Michael Leib | Plain Wrap
When inflation hit the double digits in the 1980s, many grocery food stores incorporated generic products with stripped-down packaging at a more affordable price. The most popular was from the Ralphs chain, and was characterized by all-white packaging with a simple blue stripe and the name of the product, emblazoned across it.
For the past several weeks, SoCal privateer Michael Leib has been training at local Supercross tracks decked out in solid-white riding gear—sans logos of any sort—bringing to mind the Ralphs plain wrap products of yesteryear. A regular top-10 finisher in 250 Supercross, 23-year-old Leib has decided to take a different approach to racing as a privateer and thus far, it seems to be working. Read on…
Michael, what's up with the snowman riding gear?
[Laughs] Snowman gear? [Laughs] It's custom-tailored gear that I had made in China. Our goal behind it is to sell advertising spots on the gear itself. It can be per race or more than one race. I'm basically a privateer and I have to make money to pay for my racing program, and this is the idea that we have come up with. I'm not trying to compete with gear companies or talk down on them, but it's really hard to wear gear and promote someone to help them make sales when they don't want to give you anything in return. So we came up with this idea. The gear is all white and there are several spots available for advertising logos: shoulders, chest, front of the leg, back of the leg, the butt, and even my helmet. My helmet will be all white by A1.
Is this all because gear companies are not willing to pay you what you feel that you are worth?
At the end of the day, I have to make six figures to pay for my racing program and in the past I have never been able to do that. Hopefully with this new venture I will be able to get closer to breaking even. It's just a matter of not limiting my income and trying to find a new way to create income to help me pay for my racing. It's thinking outside of the box, that's all. Also, my summer I hope to be selling this gear as is – completely plain white – for other riders who want to do the same. So that will be a future venture for me. Look at NASCAR and Indy Car racing…look at all the outside –industry sponsors involved. That's because they are not limiting the area that can be used for advertising. In motocross, if you put someone's logo on your rear fender, no one knows. If you put it all over your gear, people will know. So instead of limiting my income by working with a gear company that wants its logo everywhere, I have opened up a blank canvas. This will allow outside sponsors to come in and get the exposure they deserve, and in turn increase their sales. If they aren't making money, why would they want to come in and support me?
How has the sale of your gear signage area been going? Have any takers yet?
Yeah we have a ton of people interested. We have some races almost sold out and I am making more money doing this this year than I have in any previous year?
How much money are we talking here? How much does a pants logo cost, for instance?
Well, we are basically working on a scale that varies per race and whether or not someone wants it all season or not. A pants logo costs $3000 for the top of my thigh. A sleeve is $2000. A helmet wrap is $3000…and so on. We're obviously serious about what we are doing, and we are serious about giving back to those who support us?
Do you have any restrictions? I mean, what if Lotions and Lace wanted to put their logo on you. Would you do it?
I am open to anyone who wants to help me get to the races! [Laughs] If someone thinks that they can benefit from buying signage space on me, I'll run it!
How do you plan on adding logos to the gear? Will you silkscreen it? Or is Don going to learn how to sew patches on?
[Laughs] That would be a funny sight! It will be silkscreened. Realistically, it only has to look great for a day, and silkscreening lasts a couple weeks.
How hard was it to get the gear built?
It was difficult, but at the end of the day we were able to get what we wanted built for us, and it is all good, technically functional stuff.
You and your dad obviously have things priced out, including expenses. What do you estimate it will cost you to contest the entire Western Region 250 Supercross Series?
It's somewhere between $95,000 to $105,000. That is travel, bikes, parts, and everything else in between. Every cent that I make goes back into my racing program. I am a privateer and there are obviously political things preventing me from getting a factory ride or factory support, so we are going an alternative route.
Okay, since you mentioned it… You are obviously a hugely talented racer. What do you feel has kept you from getting the level of support that you deserve?
I don't know, and I am getting to the point where I don't care. If the industry doesn't want to support me and my talent and ability level, then I will find an alternative route to do it. We have made it his far and we are getting more competitive every year.
I've known you since you were a kid on a mini bike. Motocross has taken you all around the world and you've gotten to experience some pretty amazing things. Don't you agree?
Yes! I am 23-years-old and by the time I was 21 I was able to say that I had been to 35 different countries and had learned to speak several different languages. I've taken the long road to being a professional racer, but it has shown me many things that I would not have experienced otherwise. The first couple yeards after I turned pro were the toughest. After that I got a fill in ride with factory Yamaha Europe to fill in for Zach Osbourne when he was injured and ended up getting a second overall at a GP. I signed with CLS Kawasaki after that and things took a turn for the worst, so we came home and raced as privateers with just me and my dad and that's how it's been ever since. I've gained so many life experiences, I can't say I would have done anything differently.
Adversity builds character…
Absolutely. I won a title at Loretta Lynn's in 2009. The guy that was a little bit better than me that year was Eli Tomac. Talk about two kids who went in two different directions as far as support goes. Eli went on to the GEICO Honda team and I went to a dealership and paid dealer cost for bikes the next year.
Talk a little bit about your dad Don and your family company Rocket Exhaust. It has a full line of exhausts but it's also branching into engine packages, too…
We do engine work for every manufacturer and sales across the board are picking up. A lot of people think that we only do Honda stuff because that's what I race, but in fact we have great systems for all the bikes and do performance packages on all the bikes. I enjoy being involved in that side of things and seeing how business works. Through all the adversity it has helped build my relationship with my dad, and we enjoy running the business together, too.
Last year, you were one of the dark horses in the West Coast 250s and had some great rides. Where do you stand right now, speed wise, compared to last season?
I have a new trainer, Chris Hays, and we have been working really hard together for the last four or five months and I feel better than I ever have. Looking back at the last couple years now, it all makes sense to me why some things went the way that they did. I feel really comfortable now and am happy with who I am as a person and as a racer, and I am just excited to get the year started.
Injuries are an unfortunate but very real part of this sport. With all this work you are putting into your program, what are you gonna do if a rider on a high-level team gets hurt and you get offered a fill-in ride?
You know, I like where I am at and where things are going. I know that riders getting hurt and a potential fill-in ride is a very real possibility, but I've waited for that for four years and I can only wait for so long. Our program is really strong and it's really good. It's hard to say. If the right dollar amount and right equipment came along, I'd have to think long and hard about it. I'm confident in the program we have assembled, and there's no reason to think that someone else has something that we can't match.
It sounds like you are confident and ready to race.
I am. I am just a privateer kid trying to make it to all the races. I am not trying to make a bunch of money off this idea; I just want to make enough to get to the races so I am not spending all of my and my dad's money to do so. Motocross is my love and my passion, and it's what I want to do. I'd like to give a shout out to Kyle Beakes, ExcelSure, and Crown Limo for being the first of many non-endemic sponsors to come on board and help support my new race-funding program.
If you are interested in sponsoring Michael Leib, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org