AP Photo/Ric Francis
All Mike Mason ever wanted to do was ride motorcycles. He broke into Motocross racing when he was just 5 years old after his dad bought him a mini bike for his birthday. In the late 1990s he turned pro, but the flips and tricks in freestyle captured his interest and in 2004 he transitioned away from the race track and onto the ramps. Mason took some time to talk to us about growing up in the sport, dealing with surgery, and preparing for the upcoming Moto X World Championships.
What appealed to you about motocross when you were younger?
My dad was a die hard racer so I grew up watching him and there was just something about it that got my attention. Even if I didn't have a bike I liked to go and watch my idols at the local track. Once I got a bike I wanted to ride everyday. My parents were pretty hard though. If I didn't do my chores, or I didn't do my homework and get good grades, I couldn't ride. That pushed me to do all my stuff so that I could stay with it.
Do you remember your early competitions?
One of my first memories was soon after I got my first bike. My dad's buddy was messing with me and told me that practice was starting so I should go out on the track and start riding. I thought it was weird when I was the only one out there and I ended up hitting the water truck that was still getting the track ready. I got kicked off and started crying but that was a good way to break into the racing scene.
Why did you switch from racing to freestyle?
In the late 1990s, when all the videos started coming out, guys were doing stuff that we never thought was possible on a motorcycle. I was just turning pro for racing, but I started messing around with freestyle tricks at practice.
Was it hard to make the transition?
Through racing I learned how to handle the bike, and I gained a lot of skill and confidence, so when I went to freestyle it was easier. The hard part was letting racing go. I'd raced all my life and it was all I knew, so to just abandon that and go into a whole new avenue of the sport was kind of scary.
Do you still race?
I don't race too much but I still go out and ride the track with my buddies. With freestyle you just practice on one ramp so you're hitting the same set up over and over again. When you go out to the track--with all the different jumps and the track getting all beat up--it's fun. It's cool to switch it up every once in a while.
Do you have any advice for kids that want to get into motocross?
Don't pressure yourself to get too far too fast. There are so many people that see what we do and want to do it so they pressure themselves into getting there as quick as they can. But I rode for 15 years. I practiced everyday but I still lived the normal kid lifestyle. I went to school and had fun hanging out with friends. I think that is why I made it as far as I have. So just take it slow and have fun with it.
What is the best way to get sponsored?
You've got to start local. It's rare that someone just gets into racing and pulls in a big sponsor. You should build a relationship with a local motorcycle shop: Do a lot of business with them and represent them well. I still maintain the same relationship with my local shops that I did when they first helped me out. I buy a lot of my bike parts from them and not much has changed over the years. That's the cool thing about it.
How have you been getting ready for the upcoming Moto X World Championships?
I just came off two knee surgeries so I'm kind of behind right now. I tore my ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) at the beginning of 2007, and then broke the tip of my femur off in September. I had to get a bunch of holes drilled into the end of my femur to try to rebuild new bone there. After dealing with the torn ACL all last season, I got that fixed too. The surgery was in October and my first day back on the bike was in February. I'm trying to ride as much as I can and get everything back to where it was before I got hurt--and also learn new stuff. I'm working overtime right now but I am hoping it will all pay off when we do the contest.
Do you ever get scared?
I get scared everyday--especially as I get older and with all the flips we do--you can crash any time. My body is getting older too and I have more responsibilities, including a house payment. But it's not so much that I am scared to get
hurt. It does suck, but it's not near as bad as sitting around bored when all your buddies are out riding and making money.
What's your mindset going into the World Championships?
I was putting a lot of pressure on myself and stressing about doing well, but all that does is keep me up at night so I've changed my attitude. It's going to be my first contest back so as long as I have fun, put on a show for the crowd and walk out of there safe, I'll be perfectly OK with whatever happens.