Vince Friese interview

Heading into the 2017 Monster Energy Supercross, an FIM World Championship series, the 450SX class looks as deep with talent as it’s ever been. Most of the attention at the moment is justifiably on the Ryan Dungeys, Ken Roczens and Eli Tomacs of the world, but we decided to catch up with one of dark horses we might see inside the top ten in 2017, Smartop / Motoconcepts / Honda’s Vince Friese.

Vince will enter the eighth year of his professional racing career in 2017, and while Vince has never broken through to that elite top tier level, he has consistently improved throughout his career. With that consistent improvement, Vince has kept himself employed and in the game. In a time when 450 rides are hard to come by for anyone outside the top ten, the Smartop / Motoconcepts team has stuck behind Vince through thick and thin over the years.

This year Vince enters his second full time 450SX campaign and will look to improve on his 16th overall in the championship from 2016. That 16th was despite his 2016 450SX campaign starting off rocky—pardon the pun—with the on-track fighting incident with Weston Peick at A1. Vince has put that behind him and is taking the lessons learned with him into 2017. With Motoconcepts now getting Honda support and bringing on top tier talent like Justin Brayton and young amateur prospects like Cameron Macadoo, things are definitely looking up for Vince and the team.

Dan Lamb from Motoxaddicts gave Vince a call to talk about the off season team developments, his expectations for 2017 and shedding the villain image he garnered with aggressive riding.

The Smarttop Motoconcepts team has all been announced now, and it looks like there are a lot of positives, with adding three new riders and getting Honda support for 2017. How is everything going for you, though? How’s your preparation been going?

Really good! We’re way ahead of schedule with everything as far as my bikes and all that—and even myself physically. I’ve been training really hard for a long time now. My summer got cut short, so it gave me more time to rest up and get prepared for the 2017 season. I’m way ahead of schedule. That’s part of the reason why we took a little trip down to Mexico this past week. We’ve been working really hard for a few months now. There’s really no point to continue to pound ourselves into the ground. I figured I’ll take a little trip and recharge the batteries—reset—and I think it worked. I’m feeling good. Today was my first day back on the program, and I felt really good. I felt fresh after recharging the batteries.

I know Honda has come on board to give some support to the team, but as to how much support each of you will get individually, I have not heard. Will you be on the 2016 or the new 2017 Honda for the upcoming season?

For right now I’m going to stay on the ’16. We just got the bikes dialed in. I’ve been on that same bike for quite a few years now, and over the past year and the offseason, we made a lot of progress. We made the bike really, really good. I think between myself, Tony and Mike we didn’t see any sense in scrambling with the change in the last minute. I think the ’17 seems like an awesome bike, but we have ours so dialed in right now. We’ll stick with it.

I’ve heard mixed comments on the Honda support. Someone told me a while back it was just for Justin Brayton, but then recently I’ve heard it was a team deal for all of you.

Yeah, Honda supported the team, so it’s a team deal. As far as all the details, I’m not 100% sure. It literally just got finalized right before our team intro. Brayton had been over in Australia, and it was a long process getting it all situated. That’s more of a Tony [Alessi] question. I’m just excited that Honda is a part of the program in any way. It’s kind of a building block or a stepping stone—a foot in the door with those guys. Hopefully we can show them how good we are, how professional we are and we’re not bad guys. Hopefully they’ll be happy to work with us and want to continue to work with us. That’s the goal for myself and for the team.

With the Honda team support will you continue to use Race Tech for your suspension or will Honda take that over? I know you’ve been on their stuff for a while.

Yes, I’ll be on Race Tech stuff. I’ve been with Race Tech maybe five or six years now. I really don’t want to make a change there. I really love the stuff, and it’s worked awesome for me. I have a great relationship with Rob [Brown] over there and Paul Thede. Those guys have been awesome to me. I really believe it is the best stuff out there. It’s worked out for me, and obviously it’s worked out for Mike [Alessi]—and we’ll see with the new guys on the team this year. I think they’ve started testing, and I think they’re already liking it. I’m super happy to be able to stick with Race Tech.

You’ve been with them a while. I know there have been times where you were still running Race Tech internals with competitor companies stickers on it to fulfill sponsor obligations. (laughs)

Yeah, there’s been times where I haven’t had the option with the sticker for the suspension. Those guys are cool enough to help me out in those situations even if they’re not getting exposure from the deal. They still help me out, and I try to return the favor any way I can.

You’re now entering your eighth year, and while you haven’t won races or titles, you’ve had a relatively successful run. One constant with you throughout your career has been Mike Genova [team owner] and the Motoconcepts team supporting you. You’ve gone away from then a couple of times, but they originally signed you way back in 2009.

I started the whole process as a privateer in 2009 and did the first round—I believe it was Houston—and had a good night. I qualified right out of the heat in like fourth or fifth. Then in the main event, I was running I think fifth or sixth, but with a couple of laps to go I had a big crash. Genova called me that next week and I was doing it on my own, so I was really excited. At the time, the team was riding Hondas, and I signed I think a two-year deal at that time—2009 and 2010. Again in ’11, again in ’12 with Motoconcepts, and in ’13 I went out on my own. I raced East Coast 250’s and a little bit of 450’s on the West and not really much outdoors. Then I was back with them in 2014 for outdoors, then 2015 again and last year too. It’s been a lot of years with Motoconcepts. Mike Genova has been really good to me. It’s been great with Mike and with Tony there—who’s been with the team the last five or so years—it’s made it even better. Tony and Mike come from two different ends of the spectrum, but they work really well together. I’ve been really lucky to have those guys as part of my program throughout my career.

You’ve had a little drama here and there with aggressive riding, and last year was the Weston Peick incident at A1, but Mike and Tony have always had your back 100% no matter what. You don’t see that a lot, but by now you definitely have a family type connection there.

I think Mike Genova really believes in me. He’s seen me grow from a kid that could barely make a 250 main event. The first year I was okay. The second year I got a little bit better, but I’ve just been making steady progress. I don’t think Genova or Tony would stick with me if I wasn’t making any progress. If I had been the same guy for the last three or four years, they would have just moved on to other riders.

Over the years, you have been known as one of the more aggressive riders on the track and the name Vince Friese has kind of taken on the villain persona. Is that something you’re trying to get away from, or more something you’ve embraced at this point?

I don’t see myself as the villain at all. I just see myself as someone trying to race hard. Unfortunately, I’ve kind of been labeled that way, and I probably deserve some of it—I don’t think all of it, but maybe some of it. I’m definitely trying to rebuild my image and my name. Really the only thing I can do is go out there, race clean and get some good results. I think Tony, Genova and Mike have done a really good job with rebuilding their name and image over the last few years. They’ve had some good solid years of racing without any drama. They’ve taken some good steps in the right direction, so I try to see what they’re doing and follow in their footsteps as far as cleaning it up.

Yeah, I think it’s been a complete 360 with Motoconcepts for the better. Heading into 2017 now, where do you see yourself fitting in to the 450SX class. I was doing a season preview the other day, and while this is said every year before A1, the field is stacked. There are seven 450SX championships won, 11 riders that have won a 450SX main event and a total of over 150 main event wins between them heading into A1.

I think there’s no reason I can’t be inside the top ten. Like you said, there’s obviously a lot of really good riders there. The main thing for me is making improvements over last year. I rode pretty well last year. It was a decent year. It was consistent and all that, but I want to try to take a big step forward—as big as I can. I want to make a push to be consistently inside the top ten. I was close last year with some 11th’s and 12th’s and 16th in the points. I definitely learned a lot. It was my first full 450 season, and I was in all those main events learning every weekend. I had a lot of time to think about that stuff, fix what I needed to fix and tune up and maintain what I had going good for me. The bike’s better, I’m more fit and I think I’m already riding better. Everything should be another level up.

Alright, well, thanks for talking to us, Vince. Good luck in 2017, and we’ll see you at A1.

No problem. Thank you.