Kyle Cunningham started off his 2010 season as Valli Motorsports Yamaha’s resident Lites East rider, but when teammate Ivan Tedesco got hurt in St. Louis, Cunningham stepped up to the 450 class to fill in for the premier rider. “There was no pressure,” Cunningham said of the late-season change. But the young rider surprised everyone with an impressive fourth-place finish in Las Vegas at the season finale – a career best and the first time he has broken into the top-five in either class.

Cunningham talked with us about his Las Vegas performance, the long road to getting into the top-five and how he was brought up to the Pro class straight from the Intermediate ranks. He also talked about the upcoming outdoor season, and which class he might end up in.

How did your Lites East season go before you segued into the 450 class?

I had some sixth places, struggled with starts on the East Coast Lites and ended up eighth overall. Ivan got hurt unfortunately and they needed someone to fill in and there was no pressure.

How did you take to the 450?

The first two rounds were kinda crazy with all the rain and stuff like that, but Burnsy – he’s been working really hard with me on the bike at the test track. I can’t thank the Valli guys enough. Between Chad, Throttle, Frankie, Ivan, Johnny O, I still do a lot of my program that Randy Lawrence showed me a while back, Ben and Phil, the works mechanics, there’s always someone to go to the track with me. I can’t thank them enough because they’re always pushing me no matter who it is.

The best way to thank all those guys is probably with a great result like you had tonight.

I’m pretty excited. Throttle is a great team manager from working with Ryan [Villopoto] in the past and working with Mitch [Payton] – he knows a lot about the sport. I think he, and a lot of people, are helping me grow as a person and as a rider. A lot of people were a little down on me riding the 450. They didn’t think I could do it. The last couple weekends, I know I didn’t really finish where I needed to but we finally got on a dry track and I guess the hard work finally paid off. We got a pretty good setup going and I just did what they all told me. I put a solid 20 laps together and ended up fourth so it was good.

Take us through your race tonight.

The biggest thing with me has been starts. On the 450 the jumps (starts) have been good. The first corner was difficult tonight but, I finally managed to get a top-ten start instead of starting 15th, 16th and I just put 20 laps together. It was a long lap time and I think I ended up running my fastest laps on like 15, 16, 17.

That’s a big challenge coming up as a Lites rider – going those extra five laps.

Yeah. The good thing was for me was that Ivan and Johnny were pretty hard on me when I was on the Lites bike. They’d tell me I could pull off at 15 when I was doing a 20 with them. Ivan would always put it on me like, ‘Oh, you can do another five laps. You’re training with me. You might as well do another five. You got it in you!’ He pushed me and I was doing some 20-lappers with him and I think it definitely paid off.

It sounds like tonight’s top-five has been a long time coming for you.

Yeah, for sure. I actually started in ’07 with Yamaha of Troy. I didn’t have too much experience because I came out of the intermediate class. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs and fighting for rides and fighting to earn my spot. I know it’s always been there. I always have the speed as far as lap times go.

So what now? Are you going to stay in the 450 class?

I’m thinking I’m not sure what I’m going to ride yet. We’ll see in a couple weeks. [laughs]

Is it going to be with the Valli Yamaha team – just a matter of which class?

I’m thinking so. We talked about it and we had stuff pretty much done. I just gotta put it on paper. It’s been fun and I’m excited to go into the outdoors.

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Jean Turner | Contributor

A former staffer at Cycle News, Turner continues to contribute to the website and magazine as a columnist and someone we can count on to whip up a few thousand words on an off-road race when needed.

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