Catching up with...Jason Mitchell
Catching up with … Jason Mitchell
Interview by Allison Kennedy
Photos by James Lissimore
On October 7th a press release hit the inboxes of Canadian moto fans and industry that would change the landscape of this country’s motocross community. After 12 uber-successful years of racing here in Canada, Blackfoot Racing was officially retiring. The team that has set the standard here in Canada will no longer be a presence on the Canadian National circuit. I gave Blackfoot’s Jason Mitchell a call and he thankfully gave up a boat load of his time to offer these very honest answers. Read on to get the real scoop on this difficult decision for the entire Blackfoot crew.
There had been a lot of talk about the uncertainty of Blackfoot’s future for the 2012 season. Your release confirmed things. How did it feel hitting the send button on the news?
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, Allison, and allowing us to reflect on the past 12 years of Pro Racing. Obviously we have put a lot of thought and soul searching into our options for the next year and the future. When it finally came time to make the decision it was a very emotional time for me personally. I have given 33% of my life to racing and have been very passionate about the team and competing, so it was very hard to finally send the press release. However, we believe it is the right decision for many reasons.
Jason Mitchell(r) celebrated his team's final MX1 championship at Walton with Colton Facciotti and mechanic, Jeff Mason.
James Lissimore photo
So, what’s the easiest way you can sum up this decision? How much was this your team’s decision and how much was dictated on Yamaha’s end?
It was our decision as a team to retire but the final decision rested with me. Nobody wants to be the one who says “that’s all she wrote.” As team owner that task was left to me. There were a lot of factors to consider with regards to our future. I believe that in anyone’s life family and health needs to be the priority, so that was first and foremost. We all have families who have been very supportive of our efforts this past decade. The time has come to repay them for that support. Next to consider was the direction of my efforts within my partnership in the Blackfoot Group of Companies, and the state of the economy, which everybody knows is tenuous at best right now. The motorcycle industry is going through challenging times and that’s affecting their racing programs. Yamaha has not been immune to this fact of life. So the final consideration was the racing budget and the ability to continue racing and winning with the proven formula that brought the team success in the past. The financing just wasn’t there to keep that formula intact.
You’ve been down this road before, when your deal expired with Honda, and we were all lucky enough to witness and incredible rebirth under the Yamaha banner. As the most successful team in Canadian motocross, what made you decide not to start again with another manufacturer?
We will be forever grateful to Yamaha for believing in the team and allowing us to extend the program for all these years. At the end of the 2006 season, when Honda pulled out of Canadian motocross, we were faced with having to find a manufacturer that could partner with us at a high enough level to sustain our success. Yamaha was that manufacturer. Having Honda cancel their racing program with us, and pull out of our dealership to boot, after going 1-2-3 with Dusty-JSR-Blair, was simply the most difficult times in our business history. We were really motivated to rebound in a big way, both through racing and retail, and I think we responded in a very positive manner.
But this time it’s different.
Exactly, it was our decision to stop, not somebody else’s. Switching brands and rebuilding the team would have taken a lot of time and energy. As I mentioned earlier, I had to find a balance between family, health, business, and racing. Unfortunately racing is like eating soup with a fork; you stay busy but also stay hungry. We always raced to win every year and managed to spend the racing budget doing so as every penny went to the racing effort. But we got our payback thanks to marketing and promotion we were able to utilize thanks to the success of the team.
Will Blackfoot stay involved with racing in Canada and in what capacity?
Blackfoot has a long heritage in racing. Right from the beginning the original owner, Bruce Cameron, was passionate about racing and we wanted to continue that passion. To totally turn our back on the sport would be counterproductive as well as difficult to do, because we’re still passionate about racing. So yes, we will continue to be involved with our customers at a local level.
James Lissimore photo
Tell me a bit about your vision for the team when it first began?
I applied my business experience to setting up the team. I left nothing to chance, I made sure I had my i’s dotted and t’s crossed. But the team really evolved over time and a lot of the vision came from the manufacturers, staff, and the riders as well. Once you get the taste of winning it really drives you. You figure if you can win one championship you can win another. When you win the second one you want to win a third one. It snowballs and you continue to work hard and say to yourself “we want to win a dozen championships”. Once you’ve done that you set a new goal to add another half dozen titles to your trophy case. I never dreamed that we would have such a great run in winning championships! It just came together with strong organization, great sponsors, and dedicated, focused riders and staff. Looking back we are very proud of everyone that was part of our racing family and helped make things come together.
What surprised you about how the team grew, changed, and succeeded over the years?
Really it was all a blur sometimes. When we first started, I used to work from 8 to 6 at the dealership. After that I focused on the race team and stayed at the shop till the wee hours of the morning. I had a business model in place and it required a lot of attention, putting together proposals, hiring staff, doing organizational charts, job descriptions, buying a truck, ordering parts, doing rider and staff contracts, ensuring budgeting was in line and accounted for. The list goes on. The next thing I knew we were in the U.S. racing supercross, an endeavour that came about but not part of the original plan. That was a great experience. Once we started having success on both sides of the border, the right staff and riders also wanted to be part of the program, which kept making it stronger. If one surrounds themselves with the best talent, riders and staff, there are no surprises because everyone on the team wanted it just as bad as the other. I think we would have been more surprised if we failed. We didn’t look at failure as an option.
You won an incredible number of championships and had a long list of accomplishments to be proud of. What are some of the moments and achievements that stand out?
There were so many moments that made me so proud of the team it is hard to pinpoint any specific accomplishments. Each championship had its own incredible story behind it and each year had its challenges. The most satisfying ones were when we were able to take on a rider and build them into a champion, because they were willing to do whatever it took to win and listened to the people we had directing them within the team. This was true for Colt, Dusty, Jimmy and Tyler especially. JSR was a little different as he already knew what it took to win and the experience he brought to the team was essential in the future of the team’s success. He really set the bar high for the Canadian riders and was a catalyst in the development of these riders and set the benchmark in what it took to dominate.
Do you credit JSR for giving the team the spark it needed to become the overwhelming success it did?
He was a crucial component, for sure however so was Dean Thompson ; Joe Skidd, Andrew McLean, Jeff Mason and Jarod Johnsgaard. Then there was Blair, who had such raw talent it was sick. He never really trained as hard as JSR, but he had that style and instinct only a few riders have. I always thought that if we had started earlier with Blair he could have been a top world competitor. However, when he raced for us, he was also heavily involved in snowcross, which took away from his ability to be up to speed in conditioning and riding prior to the season. We could not blame him for that, as he was very successful in the snow and it was a larger part of his income.
5-time Champ Jean-Sebastien Roy was one of the key figures in Blackfoot's history.
James Lissimore photo
What were some of the most challenging moments?
There were many challenging moments right from the start. Trying to convince my partners that racing would be good for our group of companies was a challenge, although over time they were very supportive and proud of the team and its success. Because I was wearing different hats the day-to-day operations, contractual obligations, negotiations, logistics, scheduling had their challenges as well. Probably the most challenging time was when we switched from Honda to Yamaha, as it was a very emotional time for us dealing with the shock of the whole issue, but we did get through it in a big way. Life is what you make of it and I believe one has to embrace a challenge and respond with honesty, integrity, and passion that hopefully translates into success. Things happen for a reason and who knows what is around the next corner?
What was the biggest misconception about the Blackfoot team?
I am not sure if there were any really other than everyone thought we always had the biggest budget, therefore we could win on that alone. I can ensure you that a lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into the team and by far it was not money that won these championships. Each and every member of our team put their hearts and souls into being the best that they could be, and I thank each one of them for all their hard work, loyalty and dedication. Teamwork is everything to me. If you bought into our mission statement and our vision you were successful. If you balked or were at odds with our program your time was short-lived. But we respected that as well, because not everyone has what it takes to be a team player.
When you think of long-time Blackfoot riders like Dusty Klatt and now Colton Facciotti, where do you picture them ending up? What do you hope for them?
I believe we as a team always did our best for each and every rider we had. We gave them the tools and program to win. Both of these riders were integral in our success and we are very proud of their accomplishments. In return we always did our best to try and give them the opportunity to move forward in their careers. We helped Dusty negotiate his program for the U.S. and have done our best for Colt as well. Both deserved and still deserve the chance to further their career. Dusty had his opportunity and continued throughout the years to be part of our family and has shown loyalty far beyond what was expected. We have and are still willing to do whatever it takes to help Colt get a U.S. ride. Unfortunately the economy has reduced the chances for Colt. However, we believe it is his time to move on and compete at a higher level if possible. We wish them both the best in their future and they will always be part of our family. They know the door is open to call me anytime to discuss their opportunities and help them negotiate their future endeavours.
Canadian moto has had its share of struggles in recent years. What do you think the Nationals will look like without Canada’s biggest most dominant team?
We honestly hope that our legacy will continue to be the benchmark for the teams and riders to look back on and continue to strive to achieve similar or higher accomplishments. I am looking forward to going to the races as a spectator and see who is going to fill our shoes and become the next dominant team out there. Overall there are some really good teams that are going to continue and I truly wish them the best in the years to come. I don’t see our leaving the Nationals as a bad thing; I see it as the starting point for a new era. The circle of life continues and all things good things must come to an end. Teams, riders and technicians come and go, motocross has been around for a long time. And that’s because new blood replaces old blood. It’s the natural order of things.
What will you miss most about the Blackfoot team?
Definitely the camaraderie of everyone on the team and no longer being part of the Nationals as a player. I will of course keep following the series and attend as many races as I can, but as anyone can tell you who has retired from the scene, it’s not the same as being involved. I will also miss all the relationships within the racing world we have established over the last 12 years. Our industry is made up of very passionate and dedicated people and we hope we can continue to maintain these friendships in the future.
Where would you like to see motocross in Canada in five years?
We may not be racing at a pro level, however we are still integrally involved in the powersports industry, therefore we sincerely hope that the series will continue to grow over the next 5 years, albeit at a slower pace. It’s hard to predict anything in an uncertain economy and business climate. It took a while for the economic downturn of 2008 to catch up with motocross. We’re feeling it now. We’re dealing with a different reality than we were five years ago. The TV package is and has been instrumental to all the teams in establishing sponsorship; therefore in order for it to maintain or continue to grow we believe that the TV package must stay intact. We wish everyone the best in their future endeavours.
Thanks so much for your time and your huge contribution to the sport. A part of the family will be missing next summer.
Thank you for all your media support. In closing we would sincerely like to thank everyone that has been part of our team over the years, for all their efforts in what was truly and unbelievable run. There were some really good people, sponsors, and supporters that believed in our team and gave part of their lives to its success. It was unbelievable.
Any last words, Jason?
There are a few people who come to mind that I would like to personally thank for the role they played in the success of our program from in the beginning: My partners: Doug MacRae; Patrick Chambers; Don Zaharia; Warren Milner; Kimberly Moore who were at Honda Canada at the beginning; Peter Swanton; John Bayliss; Bryan Hudgin; Time Kennedy from Yamaha who were instrumental with the re-birth of the team; Team members: Ron Oslanski; Joe Skidd; Andrew McLean; Dean Thompson; Jeff Mason; Jarod Johnsgaard; Goggles; the riders; JSR; Blair Morgan; Dusty Klatt; Colton Facciotti; the media; Mark Travers; Mark Stallybrass; Jason Griffiths; Ryan Gauld; Wil De Clercq; key sponsors; Dennis James; Greg Fox; Gabe Authuer; Doug Dubach and Ron Hinson. Hopefully I did not miss anyone, as there were so many good people who believed in our program. Last but not least I want to thank all the motocross fans who go to the races and who support the companies, big or small, that help make it happen.
Blackfoot Racing Mission Statement.
Be authentic and true to your passion and yourself.
Be uncompromised in your demand for excellence...From yourself and others.
Earn your success by working hard and bringing your best game every day.
Aspire to be, and do, more than what is expected.
We embrace change and initiate opportunity.
We have a passion for growth.
We believe in spirited teamwork.
We have the courage to innovate.