Jimmy Button, the former pro racer, has now long settled into a variety of roles within the industry, including his work as an agent, and also as a co-founder of Road 2 Recovery, a foundation that provides assistance for injured riders.
It’s always worth a periodic look into Road 2 Recovery’s efforts, considering how many riders they have to help, and the reasons why it must be done. When we last checked in with Jimmy two years ago, we discussed the incredible Race Across America effort with four legends of the sport.
Lately, injury news popped back up when Weston Peick went down hard at the Paris Supercross, and Road 2 Recovery set up a fund to help him. We called Jimmy for his take on Weston’s situation, and also the current state of the sport from the agency side.
Racer X: Jimmy, last time we spoke it was just about two years ago and you were putting the final touches, along with the Road 2 Recovery, on that epic Race Across America deal with David Bailey, Doug Henry, Micky Dymond, and Jeff Ward. What’s going on with you now? I assume you are still keeping busy doing the agent stuff?
Jimmy Button: Yup, pretty much, the same old, same old. I don’t know if this would be a fun time of the year or not. But I am just trying to make sure everything’s ready for 2019. It seems like December gets here before you know it, then before you know that, you’re at round three or four of supercross. So just trying to make sure everything’s tidied up going into the holidays and being ready for Anaheim.
Remind me of which riders you are working with?
For my motocross/supercross, my guys are Justin Bogle and Dylan Ferrandis, and I actually just signed Ty and Jake Masterpool as well.
I saw Ty race his 125cc two stroke a few times, and wow, he was very impressive!
Yeah, he is no doubt the real deal. Kid’s got the most insane corner speed. I’ve not seen that kind of corner speed since… He seems like he’s a little bit of a mix of a James and Dungey and RV and a little Ricky in there, the way he gets through corners. If you can model yourself off some of those guys, you’ve done a pretty good job. It’s exciting to have a young kid like that and help him get his way through this whole deal.
How is the environment for guys getting rides these days? How does it compare to years past?
This is the first time I’ve signed a new client in a couple of years, especially in the motocross/supercross phase. So it’s hard. You look at even one of my clients, like Bogle, and you look at Dean [Wilson] and guys like that. Those guys went from being on full factory teams to not being on full factory teams. Or in Dean’s respect, going the privateer, fill-in rider route, it looks like. It’s tough. You’ve got veterans that have won championships that don’t have jobs. Part of the reason of that is if you slip up a little bit you got a bunch of these young kids that are doing a lot of good work in the 250 class, so when it comes time for them to move up, the factories or the teams, whatever the situation is, they are kind of obligated to give those guys an opportunity, especially when they’ve had some good success on a little bike. The environment is tough. There’s not a lot of money out there. It’s really expensive to go racing, I think more so than most people realize. I guess that wasn’t the most positive answer, was it?
I think your points are valid and that the environment is indeed very challenging. How does 2019 compare to the last five, six, seven years? Is it better or worse for the riders?
It’s both ways. When you have a guy that’s winning, and guys that are doing really good—I guess that’s the cross-section of it that you can really take. You look at the Kenny’s of the world, the Anderson’s of the world, the Eli’s of the world. Nothing’s changed there. The top guys are still making really good money. I don’t think the drop off from, say, the 2005, 2006, 2007 days, I don’t think there’s a big drop off in what those guys are making. I think it’s pretty consistent. But it’s that second tier or the third tier that really takes the hit. The guys that are in that kind of sixth through tenth place range that occasionally will maybe jump up onto the box every now and again, those are the guys that are really getting hit by everything. Again, I think part of that is the cost to go racing. It’s really, really expensive, as I think most people well know, to do this and do it at a really high level. It’s the have and the have nots. Maybe there’s a little bit of a bigger gap than it used to be. If I was Kenny’s agent and you were asking me the question, I’d say, “Everything’s great. He’s got tons of good deals, making good money, outside sponsors…” There’s not a lot of those guys in the sport, unfortunately.
Everybody wants the winners, right?
Yeah, that’s with everything. It doesn’t matter what the economy is doing. Doesn’t matter what’s going on in the world. If you’re winning, you’re getting paid, whether it’s in Formula 1, MotoGP, motocross, supercross, MXGP—doesn’t matter. There’s a big disparity with the MXGP guys. You look at Jeffrey [Herlings] and Tony [Cairoli] and they’re making loads of money, but you go back to third or fourth place, they’re probably making less than a third, I would guess. It’s like that all over the world. I don’t think much in that respect has changed, to be honest.
On a cocktail napkin, what would you say it costs to run a fifth to 10th place guy? Let’s say a Weston [Peick] or a Dean Wilson, or any of those guys? How much does it cost the team to put together a program for somebody at that level?
I’m shooting from the hip on numbers, but you look at travel. For travel just for his mechanic and him, you’re talking probably $60,000 right there. The mechanic’s salary, call that $60-$75k for that level of mechanic. Then you got the bike and development of it, factory parts, or A kit stuff, whatever it may be. To do that for a whole year indoor and outdoors, you’re talking probably another $150-$200,000 to do that. So you’re close to $300,000 at a bare minimum. It’s probably much, much more because then you need all the other staff. You’ve got to have the suspension guy. You’ve got to have an electronics guy. Got to have an engine guy. You need all these things. Yeah, you could amortize that over a two or three rider team, but nevertheless, you still have to have them on the team, so it’s an expense that you have to have. I think the thing that a lot of people don’t realize is how expensive it is for a rider to be a professional. These days with four-strokes and whatnot, it’s not like the old two-stroke days that riders could change their own pistons and change around stuff. At this point, you have to have a practice bike mechanic. You have to have a really good place to go ride, or you fall into that situation where—look at the couple of injuries we had this year where guys were riding public tracks. I think what Jason and Dean both had happen to them at Glen Helen. So to kind of mitigate that risk, you need to have your own track. Got to have your own practice bike mechanic. Then you’ve got to have maintenance on the track. You probably should have some sort of advisory trainer or something, maybe that’s not full-time if you don’t go that route, but that’s a cost. Add all of that up—track, mechanic, trainer, it’s going to cost you another $150,000 as a rider just to maintain being that level of rider. You end up kind of breaking even on the thing. Not many people in this day in age have to spend $150,000 to go to work, but that’s the level that it’s at now. If you want to compete and you want to succeed, you can’t do it half-hearted or take the short route to any of this. It just doesn’t exist. Times have changed.
Let’s talk a little bit about Weston and his crash in Paris. I saw you made a strong posting on social media about supporting him. What’s happening with Road 2 Recovery and his support?
My post that I put out there on my Instagram was probably a little heated, maybe a little bit too much heated. There’s a lot of people that are fans of the sport and whatnot that look at the sport in a different light. They don’t understand the way it operates and the way it works. So the reason I put the post out there is because JGR and specifically Coach Gibbs and Coy were getting bashed pretty significantly that they weren’t helping Weston or this or that. That’s simply not the case. I was trying to explain to everybody that riders are not employees of the OEM’s. Ken Roczen is not a Honda employee. He’s a contracted employee, just like Eli is with Kawi and Jason is with Husky, and Weston is with JGR. They’re not employees like someone that works at the front desk and has a 401k and gets health insurance and all that. That’s not how this sport works. So I was putting it out there. Again, I felt bad that good people in our sport were getting keyboard-warriored by folks that don’t know. I guess at the same time I wanted to educate some people on the way things really work. But beyond that, from the Road 2 Recovery side of things, since basically within a couple hours of Weston going down, Lori Amstutz and my mom were working with Weston’s fiancé and his dad to do everything that we could from the Road 2 Recovery side of things to help get him through this super black period of his life, for sure. He’s had significant injuries. As everyone’s seen now, he’s pretty beat up. He’s had a bunch of operations and whatnot. We’re just there to help. Weston’s got great health insurance. He even had really good international travel insurance, which most guys I believe these days are getting before they go on these trips. But getting him home is difficult to do. You’ve got to make sure that they’re stable enough to stay on a plane for 13, 14, 15 hours, whatever the flight may be. I think he’s home now. I think he got home yesterday. He’s got a long road ahead of him. We’re going to help him in every way that we can from the foundation side because that’s what we’re here to do. We don’t just do it for him because he’s one of the big names. There’s plenty of guys that we’re doing stuff for that most people don’t know or aren’t super popular or whatnot. It kind of goes without saying that the foundation is here to help and that’s what we do for riders.
How many riders a year are you guys helping?
Too damn many. I don’t even know what it is right now. I know that in 2017 we had between 19 and 22 guys that got hurt in some severe way that we’re helping. I don’t know what the total number is for 2018. I think it went down pretty well. Still, it’s a lot of guys that get severely hurt. We’re not talking about little broken bones. We’re talking about major, catastrophic injuries that either are initially career-ending or could be career-ending. That’s where we’re getting the phone calls and we spring into action to help.
How are things on the personal side of your life? Last time we spoke you were living in Phoenix with your family and raising your kids.
Yeah, all the same, and still very good. Obviously, my office is still in Carlsbad, which I’m heading to Carlsbad tomorrow for some meetings. Kids are growing up like crazy. My son’s playing competitive golf, which is awesome because it doesn’t include a dirt bike. That keeps him nice and safe!
Is he going the Rickie Fowler route?
[Laughs] Yeah, I guess. He loves Rickie. He doesn’t do the big dress up in orange thing, but he does like Rickie, he got to meet him at Anaheim a couple years ago. Loves the golf thing. My daughter is getting ready to turn three. That’s always a handful, but things are good for the most part. I just want my kids to be happy and successful, it doesn’t matter what they do. They can flip burgers, if that’s what they decide they want to do. But he chose golf on his own.