Catching up with MX101 Team Manager, Kevin Tyler

Catching up with MX101 Team Manager, Kevin Tyler

April 12, 2019

Words by Danny Brault

Something is cooking with our old friend Danny Brault who was one of my team members at Racer X Canada and then founding member and big toe of Direct Motocross. He wanted to share some of his recent writings with us here at FXR. We are eager to hear what you've got in the works Danny and thanks for sharing!

It was only two years ago, when we had to anxiously await until June before we saw Canada’s best pro racers take to the national stage. Then in 2018, when Justin Thompson and his JetWerx crew took over the reigns of the National Championship and our sanctioning body, they introduced the inaugural ‘Rockstar Triple Crown.’ 

It has led to gates dropping well before the snow had melted, more opportunities for fans to cheer on their favourite racers, and  delivered nationally recognized Arenacross and Supercross events from British Columbia to Quebec. Now in its second year of production, the Triple Crown continues its momentum, with more teams and riders taking part in the coveted championship, which boats a hefty $100,000 reward for the top 450 rider after all three disinclines (AX - MX -SX) and $10,000 to the 250 champion. 

Last Saturday we saw Round 1 of the Triple Crown take place in Abbotsford, BC, with a competitive field in both the 450 and 250 pro classes. The Royal Distributing FXR Yamaha Racing Team was on hand, looking to begin another title run after clinching their second consecutive 250 outdoor title in 2018 with Jess Pettis. This time around, they have Canadian young-gun, Marco Cannella, and hired gun, Luke Renzland, looking hot and hungry to take home a title—if not all three of them. 

We caught up with Yamaha’s team manager, Kevin Tyler, to get the shake-down from Round 1 and see how things are progressing with Canada’s hottest new national racing series. 

250 Pro podium at Round 1 of the Triple Crown Series AX Tour in Abbotsford, BC with Luke Renzland taking 3rd place. | Lissimore photo

Danny Brault: Hi Kevin. I hope you’re doing well. The Canadian motocross season is now officially underway, with Round 1 of Arenacross portion of the Triple Crown Series kicking off last Saturday in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Results-wise, your dynamic duo of Luke Renzland and Marco Cannella did pretty well, finishing third and fourth-place in the 250 Main Event. Were you happy with your team’s start to the 2019 season? 
Kevin Tyler: I’m happy, for sure. At Round 1, you’re never really sure what to expect. It doesn't seem to matter what we do we are always the underdogs going in. The hype never seems to surround us. We lost (Dylan) Wright and then (Shawn) Maffenbeier, and there’s lots of hype over those two guys and, with Tyler Medaglia dropping down to the 250 class, they seem to be the biggest story-lines. Even though we are the defending Outdoor champs, we’re still coming in as the underdogs. That’s fine by us; it works for us. We have (Luke) Renzland with us this year. He has lots of indoor talent in him, but not as much experience on tighter arenacross tracks. As for Supercross, he’s more than comfortable with that style of racing, but arenacross is a different breed; it’s like a bull ring.

And then when we get into Canadian arenacross, it appears to be a completely different animal altogether, as we saw last Saturday in Abbotsford.
Yes, you throw in the Canadian part and you end up with a track where you can’t jump the catapult and ruts from end to the other . It’s very difficult to prepare and train for those conditions. 

I don’t want to get all negative after one round of racing, but I do have to ask: is it frustrating as a Team Manager/ Owner, to spend all of that time, energy and money preparing bikes for indoor settings, only to see that nobody is able to jump the obstacles? 
It is, for sure. We went down south and spent a good few weeks working on indoor settings. We have a few different settings, because you never know what you’re going to get in Canadian racing. We’ve gone from full-on indoor settings, all the way back to outdoor settings. We have three (suspension) settings: one is our baseline for indoors; we have a full supercross setting, and we —sorry, not we, but Joe (Skidd) and Cale (Foster)—came up with a hybrid arenacross setting. Well, more like a ‘Canadian Arenacross’ setting. It’s between supercross settings and an AMA Arenacross setting. You come in trying to juggle all of that and do our best to adapt to what we’re given. It was a little disappointing, with the track being so soft, but then what hurt the situation even more,is that it was designed like the dirt is dry. 

Marco Cannella at the 2018 Rockstar Energy Triple Crown Series Abbotsford, BC | Lissimore photo

Having one guy on the podium, and another right behind, is not a terrible way to begin the season. What do you feel were the highlights and lowlights for your two racers, Renzland and Cannella? 
The biggest for Renzland is getting him acquainted to everything Canadian. We did our best to explain how it’s going to be, but he comes in with a positive attitude so that makes it much easier. The track wasn’t what anyone expected, but he kept his head down, never wavered through the day, and never got down or bummed out. He rode great in his heat race, made no mistakes, grabbed points in the Clash for Cash, and ended it with a podium in the main event. You can’t ask for more than that in the opening round. He agrees that he could have been more aggressive earlier in the main event, but he didn’t know how bad the lappers were going to be. I believe the lapping started on lap two, mostly because of the track conditions. 

And Marco’s night in Abbotsford?
Marco struggled all day; nothing big, just little tip overs. He didn’t have great times in practice, which isn’t his thing. He worked on it this winter, but it’s still an area of improvement for him. He went to the LCQ, got out front and rode flawlessly to win that. The extra track time helped him, I think. One big highlight for Marco is his starts; he was top-two every time. He even started on the outside and came around inside the top-two. 

As for a lowlight, he made a mistake on first lap of the main and that nullified his good start, pushing him back to dead last. Nobody even realized it. He had the quietest ride of the night; he went down, almost got lapped—but nobody paid attention that he didn’t get lapped—and then worked his way up to fourth. Everyone made a big deal of Dylan (Wright) going up to seventh, but Marco suffered the same problems and crawled his way all the back up to fourth. He’s like a silent assassin; he puts in his laps and quietly passes guys without anyone really noticing. Going three-four after the first round, we will take it. 

Cannella grabbing the win at the 2018 Sarnia AX. | Lissimore photo

My last comment regarding the track conditions. As someone who runs heavy equipment, has raced at the pro level, manages a team and also national calibre events, what do you feel could have been done before the racing began to improve the Abbotsford track? 
I think the big thing is—and it’s easy to sit back and throw rocks, of course—as the dirt started to get laid down, it looked much better than last year, but when they started pouring more somewhat soft dirt, onto more somewhat soft dirt, it amplified the problem. Last year, it was frozen tundra; this year it was two-steps better. 

When you layer that stuff, you get air pockets in between and it compounds the problem. It wasn’t muddy but it was still wet and it wouldn’t pack or dry. I think for me, as soon as I saw that, all of the transitions needed to be mellowed out and the finish line didn’t need to be as big as it was. I understand they are trying to create a show, but it doesn’t look good when your ‘A’guys aren’t even jumping the jumps. You could see right on day one, it (the catapult) was too steep, too far, and we hadn’t even ridden yet. I know the track may have looked lame and much tamer, but more guys would have been able to jump some stuff.

Compared to the last promoters who ran the Canadian Pro Racing, what is this new group of JetWerx and MRC doing better or different compared to the old guard? 
Without a doubt, they have brought the visual aspect up by multiple steps. When you get to these arenacrosses, it looks like a top-level event. That's what we want. The bannering, the track construction, it looks as good as it can be. They are on point with the visuals. Same thing outdoors; they constructed that big backdrop behind the starting line. It’s big, looks fantastic and provides a place as well for team personnel to be sheltered. These sort of things are where they shine, making the events feel like you’re at ‘something.’

Stage was set at the 2018 Barrie AX with Pettis and Cannella both on the box | Lissimore photo

You will be at every arenacross, motocross and supercross event this year? Any burn out ever set in? 
I go to every round. Yep, I get burned out for sure . I was more burned out than ever last year; it was the longest season ever. We started in February and ended in November. Justin (Thompson) and his team taking constructive critism pretty well, and they made the changes necessary to shorten our season and schedule, which we really appreciate. That’s a positive, for sure. Now we start in April and finish in September. The conversation has already started for next year, where we may see them moving these arenacrosses from the spring and combine them with supercross events in the fall. So it would be motocross first, and then we enter indoor racing. It’s really difficult to switch from indoors, to outdoors, and back to indoors. It may not sound like a lot of work, but it is.

After winning two consecutive 250 Outdoor championships, has it made it easier attracting sponsorship dollars for the MX101 team? 
Our budget gets a little bit healthier each year, but it’s not necessarily a direct result of the championships. Each year, we prove that we are for-real; it’s funny I have to say that after winning two of the more prestigious outdoor championships. It’s a tough time in the industry; this was the toughest year to get sponsorship. We are fortunate to have Royal Distributing coming on last year. That made it feasible for us to follow the entire Triple Crown series. 

2017 MX2 Championship podium RJs National, Barrie, ON with Shawn Maffenbeier taking the #1 plate. | Lissimore photo

Ha, almost like a double-edge sword. It’s difficult to ask for more money when you’re losing, but if you’re winning on the same budget, then a sponsor may think you have enough support to make it happen. 
It’s funny, because in our first year, going back to Dylan Wright for example. Dylan had a run taken at him by GDR. I explained to our sponsors that this kid is the future and we want to keep him. We didn’t get the budget, so then off he goes to Honda. We bring in Maffenbeier and he wins. From a sponsor’s point of view, they’re like ‘Well, we didn’t give you anymore money and you won. So why do you need more?’

Then Maff gets paid to go to Kawasaki. Our budgets didn’t increase until Royal came on board, but we had already lost Maffenbeier. Then we signed (Jess) Pettis and worked hard with him. He crushes it and wins a championship. Same story again; they say ‘Well, we didn’t give you more money and you won again.’Nobody sees what’s on the backside, though. These other programs have full-time mechanics, full-time team managers and the owners are sometimes off to the side. The Montreal SX was pretty funny example of this. 

They paid all of the Americans to come up, but then went pretty cheap with Canadian teams. It’s a lot more expensive bringing an entire team to the show, rather than flying up one guy, he races and then goes home. We weren't even on the same level as the other Canadian factory teams; it was substantially less. Of course, with Pettis being ‘the guy,’they wanted him to be there, but (the promoters) wouldn’t agree to pay much. So they want me to bring my rider, my staff, the full-semi but wouldn’t provide the money to do so. I’m thinking, ‘You want me to drive my truck, my rig and fly in riders for a loss, to lose money, to go to this event and deliver you a star, somebody who is going to potentially win?’We did end up getting more money, at least enough to cover our costs.

When I show up and we’re getting our credentials, the lady says to me ‘Nice to meet you. You’re the team manager, here’s your pass. And who is your truck driver?’

‘I’m the driver,’I replied.

‘Okay …and your mechanic?’ she says, looking confused. 

‘I’m the mechanic, too.’

She looked at me and unsure of what to say. I explained to her that this is what I am taking about. When there is no money to pay people, you can’t bring them. I am dumb enough to make it happen though; it falls on my shoulders a lot of times with this stuff and try my best to make it happen.

Manager, truck driver, mechanic, sandwich maker...the list changes depending on the race. | McClintock photo

I believe it’s great for the health of our sport in Canada, to have the Montreal Supercross back on the schedule. For a first year effort, the event looked pretty good. Hopefully they see the value this time around in making sure we have our best Canadian riders on hand. I feel a big reason Montreal was so successful and followed in the past, is because we had heroes to cheer for, whether it was Carl Vaillancourt, Pederson, JSR, Blair Morgan, Marco Dube, Benoit, Klatt, or Facciotti. Fans need a local guy to cheer for, and with Facciotti disinterested in racing indoors, and Benoit retiring, Pettis is our best chance to win at this event, considering his indoor skills, age and fanfare. 
In fairness, the group was brand new and it was their first ever supercross and they relied heavily on Eric Perronard to secure top riders. A few balls were dropped, where teams were somehow promised to be there because it was a points race, so we had to be there. Nobody had budget for it, then to top it off when you hear about these ‘A’rider getting paid really good money to show up—and I’m not referring to Malcolm Stewart—but A riders who are great riders, but I believe they don’t bring in more fans than Jess Pettis or other top Canadians. I know it’s not huge, but when our guys go, they bring with them a bunch of family of friends. Maybe the US riders are doing the same, but I don't see it. Nine out of 10 times, it was Canadian teams who were providing bikes and taking care of these US riders, and yet we don’t receive the same incentives to participate. 

What did you think of the Montreal SX returning?
It was awesome. In my mind, it was the event of the year, but maybe I’m a little nostalgic like you. I remember 50,000 screaming fans from years ago and would love to see that return. The track was awesome, and I liked how they had park the semis inside on the stadium floor beside the track. That was cool. We don’t need a huge, sprawling track. They really maximized the space, and the fans loved coming down into the pits and hanging out. They did a lot of things really well. That said, if we are making it a show, let’s not leave the Canadians to the side and still expect them to show up.  

If you truly want to win over those fans in Montreal, it’s best your riders up for some French lessons!
You are absolutely right! The Medaglias and Dylan, they crush it at outdoor Quebec events and indoor events. As soon as they speak French on the podium, the local fans go crazy. You’re right, we need to get Cannella speaking French!

2018 Montreal SX with Pettis on the top of the box. | Lissimore photo

Talk about Allan Brown and what he brings to the team, because I’m sure he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t say much, but when he does, people should listen.
I was talking to somebody about this the other day. It was probably four years ago. We’re probably racing on the smallest budget out of the major Canadian teams, and it was TV announcer, Brian Koster, asking why we were bringing our motor guy to every single Round. ‘You should save that money and spend it somewhere else. Do you really need your motor guy at every race?’he asked me. Anyone who knows Allan, knows that he is so much more than a motor guy. He raced professionally, he’s worked at KTM USA, well up the food chain, he managed Moto XXX, built their bikes and he goes after sponsors.

He doesn’t have any flash; he’s quiet. Other guys building motors these days, they tend to pump themselves up, saying they’re the best in the business. Allan is reserved, but when he does talk, it’s on point and you should listen. He is with us every step of the way through the process. It’s far from him building motors. We bounce ideas around on who we are hiring, how we will do it. He’s usually saying to me, ‘Are you sure you reallywant to do this again?’ Yes, I do. We’ve known each other a long time; he’s from the Ottawa area and we can put a lot of trust in him. Our program works because we focus on putting the right people in the right spots. Johnny (Grant) is just as involved as I am, but I’ve become the face of the team, I guess. 

One last question before I leave you: the current state of affairs in Canadian amateur racing. The MRC is working hard to bring some consistency back to our regional racing, which is needed to get things back on track. If a racer wants to be competitive, they need to know where to go; there needs to be a clearer path for our next generation of professional racers. It’s become so fragmented and difficult to keep track of what’s what, and who’s who. What’s your take on things right now at the amateur level? 
The problem is that our country is so large. Back in the demise of the CMA, and I don’t know all of the details, but when Mark (Stallybrass) stepped in, it helped to get everyone on the same page. Mark had united most of the regions pretty well, from coast to coast, and in amateur and pro. It united the country. Over the last few years, Provinces have felt neglected; Manitoba stepped away and did their own thing; others started to lose faith and felt they could do better.

It got fragmented and then it got really fragmented at the very end of the CMRC days. JetWerx tried to go country wide last year but it really didn’t work. It showed on the amateur days at the nationals; nobody had the licenses and they didn’t show up. I give Ryan Gauld all the credit in the world for trying to bring it back it in. A large portion of BC is back under MRC, I think Manitoba is still out, but I’m not sure. The Maritimes are in, Quebec is still Quebec; they are in, but are they in? Who knows So we are making some progress, I believe. 

Why is it so difficult for the various regions to come together? 
I think they feel that there is no need or benefit to being under one roof. ‘What is in it for me?’some might say. Some of that stuff isn’t tangible so it’s not easy to understand the value. I don't want to single out Ryan, but we need somebody like Ryan to do it and we need to pay they guy. We can’t do it, if we don’t pay a person to take on this responsibility. His time needs to be paid for; to encourage him to drive out and push these things and get issues resolved, to make the hard phone calls. When things aren’t so tangible, it’s easy to say we don’t need you. We have our own transponders, referees, scoring, we can get our points and trophies, sponsorships….  It is an uphill battle. Everybody thinks they can do better and the world tends to focus on the negative. It’s not a job that I want to do, but somebody needs to do it. I do feel this year we are ahead of where we were last year.

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