Catching Up with…Mike Smith, Mechanic for Cole Martinez
By Billy Rainford
If you’ve been around the Canadian Moto scene a while, you’ll remember the name Mike Smith. Mike could always be found at the Pro Nationals wrenching for one of the BC riders all across the country. Fast young riders like Kyle Beaton and Spencer Knowles appear prominently on the 29-year-old’s resume.
Mike will be making his return to racing this summer as he works for Monster Energy Thor Kawasaki’s new MX2 rider, Cole Martinez, from Arizona.
We wanted to talk with Mike to see what he’s been up to since we last saw him and find out how this return to racing came about.
Direct Motocross: Hello, Mike. I guess we should start off by welcoming you back to racing!
Mike Smith: Ya, I guess you could call it back to racing. I’ve only been away for a couple years. I did one round last year but I’m back full-time on the circuit.
What was the last year you did the whole tour and who was it with?
I think the last year I did the whole tour was with probably Spencer (Knowles) way back in, I don’t know, I’ve had a full-time job at home since probably 2010 so I’ve been there for 5 years, so I think 2010 was the last time I did it full-time. I’m just old now – I’ve got grey hair, I’m paying a mortgage, and trying to survive!
What is your current job you’ve been at for 5 years?
I run a heavy-duty shop back at home – a truck company. I’m a heavy-duty diesel mechanic. I work on all these semis and I’ve got a class 1 (license) so I drove the Leading Edge truck out to the track because nobody else has a license right now to drive it. I’m a ‘Jack of All Trades’ but I don’t know very much (Laughs).
Have you missed racing since you’ve been gone?
Um, ya, I think I’ve been missing it. I don’t know, it’s a different change of lifestyle. I’m a fireman now and I’ve got lots going on in my life now – I’ve got my full-time job, I’m a firefighter also, but I’ve been missing it. It’s volunteer but it seems more than that because I’m there all the time. We’ve got volunteer paid on-call. That’s why I mainly came back because this is what I’ve done my whole life. It’s what I did growing up and I’ve don it for so many years that it seems like it’s time to come back and give it a go and see if I can’t get that #1 plate that I’ve always tried to get.
For those who don’t know, what is your racing background?
I’ve worked for KTM, I’ve worked for the Morgan Yamaha Team, I worked for Riverside Yamaha, I did quite a few years with Kyle Beaton, I worked for Spencer Knowles for pretty much…ever! In between all the race teams, in the off-season, I’d go with him and live in California with those guys and work with him. I worked with him full-time for many years since I started doing it. I spent a year with Ryan Millar down in Texas.
Hey, what about actually riding and racing, yourself?
No, I don’t do that. That’s dangerous! I had a bike when I grew up. I shattered my collarbone and got a bunch of screws and plates in there and that was about it. I figured I’d better get a quad because 4 wheels is safer than 2 for me. I just enjoy working on them. The riding part…I still like to ride but I find it more of a challenge to work on them, I guess you could say, for me anyways. I’m a mechanic – I’ve done it my whole life. The working part of it is what I enjoy. All the training just wasn’t for me. I train hard, but at different things (Laughs).
Why did you leave moto in the first place?
Money. The money wasn’t there. I wanted to buy a house and start a ‘grown-up life,’ I guess you could say. I’m not married but I’ve got a girlfriend back at home that I’ve been with for 3 years now. It was more or less just the money. I wanted to do other things with my life and get to the point where instead of making a bunch of money in the summertime and then get to the off-season and spend it all. It was just time to get a steady job. I bought a house in Ladysmith on Vancouver Island. I’m about 20 minutes south of the Nanaimo National track, so I’m still on the island.
So, how did this gig with the Monster Energy Thor Kawasaki team come up?
Um, I think it came up through Frenchie (Luc Caouette). They needed a 250F mechanic and Frenchie to Jason (Hughes) and he gave me a call and with my work schedule and what I do for a living, I can get the time off. It was easier, I guess you could say, for me to just be a weekend guy. We talked back and forth and we got a deal so I’ll be flying in and out on the weekends and I’m up with the team in Kamloops for a week building bikes and doing some testing. My work schedule is pretty lenient so I can come and go there as I please. That’s the only way I’m able to do it is to fly in and out. I’ll be there for the weekends and then back to work full-time during the week so it’s gonna be a ling summer, that’s for sure, but we’ll make it work.
So, you’ll be working with Cole Martiniez. Did you know him before?
No. I met him on Monday for the first time. Once I talked to Jason, we set the deal up and I started following more to see what his results were in Supercross. But leading up to this, no, I didn’t know of who he was or anything.
Now that you’ve had your first chance to see him on a bike outdoors, how does he look?
He looks good. I think we’ll have a good summer.
So, do you think he’s got the speed to fight for wins up here?
We’ll see. I’m not gonna say anything. I’ve seen him ride and we’ll wait for the first round and then we’ll see how things go after the first round. But, like I say, I’m pretty confident in the program we’re going to have.
OK, just for fun, tell us one of your favourite memories from traveling with the nationals.
Oh, I don’t know…the Walton parties? I don’t know…there’s been so many! There are just so many memories. One of the best was probably when I was on the Beaton program and we were on the road all the time and we went up to PJ Stratton‘s house and went on the jet boats and had some fun doing that. It’s hard to say what one of the best moments was.
Getting an overall win with Beaton was…I think we got one, didn’t we? I can’t remember. There were lots of times we came close!
Whats’ your favourite track or city to visit?
My favourite track has got to be Calgary for scenery for having the track right in the city. I think that’s a good one.
And what’s your favourite tool to use?
I don’t know! Favourite TOOL?! I don’t really have one. A tire machine but we don’t have one.
What’s the worst part on a bike to change or fix?
I don’t know about to fix, but the worst part is when you’ve got to wash them! I don’t like getting dirty anymore. I just don’t like the mud. You wash the bike and get it all clean and then when you push it back into the rig everything gets muddy again.
There’s no worst part about working on a bike. Everything is like a puzzle.
What else does the mechanic have to do? Are you the shoulder to cry on too?
No. I’m not really for that, no. I don’t like when guys make excuses, especially when they don’t do good. If we have a bad day we have a bad day.
Honestly, the worst thing is probably for most people – I don’t have a problem with it – is changing a tire with a mousse. Everybody hates that and I find it easy. I do it by myself. Maybe that’s just my heavy-duty background but I think that’s one of the jobs that everybody doesn’t like.
Well, thanks for chatting with us today and we’ll see you in less than a month out at Whispering Pines in Kamloops, BC!
Ya, see you then. We’ll be kicking it in Kamloops for the first round. Let me just thank Frenchie and Jason for giving me this opportunity to do this again.