PRIME TIME – Mike Alessi Interview

After Years of Hype, Mike Alessi Has Finally Arrived

Every few years, a rider coming through the amateur ranks makes a major splash in the eyes of the media and the public before ever setting a tire on the starting line of a professional event. In Mike Alessi’s case, the splash was more like a tidal wave.

Prior to Alessi’s lining up for his first AMA Pro event, the entire motocross community had already formed some kind of opinion about the young speedster from Hesperia, California. Whether you fly the Alessi flag or not, the fact remains that Mike is one of the most naturally talented, hardest-working athletes in the paddocks.

Alessi recently backed up his wildly successful amateur results with an overall win in only his second try against the world’s best 250cc four-stroke pilots at High Point, disproving anyone who doubted his ability and confirming his spot as a legitimate motocross star. Southwick’s first moto was just the same, with Mike pulling away to an impressive lead on the rough Massachussets sand track, even in miserable humidity.

TWMX caught up with the hottest 17-year-old MX star in the pits before that first Southwick moto to chat about his past and his future. Considering his tumultuous past, we were a little surprised to find a much more politically correct Mike. Gone was the once boisterous “Believe the Hype” Alessi, and in his place a very humble, PR-savvy professional. We threw several questions his way, and here’s how the “sanitary” version of Mike Alessi answered…

Spending your childhood on the road and living the life of a motocross star at such a young age has undoubtedly had an effect on your life. Do you ever feel like you’ve missed out on a regular childhood?

My childhood has been great. I’ve been living a dream; racing and riding motocross every day and trying to be the best. I love all of the hard work of training, and then coming out to the races every Sunday and trying to win. It has been amazing. I love what I do, and I don’t feel like I have really missed out on anything that I would have experienced in school. I love what I’m doing.

What about little things that most kids do, like going to prom…

Actually, I just went to prom last month with my girlfriend! Through her, I still feel like I’m kind of involved and close to the school stuff, because my girlfriend goes to regular school and is in twelfth grade. I’m in eleventh grade and I’m home-schooled, but I still feel close to the activities.

You were raised in a family that has bred you to become a motocross champion from day one. Have you ever felt any excess pressure to win because of your family’s 110% devotion to your success?

Well, there’s always pressure going into every race, of course. But I’m calm, cool, and collected. I mean, it’s the same as every race, just going out there and getting the holeshot and just pulling away. It’s the same formula every time. There are different tracks of course, but it’s not like you forget what to do at the races every Sunday.

Yes, but do you ever feel like you’re letting people around you down when you don’t win after they have invested so much time into your racing?

Yeah, I want to go out there and win to make the team happy. If I lose, yeah, I feel down because I let the team down by not winning. I’m just going out there to win every race and try to do my best. There are 39 other guys on the gate who want to win just as badly as I do, though. But for sure, I want to win for the team, I want to win for myself, I want to win for everybody.

Is it hard to spend so much time with the same small circle of people day-in, day-out, or do you all get along well on the road?

Everybody being together on the road is great. We’re going to the gym on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, riding the road bikes every day, and riding moto Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We all get along; it’s just all about hard work, and what you put in during the week is what you’re gng to get on the weekends. Everybody gets along, and it’s awesome.

Chad Reed credits Jeremy McGrath as one of his major influences in racing, while James Stewart points to Damon Bradshaw. With whom do you credit being an influence to your riding?

I would probably say David Bailey. Everybody says that we have a really similar riding style and all that, and in all of the videotapes that I have seen of him riding he was just so smooth and fluid and accurate. He was perfect and never made any mistakes. My favorite race was when he beat the five-time World Champ or whatever at the Motocross des Nations. It was him, Rick Johnson and Johnny O’Mara, and America won. He was on the big 500. I just loved his technique on the start when he moved over on everyone in order to help his teammate Johnny O’Mara (who was on a 125) out. He ended up beating everyone, and that was a big moment. I’ll never forget that race.

There have been quite a few big rivalries throughout the years in the amateur leagues, but perhaps none have been as heated as yours and Davi Millsaps’s. Tell us about your experiences with Davi, and describe your relationship now…

My experience racing with Davi has been great. We’ve been racing together for years. We came all the way up, from 50s to 60s to 80s, and now we’re in the professionals. He’s always been a great competitor and super fast. Racing with him through my whole amateur career really made me get faster. We actually both made each other faster. It was really a 50-50 draw. Sometimes he’d win, sometimes I’d win. It was all about what track we were at. Out of all the different Amateur Nationals, we really split the wins. It’s been a great experience, and Davi is really fast. He can really hit whoops fast in Supercross. Our relationship is better now. We just talked on the podium at High Point last week. Once you get into the professional leagues, everything is different. Amateur is amateur, professional is professional. Everything that happened, it’s not like it happened. It’s a lot better now, and I’m glad that it’s going that way.

How did the whole Honda deal fall apart, and how did you end up riding for KTM?

The Honda deal didn’t actually fall apart, it was just that we went to Europe in June last year and I tested the new KTM250SXF and loved it. I knew that it was the bike that I could win on for the 2005 season, and we just chose to go orange. I definitely think it has paid off for me.

What are your feelings about KTM as a team, and how long do you see yourself riding for them?

I hope to be here for a long time. The team’s great, I’ve got great teammates. Josh Hansen, Jay Marimont, Ryan Mills, Nathan Ramsey-all of my teammates are great. We all get along and everybody works together as a team. I think we’re going to do a lot of winning this year and hopefully bring the championship home.

What effect did your experiences racing in Europe have on your career here? Do you think it has helped?

I learned a lot there when I went riding. I raced with a lot of good riders, all the Europeans like Joel Smets, Josh Coppins and Mike Brown-well, he’s American, but he was there. I especially learned a lot in the sand in England. Riding there really helped me coming into the Nationals, especially because of the long 40-minute motos. Hopefully I can bring what I learned there here.

Was it more difficult than you expected?

It’s just different there. The whole culture is different, with the food and stuff, and driving on the opposite side of the road. It’s a whole other atmosphere.

What was the hardest thing about adapting to European life and the G.P. style of racing? Just that it was so cold. It was freezing out there! You’d just wear like three shirts and you were good to go. (Laughs) The bikes were good, everybody treated us really great, and it was a good experience. We only raced two of them. Unfortunately, I got hurt and missed the first three GPs. I really looked forward to going there because I felt like I had a good chance at doing well. It was just bad luck getting hurt and getting sick.

Describe in your words exactly what happened in that last corner of Hangtown at the opening round of the 2005 Nationals. Do you hold anything against Grant Langston for the collision you two had?

It was just a racing mistake. He was going for the win, and I was going for the win, last corner, and he wanted it really bad. He did what it took to win, and unfortunately, we both went down. He got up first and got across the finish line, and I couldn’t start my bike. I tried to push it over the finish, but I couldn’t do it. It was just so hard. I had a long day full of practices, qualifiers and motos, and it just wore on me. It still wound up okay, I got some points and ended up top-ten and got to go to Mount Morris top-ten. It was a racing mistake, it happened, and I’m glad he won. I just got the bad end of the stick, but that’s racing. The next weekend at High Point I got the overall, and it felt really good.

Describe what it was like to win your first National…

It felt really good, and I was so happy. The first win, and in only two tries. It took Pastrana four tries to get his first outdoor win, so I did it a little quicker than he did. Stewart did it on his first try, and believe it or not, when Stewart won his first he went 1-2 at Glen Helen, and the person who beat him was Mike Brown. Brownie went 8-1 for third overall just like he did in High Point, where he went 7-1. There’s kind of a similarity there.

Is racing in the AMA pro ranks harder or easier than you expected?

The professional is totally harder. Amateur is only five laps; it’s just a five-lap sprint from the holeshot to the finish line. Professional races are 15 laps, the riders are faster; for sure it’s harder.

Your brother Jeff is also a bona fide AMA Pro now, but has been overshadowed by your success. Do you think Jeff will ever become a better rider than you?

He just needs time. This is only the second round, and he’ll come around somewhere around the middle of the series. When we ride together during the week, we ride aggressively, and when we road bike, we push each other. When we’re in the gym, we see who can push more weight, stuff like that. It’s good.

Considering your results thus far, you have a realistic shot at earning the 125cc outdoor title this year. Who do you think will be your biggest threat at the end of the series?

Right now it’s still up in the air, but I would say everybody. Everyone’s going well, so it’s all about points right now and being consistent, but we’ll see who’s standing up there on the box at the final round.

You’ve already proven yourself outdoors with a win early on this season. How do you feel, though, on a Supercross track, and what do you expect from next year’s indoor series?

It’s pretty early to be talking about Supercross right now, you know. Supercross is a long way away. It’s going to be my first year next year, and as of right now I don’t know how I’ll do, but it’s early. In the off-season, I’ll be riding with my teammates, and you know, what’s better than to ride with the guy who almost won the East Coast Championship last year in 125s and the guy who ended up second overall in the West. I think it’s good, because with Ivan gone it’s basically Nathan. My teammate is basically the number-one guy in the West, and I personally think that Hany is the number-one guy in the East. Having those guys as my teammates; it can only get better from there.

orward to going there because I felt like I had a good chance at doing well. It was just bad luck getting hurt and getting sick.

Describe in your words exactly what happened in that last corner of Hangtown at the opening round of the 2005 Nationals. Do you hold anything against Grant Langston for the collision you two had?

It was just a racing mistake. He was going for the win, and I was going for the win, last corner, and he wanted it really bad. He did what it took to win, and unfortunately, we both went down. He got up first and got across the finish line, and I couldn’t start my bike. I tried to push it over the finish, but I couldn’t do it. It was just so hard. I had a long day full of practices, qualifiers and motos, and it just wore on me. It still wound up okay, I got some points and ended up top-ten and got to go to Mount Morris top-ten. It was a racing mistake, it happened, and I’m glad he won. I just got the bad end of the stick, but that’s racing. The next weekend at High Point I got the overall, and it felt really good.

Describe what it was like to win your first National…

It felt really good, and I was so happy. The first win, and in only two tries. It took Pastrana four tries to get his first outdoor win, so I did it a little quicker than he did. Stewart did it on his first try, and believe it or not, when Stewart won his first he went 1-2 at Glen Helen, and the person who beat him was Mike Brown. Brownie went 8-1 for third overall just like he did in High Point, where he went 7-1. There’s kind of a similarity there.

Is racing in the AMA pro ranks harder or easier than you expected?

The professional is totally harder. Amateur is only five laps; it’s just a five-lap sprint from the holeshot to the finish line. Professional races are 15 laps, the riders are faster; for sure it’s harder.

Your brother Jeff is also a bona fide AMA Pro now, but has been overshadowed by your success. Do you think Jeff will ever become a better rider than you?

He just needs time. This is only the second round, and he’ll come around somewhere around the middle of the series. When we ride together during the week, we ride aggressively, and when we road bike, we push each other. When we’re in the gym, we see who can push more weight, stuff like that. It’s good.

Considering your results thus far, you have a realistic shot at earning the 125cc outdoor title this year. Who do you think will be your biggest threat at the end of the series?

Right now it’s still up in the air, but I would say everybody. Everyone’s going well, so it’s all about points right now and being consistent, but we’ll see who’s standing up there on the box at the final round.

You’ve already proven yourself outdoors with a win early on this season. How do you feel, though, on a Supercross track, and what do you expect from next year’s indoor series?

It’s pretty early to be talking about Supercross right now, you know. Supercross is a long way away. It’s going to be my first year next year, and as of right now I don’t know how I’ll do, but it’s early. In the off-season, I’ll be riding with my teammates, and you know, what’s better than to ride with the guy who almost won the East Coast Championship last year in 125s and the guy who ended up second overall in the West. I think it’s good, because with Ivan gone it’s basically Nathan. My teammate is basically the number-one guy in the West, and I personally think that Hany is the number-one guy in the East. Having those guys as my teammates; it can only get better from there.