Through eight rounds of Monster Energy AMA Supercross, the FXR/Chaparral Honda team has had its fair share of ups and downs that you’d expect for a first year start-up team. Unfortunately, the downs are starting to stack up somewhat as the team continues to get bit by the injury bug. Coty Schock broke both arms right before Anaheim 1, Chris Blose had an awful crash at Glendale that will keep him sidelined for a while, and newcomer Ben LaMay injured his thumb in his first press day with the team last week in Arlington. Through these struggles, team owner Michael Lindsay has been picking up the pieces and moving on with his team each week. We caught up with him this week to see how he’s doing with everything at the halfway point of the season.
Racer X: Halfway through the year it’s not gone exactly the way you wanted. How are you feeling about it all and how are you feeling personally? Like, are you okay?
Michael Lindsay: I made this joke to [Steve] Matthes, Anton [Michael Antonovich], a few other people, specifically after this weekend in Texas, but I’m a little depressed honestly. I thought about walking into traffic, jumping off the race trailer, a few other things. But no, this weekend was rough. It’s been rough ever since we lost [Chris] Blose at Phoenix. He was definitely kind of the marquee guy of the team and it definitely sucks even if you have a multi-member team. Not to say every guy isn’t an equal on the team in a sense, but there’s that difference of what’s expected results-wise for each guy and when you lose the highest up guy on the team, the team captain, the marquee guy, it definitely puts you on the back foot because it’s really hard to replace him.
So, we kind of struggled with that a little bit after we lost Chris. We thought we got pretty lucky with Ben LaMay being available, Ben’s even a lower national number. But Ben’s obviously pretty close to Chris’s quality in a sense. Ben’s a very well-rounded rider so I was like, “Okay, cool.” We gave him a couple rounds to get ready because he wasn’t even really racing at the time and we thought that would work out. Sadly, it lasted about three or four laps of press day and he hurt his thumb. It kind of just goes back to the whole start of this year. It’s hard to put a program together from scratch. I had a very early rider switch out with [Jeff] Walker for Schock, with Walker wanting to focus on outdoors and brought Coty Schock in last minute. Coty, the Thursday before A1, breaks both of his arms. So that was definitely a bummer and it was like, “Okay, all steam ahead focusing on our three main guys, [Justin] Starling, [Jerry] Robin, and Blose for East.” They did a couple rounds [in the 450SX Class] for warmup, we all saw Blose’s crash. It was pretty devastating and now we were just down to Robin and Starling on 250 East, let’s bring in Ben. Ben gets hurt. And then, to put it bluntly, the first two 250 East races, both riders have severely underperformed on the 250 side with Starling and Robin, and both for different reasons. Starling has been hurt a lot this off-season in Europe. I think his practice bike since November only has 11 hours on it total, he just hasn’t been able to ride. So, he’s coming in behind the eight ball. And then Robin, it’s a different breed of issues. It’s a lot of mental.
So, it’s just hard because there hasn’t been a bright side to go off the last couple weeks. When you’re basically cutting the checks every weekend and spending the money, it hurts. The Triple Crown round, it ended up being the worst possible experience. The fact that the guys didn’t qualify, and they didn’t technically race in front of the crowd, you almost feel like a ghost. You feel invisible. I had to drive to Texas for that race, so I drove 20 hours straight back the next day straight through and it was the worst drive of my life.
With Ben getting hurt now too, I don’t know exactly how the team dynamic works, do you need a 450 guy?
It doesn’t matter which bike I put them on because we have more 250s. We could do either route. I’m actually not contractually obligated to run more than two guys on a weekend. It is preference if we want to possibly. We can run three and I know a lot of our sponsors would like to see it because that was originally our plan. The downside though is that while the team is built on the premise of maybe helping out guys that didn’t have the best opportunity, it’s also at the exact same sense not a charity case to help someone that’s not capable of making a main event. Otherwise, we’re just burning equipment and money for someone to get a little bit of an experience. But then we’d not be doing anything for the sponsors.
So yeah, it’s tough. I’ve been on the phone all week and it’s honestly been hard to find someone of main event quality for either class that’s a sure-fire thing. And I know I get a lot of suggestions; I see a lot of things on the forums. I get a lot of guys that will suggest Europeans coming over, like Brian Hsu and a few guys, and while there’s definitely some promise there, it’s also really hard to understand in a one week scenario how hard that is to get someone like that to pack up their life and come over here. I don’t have a lot of money to continue paying people. We have stuff tied up in our current riders. I can’t just call up a guy there and go, “Hey, I’ll pay you X amount per week plus everything.” No, I’m a team that’s like… I cover all your expenses, I provide you a mechanic, I provide the right stuff, but I don’t give you a week to week paycheck. You earn it off racing. And with somebody coming from Europe, they have to have somewhere here to be able to live, a vehicle to drive. I can’t supply all that. So, there becomes a lot of logistical issues with that. And then even with riders here, it’s like who’s on this brand of bike and who can make the switch easy? There’s a few guys I’ve talked to that would love the extra stuff paid for, knowing that they can just come to the weekend and race, but even their programs are currently on a different brand of motorcycle and even they recognize how hard it is to switch in one week. I’ve got a lot of people who have been like, “Hey, I appreciate so much the call to me.” But even they’re like, “I just can’t do it. Two rounds in, I’ve got a lot of personal supporters.”
And that’s the thing too is that you’re putting more bikes, more riders on the gate in a sense by giving people jobs. What kind of reception are you getting from team managers and other riders in the pits about what you’ve done with this program?
You know, you see teams come in with people with money that are new to the sport but I guess they’re maybe fans. It’s kind of a little bit different where I’ve been around the industry my whole life, basically. A lot of them are having fun teasing me, I get a lot of, “Are you pulling your hair our yet? This is tough isn’t it?” [Laughs] So, a lot of people I talk to are stoked. It was actually really cool; I was on track walk at San Diego. I’ve travelled with [Ricky] Carmichael a few times to Japan when I was a media guy for some Suzuki trips, so I’ve caught up with him quite a bit. We talked on track walk for like 20 minutes just about team dynamics and running a team in general. It was fun to chat with him and he gave me a little, “Hey, I’m proud of you for doing this.” He goes, “Isn’t gnarly isn’t it?” [Laughs] Yeah, it’s a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. I knew it was going to be horrible. I’ve said it since the first day publicly I said I was going to do this. This is the worst idea I’ve ever had. But, on a scale of how worse the idea is, it just continually goes off the charts. So, that’s the hard part. I fully expected this to be a struggle, I just didn’t think it would be as bad as it’s been.
Now switching from that. What’s something that has maybe almost been easier, or unexpectedly good about being a team manager or a team owner in this sport?
Oooh, as sad as it is to say, I haven’t found an item that is easier yet. Especially on a smaller team, it’s not just like I’m the manager. I help out building practice engines, I’m always being the parts guy running around, I’ve got to inventory the truck. At first, I thought in the manager position, I thought on some race weekend’s I’d be able to focus a little more on just assisting the riders. And I’ve said this on some of the videos I’ve put up, a big focus for me is to be able to put the team where we, other than just be able to assist guys with equipment, also be able to help them with the way their day plays out. Sometimes that’s harder than you think. Racing is different on a rider’s mentality. Some of them, you can tell them what they’re doing wrong on [the] track and they’re very receptive. Some of them it doesn’t come through as easy, you have to work a lot harder than you would think to get things changed on track for them or on the bike. It’s just not as clear cut as you’d think. Every rider is very different and being that it’s a fresh team, fresh faces, fresh riders, we’re all working together. You’re always trying to balance learning everybody at an even rate and you’ve also got to be careful to not focus on one guy too much. I’ve been guilty of it a little bit. I know Justin’s a little more on the injured side and coming in off of that, and I know I haven’t had to work with him as much because he just needs time to ride. Whereas Jerry’s had a full off-season, but he’s just not performing, so a lot of focus has been put on Jerry. And I have to be careful not to make that look weird. Basically, it looks like I’ve preferred one guy but it’s more like I just know the situation of which one needs the help more than the other. I know Justin needs time, but Jerry needs the assistance. It’s stuff like that that’s been very different. Maybe on a bigger team, everyone has a specific role. A team manager job would have some cooler stuff to it, but I end up wearing so many hats. It’s hard to say what’s good about being a team manager because we’re talking about 10 different jobs.
I’m sure coming into the season you had an expectation of what you wanted the team to be like, what you wanted the riders to accomplish. As the season has gone on and the struggles have happened, have those expectations changed at all?
I’ve definitely changed approach on a few things. Just like I said with learning how each guy operates, there’s things I’ve needed to change on my approach. And yeah, expectations, it sucks to say but where I originally thought we were going to be is not quite possible right now. It’s going to take a bit. As dumb as it sounds on paper, at the beginning of the season when we were trying to figure out how to do [the] East [Region] instead of West due to some equipment stuff, the riders were excited because we initially didn’t think East was going to be so much more stacked than West. When we did the initial list of who’s on each coast, we were like, “Yeah, East is going to be advantageous to us.” A lot of our guys are good in the ruts and good in those style of conditions. And honestly, and this is nothing against the riders on the West Coast or anything, I think as the field tails back the West is a little bit weaker right now. They’re also in more races so more guys have been hurt. So, that’s been tough. We’ve had to kind of change our perspective and expectations just based on how good the competition is. I still think the riders we have are capable of what we set forth initially. Like I said, injuries and other things have held them back, but also the quality of guys they’re around is pretty darn good right now.
Talking about East versus West. Being a new team and being based on the West Coast, with all of your guys basically going East, that was kind of a “woah” moment for a lot of people. But you all along were going to have to go 17 rounds with two bikes, right? That was part of the whole deal or did things change that were out of your control?
No, the original plan was to do, let’s talk back in like early winter, the original plan was to do West Coast with 250s and then I was just going to send Blose on a 450 in somebody else’s truck. Like with my stuff but just flying in and out of races. But then the plan changed to just doing East, and I wanted to learn. So, we did a couple of West rounds with the semi and the whole crew to try and get out feet wet which we thought would be good for the guys racing. In some sense it was good learning from a team aspect, and of course with injuries, it wasn’t good. I mean, things can happen at any time though. It’s not close to what the original plan was and even looking ahead to next year, unless I have some different sponsorship come through, there’s no way I’ll run a truck all the way across to East Coast and back. It’s really hard. Just dealing with the permitting each week and all the logistics and fuel rules and different stuff, it’s not as easy as just sending a truck on the road and “meet us at this race, it will be fine.” No, it’s not. [Laughs]
When I talked to Jerry in December, he said it was going to be he and Jeff outdoors. Is that still the general plan?
General plan. Still trying to figure out some of the logistics because I don’t have the budget to run my semi all summer. Like supercross is expensive running all 17 [rounds] on fuel budget, a regional coast isn’t too bad, but all of outdoors is pretty expensive on fuel budget. Just between permits, fuel, and a driver, you need somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000 to move operation. So, downsize and that’s what we’ll take. Yes, the plan for now is for sure still Walker. Me and Jerry still haven’t talked about it the last couple weeks. I think that’s still the plan for him. If not, we still have Schock, we still have some other guys that I can help out. We’re just kind of waiting to see as supercross ends where we are with parts budgets and other stuff, like how much equipment I have leftover to use. And kind of what each rider wants to do. Who wants to go through with the whole summer, because outdoors is gnarly. It’s a lot on a guy for very little to no money by the time it’s all paid out. Supercross, especially in a regional sense, you can make a little bit of money each weekend. Outdoors is pretty tough. That’s part of the reason why we look at 450s because there’s usually enough an injury rate that somebody of Jerry’s caliber can get close to the top 10 and actually make some decent purse money each week and decent contingency. But like how Jerry did last year when he rode a 250, you just literally have twice as many factory 250s with both regional coasts coming together. Like, GEICO could be fielding five to six bikes outdoors this year. PC’s going to field four bikes, that’s the top 10 right there and we haven’t started talking about Star, TLD, Husky, JGR. [Laughs] So, then it’s like, “Wow. Running a 250 outdoors is pretty daunting.” It’s just not very rewarding for the rider himself for the amount of money you put towards it. Unless you’re a true top tier program, running the 450s is just kind of a “No duh!”
Lastly, when you were on PulpMX, you kind of explained who’s been helping you out, like you’ve got a truck driver that’s been helping you out and stuff like that. So, just talk me through who have been the biggest help sponsor-wise and personnel-wise.
Sponsor-wise, I mean, everyone’s been phenomenal. The top three by far are FXR, Race Tech, and Honda. Honda stepped up massively for us being a first-year operation with equipment and bikes. The bright side, even though it’s not going exactly the way we wanted, it seems like we’ll be able to do this again. It sounds like they see the vision of what I want to do and they’re down for it which I’m so thankful for. FXR stepped up to help on the financial side so much and gave the guys great equipment and they also see a future going forward with the team. You know, in their case, I don’t expect us ever to be on the level of a GEICO or PC, but I want to be a very strong development program and offer guys an opportunity. In FXR’s case, a lot of the big player companies have a big 250F team and we want to grow into that together, which is awesome that they see that with my vision. Like this is a great opportunity to build with somebody and vise-versa I get to build with them. They’re coming in so strongly into the industry right now. And then Race Tech, Rob [Brown], and Andrew [Flores], and everybody there is insanely helpful for engine and suspension. We just don’t run into setup issues or anything. A lot of the companies I’ve worked with in general are very high-quality brands, so I didn’t have to worry about things. Yeah, I probably left some money on the table with some brands that would have offered a little bit more cash, but I questioned how quality some of the products would have been. In this case, I don’t really have to worry about that with anything.
And then personnel-wise, a lot of people. The truck driver is my grandfather [Marvin Batten]. He’s retired, he’s driving around the country for me. I think they’re enjoying it; they’re having a road trip out of it. But also, he’s doing a lot of work to run that thing around, so I appreciate that. Jerry’s mechanic, Connor Ahlers, a friend of his from back in Minnesota basically. He has a crane business at home that he kind of put on pause for a little bit, or just let it run itself, and he came out and helped for two months. Get bikes and things together and helped us get the program up and moving. And he does race weekend duties, so he’s been a massive help. Kristian Kibby, he’s been an engine guy and he’s been helping me out. Just a huge amount of knowledge for things to watch on the bike, how I should go about approaching stuff technically, he’s been a massive help as well. Rob, Paul [Thede], Andrew at Race Tech. Checkerz [Chris Riesenberg]. And then other mechanics, my buddy Derrick Caskey, Matt Chase out of Arizona. Everybody has stepped up more for what the program size is. It’s a small group usually every weekend. It’s myself, two to three mechanics, truck driver, and that’s usually what it entails on a race weekend of who’s actually around.