Rider Spotlight: Michael Barnes
NEWS July 19, 2012
Photo by Brian J Nelson
AMAP: Where are you from?
MB: I live in Boca Raton, Florida. I’ve been here since I was an early teenager. My father was an airline pilot, so I was born in Connecticut, then lived in Mexico for five years, then moved back to Connecticut, and moved to Florida shortly after.
AMAP: Living in Florida, you can pretty much ride all year long. Do you ride motorcycles when you’re not at the track?
MB: My friend and fellow XR1200 rider David Estok lives in Daytona Beach, so I do a lot of riding with him. From the small bikes like CRF150s and TTRs, we do flat track riding and motocross around both his house and my house. Injuries have kept me from the motocross bikes too much, so I try to keep it to the pool, riding bicycles or things like that.
AMAP: You’ve been an active rider in AMA Pro Road Racing for quite some time. Tell us about how you moved up through the ranks over the years.
MB: Well, I didn’t have any formal racing background. I moved away to college after I graduated high school in 1986, and the next year I bought a streetbike in the summer. I came home to Boca to hang out with my buddies and went to a Moroso race, and that’s all it took. After that, I was hooked. I knew I had to get a set of leathers, go to a riding school and figure it out from there.
AMAP: You’ve raced in multiple classes over the years as well…
MB: Laughs. I started in 600 SuperSport, which looking back, I should’ve probably focused on for quite some time after that. But, I jumped around from SuperSport to 250s. I had a SuperBike ride my second year in with the infamous ‘Team Mad Dog’ that was around for a few years. That made me want to ride the big bikes in endurance competition so I could show that I could ride both big bikes and SuperBikes. That didn’t pay off in order to get a SuperBike ride, but I did end up with a slew of good rides after that with multiple endurance rides within AMA, WERA, World Endurance and raced 600, 750 SuperSport and 250GP. I really enjoyed 250s, but it was a dying breed, as it’s taken much longer to die in GP racing. I had really good times on those bikes.
It was a culmination of riding for Moto Liberty when one of the Erion riders (Miyagi) got hurt, when the owner of Moto Liberty spoke with Kevin Erion and got me a ride on their 600 SuperSport and team challenge bikes for the remainder of the season. I signed on the following year with them as well. In 1996, I had hopes of riding the Carri Andrews’ Hyper Cycles bike to ride 750 SuperSport and endurance. In the timeline of things, that was the last time I had gotten a win, prior to Infineon of this year. In Las Vegas, about an hour later, I had a 170mph crash into the tri-oval wall where I snapped my leg pretty bad. Fortunately, it was caught on video. It’s a pretty sick video. (Full list of career highlights)
AMAP: You’ve really come onboard and become a front runner in the Vance & Hines XR1200 Series. What are your thoughts on the competition within the series?
MB: Last year was a very competitive season and has proved to be the same thing this year with some different players. There are some younger riders that have picked up a lot of speed this year, including both Tyler O’Hara and Kyle Wyman. Even though Tyler won last year, he wasn’t on the top of his game until this year. It’s a lot of fun because the parity within the class brings out the best in every rider and team because every little bit of detail has to be there in order to win. I’m happy to see a spec series like this available so people can showcase their talents. The biggest struggle is finding sponsors, but through all the social media and advertising available on the internet, it’s really opened up a lot of doors to find support so we can go into a dealership and ask for it; which isn’t really to prevalent nowadays.
AMAP: Speaking of sponsorship, tell us about your mid-season change from Bartels H-D to M.O.B. Racing.
MB: Well, it was a heartbreaking decision to leave the team. We were working really hard over the off-season, with Jason Parker, Josh Chisum, Keaton Henderickson, Tyler, Mitsu and Bill Bartel supporting the team and myself. When Josh and I travelled around last year, he offered to give me a ride for this year. I think he might’ve bitten off a little more than he could chew, as expenses started getting a little tough. My mechanic was having trouble eating and paying his bills, and I had to pay for my tires. When you end up with a third place, you can’t pay for too much. Something that might not have been known when I got on the team was that I do this for a living, it’s my profession and I need to make money at it. Consequently, I had to make a really difficult decision to leave a team that I really enjoyed being on and had a part in forming… So it was very tough.
When I was looking for another team to go to, I called Richie Morris, and he said he sold three bikes to a guy in New Jersey. Turns out it was Dennis Espinosa with M.O.B. Racing. I made some phone calls and put a deal together just before Barber. The bike had outdated suspension on it, but we stuck it out and got a third place finish that weekend. It’s kind of ironic that I got another third place finish, but this past weekend, I had an Ohlins suspension on and it was perfect. It’s been an up and down deal doing stuff mid-season when it should be done preseason. As it turns out, M.O.B. Racing is a great crew and is behind me. Expenses are still a part of it, so trying to make money doing this is probably the biggest challenge. If you’re not winning every race, it’s difficult to come out ahead. I’m pounding on the doors and looking for more sponsorship endorsement wise, so I can be awarded more for the risks that my competitors and I take each event weekend.
AMAP: With your exceptional finishes, what’s your take on the Vance & Hines XR Showdown?
MB: I pretty much had my sights set on the championship since the beginning this season. It takes a little pressure off the first half of the season to not have to worry about points. Therefore, I haven’t made qualifying a priority. My consistency has been putting me on the front row, so I didn’t find it advantageous until the upcoming rounds to spend another $350 on a set of tires to get one point and a couple spots over on the grid. It’s helped take some pressure off and let us go out battle for wins. It’s amazing because the three of us have been very consistent and not hit the ground. Those were the battles, but the war’s going to start at Indy. The event will be 40% of the showdown and extremely important. Tyler O’Hara is coming off his 1-2 finishes from last year, but with my new Ohlins setup, I feel I’ll be right in there. Kyle Wyman, David Estok and teammate Shane Narbonne have also been showing a lot of speed. Not to mention, Michael Corbino has been picking up speed all season long.
AMAP: What are your expectations for the remainder of the season?
MB: Win every race and win the championship.
AMAP: What obstacles do you see ahead that you will have to overcome?
MB: Tyler O’Hara and Kyle Wyman! Laughs. Tyler’s has just an immense amount of talent similar to watching Danny Eslick come through the ranks where he followed me, raced with me and then beat me. At the same time, it raises my game every time I show up at one of these XR races, because Tyler brings everything and then some. Kyle’s program is so solid and he’s a smart business man on top of being a very talented racer. I have to figure out how to not only out brake Tyler O’Hara, but then keep him behind me. I out braked him at Mid-Ohio lots of times, only to have him slide around me on the outside! I don’t know what it’s going to take to beat Tyler other than persistence and not giving up. They’re beatable, just like me… I just want to be the guy doing the beating!
AMAP: What draws you to the sport?
MB: There’s nothing that replaces being on a racebike. After 25 years, I’ve realized that that’s where I want to be. It’s just too much fun and I don’t see myself doing anything else. I’m 43 years old and every time I look at my age, I know I have a few plus years. I wanted the sport to grow, and about 10 years ago, it felt like it was in a good spot. We had a little low a little while ago with the economy, but AMA Pro has really really come around, and I’m looking forward to a solid series. Now I need to make a solid deal to where I can make some good money. I’ve been making a living by racing, but with the economy the way it is, it makes it tougher. I know it’s not my age, because I’m performing well. There’s just not a lot of money in the industry. It’s about being creative and trying to find the right fit of sponsors.
AMAP: Who is your racing hero?
MB: One of the guys I looked up to tremendously from watching videos and such since I started racing was Kevin Schwantz. Hence my #34 race number. I have met dozens of guys I consider to be my racing hero since then. It could be guys older and younger than me. Those are the guys that go out of their way to help other people, not necessarily their race accomplishments. Adding to the question before, what keeps me here is the people. The family and generations of people that I’ve seen come through AMA Pro Racing makes me feel like I’m the richest guy in the paddock in the form of friendships and the number of people I’ve met with the experiences I’ve had with them. It’s been a long, fun trip, and I don’t want it to be over.
Michael would like to thank his sponsors: MOB Racing, Teterboro RAMS, Team Pro-Motion, Newsholme Financial Center, RS-Taichi, Arai, Sidi, Ohlins, Orient Express, Designstar3.com, Barney Fans
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