In a sport generally dominated by youngsters, Mike LaRocco continues to prove that even an old guy-at age 33-can still win. His victory at the 2004 Indianapolis Supercross in front of his hometown fans was one of the best moments of his career, and easily one of the most sentimental for his fans. While Mike was busy putting in 20 of the best laps of his life, his mechanic, Brian Kinney (BK), was signaling him on the pit board and observing proudly as the Honda CR250R that he’d finished preparing just moments before propelled The Rock to victory. While most of us only see the riders who are responsible for creating these amazing moments in our sport, it’s easy to forget about the unsung heroes behind the scenes who help make them possible.
BK got his start in the motocross racing industry in ’94 after spending roughly 10 years of his life as a mechanic for local shops in Northern California. “Some friends and I decided to move down to Southern California in the mid 90s, and I ended up hooking up with Mike Brandes, who needed a mechanic at the time. We got picked up by Chaparral in 1996, and I ended up working there for a couple of years.” After his stint with Chaparral, BK spent the next few years working for Jimmy Button and Tim Ferry at factory Yamaha, but at the end of the 2002 season he decided that a change was in order. “I took a job building engines for the Kawasaki road racing team in ’03. That was fun, and a welcomed change at the time, but at the end of the day I missed motocross.” After resigning from Kawasaki toward the end of ’03, BK received a call from Erik Kehoe and J.C. Waterhouse, who were searching for a mechanic to support LaRocco’s Supercross-only campaign. “I knew it was the right opportunity when I got the call. I’ve been with Mike and Honda ever since, and it’s been awesome!”
Now that you’re more cultured in the motorcycle industry, what would you say is the biggest difference between the road race scene and motocross?
I’d say that the main difference, at least from my perspective, is that in road racing they have a team of guys-a whole crew-dedicated to each rider and each machine. There’s a chassis mechanic, an engine mechanic, a suspension mechanic, data technicians, a crew chief… And that’s all for one guy and one machine. Whereas in motocross, you’ve got just one mechanic and one motorcycle. I wasn’t as comfortable in the road race environment. I want to be the one guy working on my motorcycle and being responsible for it. That way if something goes wrong, it’s on me.
What’s easier to change, a knobby or a slick?
I’d say changing the slick because you just drop the tire off at the tire place and they change it for you (laughs). No, actually they’re all pretty easy once you’ve done enough of them. The only difference with the road racing tires is that you’ve got to balance them afterward. I am still kind of old school, though. I do all of my own motocross tires. I think I am one of the last guys who continues to change his own.
What’s it like working with a determined, old-school guy like LaRocco?
Working with Mike’s been great! I am not going to say that he’s been the easiest guy to work for because he’s definitely picky about a lot of things, but he is very motivated and determined with everything he does, and that’s nice. Overall, he’s a great guy. He’s really soft spoken and hard to get to know, but once you do, he’s awesome!
You mentioned that things can be difficult at times because Mike’s picky. Is that better than working with a guy who’s not sure about what he likes?
Well, there’s definitely a balance in there somewhere, but I do prefer working with a rider who knows what he wants. When I know what he’s looking for, it’s much easier to deliver a machine that’s spot-on. When you’re working with guys who don’t know what they like, it’s a total crapshoot. That can be one of the most difficult and challenging things for a mechanic.
Miike has a Supercross-only contract now, so did you take the whole summer off, or did you stay in-house with the rest of the Amsoil team to help out?
Yeah, I actually spent a lot of time with the 125cc team through the middle of the Nationals, but I was able to take about two months off after that to start my own company.
Oh yeah, what’s your company all about?
The company’s called NitroDyne Systems. I build small dynos for remote control car engines. It’s been a lot of fun.
The 2005 Supercross series is shaping up to be one of the most highly competitive in history. Where do you see a veteran guy like Mike fitting in with all of the young talent out there?
I think Mike will definitely be right there. For the past few years, people have sort of forgotten about him in the beginning of the season, but he’s always in the mix. Look at his win last season at Indy. Nobody predicted that, but that was one of the greatest highlights of both of our careers. I am not saying that he’s going to come right out of the blocks winning races. He definitely has his work cut out for him, but I think he’ll be right in there. It’s going to be an exciting series, though, that’s for sure!