For readers who might not be familiar with you, let's do a quick rider bio.
I am a current competitor in MotoAmerica Superbike, with a number of top-5 finishes in the class. I started my career in flat track, and raced professionally from 2006-2008 with a number of pro victories on singles and twins. I switched to road racing at the end of 2008, and turned pro in 2009.
I raced Supersport for a year, until the XR1200 series came out. I raced the Harley series for the entirety of the championship, with 7 wins, while building my own race team — KWR. I moved back up the ranks to Supersport in 2015, and made the jump to Superbike in 2016.
For the gear heads: Your bike this year.
Our 2017 Superbike is a Yamaha YZF-R1 with many modifications. We are talking a full blown engine, with Flash-Tune electronics, K-Tech KTR-3 Superbike forks, and many more modifications. We don't have the Magneti Marelli electronics that the factory teams have, but we do have a solid package that we know works.
What changes did you make for Laguna Seca?
Honestly, the biggest changes we make from track to track is just in the gearing. And even then, a lot of tracks call for similar gearing. This is to make sure the bike is in the right RPM ranges for the corners, to maximize the drives. Once we found a particular setup at the beginning of the year, we haven't deviated much from that and that's really the key to consistency.
At Laguna in particular, it's really important to be able to drive out of Turn 11 well, with not much wheelie. Also the drive up the hill after Turn 6 is critical.
Still for the gear heads. So last year, there were a few wheelies coming out of 8A at Laguna Seca. There's that short straight between T8A and T9, and it's downhill. This year, nothing. No wheelies. What I came away with was this question about how data is changing racing, what I sometimes see called "the dark art" of racing — how your team collects and uses data.
Down the hill in that transition, it's really not even a straightaway when you're at speed. You go from the right-hander of the bottom of the Corkscrew right into a left-hander of Rainey Curve, so there's a big transition there. Sometimes at the top of the transition when the bike is straight up and down, you can have a small wheelie there. Anytime the bike is in a wheelie you're killing drive, so you try to mitigate that.
With our electronics there's really not much you can do. Ours is based on the stock system, so it's mostly up to me. I'll use the rear brake, move my body weight around on the bike and really just try to wrestle it back to the ground. That's really the most effective way even if it's the hardest.
Talk about your experiences with how riders find sponsors and how relationships develop and are managed. And I mean as a business, as a relationship with written contracts. In a way it seems *duh* very obvious. But then I wondered how in your experience it actually works in reality and practice.
Finding sponsors is all about networking. You're really not going to have much luck sending out resumes or sponsorship decks, or making cold calls. You need to develop a personal relationship with people and that really can only happen in person. Treat every person you meet like they could change your life, and maybe one of them will. Then, make sure that when you get a sponsorship deal that you really hold up your end of the bargain. Always "under promise and over deliver." There's nothing worse than coming up short for a sponsor — maybe they'll leave and won't come back.
Talk a little about the travel, traveling with your team and crew and parts, about being ready for repairs and difficulties readers might not be aware of.
I'm in a unique situation where I really live on the road. The week before this season started I moved out of a house I was renting in Arizona. The owner of the house wanted to sell it, and I just wasn't in a position to buy. So I stuffed all my things in a storage unit and hit the road for COTA. More or less I've been living in my race trailer (48-foot gooseneck with living quarters).
I'll admit that it's difficult at times, but on the other hand I get to sleep right at the track, I'm always in close proximity to everything the team owns, and things are simple. My crew flies into each event and I put them up in a rental house or hotel rooms, and I'll sleep in the trailer.
I had lunch with a team owner, who expressed frustration about finding good riders. I wondered if it was because decisions that riders make during a race is the area which feels the most random and (un)lucky to him, it's that element of racing where he has the least input and control. But to him, in his view, and he had a strong, clear opinion, it was the rider that made the most difference. The performance difference between the machines was much smaller than the talent difference between the riders. (Dis-)agree?
I'm surprised to hear this comment from a team owner in our series. There is currently a surplus of great riders, in my opinion. And to add to that — yes, the riders can make mistakes. Ultimately it's on them to put their input into the bike to get the result. But at the same time, doesn't the crew and the team have just as much of an opportunity to make a costly mistake? It happens all the time in racing.
Suggesting that you can point fingers at any one person is a sign of weakness, in my opinion. As the rider, team owner and team manager of my own team, everything falls on my shoulders and I'm willing to accept full accountability for everything that happens. Even if it's one of my crew guys making a mistake. In the end, we all lose, not just one of us. I will always carry that weight.
I wondered if you might talk about that from your experience, if maybe you had felt that at some level you begin to reach your potential as a rider and from there it's more about better technology. Or if it's always more about developing your talent, finding a way to improve as a rider, say with a different coach or a different mental approach. That it's always more about the rider than the machines.
There's always room to improve, no matter what level you're at. You see it a lot in racing where riders think "I could do that if …" or "If I had that bike I could win." That's some bull—, if you don't mind me saying. Yes there are things that teams have that others don't, different budget levels throughout the paddock, but it doesn't matter what circumstances you're in. It's all about how you view those circumstances. Whether you're on the factory team or racing out of a pickup truck, every single rider on the grid on any given day has an opportunity to do something great.
What are some of the injuries you've dealt with, how they occurred, how they affected your riding?
The majority of my injuries were in the early stages of my career. When I was 17, I broke three vertebrae in my neck and two in my back, when a bike landed on me. This was right before I decided to go road racing, and it was a big setback for me. Two years later I had my worst injury, a tib/fib break and tibia plateau injury that put me in the hospital for three weeks, and I nearly lost my leg. It took eleven surgeries on that right leg to get it to the point it is now, and I still have another surgery scheduled for this Winter to fix it further.
Other than that, I've had a couple of broken wrists and stuff since then but nothing major. 15 surgeries total.
Kyle, you're a rider coach and instructor. How did you get involved with that? And is there a typical issue you see, like "the one thing" most riders struggle with?
I got involved as a way really to make some money in motorcycle riding, to help fund my racing. As I continued with it, I really fell in love with coaching, and have worked hard to improve my teaching skills and the way I deliver information. I love it.
I think one of the main things riders struggle with is eyes and brakes in the fundamental way you use them. Very few riders get to be taught from the beginning how to ride like a professional, someone who does certain things with the brakes that makes them faster and safer. Most are taught by a friend or parents who can get around on a bike, as long as not too many variables are thrown in their way. Great riders can handle any situation. And this is a mindset and layers of techniques that can be taught from Day One.
Is there any book or video about racing that either changed the way you worked or that you recommend?
I recommend reading sports psychology books. It's important to have a strong set of skills, but it's even more important to have a strong mind. I won't name my favorites because I consider them a competitive advantage!
Road America — it's scenic, I love the town of Elkhart Lake, WI and I have won there twice!
A track you haven't done but would like to?
I would love to race at a few of the European tracks like Jerez or Mugello. I really enjoy those style race tracks, like what we have here at COTA and also when I got to ride at Donington Park in England.
When we set this piece up, I was talking about having been a youth and college athlete, but also a competitor who was good in practice. Good when it didn't count. How in tournament-play, I'd tighten up. I'd make a mistake or something wouldn't go my way and I'd get tentative and frustrated. And as my mistakes and bad breaks piled up, I'd become one of those kids, screaming at themselves. How, after I started losing, I lost. My game would fall apart. I had some physical skills. But I was self-destructive. It was only years later that I really could look back, see it.
Kyle: Talk about the psychology of a winning rider. How do you prepare yourself? Not just physically, but mentally. How do you approach or prepare for a race, mentally? And talk a little about what happens during a race, if you're falling back, losing contact with the leaders, what your psychology is. Kyle, talk to me about the psychology of a winner, when they're losing.
This is something that we all go through, and the most destructive thing about this vicious cycle is that we just continue to feed self-doubt. With negative self-talk, things get worse and worse. I've always found that when we have high expectations for ourselves, and that we don't reach those expectations immediately, we doubt our ability to get the job done.
The best athletes aren't immune to failure — they've just failed more times and more ways than most people have, or will ever, try. They are simply relentless about mastering their craft. It sounds like a cliché, but you must pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again — whether it's between corners, laps, or sets on a tennis court.
The thing that builds confidence is in preparation. The most dedicated athletes have the work ethic to prepare for any situation that can arise. When you know you've left no detail to chance, you can find the confidence in preparation.
It comes down to this — what would you have to sacrifice to be the best at your given craft? Then ask yourself honestly — what are you willing to sacrifice to be the best at your given craft?
If the answers to those two questions don't line up, then you don't want it bad enough. Everyone wants to be told the secret, told the answer, shown the shortcut. But we all know the answer, it's long hours of hard work and dedication.
How many people a year read weight-loss books? They already know the answer — eat clean and exercise daily. Why do they keep looking to be told what they already know to do? Nobody ever lost weight sitting down reading a book. The missing component is the action part, and most people stop at action.
This is borderline a rant, but you get where I'm going here. The best aren't worried about how tough the work will be because no matter what, they know it will be worth the end result.
Wrapping up. This is sort of trivial but I tend to eat at the tracks a lot, and frankly I've been served wayyy too many microwaved budget hamburgers, so this is near and dear to my heart: What track had the best food? and what was it?
I honestly couldn't tell you, because I always prepare my own meals at the track!! I eat a lot of oatmeal, bananas, sweet potatoes and chicken on race weekends. Carbs that are easy to digest and serve as good fuel for the races. I always eat 2-3 hours before the race start. Pedialyte is a must as well!
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