Villopoto | 3 250 Class titles | 1 250SX title | 19 250 MX wins | 11 SX wins
Yep, this guy was also pretty good. Hard to believe that RV only got one SX title out of his three chances, but outdoors, he was amazing. Again, not a guy that people had picked as an all-timer in the sport, but he turned out to be one of the best ever. Villopoto was an easy choice here for second-best PC rider ever.
3. Christophe Pourcel | 2 250SX titles | 12 SX wins | 6 MX wins
Tough choice to put Christophe ahead of MC, but by virtue of his six motocross wins, he gets the nod. Pourcel was a late-race crash/shoulder injury and broken radiator away from being a two-time AMA National Motocross Champion for Pro Circuit as well. We know titles never come easy, but CP377 was never really challenged for his two indoor titles; he was usually so much better than everyone else. He could be a difficult guy to work with, so Mitch and his sidekick Jim “Bones” Bacon had their work cut out for them with the Frenchman. It didn’t matter, though, because he was an amazing rider.
4. Jeremy McGrath | 2 125SX titles | 12 SX wins
McGrath had won one SX before coming to Payton’s team in its inaugural 1991 season. At that time, he was just ranked the same as a lot of dudes like Phil Lawrence, Chad Pederson, and such. Fast kid, but really, his career could go either way. But at PC, he took off. Two years there, two indoor titles where he whupped up on everyone. The best part of McGrath at PC was that he signed with Honda and he and his dad thought it was the factory truck and not some “guy in a chair,” as Mitch Payton said people thought of him back in the day. Things worked out okay though, right? MC winning right out of bat (along with Brian Swink) gave the little horsepower shop out of Corona instant credibility. Bonus points for MC and that 1991 team because, well, how effing cool did the team look in PEAK gear and white bikes?
5. Ivan Tedesco | 2 250SX titles | 1 250 Class title | 9 SX wins | 2 MX wins
Sneakily good career for Hot Sauce at Pro Circuit, right? He was a Plano Honda rider and then a Yamaha of Troy guy who won one race and wasn’t thought of as a potential national champion by any means. But the structure and bikes given to him under the green tent allowed him to emerge as this great champion. In two years he delivered three titles, and his national title was very unexpected. His outdoor title pushes him ahead of the next guy on this list.
6. Grant Langston | 2 250SX titles | 6 SX wins | 4 MX wins
Hard to believe Langston didn’t get a national championship for Payton, as that’s probably what he was mostly hired to do, right? I mean, when Langston went to Pro Circuit, he was written off by many in the industry after a failed jump to 250s on KTM. Pushing the reset button on his career by going back down to 125s (now 250s, of course) and taking the low-money deal was the best thing for Grant. He won two regional SX titles in two years, one on each coast, to fully stamp himself as a capable supercross guy. Only injuries kept him from getting another 250 Class title for himself at PC, but he showed great speed outdoors and won plenty of races. He used his success at PC to get a factory Yamaha ride back on the 450.
7. Mickael Pichon | 2 125SX titles | 9 SX wins
An answer to a trivia question: Name the only other rider other than Carmichael to wear non-team approved gear. Yeah, this guy. Pichon came from France and was immediately one of the best 125 supercross riders in America. Two-for-two in SX for Mickael, and the only blemish on his record was only getting a couple of podiums for PC outdoors and, of course, that huge Atlanta SX get-off that made every single highlight reel.
8. Ben Townley | 1 250SX title | 3 SX wins | 6 MX wins
Townley came to Pro Circuit after winning the 2004 MX2 FIM Motocross World Championship title and finishing third in MX1 the next year. Then he got hurt. The next year he put it together, beating Ryan Dungey (among others) for a 250SX title and battling Villopoto all summer before coming up short. In a peculiar stat, BT got more wins outdoors than indoors in essentially one season for Payton. Then he was gone to 450s with Honda. Because he did all of this in one year, compared to Wilson and Baggett’s four years each on the team, he gets the nod for #9 ahead of the #8 and #15.
9. Blake Baggett | 1 250MX title | 17 MX wins | 3 SX wins
To me, winning an outdoor title is WAY gnarlier than a 250SX regional championship, so if you get one of those, you’re a bad dude. So out of the riders who won one title for Pro Circuit, Baggett’s national title combined with 17 wins squeaks past Wilson. Baggett had the lead one year indoors, but got hurt the week after he had the points lead. Keep in mind these records are with riding for Payton for four years, which is a long time.
10. Dean Wilson | 1 250MX title | 10 MX wins | 8 SX wins
Wilson delivered an outdoor title over Baggett, signed to ride 450s on a team that was a disaster, then went back to Pro Circuit before that season started. Has to be the weirdest career at PC, right? Anyway, injuries struck Dean a lot after getting that #1 (he rode half a moto with the number the next year, then missed the whole season), and when he left Pro Circuit, he was the winningest 125/250SX rider without a title in the class history. Still crazy that Dean never won a supercross title; he was the favorite to do so many times.
11. Mike Brown | 1 125 MX title | 3 MX wins | 1 SX win
Brown rode for the team in its second year (’92), but didn’t do much. Then he found his way back nine years later after a European adventure, Honda of Troy, and who knows what else. Brown was a veteran when he delivered a 125 Class title for Pro Circuit in an exciting series we wrote about here. Mike was never as good indoors as he was out, but he was capable of running at the front in supercross at times. And, actually, I checked Cycle News: Yep, he’s still racing.
12. Jake Weimer | 1 250SX title | 7 SX wins | 3 MX wins
Weimer took less money than his old team was offering to sign up with Pro Circuit because in the early days of four-strokes, PC was where it was at. Weimer rode there for two years, won a title, won some nationals, and rode for a winning MXoN team in his second year and moved up to 450s.
13. Brian Swink | 1 125SX title | 4 SX wins | 1 MX win
Swink once told me, and many others, that the biggest mistake he made was jumping to a big-money Suzuki deal after just one year at PC. He won again on yellow that next year, but without the structure and bikes at Suzuki, he began to lose his way. Part of the inaugural team at PC, he was thought of as having more potential than his teammate McGrath at the end of ’91. In fact, McGrath told me at Troy, Ohio, one night that he used to watch Swink in SX practice to see what could be jumped. RIP Swinkster.
14. Nathan Ramsey | 1 125SX title | 5 SX wins
In his three years at PC, he admitted that he butted heads with Payton quite a bit, but in the end, the two grew to admire each other. With no wins in his first and third years on the team, Ramsey delivered a title and all of his wins in his second season on green. His overall history there was a bit odd, but a title is a title.
15. Justin Hill | 1 250SX title | 4 SX wins
Hill rode for the team twice (maybe our next list will be guys who did this—Mike Brown, Marty, and Justin are it), got a title his second time around, and jumped ship to JGR this year, where the title defense didn’t work out as well. Swink and Hill share some similarities with their time at PC in that they won a title and jumped to Suzuki for a ton of cash (and big-bike opportunity).
16. Shae Bentley | 1 125SX title | 2 SX wins
Shae rode for PC for three years and really only put one series together in that time, as his shoulders seemed to pop out time and time again. This was it for Bentley; his career went sideways after this title, but for one magical seven-race stretch, it all came together.
17. Jimmy Gaddis | 1 125SX title | 1 SX win
A VERY unexpected title for Pro Circuit, its first with Kawasaki after two years of Honda success. Gaddis hadn’t done much before signing with PC and he didn’t do much after. After winning the opener, he and the team gritted the rest of the year out for a title. Read more about it here.
18. Broc Tickle | 1 250SX title | 1 SX win
I didn’t realize Tick only won one race on his way to the title—did you? I triple-checked, but yup, he joins Gaddis in the one-win-and-a-title club. He also holds the distinction of being one of two riders (Tyla Rattray is the other) of being part of an official Pro Circuit 450 effort when no one realized he pointed out of the class after winning a title and still had one more year on his deal.
19. Joey Savatgy | 4 SX | 7 MX
Still writing his Pro Circuit history, did you realize Joey has seven MX wins? Yeah, that’s pretty good. He’s come as close as you could come to a title without winning out of any rider in history.
20. Tyla Rattray | 6 MX
Rattray somehow even held the red plate in 250SX without ever winning a race. Coming over after winning an FIM Motocross World Championship title, Rattray was a pro’s pro throughout his time with PC and pretty much everyone liked him.
21. Ryan Hughes | 3 SX | 2 MX
Yeah, Ryno! Hughes was an up-and-coming Team Green kid who apparently Payton loved because he just loved to ride every day, all day. Hughes’ ’95 season saw him get runner-up indoors and out, and that got him on the 250 factory team in ’96.
22. Adam Cianciarulo | 6 SX | 1 MX
Still at PC, AC92 now has that one MX win next to his name from last year. He’s hella fast and popular with the media, but injuries and some crashes have hurt him in title chases.
23. Josh Hansen | 4 SX
Hanny battled teammate Tickle for the title in 2011 and was a bit of a controversial hire for Payton, because there was zero chance he was doing any outdoors when he was hired and he had already struggled for a few years in the big class. The arguments that Payton and Hansen had are the stuff of legends. I guess trying to keep Josh from self-destructing was a full-time job for the PC guys.
24. Austin Forkner | 2 SX | 1 MX
Forkner looked every bit like a future champion when he first hit the scene outdoors, and I’m not saying he’s not going to be, but some injuries and crashing have held him back so far. I think he figures it out, but in the meantime, he got his first two SX wins this year.
25. Nick Wey | 1 MX
I have no clue how Wey didn’t get a 125SX win with Pro Circuit, because it seemed like he led 74 different main events on his PC Kawi. He did win a national at Millville in ’99 beating RC, so there’s that. His national win puts him up higher here than some other dudes who just got one win alongside him. Plus, he’s a rad dude.
26. Austin Stroupe | 3 SX | 1 MX
Ah, Stroupe. Talented, but off the track, just a mess I guess. Too bad, because everyone who saw him in amateurs had him pegged as a future champion. There were four wins total for him in his two years there, including winning the opening national of the year.
27. Jeremy Buehl | 3 SX
“Top Fuel” Buehl was an inaugural team member, got three wins the first year on his rocket ship Hondas, pointed out of the class, and got screwed with no rides left for him. Poor Buehl.
28. Martin Davalos | 2 SX
Marty was a snapped chain on a practice day away from winning the title for PC and finally broke through for SX wins when Payton, who had been after him for years, signed him up. And like the prodigal son, Davalos is back on the team, but injuries have held him back this time around. Still, there are always those two wins and the 438 fastest qualifier awards and heat race wins
29. David Pingree | 1 SX
Our own David Pingree gets a ranking here for his three years of riding for PC, including a 250 supercross at Daytona one year when Pro Circuit did that type of stuff. We put him higher than other dudes with one win because, well, he works for us and it’s our list, dammit.
30. Tallon Vohland | 1 SX
Vohland was very good on FMF Honda in ’99, but didn’t gel with the team and went to PC the next year. And then somehow, despite being SO fast outdoors, just won one SX race for Mitch. I couldn’t believe he only had one win, so I went and looked, and yup, one win for Lone Wolf, but he collected 17 top-fives for Payton in two years, which is way legit. No outdoor wins, though… really?
31. Jamie Dobb | 1 MX
Unadilla 1993 was Dobb’s one win when it seemed that bikes were blowing up left and right from sucking dust, and Jamie went 1-4 for the win. Second place was factory Honda’s Jeremy McGrath. Poor Dobb; his win isn’t even listed on the official PC Racing site!
32. Darryn Durham | 1 SX
Oh man, Darryn was a good rider. Injuries struck him down in his three years at PC. He missed all the outdoors his first year, all the SX his second year, and then all but two SX races in his third year. He got a win, though!
33. Tyler Bowers | 1 SX
Bower’s wasn’t even a full-time team member when he got his Vegas SX win; he was on loan from AX. Then he got on the team full-time, but didn’t get a win indoors and never raced outdoors. He always said he wanted to and Mitch wouldn’t let him, while Mitch told everyone he was never signed for outdoors. The Bear’s #33, and we hope he doesn’t get mad at us.
34. Pedro Gonzalez | 1 SX
Pedro got a win! He was there for two years in the early days of Kawasaki and got Mexico’s first and only AMA career win. Payton loved Pedro, by the way.
35. Matt Walker | 1 SX
I gotta be honest, I don’t remember Walker ever winning a SX. He rode for PC for four years! Huh? All I know about this is, apparently he called Payton every single day and went to the shop every single day to try and get a ride. Once he finally got it, he was pretty solid.
36. Brett Metcalfe
Metty got hurt at PC one year and the next year he did well, but somehow didn’t win a race. He was set to ride for Mitch again when, at the last moment, he went to GEICO Honda, which left Kawasaki and Payton not very happy. Still, there was that one summer in MX when Villopoto, Townley, and Metcalfe ruled the podium for PC.
37. Casey Johnson
Casey was fast. Like, way fast. Somehow he never got any wins on green (they came later on Yamaha of Troy), but he did finish top-three in MX one time and SX as well. My favorite story of Johnson on PC was that apparently he thought Payton was giving Carmichael better motor stuff in ’97, so he and RC switched bikes out practicing one day and Casey realized it was actually just RC’s right wrist that was better.
38. Ryan MoraiS
Mo rode at PC for one year, finished third in the 250SX championship, got hurt, rode a few MX races, and was gone the next year. Mo’s cool, so we bumped him up a bit.
39. Chris Gosselaar
Goose was a good rider for years on FC Honda, got a fill-in ride at PC after that, and then promptly got second overall in a series. The early four-stroke era saw Pro Circuit have a distinct advantage out there on the other teams. That’s all I’m saying.
40. Darcy Lange
Oh Canada, indeed! Lange came out of Canada to be an AX champion, then filled in at PC for one SX series, where he almost won it. Then he was gone as fast as he was there. Shortest PC career ever, perhaps?
41. Stephane Roncada
Ron-Ron’s one moment of glory on a PC bike was his race with James Stewart at Hangtown, where he used the four-stroke to piss off Stewart big-time. Roncada was having some off-track issues when he was at PC, so the team didn’t see him at his best.
42. Buddy Antunez
Budman never got a win in his one year on PC, but he did get a shit-ton of seconds to McGrath and very nearly won San Jose in ’92. And bonus for me is that I got a pair of his pants from this year on the team!
43. Eric Sorby
Sorby’s famous for getting a fill-in ride with PC and making the podium in his first race. He got on the box here and there, but mostly drove PC crazy with how little he would train while given this amazing ride.
44. Branden Jesseman
When Branden got on PC, his 2002 125SX title was a distant memory. He rode one year, got fourth in the SX championship, and was gone for 2009. Side note: Remember when factory Kawasaki got him to fill in in the 450 Class at one race and he hit a fence, DNF’d, and literally never raced again? Weird.
45. Steve Lamson
Lammy was the only guy in the team’s first year to NOT get a win. How weird was that? He also went to Suzuki after only one year riding for Payton, but his career post-PC turned out pretty well, yeah?
46. Troy Adams
Troy was a very good rider. He didn’t get to show it at PC, where he got one fourth OA and that was about it. Back then, he didn’t like living in California, and I guess that didn’t make Payton too happy. One and done for Troy.
47. Chris Alldredge
A summarization of Chris’s two years at PC: Crash, go fast, crash, go fast, and finally, at Las Vegas, crash really bad. There was one podium, though!
48. Arnaud Tonus
Remember him? Tonus only got into four races his first year with the team, but he showed speed. Second year was a bit better, but he got one podium in one moto in a huge mudder at Washougal. Back to Europe he went, and I don’t think we’ll even remember him being here in five years.
49. Paul Carpenter
I remember Carpenter riding for factory Kawasaki, I remember him riding for Honda, but I do not remember Paulie being at PC. And seeing as how he got 15th overall in SX and 11th overall in MX, I bet Mitch Payton doesn’t, either.
50. Casey LytlE
Payton was probably hoping to get the same kind of stuff out of Lytle that he got out of Tedesco… a veteran who had been around on some good teams but hadn’t broken through yet. Instead, Lytle got hurt and was one and done.
51. Chad Pederson
Pederson’s window had pretty much closed by ’96 when he got a chance with PC. I believe he got hurt a bunch and didn’t really race… wait, let me check The Vault. He raced all the nationals but only one SX for PC, and his best finish was a fifth at Budds Creek. The positive was Pederson’s eighth overall in the 125 Class was the team’s best finish that year, so there is that.
52. Billy Payne
Payne’s highlight on PC was being one of the first, if not the first, to jump this massive quad at an Anaheim. Two years and not many great results for this talented SoCal kid.
53. Scott Sheak
1999 was the year for Sheak at PC, and it didn’t go well at all. He hit a tree at Southwick at speed, and that had to suck for him. I was at FMF Honda with Scott in ’98 and he seemed very angry all year. Hope it wasn’t me.
54. Craig Decker
One and done for Decker also at PC. He got some top-tens for PC indoors and out, but that wasn’t enough for him to stay there in ’98.
55. Bobby Bonds
Payton won a bidding war with FMF Honda for Bonds, and everything went downhill right after that. His battle with Grant Langston at Hangtown (where GL put him down bad) was about the highlight, and when that’s the highlight, that’s not good. I don’t think there’s ever been a rider who’s pissed Mitch Payton off more than Bobby Bonds, from what I hear. Lots of dollars paid out for a few top-tens.
56. Mike Chamberlain
Mike was hired because he was very fast at Perris Raceway, and the last guy who was that fast there—Jeremy McGrath—turned out pretty good. As then-Pro Circuit’s Jimmy Perry told me for that Gaddis story, “Too bad they never had a supercross at Perris.”
57. Justin Buckelew
Hey, someone had to be last, so sorry, Justin! Getting signed to the team and then never, ever riding a race for them due to injury would just about do it, right? Too bad; Bucky was a great rider.