In the 2011 Monster Energy AMA Lites East Region Championship, there is a huge crop of young superstars and up-and-coming rookie prodigies on the line ready to fight it out for the 2011 title. Among these young guns is a seasoned veteran that wears the number 25 on the DNA Shred Stix/Star Racing/Yamaha. Ryan Sipes is his name, and this 26 year-old country boy has come into 2011 with only one thing on his mind: the 2011 East Region crown. No less will make him happy.
Ryan has been flying under the radar for most of his professional career, and for the first time, his name is among the pre-season title favorites. By the looks of his racing this year, it would be unwise to bet against him. At round one in Houston, Tex., Ryan came out and showed everyone at Reliant Stadium that he has the speed when he qualified number one with the fastest time and—after a bad start—charged all fifteen laps of the Main to end up fourth. If not for a little run-in with Blake Wharton on that day, this interview would be about his charge to the podium.
Mr. Sipes—after finishing 8th overall in the 450 class outdoors last year with overalls as high as fifth—is back on a Lites bike for SX with a new team, a new trainer and a new attitude. After watching the Houston Supercross, MotoXAddicts.com contacted him to talk about 2011. Here’s how our conversation went:
Ryan, for the fans that don’t know, where are you from originally?
I am from Kentucky!
Kentucky, the Bluegrass State. Nice. Not exactly the moto-mecca, though, is it?
No, but there have been some pretty good guys from there. But, yeah, it isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind when you think about where the fast guys come from.
Are there a lot of good tracks out there?
Yeah, there actually are, believe it or not. Not really for Supercross, but there are a few. For outdoors, though, we have some really good dirt, and there are a lot of great tracks out there.
Where are you living right now?
I live in California right now with a buddy of mine, Casey Currie.
At what age did you start riding dirt-sicle’s?
I got my first bike at two years old with training wheels on it.
Yeah, my dad got some training wheels and threw them on there, and I was cruising around the yard at 2 years old. I actually started racing when I was three or four.
So did your dad get your brother Justin riding at 2 years old too?
Yep, same bike!
How old is Justin now?
I’m 26, and I’m guessing he’s 22 now.
What kind of bike was it?
It was a Suzuki Jr50.
Onto this year: what are your expectations for the 2011 SX season back East?
I want to win the title, and I want to just focus on that. The first race in Houston was a fourth—which was decent points—and I got out of there healthy. Now, it’s on to Atlanta to try and get a win in one of these things.
For the first time in a while, I have been hearing your name come up in the 2011 title predictions. You usually kind of fly under the radar, so what is it like to finally be one of the favorites in a series?
I think I kind of came in under the radar a little bit this year too. It’s just comes to a point where you decide you want to win. The best part is that I know I can. I know I have the speed and everything to do it, so it is just going to take me putting it all together and getting it done.
Exactly! How’s that DNA Shred Stix/Star Racing/Yamaha machine working for you this year?
It’s great! I really like it a lot.
I’m curious because you killed it in 2010 on the 450. Did you ever entertain the thought of moving up to the 450 full-time for 2011?
I did a little bit, but it came down to half way through the outdoors and I wasn’t getting any real good 450 offers. I was talking to a lot of different teams that said they were interested, but they didn’t have their budgets ready. That’s about the time the DNA Shred Stix/Star Racing/Yamaha deal came along. They said, “Hey, we have a good bike, and we want you to ride for us and go win a title.” At that point, I decided staying in the 250 class was in my best interest. That, for me, is obviously the goal. I would rather get a Lites title than move up and get fifth or sixth in the 450.
For sure. You win a title and we all know the contract options tend to be more lucrative.
Yeah, for sure!
Back to the 450’s: last year in the outdoor Nationals, I think you did a lot better—at least towards the end of the series—than some expected you to do. Did you expect to do well on the 450?
I expected to do better. I think I would have if it wasn’t for a few crashes and a few DNFs. I really should have been up in the top five consistently. Towards the end of the season, I started to get my speed down and get that big 450 figured out. Once that happened, I was up in the top five more often. There was a little bit more of a learning curve than I expected. If I could do it over again, I feel I could do better.
Do you consider yourself a SX or MX guy? I guess the question is which do you like better?
I like outdoors better. I think it suites my style better. I get to hang it out and push it. I used to be a SX guy, but I’ve turned into more of an outdoor guy here lately.
Well, it’s hard for me to blame you with the luck you’ve seemed to have in SX up to this point of your career. You have had the speed to win or at least podium every week in SX, but injuries and starts seem to kill you indoors. What are your thoughts on that?
It’s weird, actually, because in outdoors I kill the starts, and when I first went pro, I killed the starts. Just seems with starts, I’m either clicking or I’m not. In Houston, at round one, I would have gotten a great start, but I spun real, real bad. After the heat race, we changed up a few things for the Main and I came out really good. The problem was I was on the outside from a bad gate pick, and when Malcolm Stewart pushed wide, it messed me up. He was just going for the holeshot, so I can’t blame him.
Speaking of Houston’s start, that was crazy. What do you think about those 15 feet-wide, 90-degree first-turns?
I hate them, to be honest! Even if Malcolm didn’t push me wide, there was no possible way I could get the holeshot from where I was. They’re unfair. Even if you get a great jump on the inside guys, you’re going to get pushed wide every time, and I know with a top-five start I can be in the hunt for the win every time.
For sure. Being the number one qualifier had to make you feel like all you needed was a start. You talked about changes you and the team made between the heat and the Main. What were those changes?
Well, it was like ice behind the gate, and for the heat race, I had my start device pulled down really far which sat me over the front. In the heat race, the guys were across the gate before I even moved. So before the Main, we used less of a pull-down, which put me in a higher position and set me back on the rear wheel. It worked really well. I was one of the first guys over the gate in the Main. It felt good that we adapted well to the conditions.
In the Main Event in Houston, you and Blake Wharton came together pretty hard at the end of the race. I know you have never been known as a dirty rider so I’m not even going to ask if you did it on purpose. What are your thoughts on what happened, though?
At first, before I watched the video, I thought that he should have let off because I had the line on him. After watching the video, I noticed that when we made contact his head was still down. I don’t think he ever even saw me there, so I now know why he didn’t let off. He didn’t even look up until a split second before we came together. My goal was not to clean anybody out or to make any contact at all. My goal was to take his line away and make the pass. When I came in there, I was thinking that he had to know I wasn’t going to make the triple with how far inside I went. I just wanted to take his line, make the pass and we would both just double. It just didn’t work out that way. I really wanted third bad, and I felt like I rode good enough to get it. I like Blake, and I really never want to clean anybody out. I just wanted the spot.
You were still charging really hard on lap fourteen when you and Blake came together, so you obviously have done your off-season work. I hear you started working with Steve Hatch Racing. If there is anyone that can help you charge for fifteen laps, it would be Steve Hatch. Gnarly would be an understatement for that guy. How did you and Steve hook up?
Well back in ’08, there was a guy that worked for KTM when I was on there: Brayton’s mechanic, Rich Simmons. Rich worked for Steve Hatch when he did Supermoto, and he told me I should call him. I called him, and it went from there. Steve works with me on conditioning, technique, riding, mental, everything. The guy’s good at what he does. The best thing is that he doesn’t kill me. He’s gnarly, like you said, but the best thing he did was calm me down and tell me that I don’t have to train everyday. When I’m sick and tired, he’s always calming me down by telling me to take a break if I don’t feel well. Why do that to yourself and be smoked for tomorrow? I was always the guy that just trained, trained, trained and rode, rode, rode, but then I would show up on the weekend tired. With Steve, training is about quality not quantity.
Do you see over-training as a big issue in this sport?
I think so. We all want to win. When we get done riding, we are always thinking that the other guys are riding and training, so we better keep going. Most of the time, it’s actually better to over-rest than it is to over-train. Sometimes less is more in the long run. In the beginning, Steve would tell me to calm down, but I would still go train more. (Laughs) He would ask me why I was tired. I would say, “Well, after you told me to chill, I went for a run.” (Laughs) Another good thing about working with Steve is that he used to work quite a bit with Jeff Spencer, so I guess I’m getting some carry over of Jeff’s training methods too.
Cool. Sounds like you have a great thing going. One last question and I’ll get you out of here and back to getting ready for Atlanta. I just wonder what it’s like having your little brother Justin out there with you. Was he pretty disappointed with missing the Main Event by one spot at round one?
Yeah, he was upset, but I think he knows that he hasn’t been able to ride as much lately as he wanted or needed to. It’s been raining a whole lot down there where he’s staying in Georgia. If he can ever bring his practice game to the races, he will turn some heads. When we practice together, he and I are the same speed. I know he’ll get better as the season goes on, though. Last year, he didn’t make a couple of mains in the beginning. Then, he got a couple fifteenths or whatever. And then, he threw down two top tens. He’ll get there. For sure!
Alright. Well, thank you very much for talking to MotoXAddicts. Much appreciated. Anyone you want me to thank for you?
No problem, anytime. I’m always happy to do these. As far as thanks go, first I’ve got to thank God because he’s the reason I’m here. I’d also like to thank the DNA Shred Stix/Star Racing/Yamaha team and all the sponsors that help with that team. The bike’s good, the team’s good, and I can’t wait to put it on the top of the box for them. I’ve got to thank FCA Motocross and the PanicRev.org guys—for being there for me on the spiritual side of things—Steve Hatch Racing and also my family for always being there for me.
Check back Friday for the Atlanta Supercross preview. In the meantime, you can follow me at @dandunes818 for live race reports, updates and links to my latest interviews.