Each season there is a rider that takes the step up the running order and for 2019, it’s likely Vince Friese’s time to shine. Over the last few years, Friese has become a consistent top-ten rider in the 450 class thanks to his stellar starts and at recent races in 2018, he diced with quick competitors for top-five finishes and looks better than ever heading into the 2019 Monster Energy Supercross Series. Friese will again race for the SmarTop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts/Honda team alongside Justin Brayton and Malcolm Stewart, and his recent training program alongside Stewart has helped both riders. During a break in training at Milestone MX Park earlier this week, we had the chance to chat with Friese about his improvements on track, the development of the team, and his outlook on racing.
The last few weeks have been very busy for you between the Paris and Geneva Supercross races, plus the final push before the new year. Give me a breakdown of how things have gone for you?
Yeah, it's been good. We've been working hard since like July or August because we did a boot camp with some of the amateur kids Tony was helping out and that rolled into the Supercross training and testing. We had the Monster Energy Cup and then went over to the Paris and Geneva races, and all of that went really well for me. They were test races for my fitness and the bike and all of it went really good. It was nice to go over there, make some money, enjoy racing with a little less pressure, and see where I am at. Last week after Switzerland I took it easy and that worked out perfectly because we had the rain here, so I rested up and that will lead into the four weeks before the season starts.
Monster Energy Cup is a race that people know that anything can happen at, everyone is fresh and ready to go. There you battled with Malcolm and were in the top-ten in every race, so that was good and it led to good results at Paris and Geneva. What do you think was the reason for the solid streak? Did you crack a code or something?
I was getting top-tens in Supercross at the end of the season last year and it's been a building process since 2009, when I started racing Supercross. It's been a slow and steady climb in that direction. Right now my bike has gotten really good. The SmarTop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts/Honda guys have done such a good job and I honestly think we might have the best bike on the track. We have a lot of freedom with parts and things like that, things that the factories are more restricted on. We have high-level suspension and engines, so everything has gotten so good now. It's made me comfortable on the bike. And we have been pushing hard, me and Malcolm push each other at the practice track, and have good things going our way.
That's a big thing that I wanted to ask about, having Malcolm around. You being with the team, it seems like you usually rode by yourself since Justin is on the East Coast most of the year. How is it to have someone to ride with all of the time?
It's been awesome. I had that in 2012 and 2013 with Mike and Jake Canada, and then with Mike this summer in August and September. That was sort of the same deal that Malcolm and I have been doing. I see how much it helps. Mike got me tuned up for those few weeks and when Malcolm came in, he has such a high level of speed that it boosted my speed even more, too. We have been pushing each other. I think that my fitness is really good, where he has lacked a little bit in the past, so I can push him late in the motos. His speed is at a high level, so every day I show up at the track and if I'm not on it, I'm getting smoked. And it's the same way with him, because we constantly push each other.
Both of you have strengths that are opposite of the other person, where you have the endurance and he has the speed, so you have to work together to make the other person better.
Exactly. My corner speed is good and his whoop speed and rhythm speed is really good, so we push each other to find new levels.
You have been with the team for so long, and even when you weren't with them, you had a warm welcome back and a good relationship. How is it for you every year to not have to learn about a new group of people you'd be around or a new bike? It's pretty much the same each year.
Yeah, I wouldn't know because I've been with these guys for so long. I have been really lucky, honestly. I think that I am an asset to the team, but at the same time, there are so many other options that they could have. I think Mike Genova and Tony have believed in me and hopefully, I am starting to pay off for them. I don't think I'm done yet, but I think they see the light at the end of the tunnel with me. I can't thank them enough for sticking with me. There have been so many options and directions for them to go and they continue to believe in me. There have been past Supercross champions that they could have hired over me and they stuck with me. I hope one day I can make it worth their while and bring them something special, some wins or even a championship one day. It would be unreal. I don't think I would still be doing it if it weren't for Mike Genova.
You've been with them through almost everything that you have done, from the 250 class to now, and you've watched the team transform in all different ways. You know that everyone is on the same wavelength. I watched races from 2014 and 2015 the other day and this goes back to what you said earlier, you're always in the mix during the Main Events. It's strange that there are guys that might come in for a year and put in good results but then fade away for some reason. You've been consistent for the last seven years. And for a guy that didn't grow up as a huge amateur prodigy, how is it to put in results and know that you have people that back you all of the time?
It's awesome that I have been able to make a living at thanks to Mike Genova. There are a lot of guys that can get similar results to what I'm getting but would lose money doing it. I guess at that point you're not a professional; it's just a hobby. That's what I'd be if it weren't for Mike Genova. He takes care of me really well and gives me great equipment. These guys have been great and the biggest thing is that it gave me the ability to grow as a rider and to develop my way. I think that I could go out and lay down some speed that would open people's eyes a little more, but I would end up hurt a lot more often. You see that with a lot of these guys, guys that can win races but only race four times a season because they are hurt. I think I could do something similar, but it doesn't sound fun to me. I know that there is still a risk but that's not the way I want to do it. I'm lucky that Mike Genova and Tony are smart and see that in me. I'm a guy that is steadily going in one direction, not making these fast bursts and then getting hurt being out for a season but they still have to pay my salary. I can still get hurt but I try to ride within my zone and slowly build. I have been lucky to have a team like this to build with me.
You scored points in every Main Event last year and I think you did the year before too, so you never miss races because you're hurt…
[Friese imitates knocking on wood]
But you have that consistency, ride within your limits, and have good style and excellent fundamentals on the bike. There's never this fear watching you that you're going to stack it up trying something risky or dumb. That makes you an asset to a team.
You're 28 years old, so you've seen the changes over time. What have you learned lately that is helping you progress? Are they big breakthroughs or little steps?
There has been some big, eye-opening stuff like the amount of dedication that it takes is one and other things with the motorcycle, but a lot of it has been the small things that just add up. I've gone from a guy that could barely make a 450 Main Event and now I'm a guy that battles in the top-ten. I think that the class has gotten more stacked along the way. It's been a lot of little things and a few breakthrough moments, but I just keep my head down and grind with the team behind me. Tony is here every day to make sure that things are going right and that's huge because you don't see it a lot. Some of them only put in the 9 to 5 hours and go home, not on the weekends during the offseason, but our guys are always here.
Don't take what I'm about to say the wrong way, but in the last two years, it seems like you've made a conscious effort not to have on-track incidents. When that stuff was happening, it wasn't like you were being vengeful; it was just how you rode in the heat of the moment. When you're on the track now, are you thinking differently and holding back or is it because you're no longer in the same situations as before?
I've had to be conscious of it the last few years and went out of my way to avoid those things. I've done some dumb stuff in the past but I think I have gotten over-scrutinized for it.
I think so, too. I think that some people have latched on to that idea that you're a bad racer and they let it overshadow your accomplishments.
It's kind of been tough. The way I ride, it just leans towards that. It frustrates some of the guys, because I haven't always had the speed that some of those guys have had. My starts have always been good and I have a great bike, so I was up there with those guys but didn't have the speed. My mindset was that the races were short, especially in the 250 class, so those 15 lap Main Events were only so long. So even if a guy was faster than me, why am I going to let the guy go by if I can hold him off?
Make him work for it, yeah.
And those guys don't like that. I've seen the other side of it not that my speed is good and if I were to get a bad start and had to get around a guy like that, it is frustrating and I see why those guys get upset. But I go out of my way to avoid those things lately. It is what it is. And with my speed lately, that's going away on its own. I'm happy where I'm at and where I'm headed.
I watched Paris and Geneva with a friend and told them, "Vince is going to top-five and podium some races like the Triple Crown in 2019." I think you'll be a podium guy in the shorter races, where you have always been good. Personally, what are your expectations? Is there a number in mind or is it more whatever happens, happens?
In the back of my mind, there is a number, but I try not to do that. Last year I had high expectations, especially at the Triple Crown races like Anaheim Two because the track really suited me. I pulled the holeshot in one but overrode and washed out. I just need to do my thing and let the work I'm doing now speak for itself in January.
With what you just said about how people hold you to past actions for too long, if you wanted to change their perception of you, what should they know about you?
I'm just a guy that races hard. I have never had an intention to hurt anybody and I never have hurt anybody. I know some people might not think that I'm the best rider in the world or the fastest, but I'm pretty good at riding a motorcycle. And if my intentions were to hurt someone, it could have been done a long time ago. I just try to do the best that I can and race hard. If people don't respect that, then I don't want those people to be my fans. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and I'm lucky to have the crew behind me that I do, so hopefully we can head in the right direction.