John Knowles is a familiar face to those that spend every weekend in the pit area, but the casual fan may overlook the guy off in the corner applying stacks of tear-offs to goggles in favor of the mechanic wrenching on a race bike. But his role in the team is a vital one, because his goggles are the only line of protection a rider’s eyes have from the dust and debris. As SCOTT’s Pro Race Support Manager, Knowles stops at nearly every team compound and delivers goggles ready for the conditions, which can rapidly change as the day or night continues on.
What was your connection to racing and how did you get involved in the industry?
I guess the typical story fits for me. My dad was into trail riding and most kids in my rural neighborhood all rode to some extent. I got a Z50 when I was four or so, and just went from there. We were lucky to have an AMA D6 track about 10 minutes from my house, Evansville Raceway, and I spent a lot of time there hanging out and riding.
Have you worked with any other brands?
No other moto companies but interestingly, hanging out at the track so much paid off for me. I got much more involved with the actual promotion of the events at the track when I was about 16 and could drive there myself. It was an awesome high school job. I did everything at the facility, from prepping tracks, to cleaning gates, to picking up garbage after the events. It was rad; you could go to work, bust ass for a bit, and then be able to ride. It didn't really get any better for me. When I went to college, I focused a bit more on the business side of the track and hired a few buddies to do some of the busy work. I really enjoyed promoting races and just hanging at the track.
What brought you to your current role at SCOTT and how long have you been with the company?
I met the guys from SCOTT when I was a senior in college. They extended me an offer to come along to some outdoor races in 2004, to help with vending product at the Nationals. It was awesome. I really felt like I was part of the deal, working in the "industry.” I wasn't, I was just vending, but to me and I know most other fans, it doesn't get much better than that. Ironically, at the end of 2004, they were in need of a Pro Race Support guy but I had another semester of school. Before this opportunity, I wanted to be on the long term college plan without any solid goals, the typical kid. But it almost screwed me as I needed to finish college and also find a way to take this opportunity with SCOTT. It worked out and I was able to cram all my classes in Monday-Thursday, and fly out Thursday night for Friday practice and Saturday races. I’d fly back to the east coast Sunday and be back to school Monday. It was hectic for sure, at times I was definitely over it, but I'm glad I stuck with it.
What is a normal race weekend like for you? How long does assembling and prepping your full list of goggles take?
Things have become less hectic for me for sure. For better or worse, we have streamlined a bit. I used to be much more involved with distributor shows and open houses at the events rather than just "race support.” Today, we have more people in place to handle those things. I stay very active within the group of guys we have in house, especially in R&D and Marketing. I can be helpful because I am in the field. I stay in touch with a lot of people as far as relationships, but on the goggle side of things, I'm hands on with a lot of product. We use a lot of information from races to help R&D continually improve product. I like that part of my job. We have always worked hard on that at SCOTT and we take pride in quality product. I still build all the goggles that my guys use. Every week I spend about 8-10 hours prepping for Supercross, and obviously a lot more time when we move to outdoors. I only have to travel the day before the race now, work the event, and travel home.
Is there a rider that is more particular on set-up than any others?
I take it pretty serious I guess. I don't ever feel like anyone is picky just to be picky. To some guys, goggles are really important. To others, they just put them on and go. There are definitely guys that know exactly what they are looking for, and we provide that at all costs. Goggles have continued to progress, some would say maybe too far. That being said, it has made my life pretty easy. It's nice to be able to hand someone a stock goggle out of the marketing packaging, and they can go race at the highest level.
How do you manage the nearly constant travel schedule?
It's tough for sure. Not to be soft, but if you are in a relationship, your significant other better be pretty understanding. My wife has always been cool about it; it's nothing new to her at this point. We just had a baby boy a few months ago and that is where you notice how difficult it is. Not just being away for a few days, but just the strain it puts on her while I'm gone. She goes right back to work Monday when I get home, so there is no down time for her. I've learned some things already this season: take advantage of sleep on Fridays at the hotel, instead of going for it with the guys and drinking till 2am, and utilize your time on the plane for race reports, expense reports, etc.
What is the best event that you have gone to? Worst event?
Tough question, because I have been to so many races in the last eight or nine years. I do a lot of off-road and amateur races along with motocross and Supercross, so there aren't many that I haven't been to. I think its safe to say that a Des Nations race outside the US is always going to be rad. The atmosphere, especially in Europe, surrounding those events is just awesome. I would highly suggest to any fan of our sport, to take one of these trips. Worst event is any time it rains.I'm a goggle guy man!
What is next for yourself and SCOTT?
I think what's next for us is continuing the battle. There are a lot of competitors in our market, new and old, and it really is a battle. I'm pretty competitive with goggles. Guys make fun of me a lot for it, but it's my way of staying in the game and it keeps me motiviated. SCOTT has been doing this a long time and I'm really lucky that I was able to land a gig with such a highly-respected, industry-leading brand. We are core, we have a bunch of guys that are really into moto, and we enjoy the grass-roots part of our sport. We may have strayed away from it a bit the past couple of years, but we all make mistakes. There is a strong refocus on this at SCOTT. Most likely, you will see us pull into your big local event at some point, and I really think that is cool. As a guy that came from a little local track, it's refreshing to see a big global company in our industry, like SCOTT, still want to pound the pavement and be involved at every level. It's made us what we are today.