Rider Spotlight: Jake Zemke

NEWS June 7, 2012

Rider Spotlight: Jake Zemke

Photo by Brian J. Nelson

AMAP: Where are you from?
JZ: I’m from Paso Robles, California. I’ve lived there since 1984. Family is pretty much the reason we ended up here. My mom’s parents live in San Luis Obispo right down the road.. and that’s kind of how we ended where we’re at.

AMAP: California is a very motorcycle oriented state. Is there an area that you like to go riding at in particular?
JZ: For sure. In winter time, the favorite spot to go riding was Clear Creek. Unfortunately, it’s been closed for a couple years now. They’re working to get it reopened, but at the moment, it’s closed. It’s always been a really fun place for us to go riding in the winter time. It’s a challenging area where they used to have an AMA National Enduro there. Many great riders from the past like Ricky Graham and Doug Chandler would go riding there. When some of the guys lived a little north of me, it became a convenient spot for us all to meet up and ride. Another great place I like to go riding is Zaca Station, which is south of me. It’s an awesome facility for outdoor motocross.

AMAP: How did you get into riding motorcycles?
JZ: When I was born, my dad had just started racing amateur flat track. I was born in San Francisco, and he was racing flat track in Northern California, so I basically grew up being around motorcycles and the racetrack. After that, we moved to Michigan, and that’s when I got my first motorcycle. My dad was still racing at that point, so by default, I ended up at the racetrack with the motorcycle.. .and the rest is history.

AMAP: Not many people know that you have a flat track background…
JZ: That’s what I grew up doing from the time I started racing to about age 17, I raced flat track almost exclusively with just a hand full of road races. When I was 14, I think I did five club races. Primarily, I grew up as a flat tracker racing with Ben Bostrom, Eric Bostrom and Johnny Murphy who’s retired from flat track now, but is a good friend of mine. We grew up in an area that was really strong, and every year we’d go to the amateur nationals. My family became really good friends with the Hayden family, so we’d see those guys every year and get to hang out. It’s funny because the flat track community is so small, it really is a tight knit family. Even today, my best friends in the paddock are the Bostroms and the Haydens. It’s pretty neat how those friends you made in your childhood are your friends to this day.

AMAP: Do you feel like there is a benefit to have a flat track background in road racing?
JZ: For sure. It’s hard to say, because I don’t know anything different other than the way that I came through with the stuff I learned from flat track to what I apply to road racing. If you look at the history of American road racers that have done well in the US and overseas, the majority of them have flat track backgrounds. Whether you’re talking about Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson or Doug Chandler, the majority of them came from flat track. I think being on a bike at a young age helps, and knowing what to do when the bike gets moving around. Flat track teaches you throttle control, which you need less of in this day as technology becomes a bigger part of racing. But, if you look at the last few American champions, Kenny Jr. had a flat track background, Nicky Hayden had a flat track background. Ben Spies is one of the few guys in recent memory that’s done really well in the world championship that didn’t have a flat track background. I think he rode dirt bikes, but was on road race bikes at a very young age.

Things have changed too. There’s more road racing series for minis and younger kids. When I was younger, there was nowhere you could ride a road race bike until you were 16. I think that’s why you also saw a lot of guys come out of flat track and go to road racing. Now, there are enough series out there that cater to younger riders. Many young riders come into our paddock at a young age and do very well at 16-18 years old. Look at Jake Lewis, Cameron Beaubier, JD Beach and Garrett Gerloff; they have quite a bit of road race experience at a young age.

AMAP: You’ve been a notable rider in the series for a long time. Tell us about your progression as a rider through the years to where you’re currently at with Ducshop Racing.
JZ: The very first year I started racing as a professional was 1997 in the Harley-Davidson Twin Sport Series (883 Series). At the time, it was a very good stepping stone to get your feet wet and into the series as a flat track rider, because many Harley-Davidson dealers supported flat track riders making that transition. Unfortunately, that class had been shrinking. The next year, I got on a Suzuki GSX-R750 as a full privateer. We missed the first three races, but finished the championship in ninth place with a fourth and a third place finish. That kind of sprung into a Suzuki support bike the following year, and after that, I was on nothing but Hondas for 10 years straight, between Bruce Transportation, Erion Racing and Factory Honda. It was good, and I had a long run with the guys from Honda. Many of them are still my friends to this day. After that, I moved to the National Guard Jordan Suzuki squad, and was able to get them their first AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike win. At the start of 2011, I didn’t really have anything going on, but I got to ride the Daytona 200 and did quite well. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the funding to continue on for the rest of the year, so I went overseas and ran four races in the British Superbike Championship. This year, Ducshop Racing came along, and it looked like a good opportunity for me. It’s a good bunch of guys, but they haven’t really competed at this level before, so it’s been a learning process for both of us. For me, it’s learning the Ducati, and for them, it’s learning what it takes to be competitive at such a high level against teams that are factory supported. For a small effort and private team, we’re doing really well.

AMAP: What do you think about riding in AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike?
JZ: With our Ducshop Racing team, the guys are doing an awesome job in the class. We’re getting closer every event weekend, and we’ve got no testing, no development and everything we do is at the racetrack that event weekend. Their hard work is showing, as I’m getting closer and closer towards the front of the pack.

AMAP: Talk about riding with riders who’ve ridden in AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike that are now in Daytona SportBike, like Jason DiSalvo, Martin Cardenas and Tommy Hayden.
JZ: As an experienced racer that’s raced many times before, and knows what it takes to win, you want to give yourself the best opportunity to go out and win. If that means riding in the SportBike class and not the SuperBike class, that’s what you’re going to do. There’s only a handful of very competitive riders and bikes in the SuperBike class that are capable of winning. However, in the SportBike class, there’s more teams that are able to compete at a level that can give you the support to go and win races. That’s why you see the more experienced riders doing well, but at the same time, it gives the younger guys something to shoot for. Obviously, Martin Cardenas has been the class of the field this year everywhere we’ve gone. With that in mind, it’s giving the younger kids something to shoot for and will step up their game in the end. It’s a win win situation for everyone involved in the SportBike class, but we’d love to see teams and riders in the SuperBike class that put out bikes that are competitive enough to win. If you bring the more experienced riders in SportBike to SuperBike, the field will become much larger, and you’ll still have great racing in the SportBike class. There are a handful of riders that would be very competitive in the SuperBike class, but there aren’t enough teams that have strong enough packages to take the riders and be competitive.

AMAP: Being a more experienced rider, what is it like riding with the young talent in the GoPro Daytona SportBike class?
JZ: It’s great. The way things have changed seeing these guys come up through the ranks on road race bikes at such an early age has made them very competitive before they’re even 16 years old. I’ve gotten to ride around a lot of the younger guys, and for the most part, they’re riding very well. I consider many of them to be riding well beyond their years. A lot of them have really good heads on their shoulders. Look at JD Beach and Jake Gagne.. They’ve been riding their whole lives, so it’s not like they’re a young kid that got thrown in with the wolves. These guys have been racing for a long time and have a lot of experience. You can see them using their heads and making smart moves out on the race track. Their experience level is beyond their years, and it’s cool to see their progression. Seeing JD making the podium at Road America; you can see his excitement after he crossed the finish line. It brings you back to the first time you made a podium was, and how awesome that feeling is. I expect to  see more Americans on the world scene as things progress, because these kids are so talented.

AMAP: You’ve competed on the world stage. Can you compare the talent of riders in the United States with the talent overseas?
JZ: I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it, the top riders in SuperBike and SportBike here in AMA Pro can be top level riders in any series around the world. If they’re given the tools to be successful, I believe they will be. I see no reason why the guys here couldn’t do a great job in world superbike, world supersport, moto 2, only if given the right opportunities. At that level, it’s very much about the team and the level of support that you have. It’s up to the team to make adjustments for the riders. Some of the situations that people have heard in the past is that sometimes there’s a little bit of a hesitation from the team when a rider comes in as a replacement or wild-card. They might not be as inclined to change the motorcycle a whole lot. Sometimes it’s ‘what you see is what you get.’ When riders are given the opportunity to make themselves comfortable on the bike, you will see them succeed. America has still got a large talent pool, and it shows. You see when the American riders are given the right opportunity, they can make an impact on the world stage.

AMAP: With Ducshop Racing making such strides in the series on such a low budget, does that say something for the team’s effort and you as their rider?
JZ: It’s a small operation and effort, but at the same time, just because we work on a smaller level, it doesn’t mean we work less hard than the guys in front of us. We started the season a little bit on the back foot, but we’re slowly catching back up and getting closer. With them not having run an entire season in DSB before, it helps them having a rider like myself with experience to help them. A lot of it goes to show the team is doing a very good job. We’re underfunded and on a small scale, but they’re able to produce very good equipment for me to get closer and closer to the front. I feel that I should be up at the front mixing it up with the front runners, but it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s a learning experience, and we’re taking the right steps in the direction to get that Ducati to the front.

AMAP: What expectations are you setting for yourself as a racer for the 2012 season?
JZ: As a racer myself, my expectation is to go out and challenge for wins. That’s always my goal. It’s to be at the front and challenge for wins. This season, there’s a little bit more that goes along with that, because we have to get the bike where it’s at to do win. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting there. Sometimes, you have to crawl before you can walk, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re getting better and better each weekend. Take out Infineon, and our results towards the front have been closing more and more. I’m excited about that.

AMAP: Do you see any obstacles in your way to accomplish your goals?
JZ: The biggest obstacle right now is funding. We’ve been very fortunate to have sponsors get us to this point, and we do have a little support to move forward, but not enough to keep moving forward. We have some of the pieces to the puzzle, but not all of them yet. We’re trying to figure out not how to get to the next race, but get through the rest of the season. Hopefully some of these optimistic contacts pan out and we’ll be able to finish the rest of the season. We’ve had fans come up and ask how to donate to show support. We’re in the process of putting together a webpage where people can donate. It wasn’t something I was interested last year after Daytona, but I guess I can only ignore my fans for so long before I have to do what they tell me to! (laughs)

AMAP: Who’s your racing hero?
JZ: One of my very first heroes in racing, and the person I still look up to is Jay Springsteen. To me, he’s an awesome dude. He loved racing motorcycles, always had a smile on his face and looked like he was having more fun than anyone else. He was my hero from when I was a little kid, and still is today. It’s cool to see a guy do something well beyond the years people say you can do it. You couldn’t meet a nicer guy. And all those young kids probably have no idea who I’m talking about! (laughs)

Jake & DucShop Racing Ducati would like to thank their sponsors for all their support this season: Ducshop, Rizoma, Element Case, TPL Racing, Rewards4wellness.com, Freightliner Manitoba, Troy Lee Designs, FMF, Fast Finish, Drippinwet, Dunlop, Jason Disalvo Speed Academy, Armour Bodies, Fast Frank Racing, EVR, Ohlins, D.I.D, Yoyodyne, Zero Gravity, Vesrah, Shoei, Alpinestars, Z Gallerie, Miracle Delivery Armored Service, Saddlemen and DVS

Click here to view pictures of Jake from the 2012 season on AMA Pro Road Racing's facebook page 

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