De Coster on Bayle - interview

Posted on May 21, 2020

Roger De Coster has worked with nearly every single great American rider from David Bailey and Ricky Johnson, to J. M. Bayle, Jeff Stanton and Jeremy McGrath. Not to mention more recently Ryan Dungey and Ricky Carmichael. Here is how his years from 1990 until 2001 went, in his own words.

1990 – The thing that sticks out in my mind about that year is J. M Bayle and Stanton. They fought all year long. There was a lot of tension in the entire team. Ricky had supported Jeff. He helped him even before he was with Honda, back in the day when he rode Yamaha. He showed him how to train and practice and such. When 1990 came around, Jeff had now won a championship. Jeff had a little bit different attitude. He was not so much Ricky’s friend anymore. He wanted to win championships for himself now. Ricky was still ‘Ricky Johnson’ you know. He wanted to be the main guy too.

Bayle had raced a few races the year before in the US basically as a privateer and then went back to Europe and won the 250 World Championship. We had signed him up for the following year to come to the US and race, although Honda management wanted him to stay another year in Europe. He wanted to come here so bad, I was afraid to lose him to the competition. I didn’t want him to ride on someone else’s team. Add in the fact that Bayle wanted to win, and you can see how all the tension came about. Every guy wanted to establish himself as the main guy. All three of them. That was tough.

Rick wouldn’t tell anyone, but he probably knew at the time that his wrist was not 100%. He probably was thinking ‘I still have to win. I’m still Ricky Johnson. Now this guy that I’ve helped, he’s learned everything I’ve taught him. And now they bring in this champion from France!’

Ricky’s mechanic was Brian Lunniss. He didn’t help to smooth things out either. He seemed to do everything he could to stir things up. He just wanted to create an advantage for his guy. Dave Arnold and I …. we had some rough days I tell you!

A that time, it seemed like my job was part doctor, part psychiatrist, part attorney, part babysitter. You just do whatever you can to smooth things out, but still keep them all motivated. It’s a very delicate situation. Plus, we were primarily racing against our own team. We had good bikes, and we had the best guys. Stanton was the hard worker. Ricky was the proven champion. Bayle the talented guy coming from Europe. And they all had extremely different personalities.

To this very day, I’ve always gotten along very well with Ricky. But one thing that troubled me at this time was that Ricky started to say and do things that were out of his character. It was difficult to see that, because I have so much respect for the guy. He was doing stupid things, probably because he was under so much pressure.

One day I had to talk to him about it. I said ‘Ricky, you have worked so many years and so hard to be so good. You have the fans behind you, you have everyone liking you, why are you doing these things?’

I explained things to him, and said that no matter what, he was always going to be a great champion. He just couldn’t continue doing the things that he was doing. After that, he totally came back around to being himself. I have good memories of Ricky. We had great times together.

One of the great things about Ricky is that when he was winning, he made the whole team feel like they were winning. He made everyone feel as though they had something to do with his victories. Many riders today cannot do that. When a rider can do that, and make his mechanic and the entire team feel like they are part of the winning, it’s a tremendous quality. It helps the rider in the long run too.

1991 – The low point was being in the middle of the Bayle/Stanton situation. There was so much tension between the two. It was very difficult. They were dominating though. The year before, Stanton won the supercross championship, and Bayle was second. This year Bayle ended up winning everything – all three championships: supercross, 250 nationals and 500 nationals.

Bayle was not good at getting the people behind him, so the crowd was not treating him well. He was like ‘the ugly European’. I think the press and the promoters instigated the feeling too. I think they put more ‘gas on the fire’. Him against the poor Americans. I guess it helped to sell tickets. Bayle was the ‘bad guy’ and Stanton was the ‘good guy’.

Not only was there tension between the riders, but there was tension between the mechanics. It was difficult, but we were still winning. That made things a little bit more acceptable.

1992 – Stanton won the supercross series. Bayle was still on the team, but he had kinda’ given up. He finished third in the supercross. That championship was very tight all year, mostly between Stanton and Damon Bradshaw. Bayle could not win the championship, but he could help determine who would win between Bradshaw and Stanton.

During the final race at the L. A. Coliseum, because there was so much animosity between Bayle and Stanton, Bayle started to help Bradshaw. There we are, trying to work as a team, and one of your riders is trying to help the opposition win the title. And I was the one who helped bring Bayle into the team.

Roger Decoster Interview, covering 1971 thru 2001 - Photo 15 of 19Bayle did have some points that were valid, especially some things that happened the year before with Stanton. There was reason for Bayle to be upset. But you believe that those things can be worked out and put behind us. But the tension stayed. Neither Bayle nor Stanton wanted to give in.

With all this going on, it was only the end of the supercross season. We still had the rest of the outdoor season to finish. We talked to them and tried to get this resolved. Bayle had his mind already set – he was going to go road-racing the following year. He didn’t care anymore about his results in motocross. He accomplished his goal of winning all three titles the year before. In his mind, it was time to go road racing. He actually bought a street bike and started practicing for that.

Another thing that upset Bayle is that Honda management did not want to help him make the transition from motocross to road-racing. They did not see the point, although I was trying to help him. There was a little interest from Honda of Japan, but I could not get the American side to take part in it. In the meantime, we were trying to win the championships in the outdoor series for motocross. Stanton ended up winning the 250 outdoors.

Motocross is not like other team sports such as soccer where you might have a little bit more control. Once the starting gate drops, they are individuals. What are you going to do? Jump out onto the track and push them off? If you try to tell one of them individually that we are trying to work together as a team, he’ll say ‘Hey, don’t you remember back when he bumped me there?’

An example is 1990 at San Jose. Stanton bumped Bayle very bad. Bayle crashed. But in motocross, especially supercross, there is so much interpretation of who causes the crashes. It can be endless as to who caused what. And the riders have good memories.

We also had a situation earlier between our rider Mike Kiedrowski and Bayle. Bayle had broken his arm at Washougal, so he had no chance to win the championship. But he was faster than either Kiedrowski or Guy Cooper, who was with Suzuki then. Kiedrowski was very paranoid of Bayle. Kiedrowski was a hard worker, and very tough, but Bayle was more of a finesse guy and choosing better lines and such.

Bayle liked to make things look even easier than they really were, and he liked to make everyone believe that he did not train hard. He actually trained much more than most people think. When people started to say Bayle did not train, he would say ‘Yeah, I don’t train.’ He helped perpetuate that myth.

He rode a lot, and did things with the bike like tricks. Kiedrowski spent more time in the gym working out. Kiedrowski would pound out laps, where as Bayle would just spend hours and hours on the bike playing around.

When it came down to the last race of the year, and Bayle was out of the title chase because he had broken his arm, the championship was going to be between Kiedrowski and Cooper. We needed Bayle to not help Cooper, and to help Kiedrowski win. In practice, it was obvious that Bayle was faster than them, and he would win easily because he was so much faster.

I talked to Bayle after practice. I told him ‘We are a team, and I understand the tension between you and Kiedrowski, but I cannot have you beat him on the track today. You cannot finish in front of him.’ He said ‘I’m going to race. I’m not going to bump him, but I am going to race to win. I’m not going to hold back, I’m going to race my own race and go as good as I can.’ Dave and I were sure he was going to win unless his bike broke. Bayle said ‘If you don’t want me to beat him, then you are going to have to tell me not to race. That’s the only way I’m not going to beat him. You are going to have to decide what you want.’ So, Dave and I discussed it, and we really thought Bayle would beat him. We didn’t want that to happen. Dave decided not to let him race. We put the bike in the truck.

In a normal job, if your supervisor asks you to do something, and you don’t do it, you wouldn’t have your job anymore. But this situation had come up earlier in the year too, only reversed with Kiedrowski. It looked like Kiedrowski raced harder against Bayle than he did the rest of the field. Dave had asked Kiedrowski to do something, and he did not follow orders.

I think some of that is the age factor. It’s not like car racing where the drivers are a bit older and more mature. They are younger. Also, working within a Japanese company, things are very well thought out and planned. You cannot make decisions on the spot, and it weakens your position in front of the riders. Riders are very emotional. They want to hear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ right away. They can’t wait for an answer. When you are a team manager for a Japanese company, I think it’s much more difficult than if you were a manager with an American or European company compared to the Japanese, because you don’t need a consensus on a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

1993 – I took a break from what I was doing with Honda. I had planned to have a rest, but Hi-Torque publications wanted me to help with Dirt Bike magazine. They wanted me to help with testing and evaluation of bikes, and I was going to write a column for the magazine. I did that and it allowed me to have a little bit of free time …. it wasn’t seven days per week like what I was doing before.

1994 – I continued to work with Dirt Bike magazine, and I started to work part-time with what was then the Honda 250 team in Europe. I primarily helped Yves DeMaria. I went back and forth to Europe … not for every single race, but about every other race. I think that was Yves’s best year. I believe he won six Grand Prix events. If he had been a little bit better in his training, and done better in a few of the sand races, he could of won the championship that year. Greg Albertyn ended up winning the 250 World Championship.

Roger Decoster Interview, covering 1971 thru 2001 - Photo 16 of 191995 – I started working again with Suzuki. This came about mostly thru Sylvain Geboers. Sylvain had been running the Suzuki team in Europe, and he had been asking me quite a few times to come back. I think he’s really the one that started the idea of getting Suzuki to think about me again. Also, the person that runs the road racing team for Suzuki in the US, Mr. Hito, contacted me. He asked me to come to Japan.

So I went to Japan. It was very cool. They had reunited all of the old race team. All my past mechanics, designers, engine people, engineers, and more. Of course they have all moved up and have different positions within the company. But it was so neat …. about 20 people gathered together in a room. All those memories of the successes we had during the 70’s. It was a big surprise. 

That made me really feel like it was something I should do. It showed that Suzuki was very serious. Suzuki made me an offer, and I began to work with them again. At that time, maybe Suzuki did not realize how far they had fallen back with the motorcycle. It had been a long time since they had won races. But everyone started to work hard, and the feeling started to come back that maybe we could win. 

When you don’t win for a long time, people just get used to it. It’s hard to get out of that rut and believe that you can win. 

Our riders that year were Greg Albertyn, Ezra Lusk, and Damon Huffman. Damon did win in 125 supercross. Greg struggled because before he came over to the US for 1995, he broke the navicular bone in his wrist. He had very little time to prepare for the first supercross. He had guts though. And he had the speed. Greg has always had the speed. But he just didn’t have enough time and experience with supercross yet. 

At the very first race in Orlando he got hurt . That was pretty much it, because he was hurt off and on for the rest of the supercross season. He had not fully recovered even when the outdoor season started. Greg also had some bad luck. We had a mechanical problem with the clutch in Sacramento when he was in the hunt for the win. Then when we went to Gainesville, the track had this crazy drop-off jump. LaRocco, who was still on Kawasaki at the time broke a wheel. Greg broke a wheel. Several riders broke wheels.

Those first few years with Greg were difficult. He had more heart than technique, and sometimes it got him in trouble. With supercross starting first, it usually meant he’d start the outdoor season with an injury. 

1996 – The high point for us was Ezra Lusk finishing third in the 250 supercross series, although later on he signed with Yamaha for the following season. 

1997 – The high-point of the year was Jeremy McGrath coming to ride for us. And the low point was Jeremy not winning. 

How did it come about that Jeremy was going to ride for Suzuki? He called me. At first I thought it was a joke. It was about two weeks before the first race. It was right around Christmas. Jeremy called and asked if I would be interested in him racing for Suzuki. My thought was ‘Is the Pope Catholic?’  

Then I found out Jeremy was very serious. I wanted to do whatever I could to make that happen. I made phone calls to Suzuki of Japan and Suzuki here in the US. We decided to go for it. By the time everything was sorted out because of his previous agreement with Honda, we had very little time to test or anything. The contract was actually signed two days before the first supercross of the season in Los Angeles. 

That first race he ended up tangling with Steve Lamson a couple of times. By him not scoring enough points at the first round, that put him at a tremendous handicap. 

By the middle of the supercross season, Jeremy was back in the hunt for the title. He and Emig were battling. At the Charlotte race, he was leading and looked like he was going to win for sure. Then he got a flat tire. 

I think that Jeremy had so much on his mind that year …. it was very difficult for him. Earlier in ’96 when he was negotiating with Honda, they told him to ‘take it or leave it’, and I believe that he had too much pride to be told that. He and his family, in making the switch to Suzuki, wanted to run things like a privateer team. But there just wasn’t enough time to get everything ready like that. There were so many things up in the air at the last minute. 

We also had some problems that year with the bike. We went in the wrong direction with it. We were trying to make it have more power and more rev. But later on we realized what was needed was more torque and low end power. And Japan did not respond quick enough to our needs. Things we requested took longer than what it should of taken in my opinion. They finally starting reacting when it was too late. Otherwise, I think Jeremy might of stayed with Suzuki. 

That was a tough year. Greg had a good supercross season. He finished fifth overall, which is pretty good considering the level of competition here in the US. We had a lot of riders on the team too. We had Jeremy, we had Greg, we had LaRocco …… it was a busy house with a lot of commotion. Jeremy was the first rider to leave Honda. There was so much interest in him because of who he is and what he’s accomplished. The fact that he left Honda I think made him even more popular. The media went crazy. Everybody wanted a part of him. 

1998 – Greg had a good fight for the outdoor title with Doug Henry, who rode the prototype four-stroke. I really feel as though we should of won that championship with Greg. But Doug was tough. At the very least it was good to be in the hunt until the last race. 

1999 – I put a lot of pressure on Greg for 1999. I saw that some of the races in ’98 he could of been tougher. Earlier, he had been working with a trainer that he really believed in. I think this was not the best for Greg. At that time, Greg did not see things that way. Only later did he realize that the method of that training was not the best for him. 

Greg was much better prepared physically than in ’98. Finally, Greg ended up winning the outdoor title. At the last race of the year, when Greg won the championship, it was a great feeling and a relief at the same time. We had reached one of our goals to finally get Suzuki back on top. 

We were back as one of the top teams. You can make a good bike, finish second overall, and win some races. But until you win a championship, you just have not proven it. Some one has to win to confirm it, and that was a good feeling to finally have happen. Plus every one on the team worked very hard, and everyone in Japan was very supportive of us. All that work paid off. 

2000 – The low part of the season was the fact that Travis did not win the 125 East supercross. He had so much speed. On the other hand though, it’s too much to expect a rider to win in his first year. But when we saw the speed he had, we thought it was possible to win the championship. The high point of the season was Travis too. Towards the end of the year he just kept winning and winning. 

What was especially exciting was the race at Southwick. He lost his goggles in the beginning of the race. He and Tallon Vohland had collided, and it bent Travis’s rear disk brake. Travis’s bike was really bad. It was so bad that the rear brake did not work, and the wheel could barely spin. Even with those handicaps, he was still able to win on what could be the roughest track of the series. 

Winning with Travis is a lot of fun. He is so exciting. He gets a lot of press and attention. He shows so much happiness and has so much thanks and appreciation for the team and fans. 

The Motocross des Nations was this past September. To me, the des Nations is still the biggest event of the year. It’s always good to see all the best riders in the world in the same race. When I was a rider, it was the most important race, and for me today I still feel the same way. 

Until you have finished in first place, and had the honor of defending your country, you can’t realize or feel what it’s like. To win over all the other countries, it puts so much more pressure and value on what you are doing. 

2001 – If I could change some things in racing for 2001, I would make some adjustments with the four-stroke allowance. I think that’s the biggest problem we are facing in this coming year. Especially the 250’s being allowed in the 125 class. 

I’d like to see television coverage at better time slots. I’d like to see the riders make more prize money. The top riders make really good money these days. But it’s supported too much by the industry itself. I would like to see the factories be able to spend more of our money on hardware and testing instead of so much salary and bonuses. Maybe that can come from the promoters, thru better television coverage, and outside sponsors.

In closing, I feel very thankful that I’ve been able to live all of my life doing my hobby. When I came out of school, I went to work directly in a factory for a few years because I was not making enough money in racing. So I know what it’s like to work a regular job. I am so thankful, even to this day, that I’m able to make a living doing what I love to do the most.