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A look into the 2005 WMRRA racing season

by Randy and Justin Grein

Trying to predict the shape of a new season is harder than playing the stock market. While the number of riders is down somewhat, due no doubt to the lagging economy, the level of competition certainly is not. Nearly everyone is faster year after year; some classes have less than a second/lap separating the first 8 places. Still, it's hard to beat experience. So we caught up with a pair of long-time competitors and friends who are faster and more knowledgeable to tell us about the coming season, Mike Sullivan and Alan Schwen.

Both of these awesome competitors have been racing for 20+ years. At an age when most guys are whining about arthritis and planning their first heart attack, Mike and Alan are still hitting the track with no end in sight to their winning ways. Alan, best known as an SV expert has been the bane of riders in the SV-dominant classes for the past 5 years. He has also turned in outstanding performances on a variety of bikes and won the #1 plate in 2001. Mike, the owner/operator of Sullivan Racing School has held the #1 plate in Washington more than any other rider and has been on almost every kind of bike. The father/son track duo of Randy and Justin caught up with them to talk a little racing and find out how their own personal seasons are shaping up.

Randy: So tell us about yourself! The usual stuff � how about your best race?

Alan: My best race ever has to be my win in Portland in 2002. I was racing the FUSA Thunderbike class, mostly Buells. Michael Barnes and Dave Estock were there with their Factory supported Buells. This wasn't a Dyno or a HP regulated class so their bikes were real fast. I think Michael was down into the high 10s on his bike in practice and all I could manage was 13's because of a clutch problem during qualifying practice. Both Michael and Dave were racing a Buell-only race that ran FUSA and Dave was racing the Thunderbike class also on his Buell. We figured out our clutch problem after practice so I really didn't know what was going to happen in the race. Rick Salmon worked during the morning with help from Dan Zlock to try and get the thing fixed for the final in the afternoon; they practically had the whole engine apart working on the clutch. I didn't want to really watch what was going on, I figured if they said it was a runner, then I would give 'er hell during the race. What I didn't know was...that the Buell guys were kinda worried about me...so after the Buell race they prepped Michael Barnes' bike for Dave Estock to race against me in the Thunderbike race...it was just a little better set up than Dave's was.

I got the hole shot and led to Turn 1, in fact I think I led the first lap or two. Dave would draft by me going into Turn 1 just before we would brake and this went on every other lap or so. Dave wouldn't do the draft into turn 7 but I figured he could and would wait till the last lap to do so. On the last lap I waited longer to brake into Turn 1, I guess he did too cause we went into 1 side by side. I managed to get position as we tipped it in. I was worried he was going to draft me down the backside so as I came to turn 3 I went in like normal but right when I would normally get back in the gas I grabbed a little brake hoping he would run up on me unexpectedly and have to chop off the gas or change lines and run wide. I guess it worked because he wasn't close enough for the back straight draft and I beat him to the line. The finish line was moved way down the front straight so it seemed like it took forever going down the front straight, I won by like .010 of a second. It was close...and that was my first National sprint win too.

Randy: Wished I had been there. How about your best racing memory?

Alan: My fondest memory would have to be winning the WMRRA #1 plate in 2001. That was just unbelievable to me! I did it on a pair of SV650s. A supersport SV and a superbike SV. Although, the support I received from the club and all the folks that participated in the Cancer Benefit Auction/dinner was also unbelievable. Just goes to show you that this really is a "family of racers."

Randy: How did you get started racing/road racing?

Alan: My father and I started racing in 1984. we watched a season of racing in '83 and decided to give it a try. Keep in mind I had never even rode a motorcycle before, so I bought a Yamaha RD400 in September of 1983. Rode it a week before falling off of it, then went to college in Wenatchee. The season had started before I got out of school so I missed the first 2 races I think. There was a novice school at the time but...it wasn't required to take at the time, so I gridded up with the experts and got my ass kicked. That first year was a real learning experience. I did manage to finish 5th before the season ended though. I never fell off either which was very nice, how many first year racers can say that? I have to give my dad a lot of credit for that first year. He prepped my bike while I was at school and tried to teach me how to race at the same time...LOL...(he raced Honda CB160s in the mid to late 60s and was actually pretty fast at the time.) He and Bruce Lind were good friends back then and did some traveling together racing in California and Canada.

Randy: So you've been at it almost as long as me! (haha) What bike(s) and classes will you be riding this season? Are you strictly local this year, or will you be racing nationally?

Alan: This season will be mostly local...I will try to go to the WERA National events at Willow Springs and Las Vegas though. I spent a great deal of time racing the WERA West series last year. I won the Lightweight Twins Supersport and Lightweight Twins Superbike classes last season, that was a lot of fun. I raced at Fontana, CA, Las Vegas, NV, and Buttonwillow, CA. I won every race except one ,which I finished 2nd at. All on tracks I had never raced before. It hurt me locally although, I missed a few races locally and finished 3rd in the 650 Supersport Twins class at WMRRA. That was my main class last year, I did fool around in the Open Twins and Middleweight Twins classes too, but didn't really race them enough to get many points.

This season I'm kinda changing gears a little, I will to be racing a Honda RC51 in the Open Twins class and I will be racing a SV650 Supersport bike again.

Randy: Who are your sponsors? There has to be some reason you keep beating me�.

Alan: My biggest sponsor is South Sound Honda. The people there are really behind me and it doesn't hurt to work there too...lol.

AMI Racing engines will be taking care of my engine work, Mike Auderer is really a great guy and builds the best engines. He has worked with a lot of racers locally and has a Dyno and a flow bench and all his own machines. He doesn't send parts out then assemble them afterwards, He does it all in shop.

Dunlop Tires is behind me again.

Leo Vince Exhausts

GP Suspension...Dave is a Suspension God...he just waves his hands over your bike and it works great!

Arai Helmets

SBS Brakes

Ricci Motorsports...Gary agreed to work with me. And he has everything a racer needs locally for race parts.

Randy: When are you rejoining the SV class? (grin)

Alan: This year!!!! Ya better watch out for ole' Schwen Shady! LOL

Randy: Who is your competition? Care to tell us anything about them?

Alan: I guess we will see at the first race...I don't know who all has SV's this season. I do know my teammate John Greer will have a Supersport SV650, he is really getting fast! Last year he really stepped up towards the end of the season, did you see him? Ian Draycott was pretty impressive too last season. I would come home for a race and he was always hanging in there. He's pretty fast for only racing a few years. I don't know about Ross or anyone else, I haven't heard if he will have an SV, if so he goes really good too...are you racing an SV Randy??? You go pretty good...you beat me once didn't you...LOL...in the rain I believe.

Randy: Three times, all in the rain. In the dry you have 2 seconds a lap on me! (I have to figure out how he does that�) How do you get ready for the season? Ride dirt bikes, work out or just lift beers?

Alan: I been watching my son race dirt bikes this winter. Does that count? He has won quite a few races down this way (Olympia). I'm getting him prepped for road racing so I've been spending a lot of time with him racing dirt. He is 13 right now so watch out next season... I've been working out 3 times a week, running 3 miles every morning...ya, right!!!...LOL

Randy: So he could get a CB 160 and dust Justin next season! Are you going to Daytona?

Alan: No Daytona for me. It's been 11 years since I raced there... it sure doesn't seem like its been that long ago. I wish I could go again...But If I go that far to race it will be the Suzuki cup races in Atlanta in Oct.

Randy: OK, it's time for our junior reporter and soon-to-be-novice racer Justin to chime in with a few questions.

Justin: What was it like racing the first time?

Alan: I was kinda freaked out...no novice school, just a track practice the day before. I remember getting passed in stereo going through turn 2 at Seattle my first race. I remember thinking those guys are so fast! It wasn't long before I was doing the passing and I remember thinking..."I wonder if they are thinking the same thing I was when I was getting my doors blown off." I remember being so mentally tired also after a weekend racing. This sport is 80% mental and 20% physical. The bigger the bikes you race though, the stronger you have to be. Its like bench pressing all day when you wrestle a 750 or a 1000 around the track.

Justin: So what do you think about young racers?

Alan: I wish there were more of them. I know there are some seriously fast flat trackers out there that are teens. Jake Holden, Mitchell Pierce are a few that came from the flat track ranks. I like to teach what I know to the novices, I have helped a lot of guys out there in racing that have became fast. I have been asked by Mike Sullivan to help him out at his school and have done a PSSR track day or two as an instructor. I like to see the smiles on the faces when they come in and say..."that was awesome!" I like to do more one-on-one teaching than group teaching. Its more personal and you can work with someone until they "get it." I really get more out of racing seeing people get excited about going a couple seconds faster than they ever have. Also, I learn a lot from the faster guys too. You never stop learning something out there, every race you pick something up someplace and it's like a light bulb goes off�LOL

Justin: Any advice for the young aspiring racer?

Alan: Find a mentor. If you have skills and talent find a mentor to help you out. It's way better than learning the hard way crashing a lot. Positive attitude goes a long way also. I've seen a lot of racers with unbelievable talent go no place because of bad attitudes. Likewise, I've seen guys that are fast but not always winning with unbelievable sponsors. Like me, I'm not the fastest guy and I've never claimed to be, but I've always had good support from sponsors. I wouldn't be doing this today if it weren't for all the help I have had.

Justin: What do you like to do in your free time?

Alan: I'm a family guy. I have 2 children, my son lives with me and I'm having a blast watching him race. My daughter lives with her mom and she wants nothing to do with motorcycles...lol I try to keep motivated and like to work around the yard on non-race weekends, spend time with friends and just relax. I feel like I've been given a second life so I don't try to be as serious with life as I was before the cancer. (Note: Alan successfully battled cancer a few years ago. Ed.)

Justin: How about your favorite bike?

Alan: hmmmmmm..... that's hard. I've enjoyed racing everything I've thrown a leg over. I have rode so many different bikes. I like the Twins right now. They make a lot of power down low, that it's hard to do something wrong. I liked endurance racing with Barry and Daryl on his R6 Superbike too. That was an unbelievable bike in terms of top speed. It never stopped pulling down the straights, just kept accelerating until you braked. I'm really looking forward to this RC51. I think it will be a fun bike to ride, kinda heavy but fun. I think I might surprise some people with it. I know Mike Mitchell was fast on his a few years ago.

Justin: Anything you'd like to add?

Alan: I can't wait for the first race to start! I'm already pumped. I have enjoyed talking with you and good luck racing this season, Justin. Thanks for giving me the time for this. It's been fun.

Thanks guys!

Randy & Justin: Thanks Alan, and good luck this season! td valign="top" width="50%">Mike Sullivan

  • Age: It's a secret
  • Height: 5' 8"
  • Weight: 153 lbs
  • Race number: WMRRA #1, AMA #74
  • Years Racing: over 30

Randy: hi Mike, it's been a while � like last season! Let's start with the usual bio stuff - age, height/weight years racing, best race/fondest memory.

Mike: My age is kind of secret, I don't normally give that out. I used to be five foot nine, but after two compressed vertebras I am down to five eight and about 153, at my racing weight. I have lots and lots of great racing memories. My fondest race memory, that is tough. Probably when I finished third at Mid Ohio in the 250GP AMA National in 1995. Mostly because I had finished fourth like six times before that and did not think it was ever going to happen. My two other AMA Podiums are also very special, Pomona 1996, and Phoenix in 1999. Winning both legs of the Formula USA race at Portland in 99 was also right up there as well as that National Championship. A couple more that were real good was winning the main event at the Boise Idaho TT on the Friday night race in 1982. I beat a lot of real good dirt trackers. I won the short track race in the Kingdome in March of '85. All of those are quite special to me.

Randy: What? It wasn't beating me by half a wheel at Tenino? (grin) So how did you get started racing/road racing, as you have successful flat track and road racing careers?

Mike: I actually started racing dirt track when I was 13 years old. My Dad and Mom owned a motorcycle shop in Centralia and my father raced dirt track for a lot of years. I raced a 100cc Hodaka. There were lots of tracks to race flat track when I was a kid, Lucky Spokes ( in Brush Prairie, WA), Woodland Summer and Winter tracks, Castle Rock, St. Helens Oregon, Rainier, Straddle Line Cycle Park, (later to be Thurston County ORV Park), they had a short track. It was kind of a family thing. My older brother Dan, myself, Dad and a few other friends. We would take like five or six dirt trackers in a pickup and trailer. I remember I always wanted to try road racing but never really had the money to buy equipment to do it. I ended up buying a 1977 Yamaha RD400 around 1979. I was talking to a guy at a short track race at the South West Washington Fairground, Paul Peroli, and found out he road raced and he kind of said yah the RD is a good bike to race and they have a class for it. I raced it in the 410 Production class and it was actually quite a competitive class at the time. A guy named Robbie Adams was going good and Scott Moon was in it. I finished fourth in my first race. I think I raced one more time that year in 1980 and have hit it full-time every year since.

Randy: What bike(s) and classes will you be riding this season? Will you be sticking around the Northwest this year, or will you be racing nationally also?

Mike: For 2005 I will be racing an '05 Yamaha R-1 and R-6. The schedule is going to work out pretty good for doing Nationals and the local races. My goal will to be to win the overall number one plate again in Washington. If the demographics work for getting my bike to the Nationals, I will be doing the Daytona 200, Barber in Alabama, Fontana, CA, Sears Point, Road America, of course Laguna Seca and maybe even Virginia. Locally I will race the 600 Supersport, 600 Superbike, Open Supersport, and Formula Ultra. With the exception of the Daytona 200 (which is Formula Extreme this year) I will be racing in just Superbike at the AMAs.

Randy: OK, Who are your sponsors? That is, who pays the bills?

Mike: I am sponsored by The Brothers Powersports in Bremerton. Without them I probably wouldn't be racing anymore. Mike Velasco Racing, Dunlop Tires, EBC Brakes, Silkolene Oils, Sprocket Specialists, Barnett Clutch, Fluid Suspension Science, Flexiglass Bodywork, Billet Tech, and I signed on with a couple of new sponsors Oxtar boots and Held gloves, and Security State Bank. They have a bunch of branches in my local area, Centralia, Chehalis, Rochester and down near Aberdeen. Also the Sullivan Race and Performance Riding School.

Randy: Hmm, I see how you can almost still afford this sport. When are you rejoining the SV class? (grin)

Mike: I highly doubt if I will be racing an SV this year or ever. That stint was sort of a one off appearance. (Mike Sullivan and John Dugan entered the season finale in all the SV classes in 2001, battling for the overall championship with eventual winner and co-interviewee Alan Schwen. Randy)

Randy: OK, no SVs. So who is your competition? Care to tell us anything about them?

Mike: Locally there are a lot of guys going fast. On the 600 I would say Barry Wressell, KC Clarke, Jace Bottenberg, Matt Berry. All of those guys have picked it up a lot. On the big bike Mitchell Pierce for sure, Ross Delong is going real good. In Portland Alan Schimdt, Chris Ancien, and of course John Dugan if he rides. John will be competitive wherever he rides. He is extremely fast.

Randy: So how do YOU get ready for the season? Ride dirt bikes, work out or just lift beers?

Mike: I have just started working out. Mostly riding my twelve speed bicycle. I have been riding it about eight to ten miles. I have been doing push ups. I don't ride dirt bikes much any more because my hips are pretty much shot and I want to try and save them for road racing. I have changed my diet some to be healthier than in the past. To be honest after race season I like a little time off to relax and play golf. I hope to be pretty fit by the time I get to Daytona. I don't drink a whole lot of beer or anything else.

Randy: So, you are going to Daytona? What bike & class? How about the USGP? Can we pit for you? (grin)

Mike: Yes to Daytona. But for sure Laguna race with MotoGP is going to be huge. I always love Laguna anyway but this year is going to be awesome. I will be riding the R-1 in Superbike. I think that my wife and daughter are going to have to pit for me as the paddock passes are all sold out.

Randy: Darn. Well, we'll just have to watch you on TV. Now I'd like to turn it over to Justin, who is just a little nervous about HIS first season.

Justin: Hi Mike! What was it like racing the first time?

Mike: Your first race is always very nerve wracking. You will have butterflies the size of Eagles in your stomach. It is hard to relax but if you are prepared with lots of practice and you have the motorcycle set up the best you can it will all work out. Racing is so weird that way. I get so nervous at Nationals that I always ask myself why do you put yourself through this, then as soon as the race starts the butterflies go away and when it is over, you can't wait to go to the next one.

Justin: I haven't felt them yet� What do you think about young racers (teens)?

Mike: I think any teen whose parents get them into racing that early are very lucky. The bad thing is it costs so much money. One thing about it is someone that young if he stays with it and really likes it, will get good. I was lucky enough to have a Dad who was into it and got me started.

Justin: Like my dad! Any advice for the young aspiring racer?

Mike: Hit the lottery. No really, just learn slowly, don't try and run until you at least walk fast. I think if you take it in small increments and work on it corner by corner and really think about what you are doing, it will come. Sometimes it just takes a lot of patience. And get all the track time that you can.

Justin: My soccer coaches say sort of the same thing. So what do you like to do in your free time?

Mike: In my free time I really like to golf. Sometimes I actually feel like I am pretty good. But golf is funny that way. Just when you think you have it figured out, it bites you.

Justin: My dad won't take me golfing, he hates stick & ball games. I think it's cause he can't hit the ball. Do you have a favorite bike of all the ones you've raced?

Mike: I am not sure if I have an all time favorite bike. I have ridden some real good stuff. I really liked riding my R-1 from last year, it was quite fast. I raced a Ducati 916 in 98 and both times I rode it I was the fastest qualifier at the two AMA Nationals I rode it at (Phoenix and Laguna Seca). I also enjoyed riding the motorcycle known as old paint. It was Zlock Racing's kitted 750 Kawasaki. I got third at Daytona in the Formula USA race in 1996. It was a fast, good handling motorcycle.

Randy: Well, that about wraps it up. Thanks for the interview Mike � we'll be watching for you at Daytona and we'll see you at the track in April! Good luck this season!

 

 


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