One point. That was the difference between Joey Savatgy winning the 250 West Supercross Championship and having another year of eligibility in the 250 class for Supercross. The Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider rose up in 2016, winning main events and leading the standings in the 250 Nationals. However, it wasn’t the right time for Savatgy, who follows the mantra that “everything happens for a reason.” With a new season nearly upon us, it seemed logical to phone in the runner-up in the 250 West and third place finisher in the 250 Nationals to get an idea of what happened in 2016, his expectations for 2017, racing for Mitch Payton and dealing with social media.
By John Basher
You were one measly point away from winning the 250 West Supercross Championship. Winning the title would have been a dream come true I’m sure, but it would have been a bump up to the 450 class for 2017.
In a sense it was a blessing in disguise. The 450 class is no joke. With people moving up and less and less rides available, I do believe I still would have had a 450 ride. In the same sense, being in the 450 class is tough. It’s a stacked field. As it turned out, it worked as well as it could have for me. We were still able to win races and make improvements. Still, to win the title is the goal. It sucked to lose the title by one [point], and if I could maybe change one mistake I for sure would have wanted to take the title. Even though I’m looked at as the favorite, because I almost won in 2016 and the guy that beat me [Cooper Webb] isn’t in the class anymore, nothing is guaranteed. A title is not guaranteed, and there are a lot of unknowns. I’d like to think that I’m the guy to beat and I’ll do well, but you never know until the gate drops. Putting in the homework is one thing, and showing up to the races and doing it is another. I’d like to think that I’m the guy to beat and is favored to win, but there are so many unknowns. We’ll find out once we get closer to racing time. Back to your statement about losing the 250 West title. It sucked losing, but I did learn from it. I’m better and smarter because of it, so I’ll move on from there.
“THE TRUTH IS THAT I HAD SOME PERSONAL THINGS GOING ON WITH MY HEALTH. IT GOT OUT OF CONTROL. WE GOT TO THAT POINT, AND THERE WAS NOTHING WE COULD DO. IT WAS TOO LATE, AND TOO FAR INTO THE SEASON. UNFORTUNATELY, WE PUT OURSELVES IN A HOLE.”
What happened to your sudden drop in results halfway through the 250 National series this summer? Was it due to your massive second moto crash at Red Bud?
No, not necessarily. This is a question that no one has really asked me. People have stayed away from it, and I haven’t really done any interviews for a while. The truth is that I had some personal things going on with my health. It got out of control. We got to that point, and there was nothing we could do. It was too late, and too far into the season. Unfortunately, we put ourselves in a hole. It was a learning process. I know what I did last year; what worked and didn’t work. It is what it is. People can say what they want about how I couldn’t handle the pressure or this and that. People in my circle know what happened. It wasn’t cool. We were leading, and I felt we were winning races pretty [pause] I don’t want to say dominant, but I was confident with where we were sitting. To end the way it did sucks. It almost hurt worse than losing the Supercross title by one point. That’s because we were there from the beginning and had the red plate early on. We won the first three of the four overalls. I felt good. It was a combination of things, from health to letting myself get out of control and spiral too far downhill to where I couldn’t bring it back. I made mistakes, and I’ll move on knowing that I won’t make that mistake again. Hopefully in 2017 I’ll finish the second half of the [National] season the way I will do the first half and be in the hunt for the title.
You’re training again with Ricky Carmichael at the prestigious GOAT Farm. How are things going?
It’s good. It’s very relaxed and easy for me to show up and get my stuff done. There aren’t a lot of distractions. I barely get cell phone service. When I show up to the farm it’s pretty simple. I do my homework. I made the switch [to the GOAT Farm] two years ago. Everything happens for a reason. I think the switch is the best decision I’ve made in my career, and even as a life decision. Surrounding yourself with people who have won and know what it takes to win is a big benefit. Ricky and Jeannie [Ricky’s mom] are great. I won’t say that Ricky is the best technique coach, but when it comes to race strategy and line selection and adapting to different soils, that guy, by far, is like no one else. If you look at his career, that’s why he was so good at what he did. He was able to adapt. Now his suspension or setup might not have been ideal all of the time, but he was so good at adapting to the surface to what he was riding. He knew what he could get away with, and what he couldn’t get away with. It shows. He won every outdoor title he ever raced. It’s good to have Ricky in my corner. Sometimes when I came back to the farm after a bad weekend he would tell me that he had a few bad weekends outdoors. He and I both know that he’s just trying to make me feel better [laughter]. Being around successful people and working with people who have won and know what it takes to win is a good thing.
Turning the conversation to your team, Pro Circuit Kawasaki has a stacked group for 2017. You seem friendly with teammate Adam Cianciarulo. How was the team dynamic in 2016, and will that change in 2017 should you and your teammates be battling for championships?
Things have been good on the team. I don’t really know [Justin] Hill that well. We raced together a little bit as amateurs. I talk to [Adam] Cianciarulo quite a bit. We’re in a fantasy league together and we play Playstation quite a bit. It’s pretty opposite of how it used to be. We used to butt heads quite a bit as amateurs. As we’ve gotten older we’ve learned from each other. He’ll do something better than me in practice, and I’ll learn from him. It goes the other way, too. At the end of the day we help one another out. I don’t think team chemistry is something to stress about. I’m pretty easy to get along with. I do my own thing. I just happen to talk with Cianciarulo more than I do anyone else. I think battling for titles is what Mitch [Payton] wants, and also what everyone else on the team wants. I don’t think doing that will change anything. Now, if someone were to get taken out, tensions will be high. It’ll be okay, though. We’ll get over it.
“I THINK WE HAVE THE POSSIBILITY TO BE LIKE THE OLD PRO CIRCUIT BACK IN THE DAY. HOPEFULLY A LOT OF US WILL BE UP ON THE BOX A LOT OF THE TIME. THAT’S THE GOAL, AND MITCH WOULD BE STOKED WITH THAT. IT HAS BEEN A LONG TIME SINCE THAT HAS HAPPENED.”
How has progress been on the all-new 2017 Kawasaki KX250F?
I haven’t tested at all, to be honest. The last time I tested anything was a little bit of outdoor testing after the last National. I went out to California for two days and tested. I haven’t tested anything since I’ve been on a routine. I have yet to go to California and test Supercross. I know how well the bike is, and from where we are right now compared to where we were is a big step. I won’t say our bike wasn’t good last year, but our bike setup that we have right now is very good. The suspension, engine and whole package is really good for 2017. I think we have the possibility to be like the old Pro Circuit back in the day. Hopefully a lot of us will be up on the box a lot of the time. That’s the goal, and Mitch would be stoked with that. It has been a long time since that has happened. Everyone on the team wants to win for him, and we came really close this last year. I was one point away from the Supercross title and led the outdoors for a long time. We’re getting closer. Mitch knows that we haven’t been winning, but it’s not because we haven’t been trying. We’ve had some things not go our way. I can speak for myself in saying that I do everything I can. The plan is to win. Winning makes things a lot more fun, and everyone is in a better mood when you win. That’s the goal. I have to eliminate the mistakes to start Supercross.
I’m sure Pro Circuit Kawasaki would like to bring back the ‘pizza Monday’ tradition, where Mitch Payton buys pizza for the employees after a win on the weekend.
Yeah, pizza Monday was a drought for a while, but then I got that win in Supercross. They were stoked! Then we got two more in Supercross, and a few in the Nationals. I want to get back to the days where the team hates pizza Monday because they’re so full of pizza that they want something else [laughter]. If we can get back to that I’ll be happy.
Social media has been a hot topic this offseason. Ricky Carmichael’s agent, JH Leale, stressed on the importance of posting positive messages on social media during the annual Suzuki Camp Carmichael event. You’ve been very positive in your posts, while others, such as Ken Roczen, have not. Is social media good for you and your brand?
Social media can be very useful. It’s funny you say that, because it’s so hard to decipher or find that fine line between having a good time and not making the public angry. You look at the UFC with Conor McGregor, who shows up late to press conferences, swears, and talks a lot of smack. People love it. On our side, the minute a rider says anything out of line people label that rider as being cocky or arrogant. Social media can be very good, but in the same breath, it can get you in a lot of trouble. It’s different for everyone, and different for every sport. That confuses me sometimes. I see the likes and views on things, and I don’t really pay that much attention to it. Some people will get a lot of likes and views on their pictures and videos. I’m not one of those guys who gets the attention. I don’t know. Maybe I’m not posting cool enough stuff. Social media is that fine line where some people can get away with things, and some can’t. That’s where you find that balance of positivity, and criticism as well. You’re going to always have someone online that doesn’t like you, no matter what. Someone is going to be talking about how I’m not good, I should quit, or some other rider is better than you. As hard as it is to ignore it, you have to ignore the comments. If you spent time replying to every single person you’d spend a lot of time on social media.
Great answer, Joey. Thanks for the time, and good luck in your preparation for 2017.
Thanks, John. I appreciate it.