Interview: San Manuel Team Manager Larry Brooks

Kit Palmer | May 21, 2009

Larry Brooks, the team manager of the L&M San Manuel Yamaha team, has been taking a lot of heat lately. Many have accused the racer-turned-team boss of being the man behind what is now referred to as the “Chisholm Incident” at the Salt Lake Supercross; he was chastised for telling his number-one rider James Stewart not to attend the pre-race press conference at the Las Vegas Supercross; and now he’s being blamed for Stewart not competing in the outdoor Nationals. Yet, he has received little recognition for righting a sinking ship when all looked lost following the opening round of the 2009 Supercross Series which ended in Stewart walking off the Anaheim track with a DNF and him handing the field a boatload of points. Throughout the season, Brooks kept the team from panicking when there were plenty of reasons to do so, and managed to keep things together long enough to win the Supercross title with four points to spare.

We recently caught up to Brooks and talked about some of the highs and lows of the season, and how he’s dealt with many of the personal attacks that have been fired at him.How badly shaken was the team after Anaheim I?Anaheim I pretty much brought us down to earth. We raced a few races, Bercy and the U.S. Open, and we had a lot of success, and we rolled into Anaheim one pretty confident. Everyone was saying, “Ah, James, you’re going to win everything, you’re going to do this, you guys have the best shot at it.” You know, you try not to listen to that, but it’s kind of difficult sometimes. You get a little over confident, so we came in thinking we’ve got this thing covered, but as the day got going [at Anaheim I], we realized that our bike setup wasn’t the best it could’ve been, and the few changes we made between Bercy and Anaheim were kind of working against us as the day went on.

The main event came around – James would’ve won the race, I mean, we look back on it now, and James sat back behind Chad [Reed], and then he was going to pass him back and move on. He had just passed him again and was going to take off when the incident happened. It was James’ fault – he missed a shift. Walking off that stadium floor we were thinking, “Holy crap, we just gave up 25 points tonight.” It shook the team up a little bit, and we kind of had to regroup, because we had a lot of points to make up.

I don’t want to say panic because it was so early in the season, but there was concern. Whenever you give somebody a points lead, or 20 points, or whatever we gave up – the guy we were really looking at at the time was Chad Reed, and Chad had 19 points on us or something. He’s a consistent rider, we know he’s consistent, we know that he can finish on the podium every weekend, so we knew we weren’t going to make up points in chunks. We were going to make it up very slowly. We were going to be skimming the numbers off the top every weekend. And that’s what ended up happening.What was the battle plan now going into round two?Going into the second race [and the rest of the series], it was all about consistency and winning. We would have little meetings after the race, and we would tell James what we thought; obviously he knows what to do, he’s a smart kid. It was just about winning at that point, trying to get the bike better. Our bike setup at the time wasn’t that good, and then trying to win races. Trying to win races and improve the bike at the same time is pretty stinkin’ hard. But we did a good job.I really have to hand it to my team, [and] Yamaha, the factory, we were so close with Keith McCarty [of Yamaha] and his group, the L&M squad, that’s why [the championship] happened, because those two entities worked so close together.Speaking of bike set-up, did it bother Stewart at all that he was competing on the only carbureted motorcycle out there, not including the other Yamahas, of course? Did that get into his head at all?It did because they talked about it so much. Jeff Emig and Ralph Sheheen were always talking about it [on television]. James watched the races, too, so he could watch him, and watch his bike from another angle rather than inside the helmet. And hearing those guys talk about fuel-injection and carburetors and comparing the two, and saying the things that they say, it kind of got in his head a little bit. I heard a couple of comments that he would make at the beginning of the year and, yeah, it did affect him a little bit. For us, though, we didn’t know any better. We don’t know anything but carburetion. That’s all we’ve worked with our whole lives, so for us, I wasn’t really worried about the fuel-injections, but James, from all the junk and the B.S. that the announcers [say] – they really don’t know what they’re talking about, they’re just saying what they’ve heard and it got to him a little bit.[Stewart] was asking me questions about fuel-injection. But as he started winning races and things started going his way, all that kind of went by the wayside. In the beginning, though, he was definitely asking what was up with this electronic fuel-injection, how’s it different and why is it better, or is it better, and all these different questions. But after things started getting better and he started winning races, he stopped asking those questions and realized that his bike was plenty good enough to win on.After Anaheim I, Stewart won seven races in a row and caught up to Chad. How did that affect you and the team?I was blown a way with his riding. For me, being an ex-racer and stuff, and working with a guy at his level, I was in awe watching him ride every week and doing the things that he did on the track, I was so impressed with the kid. From my standpoint, I was just ecstatic watching him ride and do the things he does on a motorcycle. As we were catching up in points – I’m a race fan, too, and I get excited, too, as it gets going. We realized that we could do it, even gaining three points a weekend. We were, “okay, we can do this.” If he stays on the streak like he is, we’d be in the points lead by San Diego and that’s what happened. I mean he won seven races in a row, it was unbelievable. When we left San Diego, we were tied in points, but James had more wins, so at that point we had the lead.Then came Daytona when he crashed in the first turn and you found yourself playing catch-up again. How did you, James and the team deal with that blow?I was more worried that James was injured. I wasn’t so worried that he fell down and got seventh place, I was more worried that he was hurt. He came in after that main event and he sat down inside the semi on the floor, and he held his hand out, and it was the palm of his glove that he was showing me, and I looked at one of the fingers, and it had the biggest lump sticking out the side. It was crazy looking, and I thought he had broken his finger and the bone was sticking out inside the glove. I freaked out. Keith McCarty was standing next to me, laughing. Later, he said the look on my face was full panic. I grabbed James’ hand and held it and he said, “No, no, no,” and started laughing and pulled his glove off. When he had fallen, his glove came off, and he pulled it back on and stuck two of his fingers in one finger hole. What he was showing me was that he had raced the whole race with two fingers in one finger hole and how uncomfortable he was. I was thinking the worst since he had just crashed his brains out.Coming into that race, we were still making a lot of changes to the bike. We were off in timed practice, only a little faster than Reed and Jason Lawrence was faster than both the guys, so we made some big changes for the race, and the bike worked better when the night time show came. But I thought James could win this, he’s really good in the sand and a good rider, period. Coming into the first corner, the last thing I ever thought of was him falling down and the way it happened. I walked the track in the morning and was standing on the starting line with John Gallagher of the FIM, and it never occurred to me that when night time comes, the dew was going to come up on the grass and it was going to get slippery. Those things just happen. I hope the AMA learned from it, and they won’t have grass coming into the first corner anymore. I really don’t think that he applied the front brake that hard, I think that when he did touch it, it just took off on him. If anyone has ridden on grass, they’ll know what I mean.Of the 17 races, which race do you think was the turning point of the season – Daytona?After he showed me the finger and the glove thing after the race, I grabbed a hold of him, hugged him, and told him, “You know, I think you just won the championship tonight.” I felt that what he had done by coming back so far and doing what he did, not only gave him confidence, knowing that he could ride with a beat-up bike, a twisted up bike that bad, and being kind of dinged up a little bit, too, he had won the championship that night. He gained enough points that it didn’t let the championship get away, and I was so proud of him. I think everyone else was freaking out because he had just given up some points, but for me, what I wanted to get across to him was that I felt he won the championship that night. He’s an awesome guy; I am so proud to have that guy on my team, because he will never, ever give up. I mean, everything can be stacked up against him and he’ll come out swinging. He’s amazing.

Yes, Daytona was the most important race. A lot of people don’t know that he was banged up pretty bad. He was hurt, his body was hurt, he smacked his head on the ground, he was run over, he had two fingers in one glove, the bike was so twisted – I can’t believe he rode the bike. His front fender was digging into the front downtube, between the motor and the front wheel and it would just lock sometimes. I can’t even believe he rode the motorcycle. If he would’ve DNF’d that night, there is no way we would’ve won the championship. In my mind, he won the championship at Daytona by fighting back and not giving up. He was almost a lap behind when he took off and finished 20 seconds behind the leader on a bike that was banged up as it was; it was completely amazing. It was probably the most important race for us as far as what he did that night.Later in the series, things got openly heated between James and Reed in Jacksonville. What really happened there?Coming into the race – a lot started with interviews and stuff like that. Like Chad was talking crap in interviews, always playing up this WWF thing, like, “Oh we don’t like each other; it’s going to come to blows.” There was a lot of negative press from Chad’s side. Obviously, James would read it and get upset, so they were out on the track practicing – and this was consistent all series and it kind of started at the first race. They were out in practice and James was going to try to put together a fast lap, and Chad was kind of in his line. I didn’t really see it – I saw it on videotape later – but Chad was in the line and it kind of broke his momentum, and James rode up next to him and said something to him, and all of a sudden, they’re kind of cutting each other off, slow-motion-kind of banging into each other, so that heated it up for the night show.They took off in the main event and Chad had gotten a better start and James rode around behind him, just kind of checking him out, putting pressure on him, and everyone always said that, “Ah, you put pressure on James Stewart and he’ll crack,” and all this stuff, so he was going to sit behind his competitor and not lead and not get away like he always had. He did it for 13 laps or something and he took the lead, and then Chad came back pretty aggressive on him on that triple, and he had gone inside in that corner before and kind of jumped over into James a little bit when they had landed. James had dove to the inside, trying to take the race line back, and Chad had bounced the front end, because he had over-jumped the triple a little bit, so he was kind of drifting to the right, and James was moving to the left and they crossed. And that incident right there is what Chad is saying why he grabbed him [after the race] by the neck and he blew up. I don’t see it. Obviously, I’m going to side with James on it, but that’s why he says that he grabbed a hold of James. It was a bad deal.


What sucked the most was that in my mind the biggest bummer of the whole thing, was that those guys had the most awesome battle on the track that night, it was great – it was great for the fans, it was great for TV, it was great for everything, and to have it spill over after the checkered flag and get physical was a real bummer for me. We just had this great battle, and then the guy is grabbing the other guy by the neck. Leave it on the track. It was a good race for sure. The whole series actually was.Okay, the Chisholm Incident: Did you order Kyle Chisholm (Stewart’s teammate) to take Chad Reed out?No, no, no. Think about it. I wouldn’t put my reputation on the line and put it in the hands of a 19-year-old kid. If I did send him out there to do that, holy crap! Chisholm could’ve had me fired. I wouldn’t put my reputation in somebody else’s hand like that. That would be ridiculous. There was no team tactics.

Chisholm actually put himself in a bad position when he jumped inside of Chad. They had come by, Chisholm moved over and let James by, and then Chad was coming by, he let Chad by, and they were doing that rhythm section in a different rhythm. Chisholm’s rhythm put him past Chad again and all of a sudden, he’s in this situation, in a position that he’s getting in between the two leaders, and he’s trying to get on the brakes to stop, and James was cutting down in the corner, and Chisholm almost hit him. He was going to hit Chad and had to kind of flick his bike down not to hit Chad. Yeah, yeah, Chisholm made a big mistake, and he’s been reaping the… so much crap for it, but he’s a 19-year-old kid – he’s a youngster.I put him into the 450 class thinking, “Okay, get his feet wet, let him race.” Maybe it was a little much. Maybe it was over his head, but he did great this year with all the learning that he did and all that. I think he did really good, but just this one incident gave him such a bad rap that I feel bad for the kid. I mean, he’s going to be gun shy now – he’s not going to want to get in a battle with anyone. I hope that doesn’t happen, but that’s a fear of mine. To get black-flagged for something like that was so over the top. I think the FIM completely over-reacted to the whole thing, but I can see their point, too. They’re thinking, “Oh my God, that’s James Stewart’s teammate, either he’s going out there to kill Chad Reed – they don’t know what’s going on, but I just wish they would’ve talked to us more instead of just black-flagging Kyle and keeping him out of the race the next weekend. That was so blown out of proportion. It was ridiculous in my view. I’m not the FIM and I’m going to do my job, we tried to protest it and do all those things, and they didn’t want to hear anything we had to say. It was a bad deal.A week later, before the final round in Las Vegas, you told Stewart not to attend the pre-race press conference, which got a lot of people upset. Why did you do that?Obviously, there was a lot of pressure. Since this whole Chisholm thing happened the weekend before, we were living through this crappy press all week long, and we roll into Vegas, I’m driving to Vegas and I get a phone call from our PR people, and they say, “Have you seen USA Today?” I’m like, “No, I haven’t seen it.” [Feld Entertainment, the Supercross promoter] had set up this USA Today newspaper piece and it was – they didn’t prep James on it at all, and it was between James and Chad, so here’s this newspaper article that is completely one-side against James, saying that he’s a cheater, his team is a cheater and all this stuff, and it was – here’s the biggest race of our year coming in and we’re dealing with this crappy press, and we had press day the next day, so my thing was, “You know what? We’re not going to go to press day. We’re going to stay out of it.” I told James, “Don’t go to press day, don’t attend the press conference, I don’t want you to have to defend something that you have no part of.” It’s ridiculous that we’re even talking about this, so before the race even happened, we had this controversy happening, but in my mind, it was just protecting James. I didn’t want him to have to deal with something like this. That he would have to feel that he would have to protect himself from something that didn’t happen; he shouldn’t have had to protect himself, because it was a non-issue [Chisholm Incident]. It was a penalty, but they just couldn’t get over it. It was just a bad deal.So how did you deal with all that race day?Coming into the weekend, we just went into full lockdown in our pits. We didn’t let people into our truck, into the main canopy area, into the semi – we just tried to keep people away from James, just so he could have a clear mind. For him, he worked really hard to get that six-point lead going into Vegas and the biggest thing was to use those six points to your advantage and don’t go out there thinking you have to win the race and prove a point. The point you’re going to prove is winning this championship and not necessarily winning the race. I think him having that lead of six points gave him a comfort zone, and he was able to race the race smart and not get caught up in someone else’s game. He rode it the way he thought he should ride it to win the championship and that was to finish third place and let everyone else do the racing, and him just ride around and get that number-one plate back on a Yamaha. That was the important thing, for James to walk away from Vegas with the number-one plate.After working with James, what are your thoughts on him?I was proud of him. In the past, James Stewart has never been able to finish third place and feel good about it. This year, you saw a new James Stewart. One that finished second in Seattle and took the points lead and finished third in Las Vegas and won the championship, this is a new James Stewart, a smart James Stewart, a mature James Stewart, one that, in my mind – champions can get second place and be happy with it at times. I think he’s going to be on top of the championship run from here on out, because now he knows when to win and he knows when to finish second. I think from here on out, I think he’s going to be tough to beat in any championship series. He’s already got the speed and now he’s got the smarts. I’m happy to be a part of it and spend a year with James Stewart and him being a part of the San Manuel team, it was quite the experience. I thought I knew James Stewart in the past, [but] I never knew who James Stewart was. He’s someone special, he’s not this cocky kid – he’s a true person and a pleasure to work with.He’s no longer a kid. That was his downfall in the past, was that he was a kid. Everybody was saying, “Oh James Stewart made a mistake here, he made a mistake there,” but nobody realized he was 16 years old! Think of the stupid mistakes you did when you were 16; I know I did when I was 16. Holy crap, I’m lucky to be alive. He’s taken a lot of flack over the years for being young and dumb, but he was learning – how do you learn more than by making mistakes and coming back from them? That’s how you learn.Many people blame you for Stewart not riding the outdoor Nationals. How come he’s not?When James signed his contract with me, it was a Supercross-only contract, with stipulations in it that we could do events – if we both agreed on it. He can’t say, “Oh I want to race this, I want to race that,” just like I can’t go to him and say, “I want you to race this,” we have to mutually agree upon it. So he signed the contract, it was SX only. The reason that it is Supercross only is to focus on one series 100 percent, not have a divided focus, let’s say 75 percent through the Supercross series, you start outdoor testing. To be competitive you kind of have to do that. In my thinking, if we gave 100 percent to one series and completely focus on that one series, then we would have better success than other teams that are doing two series, because they’re dividing their focus halfway between the two series. It’s worked out good for us; the first year at L&M we finished second place, the second year we won the championship and the third year we won the championship. We’ve been around three years and we’ve won two championships and finished second in the other.In my mind, it’s a good plan, everyone doesn’t agree with the plan, when the outdoors starts rolling around, everyone gets all upset and they feel we should be out there, but nothing has changed. We’ve never gone away from what we’ve said in the beginning. I think people get angry because they’re not going to see James Stewart racing, and I agree with them. I mean, I’m a race fan, I want to see him race, I’d like to go outdoor racing, it sounds fun to me, but this was our plan. We never took our focus off Supercross. We worked seven days a week with Supercross. We never let up. You can work seven days a week for three or four months, it’s not a problem, but you can’t do it for eight months. We busted our tail all the way through Supercross and never took our noses off the grind stone. I think that’s a big reason that we were competitive in Supercross, also.What about you? How have you dealt with all the negatively aimed towards you?That’s probably been the hardest part, hearing all the negativity towards Larry Brooks the individual. It’s difficult, because I love motorcycle racing, I love being part of the sport, and for them to say the things they do and kind of pick me apart the way they do – it’s sad more than anything – it’s more of a bummer than I can even say. I try not to think about it and push it out of my mind, but it does bother me. I don’t like to hear that stuff.The people that are saying the stuff are the people on the Internet. They’re afraid to say who they are – they’re doing it behind the computer screen. These people on the Internet, they want to be famous, so they’re trying to be a big person on the Internet instead of being a big person in the real world. They don’t have any motorcycle experience the way we’ve lived our life and things like that, they try to be these experts. If they’re so smart, here’s our industry and come out and work in it. And if you’re going to talk crap to me, say it to my face! Tell me what you really feel to my face, I can take it. I’d rather talk to someone face to face than read some bullcrap on the Internet.These people with the goofy names say they’re in the motorcycle industry – they’re afraid to say who they are but not afraid to say these negative things about me, be it you, be it James, be it anybody, be it Chad Reed, whoever – they always have these negative things to say. It’s sad that they say these things without putting they’re faces next to it. It bums me out, it truly bums me out.

Kit Palmer | Off-Road Editor

Kit Palmer started his career at Cycle News in 1984 and he’s been testing dirt and streetbikes every since – plus covering any event that uses some form of a knobby tire. He’s also our resident motorcycle mileage man with a commute of 120 miles a day.