Friese lives pro dream on Supercross circuit
Monday, February 15, 2010
Vince Friese is taking the road less traveled.
The 19-year-old Cape Giradeau native was home schooled through high school, currently lives in Temecula, Calif., and has no ambitions for college.
He's on an unconventional course, and part of his road less traveled will be trucked into major arenas in North America over the next couple of months. Dirt will be hauled, pushed and formed in the Georgia Dome, Cowboy Stadium and Edward Jones Dome, to name a few.
His road less traveled will feature whoops, hairpins, bumps and more. Friese and 19 others will be traveling this road -- 15 times around to be exact.
The road less traveled then will be removed and rebuilt in seven more locations.
It's Supercross Lite motorcycle racing, and Friese is living his lifelong dream. He will begin his second season on the tour Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the home of the Colts.
It's the big time, and he's paid his dues.
"I pretty much eat, breath and sleep motocross for like the last four or five years," Friese said. "It's about all I've done to get ready to be a professional, and now I'm here. I have to work even harder now.
"I haven't had much of a normal life of a teenage kid at all. I've had a full-time job for the last five years. It's definitely been gnarly, but I've had a blast doing it. Now I'm here. I'm making a lot of money and never had to go to college and never had to do any of that. And every day I'm doing what I love."
And his passion is on display for all to see in front of crowds as large as 70,000 strong, and much bigger when national TV audiences are included. The races are aired on Speed Channel and CBS.
"It's pretty cool," Friese said of racing in front of the large crowds. "I don't notice it as much as I thought I would. That's kind of an advantage I have coming into this year. Last year it was something I was a little bit nervous about, racing in front of all those people, but it wasn't too bad. I was able to block it out pretty good. Then getting to go back and watch it on TV and seeing pictures of it, it's real cool."
The races -- Supercross Lite (250cc) and Supercross (450cc) -- are chaotic and entertaining from the start with riders in the air as much as they're on the ground. Right out of the gate, a field of 20 racers wide fight for position as they are funneled into a narrow turn. From there they attack a course chocked full of jumps and hairpin turns, as well as a rhythm section called whoops -- a straight-away run with a series of mogul-like hills.
The racing is tight and furious throughout, and a far cry from the days when Friese was racing a 50cc bike as a 4-year-old in Lowes, Ky.
"It's still racing, but it's just the tracks are a whole lot different from what I rode growing up," said Friese, who turned pro in 2008. "It's still the same old racing, it's just that I've got to learn to ride the track a little bit different and set up the bike a little bit different."
Riding with a pack
He enters his second season as a member of MotoConcepts Racing, which is based in Temecula. He is one of six racers on the team and one of two competing in the eight-race Supercross Lites East circuit.
A year ago, he entered the season as an independent. He supplied his own bike and with the help of his parents, Doug and Lisa Friese, was paying his own expenses.
"I was pretty much doing everything on my own then, paying for everything out of my own pocket," Friese said.
That changed after his first race, when he led the pack for a while in Houston and had a strong race.
MotoConcepts was looking for a rider for the series, and Friese became their man. He signed a two-year contract with the team and it elevated his game.
"I definitely think I can do a whole lot better than I did last year," said Friese, who rides a Yamaha 250cc. "I've got a way better bike, my team really stepped up a lot this year, we've got really, really good equipment, and I'm a lot more prepared and a lot more confident this year, so I think I should do a lot better."
Not that his first year was too shabby.
About 60 to 80 racers must qualify earlier in the day at an event for the 40 spots in the night races, where two heats and a last-chance race are run for the 20 spots in the main event. In his first season, Friese made all the night programs and advanced to all but one main event.
His best finish in a main event was eighth in Toronto.
"It was kind of a big deal just for me to finish the whole season, Supercross and outdoors, without getting hurt or something happening," Friese said. "I was kind of pumped on that, just looking at the year saying I made it through and got a lot of experience."
Trail to the pros
Along with natural talent, experience has been a vital ingredient to his ascension to the professional ranks.
The 19-year-old who commonly spices his conversation with "gnarly," has had a firm grasp of the bigger picture from a young age. He's understood that commitment and sacrifice were the wheels for his motocross dreams.
As a child, he played football, basketball, soccer and even pedaled bikes with friends.
"At soccer, at a young age, I guess he was pretty aggressive and one of the better players," said his father Doug, who grew up racing motorcycles and got Vince and his older brother Max involved in racing. "At basketball, he was almost too aggressive."
Vince was athletic, but with a twist.
"I enjoyed doing all that stuff, it was a fun thing to do with my friends from school, but I definitely knew I didn't want to do that," Friese said. "Motocross was kind of the only thing I have a lot of fun at. I like going out and playing normal sports, but nothing's really like racing motocross to me."
That passion had been building for years. He rode his first motorcycle at age 3 and began racing at age 4.
"On a motorcycle, he was always focused," Doug said. "I mean he'd be a kid when the races weren't going on, playing in the dirt with his little toy motorcycles, but whenever it got close to race time he would just go sit down and just get really focused. We had a lot of parents say, 'How do you teach him that? What makes him get so focused before a race?' And he did it on his own. He just had that drive to win."
A trophy collection began to grow with his passion and confidence. Friese doesn't even venture to guess how many trophies and races he's won over the years.
"We had like a whole barnful of them that we got rid of not too long ago when we moved into our new house," Friese said. "I've still got all the good ones."
He raced at the Edward Jones Dome in the 50cc KTM Challenge between races at a Supercross event at age 8. He won, too, which was brought to the crowd's attention last year when he returned as a professional.
Along the way, Friese always had a knack for reaching the conditions -- a certain finish -- his parents set, often surprising them, in order for him to travel farther and farther for races or racing clinics.
The trail eventually led him to a camp at a motocross racing school in Georgia at age 14. Upon returning home, Friese approached his parents about attending the Millsaps Training Facility (MTF) in Cairo, Ga., on a year-round basis.
"We had to have a big discussion," Doug said. "That Millsaps, they don't just accept anybody. That's when we all had to sit down and do some serious praying and thinking. You know, sending your 14-year-old kid off to Georgia pretty much on his own. Of course there was some supervison down there."
MTF is on the southern border of Georgia, about 12 hours and 750 miles away from Cape Girardeau.
"I decided if I really wanted to make a living at this, then I was going to have to start to get serious," Friese said. "In a few years I was going to go pro, so I wanted to definitely start to get serious and start winning so I could do this for a living."
He spent the next three years learning the finer points of racing. It was an unusual finish for his education. He attended Cape Girardeau public schools through ninth grade but never attended Central High School, instead finishing his final three years through home schooling in Georgia.
"I think a lot of people kind of wondered, 'Where did Vince go? Did he get in trouble? Did he get shipped out of here?'" Doug said with a laugh.
And there were some sleepless nights in the Friese home during the time of decision-making and while adapting to a son so far away.
"I think mom was bummed that I was leaving home for a while, but I think my parents knew I had what it took to be a professional and I could make a lot of money doing this," Friese said. "So I'm sure they thought it was a good idea. I mean, it got me to where I am today."
Doug realizes his son took an unconventional route, but he still thinks it was what his son needed.
"He had a really strong passion for it," Doug said. "It just seemed like when he was doing his best, mentally and everthing-wise. When he was training, it was when he would do best with school, attitude and everything."
Reaching a new level
The time in Georgia was well spent. He took on the responsibility of caring for himself, getting himself to the training facility each morning and making sure he kept up on his studies. He also learned to take his racing to a new level.
Friese had a top-five national finish in a race his first year, and won six times nationally in his second year.
After winning a major amateur race in 2007, Friese won the nation's top amateur race -- Loretta Lynn A Class 250cc -- in August of 2008. He turned pro two weeks later.
"Ever since I started riding a dirt bike I've kind of known that I would definitely be a pro dirt biker," Friese said. "That was always my dream and I knew I was good enough to do it. I think it was just a matter of time that I had to keep working at it.
"Right at the last two years of amateur I really started killing it and riding really good and was winning a lot of championships. I knew I was definitely one of the best amateurs at the time. Normally the top amateurs can go up and do pretty well in the pros. So I knew I could go in and do pretty good."
The path eventually led him to Temecula, where he trains with former professional rider Ryan Hughes.
He knows he's taken an unconventional route, but he doesn't see the alternative particularly attractive.
"I'd probably either be dead or in jail if I wasn't riding a motorcycle," Friese said. "I mean, I'm a good kid, but I have to be doing something pretty gnarly. I have to do something to satisfy myself. I can't just sit around and kick a soccer ball or throw a football around all day. I have to be doing something pretty gnarly. Driving my car real fast or doing something that would probably get me in trouble."
Racing bikes isn't exactly a life spent in bubble wrap. He calls himself lucky not to have what he considers any serious injuries, yet he has to come up for air when detailing his mishaps. The list includes cracked vertebrae in his neck, a broken collarbone, torn ACL in a knee, crushed vertebrae in his lower back, a broken foot on three occasions, broken heel, broken ankle and "knocked out a bunch."
But the occupational hazards on the road less traveled, in Friese's estimate, are far more tolerable than wearing a suit behind a desk.
"Never. No way," is Friese's reaction to office duty.
The professional trail
Besides there is some serious money that can be made on this road. With endorsement deals and bonuses, the top Supercross riders can make around $5 million a season. Friese said the prize money is not great, but less established riders can make six-figures when sponsorship deals are factored in.
"The goal is to make enough money and not have to work when I'm done, but after you're done being a professional motocross racer there's plenty of things you can do in the industry," he said. "I think I should be all right."
After the Supercross season, which ends in May, Friese will ride a 12-race Motocross schedule that will start May 22 in California and end Sept. 4 in Pennsylvania.
He said he's usually ready for Motocross by the end of Supercross, and vise-versa.
Motocross has longer tracks and is faster with top speeds of around 70 mph, although he notes it seems like you're traveling even faster because of the terrain.
Supercross is slower, but has bigger jumps and more congestion.
"They're both pretty gnarly," Friese said. "I really love to race, so it doesn't really matter. As long as there are a bunch of guys on the line and we get to go and battle, it doesn't really matter."
Cristophe Pourcel is the defending series champion on the Supercross Lites East Coast series. Although Friese has yet to win his first professional race, he's confident that he can win the series title.
"I have to keep proving myself to keep myself going and keep getting better," Friese said. "It's good to have a place on a team and be able to make money doing this so I don't have to quit and get a real job. I'm hoping to do good this year so I can keep going at it."
And if he conquers the 250cc class, another road less traveled may be in his future -- the Supercross 450cc.
"Depending on how everything goes, I would probably like to do this year, next year and one more year in the Lites before I go to the 450 class," Friese said. "I'd like to win the championship for sure before I moved to the 450 class."