"I Made One Main in '95. That Was the Pinnacle of My Racing Career" | Randy Richardson from Michelin

Randy Richardson talks about where his passion for two wheels came from, how he got his start in the industry, and Michelin's involvement in racing.

Often, we focus on the riders, mechanics, and others that are in front of the public eye within the industry. There are countless people working behind the scenes dealing with products or logistics that make the industry go round. Many of you may know the Partnership Manager for Michelin Two Wheel, Randy Richardson, from the PulpMX Show. Some of you don’t. So, we called ‘The Fastest Man in Piedmont’ to get a bit of his background and learn more about how he got into the industry.

       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

Jamie Guida – Vital MX: You have a passion for two wheels. Where did that love for motorcycles come from?

Randy Richardson: It came from a birthday gift for my fourth birthday. September of 1970, I received a 1971 Yamaha JT1 Mini Enduro, which was a revolutionary bike for the Yamaha brand back then in that it was the first small, truly Off-Road capable little dirt bike that changed, I think, a lot of people's lives. I received that from mom and dad. My dad had gotten into dirt bike riding, had some Hodakas, which was a Japanese brand, the early invasion of some of the Japanese brands. He was, and I still think he is my hero and I’m still blessed to ride with him to this day. He’s 78 and still rides occasionally with me. I got that little Yamaha mini enduro and luckily with my little butt on the seat and nuts on the tank, I could reach the foot pegs. Not the ground but the foot pegs. And yeah, dad sent me out across the yard and man, that thing moved my soul and just stirred me and stirred my spirit, you know, in ways that it still does to this day. So, that's where that passion started. And I'm still blessed to have it with me to this day.

Vital MX: Was it primarily trail riding with your dad or was there some racing?

Randy: For us, primarily trail riding. Dad did race. He raced motocross early on and he won some Southeastern championships in motocross back then. I'm not sure why he made the transition to racing enduro. He began racing some DKW and some Penton and then he kind of settled in on Husqvarna, which is where my passion for the Husqvarna brand now comes from. I would go with him to some motocross tracks and maybe ride around out in the pits or whatever. And then as I got older and more capable and things that he taught me about motorcycle riding, you know, look ahead and choose your lines and things that I later applied in life. There are so many true-life examples that can apply for motorcycling that I later realized. But nonetheless, I would follow my dad through the woods, you know, and progressed on different bikes. And I can remember primarily riding in the woods on a Yamaha 80 in probably the late seventies and following him to the woods and crossing creeks and him helping me get up hills and him giving me some pointers. I never raced as a kid. We just rode recreationally, just trail riding and things like that. So that's how I grew up riding and sharing that love for motorcycles with my dad. It was wheeling in our yard the farthest. It was an amazing life experience that he and I shared and still share to this day.

Vital MX: You're a very humorous guy, quick witted, always have the one liners ready to go. Does that come from someone in your family, your mom, your dad?

Randy: That definitely comes from dad. He has an amazing quick wit and sense of humor. He's a little bit more of a quiet person. If you met him, he wouldn't be nearly as outgoing as I am. I told someone that I get my sense of humor from dad and my ‘talkativeness’ from mom. And my mom goes, “I don't talk that much, do I”? And Dad and I just kind of looked at each other. So yeah, it's a mix of those two. As a kid he was going to teach me how to tighten the chain on my little Yamaha mini enduro. We put it up on this little metal milk crate and he loosens the axle bolt and I'm probably five and he's telling me, “All right, so we're going to do this, and we adjust these chain adjusters, and this is how to tighten the chain”. I look at it as a kid in a child's mind and said, “Dad, that's not tightening the chain. You're just moving the wheel back”. To this day, here I am, 56 years old and just last week I was working on my little Husqvarna 150 down in his shop. I'm over there putting a new Michelin Starcross 6 on the back. He looks and I got the rear wheel off and he goes, “You tighten that chain or you just moving the wheel back”? It's 50 years later, Dad. And it's still funny.

Vital MX: Later in your life, you do make some professional races. You clearly started to take racing seriously at some point. When was that decision made?

Randy: I guess it would have been probably 1985 or 1986. I had ridden through high school, you know, trail rode, and you know, you get more interest in high school. I got into Van Halen and chasing girls or whatever. So, I didn't really ride as much through the teenage years. It was after high school, going to technical college and I had a bike and went to some local outlaw motocross race. I had a Yamaha IT200 that I raced. My very first motocross race was in the Enduro class, which means you had to have a headlight. But from there, fast forward to 1990. I had a friend and co-worker at Michelin that had won a lot of Loretta Lynch championships in the vet classes, a gentleman named Steve Lewis. And he said, “Man, you ride good. You need to go do an AMA race”. So off to Muddy Creek we go, and I sign up and get an AMA license and rode in the ‘C’ class in 1990 and then rode B class in ’91 and ’92. I then progressed pretty quickly within racing just because I had such a great base of riding experience, whether it be on track or trails or crossing creeks, jumping creeks, whatever. For 1993, ‘94, and ‘95, I attended and participated in the AMA supercross series. I would always do Atlanta, Daytona, Charlotte, Tampa and Orlando simply because they were close and at that time, I was already working with Michelin in an engineering role and certainly wasn't trying to make a career of racing. I was more so just wanting to be a part of that. I’d take my vacation days and go qualify. I always qualified for the nighttime in the 250 class and then in ‘95 I rode some 125. I made one 125 main event in Charlotte in ‘95. And that was the pinnacle of my racing career. Ironically Travis Pastrana and I are tied in 250cc Supercross wins.

Vital MX: How did you get into the industry with Michelin? 

Randy: I'll use an air quote around engineer. I graduated from Greenville Technical College with a mechanical engineering degree in engineering graphics, computer graphics or what have you, and had grown up in my dad's tool and die machine shop. So that's where I got a fair bit of mechanical aptitude early on. An understanding of blueprints and mechanical things. And I learned how to move the rear wheel back. So, I hired in after college with Michelin in a maintenance role initially then into the engineering department. And there I met, as I referenced, Steve Lewis, and got more active in motorcycle racing. Later on, it would have been 1995, I learned, “wait, we make dirt, bike tires?”. I didn't even know that. Because I'm working in a manufacturing facility where we made semi-finished products for the automotive division. And I learned there's Michelin motorcycle tires and I connected with someone in there and they gave me, I'll call it sponsorship. I think I got six or eight free tires for 1995 for my racing efforts. I'm very proud to be the first to use Michelin tires in the AMA supercross in ‘95. Because no one else was using them. And then through that relationship I was able to move into a role as technical liaison. That was my first job title within Michelin Two-Wheel. I was working between our sales team here in the US and, and our counterparts on the technical side over in France. Our market share has grown and I've been very blessed to be within the Two Wheel Division of Michelin for over a couple of decades now. And that's where I plan to stay as long as they'll have me.

Vital MX: Was that a big part of your role, helping to get a bigger footprint in the off-road side of the U.S. market?

Randy: Yeah, somewhat. At the end of ‘99, we had a new Starcross range of tires that was coming. And David Vuillemin, who was obviously a French rider and based in motocross GP’s, was very instrumental in the development of the initial Starcross range. We were looking at pursuing a larger footprint in Supercross and motocross in the year 2000, when Vuillemin came over to go to Yamaha. He actually tested Michelin versus Bridgestone at the end of ‘99. So, we possibly were going to get that. That didn't work out. Bridgestone did a great job of coming back with some solutions that he liked as good as the Michelin. So, they stayed with Bridgestone. And then I was involved in having our onsite support with a company called Competition Direct. We had them contracted to do our trackside involvement for supercross and motocross in 2000. And at that time, we had more of a marketing partnership with KTM North America to where we supported their factory race team for Supercross and Motocross. That's where I met Steve Matthes who was a mechanic on that team. It's more of a corporate marketing agreement, but yet we did provide support at Supercross/Motocross. So, I would go to a few of the races in 2000 and again, my manager at that time knew my technical background from an engineering perspective, as well as my knowing people within the motorcycle industry that I'd raced at somewhat of a level to have an understanding of what rider's needs were in our racing series here. In 2001, we signed a factory Suzuki team. That's when I really began to be on the scene because I was attending each and every supercross and motocross beginning that year. 

Vital MX: Currently, Michelin released the new Starcross 6, but there is not much of a footprint in supercross and motocross right now. What is the reasoning behind that?

Randy: A number of factors contributed to that. So candidly, I was working with my counterparts in France who are focusing on motocross GP in Europe, and then I'm trying to focus on supercross and motocross here in the US.  Michelin is a global company and I think there was a bit more priority on the needs for European motocross, which at that time was quite similar to American motocross. But certainly, supercross was different and still is a different animal in itself. So, over the years, 2001, ’02, and ‘03, I think that we had a very good product. But I don't think that we, Michelin, maintained the level of development progression for the performance of our tires for supercross that we needed to in comparison to our competitors. At that time that primarily would have been Bridgestone and Dunlop. And again, I'm speaking about race spec tires. In the early 2000s I was working with Travis Pastrana, Kevin Windham, Grant Langston, and David Pingree. Different riders would have a different feeling or a different performance expectation or something they wanted different from it. So, I had to manage that with each and every slightly different option that we had. That's the thing about race spec tires that people don't maybe understand. One, they have a very short life and there's subtle differences that cater to this rider or that rider. I had to manage that, and we just didn't continue to make the progression that I feel like we should have. We lost the Factory Suzuki team in 2004 and we continued with Ryan Clark and Team Solitaire and Subway Coca-Cola, which you know Jason Thomas and Joe Oehlhof raced on. We maintained our presence at the races and involvement at the races, but our level of race results declined. We went from winning a 2001 Eastern Region Supercross championship with Travis Pastrana, a rear wheel failure, not a tire failure, with Grant Langston and KTM cost us an AMA national championship in 2001 in the 125 class. Then with Brandon Jesseman, we won a 125 East Supercross championship again. But then the race results just weren't there. So, I stopped traveling the entire series at the end of the 2005. 

Vital MX: Michelin continues to be involved in other racing series. Talk about that.

Randy: Back in 2020 my management was asking, “What can we do to improve our awareness and presence in off-road as a segment”? So, we began some conversations with the GNCC Racing series. For 2021, we began having onsite support, contingency and supporting the grassroots level of racing for the GNCC series. We had a lot of riders convert over to Michelin products. They embraced our products and benefited from our trackside support there. My coworker Bryan Zurlo manages that. Our presence in 2021 enabled us to secure the Magna 1 Motorsports Husqvarna support team for 2022. This year we've secured, with Jordan Ashburn, the GNCC XC1 championship as well as Brody Johnson won the XC3 championship. So, we certainly have great, in my opinion, great racing success there. And those racers and that team are using the exact same Michelin tires and Michelin bib moose that any consumer can purchase from their favorite online retailer or local dealer.

Vital MX: What is the future? What's next for in the next year or two for Michelin two wheel?

Randy: For us, we're planning to continue our involvement with racing. Although I don't see supercross involvement in the short-term future. We typically introduce a new product in varying segments every few years. Different product segments have different product cycles. We've introduced our Michelin Road 6 this year which is a sport touring tire with exceptional wear characteristics and mileage and wet performance. We also introduced the Michelin Starcross 6 range. It was 2020 that we introduced the Michelin Commander 3 range, which is a cruiser tire. So, we typically have a lot of things in the pipeline for short term and long term. And we just continue to work with that method where we are introducing a new product for new segments globally every year or two.


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