Kawasaki’s Team Green program has churned out more amateur and pro stars than any other. I think the list of great American riders
who didn’t go through that program is actually shorter than the list of ones who did. Beyond McGrath,
Carmichael, Stewart, and Villopoto lies probably a
hundred other riders who enjoyed great careers. Villopoto has lived the dream to its fullest, going from
Team Green minicycle success to one of the greatest
pro careers ever without switching brands once.
That, then, is the model program, and seeing RV’s
considerable success, he’s probably the one most
riders are trying to emulate right now. However, there
are other riders in the fray who should be a bigger
inspiration to a wider swath. Villopoto showed talent
and drive at an early age, and winning begat more
winning (although he did have to deal with Mike
Alessi in the am ranks, who blocked him from quite
a few titles). It’s easy to say “Go out and win at age
14 and then just keep the wins coming forever,” but
that’s hard to do.
Other riders have proven it can be done the other
way. By the time you read this, you’ll know if Cole
Seely is a 250SX Western Regional Champion—but
regardless, he’s already won, really. Seely wasn’t just
a long shot to have this kind of success, he really
didn’t seem to have any shot. Five years ago, Seely
was nobody at the races. He had some help from
a privateer Suzuki team but was struggling to even
make Lites SX mains and never cracked the top ten.
The next year, the Troy Lee Designs team grabbed
him as a late replacement rider when another rider
got hurt, and he took full advantage.
Seely is now besties with Justin Brayton, and
their common bond is obvious (okay, Brayton’s old
mechanic Rich Simmons is Seely’s mechanic now,
but the ties go deeper). Brayton’s path to 450SX
podiums and a factory ride was anything but predes-
tined. He came from arenacross, but not with piles
of race wins and titles. I’ve got a friend back in New
Jersey named Chris Hunter who raced professionally
as a privateer. In the last race of his career, the 2003
Steel City National, he went 21-22 behind Brayton’s
20-21. Six years later, Brayton won a moto at Steel
City. There is not anyone, probably including Justin
himself, who thought he was going to rise that far.
Weston Peick is the latest rags-to-riches tale. He’s
been improving each year and knocking on that door,
but it took forever for someone to actually answer it.
What takes so long? And
how does this kind of talent
go unnoticed? How did these
guys slip through the cracks
in the first place? Each had a
hitch in the typical steps. As
an amateur, Seely at one point
got so burned out on racing
that he quit for a few months.
Peick started out as a racer, and then his family took
a massive detour and didn’t race for years. Jump off
that amateur moto assembly line and you’ll be off the
radar for a long time. And Brayton, by the way, wasn’t
even on that assembly line in the first place.
Peick’s is not a sob story. He’ll be racing on good
bikes this summer and making legitimate money,
just like Seely and Brayton. Are these guys going to
challenge the records of MC, RC, JS, and RV? Probably not, but they’re going to make a solid living in
the greatest sport in the world, doing something they
obviously love. That’s a story that can inspire the next
kid raised in arenacross, the desert, or just trying to
make 250SX main events as a privateer.
WHAT TAKES SO LONG? HOW DOES
THIS KIND OF TALENT GO UNNOTICED?
HOW DID THESE GUYS SLIP THROUGH
THE CRACKS IN THE FIRST PLACE?