Cullin Park impressed me at the Paris Supercross, so I asked him to come on The MotoXpod Show to talk about his experience and what he expects out of himself. The Phoenix Racing Honda team has some good riders under their tent and Cullin is planning on improving his results from 2022.
For the full interview, check out the YouTube video right here. If you're interested in the condensed written version, scroll down just a bit further.
Jamie Guida – Vital MX: Hey Cullin, how’s it going?
Cullin Park: Just trying to get back in the routine. Traveling back from Paris, the time change, I know it's only six hours, but man, it's tough. I got up so early this morning, I was up at four or five and wide awake, so kind of bummed on that. I’ve gotta go ride tomorrow so trying to get back on a time change.
Vital MX: In Paris you ended up fourth overall in the SX2 class. You improved your riding throughout the weekend. What was it that you were learning?
Cullin: I made some suspension changes before racing started. And I'll be honest, I didn't actually touch my bike one time once racing started. Once the gate drops I'm not the type who really likes to change a lot. Once I started racing, I'm just like, “okay, my bike's clearly rideable now. I just need to adapt to whatever comes my way”. The first two races, I got some bad starts and the one I got eighth in, I was coming through the pack and as I tried to make a pass for fifth, I washed the front. Just a simple little crash and ended up eighth and that hurt me on night one for a podium. I came out of the gate pretty good in the final main. And dude, I had a really good race. I felt like Blose and Jace were right in front of me, and we had a good battle there for a little bit. I felt I left some out there on the table. I'm like man, “I think I should have gone better than third”. It kind of kept me up at night. The night in between the race, I didn't go to bed until two or three. I was just lying in my bed hyped up, “dude, I just wanna go race right now”. The next day I showed up and I felt good right off the rip and practice was much better for me. I always struggle in qualifying, it’s something I'm really trying to work on going into the ‘23 Supercross season. I was fourth in qualifying, and the first race came, I had ripped a really good start, the best one of the week. I was almost first going in the turn, but I came out third or fourth and made some quick passes into second. I'm like, “Dude, I can win this main, come on”. I felt I was riding good. But Moss, I don't know what he ate or what he did overnight, but he was a different guy the second night because he was leading and I'm like, “Okay, I can pass this guy, I'm gonna win it”. I was better than him on half of the track. He was crushing the whoops, I'll give it to him. He was riding really good. I tried to keep him honest the whole race, but the mistake never came that I was hoping for. So, I got second in that one right behind him. And the second race was kind of the same. Going into the final race I felt I had a shot at the overall. I knew Moss had a 1-1, I had a 2-3, anything can happen. Look at Blose, he had Prince of Paris kind of wrapped up in a sense and ended up DNF’ing. I got a bad start and completely blamed myself. I just put myself in a bad situation. And off the finish line, Thomas Do, my teammate, he landed off to the right side and cut over to go to the inside and I had over jumped the finish line by just a smidge, not much. I couldn't hit the brakes fast enough and I hit him and high sided and went down. I bent my bars and that was the first lap of the race. I was dead last. From that point on I was just trying to do what I could, and I made as many passes as I could and ended up ninth. I was so disappointed. I had a podium I thought for sure. And even with the ninth, I missed a podium on Sunday night by one point. Had I gotten second or third or first maybe in the last meeting, I don't know if I would've ended up third overall because Blose crushed it night one. Holy smokes, that dude was good. But yeah, I ended up P-4, not at all what I wanted. I really wanted to go to Paris and get a podium. But I gotta say I was really happy with my riding. I just have to clean up those mistakes cause ultimately, they definitely cost me.
TJ Smith – MotoXpod Show: Going over to Paris, did your team bring a whole bike or is it just suspension, grips, and graphics?
Cullin: I was on a completely different team over there. Luckily enough my team here, Phoenix Racing Honda, they were kind enough to let me go. That opportunity is not something I wanted to pass up. David Eller and Heath Harrison were so cool with me going over. It was an experience of a lifetime and I'm the type of guy that the more I race the better. Team Honda SR over there, they supplied me with the bike. The team were all so good. They just brought me in with open arms and I felt like family right off the go. We were cracking jokes with the little English that they knew, and they were teaching me some French language, whether it was good or bad, it was still fun. And I ended up bringing my suspension, bars, and my clutch perch just to have the same feel from my bike here in America. I felt pretty comfortable right from press day.
TJ: The whoops were big in Paris. Have you been practicing at home on whoops that size?
Cullin: I'm originally from Florida but I've moved to North Carolina now just to be with the team. We ride at ClubMX and they built some big whoops, but I will be honest, those whoops in Paris were the biggest whoops I've ever hit. Actually, I will say, ClubMX, their whoops are bigger, but they're a little more rolled on the top. Where the whoops in Paris were so steep. And the second practice, on the first day we had the two 15-minute practices. Literally out of the 15 minutes of practice, I maybe got through the whoops, two or three times clean. And the two or three times I got through, I would mess up somewhere else on the track. Finally, I'm like, “I have to just go for it in these whoops”. I went in full commit, my feet came off, I was superman’ing, and I was like, “oh my”. I am so embarrassed, the fact that I can't hit whoops. I'm not claiming to be James Stewart through the whoops, but all last year in East coast I got through the whoops perfectly fine. In Paris in that second practice, you would've thought I’d never hit a set of whoops before. It was so bad. They were gnarly.
Vital MX: Yeah, they were big. JB and Kenny made 'em look like nothing. But most of the guys were struggling.
Cullin: That's the most disappointing part. You're sitting on the sideline, and they basically just hit them like a straightaway. And in the back of my mind I'm thinking, “okay, when I hit those, I know I don't look like that”.
Scott Thomson – MotoXpod Show: What does a race like this in the off season do for you? Does it give you something to come back and work on and how does it prepare you for the upcoming Supercross season?
Cullin: When I'm training, I want something to work for. You start training for East Coast in October and that's so many months to go with no racing. So, for me to have Paris, it gave me that extra motivation I guess you could say, where I had something to work for. I wanna go race, I wanna go do well. So, I've been putting my head down for the past few weeks and like I said before, I feel the more racing I get, the better I get. So yeah, I try to race as much as I can. I feel I’ve made some progress in my racing since this past season of Supercross. It fuels the fire a little bit more. I'm getting back on the bike tomorrow here in the States and right back to work. I won't race again until Houston. I for sure know I need to work more on whoops and get those starts dialed cuz I'm definitely looking to make that jump for this upcoming Supercross season and be more in the mix. It's gonna be a lot of hard work, but I'm up for the challenge.
Vital MX: The Phoenix Racing Honda team is a good team. You have Jace Owen and Coty Shock as teammates. Are you learning anything from them?
Cullin: Yeah, I'm learning a lot from them. And honestly last year having Kyle Peters, my man has so much wisdom. And also, Heath Harrison, he's the team manager. I think he raced for 10 years professionally. So, those guys have been such a big help for me at the track, just those little things that you don't even think of. Even at the races, the stuff you don't sometimes think of. Jace and KP have quite a bit of age on me, so I probably annoy them when I ask a lot of questions, but I don't feel like you get better if you don't ask them. And we all work really well together too, so it makes it so fun going to the track. We just cut up a lot and the more fun I have, the better I do. So of course, we try to keep it light, and I feel like we all enjoy what we do for sure.
Vital MX: You mentioned training at Club, which the Phoenix Racing team has a really good relationship with. That also means there's other guys around such as Jeremy Martin, Phil, and Marchbanks. Do you also have a pretty good relationship with the Club guys? You get along, you hang out?
Cullin: Honestly, I don't really hang out much with them outside of riding, but all the guys are really cool. I try to get along with everybody. And I actually like Phil Nicoletti a lot. I know he comes across as a little angry guy. But no, I actually really enjoy being around Phil. I think he's funny and anytime he's mad I kind of just laugh with him. So yeah, they're all really cool and everyone's open to questions. And having Jeremy there, he'll make you feel guilty because the guy wants to do 200 laps a day even when you're dead. So, I think it's good to have them around. The level each day we have is basically a main event going on. There are so many guys on the track, it's so broken down. That's why I really like being there, how realistic the track gets. On race day you show up and the whoops are cupped or the corners have eight ruts cutting down, literally Club gets like that every day. So that's really enjoyable.
Scott: Talk about your team a little bit as well. What are some of the advantages that Phoenix Honda team gives to you?
Cullin: The team has been really good with me, especially this past season, being a rookie, they were super helpful. Now this year I think our bike's gonna be much better. Tomorrow will be my first day on not quite the whole new motor package, but a good bit of it. I think we'll have a much better bike next year, which I'm so stoked about. I felt like our bike last year was already pretty good, so I think next year our bike's that much better and it's just gonna make race day even more fun. Our team's been working with the HRC guys, and they're able to ask questions and they've also been pretty helpful with the team just guiding us in the right direction. So that's really cool seeing them all work together, it makes those riders have more confidence.
Vital MX: Barring injuries, I expect good results out of that team.
Cullin: Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. We still have two, three months until we go racing. But yeah, I think all three of us will be in a really good spot and I think we're all fired up this year. Being able to ride together, that's gonna push us each day. The level each day of riding like a race day. That's something I'm trying to work with because growing up I was always riding by myself and I think it would lack aggression. I'm trying to get more fired up and I felt like I had a bit of that in Paris. That was one thing I was happy about.
Vital MX: You mentioned you've always had an issue struggling in qualifying and you have to get better at that. How do you get better at that? What is it about qualifying that you struggle with?
Cullin: If I had the answer, I probably wouldn't be talking about it. To me, I think it's just shutting your brain off a little bit. I mean. you watch Jett last year in qualifying, let's be real, he had some really sketchy moments. I think you just have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable on the track. If you watch a lot of the guys, sometimes they're in control but 60% of the time they probably don't know how they did it. My style's always been where I don't make many mistakes, so that's where I've been trying to break and being okay with dropping an elbow and getting a little sketchy.
Scott: How you would compare yourself now to your rookie season and maybe what a defining moment was for you?
Cullin: That's a really good question, that's hard to say, but I gotta say Daytona was a really good race for me. That was the third race of the season. And although on paper it was horrendous, I was running 11th for over half of the main and ended up getting taken down and then the following weekend crashed again. I went to Indy, and I got that first top 10 and that was a good turning point for me. And then that holeshot at Foxborough was the highlight of my year. I got to lead the lap and see the pace and I ran third for, I wanna say, five minutes. Although I only had one race after that, just being that far up in the front and in the group was like, “wow, okay, this is what it's like”. And I really enjoyed being up there obviously.
Vital MX: And they gave you the Rookie of the Year honors.
Cullin: Yes, I did get Rookie of the Year, so that was a pretty big deal for me as well as the team. So that was really cool for me.
Vital MX: Then in outdoors you rode the 450, correct?
Cullin: I did. Phoenix doesn't normally race outdoors and with me being a rookie I just didn't wanna go all summer without racing. I would've loved to race 250 and raced all 12 outdoors. But being a bigger kid, it was easier for us to go take a 450 outdoors and I raced six of them. Unfortunately, we had some crazy problems happening at the races. Just stupid little bike problems that we couldn't figure out. It was just baffling what was going on. It was almost comical. At the end of the season, we were like, “Dude, we don't know what is going on”. I only had two decent results out of the year. I got 15th or 14th at Southwick; I don't remember exactly. And then my final round at Ironman, I went 17, 15 I believe. Definitely far from where you want to be, but for my first year and the 450 class this year got even stronger as the season went on. So, it was a tough year, but ultimately, it's just gonna help me and it made me a better rider. Being able to race the six outdoors was helpful cuz watching it on TV it feels long. But when you're out there racing two 35-minute motos your tongue is in the spokes just holding on for dear life.
TJ: As you get more established in racing and you get free time in the off season, are you gonna be one of the riders that starts to hit these off season, different disciplines, like GNCC, cross country, ISDE?
Cullin: I would love to. I've already said the more racing for me the better. And no matter what it is, I'm kind of into it.
Vital MX: I could see it in your face this weekend. You were definitely a happy kid. You were really excited just to talk to everybody and always seemed to be up. I saw that in your personality that you definitely are fired up to be there and loving everything about it.
Cullin: That's me for sure. This past year, even racing Supercross, that was the same way. I actually have a funny story from Paris on Sunday. I read the paper wrong about what time I practiced and for whatever reason I thought I practiced at 11:40. Come to find out, I was at 11:20 and my hotel was right across the street. I was in there on the bicycle warming up in the hotel gym, no rush, it's 11. I still have 40 minutes; I'll just show up 30 minutes early. So, I show up, I'm in the security line, just taking my time, no rush at all. Get in the doors, it's 11:13 and people from the team are looking for me. They're like, “Oh where have you been"? Cuz I forgot my phone in the hotel room actually. Eric Sorby was like, “Yeah, everyone's looking for you”. I get there and they're pointing at their wrist cuz they don't speak English very well. And I'm like, “Guys, no stress. I ride at 11:40, I still have 30 minutes, I don't know why you guys are freaking out”. I walk into the rig and Thomas Do is in there and at this point it's 11:15. I'm like, “why is everyone rushing? We still have so much time”. He says, “no, we're at 11:20”. Dude, I threw my gear on so fast, my brother and sister were there. I felt like I was four years old. They were helping me get ready. I literally put my gear on in two minutes and still made it down to practice on time. I was like, “oh my gosh, I cannot believe I just did that”. I went from just being all chill, walking in, still talking to everybody thinking I had all the time in the world. And come to find out I had a total of about seven minutes before I was on the track.
Vital MX: What can we expect out of you for ‘23? Obviously, you want to improve you're qualifying. What are your goals for ‘23?
Cullin: My goal for ‘23 is to be the best version of myself. I wanna have a lot of fun cuz that's when I'm gonna race the best. Results wise, I wanted to make that jump. I wanna be more of a seven to 10 guy, consistently in the top 10 where last year I only got the ninth and 10th. Maybe later in the year you get a good start and put yourself in a good position and crack into a top five. Trying to be reasonable with my goals and I feel like seven to 10 is the next step for me.
Vital MX: I was creeping on your Instagram, just seeing if there's anything interesting to bring up tonight and I saw that you were on the Hawaii trip with Chase Sexton in Kauai. I want to ask you about your basketball post. You said you were the best basketball player in Kauai. Are you an experienced basketball player or was it just a good day?
Cullin: Not one bit am I a good basketball player. But you gotta fake it until you make it sometimes, right? I mean hey I have some height to me, I'm six two, and I'm left-handed, so seeing a leftie might throw some flare in there. But really, I just had those shirtless basketball pictures I wanted to post from Hawaii. So had to throw a little confidence in there saying I was the best basketball player.
TJ: As long as you're not showing your butthole like RV did.
Vital MX: Speaking of, tell that story.
Cullin: I kind of did that this weekend for the world to see. My pant buckle came undone and somehow when my pants dropped it also brought my underwear down. I'm like, “my pants definitely have dropped, and I feel my cheeks over on my seat”, but I'm hoping that you somehow can't see it. I came off the track and instantly saw a bunch of pictures. I even posted about it. It's on my Instagram. And of course, it was my best race of the night too. So, I was on camera more and fully just showing the world.