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Tales of a Team Owner, Year One Done

So, the first year is complete! Honestly, I didn’t think I would make it. The journey I have embarked on this year has not been a happy one, just an out and out hard slog. I wanted, and felt I needed, the experience of having a Motocross team to really understand what goes on behind the scenes, so when MX Vice write, produce and post an article, we have the credentials to back up our opinions. It’s not something I have longed for, or something that I’ve dreamed about – an opportunity presented itself, and I took it.

So, this time last year the excitement at having a strong lineup being announced was a great feeling, backed by Kawasaki and Talon the team had so much promise. Unfortunately, running a team with another person, I found out doesn’t work. It’s still a raw subject and there are two sides to every story, so putting it out there is no help for either party. I was put in a position where three riders were very unhappy and were leaving, I either let them leave or supported them for the rest of the year.

I have two faults that can hold you back in the business world (I say business as when you are operating with £25k plus, it’s business), loyalty and honesty. Loyal to a fault and find it nigh on impossible to lie, so if I don’t like something I just say it, if I don’t agree with something I can’t hide it.

So, April was upon me, we had no team truck, no spares, no sponsors products, the only thing we did have was five bikes, two riders, and a vision. At that point, visions are worth bugger all. We were running Nez Parker and Ross Keyworth, and we made the decision to spend the money on the bikes and riders rather than trucks, pit presence and all the other BS. We thought it was important the riders had the kit they needed to perform out on the track.

With Rob Boseley, and Toby Lightbown keeping the bikes on-track we knew we had to concentrate on results, promotion and exposure to help bring more resources in. A plan was put in place to get the newly formed Talon Kawasaki rolling.

But, it’s Motocross. In Motocross anything can happen, and what did happen was something I have never encountered before, something no other team manager has had. Rob Sartin from Talon popped down to Crediton to see how I was holding up and watch team rider Ross Keyworth. For those of you that don’t know Ross, he’s a great kid, someone I have supported for a few years through MX Vice, but I have known him for a lot longer. Ross has potential; he was a good schoolboy rider, and in the past few years has shown at times what he is capable of. When Mark Hucklebridge came on board for a short time in 2011 before illness struck once more, Mark worked with Ross and the difference was amazing. Credit to Mark, you don’t run to the level Mark has in Motocross and tackled life’s challenges and beaten them each time and not be inspirational. Mark turned up at Canada Heights to carry on the two weeks hard work they both put in, and the difference was crazy. Ross had gone from not qualifying to gating, and running in the top fifteen before tiring to a seventeenth in MX1. There’s a whole interesting story on Ross Keyworth that I will write about another time, I’m completely off track now.

So, we were at Crediton. Ross was running top six in the Phoenix Tools series, and for those who don’t know the Phoenix Tools/Premier/Remedies series, it’s a great series and stacked with really good riders. Anyway, disaster struck, Ross went through an uphill rut, leg got caught and twisted, he snapped his right ACL in the process. That was it, game over, and down to one rider after week one of the new team.

Next up was Landrake for the first round of the Red Bull Pro Nationals, we parked next to DB Racing setup and everything was looking good, Nez was looking good in practice and finished ninth in MX1 in race one. Nez gated well in race two on the Sunday, but tweaked his knee whilst in fifth and had to pull in – disaster had struck again, as it looked like another ACL. So, within a week we had gone from a new team, to an empty team. I can’t explain how that felt, I had businesses, brands, distributors, and all these people putting their faith into the team, and myself, and there was nothing left, both riders seemingly out until 2014 and it was only April 2013.

Shaun from Oakleaf, and Dave from DB were supportive, but I was just in shock. I know it’s Motocross, but a team gone in the space of a week? So, the only thing we could do is try and get some guest riders to help keep the team going, the promotion rolling and keep positive. First things first, I needed to look around see who was available – this was in April mind, no one was available!! My options were limited, no one was leaving teams, and it was too early for anyone to be unhappy. The only riders that were available would have been too much of a big risk and they would have struggled to deliver a top 30 result let alone a top 5, which is what we were pushing for with Nez.

So, I done some research and came up with the following: Yentel Martens (former World Champion Jacky Martens son), Scott Champion from the US, and Jeffrey DeWulf.  Yentel is a personal friend, so I’d be relying on him doing me a favour as he was already signed with the V-Mac Kawasaki team in Belgium. Scott Champion was someone I thought would get us a lot of exposure as he was from the US, has great style and Jeffery Dewulf was a link from a sponsor. The idea was to get all three, as we had the bikes, ride Milton Masor that I was convinced would suit Scott Champion, and run all three at the Red Bull at Weston. So we got working, Yentel managed to clear it with his team in Belgium and would ride the remainder of the British and Red Bull for the team, Scott would come over and run 2 races and take it from there.

Yentel was unable to ride Milton as he was already committed back in Belgium but said he would come over with Maarten Cremers for a Phoenix round and both of them ride for fun. Yentel turned up relaxed as ever and mentioned he’d not rode on hard pack for around 10 months (he lives in Lommel) so the expectations were low, it was going to be a fun day. Yentel took the holeshot in race one and led for around six laps at Torrington before an inform Whatley caught him – he finished 2nd. So, finally a bit of luck I hear you say? No, let me remind you that this is Motocross, and although is is in my opinion the most exhilarating and fantastic sport in the world, it’s also the most testing.

On the Thursday after Torrington, Yentel went back to Belgium to race in their domestic series, and snapped his right ACL. As far fetched as this sounds its the truth, this is the sort of thing you just can’t make up. Three riders out with 3 right knee ACL injuries.

So, three riders down, and now my focus was on getting Scott Champion onto the team. Unfortunately Christian Craig (of the Troy Lee Designs Lucas Oil Honda) broke his wrist at the last Monster Energy AMA Supercross round, and [Scott] Champion was in line for the replacement ride that the squad were offering. Scott couldn’t commit and I respected that, this would have been a game changing opportunity for him in the US after years struggling (like Peick), as a privateer. Two days before Milton Malsor for the British, it was announced that Malcolm Stewart got the nod for the Troy Lee ride, and Scott got back to me. I had to make a difficult decision and something I’ve not spoken about in public before. I had to sit down and weigh up the pro’s and con’s, as this would ultimately come out of my families pocket, not my business. The flights had gone from £655 for a return from Cali to Gatwick to over £3k, on top of that we would have had no bike testing, no practicing, jetlag and basically travelling from Gatwick to Milton and ride. The weekend was going to cost £4500 to make happen and then we had hotels for a week or so before he could race at Weston and would need a truck etc. So, for the first time, I made a decision with my head and not my heart and just said, I’ve done all I can, I have given it more than one-hundred-percent – sh*t just happens.

The team took three months out. In June, I got a call from Nez stating that he wanted to get a scan on the knee, I paid for the scan to be done in Belgium and when we got the result we finally had some good news. There was cartilage damage and not ACL, a small operation and rehab would see Nez back on the bike. We didn’t want to rush things as Nez had an injury plagued season in 2012, so we had a plan to get back steadily. The team were back in a loaned van from our sponsors for the Masters at FatCat a week sooner than we had planned! But, you have to grasp opportunities when they present themselves.

From that point to Farleigh Nez put in some fantastic displays to justify the reason why he was signed at the beginning of the year. Nez is a top guy, very professional and I wish him well and lots of success in 2014. It would have been good to carry on what we set out to achieve but life is never quite that simple.

It’s even harder this year trying to negotiate deals on products to make the team as affordable as it can be. In 2013, I have spent £25K on running the team – financially it’s tough. On the other side of the fence, I thought that team got given bikes, huge spare budgets, products were thrown at them just to run it.. Oh, little did I know what it was really like. When you start peeling back the layers,  motocross is very different on the other side. I’m sure there was a time when all of that happened but in 2013/2014 it’s not. Every penny counts, every sponsor counts, every bit of help counts. Nothing in 2013 would have been possible without the support of my wife Caroline who was at home bringing up our very energetic eighteenth month old child Olivia, Ian my Dad who supports me, Rob Boseley for managing the team and making sure everything was sorted, and Toby Lightown who was our unofficial mechanic of the year with no DNF’s. The work that goes in behind the scenes for a team is crazy, I have so much respect for people like Shaun from Oakleaf, Dave from DB and other managers who juggle running a business with putting on a full show every weekend for series promoters without any financial gain. They do it because they love it.

I think its great to see teams being paid at the Arenacross; Events 22 are setting the standard. Personally I feel that the main series next year should pay a minimum of £100 start money for each team to help go towards their fuel cost. I honestly can’t believe how teams don’t get paid, as they are the entertainment, without them there is no event. However, that’s a whole new blog for another day, and once again I’m getting sidetracked.

So back to the team, big thank you to Rob Sartin from Talon, without his support there would be no team, Ross from Kawasaki, Rip N Roll, Lee from BRP Imports, Alex from Transporterland, Stuart from Dunlop, Scott from Apico, Paul from RaceFX, Anderson from Circuit, Mark from RSS Suspension, Russell from Rock Oil, Matt and Jack from Merge, Carly from MRS Ltd, Joel from Lifelong, Ben from Straight 8/Twisted 7, Pam Parker for Food, Haley Burfoot for helping the team, Elliot Spencer for Photography and the team from Burfield.

So, 2014 is next. We’ll make the best of limited budget, and limited sponsors. If you see us in the pits, come and say hello. I’m off to try and find £25K for next year!

James Burfield, 37 – proud owner of Talon Kawasaki.

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