Motorcycle Racing: Mike Sullivan

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Yamaha Motorcycles Street Event - AMS


Mike Sullivan

Interview with a Champion

By Simon-Pierre Smith

What does it mean to be champion? Being champion means you went and rode your best every time. In the rain, when you hurt, when the bike wasn't 100%, you rode your best. When you weren't riding, you were making sure everything was as good as could be for the next race. When you're Mike Sullivan, WMRRA 2002 Season Champion, being champion means another feather in your cap in a long career on two wheels.

Your goal this year was to win both Washington and Oregon championships. When the schedules came out showing a conflict, with both clubs running races on the same day, you were forced to choose one championship at the cost of the other. What made you choose Washington?

I was quite disappointed when I found out that there was a conflicting date. Then I heard that the clubs were going to get together and iron it out, then I heard Washington was going to throw one days worth of points out, then it ended up that nothing happened. I think the biggest reasons I chose to do the Washington club is they had more races, and they pay money, and that my main sponsor is in Washington and I think it is a little more prestigious with more races. I was really disappointed because before the conflict I had the point lead at both tracks and my sponsor offered me a bonus for the number one plates.

`The competition for the championship pitted you in a race for points against two people you never actually raced against, 2002 WMRRA president Barry Wressell and 2001 Season Champion Alan Schwen. Do you find it frustrating not being able to fight for the title "wheel to wheel?"

The way the point system is structured is kind of strange in that I didn't race head to head against Barry or Al for the actual title. I did race against Barry in 600cc Superbike. Both of those guys are really good riders but the classes they ride don't necessarily make them beat the fastest guys on the track. Nothing against either of those two guys because they are both fast guys and played totally by the rules, but my opinion is you should get more points by the number of guys in the class. It is really hard to find a fair rule.

You've been teaching a racing school with increasing popularity and respect. One of your students, Tom Wertman, beat you in the overall points this year in Oregon. Are you going to start holding back information from the faster students?

As far as the school I really don't hold any information back. Tom has really come on strong the last couple of years. He really improved immediately after taking my school. Tom actually is great advertisement for the advanced school. Also Matt Zurbuchen who won the Oregon number one plate this year was one of my first students. Matt has had some good AMA finishes and I actually helped him out with a little sponsorship this year.

Being in the race is the best place to watch emerging talent. Who do you see as capable to improve from a top 5 finisher to a class champion?

I think that there is some talent in the Northwest here. Oliver Jervis from Canada is really coming on strong and has great equipment under him. Matt Zurbuchen, Tom Wertman, Jace Bottenberg, Brian Musselman all can win class Championships. There is one new kid that I think just turned 16 and is in his first year of racing, his name is Mitchell Pierce. He is a very good dirt tracker already and if he can get some backing and more experience I really think he could go places. A lot has to do with staying focused on racing and your goals. There is one other guy who I have sort of taken under my wing. His name is Matt Berry, he has taken my school like seven times, and turned a wheel on a track for the first time in June. He has won the novice race seven out of nine times and has already turned a 1:13 at Portland and a 1:35 at Spokane so he has shown potential.

In the 600 classes you're running an R6 where most people consider the GSXR 600 the more capable machine. What's your thinking?

The Suzuki GSXR 600 is really a great bike. The biggest reason I chose to race a Yamaha R-6 is that Yamaha contingency pays more money, at more races, in more classes. I may have not had the fastest bike down the straight-aways but the R-6 was very capable and one of the best handling machines I have ever raced. One thing I tried to do this year was really try to use strategy and if a guy kept passing me every lap down the straight, instead of out braking him every time at the end of the straight, I would wait for the last lap. It worked most of the time but I was shafted by a red flag a couple of times. Author's note: If a race is cancelled (red flagged) after the half way mark, the race is ended and scored from the last lap completed.

Is it true that you'll be competing on a Honda CB160 next year against Shawn Roberti and Keith Pinkstaff?

Absolutely not. I have never had any interest in vintage with the exception of owning some. I couldn't believe that Keith was actually riding one last race. It looks like everyone that rides those things has a blast, but it is not my cup of tea.

Throughout the season it has become more noticeable that your hip is causing you problems in the pits. What are you plans both medically and for the upcoming season?

You are right, walking and riding has become more difficult. I have finally gotten tired of hurting with every step and I really can't move on the motorcycle like I once could. I have a hip replacement surgery scheduled for December 3rd at Swedish hospital in Seattle. As for my plans I am for sure going to continue with my race school. As far as racing I am not sure, I think I will decide on how I feel afterwards. Everybody tells me I will feel better than I have in years but I will wait and see and then make the decision.

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