Being a professional racer has never been easy, and Kyle Cunningham certainly understands that. His year so far in 2017 has had plenty of ups and downs, but he’s managed to make the necessary changes to elevate himself and strive to reach his full potential. He started the year hoping to make things happen on a Husqvarna FC450 as a privateer, later landing a spot with the Blue Buffalo/Slater Skins/Yamaha team to ride the 250SX East Region. A short time into the season, he realized he needed to make a change, and it just so happened that AutoTrader/Monster Energy/Toyota/JGRMX/Suzuki was in need of a fill-in rider. Flash forward to today, and he’s turned his fill-in ride into a full-time gig. As we said earlier, being a professional isn’t easy, and after talking to Kyle, we get the sense that he fully appreciates everyone who has helped him get to where he is currently because of that fact.
How has outdoor testing gone for you so far?
It's been really good. From the point that the JGRMX deal came about it's been really awesome and good, especially working with J-Bone [Jeremy Albrecht] and Rob, all of the guys over at Yoshimura. They've all done a great job and it's been nice. We started outdoor testing around the last East coast round before the break, so we've been going for about six weeks outdoors. I don't want to say they've made it easy on me, we've put a lot of time in, but the bike feels awesome and Rob has done a great job with the suspension. We've also done a ton of motor testing. Those guys are keeping pretty busy, and it's been really good to be back in a program where I have the capability to do the testing with the bike and tune it to what I feel it can do. I'm feeling good on the bike, and it feels awesome. I can't thank those guys enough for all of the testing we've gotten done and things we've tried.
Looking back at Supercross, you've had a lot of change throughout the season, what has been your experience thus far in 2017?
It was a little crazy there. There were some changes after the first couple of rounds, and I made a decision when I still wasn't sure what I wasn't going to do, and I was fortunate to have got a call about five days later to come to North Carolina. I rode the Suzuki all year last year, so at least it was the same bike somewhat. There's a lot of different parts and different suspension, so it still took some getting used to. We didn't do too much changing for Supercross and I feel like every weekend we got a little better. Things really started to get going, we had a few races where we were lying in the first or second corner and had to play catch-up, and then we had a couple races where we were right around the top five or in it. Going through everything that we went through outdoor wise with testing and the things we've been able to do with the bike, I wish I'd had that opportunity before Supercross started, but we put together some good results. I missed two rounds where I didn't get any points, and then I put myself up in the top 10, and Las Vegas was a bummer, but you live and learn and it's tough to get results lying on the ground. Like I said though, I'm really pumped about the whole opportunity and even though it was pretty crazy during the Supercross season, J-Bone and all of those guys over at Yoshimura made me feel at home and provided me with good equipment. It's been a fun time so far.
What led you to make the decision to walk away from Blue Buffalo/Slater Skins/Yamaha?
I just felt that it was what was best for me at the time. Those guys were super cool to me over there, and when I told them what I was thinking about doing, it actually went a lot smoother than I thought it would. I made the decision without having anything else in mind and I felt that it was the best thing for me at the time. The opportunity arose for me five days later to show up and race at Daytona on a yellow bike again and I couldn't be more pumped with how things worked out and how great everything's been going.
Once you made the switch to AutoTrader/Monster Energy/Toyota/JGRMX/Suzuki, you logged some pretty good results, as you were mentioning earlier, with top 10 finishes and even a few in the top five. What do you think helped contribute to those results?
I think to put in the time and working in a solid program with a good foundation, and being able to focus more on being at the gym with Johnny Louch over there. I think honestly the stress level that was on my back with trying to figure too many things out, I felt like the biggest thing was just being able to focus on the motorcycle and focus on training. Also, being able to work with a ton of knowledgeable people that are in that program. I think for me that was the biggest thing, to be able to be focused on the things that I need to do and simplify everything else.
Since you rode the Suzuki last year, has that helped you with your setup at all?
I think somewhat yes because it's the same chassis, but those guys have worked really hard to make me comfortable as well. Honestly, we didn't have much time for Supercross, so we stuck with the setting's that they had and made some small changes to get me more comfortable. They had already done a lot of testing in the offseason and really had a good setup going. I think it's just the small things, especially with outdoor testing. It's good being able to tailor it and change some small things that I like that another guy might not. With it being the same chassis, I really liked the Suzuki last year and I rode the 250 all year, so it's a little easier. I honestly felt more comfortable on it than any other bike. Like I said, those guys have made it really good and it's been a cool opportunity.
It seems like last year in the outdoor Nationals, your results started to improve in the second half of the series, would you say that those tracks suit you better, or was it a case of progressing throughout the season?
Last year was a really fun time working with the team and Jimmy Albertson. I think we started off before Supercross, and I walked into the shop five or six weeks before the first round and showed up at Anaheim. It was more the fact that it was a new team and a first year deal for them. We were continuously building throughout the year, making changes and finding little stuff that was better for the bike. There were a lot of changes that I made riding-wise as well that I made after Supercross. I felt like things started clicking throughout the outdoors. Starts definitely killed me, but we were always working and trying to make things a little better to take the next step in the right direction. I felt like that came along all throughout the year, so I think it was just something that comes with a first-year team, but those guys did a great job over there and it was truly a fun year. I think making changes in my riding and making small changes with the bike made me more comfortable, and the results and starts came along with that.
I know you touched on it a bit, but tell me more about your experience so far working withAutoTrader/Monster Energy/Toyota/JGRMX/Suzuki, especially with their new 250 program.
It's been a great opportunity. When I went into it I was looking at a six-race deal to finish Supercross, there was no plan for outdoors in the future or anything like that. It was a six-race Supercross deal, and there was a little pressure on riding good so that if something changed, the opportunity could go a little further. It's been really cool, J-Bone, Coy Gibbs, as well as all of the mechanics, Glenn, Ben, Dean the motor guy, Johnny O., everyone's been super cool. I got the phone call and hopped in the truck the next day and drove to North Carolina as quickly as I could. They've made me feel really at home. Going into this I thought to myself, 'Man I'm going into this and it's going to be pretty serious there,' and it was a little different. Obviously, they're serious and they want results, but they're a laid back, good group of guys, even John the truck driver. Everyone's been super cool and it's made things really easy. It's been fun to work with everyone over there and the program's even bigger with everyone over at Yoshimura. It's a huge program and there's a ton of people involved, and I know those guys are taking all of the steps they can to put the bike up front. Hopefully, we can do that and make it happen outdoors. It's been truly cool to work with people that have been around so long and know the sport as well as they do. Like I said, it's been more laid back than I expected, but in a good way. Those guys are all awesome and it's been a fun time. It's great that it's not a fill-in anymore and I'm going to get to do the whole outdoor season with them.