TWMX All Access: FMF Racing
The headquarters of FMF may seem like it’s in an unlikely spot. Nestled in a heavily industrial area not too far up the 710 freeway from the port of Long Beach, which may not exactly be the epicenter of the So. Cal. MX scene, but they’re actually not far from their original headquarters in a small building in Harbor City, CA. Donny Emler used to live in the shop, working, as he puts it, “Making pipes for my friends. I had my buddies helping me, and before I knew it, I had people wanting stuff.”
Of course, things were a lot simpler (and less expensive) back in 1973. “It cost about $700 for a Honda Elsinore.” Chuckling he added, “You could buy a four-pack.” Ironically, that’s now about what it costs for a high-end four-stroke titanium exhaust system.
These days FMF is segmented into several sections, all within the same building. The front of the building houses the offices and shop where bikes are serviced. Behind that is the warehouse, where everything is sorted into bin locations for easy searching. Beyond the warehouse is the real heart and soul of FMF, the manufacturing area, which is where you’ll most often find Donny.
Strolling through the manufacturing area with his son, Donny Jr. (most often known as Little D), it’s apparent that some areas are more crowded than others. Indicating one of the more sparsely populated areas, he said, “This used to be filled with lines of two-stroke pipes, kind of an assembly line. Now it’s pretty much gone and we’re actually going to be expanding it for more four-stroke production. The other side is already set up for four-stroke. We knew it was coming, but it was a real tough switch. It hit us so hard in sales that we didn’t really know how to judge it. Initially we weren’t making enough and we had to pretty much kill our two-stroke development and move guys and teach them how to weld titanium, which is a whole different type of deal.”
“Now everything is four-stroke, and barely any two-stroke, which is kind of sad. My dad still loves riding two-strokes, and I like the four-strokes. So it’s an old vs. new kind of thing.”
So the question was put to the senior Emler. Does it pain him to see the two-stroke in decline? “Tremendously. But I think they’re going to come back. I have a feeling that they’re going to come back with the dependability and reliability of the 250 four-stroke, especially. The mechanical aptitude needed to keep them together, and also the fathers can’t just put a piston in them any more. They’re actually having to rebuild the whole thing.”
When it was suggested that a lot of riders were making the jump from 85cc bikes directly to the 250Fs while still retaining the same wide-open style, he said, “You’re right, they’re riding them the same way, and when they explode, it’s very expensive. In Europe, when the 250s blow up, they basically throw the bike away because the parts are so expensive. Now they’re back to buying the KTM 125s in Europe. They’re buying two-strokes in the 125 class.”
Is he heartened by manufacturers like Yamaha introducing their new YZ125, and Kawasaki with their new KX250? “It’s very encouraging, but I think that it was in development probably two or three years ago, along with the Kawasaki 250, also. It’s terrific, though. We’re happy to be on board with doing the two-stroke for Yamaha of Troy because it’ll probably be the only two-stroke on the track. But the factories can certainly afford all the repairs needed to keep their bikes together. But I don’t see it for the public. Seriously, I think we’ll see two-strokes come back in that area.”
Of course, while he still has considerable fondness for two-strokes, Donny has been busy developing new four-stroke goodies. We’d seen prototypes of a uniquely-shaped new pipe mounted on the YOT and Samsung Yamaha 250Fs, and the FMF crew were working on an even newer version of the pipe in the shop. Li’l D described part of their motivation. “We were trying to come up with something for sound, especially with the AMA next year, we’re getting ready for it. It ended up being quieter, but as the numbers went way up on the dyno, my dad practically fell out of his chair. He didn’t expect it at all. So we started playing around with it, and now we’ve kind of perfected it into a nice look. Before, it was just something to put on the dyno.”
When it was pointed out that the new exhaust looked like sort of a cross-breed experiment, the senior Emler said with a laugh, “It looks like I wouldn’t leave a two-stroke alone!”
“I don’t think they realized what was going to happen with the sound issue. For the general public to go riding in a field, they’re too loud. They’re obnoxious. The two-strokes never bothered people like these things do.”
After Donny excused himself to ready to leave on a trip to France, Li’l D continued his tour guide duties and was asked what his day-to-day duties at FMF included. “It’s a mixture of things. I’ve got Jason (Partridge) taking care of more of the amateur program, and I’ve been working with my dad on more of the decisions on teams. I’ve also been working with our designer, Mitch on a lot of the ads, working on clothes, and it’s been fun working on a lot of different things. I’m really privileged to be able
to work on a lot of different things.”
Walking outside, Li’l D showed us the sleek new race support rig that’s being outfitted to join the FMF fleet. “We’ve actually had our old semi for about 12 years now, maybe longer. We’d pull into an amateur event like Loretta’s with a huge semi, and everyone would be freaking out because everyone was barely using box vans and pickups then. Now you have people using big rigs for amateur guys. Back then we’d got to Supercrosses, and Team Honda would have three or four little box vans. We were one of the first people who had an actual semi.”
Besides their support of pro riders and teams, FMF has long been a major supporter of amateur riders, and apparently their support extends to more than just hardware. “We have the full little rider support/development project house¿mine and Jason’s house down in Huntington Beach. We’ve got kids staying there all the time, like Jimmy Nelson and Kyle Partridge are there right now. We’ve had Bobby Kiniry, Nick Adams and all these kids staying with me over the years. It’s cool to be able to get on a friendship level with these kids, and I think that’s been one of our strong points on the amateur side in being involved with the parents and kids.”
There’s no doubt that FMF is filled with character (and characters) that give it a flavor all its own¿and which seem to fit well into their location. Before we departed, Li’l D commented, “People ask why we’re not in Corona where everything goes on? I tell them, ‘Yeah, a lot of stuff goes on there, but my dad grew up in L.A., and we have such a following of die-hard L.A. guys who love FMF because we’ve always been here in the ‘hood.’ Yeah, it’d be nice if it were closer, but this is where my dad lives, and what he likes.”
18033 S. Santa Fe Ave.
Rancho Dominguez, CA 90221