I had texted Mitch Payton earlier in the day that I was going to swing by the shop to chat and he replied that he’ll be there in the afternoon. Upon arriving at Pro Circuit, I headed straight back to the porting room because most days, in the afternoons, that’s where you’ll find Mitch. Payton still grinds away on cylinders, I suppose partly to take his mind off his other super important race team and business decisions. Sure enough, he was there holding a KX85 cylinder and after excitedly showing me something that’s coming for Pro Circuit down the road. Yes, Mitch Payton still trying to extract more power from a KX85 two-stroke. It’s what the master does.
Then, I hit record on my phone.
Racer X Online: We’re a month away from Anaheim as we sit here. How is everything going? How are we looking?
Are you declaring your lineup for the first time in history early?
You’re not going to do it?
It really drives me crazy.
But we know Hammaker and Forkner will probably be east?
We obviously saw the performance of your team later on in the nationals last year. I talked to you about it at Budds Creek for a while. You found something. There was still something else you told me that week you were going to try. You confident that those gains are going to carry over to supercross and what you found and all that? The motor package and everything?
You signed Levi (Kitchen). Gotten to know him a little bit. What’s it been like?
So, that’s where my next question was going. This is the older, softer, cuddlier Mitch Payton, because I can’t believe you let this kid, who’s still relatively young, call his shots.
The Max Vohland deal. It was on, it was off, it was on, it was off. Tallon, his dad, rode for you. Max missed some main events, unbelievably. He’s also gotten fifth overall outdoors one year. So, what do you see in him?
What was the problem with him? Missing the mains, making dumb mistakes? Have you addressed this, or is there even anything to address? Is it just new team, new start?
And he’s going to be tethered here more?
We were talking about your team on my show, and potentially without injuries, you can be back on top. But you have a high-risk team. If it comes together, it’s going to be the old days. But we don’t know. Forkner, Seth, and Cameron (McAdoo). Do you feel like that too?
So, you don’t feel like your team is more risky injury-wise?
I’m a big fan of Hammaker. He seems like a really good kid.
His mom was really nice. I’m a big fan. Well-spoken. He can be a champion, I think. We have issues staying healthy, but do you see that in him?
You’re an icon in the industry and you’ve got all these titles, the history, but it’s been rough lately. Obviously, Kawasaki is footing the bill for you and you’re spending a lot of money also. You probably get the most money from sponsors of any independent team in the sport from your sponsors, because of your legacy and the things you bring. But it hasn’t always translated to titles. Do you feel pressure at this point?
In your eyes, nothing has changed on your side from your program? I think you finding this power last summer and pulling starts from all your guys shows that you’re still on your game, per se. You’re not just sitting back and resting and drinking Coors Lights.
I want to get your opinion on a couple things outside the industry. Triumph, Ducati is coming in. Triumph is here. Beta is here. It’s good because it’s going to sell more pipes for you, because these bikes are coming out. That’s awesome. But also coming to the sport as a competitor, right?
Read about the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki's 2023 season in the November 2023 issue of Racer X Illustrated below:
It is crazy, in this time of bike sales that are kind of flat, if not down, that they are jumping in. So, that’s good.
Sexton to KTM. Supercross champion. Jumping to a new bike. It’s definitely something that we’ve seen before, but four times I think in the history of the sport it’s happened. What do you make of that?
Roczen will be in there every so often.
And then there will be four!
When I talked to the MX Sports people and the Feld people, they tell me the SMX series was phenomenal and incredible and the next great thing in our sport. Where are you at, though? I always like getting your opinion. As a guy that at one point told the AMA, “I’m not doing your stupid meetings because nothing changes,” tell me what you think?
So where are you at on these SMX races?
I was told that they told you guys that they were going to get it down to 30, and then it magically never happened.
It’s hard work, spectating a national. It really is. The drive, the heat, the walking.
How do we fix 250 supercross? How do we fix this?
The class. Does it need to be fixed to you, or no? You basically can’t point out now. The only way you point out now is by winning two titles. So, we’re going to have 30-year-old men on factory bikes there versus 19-year-old privateer kids. It's a drastic difference in skill level, maturity, physical, all that.
We had guys taking dives and staying home. But on the flip side, Buddy Antunez and (Jeremy) Buehl, a couple guys that probably shouldn’t have got kicked out ended up getting kicked out.
Yeah, but with Deegan we’re talking a generational guy…
So, you sound like you’re with me. It’s broken. We’ve got to fix this. Make it one class.
I guess, but at least just make it two premier classes and if you can’t cut it, you can’t cut it. But guys like you might not hire four or five riders.
A caller suggested this on my show, and it’s actually a really good idea. Let me know what you think. Two coasts. West coast or east coast, whatever. You flip it each year. One coast is zero to three or four years experience. You can be as good as you want, but if you have under four years’ experience in the class, you race this class. The other coast is four years and up. So that’s all the 30-year-olds and 27-year-olds and everything else. You can flip the coasts each year, but basically, it’s rookies and vets in the 250 class. I like that idea. Then if you’re somebody like Jett and you’re a rookie or Pastrana or whatever, and you win two titles as a kid, then you got to get out of there. They’re still kicking you out of the kids’ class if you’re super good, based on wins or something.
You didn’t hire Troll Train.
He was good, but he lost the front end a lot.
Okay, I went to [Doc] Wobbles race in the UK. You better fire that pipe-making machine back up. It’s insane, the bikes over there. The vintage bikes. There’s a real market.
I feel like you’re missing out on a lot of money.
Maybe I will quit being a media guy and I’ll come run your vintage pipe department.
Main image by: Mitch Kendra