TWMX All Access: Bobby J’s Yamaha/Star Racing

Story and photos by James “Mutt” Frey.

The Bobby J’s Yamaha/Star Racing team is a relative newcomer in the annals of motocross and Supercross, but it’s a team born out of necessity. The struggles of privateers to secure equipment, sponsorship, transportation, and practice facilities often force such alliances.

Founded by namesake Robert “Bobby” Johnson in 1954, Bobby J’s is a landmark in New Mexico motorcycling. Having sold Yamahas since 1959, no other dealership in the United States has carried the brand longer. While not as grandiose as the “Motorcycle Superstores,” it is truly a family-run business. Bobby has now retired and passed the reigns of the dealership over to his son Stan, the father of motocrossers Keith and Kevin. Resa, Keith and Kevin’s mother, also plays an active role in the dealership on the accounting side.

[IMAGE 1]

Bobby Reagan is the General Manager of Star Chevrolet/Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep in Wiggins, Mississippi; www.1800buyStar.com, hence the Star nomenclature.

Star Racing came to fruition at the close of the 2002 national motocross series after numerous conversations between Bobby and Keith Johnson. Keith had noticed, “Bobby had a nice rig but was having some difficulty securing riders. I approached him probably three nationals from the end of the 2002 season knowing I didn’t have anything happening and asked if he would like to work together forming a team for ’03. He respected the fact that I came up to him on my own and he was interested in doing something.

Bobby Reagan’s role is that of team owner, with Keith Johnson the day-to-day team manager duties prior to the season commencing. “I work on securing sponsors, getting graphics made, and posters printed. Keith then relinquishes most team duties during the season to concentrate on his racing.

After Anaheim 3 I had a chance to interview Keith at the Albuquerque headquarters of Star Racing, also affectionately known as Casa de Johnson. I arrived to a chorus of barks, but as soon as Keith’s wife Jen said, “Hello, it must have been the mark of approval required by the family dogs. There wasn’t even a single snarl from that point forward.

TransWorld Motocross: So who are the riders for Bobby J’s Yamaha/Star Racing this year?

Keith Johnson: Bryan Johnson (125W), Jeff Gibson (125W), Erick Vallejo (250), Kevin Johnson (125E), and myself (250). We are negotiating with Michael Brandes to ride the nationals.

[IMAGE 2]

TWMX: You’ve been out in California since December, what have you been up to?

KJ: I was in California getting ready for the season since two days after Christmas, luckily some friends of mine have supercross tracks, the Lapaglia’s and Tommy Harrison. We also rode at Castillo ranch for a week. Recently, a couple guys and myself purchased some land south of Albuquerque and built a supercross practice track, now that I’m home that’s where I’ll be spending my time. Unfortunately, the Supercross track we all grew up riding on in Moriarty is at 6500 feet, and snow is usually a factor during the winter.

TWMX: Do you have a home in California?

KJ: I stayed with a good friend of mine, Jim Barberie, who has been letting me stay with him for the last five years. We met about nine years ago, on my first trip to California with my family, we’ve been friends ever since. I bought a beat up, used travel trailer last year to hopefully go to some of the nationals this year and I took it out there and Jim let me put it alongside his house. I stayed out there for the month for the better weather…that, and not having to travel back and forth.

TWMX: Where did Gibson and Vallejo stay?

KJ: Gibson and Vallejo stayed there as well. Jim has a spare bedroom that we put bunk beds in for Erick and Jeff. We parked the rig in e front yard and the mechanics stayed in it. So Jim had his hands full with us but managed to hang tough.

TWMX: What kind of transporter is the team using?

KJ: It’s a 45′ Renegade hauler on a Freightliner chassis. It’s split about 50/50 between workspace and living quarters. Erick Vallejo’s mechanic, Wes Corbit, pulls double duty driving the truck from race to race.

[IMAGE 3]

TWMX: What bikes are you using and what’s been done to them?

KJ: We’re using YZs that are pretty normal, we didn’t get too carried away. Kit suspension from Enzo, which makes them a little plusher. Our cylinders are worked by JM racing, he also puts some putty in the bottom end, and coats the transmission gears to make them shift a little smoother. FMF pipes and silencers. Taper bore carburetors and that’s about it. Big Gun did a fantastic job on our 250F engines and came up with some great pipe and silencer combinations that the guys are really happy with.

TWMX: Who are the team’s mechanics?

KJ: Wes Corbit is Erick Vallejo’s mechanic, Mike “Windshields Loran is Jeff Gibson’s mechanic, “Windshields is also Kevin Johnson’s mechanic, and Brad “B-rad Hoffman is my mechanic.

[IMAGE 4]

TWMX: How have your results been?

KJ: Jeff Gibson was 8th in the 125 main at Phoenix, Erick Vallejo was 9th in the 250 main at Anaheim 3, I was 10th in the 250 main at San Diego, and Bryan Johnson was 15th in the 125 main at the Anaheim season opener. Kevin Johnson has yet to race this year but his best finish last year was fifth in the 125 main at Phoenix. Last year I also scored two career best sixth place finishes at Pontiac and Houston and was privateer of the year in Supercross.

TWMX: Where do you see the team going in the future?

KJ: We’re going to be a team that hopefully just keeps growing. Mostly due to the fact that Bobby Reagan is the backbone of this team. He’s accomplished a lot in his life and knows what it takes to succeed. As long as this industry grows and outside sponsors continue to come into the sport, which every year there are a few more, hopefully a couple of years down the road the team will be profitable.

TWMX: Who are the team’s sponsors?

KJ: Star Racing, Bobby J’s Yamaha, O’Neal, Enzo, Bridgestone, Spy, Tag, Gaerne, Factory Effex, Big Gun, Galfer, Works connection, Pro X, Hinson, Regina, UFO, and Yamalube.

TWMX: Thanks Keith, for opening your home and talking to us.

KJ: No, thank you.

As you can tell the life of the privateer is still an arduous one. Just because you hear a name like Bobby J’s/Star Racing don’t conjure an image of those racers living in the lap of luxury. They still aren’t jet setting to races and living in lavish motor coaches. The cause of the privateer is a worthy one and why programs such as the Privateer Evening Program Payout through www.WonderWarthogRacing.com are so vital for the health and welfare of these young racers.

Fast forward to the Monday following the San Francisco Supercross. After e-mailing and playing phone tag, I talk to Keith, who invites me out to their Los Lunas practice track to observe practice and take some photographs.

Mid-Tuesday morning we hooked up at Bobby J’s Yamaha, where Keith introduced me to Erick Vallejo and Jeff Gibson. The team mechanics were busy unloading the rig and commencing with the maintenance on the race bikes. We headed off to the practice track and I saddled up with Jeff Gibson in his luxury motor coach, nee window van. Seems that Jeff has some road lag from driving for two consecutive days following San Francisco. First he had to return to Riverside to pick up his personal effects from Mr. Barberie’s, then it was off to Phoenix where mechanic “B-rad had some business to attend to; and finally on to Albuquerque. Certainly not the most direct route.

Jared isn’t the only believer in Subway. Stopping for fuel for the bikes and hungry privateers, I learned that Subway is the healthy fast food of choice amongst these guys. It was also there that we met up with arenacrosser Brian Edwards who was also headed out to the practice track. With sandwiches in hand we resumed our journey to the hermitage that is the supercross practice track situated on thirty-eight acres. There is no indication the facility exists, it’s so inconspicuous that unless you saw it from the air you would never know it was there. I literally couldn’t see the track until we were right on top of it, seeing that it’s located at the bottom of some forty-foot cliffs.

[IMAGE 5]

Pulling into the track we found Isaiah Johnson Bobcat-mounted and performing track maintenance. Everyone unloaded and set about checking spokes and tire pressure. Keith jumped in the water truck and added some needed moisture to the racing surface. Having given some time for the track to soak up the water the crew headed out for session number one. One lap in and the pace picks up considerably, they were getting after it. It was amazing to watch the precision these guys ride with, mistake-free over obstacle after obstacle.

[IMAGE 6]

When the riders came in for a rest we got a lesson in Mexican geography from Erick Vallejo while discussing honeymoon resort locations. Somehow a glove became Texas, with fingers serving as Baja, California and Mexico. Listening to the other riders debate with Vallejo was comical to say the least.

[IMAGE 7]

Once again they were pounding out the laps in practice session two. Keith Johnson and Erick Vallejo also practiced starts and take off, dicing and battling around the track. There I was with a front seat ticket to the spectacle at hand.

[IMAGE 8]

Riding back into Albuquerque, Jeff Gibson was on his cell phone working out the details of who was going to serve as his mechanic for the East rounds. A privateer’s workday is a daunting one. Jeff said he was still going running later that evening. Apparently twelve-hour days are the rule instead of the exception.

Returning to Bobby J’s, they set about checking the progress that had been made on the race bikes and scheduling the hauler’s departure to Dallas to pick up Kevin Johnson’s race bike. Kevin had raced the Guthrie arenacross and had stayed in Dallas rather than return to Albuquerque, so that he could head directly to Houston for the commencement of the 125 East round there the following weekend.

Unfortunately, our day had to come to a close, so I said goodbye to Keith, Erick, and Jeff. I thanked them for allowing me the opportunity and they thanked me for hanging out with them all day. Come on, they thanked me for allowing me a glimpse into their lives and routine? These are great competitors and fine young men. Next time you’re at the races, make sure you stop at the Bobby J’s Yamaha/Star Racing truck and say hi to these guys.

Support your local privateer!

James “Mutt” Frey is a true moto-nut, and a frequent poster to a variety of Internet chat boards, He’s also an unabashed fan of green chili, and a cheerleader of riders hailing from New Mexico.

to; and finally on to Albuquerque. Certainly not the most direct route.

Jared isn’t the only believer in Subway. Stopping for fuel for the bikes and hungry privateers, I learned that Subway is the healthy fast food of choice amongst these guys. It was also there that we met up with arenacrosser Brian Edwards who was also headed out to the practice track. With sandwiches in hand we resumed our journey to the hermitage that is the supercross practice track situated on thirty-eight acres. There is no indication the facility exists, it’s so inconspicuous that unless you saw it from the air you would never know it was there. I literally couldn’t see the track until we were right on top of it, seeing that it’s located at the bottom of some forty-foot cliffs.

[IMAGE 5]

Pulling into the track we found Isaiah Johnson Bobcat-mounted and performing track maintenance. Everyone unloaded and set about checking spokes and tire pressure. Keith jumped in the water truck and added some needed moisture to the racing surface. Having given some time for the track to soak up the water the crew headed out for session number one. One lap in and the pace picks up considerably, they were getting after it. It was amazing to watch the precision these guys ride with, mistake-free over obstacle after obstacle.

[IMAGE 6]

When the riders came in for a rest we got a lesson in Mexican geography from Erick Vallejo while discussing honeymoon resort locations. Somehow a glove became Texas, with fingers serving as Baja, California and Mexico. Listening to the other riders debate with Vallejo was comical to say the least.

[IMAGE 7]

Once again they were pounding out the laps in practice session two. Keith Johnson and Erick Vallejo also practiced starts and take off, dicing and battling around the track. There I was with a front seat ticket to the spectacle at hand.

[IMAGE 8]

Riding back into Albuquerque, Jeff Gibson was on his cell phone working out the details of who was going to serve as his mechanic for the East rounds. A privateer’s workday is a daunting one. Jeff said he was still going running later that evening. Apparently twelve-hour days are the rule instead of the exception.

Returning to Bobby J’s, they set about checking the progress that had been made on the race bikes and scheduling the hauler’s departure to Dallas to pick up Kevin Johnson’s race bike. Kevin had raced the Guthrie arenacross and had stayed in Dallas rather than return to Albuquerque, so that he could head directly to Houston for the commencement of the 125 East round there the following weekend.

Unfortunately, our day had to come to a close, so I said goodbye to Keith, Erick, and Jeff. I thanked them for allowing me the opportunity and they thanked me for hanging out with them all day. Come on, they thanked me for allowing me a glimpse into their lives and routine? These are great competitors and fine young men. Next time you’re at the races, make sure you stop at the Bobby J’s Yamaha/Star Racing truck and say hi to these guys.

Support your local privateer!

James “Mutt” Frey is a true moto-nut, and a frequent poster to a variety of Internet chat boards, He’s also an unabashed fan of green chili, and a cheerleader of riders hailing from New Mexico.