HOW TEAM MANAGERS PICK NEW TALENT

HOW TEAM MANAGERS PICK NEW TALENT–NOV ’00


By Scott Summers

What do factories really want when they form a race team or need to fill a spot on an existing team? Sure, they want to win, because victories on Sunday (or Saturday) sell motorcycles on Monday (or Tuesday). But winning isn?t everything, as Jeremy McGrath?s contractual disputes with Team Honda illustrate. More and more emphasis is being placed on off-track behavior and how it reflects on corporate pride, so a Travis Pastrana will, no doubt, go further with his career than a Brian Deegan.
As our sport grows and matures, teams look to NASCAR and seek to attain its stature, its professionalism. So, naturally, the managers want all team members to be professional on and off the track. When they make the yearly trek to the major amateur events of the year, the talent scouts are looking for more than a seat in the saddle, a hand on the throttle. I cornered the team managers and talent scouts for Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha and Fox Racing at the Loretta Lynns Amateur Nationals to find out exactly what a factory considers when scouting new riders.

RON HEBEN,
KAWASAKI TEAM GREEN

Scott Summers: What does Team Green consider when seeking out new talent?’
Ron Heben: ‘Considerations? We try to look at people who are going to be good representatives for Kawasaki. Of course they have to be talented and go fast on the track, but winning isn?t everything. We try to find kids that will be in our program for a long time. We probably have the best track record as far as taking a little guy off of a 60 and supporting him all the way up into the Pro ranks. The parents are also very important. The fastest kid out there might have a father who?s putting way too much pressure on him and that is not good. At such an early age there shouldn?t be such an emphasis on winning.
SS: What riding skills do you think are most important?
RH: When we go out there and watch, particularly, how they are maneuvering the motorcycles, all these kids are so talented because they started at such a young age. Look at Jeff Ward, Ricky Carmichael, and now James Stewart. Like most of these guys we?re watching today, they could all accelerate and go down a straightaway, but what?s going to allow a kid to consistently go fast is his cornering speed. In order to go fast through corners you must have good technique. The other part I see is a rider might be super-talented but the bike just isn?t set up for them. Each motorcycle has the capability of winning, it?s just that you have to fine-tune it, for that particular rider.
SS: How important is appearance?
RH: We emphasize the importance of appearance because they are representing Kawasaki as well as a lot of sponsors that are a part of Team Green; that, along with getting good grades, are things we mandate. And we try to help the kids out. Sometimes a parent?s attitude or actions will wind up holding back a kid. A lot of parents genuinely are trying to do the best they can for their child and we appreciate that, but sometimes they just don?t know. If you look at how expensive racing is, the vehicles, the equipment, the fuel, parents are investing a lot to give the kids the best opportunity to have the most success that they can. Sometimes, like here, it?s 95 degrees, hot and muggy, and they?ve been working so hard to get here and something happens, it can be really frustrating. Sometimes these parents have a hard time keeping their cool or maintaining their composure, and we understand that. But if it is behavior that happens consistently week in and week out we can?t accept that.
SS: What are Team Green?s five most important events?
RH: In amateur racing the number one event that we would like to see our riders come to is Loretta Lynn?s. It is by far the best event because it gives the rider three long, good-quality motos. The Florida Mini Olympics are a great event, the two Texas events, and the World Minis.

KEITH DOWDLE, TEAM HONDA
SS: What considerations are taken into account when looking for young riders?
Keith Dowdle: I don?t think it?s just results?unfortunately, you need the results before you really start getting recognized. Beyond that, we?re looking for consistency, for heart. I mean, you see a kid who comes off the gate dead last and works his way back up to tenth place even, he didn?t win the race but the kid?s got heart or determination because he didn?t give up. Determination, heart, attitude, someone who is well spoken, someone who can give a good interview because, as you know, this is all about sales. It?s about promoting a product, and if the individual can?t speak properly?plainly and clearly and with good English?then he does us no good even if he does win the race.
SS: Are there any particular riding skills you?re looking for?
KD: Sometimes you can spot a kid who?again?might not be at the front of the pack but he?s smooth, he picks good lines, and he knows to look ahead and not follow people around the track.’
SS: What about physical appearance and the company they keep?
KD: I think it?s very important. Unfortunately, the peer pressure on these kids is such that they think that the earrings, and the tattoos, and the foul language are a part of being cool. We?re looking for the guys who are not only talented but those who are professional, smart, and have a clean image. Look at how successful the NASCAR organization has been. You know they don?t tolerate unprofessional appearance and behavior.
SS: What about the parents?
KD: The best parents are those who support their children and encourage them to have fun. There are many elements to a successful racing program and it can seem like a job if you?re not careful. If a child shows some interest in racing as a career, I would help him understand what it takes and offer guidance where he may be lacking. But forcing a child to do something against his will is unfair, especially if it is the parents who are seeking the recognition, fame or fortune.
SS: Could you pick five events that you would recommend for a young rider to showcase his talent?
KD: The manufacturers have determined which events are best based on the races that we attend. The World Minis in Las Vegas, the GNC in Texas, Mammoth, the Mini Olympics in Florida and of course Loretta Lynn?s is the premier of them all.

COLE GRESS, TEAM SUZUKI
SS: What is Suzuki looking at here at Loretta?s?
Cole Gress: Well, for sure results are number one. To be a part of Suzuki?s program regionally you need to have the respect from the other riders and be able to influence the decisions as far as what they ride, and you?re a positive influence. And when you come to the nationals like six big amateur nationals a year you gotta be in the hunt, like top three in your class. I?ve got an 80 (7-11) rider, a (12-13), a (14-15), Schoolboy 125, a couple 125B guys, a couple A guys?you know, I keep a nice rotation going.
SS: What are the five most important events?
CG: The Mini Olympics in Florida during Thanksgiving, and then you have the Texas GNC and Lake Whitney ?similar races about a week apart in March. The World Mini Gran Prix in Las Vegas in April?that one?s a big one. Ponca City and Loretta Lynn?s are big ones. The other ones I look at are Mt. Morris amateur day and then the Mammoth Mountain race. A lot of people travel out to that. It?s a good national track and it shows me who?s been training. I guess theres about seven of them that I really look hard at, and, usually, if you do well at these, then you?re dominating at home, you?re investing time and your resources to get there. Suzuki likes to come in and help make it easier.
SS: What riding skills do look for?
CG: What I really look at is decision making on the track and starts. If a guy makes good decisions on the track and he gets good starts the speed is gonna come. I mean if he?s getting a holeshot and dropping back to eighteenth by the end of the moto, well maybe not, but if he?s getting starts and he?s constantly finishing in the top three. Those are the guys that I look at. It?s funny?some of the guys on my team were overlooked by other manufacturers. I saw them start out maybe 12th, 14th, 16th but at the end of the race they would be like
top four. Those guys who are always going forward or always
   in the top three are the guys I?m paying attention to. You?ve got to make good decisions, keep yourself out of trouble and not follow people around turns.
Luck?s a big part of it, but you?ve got to make it your race.
SS: What about physical appearance and the company they keep?
CG: Well, definitely the company they keep, but you know I?m realistic at this level. They?re kids; they?re 12 to 16. My under-18 kids, there?s absolutely no tattoos or anything like that. I mean, that?s just uncalled for, but a lot of them have piercings, you know, ears pierced and that. I let them be kids. Some dress with their shorts hanging down and that type of thing, but, when they go to an awards banquet, they?ve got their team shirt on, it?s tucked in, they?re dressed nice. They accept their award and thank Suzuki up on the podium. As far as the company they keep, they know to keep themselves out of trouble. They are at the top of their game and they are expected to act like it.
SS: How important is personality?
CG: That?s something I constantly work on but, if I see a kid who holeshotted and dropped back and gets on the microphone and doesn?t make any excuse and he says ?Man, I got beat,? I like that. I just don?t look for people who make excuses all the time.
When they are under 18, you?re dealing with parents, period. The parents sometimes give you the okay to talk to their kid and maybe try to straighten them out on something, so you work with them, but at the very beginning. I?m not naming names, but there are some parent-kid combos that, even though they?re fast, I won?t touch because the chemistry of the team is so important. One bad egg can bring several people down so I might avoid a rider if I think his program has issues that might negatively affect my other riders.
SS: Is there anything you would like people to be more aware of?
CG: Bike maintenance. Oh, man! At these big nationals, I mean, how they come, what do they think is preparation? Some of these guys are racing on machinery some of my guys wouldn?t use as practice bikes. I mean, they are defeating themselves before the race even starts!

MIKE GUERRA, TEAM YAMAHA
Scott Summers: When Yamaha is looking for talent, where do you look?
Mike Guerra: We have what would be considered a smaller program compared to something like Team Green. We don?t work with the same number of riders by any means, but the riders we do work with are all considered to be contenders in their specific classes at the national level?meaning Winter Olympics, Winter-Ams or the Golden States on the west coast, the GNC and the Lake Whitney National in March, the World Minis in April, Mammoth Mountain in June and of course the Amateur Nationals here at Loretta?s.
The five most important I?d say are first of all Loretta Lynn?s?the true championship. The World Minis are just so huge. I think Mammoth is in there; it?s moved up the ladder. Fourth, I?d say it?s a toss-up between the GNC in Texas and the Lake Whitney National. The Winter Olympics are important primarily because a good portion of the competition is there, but you know it?s in three different disciplines and it?s the place where a lot of riders move up like from one class into another. So, the Mini-Os are a transition for many riders, and it comes at a time when the new models are debuted, so it?s a transition period for them as well. That makes it an important event.
SS: As for as classes, what does Yamaha consider important?
MG: I?d say it goes along with the performance at those events, sure. If these guys have to be contenders in their specific classes, the class that they?re riding is definitely a consideration; we try to field a pretty strong effort in every class that we can. Certainly the 80 class is the toughest because in some areas they?re broken up into three age groups, and, when you get up to the 125s, it?s actually against the rules to support anyone in the 125C class but B classes we?re pretty heavily involved in, and of course A and A Pro Sport. So we?ll to try to have three to four competitive riders in the 125B class same with the A class and Pro Sport.
SS: What riding skills do you look for in new guys?
MG: At the younger ages, it?s really difficult to judge a rider because they?re still learning. Once in great while you will see something in an eleven-year-old kid or a nine-year-old kid and you recognize how he carries his corner speed or how he changes his lines. Look at how he?s not following the kid in front of him. Those are the three aspects of riding ability, then there?s the family aspect which includes the kid?s personality, the parents? personalities, how the kid does in school, the mental aspect?meaning how does the kid handle a tough situation? For example, how does he handle going down in the first moto, getting up last and then what? Is he smart enough to be able to separate the emotions when things don?t go his way and realize that, especially like down here with a three moto format, does he go banzai trying to win at any cost or does he realize that he doesn?t have to win the first moto, does he think ?Hey, a third in this moto is as good as a win in this moto if I win the next two??
SS: What about off-track traits?
MG: I guess physical appearance and personality touches on it but I think of it as the family. With a young rider, you?re not dealing with just the individual?s appearance, personality, mannerisms or attitude, you?re dealing almost more with the parents?the mom and the dad both. Primarily people always point the finger at the dad; he?s the one who tends to be more hands on and more emotional?sometimes meaning more apt to get upset if things aren?t going right. We have been in instances years ago where a kid could have a lot of potential to flourish but we felt we?d give him a chance. And the parents in some cases are just a total negative?the dad?s a hothead just flying off the handle every time something goes wrong. A worse case is when the kid shows a lot of potential and you just wish you could remove him from the situation he?s in and raise him yourself and give him the proper guidance and some respect because you realize that?s probably the only way he?s ever going to make it. It?s a shame, but there have been a lot of kids like that, that have not made it because they?ve been in a negative environment, so we look at the whole package and think more about the family. I?ve walked away from riders before because I?ve known the family situation was just a nightmare.
SS: Is there something you?d like to see changed?
MG: I have helped riders in the past when I?ve known they were not the fastest. I?ve known that they would really have to have a good weekend to finish on the podium, but the kid is such a good kid. I know I?m guilty of letting my heart do something when my head says otherwise. I know I?m guilty of picking out a kid who may not be the fastest but he?s a good kid, with a great family, and he tries a hundred percent. Maybe he doesn?t have the natural talent but given the chance, who knows? And maybe one out of ten of those works out. So to answer your question, I guess I would have to say that it?s attitude. I love to see when a kid has got heart, he?s got the personality, the appearance, you know no matter what happens, he and the family are giving it everything they?ve got. Say the kid finishes 12th, he pulls off the track and the dad?s slapping him on the back saying ?Hey, man, you rode well.? The results won?t show it, but you did a great job.
It just makes you feel good to be involved with an effort like that. There?s so much hype that has trickled down to this level and so many of these kids nowadays think, ?If I don?t win, man, I?m a failure? and the parents pick that up and they?re telling the kids ?You gotta go out there and win, do this, do that, etc.? There?s only going to be one person on top of the podium and just because you?re not there doesn?t mean you?re a loser, there are other ways to win. How many of these kids are going to make it, bottom line, this week?what, maybe one or two and there?s how many of us here? When I learned to ride, I was in high school and somebody invited me, and then I worked odd jobs, bought a used bike, and ever since I?ve been involved in motorcycles because it was fun and it was something I wanted to do. With some of these kids it?s different. I mean they?re out here at four years old. When they are 14, 15 or 16 and it?s time to start making life?s decisions, are they going to want to race motorcycles or is that something that dad has made them do up to that point in their life? You?ve got to remember that it?s got to be fun.

SCOTT TAYLOR, FOX RACING
SS: What does Fox consider when looking to sponsor a rider?
Scott Taylor: With us, image is more important than results. I look at the family and I see how involved they are and whether it?s positive or negative, how they keep their bikes, how they keep their gear, and see how important that is to them. Because there might be a guy who gets third or fourth consistently that is more valuable to us, maybe, than the guy that wins. Maybe people notice him more or always talk about how nice he keeps things.’
SS: What about appearance and the company they keep?
ST: That?s important in this day and age, for sure, because there are a lot of outside influences on kids. You can almost figure out what a child is going to be like by looking at his parents. He will almost always turn out to be like one or the other.
SS: What riding skills do you seek?
ST: We utilize our professional athletes to help us scout talent but we all generally draw the same conclusions when were looking at a particular group. Cornering speed, smoothness, line selection, starts are all factors.
SS: What are the most important amateur races?
ST: Loretta Lynn?s is the main one, The Mini Olympics is a big one, one of the Texas races, and then a wild card like a Ponca or Mammoth or something that gets us some exposure. That gets us different times of the year and different geographic locations. We?re also paying attention to interviews?the NBA spends some time coaching their rookies on their speech?and these young riders need to work on that as well.

 

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