Vital MX Insider: Randy Lawrence

Click the following links for additional video interviews: Randy Lawrence Part 1, Randy Lawrence Part 2.

You can also click the following link for a riding video of Ryan Villopoto on the Kawasaki Supercross track.

Over the years it seems like we’ve seen several different versions of Randy Lawrence. There’s the one who’s been a mechanic for both factory and non-factory riders, pairing with guys like Doug Dubach, David Pingree, Jeremy McGrath (winning three titles together), and Ezra Lusk. Then there’s the R.L. who raced downhill and dual slalom mountain bikes competitively at the World Cup level. That doesn’t even count all the time he’s spent on a BMX bike, riding flatland, ramps, and trails. It also doesn’t factor in the occasions when we saw him do things like backflip a mountain bike (and the front wheel flew off), or when we saw him huck a stock Z50 over a 40-foot gap (much to the dismay of the bike’s owner…since the brand-new bike wasn’t in exactly the same condition as when it took off).

 Randy Lawrence Check out this backflip by R.L. gone horribly wrong.

Now 39, he’s older, wiser, and has a wealth of experience to draw from, and is making use of his varied experiences by working as a trainer with Ryan Villopoto (the current Motocross Lites and Supercross Lites West Champion; and speedy 450-class competitor, Nick Wey. Fortunately for everyone, it seems to be working much better than Randy’s first crack at a Briggs & Stratton-powered mini-bike. As Randy tells it, “The first time I remember riding a mini-bike I was three, and my dad had to pull me off the side of it as I was coming by, because I didn’t know how to let off the gas.”

When quizzed about how he got to where he is today, Randy had a long answer. “In 1974 I got a GT80. I would have been seven at that point. I actually went up to the Intermediate level in racing, but at that point is where I decided I’d ride bicycles, and I started riding flatland and ramps and stuff like that, and let my younger brother, Phil, pursue more of the motocross career, and I started doing the bicycle thing at that point. I just really had an interest in BMX and freestyle. That was something new and a sport that was taking off at that point. I got interested in that and pursued that more through high school. Even when I graduated from high school I moved out to Huntington Beach to pursue that even further and worked at bike shops and had some sponsors. I did that until ’89 or early ’90, and that’s when Phill turned pro and needed someone to go to the races with him and work on his bikes. I guess that’s how I transitioned into being a mechanic started, because I still rode bicycles and still rode ramps and stuff. I’d go to the races with him and make sure his bikes were okay during the week.”

“There was a small time that I worked with Joel Albrecht when he rode for DGY Yamaha. That’s what lead into working with Doug Dubach, and I worked three years at Yamaha. When I left Yamaha I was with David Pingree in ’94 and ’95…he was support Suzuki in ’94, and rode for Mitch in ’95.  It was after that when we had our first child, Racquelle, and I just didn’t want to be gone that much traveling. So I just decided that I was going to ride downhill. It was about a four-month series and season, and it would allow me to be home a lot more. So I did that, and in hindsight, it was probably a good idea…not that I made a lot of money riding mountain bikes. We paid our own way and it wasn’t easy, but what I learned then is what allows me to help these riders now as a trainer.”

“So I raced mountain bikes professionally in ’96 and ’97…and I still raced in ’98 and ’99, but  I was working with Jeremy (McGrath) in ’98 and ’99 also. But he was doing the Supercross season, and mountain bikes were in the summer. So I did the supercross season with Jeremy in ’98, ’99, and 2000. I got injured at the end of ’99, so I wasn’t able to ride mountain bikes in 2000. It was just after that that I stopped working with Jeremy.”

Randy Lawrence
Randy, when he was racing mountain bikes under the Intense banner.

“In 2001 I was really kind of on my own. I didn’t know if I wanted to go back into the motocross industry as a mechanic and do all the traveling and all that…it was just kind of a rough time for myself, personally.  So I started my own little business working on bikes in the garage, and was still playing around on my bicycle. I was doing some shows for GT at that point with a couple friends. It was just local school shows and things like that.  Just having a lot of fun with it, and trying to regroup and figure out exactly where I wanted to be.”

Towards the end of 2001, that’s when I was approached by Ezra Lusk. He was moving from Honda to Kawasaki and Gosselaar wasn’t going to move from Honda to Kawasaki with him. We talked a little bit and kind of put things together. I had a couple meetings with Bruce at Kawasaki, and I thought it would be a good spot, and a good time to get back into  it. I felt like my personal life was back on track and a little more stable, so we went for it. I did 2002 and 2003 with Ezra, and after 2003 I made another choice, to go in-house at Kawasaki, and do more of the testing stuff. Keep me off the road a little more and keep me with my daughter, and who was my new wife at the time, Lisa…just give me a little more time at home. I’d still be working with team on the testing side of things, with James Stewart and Michael Byrne. I did that in ’04, and right at the beginning of ’05 was…I’d been praying a lot about it, and thinking a lot about it, and trying to make some decisions. I’ve always had a passion for training, Obviously when I started racing mountain bikes that was a bit part of what we did. Knowing motocross as well as I did, and bike setup, rider’s mentalities, the difference between the guys winning championships versus the guys who struggle…just everything I’d learned and done over the course of  my life, I just felt it was time to make that change. So I up and put in a two week’s notice at Kawasaki and told them that I was going to start training some riders. I had a couple amateur riders at that point ready to jump on board, and I started there.”

Curious about how much time he’d spent working with his riders in the past, we posed a question about which part he enjoyed the most, the mechanical side, the mental side, or the biomechanical side? “In the early 90s, that was probably my favorite part, spending time with the rider, hanging out with the rider, riding the bicycles with the rider…doing those types of things. And then maintaining the bike and making sure it’s prepared for the weekend. But I really enjoyed being a part of that rider’s life and knowing that rider and trying to help him at the races to do they best that they can. Even with Jeremy, that was one element that I thought I brought to his camp at that point. He’d been champion so much, and it was time for him to enjoy races. One of the things that he said when he hired me was that he wanted a mechanic that he had common interests with, that he could hang out and have a good time with, and it wasn’t just a business relationship.”

Ask Randy how he defines what he does with Nick and Ryan, and he’ll reply, “I look around at some of the othe trainers, and there are other guys who do specific things with their riders. I feel like because of everything I went through and everything I’ve done in this industry and mountain bikes, I feel like I’m pretty well rounded. I like to have a good time and hang out, and I know that the riders do, too. But it’s serious. They need to take their careers seriously enough to put in the time. You don’t have to lock yourself off from the world and not talk to anybody. But you’ve got to have fun at the track, try to have fun when you’re at the gym. Try to have fun at your house. Have people come over, ride with different types of riders,  I just think I bring an element to their careers that maybe other trainers can’t.”

“I’m not saying everything I do is perfect, but I know that I help Nick and Ryan mentally. They’re two totally different riders. They’re totally different when they’re at the races and when they’re at home, so I just try to find that balance. What’s going to help Nick when he’s at home, mentally. What’s going to help Ryan when he’s at home, mentally. They have other interests that they’re involved with.  I try to be involved with those things with them as well, so you’re on the same level. When you get to the track, it’s business as usual.  You want to make sure they eat what they need to eat, make sure they’re ready to go to the line when it’s time to go. If they’re nervous, you talk them through it.  Remind them of what they’ve done during the week.”

Ryan Villopoto and Randy Lawrence
Keeping Villopoto calmed down before Millville last year.

“Then I’m at the track with the pit board, making sure their lap times are right, and making sure they’re doing the right kind of motos during the week. Then going to the gym with them.  Make sure they don’t lift too much weight too close to the race, and do some maintenance stuff. Just balance all that. Try to keep them recovered for the races, make sure they push when they need to push, ride the road bikes, different kinds of road rides. Things that are difficult for Ryan are a little bit easier for Nick, and vice versa. You’ve got to balance those out for them, too.”

“It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy it. Sometimes it seems like babysitting. Sometimes I need to put a leash on Nick and hold him back a little bit because he wants to do a lot of stuff. Sometimes I kick Ryan in the butt a little bit to get going. He’s 18 years old and a phenomenol rider, and trying to keep someone like that motivated to train really hard is difficult sometimes.”

“Being able to do this with Ryan and Nick has just been a huge blessing, because it gives me everything I wanted then, but I don’t have the extra element of another 40 hours, or 30 hours, or whatever it takes to prepare a race bike.”

Be sure to check out the links above for additional video questions with Randy, as well as video of Ryan Villopoto on Kawasaki’s Supercross track.

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