Mitch Payton, alone and with a pair of safety glasses on, sat at his porting bench inside his sprawling race operation based off the 91 freeway in Corona, California going through all sorts of engine pieces. What with the compressed air, acetylene sparks and a whole lot of beating and banging, it took him a bit to realize that I was even standing there.
“Hey Mitch,” this writer offered. “You in a talking mood about the season that just was?”
“Sure,” answered Payton. “What do you got?”
“I wanted to talk with you about Adam, winning a title after a bit of a long spell, and what’s going on with Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki in 2020.”
“You got it,” said Mitch, dusting aluminum shavings off his pants and shirt and rolling towards his office. “Hit me with what you’ve got.”
Q: In essence, the 2019 AMA Pro Motocross season is done and dusted. What’s your take on how the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team performed the past 300-plus days?
MITCH PAYTON: Yeah, think it was good. I guess if you look at the win ratio to the amount of events we competed in, it was really good. It was looking as though we might be able to get both supercross titles, but then there were a few little hiccups at the end and that didn’t happen. There were a lot of wins this year. Martin [Davalos] even won, so that was awesome. Garrett [Marchbanks] got second at San Diego in the mud, and that was good. I think supercross was as good it could have been. To start the outdoors it would have been awesome to have Austin, because he rode really well in the outdoors last year, and I think he was a lot more fit this year and that would have been good. To have Adam [Cianciarulo] win a title, I think that was really good. He gave a lot and to do what he did was phenomenal. It was good to see.
Q: I know losing the ’19 250SX West title really hit you, Adam and the entire team hard. Did you guys enter the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship with a take no prisoners/this is our title approach?
MP: Yeah, that night after the race me and him talked a little bit and I said, “You just have to bury it and forget it. It’s behind you. I want you to look forward. I want you to win that outdoor title. You need to put everything into it. Use anything that happened this year for anger, not sadness.” Adam obviously worked really hard leading up to it anyway and it showed at the first round that he was there. That was awesome. And Adam kept staying on the box, on the box, on the box. He kept winning motos and getting seconds. Usually, that’s the way that you’re going to get it done.
Q: Adam has been with you and Kawasaki for so long it’s almost as if you guys are family. For Adam to win the 250MX title had to be so fulfilling on so many levels.
MP: No, it really was because you know Adam has been one of those kids that have been around here since he was a little kid. It’s kind of strange because as they start to grow up, you still think of them as a little kid. Like when I see Ricky [Carmichael], Ricky is an adult and I think of him as a kid. And I see RV [Ryan Villopoto] and he’s still a kid and AC is still a kid… You know what I mean? They still seem like a kid to me. For them to have these dreams and try to succeed at it all and then they accomplish, it’s really awesome.
Q: I’m going to make leap of faith here and say that AC’s championship season in the outdoors was very special to you.
MP: Well, I think it was special because he went through a lot, and he had a lot of adversity he had to get through because of the injuries and stuff that he had. Again, when a guy gets hurt, you have a little pep talk when you say it’s all going to be okay, but how many times are we going to talk about that? There were questions in Adam’s head too, if it was ever going to happen. He needed it just to get that monkey off his back and to move on. It was perfect timing, and it is fantastic. And the career route Adam went on too… He went to Kawasaki and that’s what was supposed to happen.
Q: It certainly seemed like the appearance on Nick Wey in AC’s corner was a real positive influence in more ways than one. What do you think?
MP: Well, I think it was a really good match. He worked with Adam a little before already. This year Adam changed a lot of things. He moved out of our old house and moved closer down to Nick, and they could just work together the whole time. He wanted dad to take a back seat and he wanted to do it himself. It’s a big responsibility, and he dealt with it perfectly. He did it, and I think Nick had a lot to do with it. Nick has been through it. It’s always good for these guys to have somebody who has already been through it. Nick rode for us and Nick was a really good rider. He was always just close – right there. He had some gnarly guys he raced again. Man, he raced RC. Nick had good competition, and it wasn’t easy, and he worked hard and he moved up to the 250 class and then the 450 class, and rode and rode and rode. Then he got out of it.
I think as you go along in this sport, you learn every year, and I think Nick learned a lot. That’s what Nick offers Adam – that experience. I think Nick was a really big piece of the puzzle. Nick played a big role in it. It was good and he kept it fun for Adam. He was a big asset, for sure. He helped a ton.
Q: All of these riders you’ve delivered up to the big leagues in our sport such as a Jeremy McGrath, Ricky Carmichael, Ryan Villopoto, Ben Townley and Adam Cianciarulo… What’s it like to get the kid to the Formula 1 class? It has been awesome, and you’ve been doing it consistently since 1991!
MP: It is, but you know people said that about having Jeremy or having Ricky or even RV or Adam or whatever, but they were all good already. We didn’t make any of those guys. They kind of made themselves. I give them more of the credit than probably me because I think they had it. I certainly wouldn’t want to race against any of those guys if they were on a different brand of bike. They would still be gnarly guys.
Q: Here we are 28 years later and it’s time to start getting your head wrapped around the 2020 Kawasaki race bikes. Time to go to work again, huh?
MP: Yeah, we have a new bike so we have some new challenges, obviously, because it’s different. Whenever you have your last year’s package, you’re pretty happy with it. You can’t run it again so you have to start over. I think we’re going to get there. The base of the bike that came out in production came out for the better, so that helps. That’s a big asset for us to have.
Q: So what will happen next, Mitch? Maybe for younger guys out there, what’ll Mitch Payton and the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki race team have to face these next three months before the gate clanks into the dirt over at Angel Stadium?
MP: Clean up all the old 2019 stuff. Put stuff away. Clean the truck. There is a lot of shop work. We’ve already started development on the new engine, and we’re also doing a little bit of chassis stuff right now. In the next three or four weeks, we should probably make some good strides with the engine and then we’ll probably be ready to do some testing with it and see where we are at compared to last year’s bike and continually just keep evolving until we get close to the series.
Q: Who will be on the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team come the start of the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross Series?
MP: Austin Forkner is back. Garrett Marchbanks is back. And then we have Jordan Smith, so he’s new this year. Then we will have Cameron McAdoo.
Q: Wow. I wasn’t aware of Smith and McAdoo joining the team.
MP: Well, I think Jordan has been a championship contender already. That was easy to go after him, and I’m glad that he wanted to come here. He’s excited about it, and he’s had the red plate before and he’s won races, and to me, that’s a big monkey off his back. We just need to help him, and if he is fit, I’m confident he’ll be winning races.
Q: Pure speed. You’ve always told me that you’ll take the pure speed a rider displays over most anything. It’s an obvious thing, but still, that’s what Mitch Payton take a long and hard look at, huh?
MP: Yeah, they’ve got to be fast. You can work on their fitness and all those things, but if the kid is not fast, it is hard to make him a lot faster. Getting Jordan is going to be great and I think McAdoo has improved, especially this year, immensely. He’s been a fill-in guy for the last couple of years and been bounced around on bikes a few weeks before a series and rides it and he’s done good this year. I would expect that with a good testing program and a good off-season, I think he’s going to be winning races too. I would expect him to.
Q: I’ve wanted to ask you this all summer: Are you as stoked to go racing as ever? Does it get old?
MP: No, because it’s different guys and you have to learn them and they have to learn you. You want them to do things, and they also all have goals. Really, if they reach their goals, we get our goals. They’ll never forget their first race win, and they’ll never forget their first championship.
Q: The 2020 season is not that far away. Looking into a Mitch Payton crystal ball, what do you see?
MP: Yeah, you’re going to have good guys. I expect the same guys. The Star guys are going to be fast. TLD is going to kind of have some new recruits. Husqvarna has that one kid Michael Mosiman and he’s improved a lot this year. I think Mosiman will be strong this year. Suzuki? Hopefully they are racing this year.
Q: Okay Mitch, 2019 Motocross of Nations at Assen, Holland. What do you think?
MP: Well, I think our team is good. I would expect… I guess you just go off the past. Anderson was really good that one year that he got landed on [Note: Maggiora, Italy]. I think Jason is a great rider and he’s going to give it his all. Osborne is a great outdoor rider and he’s been there before and has experience over there and all of that won’t hurt either. Justin Cooper, I think all year long, has been one of our best guys. I would say it was Cooper, Ferrandis and Adam there all of the time. What’ll also help Justin is that he is a great starter and he’s light. I guess we’re about to see what happens, huh?