Twisted Development has been establishing a reputation for building some of the most powerful and reliable engines in the sport for years. Many of the teams and privateers in the paddock trust Twisted because of the knowledge and 'straight-shooter' personality of TD's owner, Jamie Ellis. Jamie took some time away from his day to sit down and tell us how he became one of the top engine builders in the sport.
Jamie Guida - Vital MX: What’s your background in moto? Where did it all start?
Jamie Ellis: I grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana. We had to drive really far to ride motorcycles. It all starts with getting a motorcycle, riding in some fields, making it out to some trails. In Alexandria, Louisiana there's a good trail network up there. At some point it's like, hey, let's go to the motocross track. There's a track in New Iberia, Louisiana and that's where I got started. As I started to get a little bit better, we started to try to race some of the Nationals and stuff like that. I have a lot of great memories racing all over Texas and Mississippi.
Vital MX: I read that you got a technical degree in aviation. Is that another passion?
Jamie: We're all influenced by who surrounds us and our upbringing. I happen to have a motorcycle riding buddy that was a contract aircraft mechanic. He would just bid on a job somewhere and he'd go. I was kind of attracted to the lifestyle of being able to pick up and go. I knew I just didn't want to stay right where I was. I had no idea that motorcycles would take me all over the world as it has. But that was the concept, that idea of making a bunch of money and moving around as I wanted. I went through college, got a degree, got a certificate for aviation. And then I was still riding and racing and, you know, very much loved motorcycles. The guy that was at that time doing my motors and suspension had just taken over a race team. He said, “Dude, come on the road, give me one year”. And that one year turned into the rest of my life. You never know what opportunities are going to come your way. Keep looking.
Vital MX: Before starting Twisted Development, you worked for Yamaha of Troy, Factory Red Bull KTM, and Rockstar Suzuki. Talk about the progression from mechanic to engine builder.
Jamie: It’s about taking an opportunity and being able to take advantage of it. I was a race mechanic for all those places. I was flying out every Wednesday or Thursday, home every Sunday or Monday. Being a race mechanic is a thrash. You fly out early because you have to rebuild the bike and all of that stuff. I ended up having an opportunity where I was doing engines at Rockstar Suzuki. I wouldn't say I got shoved into the primary engine building position because I asked for it, but it was just kind of timing. I was already consistent. There wasn't really anyone else who was ahead of me at the time to take over the position. Once that happened, whenever you're leading a team or the technical person, it strong arms you into learning a lot. You really get motivated to learn more and more. I just studied car stuff. I bought books on porting and whatever. I guess I was just lucky that I had enough experience and knowledge. And then I really got into a position where I wasn't paid to learn how to build engines, but I was paid to build engines. So, I had to learn if I wanted to keep a job.
Vital MX: Tell us about the birth of Twisted Development.
Jamie: Jason Anderson had won the Supercross West Coast Championship the summer of ‘14 there. My job was ending with the Rockstar KTM team. They didn't need a development guy. They take care of everything through Austria with that program. I had saved some money and put nice garage lights in my garage so that I could see and I kind of set up a workshop and a workbench there. I figured out a way to get a dyno. John Duffy at Applied Racing was very instrumental in me being able to have confidence as a true north. Then I rented half of our first unit and I built out a dyno room and Jonathan Lower from DT1 Filters, he needed half a spot too, so it was perfect. I had a buddy that was Brian Deegan's mechanic. I really owe a lot to him. Haiden Deegan was on 50s and I had this meeting with Brian. He said, “I’m not going to pay you all the money you need. I'll give you a salary and that salary will be enough to pay your bills. So, if you want to take a chance, I need someone to build Hailey's engines and Haiden's engines”. I had Haiden Deegan from 50s to Super Minis until he signed his Star contract. That was obviously pretty awesome. I always wanted to give back to him because he's given me so much by way of opportunity and timing.
Vital MX: When you were with Rockstar and the opportunity opened up for you to do engines, how much experience did you have porting and doing all that kind of stuff and were you comfortable taking over?
Jamie: In all reality, it was just kind of a sink or swim opportunity. There's a lot of new things and pretty much whenever you get put in the driver's seat and you're the one that all the other mechanics go to, you really must figure out stuff quick. You just kind of dive in and try to reverse engineer what's going on. I guess I was terrified, but I knew I wanted to do it, so I just went for it.
Vital MX: You told Kris Keefer on his podcast that your decision never to post a dyno chart or porting pics is basically false advertising. Can you explain that?
Jamie: There's so many ways that you can take a dyno and you can manipulate it to show more horsepower. You can reduce the amount of rotating weight so that basically the thing spins up faster, looks like it makes more power. There's a ton of things you can do. I feel as if everyone’s dyno across the country is going to read a little bit different. Every dyno is going to have a correction factor of sorts. If you start chasing those dyno numbers and you let the amateur dads really fire you up on what horsepower the bike makes, then before you know it, it's going to end up on somebody else's dyno. And it may be better than yours, but you've sold yourself short or you've oversold yourself. I just never thought it was a good business practice to try to go down that road. It's like measuring your dick from behind your balls. It's false advertising. She's going to find out.
Vital MX: You have been building engines for Muck Off/ClubMx Yamaha, HEP Suzuki, BarX Suzuki, Fire Power Honda, and the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC KTM teams. That’s a great line-up.
Jamie: I think it's probably time for a reset on some of the teams. From the outside looking in, you would think, oh man, these guys are doing so many teams, they must be making so much money. But I mean, we're busy, right? I kind of need to evaluate a little bit of some of the programs that are close to us that are easy and manageable and have the right staff. There's a lot of qualifiers whenever we're building engines for a race team like ClubMX. They’re across the country. They have a good handle on rebuilding the engines after we build them. They're all built here. The engine finally is approved to leave and then basically it heads east, and it lives its life there. So, programs like that make it easy for us to participate because we can do all the modification of everything and the support throughout the year.
Vital MX: With the Rocky Mountain Team’s issues, how did that effect you?
Jamie: I'll just tell you straight. Forrest Butler and I are good. I haven't been burnt. I haven't been unpaid. I've provided what I said I would do, and they've provided what they said they would do. I'm still actively helping those guys.
Vital MX: I have a couple questions from VitalMX Forum members. Sebastianer asks, how much horsepower can you get out of a fully built 250F?
Jamie: That's going to circle right back to the dyno. I'll tell you a story, a quick story. I was using my dyno here at the shop and my electronics kind of go sideways. So, I call a buddy who has a dyno not that far from me. I left my dyno and I went just down the street. Probably 20 minutes as the crow flies. It was the same dyno wheel, because that makes a difference. Same pipe, same gas, same everything. And I rolled onto that dyno and I made four more horse than I did on mine. That's why it's so untrustworthy to advertise based on those performance numbers. Because if you have a hot dyno, you really look like you're king of the world. Until it makes it to a not so giving dyno and then the customer is pissed at you. I would say with a 250F we always try to get ten horse more out of them, which is a lot.
Vital MX: Another forum member, Luke-Richards wanted to get a little more info on your thoughts on oil. Is that something you do? Testing to see what works best?
Jamie: Let’s say Darkside Moto has a race team and comes to us for development. I’ll ask, “who are your sponsors?”. You’ll tell me and here's what we're going to do. We're going to go with your sponsor products first. You’ll give me a bunch of your oil to the shop and I'll build all your engines with it. That way we're not switching back and forth. We're going to look at your clutches every 4 to 6 hours and then we're going to drain the oil. We'll see how that's looking, and then we'll put a plan together. At the first, let's say 10 to 15 hour service interval, we'll go ahead and split the engine, even though we don't need to. But we'll have a look around. And then basically at that point, if there is something going sideways, we're going to know hopefully before there's ever a failure. But the minute that you're having an issue and I think it might be connected to something, I'm going to go to my comfort zone until we get it under control. I want to learn. I'm not done with learning. I love learning. So, anything I can learn extra that may be beneficial to something else is always such an advantage.