Randy Lawrence has been around motocross literally his entire life, as his father was a local motocross pro that ultimately got Randy and his brothers into the sport. After wrenching for a number of riders including Jeremy McGrath and James Stewart and earning titles along the way, Randy eventually made the transition from wrench to trainer where he prepared riders for the grueling races each weekend. Randy had built quite a reputation working with Ryan Villopoto, as the two shared much success thanks to Randy’s background in professional MTB racing. Randy went on to work with several other professional racers after his time with RV, but in recent years Randy has been able to step back from the pro level to lend a helping hand to those making the tough transition from amateur to pro. We called up Randy this morning before he headed for Pala Raceway to work with TWMX test rider Tallon LaFountaine to hear about his journey from a factory mechanic to professional MTB racer to motocross trainer.
You’ve been involved in motocross for some time, now. How did you ultimately get into the sport?
I originally got into the sport through my family. My dad raced as a local pro when we were growing up, and then from there both of my brothers and I started to race motocross through the late 70s early 80s. I actually made the switch to bicycles, as I started doing some freestyle stuff and that’s when my younger brother Phil pursued motocross. He went through Ponca City, Loretta Lynn’s, World Mini’s and the rest of those amateur nationals to ultimately turn pro in 1990. When he turned pro, I started traveling around with him to work on his bikes and after doing that for a while, my first real mechanic gig came with Doug Dubach over at Yamaha.
As you worked with Dubach at Yamaha is that how you ended up meeting MC?
It was a crazy era from the late 80s into the early 90s. During that time there was a huge surge of amateur kids that came into the pro ranks, and they were all very good at both Supercross and outdoors. McGrath, Ryan Hughes, Jimmy Gaddis, Jimmy Button, my brother Phil, Buddy Antunez, Joel Albrecht a little bit later, Jeff Emig and so many more. It was just huge! Since then, I don’t think that we’ve ever seen that big of a push into the pro ranks from the amateurs. The cool part about all of those guys was that they all rode together even if they were out of state. Mostly though, they would end up in California in Reche Canyon battling and pushing each other. They even hung out a lot outside of the actual riding; that’s something that you don’t see a lot of anymore. I mean there are the Club MXs, the MTFs or even myself because I sometimes have four or five guys working and riding together, but riders don’t socialize like they used to. That’s really it though. It’s not like there is a group of eight or nine guys on the starting line each weekend that ride and train together. I think all of them working together back then is what really made the difference in their careers. When those guys came in they completely took over the sport! There were also a couple of guys from out of state like Emig, who was from Missouri. They all just kind of migrated out here, which still happens today, but they stick to their own test tracks and their own program and their own little clique or group that they ride with.
So you eventually made your way from a mechanic to a trainer. How did this transition come about?
Yeah, I wrenched up until 1996 and then I stopped working within the industry as a mechanic. That’s when I switched over and started racing mountain bikes professionally for Intense Cycles. I did downhill and slalom and I raced all of the world cups and nationals in 1996, ’97, ’98, ’99 and 2000. After 1997, McGrath had some issues with the Suzuki camp, as things didn’t go the way he wanted them to. I was still doing pretty decent racing slalom and downhill, but the opportunity presented itself to return to the moto industry to work with McGrath in ’98, so I took it. That’s when Chaparral did the satellite team through Yamaha, and it ultimately became the first of its kind. I had worked at Yamaha before, so I already knew the whole crew that was down there. I worked with them for about three years when I was working with Dubach. I had been friends with Larry Brooks for a long time at this point and he knew my work ethic, plus I was friends with Jeremy. There were three separate entities there that were just hoping and praying that everyone did their part, and I feel as if I was the common ground between everyone since everybody wasn’t as familiar with each other as I was. With Larry, if you’re on his side and his team he’s going to bat for you no matter what. I knew the guys at Yamaha were going to work as hard as they could to produce a bike that Jeremy was going to win on, so we went forward from there and we ended up with three titles in ’98, ’99 and 2000. The plan was to do outdoors those years, but Jeremy broke his navicular bone with a few rounds left in the ’98 Supercross series. He rode the first three nationals that year and even won one of them, as he led the series by 17 points. Eventually though, he had to drop out of the series to get his hand fixed because he couldn’t hang on to the bike like he needed to. Essentially, that’s what opened the door for me to get back to racing downhill and dual-slalom in the summers for Intense Cycles again. Since Jeremy was Supercross only, my summers were pretty much wide open, so I went back to racing. That’s how I was able to simultaneously race MTN bikes and wrench for Jeremy those three years.
During those summers on your mountain bike, were you able to make money doing so?
In ’96 and ’97, I was able to make money. In ’96 I really didn’t have a salary, but I did have a few sponsors that paid a little bit, and I would obviously when prize money at events and stuff like that. I really went head-first into that stuff and it paid off because in ’97 I ended up with a small salary to ride bikes and some of my other sponsors stepped up as well, so I felt like Shaun Palmer (laughs). Like I said though, when the opportunity came up to work with Jeremy on this new team I jumped at the chance because I just had my daughter Racquelle. I obviously had more responsibilities, but everything kind of worked out because I was still able to race in the summers. And to be honest, I didn’t think it was going to work out (laughs).
After your time wrenching for Jeremy and racing your mountain bike, is that around the time that you began to transition into training?
Not necessarily. After that stuff, I ended up working at Kawasaki as Ezra Lusk’s mechanic for two years. Ezra obviously did Supercross and outdoors, so that’s what eliminated my racing at that point. I worked with Ezra in 2002 and 2003, then in 2004 I was moved into an in-house position doing testing for the team with James Stewart and Michael Byrne. At the end of 2004 and leading into the 2005 season is when James was moving up to a 250 from a 125. During the offseason of 2004, I spent a lot of time in Florida making sure that James’ bikes were prime because that year he was up against the more powerful four-strokes, but he ended up winning the title anyways. Not very many people know this, but we started talking about everything that I had learned during my time racing mountain bikes. I knew that I had a lot to offer on that side, and I knew that James was wanting to step up his program a little bit for this switch to the premier class. We talked about me leaving Kawasaki to become his full-time trainer to prepare him for the bigger bike, but a couple of guys caught wind of that and it really didn’t go over very well because I had never been a trainer before. Nobody really gave me any validity, so going into the 2005 series I was actually still planning on working in-house doing testing with Byrner and James again, but early into the ’05 series I felt like I had more to offer to some up and coming racers to help them develop what it’s going to take to be a pro. I basically walked into Kawasaki and gave them my two weeks notice. I told them I was going to start training riders and they were a little bit shocked, but I had four kids that I was going to start working with immediately. About two weeks into me training these four riders is when I met Ryan Villopoto at Cahuilla Creek. I met with him and his parents over here in Menifee that evening and the next thing I knew I’m working with Ryan to help get him through his final races as an amateur and the first rounds of the outdoors because he had just signed his contract with Pro Circuit in ’06. We were going to get through Ponca, Loretta’s and the first three nationals because that’s where our relationship was and how things were going. Everyone was happy with Ryan’s progress through the first few rounds, we were getting along really well and his family was great, so we decided to continue our relationship and the rest is history.
In a way, you’ve gone back to your roots as an amateur motocross trainer after working with Ryan and a few other pros since then…
Yeah, up until 2014 I was still working on the professional side working with the upper level riders to reach their goals. Unfortunately with the industry and where it’s at financially, a lot of those guys aren’t making the money they were, so it’s hard for them to pay somebody that needs to be with them four or five days a week and everything else that goes along with it. It’s actually been a little bit of a blessing in disguise because I started hooking up with a couple of great amateur kids. A few of them are racing A class and preparing for Supercross next year like Tallon LaFountaine. I’m actually meeting with another rider that will be racing Supercross next year, but on a privateer level. I’ve got about six consistent guys ranging from novice to pro like Daniel Mills who’s racing the Canadian Nationals right now. Basically, my group of riders is developing their bases even though they’re all at different levels of racing. I’ve been enjoying this stuff a lot more and it’s also given me a little bit more free time to spend with my family on the weekends. My son Ryder is huge into BMX, so I’m in a position to help him further develop his skills because I have more time to take him to cool places like Woodward or wherever else. Everything has worked out pretty great!
Follow Randy Lawrence on Instagram @randylawrence4130
Visit 2ndmotofitness.net for more information on Randy’s training programs.