Photos | Swanberg
In the past few years, yellow fenders have been somewhat absent in the 250 class. With a “dated” design and less than lucrative incentives, Suzuki lost footing in the small-bore division of American pro motocross. It was strange to see the brand fall out of favor, and the struggles were obvious to the front office of the OEM. This is something that new management at the brand addressed in 2016, as they revitalized their amateur motocross division and joined Jimmy Albertson for factory-supported team in the 250 class. Thanks to the effort of all involved, Suzuki is on the upswing with other pro racers and according to Albertson, is ready to invest even more over the next few years. Shortly after the finish of the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, we spent a few minutes with Albertson and discussed the first year of the Motorcycle Superstore Suzuki Racing team, his roles as racer and team manager, and what the future holds for himself and the brand.
You've run your own team in the past and a privateer effort. Was there something this year that you didn't expect from all the times in the past?
Honestly, this year has been less stressful than years before because we can make decisions when they need to be made. But then again, if stuff goes bad it's on our shoulders. We did a really good job with the budget this year and we stayed on track, made it all the way through our first year of racing. And I don't think a lot of teams or people can say that. Everyone was on the same page and there were a lot of things we wanted to do, as far as bike stuff or development that we wanted to push for. But everyone stayed reserved and made sure we stayed to the plane. Because to be a first year team and to do what we did, I'm not some money guy that can reach into my bank account and grab $25,000 or $50,000 if were running short. To come out of the season with the budgets the way we did, it's huge and I don't think first year teams really do that. And that shows me this will grow the sport in general, because teams can come in and not lose money. My whole intention is for this to be a business that in a few years shows a profit. In our first years, I'm so stoked we made it all the way through it. And I knew we would, but until it happens, there was definitely a lot of stress taken off. It's time to refocus and take what we learned from this year into next year.
When you and I talked the Thursday before Anaheim One, you'd just driven across the country and stuff was still showing up at the very last minute, which is standard for teams. Did you have expectations that were high at that point or did you think, "Whatever happens, happens?"
Georgia: Remember when we turned up and looked at the semi and just thought, "Holy Crap?"
Jimmy: It was crazy, because we put the stickers on the semi literally right before we left. As the semi was starting up and warming up to go, we were putting stickers on it. Georgia, Gregg, myself, even Gregg's girlfriend. We were laying stickers across the skirting of the rig because we didn't get it done in time and had to make sure the setup looked good. When it got put up and we looked at it all we thought, "Oh my God, this is pretty bad ass." I think showing up to Anaheim and having the presense and look that we did, I was pretty happy at that point. Anaheim didn't go so great for Kyle, I think he crashed in the main and got seventeenth. But after that he was pretty consistent in the top-ten. So for us to have top-tens and the presence we had in the first few weeks, I was stoked. You can't start at the top; you have to start somewhere and I think that this year was about putting the first year in, not being crazy, and growing every single weekend.
Georgia: We also worked with what we had. We didn't go out and buy new stuff.
Jimmy: A lot of people worked with what we had. Jim [Lewis} would say, "Oh, I think I have a compressor that we could use, an old one. So let's fix that up. Or we've got some power washers, so lets take some parts and build them up." Just little savings there, because everyone knew the more money we saved the more we could back into the team. Even the mechanics, knowing that something could be hard on the budget or something they could get cheaper but would have the same quality. Mikey, Austin, and our truck driver Gary, they were on the same page to do it right but not be lazy or throw money because it was the easy way out.
This was the first year that Suzuki had a 250 team with support in a long time. Did they put a lot of expectations on you or did they realize they were trying to get off the ground, too?
Suzuki was great. They knew in the big picture that they need to rebuild the 250 program. And honestly getting the bikes, we weren't scared. We knew that they hadn't been competitive or where they were at, but after working with them for a year, they're a great motorcycle. The best thing that I can say about the Suzuki is the reliability of it. My practice bike, I've hammered on it all year and the transmission has held up great and I haven't blown up a bike all year. And that's pretty amazing, riding thirty-minute motos in hundred degree temperatures every week. And I'm working on my own bikes during the week so that our guys can stay focused on the race stuff. It's pretty incredible and I can go quite a long time on oil changes without eating anything. I've ridden a lot of brands in the previous years and that 250 is by far the most reliable thing I've ridden three or four years. At the end our bikes were getting fast.
I think the whole goal is to get people back on yellow bikes. With the geometry of the bike and chassis, it's such a great bike and I feel stock to stock, it's just as good as the Honda as far as power from the engine. But the thing about the Honda is you have all these people making aftermarket parts for it. I think in the next years it'll be getting the Suzuki to where you can go to Hot Cams and get a good spec cam to throw in it like you can a Honda. Or you can go to Merge Racing and buy a setup for your bike to get the boost. Trust me, they rip. My practice bike has been great and I've put a lot of time on it. We love working with them and we're happy to continue working with them next year.
At any point did you feel like the riding distracted you from the management side, or vice versa?
I usually ride until about noon or one in the afternoon and then it's straight to the computer and the office after that. I feel like I'm more productive after I ride in the morning and I'm so passionate about riding my bike that it puts me in a better. I feel like I can accomplish more in those four to five hours, or sometimes I'm on the phone until nine at night, than I do on days that I don't ride. I don't think the riding is hurting the management stuff, but I do feel like sometimes I could be a better rider if I could just focus on that. But part of me is excited because it's new and no one is riding and running a team. I have been getting better from working with Robbie Reynard and being around kids like Austin Forkner or Benny Bloss every day. That's helped out a ton. I love doing what I do and it'd be nice to have more help, but it's hard to find people that you trust. People say that you should go hire certain people, but the reason they probably don't have jobs is because their teams failed. I'm not bragging about what we're doing, because we don't know what we're doing [Laughs]. But we're all on the same page and working for the greater good of the team. It's hard to find people like that. Until we find someone that can take over my job, I'll keep doing it.
You just alluded to this a minute ago, but can you speak more on what you're doing next year?
Jimmy: We can't yet, but…
Jimmy: Yeah, Factory TM Cannondale with Rekluse building everything for it [Laughs]. At this point all I can really say is that our program is going to grow with Suzuki for next year. I haven't signed or gotten anything yet, but we are going to be on yellow. They have been great. Chris Wheeler and Carey, his boss, have been great. The way they want to change the company and get it back to where it was when it was a powerhouse with Carmichael riding for them and then at the amateurs with Broc Helper, Davi Millsaps, Kyle Partridge, Ryan Dungey, and Nico Izzi. That's what they want to do. They want to get back to the grassroots with the amateurs and build the 250 team up. The things they have to say, I'm very happy about and I like being in the position we are, because we can be an ambassador for the Suzuki 250. We're looking forward to next year.