Catching Up with…#120 Todd Bannister

By Billy Rainford

You meet the nicest people when you just walk up to a white panel van and say hello. OK, reading that back, I understand that only works around a motocross track – do not try this anywhere else, please! Anyway, I did just that today at Lake Elsinore Motorsports Park and got chatting with privateer racer, #120 Todd Bannister.

Todd is from Colorado Springs, Colorado (he wasn’t all that impressed when I quickly stated that the top of Pike’s Peak is 14, 110 feet) and is traveling alone with his Boston Terrier puppy, Brooksy.

He’s still chasing the dream of making a main event, so be sure to cheer loudly for the #120 in the 450 class this week in San Diego!

Direct Motocross: Hey, Todd, nice to meet you. Would you mind introducing yourself to the people who may not be familiar?

Todd Bannister: I’m 25 years old, I grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and I’ve been racing all over, pretty much my whole life. I’ve been doing amateur nationals and then Pro nationals and started Supercross a few years back. I’ve just been enjoying that, ever since. It’s become my new favourite part of the sport, so it’s pretty cool.

How did you first get into the sport?

So, my cousins rode. My parents were kind of iffy about it but they ended up getting me a bike when I was about 4 years old. I think it was one weekend my mom said, “Don’t let him race!” and my dad let me race, and it’s been every weekend after that (Laughs)!

What were some of your best amateur finishes or most memorable races for you?

I won the Oak Hill National in ’05, I think? I had a few injuries when I was younger, so it kind of set me back pretty far but I had a lot of top 10, top 5 finishes. I had some decent Loretta’s finishes. I pretty much hit every one of them. My parents re-financed the house just to get me to the races, but it was always a good experience.

Todd works in Colorado and has been driving back and forth every week! | Bigwave photo

What year did you turn Pro?

Hmm, I was 16 in my A year at Loretta’s and then I turned Pro the following year, so I guess I was 17. I can’t remember the exact year, but I remember my first Pro National was the Lakewood National. It didn’t go quite as expected. It kind of took me a minute to get the jitters out, but after that I kind of started clicking some off and doing better and better every year.

What was your amateur number?

I’ve been 120 ever since I was on 60’s. I wanted #111 because I was #11 when I was really young and I thought 111 would be cool, but someone ended up already having it. I was bummed about 120 but it just kind of grew on me.

Why did you take 120?

They actually gave it to me. I was super bummed about it. I thought the number sucked and I didn’t want it and that’s just my number mow. That’s me now.

We’re coming up to round 5. You missed Oakland, but how has the season been going for you?

It’s been going OK. Houston went really good for me. I qualified really well. I ended up going down in the night show a few times but it was still a good confidence booster.

The Triple Crown kind of kicked my butt a little bit. I think a lot of privateers had that same issue though. I missed the night show. I think that qualifying in the top 18 is hard. You’re scrambling in the LCQ, and there were a lot of fast guys in the LCQ, Bisceglia and Reed were in there so it was hard.

You’ve got to be really consistent. I don’t quite know about the Triple Crown thing but…it was rough on me (Laughs).

You’re out here on your own (with your puppy) in your van. What’s the whole privateer life experience like for you?

This is pretty much it. Every round I’ve been going by myself. I link up with dudes from Colorado and hang out with them but this year’s been different than any other year. I’ve been going to every round by myself. I’m my own mechanic…my own everything.

Have you been rolling the bike up to the line by yourself?

I did one round and it sucks, but you’ve got to it. It’s part of being a privateer. Sometimes you’ve got to rough it. It happens. Luckily, I’ve had some help. Some friends have volunteered a couple rounds to help me out and go to the gate with me a couple times, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to go race until something better comes along.

What’s the toughest part about doing the series like this?

This year’s been really weird for me. Usually, I’ve stay in certain areas. I’ve been driving back and forth to my 9-5 job. It’s been hectic. I basically leave Thursday and I drive and I go race and I come back to work. I’ve never had to do that but it was something new I wanted to try this year to get a little perspective on it all.

My boss is awesome. He let’s me take off and he owns the dirt bike shop and he’s like a legend in the off-road community (Jeff Slavens) and he’s helped me tremendously with my set up. It’s been beneficial. It’s been hard with practicing and training but I think in the long run it’s going to be a beneficial thing for me.

Todd was forced to miss Oakland when the transmission went on his van…again. | Bigwave photo

Where are you driving to and from?

I work at Slavens Racing. It’s a shop in Colorado…

You drive all the way back to Colorado!?

I drive all the way back to Colorado…the last 5 rounds, basically, and it sucks!

I thought you were going to say in Corona or Temecula or something!

No! I usually just stay out in California for the west coast but this year…I mean, it’s been nice to have a consistent job but it doesn’t really help the racing with training, but, like I said, I wanted to try something new…get a little perspective on life.

I think in the long run it’s going to help me. He’s taught me a lot to where I know my set up way better. Testing is a lot easier for me.

It’s definitely a difficult deal, but it will be a good deal for me.

You said you had to miss Oakland because of some classic van problems. What happened?

We’ve had some issues with the tranny and stuff like that. We’ve got it all sorted out, but it kind of kicked my butt this last weekend. We ended up doing a Kicker Arenacross. It was fun. We had OK results. I ended up breaking a caliper and some other stuff. The Arenacross scene is all about banging bars but it was good to stay riding.

It sucked to miss a round and do that, but it’s happened before and you have to just put it to the side of your mind and keep plugging away.

Luckily, the breakdown was at home. At Monster Cup, we had a bad issue. The tranny went completely out and we were pretty much stuck. We somehow got it to the stadium; they let us sleep at the stadium with it.

My little brother ended up driving out, my 19-year-old brother is a gnarly little mechanic. He did a tranny for me in the parking lot. A killer job.

This is when the 9-5 job is kind of handy to have a little bit of money in the bank account…everything is on your own budget, basically.

Todd, his white panel van, and little Brooksy, will continue chasing the dream of making a Supercross main. Cheer on the #120 this week in San Diego! | Bigwave photo

What did you think of that track last week?

I like tracks like that. It looked really hectic and chaotic. I’m not super torn about [missing it]. If I was going to miss one, that might be the one to miss. I wasn’t super sad about it, but it always sucks not lining up. when you’re not there you miss it.

What are you goals and expectations for this weekend?

To qualify well is my biggest thing. I really struggle in practice. My qualifying times have not been where they need to be. But, if I can get in there, I always feel like I have a really good chance. My racing speed is a lot better, so just qualifying better is my first goal.

After that, just getting good starts and try to get into a main. Just be consistent and have good times most of the weekend.

What’s been your best Supercross finish so far?

So far, we’ve come one position from making a main. It’s been close. That’s my big [goal]. It’s kind of eluded me. It was a rough year. I was injured and so we were kind of struggling the whole year but we learned a lot. It was a rough year, compared to the previous year making almost every night show, to being right on the bubble from making the mains. It was kind of an ego killer but it was a rough year, last year.

I think the only time we had a good weekend was Las Vegas. It was going really well and I ended up blowing up a bike in the semi. It was a rough one. So, this year has been a lot better. We switched brands of bikes; I’m on Kawi’s now. I was on Honda’s for like 12 years. It’s been a good change, I think. We’re definitely going in the right direction, I think.

Well, it was nice to meet you. Thanks for talking with us today and good luck in San Diego this week. Who would you like to thank?

Ya, thank you. I appreciate it. Thanks for everything. I’d like to thank all my sponsors:

Moto Adventure Kawasaki
Flo Motorsports
FAF Graphics
Rekluse Clutches
Nielsen Mechanical Contractors
Bee G Creations
Simplify Co.
C Blue Underwear
Emig Grips
Works Connection
Seat Concepts
Novik Gloves
Lucky Devil Tattoo
Colorado Moto Fam
Slavens Racing
BRP Moto