Interview: Jeremy Albrecht – we want to do better
He has won supercross and motocross championships in America as a mechanic with Jeff Emig and James Stewart, two of the biggest names in the sport, but Jeremy Abrecht has spent the last ten years trying to reach the same highs as a team manager.
Jeremy comes across as a nice, chilled, relaxed guy but he clearly has a competitive streak that still burns as he strives to achieve the dream with JGR MX – to win races and championships.
Joe Gibbs Racing is a unique team in the sport with an NFL and NASCAR background and a base in North Carolina – a world away from the supercross hotbed of Californian race teams. But they are determined to reach the top of the sport in American like they did in NFL and NASCAR and Jeremy Albrecht is the man they appointed to steer the ship.
Doug Turney sat down with the affable and very honest team manager to get the inside story into how he made the move from mechanic to team manager, the team’s partnership with Suzuki and their goals for the future.
Can you tell me how you initially got involved with JGR MX?
I worked with Kawasaki and Coy and David Evans, who had brought some sponsors to Kawasaaki and then worked as an agent for Stewart for while, and he ended up helping Coy get things start but I wasn’t really thinking about coming here.
Some things changed where I was at, I wasn’t really happy where I was then one day I saw them at the races and said,’ Hey, are you guys still thinking about running a team next year?’ and they said yeah, why are you interested, and I said ‘maybe.’
I was just kind of joking but then I started thinking about it so I called on Monday to see where the team was going to be based out of, not it expecting it to be here (N.Carolina) I said I had to ask my wife because I was expecting to be based in California, if she thought it was the best thing for or family, so I called back and said I was open to it and we got taking and I took the job. I finished the supercross series at Kawasaki and then came here – ten years ago!
Can you walk us through the evolution of the team over those ten years?
At the beginning you always hope it would be easier and you would get success fast. But we knew it would be tough, we were competing against all the best teams in the US, it’s not simple. We try to get better every year which we do. Last year we switched to Suzuki and this year we are the factory team so it’s the first time that we feel we are moving forwarrrd and they are doing more with us I feel we are all digging in wth Suzuki, we work with Japan really close, we get to work on the new bike stuff early and typically a team in N. Carolina doesn’t really get to do that.
You usually have to be near the factory but they are trusting us with everything which is no normal, so it’s nice they are trusting us. We are earning the respect. We had to hire a lot of staff this year, we have the 250 team for the first time. Last year it was a kind of half and half year, we did some and Yoshimura did some but this year they (Yoshimura) still help out but it’s pretty much all done here now..it has doubled in size and the money has doubled also!
So how many people are working here?
There are a total of I think 22 people counting the riders but there are some guys from California that help as well from Yoshimura, RG3. Before all the engine stuff was done in California but now it is done here so we hired more engine guys here, before we only had two. The biggest transition has been changing everything to here and getting everything set with how Suzuki wants us to do it.
It’s been great, there is a lot of staff but it was nice to have the 450 part in place, we already knew how to do that. The 250 stuff isn’t that much different, it is a little bit but not hugely different. The staff, everyone gets along really well and helps each other out so that’s been the biggest thing, there are really no job descriptions any more we need to do what we need to do to help the team.
Justin Hill and Malcolm mentioned it, and I’ve noticed it at the races that the team seems relaxed, serious and yet focused on winning, but is that a philosophy of yours to keep the team loose?
Yeah, I have been on teams where there is stress and I don’t think it works. Any time you get yelled at all the time I don’t think it works. You can get things done without yelling at people and making a tense environment. Everyone has their style and their way, Coy lets us run it how we want to run it and even when he was here every day it was the same. He lets us do what we need to do and he backs us up, he buys equipment, the team is definitely not making money but he’s never pulled a dollar out, everything we reinvest, that’s how we got the land for the track where you went to today and all the equipment, first we started leasing it then we buy it when he can.
Some years we lose money some years we break even. If we have a little bit we buy something to help the team. He definitely doesn’t do it for the money, if he was he would have quit a long time ago so that’s the good part. I can’t go lose a lot of money but we don’t need to make money. He really does like it, it’s a fun sport and it’s growing and there are not many sports growing right now. TV is up and people love watching.
Can you talk about the uniqueness of being in North Carolina, do you see advantages?
Yeah I do now, at the beginning when we started the team that was Coy’s whole thing. He wanted the team to live here and be a team like it is now. But the guy’s fought it because in the deal you had to live here and any time you make somebody do something, they don’t want to. So it didn’t really work because we made them live here. Now I don’t make them live here and this is the first year that everyone is enjoying living here. And that makes us feel good and me personally, that everyone likes what we have done. It seemed like that that wasn’t always the feeling I got. Weston bought a Condo, Hill bought his first house here, Jimmy D has a house here. They all have houses here and they all love together and ride together. Malcolm brought his motorhome here and he is staying in that and it is helping. I feel like it is a benefit to be here.
The whole reason it is here is because their NASCAR facility is here so why not take advantage of that. There are a lot of things as a motocross team we could never afford to do and they can so we get to use their machine shop, their engineers and that helps us. The original plan was we were going to buy land and have the shop all at the track, it was a five year plan, but being in the spot we were in for two years we realised it was nice to be close to the shop because we realised how much we do use it and the engineers so then we were like well maybe it’s not worth building a shop at the track, so we built a smaller more like a barn, so we changed a few things and made things work better.
It’s cool because Coy has all these big dreams, that’s why it’s cool to have Coy on-board because he things different to everybody else. I think our sport we always think the same way or what everyone has done in the past but he thinks different than that, ‘why don’t you it this way?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know that’s just how we have always done it!’ So he is good at thinking in a different way of doing it, I think it’s because he has done so many different things. He worked in Football (NFL), he raced cars, had a car team so he has seen different things. For me I have only worked here (mx) so my mind is probably in a little box and his is more open so that’s why I like him being part of it, he opens my mind up to doing different things. Even how we do fill-in riders, people didn’t used to do that but it’s something we do all the time.
Phil is kind of the jack-of-all trades for you, filling in, testing,
Yeah, he is really good, he trains really hard, works really hard. He is kind of the guy that gets everyone together what day they are riding what day they are going. He is the older rider and keeps all the young guys.
Can you talk a bit about Bogle, he has had a tough year!
Yeah, he has had it really tough, the off-season didn’t do good then the first Monster cup race he was riding good but it didn’t good. That is the toughest part about our sport is injury for sure. We are dealing with it right now, poor Kyle crashed not even on the track and hurt his knee. Jimmy D hurt his back at Daytona, I wish it didn’t happen but it does and you just have to deal with it the best you can.
The 450 it seems there are more injuries, what are your thoughts on injuries in the sport?
I feel there are more injuries this year but I don’t really think it’s because the track is too tough or bikes are too fast. They are really fast but the 250s are really fast too it’s not like you can say everyone should ride 250s, they do everything the 450s do. I think the riders are getting better, they hit the corners faster, the jumps harder, they just jump stuff that’s bigger than what they used too so when you mess up it’s a bigger penalty. But most of the crashes really haven’t been the big ones they have been little tip overs. Even Roczen getting hurt that was a weird freak deal. Kyle Peters crashed in the snow, Cooper Webb crashed in a rhythm section, I don’t think it’s the track is the issue, I think they are just pushing it and setting the bar higher. With speed you are going to get hurt more often.
Let’s talk a bit about the Suzuki deal, you are signed up for three years, what are goals over that period or is it just come in and win right away?
Last year was just to start working with them and get to know everybody and try to turn it into what we did but we didn’t know if it would really happen because there were other teams. So we just kind of had to wait our turn and do the best we could. We ended up getting and did a three-year deal so we could build it better and do things more long-term. If we did a one-year deal we couldn’t have been working on next year’s bikes until we had out next contract done. Trying to sign guys, it’s easier for all of us to know where we are headed so we can plan each year and try to improve.
The whole idea with Suzuki was to provide a pathway, that’s why we are doing the 250 thing and why they are doing more in amateurs – like Hill is riding a 250 this year and then a 450 next year. So the goal is to make a pathway kind of like some of the other teams have done. With us being the same people working on both sides should make it even better. The goal every year is to get better and the hardest part is trying to pick the best guys, everyone is trying to do that. The reason we did grow is because of Suzuki wanting to have a better presence and put more into it. They put more into what we are doing and we are trying to bring in more sponsorship into what we are doing so we can grow into being two really solid teams, the 250 side is as important as the 450.
Are you in contract with Suzuki everyone week do they come to facility?
Yeah, they have been here. The president has been here, the vice president has been here, we did the 2018 450 launch here. They can do testing here and use it for anything they want. We have lots of people from Suzuki here already and it has been a great relationship and I think we are going to be doing more stuff together.
I think it was good they all came to see what we can offer and look at our track and shop. The Japanese came for our 2018 testing, they came here for two weeks and that was really cool. We are doing that again, I think we start testing in September. We start early.
They are also coming over for Vegas and Hangtown to try and help us out.
The outdoors start up in a few weeks, is there a difference with the team operation from supercross to outdoors?
Well supercross we had two riders in each coast for the 250 guys and two 450 guys. Outdoors we are only going to do two 450 riders and two outdoor riders, Nicolette and Peters were supercross only. That’s the only thing that is going to be different but with these injures stuff is changing every day. We use more parts outdoor, it all comes down to budget and expenses and seeing what we can do to not overload the staff and try and do a good job for Suzuki.
Your contract with Autotrader, how long is that?
We do it year by year, they did it the first year just to see and they really like it and they keep continuing, we are working on a renewal now so hopefully that can happen. The hardest thing in our sport is everyone works on a different timeline than we do, so must of the people try to get stuff done in December but we are really to go racing in December! So we have to know a lot earlier than that, and that’s for every team. We have to get out budget set so we know what it is. I would say from when outdoor starts to middle of outdoors, the contracts get done with the riders (for next year) and then the sponsors for next year. Longer term deals are obviously the goal but it’s not easy.
When do you like to have the riders deals done by?
We like to have them start in September, as that’s when we do testing. But most rider’s contract’s end either October 1st or end of October. So it depends how their last contract was written as to when they are allowed to switch. Hill couldn’t switch over in September, he had to wait until October. Every rider agreement is different that is that hardest thing, every rider is different. Our job is to try and hire the best guys we can hire every year, you are looking at a guy that you think might have potential but he hasn’t shown what he can do and some guys have done it and then don’t do it when they come here. Right now I am happy with the whole team, everyone works good together. We need to be on the podium more but other than that we have improved and are doing good.
Obviously you want to be on the podium, your guys have been close, how do you look at the season?
We want to do better, it’s not what we want and we would like to do better. I feel like Weston is podium speed, he has been right there. Malcolm too, he has shown flashes of speed, he rides great, he just needs more time with the team and more fitness. Just like Weston he keeps getting better every year. We are excited about Hill next year on a 450, he rode great when he rode it. So I am excited for next year and we want to do better.
I feel like Weston can do better than he is doing right now, I even went back and looked at the results and he had three fifths at the first three rounds when everybody is healthy, so right now, when the field is a little weaker he should be on the podium but we are not. That’s one of the those things, I feel like he hadn’t been riding as well as he had been at the start of the year but I know I feel he is back to that, but we will keep working at it. Obviously I would like to win every weekend but ever team does and that’s not realistic.
When I worked for Stewart and I don’t know how many races we won – tons. At some point you just expect it and when you get second you are mad, It’s hard. Everyone is there for the same thing. I don’t feel like anyone is unbeatable right now like it was in the past, do I feel we can win right this minute in the 450 class? It’s long shot but we could. I would like to be going everyone weekend where I feel like we can win. I don’t go every weekend feeling we can win but I do feel we are close to a podium and hopefully we can keep pushing and getting better so we can go there every weekend thinking we can win. But It’s not me that needs to think it, the riders do, they are the ones that need to think they can win.
You mentioned you are not one of the yelling, screaming types, so how do you talk to the riders and say, “I think you are better than this.”
I just talk to them, sit them down at the races in there are and treat them like a normal person. Hopefully it does work, if it doesn’t start working maybe I’ll have to do something different. Coy talks to the riders a lot too. He calls them a lot, texts them a lot and tells them what he wants form them. I have Buddy (Antunez –riding coach) helping out too, that’s something I added this year was Buddy so he could help the riders.
The real thing I want is the riders to feel a part of the team and feel what I feel so they know it’s not just why I hire them, what I need for them and how I make my people happy. We are all in it together, I try to explain where I am and that I like them and want them to stay but to stay these are the things that we need to do, I try to be more honest so they are part of the team and not just a tear-off. With Weston there were years he was struggling and I told him I would give him until the middle of outdoors because he needed to change his whole training programme and it took about until the middle of outdoors to turn it around and he did and we kept him.
I just try to be honest with them of where I am at and what we are thinking. It’s really all I can do is just be honest, I don’t call people until It’s pretty serious, I don’t want to get 10 people working and tell 9 of them no. I work on one guy at a time and figure out if we want that guy then go for that guy. Don’t go for ten, we all know what everyone is doing and thinking. My main thing is try to treat people how I would want to be treated, it’s maybe a little different but hopefully It’s working!
Interview and photos: Doug Turney