When Steve Westfall announced he would leave Rockstar Energy Husqvarna just before the start of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross series, the team was left without a manager. Westfall agreed to stay on for a few races while the search for a replacement began, and the man named to the job was Nathan Ramsey. Nate, a former AMA 125 Supercross Champion, went on the PulpMX show to talk about KTM’s decision to pull him from the amateur ranks, where he served as the Orange Brigade team manager, and move him to the pro side with Rockstar Energy Husqvarna. Plus, the middle-of-the-season changes meant Nathan had to jump into his new role immediately. Here’s an idea of how it went down.
Racer X: New gig for you. You were doing the Orange Brigade stuff for KTM for a long time. Steve Westfall, Scuba, announced he was leaving [as Team Manager for Rockstar Energy Husqvarna]. I’m curious. Did you throw your hat in the ring for this? Did they come to you? How did the process go to give you this team manager role?
Nathan Ramsey: Actually, I was really happy doing the amateur stuff. I had a pretty long career as a racer, and then I stepped on the other side of the fence. I did three years with a pro team [JDR J Star] and poured myself into that with the crew that we put together that was really strong. Then the rug kind of got pulled out from under us. Basically, when that happened, I was like, done. I was like, I can’t do this. I had some other opportunities right when that happened of potentially be a manager, but I just was like, “I can’t give you what it takes to be a manager at this point.” So, I was selling some cars. I was working with my buddy at J Star and doing some wholesaling and stuff like that, which is also pretty fun, but it’s a hustle, an everyday hustle. Then I started doing a little bit of coaching and training in a couple schools with Bud Man [Buddy Antunez] and just got sucked right back into it. One thing led to another and Christy LaCurelle, who was the manager at Orange Brigade at the time, after [Mike] Sleeter took a different role at KTM, she was like, “I can’t offer the team what he could offer.” So she says, “If you could come in and be sort of like the team coach at first, I think it could work really good between the two of us.” So, I was like, “Okay, that sounds cool.” Got in there and right away just got connected with everybody. Obviously, the coaching and the riding side of things was pretty natural. Along the way, she was giving me more responsibility each year and it kind of turned into a performance manager type thing that was based off of obviously the performance of the athletes, but then I started dealing with sponsors. Kind of just eased into it. Then she decided to kind of take a job outside of the industry and that spot opened up, it was a pretty easy and natural for me to slide into that position.
I enjoyed it. It got more and more complicated as KTM kept buying motorcycle brands, but it was cool. I learned a lot. I did the private team in the pro ranks, and to see the corporate side of it was some stuff that I needed to learn. Spending 16 years as a racer, then three years managing a pro team, and then stepping back to the amateur side of things and doing that for about eight years gives you a pretty well-rounded view of everything. I think that gives some value overall. I obviously stayed connected to the pro side of stuff, paying attention. I know a lot of the names and faces and people in the right positions, and to kind of be able to also know the potential of who is coming along next, as far as riders coming up from the amateur world, which is harder and harder these days. I don’t pretend to know everything, but I just try to learn from my mistakes and try to use the wisdom that I can remember and just try to pass it along.
With Scuba [Westfall] making some life choices, wanting to kind of step away from it, obviously everybody at KTM and the group, his crew at Husky were super bummed to hear that he was leaving. I was very surprised because I had been working a little tighter with him anyway on the elite side of things with [Evan] Ferry and [Tallon] Hawkins, and then what I had going with the other brands on that level. I worked hand-in-hand with him and he was a lot of fun to work with. He was very aggressive with everything that he did, with a lot of passion. So, it was cool to see that, too. Basically, they came and asked me if I would be interested if that became an option. I was kind of like, “Yeah, I probably would if a couple things fell in place.” I think Scuba had quite the overload playing more than one role, and for me, I was like, I don't want to go into this thing knowing that I’m going to fail. So, they took the time and put the people in the proper positions.
Literally, I was in a budget meeting for amateur racing and there kept being a knock on the door in the office. I was sitting in there with Tyler Keefe [TLD/Red Bull GasGas Team Manager]. I wasn’t even paying attention to who was knocking because I was just wrapped up in the meeting. It happened like three times and then he was like, “Hey, that’s Ian [Harrison, Red Bull KTM Team Manager]. I think you probably ought to go.” They pulled me out, and that was the week that the Austrians [KTM Group bosses] were in town, Pit [Beirer] and Robert [Jonas] and several others. I walk into the office and it’s a round table of just the powerhouses of the KTM group. I’m like, okay…they look at me and they’re like, “Sit down.” I sit down… Robert Jonas looks at me and they were all kind of straight-faced. He was like, “You’re done with amateur racing.”
Just like that. I was just looking around going, okay, what does that mean? Then they kind of smirked and they were like, “We need you somewhere else.” At that point I knew that’s where they were leading to. So, I pretty much was in there and said yes to the deal. No idea. I didn’t know any details. I was just like, okay. I’m game. If you guys think I can do it, I’m the guy for the job, then I’ll do it. So, in a matter of about less than 24 hours, they introduced to the Rockstar Husqvarna crew the new guys in play, which was myself, Tony Hall as crew chief, and Sean Murphy as a higher role with the team. Obviously, Sean’s been there for a long time and is pretty much the glue to the team. So, they introduced us to the crew, which the crew was pretty shocked. That was something that we had to work through, being kind of presented that way with no one really knowing we were coming. You can imagine.
They were really tight with Scuba, even though they knew that he left on his own accord. It was still a shock. Then I guess another 24 hours I’m at Anaheim 2 as the manager of the team. So, it all happened really quick but I really had strong support from John Hinz, Roger and Ian. They were like, “We’re here, man. Lean on us as much as you need.” I think I eased my way in, just kind of baby steps and just tried to get closer and closer with everybody. You’ve got to earn that trust and them knowing that you’re committed to this process. I think the riders, that side of it was easier than the crew. Malcolm was on my team with the JDR J Star team. I had dealt with Malcolm and got to be pretty close with him and the Stewarts. So, that part was really easy. The night that it was announced to the crew, I also called each of the riders. They were very cool about it. Dean Wilson has been a friend of mine for a long time. We lived in the same neighborhood for years and hung out a little bit, but also, we always had good respect for each other. That guy is just so much fun to have around. He’s just such a good person, a good vibe. That part was easy. Then Stilez, I knew a little bit from amateurs. Obviously, he was never on any of our [KTM Orange Brigade] teams but he was a big part of amateur racing so I knew him. Jalek [Swoll] and RJ [Hampshire] I knew the least, but I knew them, and they knew me. So, they were probably shocked as well when I called them. But, very cool about it. Once I got in, I got to spend the first three weeks because the guys were out here in California. So, the sweet spot for me is getting up there at the supercross track and spending some time and just listening. Trying to figure out how they think and how they work and how to get the best out of them. We did some cool stuff at the track, and then just kind of eased in.
Once the series switched to east, I got to be around RJ and Stilez a little bit more which was also cool. Then went from Arlington, we spent a week there at Aldon’s place and the Baker’s Factory and got to spend some real quality time there with them. So, kind of rounded out that whole thing. It was definitely a flash when it all went down. I was anxious, but happy and confident that the pieces had come together and I felt good about it. Really, I kind of tried to get everybody around as a team, the Rockstar team, the crew, everyone when I first kind of popped up. I was proud to be a part of that. I still am. Proud to have that opportunity and just to be a part of that crew. They work so hard and they push so hard to win races and be good, both on and off the track. I just wanted them to know that I didn’t take it for granted and just wanted to be part of that effort.
A little bit more travel with this gig. Is that maybe a downfall? A little more time away from the family?
Well, you do think about those things when you take something new like this. The amateur racing comes in chunks, so when Spring Nationals go I’m gone for about three weeks. Each time in amateurs, the event goes… Even the one just down the road here at Pala, which would be Classic, it’s every day for four days. Those days are long. 7:00 in the morning, and if there’s not a protest you may get out of there by 7:00 at night. This job is traveling more often. Then ultimately you look at my age and my kids’ ages. I’ve got a 21-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son. My daughter is at college and my son is working, graduated from high school. My wife is busy working. She’s a nurse, it’s a good position because once in a while when she wants to, she can go and work at the Alpinestar medical unit and we can go together if we want. Everything sort of lined up really nicely. Same thing with the whole KTM group. I’m like fifteen minutes or less from the office, so I’m not driving all the way to Torrance or something crazy that’s probably unsustainable. I’m in a great position all the way around. So, I think the timing was good. Like I said, I kind of had gotten past what happened with JDR. I think I was ready to get back into the pro side of things and get that side of things going again.