Travis Soules on His First 450 SX Win | Vital MX Interview 2

Travis Soules discusses winning his first 450 Supercross wrenching for Ken Roczen, what the magic setting was, and working with HEP Motorsports.

Travis Soules has wrenched for Jake Weimer, Weston Peick, Broc Tickle, Brandon Hartranft, and Chad Reed throughout his career. Currently, he is the HEP Motorsports/Twisted Tea/Progressive Insurance mechanic for Ken Roczen. At Indianapolis, he finally achieved his first 450 Supercross win when Kenny took the top spot on the podium. Soules has a passion for racing and according to him, wanted Ken to win more than Ken did. He recently came on an episode of the MotoXpod Show to discuss the win, working with Ken, what magic setting they found, and more. The interview was conducted by Jamie Guida, Scotty Thomson, and Michael Lindsay.

For the full interview, check out EP263 of the MotoXpod Show ft. | Christian Craig, Coty Schock, and Travis Soules. If you're interested in the condensed written version, scroll down just a bit further.

Jamie Guida – Vital MX: First things first, congratulations on your first 450 Supercross win as a mechanic.
Travis Soules:
Thank you so much. It's been a long time coming. A lot of hard work, and honestly glad we could put it together this year. It was awesome.

Jamie: I can't even imagine what that felt like. Not only for you to get your first one, but for Kenny, a guy who has been searching for one for over a year now. There have been lots of questions of could he win again on the Suzuki? Could HEP as a team have a winning bike? All these things add to what this win must mean.

Travis: Yeah. All I can say is, the first time Kenny rode the bike, he goes, “I can win on this thing, and I'm going to.” There were a lot of doubters. There were a lot of people that said it couldn't be done. Kenny's a bad dude. He made it happen.

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Jamie: On press day I overheard him say something about a possible suspension change, something you guys had found depending on the track conditions. I asked him about it and he confirmed there was something you were going to try. You did try it and apparently it works. What was it?

Travis: Um. It was one shim in the shock.

Jamie: One shim? I don't know if I believe you, Soules.

Michael Lindsay: The kick starter on the podium, was that in your backpack this whole time, or did you pull it off the bike really quick? Because it's only one bolt.

Travis: I had it in my bag the whole time. That was one request per Kenny. He goes, “Hey, we have to have a kick starter in the bag. I'm going to bring it up to the podium the first time we win.” It was in my bag the whole time.

Jamie: Is this your first year at HEP Motorsports?

Travis: It’s my second. I was with Brandon Hartranft last year.

Jamie: You've worked with Broc Tickle in the past and Chad Reed, and numerous other riders. How did the HEP gig come about?

Travis: I think it was outdoors in 2021. I was working for Rocky Mountain. I was working for Joey Savatgy, and at the end of every outdoor I would tear my bike apart and I would walk over there and say, “Hey, you guys got any Twisted Tea?” “Yep, no problem.” They'd hand me one. Dustin (Pipes) and Aaron (Pipes), we'd sit there and talk, and every time I went over there, they said, “When are you going to come work for us?” I said, “I have some stuff going on, some stuff in the works. I'll let you know when I'm available.” They said, “If anybody makes you an offer for next year, you let us know. We want to talk.” We finally had a sit-down, and we came to an agreement to work for them for 2022. I'm still here now, so it’s been great.

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Scott Thomson – MotoXpod Show: I know it's only been a couple of days since the win, but has there been the slightest bit of change from the interaction, or the presence of Factory Suzuki after Kenny got this win?

Travis: I haven't heard much. Being at JGR and seeing them go under, sucked. It was such a good team and then not really having a lot of support at all from Factory Suzuki and then getting Ken on board. There have been a couple of guys that have wanted to step in and help us out. We're just going to go from there.

Jamie: I think that question is relevant because it does seem as though Factory Suzuki has pulled out of racing in general. They left MotoGP, they don't have a huge presence in Supercross anymore. From the outside, it seems that they just don't care about it. I am curious as to how they will react.

Travis: Yeah, it's not that they don't care. They came to, I think it was Anaheim 2 and they had everybody there from the factory Suzuki team. I don't know anything beyond that, but I know that they were there, and they were interested in what was going on at HEP. I guess we're just gonna have to wait and see what's going to happen.

Jamie: Talk about working with Ken compared to other guys you've worked with. We know that Kenny is always searching. He always wants to find a little more, which most guys do, but he can be a little demanding. How is that working for him on race day?

Travis: Our race days have been good. The first couple of rounds were a little stressful for him, for me, and for the whole team. We knew what he wanted. He's very good at explaining what he wanted, and we couldn't achieve that. There were lots of race days where we were testing on race day, which none of us liked to do because you don't know what you're going to get. We finally found a good setting. Working for Kenny's been awesome. We had a relationship back in 2016. I wasn't his main mechanic, but I was around him. He knew who I was, and I knew who he was. He knew that I was there to do the job. It's been great. It's been an easy transition. For a guy to go to another team it's normally not that smooth. For a rider to go to another mechanic, is sometimes not that smooth, and for a mechanic to go to another rider, is obviously not that smooth. But we've had an easy transition. I can remember our first talk. He goes, “I want to win more than you.” I go, “No, you don't, because I don't have one of these. You do. I want to win more than you. You do the work, and I'm going to do the work and we're going to get this.”

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ML: You mentioned 2016. That was the RCH years with Suzuki. Kenny (Roczen) was the last one to get them a Supercross win, but that was a different era for Suzuki. A lot of factory involvement, a lot of parts, and a lot of things to try. We're talking about different steering stems for different offsets and rakes, and all these things at that level that these guys can try. You guys have a good platform, you guys have good companies to work with. But Suzuki’s involvement isn’t as high as it was then. How has it been knowing that you and Kenny know what's available, and what could be done, but also just focusing on key areas with the bike? Do you think that's actually been positive? Riders, mechanics, techs, everybody can go down this endless rabbit hole trying way too many things instead of sticking to the basics of what to work with on the bike.

Travis: Yeah, even with Ken back in ‘16 when we were testing and doing all that stuff, there are clamps and there's this and there's that. Ken knew that he really didn't like the factory Suzuki clamps and a lot of the pieces that he knew he didn't like on the ‘16 he didn't even want to try on our current bike, even if they were available. Larry Brooks had some engine hangers that he made for the Suzuki back when he was with the 250 team. We've just tried little stuff and honestly, when Kenny rode the bike, he said, “This thing does what I want it to do. It's predictable on lap one as it is predictable on lap 20.” He's really pumped about it. There are no dumb questions on this team. We had never won. We didn't know what to do and anything he wanted; we would try it. If there was something that he liked and it wasn't as good as what he thought it was going to be, he would tell us, “Hey, this isn't as good. Let's go back to what we were on.” So, it's good to have a humble rider as well.

ML: When Kenny first came on board, tried the bike, gave you guys good feedback, and liked things about it, did his feedback light a fire under the team? “We can get it done. We've got guys that want to be here and want to ride this bike and want to work with our team and our package.” Did you notice a difference in the team's demeanor once all this stuff started to come together?

Travis: Yeah. Once it all started to come together with Kenny, I sat down with everybody on the team. I said, “If we're going to get Kenny, I know that he's a high-profile guy. I know that once we find something he likes, it's going to be mellow. But it might be a lot of work to get there because he's never ridden this generation of Suzuki or with our team. We can do whatever. We can test whatever.” That's one thing that's nice about being privately owned. You can do whatever you want, and Kenny knows what he likes. I feel it took a little bit longer, but none of us ever gave up on Kenny either. We've been out until the sun's gone down. We had lights on our cell phones on a jump face or in the whoops for him to go through to figure out what he needed. A lot of these factory teams have a very small circle or a very tight triangle to where they don't want to go outside the box or outside the triangle. Our team, we'll do whatever it takes for Kenny to win. We're going to keep doing that.

ML: We've heard so much about suspension testing. Has there been anything else, anything with the mapping, the clutch to change power delivery, or has he been happy with that package since day one? Has it really just been focused on suspension?

Travis: From day one, we've had Jamie (Ellis) on board from Twisted Development and Vortex. When he first started riding, we slowed the bike down and made it a little more rideable. Since Daytona, we've gone a little more aggressive. Everything we've asked from Jamie, he comes through. Whatever Kenny needs. If he wants a little bit from 4000 to 6000 RPMs. “Boom.” It's in there. It's perfect. That part's been good. As far as suspension, we've tried a couple of different people, but I feel like Matt at Active Ride, he's got it. He thinks a little bit differently. Matt's the kind of guy where I was like, “Hey, what did you change in Kenny's shock?” He's like, “Oh, I put half a hot dog in there.” I asked, “Half a hot dog?” He's like, “Yeah, it's either half a hot dog or a full hot dog.” That to me is hilarious. I love it. We're joking around and having a good time. We have come up with exactly what we want. I come from factory teams. There's nobody ever saying, “Oh, half a hot dog.” Like, what the hell does that mean? Now it makes sense. He has such a great sense of humor. He really knows his stuff. This is a good opportunity for him, and a great opportunity for Ken. He was Chiz’s guy forever and he just said, “You guys have to try this guy.” Kenny tried it and it's paying off.

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Scotty: Each one of those changes, whether it was suspension or whatever it was, how vast of a difference was each change? How different from the beginning of the season until now?

Travis: Even at A1, every time he came off the bike, I had the forks and shock off. Which, it's not a big deal. It doesn't take that long. But he was always searching, and it was like, “All right, we're going to make a big step this way.” Normally that's what you do to find the direction. You want to go super stiff to make it too stiff and then work your way backward. We tried that with a couple of different people and he's so touchy and he's so technical and he can feel everything. We were never breaking through and finding something that was completely better or even worse. He was coming back to, “This is what I rode all week, so let's just put that on.” With Matt, as soon as we put it on there, Ken's the kind of guy where if he's smiling, laughing, having a good time, or if he's pulling a whip upside down on a practice day or jumping a 150-foot gap… Did you guys see that with (Tyler) Bereman? That day he comes over, he's like, “What do you think? What should I do?” I'm saying, “I want to see you jump this thing so bad, but you don't need to.” He goes, “All right, well, I'm going to jump it.” He just pulls away and I'm like, “Well, here we go.” He jumped it. He comes over and he goes, “That's what makes everything feel real. It gave me a little ‘Whoooo’ in my nuts. It made me feel alive.” That was the same week that we found that magic setting with Matt. As soon as we found that he turned into a whole other rider. He went back to old school Ken Roczen.

Jamie: The magic setting, the one shim?

Travis: Yeah, half a hot dog. We were one shim away. The first thing that Matt gave him, he really liked, which I think, don't quote me on this, but I think it was relatively close to what Chiz was on. He goes, “I want it to have just a little bit more hold up.” He added one more shim and this is where we're at.

Jamie: How much communication do you have with Payton Stevenson, his practice mechanic, during the week? Do you guys talk back and forth about what's going on?

Travis: Yes. Every day. Every day there's a phone call. He keeps me informed all week long. So, when I get there on Thursday or Friday, I know what I need to change or what Kenny wants. As soon as I leave Saturday night, whatever we ended with, whatever changed or anything that happened, I get ahold of Payton and say, “He changed to this clutch lever or whatever.” That way he’s got a couple of days to get himself set up. If there's something we take off the truck that's not at the shop that Kenny's at, whatever he ends the night on with the race bike, I send that with Ken to give to Payton for Monday morning.

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Jamie: With their track record when Payton's wrenched at a race, were you at all worried when he filled in for you the one round this year, “Oh crap, he's going to get my win?
Kind of. Honestly, I said, “I hope you guys go three and 0.” Payton said, “If I go three and 0, I'm going to retire.” Then I was going to take his practice bike and race bike. I would move to Florida. I would do the practice bike and race bike stuff. But he's such an awesome guy. From the time I met him, I think back in 2017 until now, he's been the same person. He's just like me. He's there for one reason and one reason only. To do whatever Kenny wants and to make Kenny better. There are not many people like that. Even last week, we were out in Florida all week long and he's just an awesome person, you know. But yes, I was kind of nervous he was going to take the first win away from me and I would have let him have it because I know Kenny can back it up. I just knew that he was in good hands. I built the bike and prepped it for him, so he literally had to roll it out of the trailer at Oakland and race it. I said, “Just roll it back in there dirty and I'll go back down to Dallas and come in early and rebuild it.”

Scotty: When Roczen won, there was a lot of emotion. After all the dust was settled and he was leaving the rig was there a change in his demeanor? Was it visibly noticeable?

Travis: Well, he's always confident. He knew deep in his heart that he could win on this bike. Anybody could say he's never going to win on this bike. I knew deep in my heart I could give him something he can win on. The team could give him something he can win on, and Kenny would win on it. We knew all day, from the morning when he shows up smiling, laughing, and having a good time and then does good in his qualifiers and then does good in his heat. Then going down to the Main, I said, “This is your race. You have to get the start and check out.” That's what he did. When he left that night, he came to the truck and made all of us cry, making all of us very emotional. He goes, “This one's for you guys. I know I'm a pain in the ass sometimes, but this is for you guys. Let's do it again.” Even when I was working with Chad (Reed), once he gets a win and gets a little taste of it, we could go on a winning streak here. We could go on a podium streak here. I know the bike's good. He knows the bike's good. The team knows the bike's good. He was just all smiles. It was good to see. It's so nice to just see somebody that's so thankful and so appreciative of all the work behind the scenes to get him to where he knows that he can be.

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