By Brendan Lutes
Last year, Troy Lee Designs/Lucas Oil/Honda's Cole Seely got the opportunity of a lifetime to fill in for the then injured Trey Canard aboard a Factory Honda in the Supercross class. Fast-forward one year and Canard is injured again, leaving his Muscle Milk Honda CRF450R to gather dust in the pits. With a break in the West Coast Lites series, Seely once again got the call to fill in during the East Coast swing.
After this last weekend's very impressive debut that saw Seely lead for seven laps before ultimately finishing sixth, everyone is talking about his amazing talent aboard the bigger bikes. We caught up with Cole to find out what it was like racing with the sport's best in Atlanta.
You're on a 450 right now, but lets start out by talking about the West Coast Lites series. What are your thoughts on how it went for you up until the break?
It went pretty well. I had two not so great rounds—one in LA and one in Oakland—but it is what it is. It kind of seemed like [Eli] Tomac had us handled there for a while and was just going to take it home, but then he unfortunately went down and it tightened up the points race. With three rounds to go, anything can happen now and that's why I wanted to ride the 450. I want to come back confident and strong in Seattle.
You rode a 450 during the West Coast break last year. Did that help you when coming back at Seattle?
Yeah it did for sure. Racing is one thing, but to also race against guys like [Ryan] Dungey, [Ryan] Villopoto, and [James] Stewart. They're the fastest racers in the world right now, and one day I hope to be at their level too. For right now, though, it's just huge to get to race with them. To be able to learn from them is great for me, so I have to take every opportunity that I can get to race with those guys.
What are your plans and how many rounds do you expect to race the 450 for?
It's four rounds with an optional fifth, so I have three more to go. I'll be riding up until Indy, and if I want to, I can go to Toronto. I think I'll probably get off the 450 after Indy, though, so I can get back to testing on the 250—both in Supercross and outdoors.
Let's talk about this past weekend in Atlanta. You had a great heat race and then led almost the first half of the main event. Were you expecting to do that well?
No, but I knew that I wanted to get a good start just because it sucks starting so far back in the 450 class. I hate having to work my way through the pack. I had to do it last year and I only got up to ninth or 10th. So yeah, I really knew that I wanted to get a good start, and I had been practicing them all week. Actually, I only had about three days on the bike before the weekend, so I didn't have much time, but I did spend a significant amount of time practicing starts. I have them pretty dialed in, so I knew I was capable of getting a holeshot, but I didn't expect to come out to the first round, get a holeshot, and do what I did.
What was going through your head running up front with those guys for pretty much the first half of the main event?
It was crazy. For the first two or three laps I was expecting someone to put a wheel in on me. I knew Dungey was behind me because he did almost pass me on the first lap, but I was expecting him to have his way with me and then I was just going to try to run with him after that. I didn't really realize how well I was riding and how good my lap times were. It was pretty crazy, because after the first five laps I thought to myself that I just had to do that three more times and I would win. At that point I thought winning a Supercross was within sight—there was a lot going on in my head. I think, though, that was why I didn't win. That's where their [Dungey, Villopoto, and Stewart] experience comes in. They don't think, "Wow, I could win right now." They think, "I want to win." And that's how I am with my Lites bike. I know that will come for me, though, and that's why I'm doing these races.
Did you learn anything else from last weekend?
Every time I'm out there racing, I learn something. It's cool racing with those guys, because a lot of them are really respectful and won't take your line away from you and make you crash. They'll pass you when they can and they're really respectful. It's cool to race with guys like that, and like I said, it's just cool to get to race with those guys.
After Dungey, Villopoto, and Stewart had worked their way around you, were you relieved or did you want to try and catch them?
I didn't want to get in their way. When any of them passed me, I didn't want to try to slam it back in their face and fight for position, because I wouldn't want somebody coming into the Lites series and fighting me for position while I'm trying to win a championship. I didn't want to mess with their race, and if I had stuffed them in the next turn, they still would have beaten me. I didn't want to be that guy that took myself down and someone that was in contention for the points and mess up their whole season. I had to be respectful. In time, I know that I will be able to win  races, but like I said, it's just a huge experience gain for me right now.
Where do you go from here? Are you going to test more on the 450 or just focus on getting more comfortable with the settings that Honda gave you?
I am pretty comfortable on it already. Today was my fifth day on the bike, so I do need to get more comfortable on the bike and more comfortable racing the 450 guys also. I think I gained a huge amount of experience and learned a ton on Saturday, so I just have to work from that and continue to grow.
It goes without saying that it's an advantage to continue to race during the break, but is there any disadvantages to riding the bigger bike then having to jump back on the smaller and slower 250?
No, but I thought there would be. Last year I was kind of worried to get back on the 250, because it is a slower bike, but I actually adapted to it really quick getting back on the 250. I already knew that going into this year, so I didn't really stress out about that too much. I think a big part of why it's so easy for me, though, is that the Honda 250 and 450 have the same chassis. The power does feel different, but the bike doesn't.
Does continuing to race help to keep you from stressing about what needs to get done once the West Coast Lites series starts back up?
Yeah, I think it helps with that. You can go out and race REM or any local race just to keep yourself in the mindset of racing. But actually, the best thing to keep yourself in that mindset is to just keep racing [Supercross], and that's something that I factored into my decision to race the 450.
Where do you go from here with the 450 class? What are your goals and expectations?
I just want to keep it pretty simple—top-10 every round. If an opportunity presents itself, like it did this past weekend to lead a couple laps and maybe get a top-five, then I'll run with that. I'm not going to set my goals too high, because I don't want to ride over my head and get hurt or anything like that.
When the West Coast picks back up, what's your strategy?
Obviously, it's just to be consistently up front, but I really want to win and I really want to win the title. If it's not going to happen this year, hopefully it does next year. I just want to be consistent, be up front, and let my competitors make their mistakes and have their bad races. I just have to keep an eye out for myself.