Interview: Young Lee, Founder of M1GP
As part of my continued interest in who will be the next American rider to compete in MotoGP, the interview below may shed some light on the current situation faced by young riders wishing to do just that. As you’re about to learn, Young Lee runs a racing club called M1GP in Southern California, and a large part of this organization’s aim is to offer affordable racing opportunities to young riders. This gives Lee a unique perspective on the challenges of providing a sufficiently high level of competition for young American riders who wish to race against their Spanish and Italian counterparts. At the end of the interview, Lee explains how a large part of the problem here in the United States is the attitudes we share about motorcycles and engine size.
After the interview, a selection of images show what M1GP events and minimoto action look like.
Scott Jones: What is M1GP about?
Young Lee: M1GP is a Mini Road Racing organization here in Southern California. It started in 2009 after the CMRRA (California Motorcycle Road Racing Association) closed. The CMRRA was operated for sixteen years by Al and Sheri Lyons, and some of the regular riders there were John Hopkins, Josh Herrin, Chris Ulrich, Tommy Aquino, Michael Beck, Benny Solis Jr., to name a handful.
I found out about the CMRRA in 2007 and became a racer and a huge fan of mini road racing. But in 2009, with trouble mainly from the economy and a few competing clubs, Al decided to close his doors. A couple of other CMRRA core racers and I wanted to keep it going, but nobody else wanted to commit to carrying on the series. So instead we started M1GP. I’ve tried to keep to the spirit of what Al Lyons started by providing a dedicated championship sprint series for minibikes in a welcoming and family friendly environment. We’ve since added some regular endurance races, including the M1GP24 hour endurance race, and rider training with our popular rider clinics which sell out regularly.
SJ: So for folks who aren’t familiar with Mini Road Racing, please tell us about that.
YL: Mini Road Racing, or Mini Moto as it’s also called, is typically small displacement motorcycles ranging from pocket bikes and bikes like the Honda CRF50 to 150cc 4-stroke and 50cc – 65cc 2-stroke bikes. That’s sort of the standard range for most clubs in the US and usually the races are on kart tracks.
At M1GP, because we also race at some larger tracks, we have classes for 250cc sport bikes and up to 450cc supermotos.
SJ: As a club with memberships, what percentage of your participants at a given event are club members vs non-members?
YL: I’d say it’s usually about 90% members, but as membership is not required, we do get racers who aren’t members sometimes.
SJ: What about the age groups? For example, how many of your members are 15 years old or younger?
YL: Our typical age group is from 5 years to folks in their 40s and 50s. The ratio of kids to adults changes from year to year, but right now I think we have five youngsters who are racing with us regularly, and they’re between 6 and 14 years old.
SJ: In general do your members aspire to move on to higher levels of competition, or are they content to stay where they are?
YL: We have a good mix of kids and adults who plan to race in larger series and on bigger bikes – here in the States and abroad. Since M1GP started, I’ve had the good fortune to watch and race with some young guns who have moved up already and are now role models for our current group kids and parents. Most of the kids talk about going on to higher forms of racing like MotoGP, but I think it’s in the same way that kids in little league may talk about being a pro baseball player. After a few years developing their skills and if their parents are supportive, they usually move to other organizations like WERA. Some of our adults do plan, or have already started, to race with WERA.
Having said all that, many in our racing community are quite happy racing mini-class bikes because of the cost, risk and that skill and competition can be just as high as the racing they’ve experienced on bigger bikes at other series.
SJ: Does M1GP have connections to other series to help your members move up?
YL: We have a really good relationship with WERA that started back in 2010. M1GP members get a discount at WERA events, and vice-versa. Our motivations and visions are similar I think, to grow the sport in a healthy way. Since we’ve been around for a while and some of our racers are getting some international attention, we’ve been getting to know some relevant people in other series.
SJ: How much does it cost for a young rider to get racing on a pocket bike, for example?
YL: It varies from what bike the kid wants to race and the gear and how often and although M1GP has classes for and welcomes pocketbikes, many of our young riders start with bikes like the CRF50, which can be bought used for under a thousand dollars. We know there are some barriers to get into the sport of motorcycle racing so we started a program back in 2010, called “5 to 9” that helps parents get their kids into the sport by eliminating one of the main barriers, race entry fees. So basically, it’s an M1GP sponsorship for our youngest riders.
We also have kids’ gear that we loan out, rather than rent, to anyone who wants to bring their kids to try the sport without making that initial investment.
On the next page, how will we compete with Spain and Italy: