By Brendan Lutes
There are few companies in motocross that have become synonymous with the sport, but FMF Racing is one of them. Since its inception 40 years ago when Don Emler started building exhaust systems out of his garage, the company has remained family owned and operated. And since he can remember, Donnie “Lil’ D” Emler has spent his fair share of time at FMF’s headquarters, growing up around welders and fast motorcycles.
Since his earlier memories of sweeping shop floors and slapping stickers on mufflers, Lil’ D has worked his way up in his dad’s company to become the marketing director, handling everything that has to do with the FMF brand. Nowadays, FMF doesn’t just build exhaust systems; the company also makes an extensive list of clothing and apparel that is on the shelves of many top retailers in the country. With this in mind, we decided to get the lowdown on what FMF has had going on lately and what is planned for the future.
Your dad started FMF Racing, but how did you get involved in the family business?
I grew up going to FMF as a kid, just wanting to hang out, I thought the shop was cool, and I wanted to cause trouble [laughs]. I thought it would be cool to help and put stickers on the silencers, so I asked my dad and I started helping with that. After a couple hours, though, I was like, “This is not fun anymore.” [Laughs]. He just told me that I signed up for it and I had eight more hours of work to do. Those are my furthest memories back, but I just grew up around the shop, hanging out in people’s offices, causing trouble. It was great. I would go to school then come over to the shop. I’d work summers and get to hang out with my dad and go riding with him when he’d ditch work to ride for the day. I’ve been full time now since I was 18. I’ve gone from sales to learning a little bit of everything and then asked my dad if I could take the box van to some local races, because I thought it would be cool to drive the box van and go to some Golden State races and amateur nationals. Before I knew it, I started developing our support program at the amateur level, and then it stemmed into us getting into events like Loretta’s and Lake Whitney. It’s been an upward road to where I’m at now as the marketing director, handling everything that has to do the FMF brand as a whole from the racing side to the apparel side.
Let’s talk about the brand. You guys are now very involved with the apparel side of it, but how do you balance that with making quality exhaust systems?
I think that’s the coolest thing. At the end of the day, we are a manufacturer of exhaust systems for off-road motorcycles and now street bikes. This year we’re turning 40. My dad started it out of his garage, and he has built more than just an exhaust company. We’re also built a brand with an iconic logo. We’ve been around for so long and there are very few companies in motocross that can say that they’ve been around for so long. Our goal is to say that we make the best product, but we also make everyone aware that we’re a brand as well. I think that’s where we can go from being a pipe company to also being an apparel company, because our brand is really well known. People want to be a part of something and people can really connect with being an FMF guy. That’s kind of where it all flows together with the racing side and apparel.
What is it like to be one of the biggest most recognizable brands in motocross? People even put FMF logos on Ford emblems on their trucks.
It is really cool to say that we are in a league with great brands like Fox or Alpinestars. What we do is make exhaust pipes here in America and we’ve done a really good job of marketing our brand. I think the coolest thing is that our product and image speaks for a kid that is just starting to ride to a guy that is 60 or 70 years old and still has the passion for bikes. Our brand speaks to all those different levels from racing to off-road. It’s not just about motocross, it’s about people that go and ride. I grew up going to the desert riding with my family and friends, and that’s what it’s about.
How important is the racing side of it for you guys?
The racing side is huge. We have to do a little bit of everything. That’s the difficult part, though, because we have to keep our figure on the pulse of so much different stuff. We’re not just focused on Supercross and motocross. We’re heavily focused on amateur racing, and we’re really involved in the off-road world. Off-road racing is a big part of our racing heritage. Whether it’s Baja, National Hare and Hound, or off-road racing on the east coast, I think we’ve done a really good job of differentiating ourselves from not being known as just a motocross company and having a product that everyone can use for all different types of riding.
What do you guys have coming up for FMF?
We’re just staying really focused on our current line, which is our 4.1 exhaust system and top-tier racing exhausts that are motocross and Supercross exhaust line. We also just launched our new Q4 exhaust, and we’re really the only company that offers a true off-road system where a guy can go to a state park, bolt on the Q4, and still have the cool motocross look but still be quiet with good performance. That’s a big deal for us. Sound is such a huge issue for riding dirt bikes, and I think a lot of people over look that at times. It’s really important for us to build product that will help to keep our riding lands open. The apparel line has grown into its own business and the product keeps getting better. I’m still learning that side of the business with when the different seasons come out and everything. I’m really excited for some of the stuff that is coming down the pipeline, but it’s not going to be here for a couple more months. I’m chomping at the bit to get some.
What were the grass root beginnings of the apparel side of it and how cool is it to see it grow into what it is today?
It’s crazy seeing people walking around the street wearing an FMF t-shirt and you just wonder if they ride of if they just think it’s a cool shirt. My dad has always given me the freedom to do cool stuff with the apparel, and if I come up with something funny or make a shirt for an event, people have started collecting them and asking for them—it’s pretty classic. But to be influential with the apparel still and help come up with ideas. I’m still in design meetings and it’s cool that they still want me to be part of the whole process.