Photos by: Chase Yocom
These “Privateer Showcase” interviews presented by Race Tech Suspension at MotoXAddicts tell the stories of the guys in the trenches week in and week out trying to chase their dream of racing professional Supercross. While the riders at the front of the pack get the money, the T.V. time and the glory that goes with it, there’s a huge pack of guys just hoping to get a spot inside a factory semi. We tell their stories.
This week’s “Privateer Showcase” interview is with the—as of a couple days ago—ex-privateer Kyle Cunningham. Kyle started the 2017 Eastern Regional 250SX Supercross Championship with the Blue Buffalo / Slater Skins / Yamaha team, but after racing the Minneapolis and Atlanta Supercross’ with the team, he decided to go his separate way away from the team and try to go it alone for the rest of the 2017 season.
Kyle missed the Toronto SX preparing his own personal 450 for a privateer effort starting in Daytona, but a couple days later he got a call from the JGRMX / Monster Energy / Suzuki team offering him a job as a fill in rider for the injured Matt Bisceglia. Of course Kyle jumped at the opportunity, got on a plane to North Carolina and, after meeting the team and testing the bike, is ready to debut his new digs at this weekend’s 2017 Daytona SX.
After posting the press release, we thought it would be cool to talk to Kyle about his reversal of fortunes over the last week and find out how he’s getting on with the new bike and new team.
Kyle, where are you staying at the moment?
I was back home in Texas, but I’m in North Carolina now after some stuff changed Monday. I was honestly just planning on showing up at Daytona and racing my 450 and seeing whatever races I could make it to. So I was back home and did a couple days of testing on it to see if we could get a decent suspension setting for it.
What changed on Monday?
Well, I got a phone call on Friday and some text messages, but didn’t really know too much about what was going on. Then, Friday night J-Bone [Jeremy Albrecht, JGRMX team manager] called me from JGR and told me to keep my phone on me and that he would be hollering at me on Saturday. He said, “The quicker you get to North Carolina, the better.” (laughs) I loaded my stuff up Saturday, got everything ready, and me and my mechanic Austin hit the road Sunday morning and came this way.
That has to be exciting and it has to be a good feeling that it’s a bike you’ll get acclimated to quickly. You raced the Suzuki all last year.
Yeah, I was really surprised. The video I posted on Instagram was actually my first day on the bike. I rode the Suzuki all last year with Jimmy Albertson and the Motorcycle Superstore team, but unfortunately they didn’t get to continue on. I love the Suzuki chassis. I chased about eight offseason races—including the races in Germany—and they were all on Suzukis. I’m really familiar with the chassis, so it makes it easy going back to it. I felt comfortable right away and these guys have an awesome setup, so I’m pumped. I made the decision [to leave Blue Buffalo / Yamaha team] when I was not knowing what I was going to do or having anything else and the offer presented itself. Just being here the few days that I have, it’s obvious these guys run a very professional program and they’re all super laid back and down to earth. I’ve been riding the last couple of days, and Jake Weimer’s been out here so I have someone to ride with as well.
The GEICO / Honda team lost RJ Hampshire last weekend and I heard your name tossed around as a possible fill-in over there as well. Did you get a call from anyone over there?
I actually hadn’t. I kind of saw a post on my Instagram Monday that had me, [Jesse] Wentland and [Anthony] Rodriguez, and it was talking about how we were all three candidates for the job. I was standing in the JGR shop before the press release went out when I saw the post. I showed it to J-Bone and was chuckling a little bit because nobody knew at that time. I’m very thankful to just have the opportunity and be where I’m at. Missing Toronto was tough. I’m a racer and I’m not near ready to be done, and it’s tough making decisions when you don’t know where it’s going to take you. For it to all come around and work out this quickly was a sigh of relief.
What exactly happened with Toronto and your Blue Buffalo / Yamaha deal?
I just didn’t make it up there. I made the decision on the Monday before, and me and the guys on the team had talked a little bit. I made the decision Monday that I would probably just show up at Daytona on my 450 that’s in the garage at home. It’s just one 450, so it was going to be a little tough. I just basically made a decision to go a different route. I felt that’s what was best for me to do at the time. With it being Monday and making that decision, I figured if I was going to continue racing, hey, let’s try and get the 450 built. Then there was a chance we could show up at Daytona on that and race the remainder of SX and outdoors on that if that’s what it took. I still love what I’m doing and I want to be at the races every weekend. We all know in this sport (laughs) that can be tough. One way or another—help, no help—I was going to be at Daytona.
Will this JGR deal take you with them outdoors as well?
The deal with JGR right now is to just finish out SX. For me, it’s a program I’ve never been a part of, but to have the opportunity to work with these guys, I felt like it was a good decision and the best thing I could do at the moment. I’m super pumped it happened when it did. You know, you find yourself in spots like this when guys get injured and you never want to see that happen to anybody, but in the place I was in, it took a lot of stress off of me.
Look, you’ve been at this eleven years, so you know what you’re capable of. You’ve also ridden your new bike a couple times now and raced against the 250 East this year in Minneapolis and Atlanta—you finished 12th in Atlanta. So do you see yourself racing inside the top ten or even in the top five in 2017?
Yeah, for sure. I feel like I’ve been there in the past. I saw some posts where some people were pretty nice. Maybe it’s been forgotten what I’ve done, but I’m still hungry and I want better results. I’m still working myself as hard as I can and my fitness feels great. Unfortunately in Atlanta, I had a mid-moto crash and had to catch back up. There’s a lot left in the tank. The 12th in Atlanta was a good ride, but I want to be battling with those guys inside the top five. Just after a couple of days riding this bike, I think it feels really good; I feel really comfortable on it.
In your eleven seasons, you’ve been on many privateer teams, done it completely on your own and been on some really good teams. What’s the toughest part of being a privateer, and what’s the biggest stress relief that comes with getting signed by a JGR?
You know, I think it was back in 2008 when my dad and I went racing out of the back of the pick up and finished seventh overall in the outdoors. There’s been a couple years—I’d say two or three—that have been tough. Doing the privateer thing, I think it shows how much those guys love racing and just how much they want to be out there. I’m the same way. Until I decide I’m done, I’m not going to let not having a ride keep me from the races. I love what I do. I think the toughest thing privateer wise is figuring out how you’re getting to the races and keeping everything organized and prepared, whether it’s spare parts or whatever it is you need. It’s a lot of work, but if you want to be at the races, you do whatever it takes. Coming here in North Carolina, going to the JGR race shop, going to the test track and being prepared to race takes a lot of that stress off of you. It makes you more apt to focus on your training and riding and takes the guessing game of putting my dad and my mechanic, Austin, in the truck and worrying about how to get there out of it. And we all know what it costs to go racing and it’s not cheep. I’m super pumped on the opportunity. Just being here for a couple of days and seeing how they work, this is really a cool deal.
It’s good to see you back on a good team, Kyle, and I’ll see you at the races. Those of us who know you will expect a top five out of you in Vegas, too. (laughs)
Yep, I hope so. Last year threw me off with all that rain. It really broke the streak. (laughs)