Update May 2: So the Steve Matthes/PulpMX Yamaha LCQ Challenge for privateers has been postponed until this Friday, May 6. The race was supposed to take place Friday afternoon in Denver but 50 mph winds led to the cancellation of all Friday practice and the race in the Mile High City.
So now the race will take place Friday afternoon in Salt Lake City. Time TBA once Feld puts a schedule together.
This is a race paying out a HUGE purse to privateers. The money is raised via a raffle to win a new Yamaha and all of the proceeds create a purse for the race.
You can read the rules of the race here and there's still time to enter the raffle and bring the privater funds up even higher. There's a chance the purse reaches 100k by Friday!
If you’re ever in danger of being too happy, go spend some time with Steve Matthes. He has a lot to say and much of it might leave you exasperated. You might end up arguing with him (like Jason Thomas every day). He can leave you banging your head against the wall and questioning your faith in humanity in less time than it takes for SBG Honda to replace a muffler on Alex Ray’s motorcycle. Simply put, it cannot be understated just how exasperatingly argumentative he is to be around. Yet, most (most) riders not only tolerate him, but they also like him. And privateers straight-up love him. His work as media guy started with the old Racer X Canada, then we at Racer X somehow decided to bring his Observations column over here, then he said he wanted to try podcasting, then a live internet radio show….
You know the rest. Perhaps the biggest impact of Matthes’ PulpMX Show and podcasts is giving a voice to privateers in the pits. The platform alone has gained them fans which has led to sponsorship, merch sales and income. Matthes himself would give some privateers money through the years for running PulpMX logos. It went to another level a few years ago when Yamaha started sponsoring the show and Matthes devised a way to raise big money for the privateers. The Yamaha Privateer Challenge has raised over $160,000 for privateers. Obviously, they love it. This year the unthinkable will happen: Feld Entertainment is giving Matthes his own privateer race on Friday before the Denver Supercross. Jamie “Darkside” Guida caught up with Matthes to learn more about this privateer support, and the race. Yes, we’re running an interview with Matthes instead of by Matthes. And Feld is giving him his own race. What is this world coming to?
Here's a link to the raffle if you'd like to support the privateers and have a chance to win a '22 Yamaha YZF450.
Racer X: As a kid growing up and a fan of the sport, were you interested in the privateers at that time? Or did that come from working with privateers like Kelly Smith and Nick Wey?
Steve Matthes: Well, Kelly Smith was a factory rider when I worked for him, so this interview is off to a great start. Great job, Jamie. But, no, I was not into privateers when I was a kid. I was into RJ [Ricky Johnson], [Damon] Bradshaw, and Jeremy McGrath, of course. But yes, working for privateers like Nick Wey in '02, Tim Ferry in '99 and starting with a guy named Ty Birdwell, that got me into privateers and the struggles they faced. The things I had to do as a mechanic on the road and things that Red Dog and Nick had to do to bust out top tens is pretty amazing. Especially when you consider all the stuff that was going on. So, yeah, I'd say it started when I was a mechanic for these guys.
Was there a specific moment when being on the road, working with those guys and seeing what they were going through that it clicked? A moment that you thought, wow I never realized this and have so much respect for them?
No, there wasn't a moment so much, but when you are a privateer mechanic or rider you kind of hang out with the other privateer mechanics and riders. So, you become one of them and it's the thing I joke about now, about being on Privateer Island. Because these dudes are borrowing parts from each other and scrounging tear offs and trying to help each other out week to week. There's always bitching about The Man, which in this case is the factories and factory riders, ya know. There just wasn't a lot of attention paid or respect given, at times, toward the privateer guys who are in the back of the field. I slept in the back of a box van and showered in truck stops. I had to find my hotel address to get parts shipped and dealerships to get nitrogen for the shock. I had to wash a box van and go grocery shopping. All the things McGrath and Ezra Lusk never had to worry about. I think that gave me an appreciation of the privateer life because I lived it. Then Timmy (Ferry) made the podium in '99 as a full privateer and Nick Wey was top privateer of the series in '02. We were just trying to figure it out as we went. There was no suspension or motor guy. There was just me and the rider and us trying to figure it out. There was no Google. Just the Yellow Pages and having the Rand McNally Map on your knee while driving the box van through downtown St. Louis looking for a dome.
“Steve Matthes does more in this industry than anyone else does for privateers. The LCQ Challenge race happening is huge for us and it does not benefit him at all. He's just doing it to help out guys like myself. He also gives us a badass platform to grow our fan base”-Logan Karnow
“Steve has really helped me in many different ways through my career. I think he brings exposure to the smaller guys and not just the top riders. Where it seems like a lot in this industry don't care about the riders, Steve is always finding ways to help the guys who need it the most. Thanks to him for all he's done to help me build my brand”-Kyle Chisholm
Back in those days, did the factories help privateers with parts if they needed something at a race?
Yeah, for sure. At some point Nick Wey was doing really well and Steve Butler, who was the Manager at Yamaha, came over with a frame and a swing arm. They just said, ‘Here ya’ go. What else do you need?’ I've told the story about this before on PulpMX. I screwed up the power valves on Ty Birdwell's '97 KX250 and I had to go over and bow my head down and ask J-Bone (Jeremy Albrecht) for help. And he did. He was the coolest dude ever. He showed me some tricks on timing the power valve right. So yeah, those guys were all cool.
“Steve helped me become who I am today. He never handed it to me. But he gave me a colossal opportunity of a lifetime. What Steve has done for underdogs will forever be remembered. He doesn't pick favorites and he tells it how it is, good or bad. Steve's honesty and love for this sport has made him an iconic platform in dirt bike racing. Thank you for everything, Steve!”-Adam Enticknap
When you stepped away from wrenching and started writing and doing a podcast, was it a goal to focus on the privateers and make a difference?
No, that just came naturally. It wasn't a focus of mine. We were getting jerseys from the factory riders and selling them on eBay to give the money to privateers. I gave money to Tommy Hahn and probably 10 to 20 different guys. I helped out Deven Raper for something. I gave (Chris) Blose $1500 to run graphics on a two-stroke at the Hangtown National. We were raising money for a long time. As the shows grew and the popularity of PulpMX grew I was fortunate enough to be able to do more. It's just something that is close to my heart. It's cool to see these dudes have some success. Most of these guys are pretty thankful for any money you can give them. I feel like the success of PulpMX is giving these guys a voice. Adam Enticknap, Cade Clason, Alex Ray, and Phil (Nicoletti) have resonated with the listeners. I see them in the pits, or I talk to them, and I realize, ‘This guy is cool!’ Or he's unique or weird or whatever. And I tell them, ‘Hey, you're coming on the show.’ They tell the crazy stories they all have and that's been a big part of our success. The fans cheering on privateers is as old as the sport itself, the underdogs and the old guys. I like to think we've given them a voice and opened them up to a larger group of fans.
“I feel like he gets this bad rap because he is such a hard ass and speaks his mind. In reality, he is a giant softy. He loves people and loves helping people. The guy works his butt off. Plus, he spreads the love. Probably way more than any of us deserve. But he makes sure the little people get just as much love as the factory guys”-Cade Clason
Specifically, Adam Enticknap, Cade Clason, and Alex Ray got a lot of notoriety from you. Tell us about those guys.
I think so, too. Adam is just an awesome guy. He's so funny and has such a personality. He was rapping even back then. I got assigned a Privateer Profile on him from the guys at Racer X. So, I found him and was like 'I don't know who this dude is, but let’s talk.’ He was REALLY funny and unique. I knew A-Ray as the fat guy who got taken out by Josh Hansen at Anaheim. I thought he was a really funny dude, too. Kind of a country hillbilly. He and Cade were teammates on BWR Honda, and they were great and talking shit to each other. So, I started a privateer podcast with those two guys every week. Talking shit on each other and talking about the races. It turned out to be pretty popular and that moved into our Privateer Island podcast where I feature a different privateer every week. They were just interesting and more than anything, they're funny. Phil was another guy. I really noticed him in the Eleven10 Mods days. He was having all these bike problems. He stopped me at a race to thank me for writing good things about him. I was like, ‘That's cool! Riders don't do that.' I got to know him and he's just so real.
“Steve is a great asset to our sport. As a privateer he really does go above and beyond for us when he doesn't have to. He's always done more than I could ask for with helping me. From connections to sponsors to inviting me on his show to give me press. He's really an amazing guy!”-Justin Starling
When the Privateer Island pod became its own thing, did you hear feedback from listeners who enjoyed those even more than the superstars?
Some people, yes. There's always going to be that aspect of guys who love the privateers. There's always the guy who loves the oldest rider in the sport, whether it's [Mike] LaRocco, [Kevin] Windham, [Tim] Ferry, or [John] Dowd, the old guy gets the love. Whatever segment you are you get a certain number of fans, and the privateers have those fans.
“We need Matthes in the sport! If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be as well known in this sport. I wouldn't have a clothing brand. A lot of things would be different. I'm so thankful to call him a friend. He's helped me in some very tough spots in my career. He's been there as a mechanic. He's made the sacrifices and I feel like he knows what we go through, and he can relate. Words cannot express how grateful I am. Not only to me, but the whole privateer community. Six figures he's given back. Insane!”-Alex Ray
So now you have the Yamaha Privateer Championship Series. Tell us about that.
This is our fourth year of the Yamaha Privateer Challenge. It started with Yamaha being so cool and giving us bikes for fantasy to give away and for me to ride. They said, ‘We have another bike you can have. What do you want to do?’ We thought, ‘What about a raffle and all the money goes to privateers?” Fans buy raffle tickets for the bike, and we create a pot of money for the privateers. We tried to mix the format up to create some drama each year. For a few years we basically looked at all the guys who didn’t make the mains and created point standings for them, with fifth in the LCQ (just missing the main) scoring the most points. If you race all 17 rounds and do all the LCQs and don’t make the mains, you need some money, man! We did that for a few years. This year I wanted to do something really different. I reached out to the guys at Feld Motor Sports, Dave Prater, Mike Muye, and Sean Brennen. I was like, ‘Can I have my own race?’ I was not thinking they'd say yes. But they said yes, and I can't believe it! Fortunately, in Denver it’s a day race on Saturday so they will have qualifying on Friday. They were able to squeeze me in on Friday. This privateer race will be 6 minutes plus a lap. I'm going to put up all the money in the purse. We're going to take the top 17 guys in those LCQs and five Wildcards. All the money we raise will be on the line as purse money in this privateer challenge. It's going to be great!
Note:Over three years the Yamaha Privateer Challenge has paid out over $160,000 to riders including Adam Enticknap, Nick Schmidt, Cade Clason, AJ Catanzaro, and many more. In 2019 the total purse was a little over 38K. In 2020 it was close to 52K. Last year, in 2021 it was almost 74K.