By Michael Antonovich
Photos by Brendan Lutes
Freestyle motocross has made leaps and bounds towards the mainstream in the last decade, crossing over from its Ocotillo Wells roots to segments on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien and being part of advertising campaigns for products like AXE body spray and Mountain Dew. A few weeks back at the Kicker Big Air Bash we caught up with Mike Mason, the tattooed funny guy from Reno, Nevada, who's of love for Del Taco and Coors Light sometimes makes us forget he can rip on his Honda. Just after completing a jump demo for car owners and professional bull fighters we discussed the state of the sport, the Las Vegas nightlife, and his spot on the upcoming Nuclear Cowboyz freestyle tour that will be taking place in stadiums across the United States this winter and spring.
So Mike you just wrapped up the Kicker Big Air Bash at the annual SEMA car show. How was it to jump in front of all the people that waited in line to see a few custom cars and drink five-dollar beer?
(Laughs) It's fun every year, just because Vegas in the place to be and Kicker does everything they can to make it fun for the people. From the mini bike race and quad freestyle to the cars and the girls, it's awesome for us and anyone who could squeeze their way in.
You being a Nevada guy yourself, how was the drive down from Reno?
It's a boring drive that goes straight through the desert and the only thing that breaks up the monotony are the two hick towns with six-dollar-a-gallon gas.
We see you down here all the time, because just a few weeks back you were here for our award show and the U.S. Open. Do you ever get sick of the lights and three-foot margaritas?
Nah not really, because I have a house down here now, which is good because I'm hung-over on my couch and not in a hotel room. I love Vegas actually, because there is no "LA cool guy" vibe, it's just everyone down here to have a good time and wear their new Tapout shirt.
Do you have a fresh Affliction shirt sitting in your gear bag?
Nope, just my Fox shirts like always. I don't know much about Tapout or anything like that, I just am hoping to tap in to something else (laughs)
We heard about the new tour you're on at the U.S. Open awhile back, and since then it seems like more details have been added on. What is the official name of it going to be?
It's called the Nuclear Cowboyz tour presented by Feld. I think it's something long overdue here in the States, because things like contests have been run into the ground. Instead of us all going out and doing the same judged run over and over, this is set to pyro, lights, and music. We have our runs synced together and formatted to our personal riding ability. I think it's something that the fans will enjoy when they get the chance to see it, and it's something all of us as riders are excited about.
Is this a ramp-to-ramp set up like the BoomBoom Huckjam tour a few years back?
Yeah, it'll just be ramp-to-ramp so we can get it in and out every night and be off to the next town, because some weekends we have three stops in three different towns. Some people get sketched out about ramps because it's so much different than landing on dirt, but after a few days you are used to it because it's the same every time you hit it. With a metal jump you don't have to worry about the landing being skinny one day or the dirt being too soft or rocky.
What towns should fans expect to see you in?
We are going all over the country, in places like the southeast that freestyle never makes its way over to. It starts in Pittsburg then goes to Boston before heading south to Tampa and the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. I think I even heard about a stop in Houston, so I know that we are all over the country.
Is this a standalone tour or is this in conjunction with the Supercross series?
We are just going to ride off the hype that Supercross puts on like, "Hey what those guys did was cool, but check out what we can do."
You mentioned going to Boston and the northeast, and back in the early 2000's the IFMA contest tour went there all the time before interest and attendance died off. But this seems like it shouldn't suffer the same fate with big names like you and Jeremy Stenberg on board.
I think IFMA was great for the sport in the beginning because the places were packed and it gave new guys a chance to compete. Towards the end it was the same thing it had been for five or six years and the fans just got bored of it. That's why I think this will be a good change, because tours like this are huge in Australia and Europe, so why shouldn't it be big here in the US? Maybe for the first year it might be hit and miss, but hopefully the people that come tell someone that it's a good show and they'll come the next year. It's entertainment now, so there's no pressure for us as riders to outdo someone. We are going to markets that also aren't saturated like LA is, so the people in these new towns will be excited for us to come and ride. I'm looking forward to it just so I can see the states again and not flying to Europe every few weeks in the winter.
This will also be a good way to hone your skills for X Fighters and the Dew Tour.
Exactly. Living in Reno we have snow and wind so it gets hard to ride and practice without going all the way to California. I'll spend a month off the bike and as soon as we start up again, contest season is almost in full swing, so we won't have the same problems this year. We'll be pushing ourselves day in and day out, and by the time summer rolls around everyone will be polished and on their A game.
After the past year's incidents and injuries, the big guys like Brian Deegan have started up the AFMXA. Where do you see the sport headed in the next five to 10 years?
I think contests will still be around, but tours like ours will show up more and more and become prominent. It's an entertainment sport and it's not like skating or BMX where we can do it anywhere, so it takes ramps and tons of room to show our fans what we can do. I think when we keep them entertained with eight guys flipping side by side with fire and lights that the fans will grasp on to it and enjoy it. Contests like X Fighters, Dew Tour, and the X Games will never go away and we as riders love doing them because it shows our skill and our sponsors get exposure. With six contests a year it lets us heal from an injury or learn a new trick, and in the time between those events we need to do something that's not hitting a practice ramp day in and day out with no one watching. I like the idea of a bust-your-ass-to-stay-competitive racing environment instead of my sitting at home.
You'll always have time for Facebook or Twitter, though, right?
There is always time for Facebook. When I am home and not busy, I get wasted and type something that the next morning will have comments on it that make me shake my head. I'm surprised I still even have a job after some of the things I've said on there. I like to type what's on my mind sometimes but usually they are a complete joke. If I put, "Dude, I can't stand that Brian Deegan guy. He hasn't done anything since the LA Supercross," someone will think he and I have some huge rivalry and that he'll slap the crap out of me at a party. But when I'm on there I'm just joking around because I have nothing to do and thought of something funny.