Photo by: Doc Weedon
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 motocross and 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” is an interview with a rider who qualified 8th overall in the 450 class at the 2018 Thunder Valley National and scored a career best 16th overall on the day, Brandan Leith. Brandan is a young pro from Eagle Mountain, Utah, and if you’re wondering why his name rang a bell for you when you heard it last weekend, it may have been from when he shocked everyone by qualifying 1st overall in the 250SX class at the very muddy Seattle SX. Brandan may not be finishing in the top ten yet, but he is definitely showing he can throw down some serious one lap heaters in qualifying both indoors and out.
Unfortunately, like so many other aspiring professionals in this sport right now, that kind of speed and scoring solid points in the premier AMA motocross class in the country still won’t pay these kids enough for their gas, hotel and of course “entry fee” to get to the next round. I’ll never understand making a professional rider to pay an entry fee, but before I go into a rant, I digress.
Brandan’s not sure if he will be able to follow the series East, but we thought we would give him a call to get to know him a little better and talk with him about the struggles of affording to race outdoors as a privateer.
Brandon, thanks for doing the interview. You’ve been killing it, so we thought we’d get to know you a little better. So you’re back home in Utah now after Thunder Valley?
Yeah, we’re based in Eagle Mountain, Utah, so we just ride around Utah.
Are there a lot of MX tracks and places to ride out there? I know the off-road stuff and the single-track trail riding out there is amazing, but I never hear too much about MX tracks out there.
Not too many places, but it’s starting to get better. We used to have to go to California, but this year there’s a local series that would compare to something like the Transworld Motocross series in California. It’s a local series and they just opened up a track pretty close to my house. They’re [Steadman MX park] doing Tuesday and Wednesday practices. That’s been really nice, and their boys [Riley Brough and McCoy Brough] do the nationals too, so they want a rough track. We all can ride together and get a rough track going.
What was your amateur career like coming up? Did you guys venture out of Utah for the nationals much?
Yeah, we did quite a bit in the amateurs. We usually did Mammoth a lot, the World Minis, Texas a couple times and Loretta’s too. It was pretty good. I got a couple Championships here and there and some good finishes. I never had a good Loretta’s, but I had a good Mammoth, a good World Minis and did well in Texas a couple times.
At what age did you start chasing the nationals, and did you ever find any real support? You seem comfortable with and able to haul ass a privateer. Qualifying 8th in the 450 class is no joke.
I’d say I was about 10 when we started doing some nationals. No, support, though, it’s always just been us. We never got on Team Green or anything like that, we’ve always just done it by ourselves. We’re comfortable with it ’cause that’s all we’ve ever done. In SX this year, I rode for the Rockwell team in Seattle and Salt Lake, but that’s the only time I’ve ever been on a team.
And those two Supercrosses were your best of the year, so you kind of showed what you can do with a little help. I know the B group got a way better track in the Seattle mud for qualifying, but you qualified 1st overall there. Qualifying first is no joke no matter what the circumstances. What was that like? I know a lot of fans and media were scrambling to find out who the heck #388 was.
That was awesome! It was crazy. We walked the track and was like, “It’s gonna be alright,” but then it started raining and I knew it was going to me gnarly. I was like, “Okay, on the very first lap I’m going to lay down a lap,” and I did. That put me on top of the B practice and I hoping that would put me inside the top 10, but then it stuck. I was like, “Holy crap, that’s crazy.” (laughs)
Yeah, and you finished with your best finish–a 14th–in Seattle and a 17th in Salt Lake, so Rockwell had to be pumped. Did they or anyone talk about maybe helping you any more?
They were really pumped with the fastest qualifier. I’ve been talking to the Rockwell guy a little bit. He’ll text me after every round and say, “Hey, how’d it go,” and we’ll talk about it went. Other than that, nothing’s been going on.
After SX, you obviously chose to ride 450 outdoors. It’s a super injury depleted field and a great chance for privateers this year to get some exposure, but I think people would be noticing you either way. What went into the decision to go 450?
We usually do 250, like last year. When I race locally, though, I always race 450 and I feel better on it. I’m not a big guy, but I’m like 165 lbs and when you race guys like the Martin’s–who can’t be more than 145lbs–on factory bikes, you can’t build a bike that’s even fair. With the 450, I think most of us are on stock bikes. It’s just easier, cheaper and with the field being the way it is, it was just the thing to do.
It looks like a good decision so far. At Hangtown and Glen Helen you qualified 19th, but at Thunder Valley you showed impressive speed. You ended up qualifying way up in 8th. I got two or three texts saying, “Did you see Brandon Leith in qualifying?” Have you ridden there a lot or what was it?
I’ve only ridden there when I’ve raced the nationals there. I’ve never done a practice day or anything. I don’t know, I got a pretty good lap in. I dropped in behind [Justin] Barcia and tried to stay as close as I could to him. I’ve always liked it there more than Hangtown or Glen Helen, I’ve never got along there well at all. I wasn’t expecting much there. I was pretty stoked with my lap at Thunder Valley. Even the first practice, I was pretty close to the top 10 in 14th.
You had your best moto finishes a Thunder Valley as well, going 16-18 for 16th overall on the day. It was a good day all the way around for you.
The motos went pretty good, but I think I got altitude sickness or something. I was super sick. After the races I was throwing up and all sorts of bad stuff was going on. (laughs) The first moto was going really good. I picked the far inside gate–I think Blake Baggett was right next to me–and someone over there got a really good start. I tucked in and was like 11th before the restart. They threw the red flag, re-racked them and I got another really good start. I ran up there for a little bit, but I don’t think I recovered well between the motos. I think I was just so amped up because I was having a good moto. It still went pretty good. I was happy to finish 16th, which was the best I’ve ever finished so I was stoked on that. We’ll try to get up there with those next group of guys.
Yeah, it was a good ride and I notice you never quit which is big. Now that I hear you were puking it’s even more impressive. This the Privateer Showcase so I want to ask, what’s the toughest part of being a privateer for you?
Just how expensive it is. It takes so much money. It’s hard on everybody.
How are you getting to the nationals? Are you doing all of them?
I don’t know if I am. I’m not sure yet. The Brough’s are going to do every one I think and they’re from here. I’m actually going out to ride with them today, talk to their dad and see if maybe I can pitch in on some gas and do that. I don’t know yet. I know I’m doing Washougal for sure, but we’re trying to see if we can out for a couple East rounds.
It’s still amazing to me that guys that are qualifying in the top 10 of the premier class and scoring points or guys like Bradley Taft who even finishes top 10 overall can’t race the nationals because it’s too expensive. It’s impossible to find how much the payouts are at each event, but I know it is far from enough to pay the bills for someone like yourself. The fact that guys like yourself and Bradley cannot afford to race really should open some eyes to how broken the sport is right now.
I hope so! I hope it does. It’s hard to do them all; it’s a lot of money. I tried to figure it out with my dad last night and just to do it it’s going to be 10 grand, just for flights, hotels and sign ups. I didn’t even factor in bike maintenance: clutches every weekend, tires and stuff like that.
It’s weird, because when I look around at SX and and now MX, the sport is growing. The turns outs have been on the up. It just seems crazy to me that there are weekends where Tomac is winning and making $3 million a year, the guy in 5th is making 40K a year and the guy in 7th is paying to race. There are tens of millions being made in this sport but only by a handful of riders and the promoters.
The drop off is crazy. I mean Tomac deserves every bit of that $3 million ’cause he is an animal, but it’s gotta spread out a little more somehow. I don’t know how they’d do it, but it’s definitely a broken system I think.
It’s hard to disagree with that. Before I let you go, let’s give some love to the companies that do give you some help.
Yeah, for sure, Stewart’s Heating, Duff Shelly’s, Strikt, TASCO MTB, Rekluse, TCX , Lucas Oil, Atlas Brace, 6d Helmets, Notoil, Noleen and j6 suspension all help me out a lot.