In this week's Industry Insight, Charles Castloo visits with us about growing up in Texas and racing as a privateer. As many do, he realized he was not going to earn his living from racing professionally, so he made the move to the business side of the industry. He built relationships that allowed him opportunities to hone new skillsets and find a new passion within the industry.
For the full interview, check out the Vital MX podcast right here. If you're interested in the condensed written version, scroll down just a bit further.
Jamie Guida – Vital MX: How's it going, Charles? Let's start with the fact that you grew up in Houston, Texas. What's the first thing you remember as far as your intro to racing?
Charles Castloo: My dad and older brother raced dirt circle go-karts when I was a little kid, and that was what I wanted to do. Then my dad got hurt doing it, and at some point, when I was probably six or seven or whatever, he got a bike and was riding enduros and stuff. I remember I got a '92 Yamaha PW80 and raced the mini Enduros the day before he did at the local Texas Enduro or hare scrambles and things like that. Then my first real memory of motocross and Supercross, I'm pretty sure it was the '94 Houston Supercross, and I saw Damon Bradshaw, a complete badass. I was hooked from there. I'm like, "This is what I want to do. I want to do Supercross. I don't like this riding in the woods thing my dad's doing here. I want to race in the Astrodome in front of people." So, that was my introduction to it. We still did the off-road stuff with my dad for a while, but in the mid-90s, probably '96 or so, my little brother and I were getting into it. My dad eventually sold his bike, and we were motocross racers at that point.
Vital MX: I find it interesting that you said your dad raced go-karts and got hurt, so he got a dirt bike instead.
Charles: Yeah, and he got hurt badly. He almost ripped his ankle off. His foot is still super messed up and barely on there. It's fused. He went through the floor pan of the kart, which ripped backward, and they almost had to amputate it. After he was healed, for some reason, he thought a dirt bike would be safer. I don't really know, but I'm glad he did because here I am.
Vital MX: As you get into motocross, you and your brother Daniel are racing around Texas. What tracks are you hitting in Texas, and who was your biggest competition in your amateur career?
Charles: At that time, we were down in the Houston area. The bigger races are the Texas Series and the Pro Circuit Winter Series. Those mostly were up in the DFW area. A round or two would come down near us, but we were going to Tyler and Mossier Valley. Lake Whitney, and even Oak Hill a little bit later. Down in Houston, I grew up on 80s and superminis. I was okay, I would say I liked it, and I was doing it, but I didn't catch my stride and start having any success until I got on big bikes and I could drive myself to the track to practice because my dad owned a business at the time and worked a lot to support our racing. So, I only got to practice a little during the week. We would ride practice on a Saturday and race on a Sunday or something like that. Once I got old enough to drive and could go straight to the track after school, I started to catch on and have a little more success. At that time, I was racing James Marshall, Vernon McKiddie, Clayton Miller, Kyle Phenix, and Ryan Grantom. There were a bunch of good guys that were all fairly close in age, were A and B class on big bikes and pushing each other. Once we grew up and turned pro, all of us were doing Supercross and motocross together, and for some of the seasons and years, we were traveling around together. It was super cool, super fun.
Vital MX: Can you imagine your kids at 16 and 17 just hopping in a car with a motorcycle and their buddies and going and racing all over the country?
Charles: No. My friends and I catch up and talk about that stuff, like, "Man, can you believe that?" Ryan Grantom, Kyle Phenix, and I put together a little team in 2006. Kyle had a really nice rig, a concept hauler, a double stacker trailer, and a car that went downstairs. We funded it with this website Houstonmotocross.com and local businesses and riders. It was just people that were fortunate enough to be able to help some privateers. We paid for pretty much all the fuel all summer, and we wrapped the rig, and we had easy ups and all these things, but we put it together ourselves. It was super cool for us as a kid. We didn't know what we were doing, but looking back now, we put it together. His dad let us drive; I don't know the price tag on the truck, but a $400,000, $300,000 truck around the country by ourselves. His dad was flying in, but for 90% of the summer, it was Kyle Phenix, Ryan Grantom, I, and a mechanic or two. Daniel flew in and went to the last handful with me as a mechanic, but we're driving this truck around the country and finding places to ride and Walmarts and places to wash the truck. I can't imagine saying to a 19 to 20-year-old kid, "Here's the keys. I'll see you on Friday. Pick me up at the airport."
Vital MX: There weren't smartphones at that time like we have now. No GPS, no social media. You're using paper maps.
Charles: Totally. We used an atlas we would find at the Walmarts that we would park in their parking lot. There was enough internet to be able to search things like tracks and stuff, but it wasn't on your phone. There wasn't Instagram where you could find a cool track. It was really fun. You had to be on it and really creative to figure out where to ride in the week. We would find gyms to stop at. We stayed with a family in Michigan for about three weeks, who we met at a local track one night. Looking back, you're like, "Oh man, times have changed."
Vital MX: They certainly have. I can't imagine the stories you guys have, but I want to know, without incriminating anybody, was there ever any trouble?
Charles: No, not really, that I can remember. We certainly helped ourselves to little stuff like water. We'd find a water spigot open somewhere, and we had a little tool that you could even unlock a square head. We would unlock it and fill up the motorhome, which I don't know how many hundreds of gallons it took. We'd get creative sometimes but not get in much trouble, that I can recall. We were focused on what we were trying to do and were trying to make a name for ourselves, racing motocross, you know.
Vital MX: Are there any life lessons that you took from those trips and experiences?
Charles: One is to be resourceful, and you must sort of fend for yourself. To be reliable and accountable for yourself and people. We had to have a plan and know we needed to leave by a certain time to get across the country and to get to this place to park on Thursday, and by the way, we had to go to a shop because we needed some parts. At some point, our job is to ride, so we have to find a track for Tuesday and Thursday. It was being resourceful and also responsible. You couldn't just float your way to get there and be prepared and ready to race. You know, it was all on us, which was cool at a young age. As I said, 19 or 20, whatever we were. It was on us to get the truck there and make sure it was clean, full of fuel and water, and had parts. We were funding it ourselves via donations and local businesses stepping up, but we had a budget and had to make sure we had money. Again, we joke about it now. We never had a lot of money in the business team account that we opened. We were waiting for $100 donations and $500 donations. It just always seemed to work, and we had to get by.
Vital MX: I don't think many 18 to 20-year-olds could put all that together and stay focused.
Charles: Looking back now, in 2006, the Internet was a thing, and we even had web banners on the Houstonmotocross.com website. It said, "Donate Here," and we had different images with different-sized web banners and stuff that is now normal in our line of work. If you rewind damn near 20 years ago, making web banners with PayPal-type donations was a cutting-edge new thing.
Vital MX: At some point, Honda of Houston gives you some support, don't they? Or is that later once you go pro?
Charles: That was earlier. So, towards the end of my amateur career, I was riding KTMs and was supposed to get some support from KTM going into 2003. Somebody from KTM came and took my dad and me and the owner of the local KTM shop in Houston to dinner. We talked, and I was supposed to get a few bikes at some really special price and some parts allowance. I don't know what happened, to be honest with you. It sort of was empty promises that didn't come true. I was young at the time. I didn't get it. So, I got hooked up with FNS Suzuki in Ohio through John Daugherty, a guy that helped me out, a good friend and mentor of mine still to this day. He hooked me up with Suzuki, and I got a good deal in '03. I was in the B class and had a really good year. I was top ten and even some top fives and amateur nationals. I had a bad Loretta Lynn's. Then I sort of had a falling out and split ways with the FNS at the end of 2003. It was late when the deal fell apart in November or December of 2003. I went into Honda of Houston and had an inside line there. Being from Houston, I knew Sean fairly well, and he was like, "Look, man, it's too late to get something together on par with what you had before, but if you're willing to ride two strokes, I can help you out some. Through American Honda, we have some two-stroke support." So, as an amateur, I rode CR125s and CR250s in 2004 in the A class. It was awful. At Loretta's, there were two of us on the line for the pro sport class, me and Michael Willard on a KTM. The KTM and Honda were not on the same level in terms of motor back then. I vividly remember not being able to shift to fourth gear on the starting line because it was so deep. I got to fourth, which was "bog," and I'd return to third. It was a good learning year. Looking back on it, it made me try hard, and I had to work my ass off to even make Loretta's on a 125. In '04, every manufacturer made a 250F, so I was really bringing a knife to a gunfight. Then in '05, I got on 250Fs through Honda of Houston, and I was much better for it. I ended up getting hurt at a Ponca qualifier in May or April. At that point, I was riding the best I'd ever ridden in my life, and it was just unfortunate timing. I couldn't go to Loretta's my last year in the A-class, which kind of sucked. I actually got hurt again in '05, the week of Loretta's. I was practicing at Three Palms, and Andrew Short was there, and some other people were riding. I separated my shoulder, but we thought it was dislocated, and we were pulling on it, trying to get it back in the socket. It turns out it was separated, and we did more damage than good. I was doing that the week of what should have been my final amateur A class race. So, I couldn't turn pro at Millville the week after because my shoulder was hurt, but I ended up doing the last one at Steel City. Steel City in '05 was my first pro national, and I didn't make the motos, but I was close. I crashed on the start, but my speed was good enough to be close to making it. I was right around the bubble spot, and I left there feeling pretty good, thinking, "Hey, I might be able to do this and make some motos and make some gains." Then, funny story, we drove all night from Steel City Sunday afternoon. We left for a money race in Little Rock, Arkansas, on Monday for Labor Day. We drove all night Sunday night and pulled up to the track in Arkansas at 7 a.m. on Monday for practice to make a little money.
Vital MX: You mentioned going pro. What was that like for you when you lined up? You're next to your idols. Are you in awe?
Charles: I was. I'm such a student of the sport and such a fan of the sport that it probably hindered my results ultimately as a professional. I wasn't very good as a kid. It was all better than I would have thought I would ever do. You know what I mean? When I would qualify for motos or make the night show in Supercross, my brain was saying, "I need to get points, and I want to get in the main. I want to get top 20," and all these things, but buried back in there was like, "Holy shit, I'm actually doing it. I'm here." So, it was hard. You can talk yourself up all you want, but ultimately, deep down inside it was, "Man, this is super cool."
Vital MX: What are your best memories of your pro career?
Charles: I got to do the US Open of Supercross a couple of times. Probably before I was ready, but that was a super cool experience. The 2007 West Coast Supercross was really fun because Ryan Grantom, Vernon McKiddie, Aaron Smith, and Clayton Miller were all doing it too. At my first Supercross at Anaheim 1, I got the Asterisks Mobile Medic gas card. I got fifth in the LCQ, which was awesome. I was on the podium and stoked. My first goal was to make the night show, and I checked that off. Then in the night show, I'm riding around in fifth place and going, "Oh my God, the main event is right in front of me." So I got that, and I went on the podium to do an interview. That was super cool, and then two weeks later, at Anaheim 2, I got it again. That time I was pissed because it's funny how your goals change, right? You get a little experience, and it no longer was, "Oh, cool. I'm just happy to be here and making the night show." After I got that at A1, the goals quickly switched to, "All right, I should be in the main event." I ran third for a while, and I got passed by, I think Chris Blose. Then I lost the last spot on the last lap to Logan Darien, so I was super pissed. I would say those are a couple of highlights from Supercross because I never made a main, and that was the closest I got. Then outdoors I made, you said nine, which is good. I wouldn't have known that off the top of my head. It was always this internal struggle with myself of I want to do more, I want to be getting top 20s, and getting some support from a team. Truthfully, when I was on the parade lap for an outdoor national with all the fans everywhere, and people had air horns and stuff, I would get chills. I said, "Oh my God, I can't believe I'm here doing this." You're trying to snap back into it and focus on the task at hand, but as a kid growing up in Houston who had a '92 PW80 with number four for Damon Bradshaw, it was hard to stay focused in that moment. That probably is part of the reason I didn't go further in the sport.
Vital MX: When do you shift gears into your first industry job? I believe it was with MSR or Pro Taper.
Charles: In 2008, I did most of the outdoors. I set some specific goals for myself early on before I turned pro. I told myself, "I will do this for a few years. If I can go three years without any major injuries and put myself on the best equipment I can get my hands on and in the best situation for my abilities, if I can do all that and I'm not consistently getting top 20s and making Supercross mains, I have to move on." I wasn't going to continue to beat my head against the wall and chase something that was not realistic. I knew the whole time it wasn't a career for me. I hoped it would be, but I knew it wouldn't be something I could retire from. So, I needed to open the right doors, meet the right people, and set myself up for the next phase of my career. I knew I wanted to be in the industry, and I got friendly with the MSR and Pro Taper guys. Answer was under the same umbrella owned by Tucker Rocky at the time. I knew they weren't happy with the rider support guy that they had at MSR because I was good friends with Randy Valade, the marketing manager at the time, and Dave Casella, director of all the brands there. I knew a potential opening would happen there, and after Steel City, I made an appointment to talk to Dave. I brought in a resume with a bunch of race results and what I thought my skills were away from racing. I put some effort into making it apply more to a job, more so than getting sponsored. I went in there and said, "Here's what I want to do. I think I'm finished racing. I haven't met the goals in the time frame I set for myself, and I've got to be real with myself and look at myself in the mirror. I want to work in the industry." He luckily saw something in me, and I would make a point to go there when I needed stuff instead of just calling or emailing. I would spend time talking to him and Randy and whoever else was there. Dave saw I had a little more under the hood than the average privateer then. He said, "I don't have a job for you today, but let me work on it. I'm going to come up with something. I'll let you know." That was September or October. Then I went to the US Open to hang out, and I saw Dave at the MGM Grand, and he said, "If you're serious about this, come to the office next week." He told me to be there on Tuesday at 9 a.m. or something. I showed up, and he said, "Look, we don't have exactly what you want to do, but we have a customer service job opening. If you're willing to start at that and learn the business and give yourself a few months to figure out if you want to work instead of racing, let's start there and see where it goes." So, I did that. I started there in October of 2008, and by January, I moved up to do rider support for MSR, which I did for a bit. Quicker than I was ready for, the Pro Taper marketing manager role opened up, and Dave said, "Hey, I think you can do this. You're not ready for it, but I'd rather help you grow into this than hire someone else. I told him, "If you think I'm ready for it, then cool, let's do it." So, I headed up the Pro Taper brand for 4 or 5 years. That was the start of understanding the business side of the industry and my second and new passion for the business aspect versus just the racing side of it.
Vital MX: I assume this job taught you a lot that helped with your next role at 100%.
Charles: Actually, between there, I was at One Industries with Tag and Sunline. It was pretty short. It was only a year and a half. They recruited me pretty hard to go from Pro Taper to Tag and Sunline because they had some new private equity ownership and a new CEO trying to revive them. They identified Tag and Sunline as a growth opportunity they hadn't done anything with for years. Pro Taper was super successful at the time. They sought me out, and I turned them down a few times. Eventually, I accepted it as a personal challenge, thinking Pro Taper was successful before I got there, and it's still successful now that I'm there. Can I go fix something that's broken?" Pretty quickly after I got there, I knew, "This is beyond broke. This isn't going to work, guys." They were financially in such a hole, and there was such a headwind that no matter what you did, you couldn't crawl out of it. I left after a year and a half, which was super hard for me because I didn't want that I went somewhere for such a short stint on my resume. Luckily, I could work something out with 100%, and I started there in 2015. I was there for seven years until last year, 2022. I made a move to Stacyc and moved my family back to Texas.
Vital MX: I want to stay on 100% for a bit. The brand grew rapidly and had a lot of top riders wearing them. You won numerous championships in your time there. How much of that growth was during your time there?
Charles: They were growing and on the growth spurt before I arrived. So, it's not like I have some magic sauce I brought to the table. When I arrived in '15, there were 15 to 20 employees in our office. By the time I left, they had blown out the warehouse at the old office and added more offices because we were growing so fast. We then moved to a new building before I left. There were 60 or 70 people there by the time I left. So, massive growth, and it was such a fun time to be with the brand because it was growing so quickly, and there were challenges with that certainly, but it was such a stark contrast from the One Industries/Tag Metals scenario I was in prior. That was a 'how are we going to pay the bills this month' situation. Ludo (Boinnard) and Marc (Blanchard) set the brand up to grow and grow very quickly. The business model supported that growth in how it worked with the distributors. It was still moto and a little bit of bicycle stuff when I arrived. There was a mountain bike helmet, but then they added gear and protection and more helmets. Sunglasses were a thing when I started, but they were a marketing piece we gave to riders so they wouldn't wear other brands. Then it became a big part of the business and the path forward for them. Moto will always be their thing, but Marc and Ludo are passionate about motocross, racing, and motocross goggles, but sunglasses are their path forward to continue growing. When I left, it was such a different place than when it started. Not in a bad or a good way. As I said, it grew from 15 to 20 people to 60, 65, 70, or whatever it was. So many different departments and people all over the world. An office in France and all these things that it was super cool to be a part of and a good learning experience. I'm grateful for my time there. Ludo and Mark were both super fair to me and helped me grow in business. It was an incredibly hard decision for me to leave because I loved what I did and the brand. Luckily, this door opened, allowing me to move my family to Texas and be a part of something I'm equally excited about. It has a lot of growth and is very similar in size from when I got here to what 100% was when I got there.
Vital MX: I was surprised because I knew you were truly passionate about 100%. You loved the company. When I heard that you were leaving and going to Stacyc, I felt a big part was the opportunity to move back to Texas. That was one of the big benefits. What else about the opportunity stood out to you?
Charles: Yeah, totally. Getting my family to Texas was a big piece of that puzzle. Also, the fact that it's getting new kids and new people into two wheels and the throttle. Hopefully, getting them and then ultimately their family hooked on dirt bikes and add more consumers to the pool. For a long time, it wasn't getting much bigger. The mission of Stacyc and Ryan Ragland, the founder of it, it's interesting to see how he thinks about it and his purpose of it. Most people from the outside look at it like, "Oh, that's a cool little thing." A pit bike or little, whatever they call it, but it's so much more than that. They have such a clear vision of what the brand is, where it's going, and what we do and don't do. All of it funnels back down to creating experiences for young kids and families and getting kids exposed to motorcycles, in particular. It's two wheels and getting them outside, away from their iPads. It's getting them outside, exploring, growing, and building their own independence, and experiencing those first with their family. The first time they get on it and ride, and the first time, they can put it on the green power mode and go fast. The first time they race it and all those first-time experiences are gratifying to be part of. Whether their parents ride or not, they start having these experiences, and it's really fun, and everybody's enjoying it. Then they get a PW, or they get a KTM E5, or they get a 65. Wherever that path goes, we will get more new people on two wheels walking into a motorcycle dealership. They wouldn't have walked in there otherwise. Hopefully, we can do a good job collectively as a sport to keep those people engaged and hooked on it the way we all got hooked.