PRESTO!

Travis Preston Has Some Tricks Up His Sleeve for 2005

Being a winning 250cc Supercross rider in 2005 is going to demand much more than just speed, consistency, and the will to win… Heck, every rider on the line has all these traits and then some. With the 2005 series already being touted as the most competitive and talent-filled in years, racers who think they have a shot at landing on the podium with the likes of RC, Bubba, and Reed better be prepared with a little something extra than just raw speed; they’re going to need some major magic to take down these 250cc giants.

Though there are quite a few hopefuls and wild cards ready for battle come Anaheim, none have more mystery or marvel enshrouding them than Travis Preston. The 26-year-old from California’s High Desert could very well be the guy who surprises everyone at Edison International Field in January. Preston is great at being the underdog (and he proved it by winning a Supercross in modern times aboard a Husqvarna!), and after sitting out the majority of last year due to a knee injury, Presto has something major to prove to all those who forgot about him. Armed with new backing and sponsorship almost all the way around, 2005 should be a year full of surprises from Travis. And besides raw talent to boot, the great thing for Preston is that no one really knows quite what to expect, and that’s just the way he likes it.

We linked up with Factory Honda’s newest rider while he was preparing for ’05 SX competition at the Red Riders’ secret testing facility to get the straight scoop on what he has in store for his competitors next year. Though he wouldn’t let us in on all of his tricks just yet, Preston reeled off incredible lap after incredible lap, and we’re pretty sure that he has plenty of magic up his sleeve for 2005.

For the people who don’t know the whole story, explain the injury you suffered last year…

I had a knee injury that started in 2003, and it originally happened while testing. My knee required surgery, but I didn’t do enough research on doctors and pretty much just went to the first guy I found. That didn’t work out too well; I reinjured it four months after my initial surgery. After all I’d been through, I decided that I was going to do things differently this time and do my homework to find the right doctor. I finally found who I thought was the best guy for the job in Vail, Colorado, so I packed up my stuff and headed to Vail. He seemed to do a really good job, because my knee feels great now, plus Kobe went there too, so I decided that it must be the right place to go!

After taking such a large chunk of the season off due to that injury, 2004 must have been a pretty big disappointment. Does it make you want to win that much more now, and do you feel like you have more to prove?

Yeah, I definitely feel like I have a lot to prove, both for me as well as for my new sponsors. I almost look at the time that I had off as a little vacation, and I feel like I’m starting all over again. I’m refreshed, recharged and ready to go. I’m hungrier than ever. Also, injuries are kind of like a cycle that just happens, but the point I’m at in the cycle right now is a good one; I’m 100% healthy and ready to race.

How hard was it to get back into the groove of riding, testing and just feeling comfortable on the bike again after sitting out for such a long time?

It was pretty tough at first. I was off the bike for a long time-it was seven months, which feels like forever when this is what you do for a living. I was getting so anxious to ride again, and when I finally could, I was pumped; literally. I just wanted to hit it hard right away, but being off that long made it hard because I got the worst arm pump and blisters right away. I think it’s worse, too, because I’m on the four-stroke. Just the slightest arm pump on one of these 450s can kill you. On that first day back, my throttle arm was pumping up enough to scare me, and when you get like thatn a 450 it’s pretty easy to land on your head.

Signing the dotted line of a Honda contract represents a major pinnacle in motocross, as Honda has long been regarded as the most serious, dedicated and professional team in the sport. What did it mean to you?

Honda is a great team. When I first signed the contract, to be honest, I was a little intimidated. They are such a serious team with such a history behind them, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that everyone is super cool. The thing is, they are totally serious when it comes to racing, and I’ve never seen a team work harder to win. But the cool part is that throughout it all they’re a great bunch of guys. When we go testing, everyone is cracking jokes and giving each other a hard time. It’s really a great balance; they work so hard and are so committed, but at the same time they do their jobs and do them well. It makes me want to try that much harder on the track when I see how much they put into my racing off of the track. Plus, when I was a kid growing up at the races, Honda always had the best bikes and the best team; it was like the best of the best. When it came time to sign the contract, I probably could have gotten more money elsewhere, but Honda has the best program going, so it was an easy choice.

Having already spent some time racing the 450 in Supercross last year, how does it compare and contrast to the 250cc two-stroke, and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

That’s a funny question, because thinking back I never really had an opportunity to ride a 250cc two-stroke indoors. Well, I take that back; I rode it one time and I ended up knocking myself out, so I guess I don’t remember much of it! They both have their plusses and minuses. I guess on a two-stroke you have to keep your revs up, but they are probably a little better through the whoops. To me, the four-stroke suits my style better. I’m more of a smooth type of rider, and don’t really like to rev and clutch the bike a lot, so the 450 is great for me.

You always seem to favor Supercross over outdoors. Will having a factory ride with one of, if not the, best bike on the starting line give you that extra confidence you need to begin taking Nationals more seriously?

Yes. I think I’ve always looked down on Nationals and outdoor stuff because I was riding a 125, and it’s just not fun on a 125 when you weigh nearly 200 pounds. Horsepower has always been a major issue for me when it comes to Nationals. Now I’m on a bike on which my weight doesn’t really matter, and my bike is going to be just as fast, if not faster, than everyone else’s. For the first time in my career, I’m probably more excited for the Nationals than I am for Supercross. I really believe that I will be prepared for and do well in outdoors this year.

Most people have directed all their preseason hype towards RC, Bubba and Reed. Does this bother you, or do you prefer it because it takes some pressure off of you coming into Anaheim?

I kind of like having the pressure off me. All the photographers are always around those guys bothering them, and everyone wants to do interviews and things with them. For me, I can just settle into my own groove, go to Anaheim, and do my thing without worrying about that stuff.

Will this season be a showdown between those three riders, or do you feel that there are several riders who will be getting some podium pie next year?

I think that realistically you’ll probably have a group of four or five guys who will be threats to win at any given race, but beyond that I don’t think there will be anyone else actually winning mains. I also don’t think that just one guy will be a standout like in the past. You won’t have one guy winning everything; this year it will be a good mix of winners with lots of dicing and close racing.

Looking past RC, Bubba and Reed, who are the wild cards of 2005 who have a realistic shot at winning?

I have to put myself on the top of that list, but of course you also have guys like Mike (LaRocco). You can never count out the Rock, that’s for sure. As for other riders, I don’t really worry about them or think about them much. I just try to do the best I can-I’m the only one out there, in my mind.

Realistically, what is your goal at Anaheim, and beyond that, for the entire ’05 SX season?

I think I’ll do fine. I’ve never been one to put a bunch of pressure on myself, though. Even the year that I won the championship in the 125cc class, I knew at the final race I needed a top-five finish. Still, I didn’t tell myself that. I just went out there and got the best start that I possibly could, and after that ran the hardest 15 laps that I could, plain and simple. There’s no reason to put a ton of pressure on yourself; it never works, at least for me. I’m planning on doing the same thing at Anaheim. I’m just going to get the best start I can and put in 20 hard laps. That’s really all I can ask for, and after that I know I’ve done as much as I can and what happens, happens.

There were days last year, most notably San Francisco, when you had the fastest practice lap times throughout the day, but then choked in the main event. Does pressure play a big part in your racing?

I’ve actually gone back and looked at the tapes several times trying to figure out why I did that, and I think I finally have the answer, but to sit here and tell it to you would be pointless because you’re going to publish it, then everyone will be able to pick up on my problem! (Laughs) Seriously, though, it’s not pressure. You know, the track changes so much from the daytime and qualifying laps to those of the main, so that’s one part of it.

You just returned from your teammate Kevin Windham’s house, where you spent a week riding and testing with him on his legendary track. When riding with guys like K-Dub, do you go there trying to learn, or do you look at racers like Kevin as merely competition now, on the same level as you?

I don’t care if it’s a guy trying to make the main in the 125cc class-I always try to watch and learn as much as I possibly can from each and every rider. So sure, when I go to ride with Kevin I’m watching all of the things he does well, but I’m also looking for the things he maybe doesn’t do as well. You can learn something from anyone. Going back and riding his track was great for me because it’s on a different coast, there’s different dirt, and the whole setting is something that I’m not used to, so it’s good for me.

Jeff Stanton seems like a very serious, slightly intimidating type of guy. What have been your experiences working with him thus far, and are you scared that he might kick your ass after a bad race?

I totally felt that way when I signed with Honda. Everyone looks so intimidating here, and so serious. I was totally scared of guys like Dan Bentley, Cliff White, and Jeff Stanton; they look so mean when you don’t know them. Now that I have gotten to know everyone on the team, I realize that they’re all on my side and also all a bunch of great guys who have a good sense of humor like anyone else. There are a lot of good people here. As for Stanton, he’s great too, but if it ever did come down to a fight I’m pretty sure I could kick his ass!

Though it was a couple of years ago, you are still one of the only racers who can lay claim to actually “battling” with Bubba, as the two of you fought pretty hard for the 125cc West Coast SX title. What, if any, weaknesses does Bubba have on the track?

I definitely see some, but you know what? I hate telling you this stuff, Garth, because then you’re going to go home, right it down, put it in your magazine, and then Bubba’s gonna know his weak spots and go work on them! No, but seriously, I think one of Bubba’s issues is that up to this point he hasn’t had a lot of pressure on him. He gets out into a huge lead early, and then he checks out without anyone ever showing him a wheel. But at times, like in Vegas this year, when Ronc you also have guys like Mike (LaRocco). You can never count out the Rock, that’s for sure. As for other riders, I don’t really worry about them or think about them much. I just try to do the best I can-I’m the only one out there, in my mind.

Realistically, what is your goal at Anaheim, and beyond that, for the entire ’05 SX season?

I think I’ll do fine. I’ve never been one to put a bunch of pressure on myself, though. Even the year that I won the championship in the 125cc class, I knew at the final race I needed a top-five finish. Still, I didn’t tell myself that. I just went out there and got the best start that I possibly could, and after that ran the hardest 15 laps that I could, plain and simple. There’s no reason to put a ton of pressure on yourself; it never works, at least for me. I’m planning on doing the same thing at Anaheim. I’m just going to get the best start I can and put in 20 hard laps. That’s really all I can ask for, and after that I know I’ve done as much as I can and what happens, happens.

There were days last year, most notably San Francisco, when you had the fastest practice lap times throughout the day, but then choked in the main event. Does pressure play a big part in your racing?

I’ve actually gone back and looked at the tapes several times trying to figure out why I did that, and I think I finally have the answer, but to sit here and tell it to you would be pointless because you’re going to publish it, then everyone will be able to pick up on my problem! (Laughs) Seriously, though, it’s not pressure. You know, the track changes so much from the daytime and qualifying laps to those of the main, so that’s one part of it.

You just returned from your teammate Kevin Windham’s house, where you spent a week riding and testing with him on his legendary track. When riding with guys like K-Dub, do you go there trying to learn, or do you look at racers like Kevin as merely competition now, on the same level as you?

I don’t care if it’s a guy trying to make the main in the 125cc class-I always try to watch and learn as much as I possibly can from each and every rider. So sure, when I go to ride with Kevin I’m watching all of the things he does well, but I’m also looking for the things he maybe doesn’t do as well. You can learn something from anyone. Going back and riding his track was great for me because it’s on a different coast, there’s different dirt, and the whole setting is something that I’m not used to, so it’s good for me.

Jeff Stanton seems like a very serious, slightly intimidating type of guy. What have been your experiences working with him thus far, and are you scared that he might kick your ass after a bad race?

I totally felt that way when I signed with Honda. Everyone looks so intimidating here, and so serious. I was totally scared of guys like Dan Bentley, Cliff White, and Jeff Stanton; they look so mean when you don’t know them. Now that I have gotten to know everyone on the team, I realize that they’re all on my side and also all a bunch of great guys who have a good sense of humor like anyone else. There are a lot of good people here. As for Stanton, he’s great too, but if it ever did come down to a fight I’m pretty sure I could kick his ass!

Though it was a couple of years ago, you are still one of the only racers who can lay claim to actually “battling” with Bubba, as the two of you fought pretty hard for the 125cc West Coast SX title. What, if any, weaknesses does Bubba have on the track?

I definitely see some, but you know what? I hate telling you this stuff, Garth, because then you’re going to go home, right it down, put it in your magazine, and then Bubba’s gonna know his weak spots and go work on them! No, but seriously, I think one of Bubba’s issues is that up to this point he hasn’t had a lot of pressure on him. He gets out into a huge lead early, and then he checks out without anyone ever showing him a wheel. But at times, like in Vegas this year, when Roncada was showing him a wheel here or there, I think it really messes with his head. With tighter competition this season, who knows how he will react.

With so much fresh competition this year, what’s it going to take to be up front during 250cc main events in 2005, as opposed to years prior?

There are so many talented guys out there now that it’s going to take a lot more than just a great start and ten hard laps like it did, say, in McGrath’s day. Not taking anything away from him, but he just had everyone covered. Now with all of the guys so close to that edge, every single lap is going to count. It’s no longer a hard 15 laps, then cruise, or a consistent 20 laps; now, you need to put in 20 of the hardest laps of your life at every race if you want to win. Roncada was showing him a wheel here or there, I think it really messes with his head. With tighter competition this season, who knows how he will react.

With so much fresh competition this year, what’s it going to take to be up front during 250cc main events in 2005, as opposed to years prior?

There are so many talented guys out there now that it’s going to take a lot more than just a great start and ten hard laps like it did, say, in McGrath’s day. Not taking anything away from him, but he just had everyone covered. Now with all of the guys so close to that edge, every single lap is going to count. It’s no longer a hard 15 laps, then cruise, or a consistent 20 laps; now, you need to put in 20 of the hardest laps of your life at every race if you want to win.