Cody Johnston Interview
Becoming a professional motocross racer is something that very few individuals accomplish. On top of spending countless hours riding and training, a solid support base, usually from family members, is required to help aspiring racers reach the top tier of the sport.
In this interview, 19-year old professional mx athlete Cody Johnston gives us an in-depth look into what got him started in the sport. Johnston disucsses his rise through the amateur ranks, the sacrifices he has made along the way, and where he wants to be in the very near future.
Ultimate Motorcycling’s Andrew Oldar: First, talk a bit about yourself including where you’re from, how you got into riding, your journey through the amateur ranks, and how you have reached the professional level in the sport of motocross.
Total Nutrition’s Cody Johnston: My name is Cody Johnston. I am 19-years old, and I’m from Tulare, Calif. My father raced professional motocross and supercross back in his day, so I was pretty much born into the motocross world. I started riding at the age of five, and this past year, I stepped into the professional ranks on a 2014 Yamaha YZ250F. I raced a lot of the ProAM races in order to chase the points needed to obtain an AMA Pro Motocross license. My first ProAM race was October 2 at Hangtown for the Dodge Amateur National. From there, it took me eight months to get enough points to get my pro license.
UMC: At what point in your career did you realize you wanted to ascend to the professional ranks of the sport?
Cody Johnston: As a kid riding and racing locally, I saw a couple of guys from my area that went pro and knew that was something I wanted to do. Growing up, I always watched racing on TV and it’s every kids dream to be on TV doing what you love. I had always wanted to be able to race as a professional. Once I had turned intermediate in the 250 class, it sort of dawned on me that I’m almost there and turning pro would be very doable.
UMC: Your first race as a professional was at the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross at Glen Helen back in May. What was it like to move up to not only the professional ranks, but also the premiere class?
Cody Johnston: My first AMA national was definitely a big shock. I think that it was one of the harder tracks this year because of the layout they had. It was full of huge jumps and very technical rhythm sections. The two big jumps at Glen Helen are definitely the biggest jumps I have ever done. I wasn’t used to a track that gnarly. I knew I was a little nervous about how technical the track was so I tried to jump everything within my first few laps so it wouldn’t be in my mind. I had bought a 450 a couple months before the national and I really liked it, so that made up my mind on what class to race.
UMC: Of the three nationals you raced this past summer (Glen Helen, Thunder Valley, and Washougal), which track would you say was the most challenging for you, and for what reasons?
Cody Johnston: Glen Helen was by far the most challenging track out of the three nationals I raced. The amount of ruts in the corners were like nothing I have ever seen before. The large jumps and supercross-style sections made it that much more technical. It was very muddy in qualifying practice and the ruts where massive. It it took me a little bit to be comfortable with carrying high speeds through the large muddy ruts.
UMC: Of those three tracks, which did you like best and why?
Cody Johnston: Washougal was my favorite track. That’s probably a little bit bias because it’s the track I did best at. It rained for two of the three days we were at the track so I was thinking it would be a mud race but it turned out very well considering the amount of rain. I did all right in practice. I came out in 16th place in the B practice. At the start of the qualifying race, I was outside of the doghouse and almost pulled the holeshot. About half a lap into the race, I was running in second place in a qualifying position. Then, in the tight left hander after a drop off, I got hit and went off the track for a brief moment. By the time I got back on I was in eighth and stayed in that position the remainder of the race. The LCQ is only 4 laps, so it is very hard to catch up and make passes. Regardless, I was happy with my performance because I showed that I can run the pace and was only four spots away from making it into the two motos. So eighth out of 25 wasn’t too bad, but I am looking to make it into the official motos come 2017.
UMC: After having wrapped up your first season of racing a number of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross races, what would you say is the biggest difference between the amateur ranks and the pro ranks from a rider’s perspective?
Cody Johnston: The tracks would be the biggest difference. Almost every turn has a lot of ruts that are huge and the tracks are much more technical than an average amateur national or local track. Sometimes, it was hard to get fast laps put together because there are so many riders on the track either looking for smooth lines or putting down fast laps. So it is difficult to get by yourself for a couple laps and do your own thing to get a good qualifying time.
UMC: Prior to your first race as a professional, you moved up to a Yamaha YZ450F after several years of racing in the 250 class on a Yamaha YZ250F. How has the jump to the 450 machine been and why did you move up at that time?
Cody Johnston: I adapted to the Yamaha YZ450F very quickly. The ergonomics felt similar to the YZ250F, just with a big power difference. In the amateurs, you can get away with racing a close to stock bike. I had a very good bike and motor for amateur racing, but it was not as competitive compared to the motors the average AMA pro 250 class racer has. I wasn’t going to be able to do the motor mods necessary and keep up with the maintenance that is needed when racing a highly modified 250F. My practice 250 blew up one practice day at our local track and that made my mind up that I need to get a 450 to help cut down on costs. I actually ended up getting my 450 the next day.
UMC: Racing a 250F at the higher levels of the amateur ranks and the professional level involves lots of modifications, especially to the engine. Talk a bit about the mods you did to make your bike competitive, prior to moving up to a 450.
CJ: I left it stock until it was time to replace parts. When it was time to change the piston, I bought a high compression piston. When the crank got about 50 hours on it, I got a CP-Carrillo rod. I had C4 do some work to the head to gain more power. The bike was the best bike I had ridden but racing almost every weekend and practicing once during the week, I couldn’t afford to put new clutches and a new piston and rings in it about every 10 to 14 hours.
UMC: What modifications do you do to your 450 to make it competitive on race day?
Cody Johnston: I spent more money and more time making my 450 handle better. It’s a great bike in stock condition. I figured that if I’m not spending a couple thousand dollars in the motor, I’ll spend a little money to make it handle well. I bought some 2014 YZ450F triple clamps off of eBay. The 2016 450F has 25mm triple clamps and the 2014 and 2015 models had 22mm offset triple clamps, so that helped with turning. I have known Doug Dubach for quite some time now, so he helped me out with an exhaust system, radiator lowering kit, and an engine relocation kit. The lowering and relocation kits made the bike turn excellent and put more bite on the front wheel.
UMC: What type of physical training do you engage in to prepare yourself for racing?
Cody Johnston: I work out in my garage a couple times a week, but what I really like to do is cycling. That is how most of my training is done. During a month that I have races every weekend, Monday will be a rest day from traveling and racing over the weekend. On Tuesday, I cycle with a couple of guys and we hammer for about an hour trying to better our times from the last week. On Wednesday, I do a quick upper body workout and cycle afterwards. If I get my lawn mowed in time on Thursday, I will go to our local track and get a couple motos in. Friday is a light upper body workout to stay mobile for a weekend of racing. Saturday and Sunday are usually spent with my dad traveling and racing. I normally try to do a little something every day after I get home from work, but I try not to overdo it when we are racing consistently.
UMC: In addition to the three nationals you raced, you also entered the MXGP round at Glen Helen. How did the track differ from the national in May? Also, which race did you enjoy more, and why?
Cody Johnston: It was very cool to race the MXGP because they have a different race format and schedule. It was my first time to race the long motos on a national track, because I didn’t make it into the official motos at the AMA Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Nationals. The track was very rutted and rough, like nothing I had ridden before. After the qualifying practices and races on Saturday, they only prep some jumps and the hills, so the track was left rough and rutted from the day before. It was honestly a brutal track, but it was so much fun at the same time. Experiencing how the tracks shape up for the guys racing nationals every week was cool and it makes you have a lot more respect for them being able to ride that every weekend. I love rough tracks, so it was fun for me.
UMC: The MXGP races take place over the whole weekend, as opposed to just racing on Saturday at a Lucas Oil Pro Motocross round. Which format do you like better, and why?
Cody Johnston: I would probably choose the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross format. Mostly because it’s done in one day and you’re not sitting around for a long time. At the MXGP, I had a practice at 9:00am and the first race wasn’t until 1:00pm so there was a lot of waiting.
UMC: Looking back on your first year as a professional, what are some of the things you took away from it? Did you learn more than you anticipated you would?
Cody Johnston: It was definitely a big learning experience. I wanted to do better, for sure, but I also didn’t want to put unobtainable expectations on myself. My main goal was to learn a lot and if everything went smooth, make it into the official motos. Once I went to Washougal, I felt like I knew how everything was going to work. I knew what I had to do in practice and when to go for fast laps, so going to the two previous nationals helped me get more comfortable and knowing what to expect.
UMC: Most athletes are constantly looking for an edge to help them get to that next level. What is that for you?
Cody Johnston: I have trained with Doug Dubach since I was on 85s and he has showed me a lot of new ways to gain speed that most people don’t know about. Rusty Holland has been a great teacher as well. He has an interesting way with putting sections together that is very helpful to cut lap times down and shorten the track. I feel both of their riding styles are similar, so I take away a lot from both.
Having someone like my dad pushing me every time I ride is a huge help to getting to the next level. I told him a few years ago that this is what I’m going for and that I’m fully committed and willing to do what it takes to get better and better. He raced at the professional level back in the day, so he knows what needs to be done to get to that level. I told him not to make it easy on me. If I mess up something on the track, we practice it until I get it right consistently. If I make the same mistake for a lap or two in a row, he will definitely let me know. Sometimes I think he purposely tries to get me mad so I will prove him wrong and go faster or hit a lap time that we are trying to reach for that day.
UMC: Racing at the professional level can be financially difficult, especially for privateers. How do you fund your racing program?
Cody Johnston: When I was in middle school, I actually mowed lawns on my street. I had five lawns I would do Wednesday and Thursday once I got home from school. I would get paid monthly and that would be some race money. I did the normal high school thing for two years and it was nothing special. I didn’t feel I was gaining the life skills I could get by doing something else. I went to an independent study school halfway through my sophomore year and got a part time job cleaning pools when my school work was finished.
During that time, I ended up breaking my wrist on a supercross track. During that time, I spoke with a friend of mine, Sean Broderick, who owns a company called Western Utilities Transformer Service. We agreed that when I got my cast off, I would go to work for him and go to school part time. I finished high school a few months early and enrolled in welding classes and became a certified welder so I would be allowed to weld on transformers. I have been working full-time for about a year and a half now and that’s how I pay for all of my motocross expenses.
UMC: What role do you parents play in your racing program? Do they travel with you to all of your races?
Cody Johnston: My parents have helped me nonstop from the beginning. When I was younger, it was just ride, race and go to school. There is not a lot more to it. Now as I get older and into the higher ranks of the sport, I have to eat certain things at certain times, keep sponsors up to date, send out sponsorship resumes to companies, work on the bike, train, and ride. My mom helps take care of most of my dieting and getting any supplements I need for the day ready.
She helps me with getting resumes ready and sending them to certain companies. My dad does the majority of the bike work and he is good at keeping track of when we need to replace parts, get new parts, or anything else needing to be done. Eighty percent of the time, it’s my father and I traveling to the races. On Thursday night, we get everything ready for the weekend. On Friday, we leave after work. We normally just sleep in my van when we’re on the road. Personally, I can’t justify spending $100 for a shower and to sleep in a bed for 8 hours. I would rather sleep in my van at the track. We bring the barbecue and kick back after practice waiting for race day.
UMC: What are your thoughts on Supercross? Do you plan to race it in the future?
Cody Johnston: Well, I actually just bought a 2017 Kawasaki KX250F from my local dealership, which is Tulare Kawasaki. I have known them for almost my whole life and they helped us out with this bike. I’m sending the suspension and engine off to get set up for arenacross and supercross.
The way it works now is that to be eligible to race Monster Energy AMA Supercross, you have to go through the Amsoil Arenacross Series and obtain three points in the AX Main class or six in the AX Lites class. I got a chance to ride a supercross track a few times and I loved it. It was a little bit nerve racking with the big jumps and rhythm sections. Once I got it figured out, all I wanted to do was ride supercross nonstop because it’s so much fun. So if all goes as planned, I will race the five west coast Amsoil Arenacross rounds chasing the points needed to get my pro supercross license.
UMC: What is the most difficult part about being a motocross racer?
Cody Johnston: People might take this the wrong way but it is definitely a job sometimes. The hours spent at the track are awesome, but when you get home and you spend hours working on your bike changing your clutch, or piston and rings, it can begin to feel like a job. It’s a lot of money as well and sometimes I have to take a few weeks off so I can save money to freshen up my bike. That’s probably the hardest part of being a privateer motocross racer.
UMC: What is the most fun part about being a motocross racer?
Cody Johnston: The best part of being a motocross racer would be that when I get to the track and I put my helmet on it’s my world, I feel like I’m the boss and I can do anything I want. Meeting a lot of new people is fun, too. Getting free products is pretty sweet as well. Traveling and seeing different places is very cool. And of course the ladies, being a pro motocrosser defiantly helps with the ladies.
UMC: What are your long-term goals in motocross?
Cody Johnston: I would love to be at a point to where I am able to consistently make the mains in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross and Monster Energy AMA Supercross. After that, it would be great to get on a smaller team or even land a fill-in ride for some teams. Getting enough points to get a two digit number would be incredible.
UMC: What are your plans after you are done racing at the professional level? Do you plan to stay involved in the sport? If so, in what role?
Cody Johnston: I will most likely be involved in motocross one way or another for my whole life. Once I’m done racing seriously, I might make more trips out to the desert for some trail riding with my dad. I have a very good job working on high voltage transformers and I enjoy doing that. After I am done racing professional motocross, I could see myself in that line of work so long as I am given good opportunities to better myself. I wouldn’t mind going to college for maybe electrical engineering or some electrical classes to better myself at my job and then hopefully be able to play a big role at Western Utilities.
UMC: At this point of your career, you surely have had some great people and companies help you get to where you’re at. Who would you like to thank?
Cody Johnston: First and foremost, I’d like to thank my mom and dad. I would like to thank them for supporting me and giving me the best they can. Steve and Jennifer Little at Pro Tec Coatings have been with me for a long time and they are a huge help to my program. They are good friends of mine as well. Tulare Kawasaki has helped me out for a long time. I have been with O’Neal gear for a couple years now and getting help with gear is huge. Tanya and Brett at Total Nutrition have me on a great diet and supplement program. Doug Dubach at DRD exhausts has trained me for quite a few years now as well as helping with exhaust pipes and other parts.
John Hoffman at 360 Motorsports has helped with traveling to races with me and working on the bike. Mark and Brandon Pledger are a big help with bike work as well, and pointing me in the right direction. Other companies and individuals I’d like to thank are DT1 filters, Mika Metals, CTO Tearoffs, Williams Street Rods, J&R Rebuilders, Works Connection, Donbo Racing, the Warner family, the Broderick family, and 31thirty Graphics. Also, a big thanks to Ultimate Motor ycling for giving me an amazing opportunity to tell my story. There are most likely a few I forgot, but I would like to wish a big thank you everyone that has helped me one way or another during my journey of racing motocross.