Size Isn’t Everything: The Tommy Clowers Interview

With fourteen amateur national championships to his credit, Tommy Clowers was pegged by several industry insiders to be the next big star in motocross. Growing up in the heart of the Cajon Zone, young Clowers wasn’t short on speed or talent. A Team Green ride and a neighborhood full of scorchers like Rick Johnson, Broc Glover and Ron Lechien were just a few of the things that led Clowers to hit the professional MX circuit on fire.

[IMAGE 1]Several top-five Supercross finishes and a big win at the Anaheim Ultracross in 1992 earned the Tomcat an NCY/Yamaha support ride in 1993. Clowers proved to be a frontrunner in the ultra-competitive West Coast 125cc series, finishing the ’93 season in fourth place behind Damon Huffman.

Unfortunately, 1994 didn’t go as well for Clowers. A badly broken ankle at the Houston Supercross put an end to the seemingly unstoppable momentum Tommy had acquired in the early ’90s, leaving him without a ride for the upcoming season. Clowers didn’t give up, though, and with the support of his parents he struggled through the next few years of racing on a shoestring budget that kept him from the results he had hoped for.

Fast forward to 2001, and Clowers is back on top of his game. The shy, pacific young man from San Diego County no longer wonders if he’ll have enough money to make it to the next race: instead, he jet-sets around the globe, sports his own web site, and boasts a laundry list of some of the most respectable sponsors in the sport. From Red Bull to Alpinestars, Clowers is a hot commodity thanks to a successful year at key events like the X-Games, where he took home a gold medal with a world record-breaking, 35-foot vertical leap in the step-up competition.

So what brought Clowers from a successful moto career to an even more successful freestyle career? And why hasn’t he chosen the same lifestyle as the other freestyle riders that he grew up racing with? Well, TWMX wondered about all of this and more, so we met up with Clowers at his new house in Ramona to see if we could sneak a peak at the real Tommy Clowers.

TWMX: You’ve been riding almost your whole life. How did you get your start in motocross?

Clowers: I started racing BMX when I was six years old and one day my dad and I were out riding our bicycles around. We rode past Mike Craig’s garage and met him and his dad. We started talking, and eventually they let me take their JR 50 for a spin. I had a blast, so my dad ended up getting me a YZ60, and it just went on from there.

TWMX: Tell us about your racing career. What were some of your biggest accomplishments?

Clowers: My biggest racing accomplishments were as an amateur. I won 14 amateur titles, from 80cc Expert to 125cc and 250cc Pro. As for my pro career, I won a Mickey Thompson Ultracross, back when those were still going on. The best I did at Supercross was a fourth at Anaheim and a fourth at San Diego in 1993. I finished the West Coast series in fourth that year.

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TWMX: Compare the feeling of winning an Ultracross, which was a pretty big event at the time, to the feeling of winning a big FMX event right now. Do the two compare?

Clowers: It really depends on the event. Of course, winning an FMX event means a whole lot more money, but as far as pride is concerned, they were pretty comparable. When I won the Ultracross, I was young and had just turned pro, so I was super pumped. Winning the step-up competition at the X-Games felt awesome too, though, so it’s kind of hard to say which was better. It’s just a different time and a whole different type of sport going on.

TWMX: What was your most memorable race?

Clowers: Probably that Ultracross, because it was my second Ultracross ever. I got second at the first round, then I won the second one, which felt great. It was also cool because everybody in the industry was there, as it was a local race Anaheim.

TWMX: So why the switch to freestyle? Was it the money, status, or were you just having trouble gting a ride?

Clowers: I guess you could say that it was all of the above! It wasn’t really about money, because in the beginning we didn’t know how much we were going to make. I mean, there were good purses, but keep in mind that I wasn’t winning yet. I was making more cash than I was racing, though, so that was all that counted.

TWMX: When did you decide to do freestyle full time?

Clowers: Actually, I think last year was my first year doing it full time. The year before, I still rode for F&S Suzuki, but that was the year that I broke my wrist so badly, so I guess ’99 was my first full year.

TWMX: It seemed like for the first couple of years you were living in the shadows of Metzger and Deegan, but now you’ve really exploded and you’re one of the top guys. What brought that change on, and why do the fans respect you so much now?

Clowers: What brought the change on is the fact that I’m winning now, pure and simple. I mean, they were winning back then, and now I’m doing well¿the fans are stoked on whoever is on top. If I don’t win, I don’t have a huge presence. At the events, I don’t go around and talk to everybody. I have always been kind of low-key. I just stepped it up a lot this year. I’ve learned a bunch of new tricks and I made the ones I knew look even better by extending them farther. I just took it up to another level for myself and that’s what I needed to do to be where I’m at right now.

TWMX: Deegan has the spikes and Pastrana and Vines are the likeable “boys next door.” What kind of image do you have, and is it the one you want?

Clowers: I think I have a good image. It’s probably in between both of those. I’m not like the “kid next door,” but I’m not a bad guy, either. If I had to call myself either, I’d say that I am one of the “good guys.” Overall, I’m pretty quiet and I try to keep things professional.

TWMX: You have a small, gymnast’s body. Is that an advantage for tricks, or is it a hindrance?

Clowers: It’s really a little of both. It’s an advantage for some tricks and a disadvantage for others. Some tricks I can do a little bit better, but there are some tricks I can’t even do because of my size. I think that if my arms were a bit longer, I could do a couple more things, but you just have to take things the way they are.

TWMX: Those Hart Attack Lookbacks that you are famous for are sick! When did you first try those, and what were you thinking?!

Clowers: It’s sort of funny: I didn’t go out and say “I’m going to do a Hart Attack Lookback.” I was simply trying to find a way to get my feet higher. I would just put my head down and try to push up as far as I could. I remember the first time I did it: we were at a local contest, and everybody was like “man, that was cool!” I was thinking, “Really? I can do that all the time.” So I started doing it, and eventually started getting my feet up really high, and it just went from there. It wasn’t really a planned thing, it just kind of happened.

TWMX: Do you get dizzy or disoriented when you do it, or do you just close your eyes?

Clowers: No, I keep my eyes open. I like to look behind me and watch you guys take pictures, or I’ll check out the ramp or something. It’s really an interesting view of the world!

TWMX: As the world-record holder, you’re pretty much credited with being the best at the step-up events. What’s your secret?

Clowers: Well, sometimes whipping the bike a little helps, but I don’t do that every time. Each lip is a little different: different sizes, different ruts, different inclines. I think it’s just how I jump. I go slow up to the ramp and then sort of explode off of it, which is what gets me so high. It probably also has something to do with the fact that I grew up near Palm Avenue. I feel good on cliffs. I like the floating feeling, and I’m not afraid to get on the gas hard when I go up the lip.

TWMX: There are a million pluses to freestyle. What’s the biggest drawback?

Clowers: I don’t really see any drawbacks right now. I mean, we’re busy and we have to travel a lot, but you have to sit back and think about it: we’re not going to be able to do this forever, so it’s best to take advantage of the opportunities we have right now.

TWMX: What is in store for the future of freestyle, and what will it take to make it last?

Clowers: I think the courses are going to have to change. There will have to be a lot more technical sections that give us more variety. I think that eventually the courses will be similar to BMX street courses, where there are a million different lines to choose from. I’m sure it won’t happen overnight, but eventually I think you’ll see things like wall-rides on the courses.

TWMX: A lot of critics say that the sport will level off and decline soon because there are limits to what can be done on a motorcycle. Is that true?

Clowers: I think it’s true to some extent. I mean, everything levels off, and you can only see a Superman Seat Grab so many times, but look at skateboarding, for example. How many times have you seen a kickflip, but people still do it and they do it off of different things. They do it down stairs and up stairs with different variations.

TWMX: When will you try a back flip? How long until they will be a common trick?

Clowers: If it’s going to be a standard trick, it all depends on who does it next and how well they do it. If someone tries it, doesn’t make it, and lands on his head, I don’t think that will pump anybody else up to try it. But if someone pulls it, everybody will be pumped up to try it. As for me, it’s not something that I will plan; I just get these moods to try new things. You never know, I might just go out and do it at a contest that has the right lip.

TWMX: What about 360s¿are they possible?

Clowers: I know they’re possible. I almost pulled one while practicing at Ocatillo. Again, you have to have the right lip built. The courses we have at current contests aren’t built for that type of thing, so no one has taken it seriously.

TWMX: How many more chicks do you pull now that you are one of the top riders?

Clowers: I don’t know, I’ve always done pretty well with that, so I didn’t need much help. Being a FMX star hasn’t really changed anything, but I do get recognized a lot more, which doesn’t hurt my chances. If you’ve got game, you’ve got game¿simple as that (laughs).

TWMX: Tell us about your separation from SMP, your long-term sponsor. What brought that on, and are you bummed or happy?

Clowers: It was pretty much a mutual thing. It’s contract time, and I had to go where the money was. Alpinestars offered me a great deal, and I couldn’t pass it up. I’m really happy with things, and I think the guys at SMP are happy for me.

TWMX: Do you think baggy pants are lame?

Clowers: No, I just think the trend isn’t baggy pants anymore. Everyone is wearing shorts now, even if they were baggy pants that are just cut off, but they’re not lame. It’s a preference thing.

TWMX: Red Bull has always been a supporter of you. How did that whole deal come about?

Clowers: I was living down in Pacific Beach with some friends and the X-Games were there. Red Bull and Freestyle had a house on the beach and my buddy knew the guy from Freestyle, so we went over there to hang out. They had Jacuzzis, barbecues, massages, and everything was free, so we were hanging out and having fun. People starting watching videos, and someone brought over a “Disturbing the Peace” video. They were watching me jump the house and they thought it was cool. I wasn’t even thinking about a sponsorship deal, I just told the guys that I liked the drink. At the end of the weekend, they asked me if I wanted to ride for them, and I said “sure.” It started off really small, but now they’re one of my best sponsors.

[IMAGE 3]TWMX: Who is the biggest pioneer of the sport? There’s always someone claiming that he’s the pioneer. Who do you see as that person?

Clowers: There isn’t one pioneer in cks right now. I mean, we’re busy and we have to travel a lot, but you have to sit back and think about it: we’re not going to be able to do this forever, so it’s best to take advantage of the opportunities we have right now.

TWMX: What is in store for the future of freestyle, and what will it take to make it last?

Clowers: I think the courses are going to have to change. There will have to be a lot more technical sections that give us more variety. I think that eventually the courses will be similar to BMX street courses, where there are a million different lines to choose from. I’m sure it won’t happen overnight, but eventually I think you’ll see things like wall-rides on the courses.

TWMX: A lot of critics say that the sport will level off and decline soon because there are limits to what can be done on a motorcycle. Is that true?

Clowers: I think it’s true to some extent. I mean, everything levels off, and you can only see a Superman Seat Grab so many times, but look at skateboarding, for example. How many times have you seen a kickflip, but people still do it and they do it off of different things. They do it down stairs and up stairs with different variations.

TWMX: When will you try a back flip? How long until they will be a common trick?

Clowers: If it’s going to be a standard trick, it all depends on who does it next and how well they do it. If someone tries it, doesn’t make it, and lands on his head, I don’t think that will pump anybody else up to try it. But if someone pulls it, everybody will be pumped up to try it. As for me, it’s not something that I will plan; I just get these moods to try new things. You never know, I might just go out and do it at a contest that has the right lip.

TWMX: What about 360s¿are they possible?

Clowers: I know they’re possible. I almost pulled one while practicing at Ocatillo. Again, you have to have the right lip built. The courses we have at current contests aren’t built for that type of thing, so no one has taken it seriously.

TWMX: How many more chicks do you pull now that you are one of the top riders?

Clowers: I don’t know, I’ve always done pretty well with that, so I didn’t need much help. Being a FMX star hasn’t really changed anything, but I do get recognized a lot more, which doesn’t hurt my chances. If you’ve got game, you’ve got game¿simple as that (laughs).

TWMX: Tell us about your separation from SMP, your long-term sponsor. What brought that on, and are you bummed or happy?

Clowers: It was pretty much a mutual thing. It’s contract time, and I had to go where the money was. Alpinestars offered me a great deal, and I couldn’t pass it up. I’m really happy with things, and I think the guys at SMP are happy for me.

TWMX: Do you think baggy pants are lame?

Clowers: No, I just think the trend isn’t baggy pants anymore. Everyone is wearing shorts now, even if they were baggy pants that are just cut off, but they’re not lame. It’s a preference thing.

TWMX: Red Bull has always been a supporter of you. How did that whole deal come about?

Clowers: I was living down in Pacific Beach with some friends and the X-Games were there. Red Bull and Freestyle had a house on the beach and my buddy knew the guy from Freestyle, so we went over there to hang out. They had Jacuzzis, barbecues, massages, and everything was free, so we were hanging out and having fun. People starting watching videos, and someone brought over a “Disturbing the Peace” video. They were watching me jump the house and they thought it was cool. I wasn’t even thinking about a sponsorship deal, I just told the guys that I liked the drink. At the end of the weekend, they asked me if I wanted to ride for them, and I said “sure.” It started off really small, but now they’re one of my best sponsors.

[IMAGE 3]TWMX: Who is the biggest pioneer of the sport? There’s always someone claiming that he’s the pioneer. Who do you see as that person?

Clowers: There isn’t one pioneer in our sport. We all started at the same time, and we’re all still in it. I think everyone that was at the first IFMA contest in Vegas was a pioneer of the sport. I don’t see how one person could take that title alone.

TWMX: Tommyclowers.com is a popular web site. Are you into the whole Internet thing, or is that something you just pay someone to maintain?

Clowers: Well, I just got a new computer, so I’m trying to get into it a little more. I had some problems with my e-mail, so for a while I wasn’t getting back to people as much as I wanted to. My buddy Cory Falter maintains my site, but I answer as many of my own e-mails as I can. I get over 100 a month, so it is tough with all of the traveling I do, but I think it’s great that the fans are always writing me.

TWMX: Is Clowers down with the Mulisha?

Clowers: No, I’m not down with the Mulisha. I’m down with Deegan and all of the other guys as individual people, but I’m not really down with the Mulisha as a whole. Individually I get along with them all, though.

TWMX: Do you feel that those guys are good for the sport because they attract a huge fan base, or are they detrimental to freestyle motocross?

Clowers: Their whole military thing is definitely different. I guess it’s good for some and bad for others. Everyone has the opportunity to make their own choices and decide what they like and what they don’t like¿that’s the beauty of our sport. If everyone was the same in FMX, it’d be pretty boring.

TWMX: Do you see the sport turning into WWF-style events, and if so, is that where you want it to go?

Clowers: I don’t think it will ever go as far as WWF, but if you think about it, we’re already somewhat similar. When fans see Deegan, they think of the Mulisha, when they see me they think of Tomcat, when they see Clifford they talk about the Flyin’ Hawaiian. Everyone has their own little character going on, and I think that’s good. It’s like NASCAR¿the fans are down with Earnhardt or whoever, and they want to see their guy win.

TWMX: Trevor Vines has secured a factory Yamaha freestyle ride. Is that something that you’ve talked to people about, and will you have a similar deal soon?

Clowers: It’s probably a possibility in the future, but for now I’m happy with my deal. Motoworld of El Cajon is giving me bikes and parts this year, which is great. Of course, I’m always looking for the best deal possible and I’d love to be going to events in a big semi, but in reality it isn’t something that’s needed right now. Things are going fine and I’m stoked with my ride.

TWMX: Do you credit yourself with inventing any tricks?

Clowers: Yeah, probably the Catwalk, and although I wouldn’t say that I invented the double nac-nac, I do it a little differently and some people call it the Cat-Nac. I didn’t invent the Hart Attack, but I added the look-back to it, so I guess you could say that I have added a personal touch to a bunch of tricks.

TWMX: What else do you like doing besides freestyle?

Clowers: Girls! (Laughs) I also like to golf, hang out with my friends and pretty much just chill. I like almost all sports: BMX, surfing, snowboarding, all that stuff.

TWMX: Had it not been for freestyle motocross, would you still be riding right now?

Clowers: I honestly don’t know. I hurt my wrist really bad at the X-Games, but had it not been for freestyle I wouldn’t have been there in the first place, so it’s hard to say. I do know that with my wrist the way it is, I couldn’t race right now even if I wanted to.

TWMX: Tell us about your movie. What motivated you to make it, and what will separate it from the rest?

Clowers: I’m making a movie because I’m starting to see the popularity that I’m getting now, and seeing all of the e-mail questions I get about me and my lifestyle. I want to be able to give people a glimpse of what I’m like and see what goes on behind the scenes.

TWMX: We know that FMX riders rage hard. What’s your funniest party story?

Clowers: My roommate Jeff Tilton and I were on our way to the Gravity Games and we had a layover in D.C. We missed our plane and had to stay the night, so we were hanging out at T.G.I.F. The place was closing down, and on our way out there was a leaf blower on the ground. I started messing with it, pulling lightly on the starting string. Jeff walked by and pulled it really hard, and the blower started. It was running wide open with the choke on, and I’m running around with the thing, not knowing what to do with it. I had nowhere to set it down, so I just ran around the restaurant with it running. Smoke was blowing everywhere; I pretty much smoked the place out. Needless to say, it was time to leave at that point!

TWMX: You’ve outlived your old “Cabbage Patch Kid” nickname. What was up with that?

Clowers: Thank God that never stuck as a nickname. Actually, I think Larry Naston was the only one who really called me that, back in the Ultracross days. All I know is that it didn’t stick, and I’m thankful for that, trust me! sport. We all started at the same time, and we’re all still in it. I think everyone that was at the first IFMA contest in Vegas was a pioneer of the sport. I don’t see how one person could take that title alone.

TWMX: Tommyclowers.com is a popular web site. Are you into the whole Internet thing, or is that something you just pay someone to maintain?

Clowers: Well, I just got a new computer, so I’m trying to get into it a little more. I had some problems with my e-mail, so for a while I wasn’t getting back to people as much as I wanted to. My buddy Cory Falter maintains my site, but I answer as many of my own e-mails as I can. I get over 100 a month, so it is tough with all of the traveling I do, but I think it’s great that the fans are always writing me.

TWMX: Is Clowers down with the Mulisha?

Clowers: No, I’m not down with the Mulisha. I’m down with Deegan and all of the other guys as individual people, but I’m not really down with the Mulisha as a whole. Individually I get along with them all, though.

TWMX: Do you feel that those guys are good for the sport because they attract a huge fan base, or are they detrimental to freestyle motocross?

Clowers: Their whole military thing is definitely different. I guess it’s good for some and bad for others. Everyone has the opportunity to make their own choices and decide what they like and what they don’t like¿that’s the beauty of our sport. If everyone was the same in FMX, it’d be pretty boring.

TWMX: Do you see the sport turning into WWF-style events, and if so, is that where you want it to go?

Clowers: I don’t think it will ever go as far as WWF, but if you think about it, we’re already somewhat similar. When fans see Deegan, they think of the Mulisha, when they see me they think of Tomcat, when they see Clifford they talk about the Flyin’ Hawaiian. Everyone has their own little character going on, and I think that’s good. It’s like NASCAR¿the fans are down with Earnhardt or whoever, and they want to see their guy win.

TWMX: Trevor Vines has secured a factory Yamaha freestyle ride. Is that something that you’ve talked to people about, and will you have a similar deal soon?

Clowers: It’s probably a possibility in the future, but for now I’m happy with my deal. Motoworld of El Cajon is giving me bikes and parts this year, which is great. Of course, I’m always looking for the best deal possible and I’d love to be going to events in a big semi, but in reality it isn’t something that’s needed right now. Things are going fine and I’m stoked with my ride.

TWMX: Do you credit yourself with inventing any tricks?

Clowers: Yeah, probably the Catwalk, and although I wouldn’t say that I invented the double nac-nac, I do it a little differently and some people call it the Cat-Nac. I didn’t invent the Hart Attack, but I added the look-back to it, so I guess you could say that I have added a personal touch to a bunch of tricks.

TWMX: What else do you like doing besides freestyle?

Clowers: Girls! (Laughs) I also like to golf, hang out with my friends and pretty much just chill. I like almost all sports: BMX, surfing, snowboarding, all that stuff.

TWMX: Had it not been for freestyle motocross, would you still be riding right now?

Clowers: I honestly don’t know. I hurt my wrist really bad at the X-Games, but had it not been for freestyle I wouldn’t have been there in the first place, so it’s hard to say. I do know that with my wrist the way it is, I couldn’t race right now even if I wanted to.

TWMX: Tell us about your movie. What motivated you to make it, and what will separate it from the rest?

Clowers: I’m making a movie because I’m starting to see the popularity that I’m getting now, and seeing all of the e-mail questions I get about me and my lifestyle. I want to be able to give people a glimpse of what I’m like and see what goes on behind the scenes.

TWMX: We know that FMX riders rage hard. What’s your funniest party story?

Clowers: My roommate Jeff Tilton and I were on our way to the Gravity Games and we had a layover in D.C. We missed our plane and had to stay the night, so we were hanging out at T.G.I.F. The place was closing down, and on our way out there was a leaf blower on the ground. I started messing with it, pulling lightly on the starting string. Jeff walked by and pulled it really hard, and the blower started. It was running wide open with the choke on, and I’m running around with the thing, not knowing what to do with it. I had nowhere to set it down, so I just ran around the restaurant with it running. Smoke was blowing everywhere; I pretty much smoked the place out. Needless to say, it was time to leave at that point!

TWMX: You’ve outlived your old “Cabbage Patch Kid” nickname. What was up with that?

Clowers: Thank God that never stuck as a nickname. Actually, I think Larry Naston was the only one who really called me that, back in the Ultracross days. All I know is that it didn’t stick, and I’m thankful for that, trust me! My roommate Jeff Tilton and I were on our way to the Gravity Games and we had a layover in D.C. We missed our plane and had to stay the night, so we were hanging out at T.G.I.F. The place was closing down, and on our way out there was a leaf blower on the ground. I started messing with it, pulling lightly on the starting string. Jeff walked by and pulled it really hard, and the blower started. It was running wide open with the choke on, and I’m running around with the thing, not knowing what to do with it. I had nowhere to set it down, so I just ran around the restaurant with it running. Smoke was blowing everywhere; I pretty much smoked the place out. Needless to say, it was time to leave at that point!

TWMX: You’ve outlived your old “Cabbage Patch Kid” nickname. What was up with that?

Clowers: Thank God that never stuck as a nickname. Actually, I think Larry Naston was the only one who really called me that, back in the Ultracross days. All I know is that it didn’t stick, and I’m thankful for that, trust me!