Catching Up With...Pat O'Connor
Catching up with... Pat O'Connor
Monster Energy Leading Edge Kawasaki Team Manager/Pit Boss, Pat O’Connor, has landed a huge name for the team this summer. Ryan Villopoto’s younger brother, Tyler Villopoto, has signed to ride the MX1 class to add to their already potent squad. We talked to Pat about that as well as just about everything else to do with the team and the 2012 season.
DMX: Hello, Pat. How are you? What are you up to?
Pat O’Connor: Hey, dude, what’s shakin’? At this very moment I just ran up the stairs from working on Tyler Villopoto’s race bike. The bikes are half done and I’m just plugging away and finalizing some different sponsors—just working away.
What have you been doing all winter?
After Montreal I packed up my goods and went home for a bit and did some concrete. Work was kind of slow so I came back up to Kamloops to help out. They’re a bit short-staffed right now. Jay (Leading Edge owner, Jason Hughes) made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so here I am. I’ve been doing a little bit of everything, running around filling in where I can. I’ve been sneaking some race stuff in when nobody’s looking (laughs).
Ok, before we get to the big signing news, let’s talk about how the rest of your team has come together. Let’s start with Kyle Beaton.
Beaton was a two year deal and everybody knows he hurt himself training in California last year. He got to watch everybody race outdoors last year and we got him a bike in September. From that point on he started practicing for supercross and he’s been down there doing that. He’ll be back for the nationals. I also heard from some people down there that he’s riding really, really fast. That comes as no surprise for me and I think he’s going to be awesome this summer.
I was looking at the results from that REM race at Glen Helen and he was definitely in there, for sure. It sounds weird to say this about Kyle, but he needs to practice his starts. He’s been lacking a little with his trigger finger this winter. Once he gets that figured out, we’ll be good to go.
Donk(l) will be reunited with Kyle Beaton for the 2012 MX2 season.
James Lissimore photo
How about Matt Goerke? People are talking about how he’s living in California and getting practice on hard-packed tracks, so do you think he’ll be faster on all the tracks this year?
If anybody doesn’t expect Matt to do well this year on anything other than sand they are crazy and they’re overlooking a super-fast guy, for sure. Right now he’s healthy, he’s in a good mood, and we’ve been testing. In between supercrosses, he’s been riding his Kawasaki and testing Pirelli tires and suspension stuff with C4. He’s coming in healthy and he shouldn’t be overlooked.
Then we have Teddy Maier dropping down to the MX2 class. What are your thoughts on him?
Teddy is super-fast in either class we put him in. We didn’t really know who we were going to have as a fourth guy—Austin Politelli isn’t coming back and, at the time we made the decision, Tyler Sjoberg wasn’t coming back—so we needed a solid guy to team up with Kyle in MX2. If we have any troubles with one rider then we can rely on the second guy. We thought we had a better chance of filling the 450 class with a solid guy than we did the 250 class, so we moved Teddy over. He was ok with it and knows the bikes are really good. He’s got a really good chance of doing extremely well and we expect that from him. We’re expecting wins in both classes this year. Put it this way, if our guys are not on the podium every moto, we need to figure out why.
I should also mention that Tyler Sjoberg will be back with us in the MX2 class.
We went after all 4 of the top Canadian riders and nothing we had was good enough for the Canadian boys. We were willing to part with some money, man! Money we didn’t have, we were willing to part with.
We also have Jaromir Romancik who will be taking over Brock Hoyer’s spot on our B team. He’s been down south training with Kyle for the last month. He’s a super-nice kid and super-hardworking. He’s on our B team riding the 450 class. If he shows some promise in the west, we’ll be taking him east.
Pat with Teddy Maier's Number 12 machine at Sand Del Lee last season.
James Lissimore photo
Ok, let’s talk about the signing of Tyler Villopoto. I nicknamed him ‘TYPO’ by the way. How did this all happen?
(Laughs) Ya, I heard that. You can claim that one. We’re getting lots of people asking questions about this. I got a call from Steve Matthes from PulpMX and DMX asking if we were interested in the idea of somehow supporting Tyler Villopoto in the western nationals because he now wants to have pro motocross as a career. I told Steve then and there that we were definitely interested and we’ll figure out something.
From there, Steve gave my number to Ryan (Villopoto), his older brother, and he phoned me. Ryan has been working a little bit as Tyler’s agent and we just started figuring things out. As some of our other 450 leads were slowly slipping away, we sat down with Ryan, Tyler, and Jason Hughes and we decided to move forward on Tyler and see if he’s interested in riding the entire season and what he wants and expects, so we did.
He’s got a 450 down in California that he’s been riding. We sent him out with Kyle Beaton and Teddy Maier to Milestone so we could gauge his speed because we don’t know. From speaking with Kyle and Teddy, we decided that he was definitely going to be fast enough for the class.
From there, we just moved forward to what it was going to take to get him on our team and how we could fit him in our budget. It all worked out and he’s signed. He’s doing the whole series for our team.
So, did Monster or Ryan have any extra influence in your decision?
Monster is no more involved at this point with Tyler than they were without Tyler. They’re not pressuring us, if that’s what you’re getting at. They aren’t giving us extra funds for him. They aren’t involved any more now than they were.
Ryan is not paying for Tyler’s ride, either. Tyler is a member of this team on his own.
How much did you know about Tyler from his amateur days?
He’s been under the radar for a long time. He’s been ‘Ryan’s younger brother.’ He decided a while ago that he didn’t want to race professionally because his brother had that spot and there’s a really good possibility that he’s not ever going to be as fast as Ryan. I don’t know what was going through his mind at the time, but he decided not to push racing full-time. Having said that, he’s been riding the whole time. He’s had support from Team Green and still does from Thor and Alpinestars , and from his brother and from the family. Now he’s made the decision that he wants to be a professional racer and Ryan is willing to help him out with it.
Tyler Villopoto will compete in the entire MX1 series for the Leading Edge team.
Photo courtesy of Leading Edge
Who is going to be Tyler’s mechanic this summer?
Frenchie (Luc Caouette) is going to be Tyler’s mechanic and Donk (Scott Donkersgoed) is going to stay with Kyle.
Does this mean there’s a chance we’ll see Ryan at some races that don’t conflict with his AMA national schedule?
Well, the only weekend that doesn’t conflict with his stuff, as of right now, is Edmonton. I know that there’s a rumour flying around out there somehow, someway, that he’s going to be at Walton—he will NOT be at Walton. I can confirm that right now. He’s not interested in flying a red-eye from Unadilla to Walton. He has shown interest that if we want him to come up to Edmonton and sign autographs and be an honorary Leading Edge team member for the weekend, he will do that.
Aside from Tyler’s skill on a bike, I assume his last name played into your decision too, right?
No doubt about it—absolutely. Yes. I’m not going to dodge that one, for sure. I mean, of course, right. That’s already helped us in some stuff and he hasn’t even been up here yet. That was definitely a factor in it. Having said that, we’re going to be disappointed if he comes up here and doesn’t hit the top 5 every weekend. After talking to him about it, and talking to Ryan about it, he’s going really fast.
I think that having him on our team will get us more press than any one of the other three guys winning the championship. I believe that.
I just spoke to Andy Wilson and he saw him out at Glen Helen and he said Tyler was passing some guys, some name guys that I’m not going to name, but guys that are running in the top 10 in supercross right now. It may not mean anything to anybody, but it shows that he’s got some speed.
What do you think of his style? He throws the bike around every chance he gets.
We’re going to try our best to make him stop doing that and to just focus on going forward instead of sideways. Ryan has mentioned a little bit about that too and so has Tyler, we’ve talked to him about it. All the scrubbing stuff you see on the internet was pretty much all for the camera. If he’s coming up here and doing really well and wants to scrub every jump, he can go right ahead (laughs). I think we need to focus on the fundamentals of going forward instead of sideways.
He seems like a very personable guy.
Ya, Ryan seems to be a pretty reserved guy, for the most part, but I know that in talking with some other people that, once you get to know Ryan, he’s like Dusty (Klatt), he keeps to himself, but once you get in he’s a great guy. Tyler is open and he’s willing to shoot the shit with you and chat about anything. He’s very outgoing and always in a good mood. He seems to be a great guy.
He’s had some injuries in the past and most of them have been from play-riding and screwing around.
Luc "Frenchie" Caouette(l) will handle the wrenching duties for Villopoto while O'Connor(r) will be back in his usual spot with Teddy Maier.
James Lissimore photo
When will he hit the ground up here?
Well, we’ve asked him to come up here as early as he’s comfortable with. He’s testing suspension, as we speak at Glen Helen today with Graham, our suspension guy. As soon as we get him comfortable on the bike and C4MX gets that thing going to where they like it, he’s coming straight up and we’re going to start going riding. The snow is all gone and we’re dirt biking right now.
At this point, Pat started throwing facts at me from all over the place. Here are some of the highlights:
Villopoto’s number will be #161 and Beaton’s number is going to be #108. Somebody snagged the #132 from us but he’s got Dean Wilson’s old number.
FMF is no longer doing a drink, so we can display the FMF logos on our bikes this year.
VP Fuels makes a great fuel and came to us with a really good offer that, in this economy, we could not refuse.
When Tyler gets up here, we’re going to go to all the western tracks and ride them, test out some tires, and figure out what works.
Well, thanks for all the stories, Pat. Thanks for talking with us and best of luck.
No problem. See you soon.
Leading Edge’s 2012 sponsors include:
Monster Energy, Leading Edge Kawasaki, Parts Canada, Thor, C4MX, Canadian Kawasaki Motors, Smith Optics, VP Fuels, Pirelli Tires, Podium Grafix, Renthal, Faction MX, Mechanix Wear, Zeta, Moto Tassinari, Matrix Concepts, Sunstar, D.I.D, Acerbis, Ogio, Hinson Clutch Components, Boyesen, Stomp Designs, Pro Wheel, LeoVince Carbon Fiber, CV Products, Goldfren Brakes, XTRIG Triple Clamps, Motul, DRC Hardware, TM Designworks, JE Pistons, All Balls Racing, K and N Filters, Kawasaki S4-R Competition Lubricants