Multi-time national champion Mike LaRocco hasn’t been seen much since he and the GEICO Honda team parted ways after the 2017 season. Mike’s been doing his thing away from the races, but I caught up with him to talk moto now, his career changes and more in a recent Fly Racing Podcast. Here’s a little excerpt, of the entire podcast.
Racer X Online: What’s been going on with you lately? What’s been happening? I haven’t seen you. How’s it been going?
Mike LaRocco: It’s going good. No, nothing really to do with moto. I think I actually watched my first race with my boys, I think it was Anaheim 2. Whichever one was the triple crown. But other than that, just kind of a whole different world. Just different. The people I hang out with now don’t know anything about racing. It’s just a different world.
[Erik] Kehoe left Honda and he’s the same deal. It’s all you guys know. It’s all you’ve been doing. It’s literally your whole lives 24/7. It must just be nice to get away.
Yeah. I think that’s how it started. When I was done with GEICO, I didn’t really know what to do. I was going through a lot of life crap at the time, so it was just a full reset and different challenges. It occupied my time enough so racing just kind of went in the background.
Are you happy, though? Are you in a good spot?
That’s something that I think a lot of racers struggle with. I know that when I got done being a mechanic, I couldn’t believe all the time I had on my hands and the things I could do with my life and the things that I could do with my friends. I imagine when you and GEICO parted ways, you were the same way. You’re all in. You’re testing for the team. You’re managing the riders. Were you surprised to kind of find out that this life is pretty good away from the sport?
Well, yes, for the most part. Different. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed everything about the race life, but different. Sometimes I think really what led me to really appreciate being done was not living out of a bag and having some weekends and stuff like that. No stress, just hanging out. Those things, as little as they are, are kind of refreshing. But the travel, honestly, I like traveling but not when you have to.
Fair to say you were pretty pissed off at the way you and GEICO parted ways? That’s kind of what I heard. Is that a fair assumption?
I don't know if I was pissed off. No. Not like that at all. It was at a time where everybody that was the GEICO base, the owners, myself, everybody had been doing it for a while. I know Ziggy (Rick Zielfelder, owner of GEICO) was kind of getting to the point where he would rather stay home and go to a music venue on the weekend than the races. I was kind of getting to the point where I was tired of traveling. It’s a 24/7 gig, like you said. I think there were some things going on with GEICO at the time. They were trying to position themselves where Honda was more involved, so it wasn’t so much stress on the financial side of the owners. So, in order for them to sort of get a little bit of freedom, they had to let Honda control it. So, I wasn’t pumped about that part of it, but at the same time, I wanted what was best for them and that was what was best for them at the time. So, I kind of just felt like I had to hand off the reins.
It’s always been a weird dynamic with Honda. You guys were helping K-Dub for a long time, and he was winning races. They weren’t always pumped that K-Dub was winning races. Chaparral with Yamaha and the factory team. It’s a weird thing. They’re not always that pumped that that brand won. It’s a political thing.
I didn’t understand it either. I don’t really like that environment, or to feel unwelcome or whatever it might be. But you’re not wrong. It was definitely always weird.
I was going to ask you what you thought of the season, but you’re not watching it as much as you once were.
It’s funny. The first couple years, I’d check the results every weekend. I haven’t watched it. I just found out that you can get it on Peacock, I guess. I haven’t had a TV for a long time. So, I haven’t really watched anything. But I used to check the results. Even that, lately I don’t even know who won last weekend. Just fades, I guess.
It happens, man. People don’t understand how hard you worked in your racing career. Do you ever see yourself coaching or being a manager again or anything? You’re enjoying your time now and all of that. Do you ever see yourself coming back?
I’m not opposed. I think obviously we all learn what we miss and what we’d do different. In certain lights, I miss it. I liked trying to lift people up or sharing what you know. Sometimes it feels a little bit odd to have all that experience and do nothing with it. But, if it’s the grind, probably not.
Is it true that you left because Wil Hahn kept wanting to hug you and you finally had enough of that?
That was part of it.
Wil obviously is a trainer now with TLD and Colt Nichols, and he was manager for Star for a while. He tells me that he leaned on you for a while for some advice and he still looks at things that you did and the way you ran the team, as sort of the way that he wants to be. So, that’s good.
I respect Wil. I know you’ve heard any sport coach’s story, some of your best memories are when you can actually lean into somebody and they get it, and they take it, and they use it and they respect the advice given and it makes it worthwhile sometimes.
Even Trey [Canard] mentioned your name too, because Trey is doing testing for Honda now. He dropped your name a few times on things that he learned. So, it’s cool I guess a little bit for you.
Yeah. You’ve been around. It’s a young man’s sport. When the guys first come in, they know what they know. Maybe their father or maybe their man-friend or whatever, but they think they know what they need to know. They forget that when they come into a team that has had prior to them 50 riders, we have that broad base of experience. We’ve seen guys just like you before and we know what path you’re headed down. They forget that. The ones that actually listen, you just appreciate.
It’s cool that even in 2023 there’s a couple people out there that mention you, talk about you and talk about the influence that you had on them.
I appreciate it. It’s great.
I heard a little while ago, and I don't know if it’s still true, but someone was telling me the story that you live right by Emig and you guys see each other. I just think that’s hilarious because if there was one guy in your racing career that you didn’t like, it was Jeff Emig.
There is a funny story. I don’t live there anymore, but it was in Corona. I remember I was on the other side of my divorce, and I remember sitting at Wood Ranch. So, I would kind of go select places and sit at the bar and have a meal or whatever. And there was one day, there just happened to be one seat left next to me, and sure enough Emig comes in and sits down next to me. He’s like, “I think I’m going through what you’re going through.” I’m like, what the hell? So, in my head I’m like, there’s no way that this guy can be my wingman. So, it was funny. We’re of course on the other side now and adults, but it is funny.
Main image by: Simon Cudby