450 Words: Rating Alessi
By Jason Weigandt and Steve Matthes
We can’t print the entire crazy bench racing stuff that goes on among our staff. There’s a never-ending text thread between Matthes, Weege and Jason Thomas that could both unearth the sport’s greatest questions and answers, and also result in all three being removed from the industry permanently. Perhaps you’d like that thread to be revealed for two reasons, then?
Not going to happen. However some convos are fit for consumption. Here’s an email back and forth between Matthes and Weege regarding SmarTop MotoConcepts rider Mike Alessi, who most would agree has had a career like few others. And that just makes it all the harder to figure out.
Weege: One of my greatest regrets in life was giving away an Alessi DVD from 2004 to a friend of mine (huge Alessi fan). It was designed to culminate with Mike crushing his pro debut at Millville in 2004. The back of the DVD box had a giant quote that said, essentially, “Everyone knows we’re coming and they know we will beat them and there’s nothing they can do about it.” – Tony Alessi
It really just matched right up to the heightened tension surrounding Mike’s 2004 pro debut, heretofore and forever more the most anticipated pro debut ever. The Alessi hype machine made sure of that.
Back then it was all love and hate for the Alessis. Or maybe just all hate? Worst part for all the haters was that Mike’s pro success was inevitable. You might not like it, but he was going to be good, and titles and wins were surely coming his way.
So let’s just jump into the time machine up to 2013 and….wait, what? NO titles for Mike? Only five national wins at all? What the hell happened?
Mike’s career has been good, but not even close to the level of success 11 National Championships at Loretta Lynn’s would indicate. Does that mean he’s, dare I say it, a bust?
Matthes:Ahh the Alessi conundrum. Nothing gets the people on the Internet going than a good old Alessi discussion. I myself think that there’s been nothing wrong with Mike’s pro career. I wouldn’t call him a bust by any means. Kevin Windham has two 125SX titles and that’s it. Yeah he’s got those regional titles that Mike doesn’t but as far as premier titles, him and Mike are tied. Was Windham’s career a bust? No way, no how.
Mike’s been a factory rider for two teams, made millions of dollars, won a bunch of nationals, and gotten on the podium a bunch. When it’s all said and done, he’ll have a bunch of accomplishments that others would die for. It’s been a good career in my eyes and I’m not sure what else he has to do to satisfy anyone.
Has he made mistakes? Oh yeah, plenty of them. I’m not the foremost authority on amateur racing but to me Mike’s success there had a lot to do with father Tony giving Mike (and younger brother Jeff) every single advantage there was. Home schooling, travelling the country riding all different tracks and against other riders, the best bikes and support and it all adds up to a small advantage over the other families. Once in the pro level, everyone else’s program steps up and the advantage is gone.
But seven top five’s in championship points and the wins indicate he was successful as a pro. If he didn’t meet your expectations than that’s your problem. By any standard he’s had a nice career.
Simon Cudby photo
Weege: You nailed it right off the rip with the amateur thing. Team Alessi was much more of a team than anyone else in the amateurs, and that gave them a nice advantage. I remember watching a battle against Villopoto on 85s and visibly seeing Mike’s CR pulling out of corners harder. The word those days was that the Alessis didn’t leave an ounce of 85cc power back at the shop.
By the pros, Villopoto had a guy named Mitch Payton and a team called Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki building his bikes. You are not going to get an advantage over that.
The equipment thing has flipped now. Today, Mike’s not on factory stuff, and you could maybe blame the drama for that. Remember, Mike could have just stepped right into the Factory Connection (now GEICO) Honda team as soon as he turned pro, which is not a slouch of an effort, but they couldn’t make the relationship work. Do you think anything would be different if he didn’t have to constantly work the edges and find strange team deals? He was awfully good as a regular ‘ole Suzuki factory rider.
I think here is where the argument lies. Yes, his career has been good. But could it be greater?
Matthes: Yes, without a doubt if his dad hadn’t been so “involved” with Mike I think he could have been greater. But without his dad, he wouldn’t have gotten as far as he did. It’s a catch-22 in my mind. Mike wanted his dad around, he needed him to be successful and take that aspect away if he had joined Factory Connection, perhaps the results wouldn’t have been that good?
Mitch Payton was never, ever, ever going to hire Mike because of Tony so scratch that possibility of ever happening right off. When has a top amateur like Mike come into pros and be forced to full-on privateer it for his pro races? It just doesn’t happen in the last ten, fifteen years. This is something his critics could point to and they would be right.
Let me get off track here and express my thoughts that the Alessi-haters love to say that he would be nothing without his starts, he’s never passed anyone in his life, etc, etc. Last time I checked starts were considered part of the race. Just like whoops (which Mike seems to have never ever practiced in his life for some reason), jumps and corners. Starts, it can be argued, are MORE important than the things that I just listed. So in that sense, Mike’s VERY good at a VERY important skill to have in order to be successful at racing dirt bikes. And this is cause for mocking? Yeah he wouldn’t be anywhere without his starts. So what? James Stewart wouldn’t be as good if it wasn’t for his scrubbing and corners. Yeah, ok, so what?
Weege, I state to you that the terrible decision to stand on Ivan Tedesco’s bike at Glen Helen in 2005 when he was in the battle for the title was a tipping point for Mike. That got him A TON of negative press (rightfully so, let’s face it- he lost his mind right there) and the fans and industry have never forgotten that. It’s too bad but between that incident and his dad’s influence, Mike’s career has been a little different than most phenoms.
But it’s still been successful.
Andrew Fredrickson photo
Weege: It’s easy to chalk the Tedesco thing up to a bad day and a bad decision, but I bet anyone who had to race against the Alessis for amateur titles will tell you it was far from an isolated case. Maybe we could get Millsaps or Villopoto’s dad to tell us what they think?
Matthes: True. And again I wasn’t there for all that ridiculous amateur motocross bullshit. Maybe in a lot of people’s eyes he hasn’t measured up to the “Believe The Hype” t-shirts and the projected results (some of the hype was no doubt brought on by Tony refusing to play by the rules because he thought Mike was going to change motocross—but I’m not excusing them) but I do know that Mike’s a racer through and through, he refuses to give up out on the track, he fights for every spot and he earns his salary. And let me tell you this folks, not all riders out there do this.
Weege: There are two things I’ve said before that make people’s eyes glaze over and cross at the same time. First, when I said a few months ago “I’m starting to come around to Tony’s way of thinking.” Second, is, I suggest Tony write a book when this is all said and done. We all remember being 17 years old and thinking we were way smarter than our dumb parents, and trying to pull away. We all went through this. Somehow Tony managed to maintain control through all of these ups and downs. Most parents would be thrilled to be this close to their kids for this long. He needs to explain how he pulled this off. People would buy that book!
Matthes: I would buy that book! Remember when Tony said he calculated Mike’s birthdate to have an advantage in age categories at LL’s? Remember when they had the magic shock from KTM and said they prayed for it in Alessi Weekly? Remember when…
You could go on and on with Tony stories which would make a great book. Sign me up!
Simon Cudby photo
Weege: You know, this weekend I saw one of today’s star amateur grads getting a pretty good, um, instruction lesson from his dad after practice. I don’t want to give away his name but his popular initials would remind you of air conditioning. I didn’t give it away did I? Anyway, one of our TV producers said “Aren’t these guys professionals now? Shouldn’t the parents back away?” Well, I think we’ve just outlined one of the real differences between this sport and all others. It’s easy to say the parents should hand over the keys, but even at the pro level, parents are often still the ones who can get a message across to the rider best. We are dealing with very, very young athletes in this sport. You could push parents away, but it’s not a guarantee that the results or effort will get better. Only in motocross, baby!
Matthes: By the way, just to make you feel REALLY old, Mike Alessi is going into his tenth season as a pro next year. Yeah, those ten years just happened. #shootme
Weege: Dude, how old will we feel when Mike has his own kid racing Loretta’s?