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2022  MX Mammoth Moto Mammoth lakes CA

Interview with Cole Martinez, The Double Loretta’s Champion

Aug 112022

This past week at the 41st running of the Monster Energy AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Hurricane Mills Tenn., Monster Energy’s Cole Martinez (SLR Honda) pulled off a feat that’s only happened once before in the history of Loretta’s – a 1st/1st effort that was originally pulled off by a past Monster Energy AMA Supercross champion.

We’ll get more into that in a second. Martinez also won, though wasn’t expected to win, what’s considered to be Lorettas’ premier race – the Open Pro Sport class. And when he did just that, coupled with his +25 class overall victory earlier that day, Martinez’s name was forever etched into Loretta’s lexicon as one of the more improbable 1st/1st efforts in the long-running history of the event.

Monster Energy caught up with Cole as he was getting ready to return to his other form of motorcycle racing, off-road on the western U.S.’ AMA National Grand Prix Championship (NGPC) series tour. And this makes his story even more interesting in that you had an off-roader come in and dominate two of the marquee classes at Loretta’s.

So cinch up your chin strap, pull on your goggles a couple of times to clear the fog, tighten your gloves, make sure your gas is turned on, grab 2nd, and over-rev the RPMs – and get ready to dump the clutch on this wild ride from Cole Martinez.

Right out of the gate, congrats on your epic week at Loretta’s! Huge. Two titles – Open Pro Sport and +25. It hasn’t been since Jeff Emig in 2003, and as far as anyone knows, never before that either, that a guy won a 25+ (in Emig’s case, 30+) and added a Pro Sport (250 A Open Pro for Emig) class victory. Has the magnitude of your efforts set in yet?


Kind of. Yesterday was the last day I marinated in it. Honestly? Still pretty crazy. From when I went as a kid chasing titles to now, racing for fun with my family.


What was your track record heading into Loretta’s?


I had some decent moto finishes, like 4th through 7th place. Nothing that stands out. I guess you should be proud of that, but as a kid, you want more when you’re chasing your dream.


How does that feel to match Emig’s record? Were you a fan of him back in the day?


I’m a fan of Emig. He’s an O.G. legend. Once they told me (he’d matched Emig’s feat) at the end of the race I was like ‘Damn, that’s pretty badass to be in the same bracket as him.’ To put six motos together, I’m amazed at that. The track’s gnarly, everyone’s going for it – so Holy Crap, that’s big. Jeff Emig’s the only one to get it done like that? That’s epic. Hopefully, some more guys come in and do it as we did it.


Starting with Open Pro Sport, there were some big names in that gate. DiFrancesco, Linville, Clough, Towers, Hymas – and those are just your fellow Monster Energy-backed racers! You go 4-3-1 to take the overall. Did you have any idea you’d be in there with those younger guns? And talk about that clinching final moto victory over Heath Harrison and Caden Braswell – both of whom had been hauling all week.


Right from the beginning, my focus was on the start. In the opening moto, I ended up leading the race for a little bit. Heath, Towers, and Ryder were right there. Rode a little tight toward the end, but was good with that result (4th). In the second moto, it was kind of crazy, we made a change (to the bike) thinking the track was a lot drier than it was. But I went backward, 2nd to 6th at one point. Some kids made mistakes and got up to 4th. Then, unfortunately, they docked Chance Hymas a few spots, so that put me into 3rd. Now we had four guys tied or right at 2nd place going into the last moto. Ryder had 5 pts, three other guys had 8 points, and I had 7. It was the winner's take at that point.


When the gate dropped (on the final Open Pro Sport moto) I just tried to get out front. Ryder had slowed down a bit towards the end of the week, but I knew he could come around. Braswell, he was good, and on it. His bike was fast. Me and Heath had a good battle going all week. I honestly felt I had such a big weight off my shoulders from winning 25 plus in the morning, and my bike was running so well, so all the pressure was off. But at the same time, I still didn’t want to let Honda down. So I just focused down on the start and knew if I got off the start well the rest of the race I’d just be rolling into it. Towards the end I got Ryder and Braswell mixed up, thought Braswell had the points on me when he got to 2nd I thought I’d lost the title. Brain farted when I came off the track I was like ‘Wait, I got it? I thought Braswell had it. That’s crazy. When they told me ‘No, you got it,’ I was pumped.


That’s awesome. Downshifting back to the 25+ class. You square up against Mike Alessi, who's still legit fast – and will be well into his 70s probably. One of the best starters the sport has ever seen, Alessi said, when he was helping out Jason Weigandt and those guys with the online announcing later in the week, that you had him “covered” off the starts all week. 1-1 in the first two motos (with Alessi going 2-2)… how’d you pull that off?


Going into the week, 25-plus was the main goal. I felt like most of the pressure was on the 25-plus class. Heath Harrison was defending the title he got last year. Then I mean it’s Mike Alessi, and he was there to break a record (three-way tie with 11 wins for pro-MXers Alessi, James Stewart, and Adam Cianciarulo). He’s going to be hard to beat… he’s here to race. But then they (race promoters MX Sports) switched Open Pro Sport to the first race for me, so I went out with the kids right away.


So now you’re facing off against Mike Alessi in the third and deciding moto.


I’d raced Mike (Alessi) at the Loretta’s Regional at Pala (Calif.) and we swapped motos. So even though I was 1-1 going into the third moto I was pretty nervous. On top of that, I ride off-road out west now, so I never ride gnarly deep ruts. But that’s easier for an off-road guy to ride. I knew I had to win the first two because anything can happen in that 3rd moto, especially at the start. So in Moto 3 I just tried to put myself in a good position. I would line up somewhere where he (Alessi) thought it was too far out, so he wouldn’t line up next to me. My thinking was that if I was a little farther out, I wouldn’t get caught up in his games. So that helped because Heath (Harrison) and Mike pretty much lined up next to each other. So I avoided that situation and swept them on the outside.


Had that worked for you in the second 25+ moto versus Alessi?


Yeah. In the second moto, Mike tried to get in my head a little bit, but I wasn’t having it. I set him up pretty well and made a pass stick. Then put in a good lap to get away from him.


So back to the third moto, it’s now all on the line for the title.


Yeah, and I was nervous. Fresh track, super deep. We’d set up our bike for soft, but the start was complete crap. I don’t know what they did to it. I’d lined up to the side and ripped a good start on the site lap, so I wanted to do the same thing on the (race) start. I get back to the gate and it’d like concrete – and I had the paddle (tire) on. I spun and was one of the last ones off the gate, but the guy next to me got off good, so I just followed him. I was out in I think like 12th. Then just started picking guys off from there. One of the last guys I got, Jake Baumert, I had to wait until he made a mistake. From there I didn’t even try to catch Mike. Didn’t want to play his game. I just wanted to take that title home.


Alessi talk to you afterward.


All week Mike was very serious. Like sicko. But after the race he was like ‘Man, you rode a great race. That was awesome.’ So it was cool to hear from him like that.


You had some previous success racing pro-MX Nationals and Monster Energy Supercross. Then you shifted gears and ended up on the off-road circuit with the Slam Life Racing (SLR) Honda team. Talk about that shift for you, how it came about, and how you’ve been racing western U.S. off-road events for the past several years.


The shift had to happen. Monster Energy Supercross and the Nationals are the pinnacles. But if you’re not on the best equipment it’s hard to show quality results. I never had the stability of a real quality team. Then you add to that injury… and a family… I knew I had to make a choice - hang up the boots or move to off-road. My good friend, Taylor Robert (WORCS & ISDE great), was into it at the time, so he help out a lot. I had to provide for the family, so I talked to Mark (Samuels, SLR Honda team owner) a few times and he was like ‘Let’s make this happen.’ Looking back it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made for my race career. Mark’s gone above and beyond with whatever we do. I moved back to Arizona (where Martinez grew up) from California. Ride all the trails I got to ride growing up. So there was a point when I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Now, I look at the big picture and it’s pretty unreal.


What were the most challenging aspects of shifting from MX and SX to off-road?


Honestly, for me, I believe that I could contend for wins on an off-road bike. Already had that self-belief. But in going to race it, the speeds were INSANELY higher than that of supercross. I’d only had two years, really, of racing Monster Energy Supercross. That and some supercross races in Europe. So to jump from that to off-road, even though I’m still learning, was big. Tracks, speeds, to the way the guys ride are different than moto. The lines, the way they move their bikes, and the difference in bike setup itself were huge. You run away softer setup with the speed and turns where, coming from supercross, bikes are so stiff. You just couldn’t ride a hard supercross set up for two hours in the desert.


What have been your off-road highlights this season?


I’ve got a handful of wins on the NGPC (AMA National Grand Prix Championship) tour, which is like the GNCC (Grand National Cross County series) of the west coast I’d say. Won the first round of that, and had the points lead for a while. I sit in 2nd right now, like 14 points out with 4-5 races left. Last year I ended up 2nd. All three years I’ve raced NGPC I’ve had the points lead at some point. The first year had it, got hurt. The second year I had it, while still figuring out how to properly ride off-road. Had some great success from the end of last summer to come in this summer. And that translated into Loretta’s as well.


Back to motocross, you had a pretty good tune-up for Loretta’s back in June at Mammoth. Talk about your week at Mammoth, then the route you took to qualify for Loretta’s.


Yeah, Mammoth! That race is epic. Ski resort, hotels. Just turned 30, and wanted to do the 30 plus. Take the family up for vacation. Me and Josh Grant went head to head. Probably some of the gnarliest racing I’ve ever done. Beat him the first day. The second day he beat me. I won one day, he won the other. I also raced with Chance Hymas and Trey Canard in the Open Pro 250 Pro and Pro Sport. Then again I get to battle another legend, Trey. Chance won, but to be able to battle Trey was amazing. I’m telling you that was some of the gnarliest battles. Between Grant and Canard. The last moto, Trey was 1st and I was 2nd, showed him a wheel and he went full Trey Canard mode. It was insane. I kept with him, but couldn’t get a wheel on him after that.


So Mammoth had to be a pretty good boost for you heading into Loretta’s?


Yeah. I gained a ton of confidence from that week at Mammoth. But with that confidence, I had to remember that Mammoth and Loretta’s are two different tracks. Our off-road bike worked well at Mammoth, didn’t have to change much. But when you get to Loretta’s, the speeds are slower and there’s an insane amount of traction. So the bike setup was way different.


Touch on your bike setup a bit. Are you able to take things that you’ve learned off-road and use them to better set your bike up for motocross – and visa-versa? Or are those just two completely different worlds that you have to separate before you set foot in the shop?


I think there’s a lot that transitions from off-road to motocross. Maybe a bit more to it (motocross setup), but a proper MX setting is way too stiff for off-road. On a smooth off-road track, you can make it work, but our tracks are so rough out here (western U.S.) that there’s no way.


Then also along those lines is the physical prep – cardio and gym/weights. Is there much difference in the training between MX/SX and the off-road season?


I remember when I was younger I used to curl up into a ball after (MX) races. So for off-road, I’ve trained longer on the road bike and, honestly, smarter. You also train to do longer motos. Had to embrace the grind if this (off-road) was what I wanted to do. As for the gym stuff, that all stayed the same.


One of the guys on the SLR Honda team, Collier, happens to be your brother. How cool is that having your younger brother close by?


Man, it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, to race off-road. So it’s insane having him (Collier) being a part of the SLR Honda team. I get to race with him and ride during the week. Help with his training. He works full time also, so he’s improved so much since we started. The progression is amazing. He’s got big goals. I’m excited to help along the way. One of our goals is to make the U.S. ISDE (International Six Days Event) team together someday.


What’s on the horizon for you with racing? Has there been any interest from Honda or any of their privateer-supported programs to bring you out to any of the remaining Lucas Oil AMA Championship Motocross races – based on your excellent showing at Loretta’s?


There’s always interest. My main goal is to win the NGPC title for SLR Honda. That would be huge. Maybe that option possibly races some outdoors next year. But this NGPC title finish on the top is our main goal.


And what about off-road? The SCORE series doesn’t start back up until Sept. 13-18 with the Baja 400. SLR Honda’s big into Baja. What are your off-road plans between now and then?


Mark (Samuels) and Justin (Morgan) do the SCORE races. Maybe I’ll get lucky and Mark will let me be part of the Baja team someday. I’ve tried a couple of times and Mark just basically laughs it off. But wouldn’t that be something? A Loretta’s title… and NGPC title… And being part of a SCORE/Baja title!


Right on. Well thanks for getting the Monster Army caught up, Cole. And again, so cool watching you dominate at Loretta’s. Ride that high through the shoreline break, man. You certainly earned it in that mid-summer Tennessee heat!


Thank you very much. And thanks to everyone at Monster Energy for the support!