Mike Sullivan: Retired motorcycle racing champions from Washington State

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How to Get Into Motorcycle Road Racing

An Interview With Washington State Motorcycle Hall of Famer Mike Sullivan.

Well, I didn't sit down with plans to buy a sport bike this summer, but an hour with motorcycle racing legend Mike Sullivan and I now find myself on craigslist furiously clicking back and forth between the used motorcycle and part time job sections. I wonder if on my resume I should include the fact that I will be unable to work on any sunny days...maybe a night job would be best.

Hey, it's not my fault. Mike's laid back enthusiasm for the sport is infectious. It's also probably one of the larger reasons that he raced (and won) well into his fifties and continues to add to the more than 1,000 riders that he has trained in both private instruction and racing clinics.

I sat down with Mike in Centralia, Washington to discuss his current involvement in the sport, natural talent and more importantly, how to get into motorcycle racing.

What's your advice if somebody wants to get into racing?

There's a lot of track day providers doing it and that's what I'm doing now. When I do teach, I go out to a lot of different track days. Too Fast, Moto Fit, Motocorsa, Optimum, all of those guys let me come out and instruct. Also, what I've been doing the last year, is just going out and working with one, two or three guys a day and doing private instruction during their track days.

So is that a bit of classroom time and then you ride behind them?

Yep, I'll lead them around, then follow them, critique them and see what they are doing right or wrong.

Do you have a bike that you recommend to start out on?

The one that comes to mind that a lot of guys start on is a Suzuki, the SV650...Great bike to learn on, they don't have the wheel spinning power, they're not going to let the rear wheel pop on you when you're not ready for it. They're mellow and they're light. Guys that come out there on 1000's the first time are out of their minds. There's only a handful of guys in the Northwest that can even ride one of those to their potential.

When people first start, there has to be that first mental hurdle to get over…

Absolutely. I'll tell you, one of the things that is really amazing is how different it feels from your first session out there in the morning, till the end of the day. You can go fast on the street all you want, but on a race track you're going fast everywhere and what I tell people is ...you're taking in so much information at one time that it's overload and it's hard to believe, but after a while your mind slows things down for you and it makes it a lot easier. ...I don't believe in natural talent.

That's interesting, I'm the same way... It goes to the guy that works the hardest…

I don't believe in it (natural talent). I believe people that work the hardest, some people definitely catch on to it easier but, it's not natural, they're not born with it.

Early in your racing career, did you have success?

No. Well actually road racing I did. But, by the time I hit my first road race, I had 10 or 11 years of dirt track experience...that transferred over to my road racing a lot. I could feel it, where you were sliding and getting traction and that helped a ton.

Where is your preferred place to instruct now?

I actually like doing it at "The Ridge"...It's a great race track. It's very technical, has a lot of elevation changes, a lot of different types of corners and is very safe.

Are there local circuits that a guy can get on?

Oh yeah, Seattle, Portland...The Ridge, Pacific Raceways in Kent and Portland International Raceway and if you get to where you are competitive you can go to Thunder Hill, Infineon Raceway (now Sonoma Raceway) in northern California, there's Willow Springs in LA...Miller Motorsports out in Utah…Good clean fun.

What options do people have if they want to learn from you?

I have people call me and I tell them, if you want to learn, we can get you on a track day...you pay the track day fee and you pay me. If it's one guy, I charge $500 a day plus his track day fee and if it's a couple guys, a couple buddies...I'll give'em a better deal. Just give me a call and we can schedule it. That's what I tell people, I'll teach you how to do it, but I'm warning you up front. It's very addicting… it is.

Interview by Derek Roberts/April 15

Mike Sullivan is currently accepting students in the greater Pacific Northwest area. To Schedule a training session or for more information, please contact him directly at (360) 250-3364.

He will be teaching the Maryhill Loops Road clinic during the Rally in the Gorge later this summer.

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