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"Transworld Motocross", February 1, 2013

EVOLUTION

WITH TWO OF THE SPORT’S MOST ICONIC RIDERS AT THE HELM, RCH IS READY TO TRANSFORM THE SPORT.

MICHAEL ANTONOVICH

BRENDAN LUTES

Image was key to the Hart & Huntington race team early in its existence. The under-developed bikes and limited spare parts of the team’s early seasons were never noticed by fans, as they were too distracted by the activities taking place in the team pit. Music blaring at immeasurable decibel levels while go-go girls danced half naked on platforms drew people toward the melee, and often times Hart himself was in the center. Major brands took notice of this, and within a short time, Hart & Huntington became one of the most well-funded operations in the sport. Each year brought improved results, yet there were still numerous missing elements, namely riders and bikes of a winning caliber.

As time passed, the operation rapidly grew in size and by 2012, the team needed two full tractor-trailers to house the four riders (Ivan Tedesco, Kyle Partridge, Josh Hansen, and Josh Hill) signed to contest the Supercross season. Injuries eventually sent each and every one to the sidelines and the team scrambled to find replacements, but the season was still considered a massive success. Why? The year began with both Dodge Motorsports and Sycuan Casino coming on as title sponsors and concluded with Ricky Carmichael becoming a co-owner and the team earning factory Suzuki support.

In the waning rounds of the Supercross season, word spread that Carmichael, Hart, and team manager Kenny Watson were working toward on an agreement that would make all three co-owners in the team. It was a project that had been years in the making. “Being part of a team had been in my mind for three or four years, but it was all about timing,” Carmichael said. “I watched Carey’s team grow throughout the years and I ran the thought by him and Kenny over a year ago. They loved the opportunity to possibly do something and that is how it came to fruition. All that his team was missing was factory support.”

The trio went to work on creating a presentation to show to Suzuki, the manufacturer Carmichael earned four AMA championships with and remained a representative for. “I had warmed them [Suzuki] up to the fact that I would like to do something like this, so they had the idea. When Carey and I got a game plan together, we had a meeting with everyone there and showed what we had to offer.” The executives were clearly pleased, and an agreement was struck for the team to field riders aboard full Yoshimura Suzuki RM-Z450 race bikes for a number of seasons.

At first glance, the pairing of Carmichael and Hart might be perplexing. Every detail of their lives, from achievements to appearance, is a contrast. The former dominated the sport from the time he appeared in 1997 as rookie on Mitch Payton’s Splitfire Pro Circuit Kawasaki team to the end of his career as the “GOAT.” His intense on-track demeanor and the fact he seemingly ended the McGrath era of the sport created a rift between fans. To put it bluntly, he was a notorious hardass and not the least bit shy about it. The latter, meanwhile, struggled as a privateer and ditched professional racing when the freestyle scene began to grow. By being the first to backflip a full-size motorcycle, he immediately became an ambassador for the sport during its most influential time. He married a world-famous pop star, starred on numerous cable television shows, and made his name into an empire. It would appear that the only similarity shared is that motocross was the catalyst to their success, but it was also the base of respect held for each other. “I met him years ago when he was racing the Nationals,” Carmichael recalls. “I was walking back after watching practice and ran across him, and we started talking. I thought he was a good dude and I followed him from there. I watched his whole career in freestyle and what he did for the sport, and then what he did as a businessman. I like what he stands for.”

Bringing Carmichael into the fold ended not only the team’s status as a privateer effort, but also as “Hart & Huntington.” Now simply titled “RCH” (an acronym for Ricky Carmichael/Carey Hart), it signifies the equal level of responsibility the two icons share in the day-to-day operations. Hart and Watson remain in charge of the financial and appearance aspect of the team, and Carmichael will serve as somewhat of a technical director. “Every day we know what the guys are doing,” Carmichael says. “I have set them on a riding schedule that I think is good, and each guy has their own plan.” Due to the constant travel of Hart’s lifestyle and Carmichael living in Florida, both are unable to attend every practice session. RC flies west for “as many of the important tests that I can, like when there is initial testing for suspension and engines,” and relies on crewmembers such as Tony Berluti and Kyle Bentley for the time in between. Hart’s presence is more sporadic, as he often goes weeks without seeing either rider on a track. This is not to say he is hands-off, because meetings and public appearances with the numerous sponsors his name has brought to the team keep him on the road. Making day-to-day decisions in his place is longtime friend Kenny Watson, who oversees every detail from the Las Vegas HQ. While a bit unorthodox, the method has successfully worked for the team in the past.

Once the funding and equipment deals were complete, the search for suitable talent began. Even when the details of the team were unconfirmed, a list of talented racers expressed their desire for a place beneath the awning. One rider linked to the team was Broc Tickle. The 2011 West Coast Lites Supercross champion was contesting his rookie season in the 450 class for Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki, but his contract with the team was up at the end of the season. After hovering around the top 10 in Supercross and suffering from technical issues in the early part of the Nationals, Tickle found his stride. He claimed seven top-five finishes in the last half of the series and held off Ryan Dungey for a number of laps in the first moto at Unadilla. By the next week at Steel City, it was all but announced that he and RCH’s personnel had come to an agreement for 2013. Tickle took delivery of the bike just weeks later and broke the news with an Instagram picture of Hart & Huntington clothing spread out on the floor of his home. The official reveal of both the new team and its first rider took place at October’s Monster Energy Cup, where Carmichael had designed the track. Although Tickle had hours of time aboard the bike by then, he and the team sat out competing in favor of further bike development.

With a full 29-race season under his belt, the expectations for Tickle have been raised. He has learned what it takes to compete at the top level of the sport and did so in his rookie year, a feat that few have accomplished. “If motocross and Supercross didn’t have a permanent number system, Broc would be number five after last year,” Carmichael said. “That shows how consistent he was over the past year. Of the guys that were available, we got the best pick of the litter. He has won a championship and I am excited for him.” After flourishing in the last two years under the guidance of Mitch Payton, Tickle is under the watchful eye of Payton’s most successful racer. No one in the sport is more aware of what it takes to win than Carmichael, and Tickle feels it rubbing off already. “Ricky is helping us with the bike setup and the riding program, along with off-the-bike training, and it has been awesome.”

After two important details were confirmed in the small press conference, attention immediately turned to the open bike and its possible rider. The team said that they would be fielding tryouts with two well-known racers for the Supercross-only spot, and it was later revealed to be between Josh Hill and Kyle Chisholm. Many unaffiliated with the team considered Chisholm the favorite for the spot, as he is a close friend to Tickle and completed the entire 2012 season in one piece. Hill, on the other hand, had a long relationship with the team. He initially signed while recovering from a near career-ending injury in 2010, despite the fact that his future as a competitor was uncertain. A string of incidents kept him off the starting line for all but a handful of races, and many considered it the definite end for Hill. “I kind of saw the end flash before my eyes,” Hill said. “I didn’t know if I was going to get another chance.” With no experience aboard a Suzuki and a hammered test track to ride on, the tryout did not end in Hill’s favor. The team lined up a second chance for the following week, and Hill made sure that he was prepared by going to Escondido Cycle Center and buying a new bike off the showroom floor. A weekend of practice made a substantial difference and he was given the spot. “I wasn’t even sure what I was going to do this year and I basically get handed a factory ride. I couldn’t be more thankful to these guys.”

The topic of Hill’s history comes up often to Hart and Carmichael, and both respond with assurance that after years of setbacks, 2013 will be his return as a threat. “A lot of people forget he is only 22 years old and that he won Supercross races and has been a title contender in the premier class,” Carmichael states. “He had one injury, which slowed him down, but I think that if we work with him and get him comfortable again and where he belongs, the sky is the limit.” Hart’s opinion is not far off. “His motivation has never been a question, and neither has his heart. It is going to be a long season and we have a game plan with him to see all 17 races. It will be a building year and we want him to have all the tools to do it.” The biggest element to Hill’s season will be the fact that for the first time in years, he no longer feels weak and fragile. “My body feels strong now. I needed another year to heal all of these injuries.”

This will be the third time it in its short existence that Hart’s team has switched motorcycle brands, but the latest change is undoubtedly the biggest. Components possessed by a factory team, like the 25,000-dollar Showa suspenders, are rarely for sale even to the deep pockets of Loctite, Sycuan, and Dodge. Although they worked closely with Pro Circuit to get the most from their 2012 Kawasakis, third-year rider Josh Hill states that they are no match for the new Suzuki. “I have never ridden a bike that is this plush and comfortable.” Tickle, who has much more time aboard the bike, feels the same. “I got used to the bike really quickly and we have been making progress over the past couple of months.” Carmichael’s long history with the Suzuki RM-Z450 is undoubtedly a major tool and his years of testing every part or setting possible gives them a solid baseline.

In a time that has seen the death of both factory and satellite teams, Carey Hart and his staff have adapted to survive. They made themselves the most colorful and managed to attract financial partners in a bleak market, which allowed them to evolve into the current incarnation. Metaphorically speaking, they have gone from ape to Cro-Magnon in just five years’ time. The only thing keeping them from becoming “modern man” is a championship, but Hart and Carmichael feel that is not far off. “We have set realistic goals,” Hart stated. “Josh has potential to be a top-10 guy again, and I think that Broc will continue to grow on his results from last year.” With multiple years to accomplish what they envisioned during the planning stages, Carmichael is anxious to begin. “I think that we will overachieve and do better than what people are expecting of us. That is our goal and we will be here for a long time.”

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