Larry Brooks has been on just about every side of the sport. Once a hot prospect from Southern California, the former test rider and journeyman pro, and now long time race team manager, Brooks has multiple perspectives on a sport that can reach such disparate highs and lows. Larry has been a part of more championship winning teams than most people can fathom, beginning with his first venture at Chaparral back in the late to mid-90s, to his current place as the San Manuel/L&M/Yamaha team that has captured the past two Monster Energy AMA Supercross titles. With James Stewart returning for another season aboard the Yamaha backed team, we sat down with Brooks to learn more about their recent acquisition of James’ teammate, the effect the economy has had on racing, and the upcoming Supercross season.
After what’s been called the “silliest silly season in history” for good reasons, San Manuel Yamaha seems to have come out in better shape than many other outfits. Winning the Supercross championship, the US Open, and becoming the main R&D guys for the new 450, you signed Josh Hill after Team Yamaha dissolved. With that said and done, what does 2010 hold for you guys?
In the big picture it was a roll over year for us; we already had the majority of our contracts already finished up before the mess really hit. James was signed for 2010, as were many of our sponsors and Yamaha themselves. The second rider was something we didn’t have secured until a month ago, and it was crazy with no one signing until the last minute. With the economy being in the downswing, it affected the sport more than some realize, because this is considered more of a luxury than a necessity as a sport. We waited it out to find the best fit for the team, and after lots of discussion we found who that is, and it has motivated Josh to do everything he can to succeed.
Josh is coming off a tough year that was hampered with back issues and other injuries that kept him on the sidelines. It was said that those problems were reflected in his contract which is now is more strict and performance based. Any truth to that?
He has been very open in learning and listening, and I’m very fortunate that he gained so much knowledge in the past year on how to overcome those problems. He is a young kid and I don’t think he has ever dealt with something like that, because with the amount of races that are as close together as they are, it can be overwhelming to some people. He has been at this for a few years, but he is still a young guy that has some growing to do and I think 2009 was a learning curve to him. When you have a good year you don’t need to change much, but when a bad season comes around you realize how much needs to happen to avoid more problems. He is more open minded of change and approaching things in a new way that has paid off for all of us. He will be a good fit for all of us, and just the little bit of testing we’ve done together has helped him click with the entire staff. I’m excited to see how it works out by January 9th, and with him just focusing on one season he won’t be flustered with the Nationals or anything else. James is our main guy, but Josh isn’t being overshadowed by much.
Josh has had his share of criticism in the past, be it weight issues, his entourage, or his commitment to riding, yet much of that was by Internet forums and not the people who truly knew what was happening. It seems like many forget that he is 19 years old and had only spent nine months when he was 16 in the Lites class before making the jump to the full size bike, so they don’t give him the leeway they would an older rider with the same struggles.
That’s exactly how we felt we started talking. When a rider makes the move to a 450 the public thinks they are instantly a veteran, and at the time Josh was only nineteen and was making mistakes like any teenage kid will do. If you think about it, a kid at that age will have some growing pains whether they are a professional athlete or just starting college. Nobody is perfect, but to be young and in the position he is in is the formula for the results we are hoping for.
Last year he spent a few weeks down at James’ place and trained with everyone and it paid immensely the next week when he finished on the podium at Toronto. So is the plan for him to go down to Florida and buckle down or will he stay here in California and do something more on his own?
Right now it is but he has been out here being the work horse that it takes to be on the level it takes to ride with James. James’ program is on another level and it takes a lot of work to get to that point, and now he has been down there for the last month doing lap after lap to be ready for 2010. When you get down there and take it in, it is like heaven for a racer. Josh took every advantage that he got there and he learned more than some expected. But for now he will be on his own working to get to a higher level until we all feel he is at the same level as James.
After working with James for one year, what do you think about the success that you as a group achieved this season?
I’m happy to have him on the team because he is a good person. Before he worked with us we heard all these rumors and hearsay about him, but you never really know how a person is until you meet him. All those pictures that some have painted aren’t even close to what the real James Stewart is. He has is family to hold him down and Aldon Baker to keep him in the best shape possible, and all of that has made him the best guy in the world on a dirt bike. He has a huge heart and is a real person, and his shyness has come off as cockiness, but it’s just because he wants to stay more reserved. He gets along with all of us so well and he fits right into the family that our team and sponsors all are.
With the recent demise of an official factory Yamaha team, much of the focus has now shifted to L&M as the premiere Yamaha team. Is there much more pressure now or have you guys just stuck to the traditional program that has been around since day one?
I think a lot of the focus is now on us that what was a split between us and the factory team was, and it seems like we have more people on our project than any other. We both as a group have raised the level and brand up, and because they have decided to fold the team it’s now upon us and a few others to show their products and image.
It’s been said time and time again, but shelving the in house team and working on the satellite teams looks to be the future of the sport, similar to NASCAR.
It is more common place in Europe and in numerous car racing divisions and I think that yes, it is something that will happen more and more over the next few years. The OEMs won’t leave completely because their knowledge of the bike is what is required to be successful and competitive. L&M is the benchmark for what a satellite team can be, our championships and recognition are what every team strives for and it proves that a factory can get the same exposure by just being there for technical support as they can for taking a full team cross country to every stop.