If you attend a round of Monster Energy AMA Supercross out in California, you’ll still see Donovan Mitchell in the pits, hanging with old friends and bench-racing with the best of them. Deep down, he’s still a racer, but unfortunately his career was cut short in 1999 after a crash left him paralyzed. He quickly transitioned into helping the then-fledgling Star Racing Yamaha team in its early days. Beyond that, though, he carved his own path. After several years with the team, he opened up an eBay store called Bike Now Motorsports. Dono and his wife have now built that project well beyond their wildest expectations. That’s what happens when you still put in the hard work. We called Dono last week for an update.
Racer X: You mentioned this business you have. Just talk about what you have going here. Pretty successful off the racetrack. What is that?
Donovan Mitchell: Kind of going back, around 2005 I actually was part of the start of the Star Racing Yamaha Team. One of my best friends, Keith Johnson, was on there and we kind of helped create that from the ground up. I did that from 2005 to 2011. Then I decided I needed to do something different. I was looking for that next portion of my life. A friend of mine that was a mechanic in the industry at one point had kind of turned me onto looking at starting an eBay store, were you sell parts and accessories for all power sports. I just really started small with selling some random things that I had or was able to acquire. Then over the last seven years now, it’s just virtually grown every year, sometimes by double-digit percentages, where now it’s turned into a multi-million-dollar a year sales operation that my wife and I run.
So, the eBay thing, what year did that actually start?
That’s a lot of growth, then, in that amount of time.
Yeah. It’s definitely been a pretty good whirlwind. If you would have told me I would have reached these levels, I would have never thought it was possible. I did have some aspirations that I thought were obtainable, and I definitely reached those and went way beyond. Truthfully, it just kind of has gone back to the racer inside of me. I only have a high school education, and I never, ever had goals of being some sort of businessman or business owner. So, it kind of really just went back to our upbringing of working hard and doing whatever it takes to figure things out. If you have that dedication and are willing to put the time in… I kind of had done that over the last seven years. I’m not scared to put in 12, 13, 14-hour days, whatever it takes.
Obviously, you’ve got some connections in the industry. You know it inside and out. I’m sure there’s other eBay stores out there. Is that something about your philosophy or experience that have made this more successful?
Yes, I know the industry. It wasn’t about really knowing anybody. It definitely helps sometimes having connections, but really it has just been willing to invest the time of doing it, truthfully. I’m not doing anything that’s rocket science. I did study almost as a racer – you study your competition. So, I’ve done that. I’ve studied the competition. There’s other eBay stores that are much bigger than us. I’ve just kind of tried to take what I can learn and then apply it to us. Hopefully it works, and so far, it has.
You’re not a brick-and-mortar store, right?
We do have a little bit of a brick-and-mortar operation, but our main operation has just been online. That has been the focus. The reason I got into it, truthfully, is because I needed something that worked with my injury, being paralyzed from the neck down. It does take away a lot of your independence on a day-to-day routine. The injury will cause you to have different days of how you’re feeling. So, being able to run something like this where I do it all from my iPad, I’m able to do what I need to do to keep my health in good fashion, and still do something that keeps my mind busy. Now it has grown into something that is pretty substantial.
So, when you see the name of an eBay store, it might seem like that’s just a part of a dealership, but it might not be? They might just all be eBay only?
Yeah. There’s Lytle Racing Group, which is the brothers of Casey Lytle. They’re a massive entity on eBay. There are some OEM cycles, like Parts Giant. If you do some research, those guys are virtually only an eBay operation and they’re some of the biggest eBay stores in the entire world, in the entirety of eBay. So, those guys are massive entities that are moving a lot of products that mirror the levels of a Motosport.com or any of those big online, dot com businesses.
What’s the name of your store?
We are Bike Now Motorsports. So, just kind of something that clicked for me when I was trying to get started and just ran with it.
eBay is still obviously a big thing. Do you have to keep evolving? There was Craig’s List and Facebook Marketplace, and then social media eventually, too. How do you keep up with all that?
I’ve been learning the ebbs and flows of everything from the beginning. Over the last six, seven years, definitely I’ve had my attention focused to the eBay platform, because I have seen where there’s still growth there. There’s obviously the Amazons and this and that of the world, too, but you kind of feel like you find your niche. Rather than try to focus on too many different things and be successful at all of them, I think that’s some of the downfalls people run into where they’re trying to spread themselves too thin and try to be everywhere. I’ve learned that there’s something that works here, and I’ve tried to maximize what I can do there. So, currently that’s kind of where I keep my focus. At this time, truthfully with it just being my wife and I running this thing, it’s everything we have timewise to keep up with the growth. We have a plan and we’re just trying to keep the operation at this level if it can grow a little further. We make steps constantly to keep up with the demand.
You were dealt a tough hand. You were in a tough situation. You’ve got to look back now with some pride knowing you figured out a way to be successful. I don't know how often you reflect on that, but it’s got to be inspiring, I would think, for some people to see what you’ve done.
Yeah. I do get told I’m an inspiration. Sometimes I feel like that’s an overused word. I’m glad that I can help people, that’s for sure, as far as showing what is possible. I do sit here, and I see the amount of sales and things we’ve been able to grow to, and it does make me feel pretty proud. Like you said, I’ve had to navigate some pretty good battles in my life to get to a point where to create something that’s your own. It’s definitely something cool to have on the resume, that’s for sure. Day to day, you’re just doing the work. My motto is, there’s dreamers and there’s doers, and I’m a doer.
One time on Facebook, you put it out there. I think a lot of us misunderstanding that when someone is paralyzed is that you have the injury and then you’re not able to recover, fully, but I don't think people realize your condition changes day to day. You just mentioned it. You have good days, bad days. You said there’s still pain and aches and stuff that people probably didn’t even know about.
Yeah. It’s kind of the untold story, I guess. It’s like, well, you got paralyzed. You can’t feel, and you just go on with life. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. With this injury, it comes with a high, high level of nerve pain and just discomfort on a daily basis. Pressure sores, UTI infections, so many things. There are really, truly life-threatening things. It’s not an easy injury, by any means. It just takes a lot. It’s not only tough on the person, like myself, it’s tough on your support group around you. You do really have to navigate some day-to-day things that just aren’t ideal. Life is not simple ever, being a quadriplegic. There’s a lot of days of frustration. I’m not going to lie. You either can let it consume you, or you can try to deal with it as best you can. I’ve always said that thankfully, I think being a racer and obviously going through what it takes to try to reach the level of success in racing, it definitely puts you through some paces in life, some highs, some lows and that teaches you how to maybe deal with something like this better than just say the average person. Unfortunately, that’s the case, but thankfully, I would say that I’ve been able to navigate this injury so far at a pretty good level of success as far as keeping my health intact, and also just leading a productive life as well. That’s what we all want to do, no matter if you have an injury or not.
You got injured in 1999?
Yeah. 1999 I had just signed with Factory KTM. I had spent the previous two years racing. I was a Yamaha support rider and I had turned professional. I was traveling around in a white van. Did some nationals. I even did some supercross in ’99. Never qualified for a main event. Was just trying to learn the ropes. I was never the most talented guy. I just knew that hard work would maybe pay off to get me to the level I dreamed of as growing up. I signed with the Factory KTM team for the 2000 season, virtually like a more unknown guy, I would say, at a certain level. I didn’t technically have the most results, but I definitely had done some things to maybe warrant that there might be some potential there. So, going into the 2000 season, there was one of the first Day in the Dirt races. KTM had approached me and said, “We’d like you to go do this.” There’s going to be celebrities and all kinds of cool things going on. At the time, I was really in a position where I was just trying to make my name known, so if there was a race or something to do well at, put me there. So, we went there. I was riding probably at my all-time best as far as some of the pre-season testing and stuff that we had already done. I won one of the first races that weekend. Then in the race that I was injured, first lap of the moto, Ernesto Fonseca lost the rear end kind of over a jump that had been watered. Then I landed on his bike. It flipped me onto my head and paralyzed me. Definitely was a quick change of pace of life. Went from one second finally reaching your childhood dreams to then in the blink of an eye literally you’re having to learn life at a new direction.
This isn’t like at a supercross test track doing a sprint lap. This is a race that’s serious, but it wasn’t all at the line on this race. It was just a crazy thing that happened. Not like a points-paying AMA Supercross or something.
The reason I asked about ’99 is there are some things where science and medicine have improved so much. So, over the course of twenty-something years, there’s major strides. In your case, have things evolved, improved? Some parts of science do, some don’t. What’s that like for you over the twenty-something?
As far as dealing with injury on a day-to-day basis, it really just still is what it is as far as the things that you’ve got to keep a handle on before it can turn bad.
It’s not like there’s new medicine or anything like that that makes a big difference from ten years ago?
Nothing, yeah. I am involved with the Wings for Life Foundation that’s part of Red Bull and Heinz Kinigadner, after my injury and his son’s injury back in the early 2000s. So, they do have a lot of breakthroughs that they are continually working on, but unfortunately right now, it’s like a wait and see. There’s a lot of things that are promising, but that’s just kind of the way it is with life sometimes. It’s hurry up and wait and hope for the best. I will say, having this injury for 23 years now, you do learn to manage it better. But that kind of coincides with everything in life as you get older. Hopefully you learn from it.
The last thing I want to ask you about is the experience with Star Racing. I interviewed Jacob Saylor for one of these, last week and he rode for them in their early days. The amount of people that have been involved with that program at some level – management like you, or racers, or mechanics, it’s incredible. When you see that team now, is it even recognizable? Bobby Regan is still there, but it has evolved and changed so much.
Truthfully, I was there from the very beginning days. My friend, Keith Johnson, was sitting here at my house and he was like, “Hey, I got this team owner that bought a semi from [NHRA drag racer] John Force and wants to start a team. But we don’t have any bikes and we don’t have any parts. Can you help?” I was new in my injury and was kind of at the same time looking for something to do. So, I made some phone calls to some good friends and next thing you know, we had some bikes and parts. Then from there it grew quickly into, “Okay, we need to arrange sponsors.” So, then I was doing that, and then the following years it became a full-fledged 250F Yamaha-supported team. Quickly we’re just learning on the fly. I had already dealt with getting some of my own sponsors as a racer, but kind of learned to be a coordinator of arranging contracts and travel. From ’05 to ’11 it was another cool learning experience of being involved with the race team and the riders, going to the test track. I was part of it when Saylor was on the team. I was a part of it with Tickle, when he won the first race for the team. There have been so many names, riders that did fill-in rides and different things, different managers, different things that all transpired during that time. It was definitely a wild ride. Cool to be a part of it, as far as the growth of it. I do still talk with Bobby and Brad [Hoffman, Team Principal] at the races. Now they’re up to three semis and so many personnel members! It’s definitely crazy to see them truthfully outlast – and this is something I value being in a business now—people that are able to keep something going for a long duration of time, through thick and thin, through economy issues, or whatever that may be. To be able to keep that operation going and growing, is impressive, to say the least, especially in this industry. It’s no easy task to keep a race team going. That’s for sure.
That’s a good point. We just think about how awesome the results are, but just having a team for twenty seasons at any level, even if you’re mid-pack, is very rare. Just the longevity alone – forget about winning the 450 supercross title. There’s a lot of value to that. I know from 2005 to 2011 when I was involved, those were not winning years. So, there were a couple podiums and one supercross win by Broc Tickle at Seattle. In the meantime, those were a lot of hard days of trying to drum up sponsors and just kind of keep the progression going. To get to this point now, there was a lot of things that could have really took – and it did – it took a lot of other teams down in the meantime. So, the fact that they’ve been able to outlast that is just a win in itself.
Well, congrats on how things are going for you now. I think any ex-racer who finds his way, it’s not easy to transition into non-racing life. I think it’s inspiring, not even because of the injury, but just that you figured out something else to do once racing was finished. Everybody has got to cross that bridge at some time. So, I think it’s neat for people to hear that the motocross skills transfer over a bit.
You’ve just got to be willing to not be consumed with, “I need to be in the industry in some particular fashion,” and maybe open up the mind to what all is really possible. Then kind of use your knowledge and skills and put it to work in whatever that may be going forward. Definitely always pumped to still be involved in the sport in some fashion. I go to all the supercrosses on the west coast in the first part of the year and get to see friends, and all that kind of stuff. It’s the sport we all grew up in and have in our blood, so it’s hard to get away from that.