Damian Jigalov is a little lad who stands around 4’10”, and is only 12-years old. He’s thin, and wiry, weighing maybe 65 lbs. dripping wet. When he sticks his knee out in corners, his skinny little legs look like they might snap when his knee touches down. But don’t let the looks of Damian Jigalov fool you; this young man has a thread of steel running though him that will take your breath away once you see him ride a motorcycle. Any motorcycle.
Damian’s immaculately parted blond hair gives him a slightly angelic look, and his carefully phrased, articulate way of speaking makes him sound like a businessman. But as he ripped past me on a Kawasaki Ninja 636 going up the hill at Laguna Seca, I realized that once on track, all bets are off, and Damian’s true business surfaces once he’s astride a motorcycle.Off the bike, you can’t help but like him. He’s got that young man’s eternal optimism, and radiates enthusiasm; but it’s a mature, thoughtful, almost strategic type of enthusiasm that belies his years. It’s very easy to forget he’s only 12.When I first met Damian at the #ArchRides Laguna Seca Track Day, I was immediately impressed. He was wearing a tailored Dainese suit that I embarrassingly realized probably only took a third …er make that only a quarter…of the leather it would take to create a suit for me.In fact, Damian has been supported by Dainese and AGV for some time now, and as sponsors they have recently been joined by Arch Motorcycle Company, the Hawthorne, Calif., based boutique manufacturer of exotic big inch V-twins.Actually, the Arch sponsorship is a better brand fit than one might at first suppose. There’s something exciting about being on board during the early days of an ambitious project, and both Damian’s racing career and the Arch Motorcycle Company can be described as just that.Damian is a young man, embarking on a career in motorcycling. He is showing a ton of promise and is getting good results to date. The same can be said of Arch. It is a relatively young company, started in 2011—just five years ago—by Keanu Reeves and Gard Hollinger.Both Damian Jigalov and Arch Motorcycle are filled with promise and a genuine passion—but perhaps more tellingly, there’s a glint of steel in the eyes of both Damian and the Arch principals too. I can see their relative ventures growing together, and of course, as hard-core racing enthusiasts both Reeves and Hollinger will get front row seats as they watch both their protégé and their project, grow.
At the #ArchRides track day, I not only had the opportunity to share the track with Damian for a few laps, I also chatted with his Dad, Adrian, about Damian’s racing career to date, and he takes up the story:“After dirt biking for a few years since Damian was four-years old, at eight he entered his first road race at the Herrin Compound in Georgia on a Honda NSR50. Damian was also entered in a race series for that same year, a Wisconsin-based series called the Northwoods GP. Damian ended up winning the championship in the Minis Ultralight class his first year.“The following year, Damian raced with WERA across the country on the same Honda NSR and won the WERA minis championship.“In 2014 at age 10, Damian began racing a Metrakit 125cc 2 stroke. He never raced in the California region, but won the Clubman Class Championship in all the other regions across the USA. Damian repeated this in 2015 and won most of the races he entered.“Damian was still (physically) really small, but I asked him if he wanted to try bigger bikes, and so for 2016 he began racing a KTM RC390 cup bike with WERA. Damian dominated on the KTM and went undefeated against other KTMs, including some MotoAmerica riders that raced WERA in between the MotoAmerica rounds.“The only time Damian finished behind a KTM was in October. At the Grand National Finals at Barber in October Damian raced on the MotoAmerica spec Dunlop Alpha 13 tires.“The field was racing on slicks, and riding mainly on Yamaha R3 motorcycles and some KTMs. Damian was able to finish only half a second behind a MotoAmerica KTM rider.“Damian wasn’t happy about losing, but I explained that he had learned a lot that day, in fact slipping and sliding just trying to hang on was much more valuable experience for him. WERA was the only association in the USA that allowed Damian to race on all the tracks being so young. If it weren’t for WERA Damian would not have been able to race.”Damian’s CIV PreMoto3 wild card ride began life with Dainese/AGV’s North America VP, Roberto Sadowsky who made the recommendation to RMU MOTO. Sadowsky discovered and has been watching Damian now for several years, and Dainese/AGV have supported Damian since he was nine-years old.CIV had to make an exception to their minimum age requirements to allow Damian Jigalov to race (normally 13-years old for PreMoto3 250), as he had only turned 12 the day before. At Mugello Race 1, Damian placed fifth on a team RMU MOTO PreMoto3 250 machine. It was his first time on the bike and his first time at Mugello!Adrian continues: “Damian learns new tracks very quickly; he definitely has a gift for this. On this occasion he struggled a lot with chatter and bike set up. The fork and shock springs were too heavy; Damian barely compressed the fork to mid-level. The suspension engineer did not change the springs, but Damian pushed through and still did exceptionally well. Team owners, Alessandro and Ramona Gattamela were so impressed that they wanted Damian to sign for 2017 full time at RMU MOTO team.”In Race 2 at Mugello the bike still chattered on high speed corner exits, the same as it did in Race 1, but in the end no adjustments had been made to the suspension during the entire weekend. Around half way through the race the bike went from high speed chatter and into a tank slapper; Damian’s foot slipped off the peg, got tangled in the chain, and the bike went down. Damian suffered a heavy hand and finger injury that required surgery and four months of therapy. It could have been much worse.Undaunted, Damian returned for the round at Imola. The suspension was still untouched, and Damian was still injured and not fully fit. But he had a goal to learn Imola for a championship contention in 2017.“He finished Race 1 in eighth. Before race 2, for some reason the engineer put heavier springs on the suspension,” Adrian says. “Damian barely compressed the rear shock it was so stiff. On lap 6, Damian high sided at high speed, fortunately with no injury. I then had a meeting with the team owner and they were truly surprised as to why Damian’s bike was sprung so heavy for him. So subsequently they had a meeting with the suspension engineer and agreed to make some real changes for the final round at Mugello in October.”For the first Mugello race, the bike springs had been changed and the bike felt much better. However, there was very heavy rain and lots of crashes. But Damian stayed on and finished in ninth.Race 2 was dry, but the temperature had dropped nearly 20 degrees from morning practice and so the bike set up was off.“Damian said the bike was heavily sliding the front and he was feeling like he was crashing every lap. But he stayed in the hunt and did well,” Adrian says.Damian is represented by Rhys Edwards at Wasserman Media, heavy-hitters in the MotoGP paddock who represent Dani Pedrosa, Bradley Smith, and Jonas Folger. Rhys explained that Damian first caught his eye a couple years ago when he kept popping up on his social media, so Rhys contacted Damian’s parents and expressed his interest.“We’re not pushing Damian, but it immediately became clear that he needs to be racing against his peers, and although MotoAmerica was an obvious choice, unfortunately due to insurance requirements the minimum age to race is 14-years old,” Rhys says. “Fortunately the CIV Championship has a minimum age of 13, and they were able to make an exception for Damian as a 12-year old based on his results. Our strategy is to continue the progression, building on last year’s wild card rides with the eventual goal of moving through Moto3 and ultimately to MotoGP.”Damian himself credits Rhys with helping him raise his profile with sponsors and how to present himself well, and I was impressed that a young man whose sole purpose in life is to go fast on a motorcycle also has the smarts and mental bandwidth to realize that the PR side of the business is almost as important. It is very likely that any brand associated with Damian will be very happy with the way it is represented.
Clearly another piece in the racing jigsaw that is helping Damian excel is the backing of a stable and loving family behind him. His father Adrian is a calm and thoughtful personality who backs his son to the hilt without forcing him into anything he doesn’t want. Damian’s mother, Rene, is happy to just watch and support her son. Adrian freely admits that far from pushing his son, he actually spends more time trying to caution him, and keep him thinking carefully and clearly.In the meantime, Damian runs two miles a day, and his personal trainer has him doing lots of swimming pool fitness routines as well as hours of gym time. Damian’s focus is obvious, and he’s worked out that at current rate of progress he can finish this year’s online schooling by spring, leaving him to focus on the motorcycle racing season. I’m not sure how many other 12-year olds are that calculated.For 2017, Damian will race full time in CIV with the RMU MOTO team, campaigning a PreMoto3 RMU 250cc machine. The engine is a KTM in an RMU chassis. With the combination of a strong and loving team backing him, and his own relentless determination, it will be interesting to see how Damian develops over the next few years–he is definitely one to watch, that’s for sure: keep an eye out for Damian Jigalov, #78.