INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: CHAD WATTS

Chad_Watts_2015 By John Basher

Last Friday I ventured down to South of the Border MX in Hamer, South Carolina, to test a absurdly trick Yamaha YZ125 two-stroke owned by ICW’s Brett Koufas (you’ll learn more about that in the Mid-Week Report). Little did I know that Chad Watts, multi-time championship-winning mechanic and owner of Watts Perfections, would be involved in the project. For those who followed motocross in the 1990s, Chad Watts is going to be remembered as one of the elite wrenches in the business. After stints with Ryan Hughes and Mickael Pichon, Watts began wrenching for a young red-head by name of Ricky Carmichael in late 1996. The rest, they say, is history.

Chad Watts resigned from factory Honda in the middle of 2003, moved back to his hometown of Shelby, North Carolina, and started his own hop-up shop. W Perfections was born. A decade later, Chad is still going strong. Watts provides helped young riders win novice National titles, although he does not sponsor professionals because, in his very own words, “With the Pro’s you have to pay money, or they want this free. ” I asked Chad about his career path, what was like to work for a young “GOAT, ” and whether new technology is useful for the sport of motocross. You’ll become entertained by what he has to say.

Chad Watts_1997 Chad with Ricky Carmichael’ s Professional Circuit Kawasaki KX125 before the start of the 1997 AMA 125 Nationals.

What’s the bike you work on most? For some reason I get a lot of requests for Yamaha YZ125 two-strokes, Honda CR250 two-strokes, Kawasaki KX250F and KX450F four-strokes, and Honda CRF250 and CRF450 four-strokes. It differs depending on the time of the year. I’ll get slammed with work right before the Mini Olympics, and then I’ll obtain a lot of work following the amateur competition. Some people won’t ride their 2016 bikes at the Mini O’s, since their 2015 bikes are already dialed in.

Having said that, what’s your favorite bike to work on? Nothing sounds better than a two-stroke 125 with a high-revving rider on it. A 125cc two-stroke is my favorite bike to build. I will say that the attention to detail is the same, regardless of whether it’s a two-stroke or a four-stroke. If I had to choose one specific bike, it would have to be a Kawasaki KX125, because I have so much history with it.

How do you make your way out to Ca? In 1988 and 1989 I worked at Barr’s Competitors in Shelby, North Carolina. I helped out Mike Brown, and I’d go to the big amateur races along with him. That opened up the door for me to meet the Team Green staff, which at the time was Jose Gonzalez–Mercedes’ brother–as well as Mark Johnson. I also met Ryan Hughes. In 1990 I moved out to California as being a 17-year-old and worked with Ryan from that time until 1995. Then I proceeded to go in-house and did engine growth at Kawasaki. In 1996 I actually worked for Mickael Pichon and we won the 125 East coastline title. At the end of that year I actually began working with Ricky Carmichael whenever he raced his first a hundred and twenty-five National at Steel City.

How did you get hooked up with Ricky Carmichael? I actually wasn’t supposed to wrench meant for Ricky, but instead go with Pichon towards the factory Kawasaki 250 team. I actually decided that I didn’t want to work for Pichon anymore. Ricky’s mom and Mitch talked to me about staying on board and working with Ricky.

You didn’t have a good relationship with Mickael Pichon? He was picky. Let’s put it that way.


“…PICHON WENT OUT AND WON THE FIRST MOTO BY 20-SOMETHING SECONDS. MITCH AND I LOOKED AT EACH OTHER BETWEEN MOTOS AND SAID, ‘WE’RE IN BIG TROUBLE FOR THE SECOND MOTO. ’ SURE ENOUGH, HE GOT TIRED PLUS FINISHED PRETTY FAR BACK. ”

That which was he picky about? When he didn’t win then there was always an excuse. That excuse has been always directed toward the team or myself. That year he jumped the triple at Atl when the lapper was down and ejected off the bike. The following 7 days was the Gainesville 125 National, and Pichon went out and won the very first moto by 20-something seconds. Mitch and I looked at each other between motos and said, “We’re in big trouble for the second moto. ” Sure enough, he got tired and finished pretty far back.

You didn’t appear to have that same problem with Ricky Carmichael. Not at all. In Gainesville in 1997, Ricky got a good start and caught Steve Lamson with two laps to go, yet didn’ t pass him. I actually still remember him walking around following the moto was over in his filthy gear, and his momma was making him a grilled cheese sandwich. Ricky said to me, “I might have passed Lamson. I was just waiting for him to get tired. ” Mitch Payton and I both said simultaneously, “Lamson doesn’t get tired. ” In the second moto Ricky obtained the holeshot. Windham stayed with your pet for two laps, but then Ricky has been gone. We won our very first overall that year, and we kept on winning. In 2002 we had the perfect outdoor season. The following year, in 2003, we did some contests together. However , due to an agreement I actually went in-house and did four-stroke engine development. Then I resigned and started Watts Perfections.

Carmichael_2002
Ricky Carmichael graced the cover of the September 2002 issue of MXA. The include line, “ RICKY HEADED FOR YOUR PERFECT SEASON” says it all. This particular photo was taken at Southwick that year. It was the last full season that Carmichael and W would work together.

How did you strategy Ricky about his rather unusual bike setup? He would roll the handlebars into his lap and also have tons of rebound in his shock. It’s what worked for your pet. He looked at it this way–there are so many turns in a Supercross competition, and only a small section of whoops. He would sacrifice in the whoops so that can jump into a corner, land, and make one turn instead of the bike reacting. No, the bike did not handle in the whoops. He had individuals low handlebars and a head stem height that was quirky, but he was used to riding a Kawasaki, so he rolled the bars back. Most people didn’t agree with his setup, but they weren’t riding the bike.


“I ACTUALLY TOOK NEEDLE-NOSE PLIERS PLUS PULLED THE MEAT OFF THE FOOTPEGS SO THAT PHOTOGRAPHERS COULDN’T GET A PICTURE OF IT. THAT INJURY WAS RICKY’S DOWNFALL THAT YEAR. HE RETURNED AND LED SOME LAPS, YET MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY HE HAS BEEN BANGED UP. HE WAS YOUTHFUL AND EXCITED, AND HE NEEDED TO SETTLE DOWN. ”

How stressed out were you throughout Carmichael’s first 250/450 Supercross time of year when he endured a fair reveal of bumps and bruises? He had a rough go of things that year. His downfall was your San Diego Supercross. Ricky and Jeremy McGrath battled hard in the heat competition. Ricky accidentally bumped McGrath and let him back by on the last lap. Ricky let him by from respect. Those two guys actually respected each other. That year, it happened in 1999, he got a pretty good start and caught David Vuillemin and Robbie Reynard. He went through the turn with the step-on and step-off, and the footpeg caught him close to his groin. I actually took needle-nose pliers and pulled the meats off the footpegs so that photographers couldn’t get a picture of it. That injury was his downfall that yr. He came back and led a few laps, but mentally and physically he was banged up. He was young and excited, and needed to calm down.

What was it like working for Thomas Hughes? He was an animal. Ryno is like a brother to me. He was always a hard employee. I don’t know how many times a enthusiast would bring back his broken JT Racing helmet visor to the truck. Ryan would be a bullethead for half the moto, still going open and winning [laughter]. Ryan’s family took care of me. You have to remember that he was 16 and I was 17, and we were traveling around the country together. In 1990 we won 12 amateur game titles. I think he rode one outdoor National between the time he completed his amateur racing, and I believe he finished fourth overall. He battled with Mike Kiedrowski and those guys, which was pretty good. After Ponca City and Loretta Lynn’s we made enough money to competition the next Nationals. Those were fun times.

Has been there ever any rider that will Ricky Carmichael worried about on the track? Charley Bogard was the just rider that Ricky ever had to consider. Charley would be a little dirty along with Ricky. There were a few run-ins. Not that Bogard was a bad kid; he was just aggressive towards Ricky. Otherwise I believe there was a lot of respect between the riders. Back in the a hundred and twenty-five days, Carmichael and Mike Dark brown would team up in practice. They followed each other and could pass without having to be worried about the other guy getting dirty.


“RICKY SAID THAT HE OR SHE WANTED TO RACE STEEL CITY ON A 125, AND EVERYONE AGREED TO IT. I WENT BACK HOME, PULLED RICKY’S 1999 OUTDOOR TITLE-WINNING BIKE AWAY FROM STORAGE, AND STARTED TAKING IT APART. I PULLED THE SUSPENSION, SWINGARM, BRAKES, CLAMPS AND THE MANUFACTURING PLANT PARTS, AND BROUGHT THEM WITH MYSELF TO STEEL CITY. WHEN I GOT TO THE PRO CIRCUIT RIG THAT THEY HAD A FRAME AND ENGINE SITTING DOWN UNDER THE AWNING. I PUT EVERY THING TOGETHER AND RICKY WENT OUT PLUS RODE IT. ”

Shed some light on the Metal City National finale back in 2001, when Ricky dropped down to the 125 class while Mike Dark brown and Grant Langston were combating for the outdoor title. That was a fun race. Ricky was dead last in the first moto, and had there been two more laps then he would have won that moto. As for the decision to race, along with about three or four races still left in the season Ricky clinched the 250/450 title. He wanted to break Mark Barnett’s record for most a hundred and twenty-five National wins. After Binghamton Ricky went in the semi and fulfilled with Mitch Payton, Bruce Stjernstrom and myself inside the factory Kawasaki semi. Ricky said that he desired to race Steel City on a a hundred and twenty-five, and everyone agreed to it. I actually went back home, pulled Ricky’s 1999 outdoor title-winning bike out storage space, and started taking it apart. I pulled the suspension, swingarm, brakes, clamps and the factory components, and brought them with me in order to Steel City. When I got to the Pro Circuit rig they had a frame and an engine sitting down under the awning. I put almost everything together and Ricky went out and rode it. Before the second moto we knew what had to be done. There wasn’t going to be anything at all dirty going on. The goal has been to holeshot and check out. That’s exactly what Ricky did. In the second moto he had such a big lead, and I was pit boarding one thing, and Brown’s mechanic was pit boarding him also, which you weren’t supposed to do [laughter]. Anyway, Ricky arrived by me halfway through the moto and raised his hand to find out what was going on. I told your pet to go. Unfortunately for Langston–and I think Brownie still would have won the championship even if Langston’s wheel hadn’t broke–he dropped out. Ricky has been 30-something seconds ahead of everyone else carrying out big whips for the crowd. He won the overall and Brownie received the title. That very following morning we were testing at that will track at 9: 00 a. m. on a factory Honda.

Talk about the change from Kawasaki to Honda. After the final moto of the day I actually transported my toolbox from the Kawasaki factory rig to the Honda rig. Ricky’s deal with Honda for the 2002 season was actually signed on the Las Vegas Supercross in May of 2001. I don’t think Kawasaki really matched up Ricky’s deal. I don’t know the level of it. I do know that they didn’t desire us to leave. After Ricky signed the contract Kawasaki questioned me to stay, but I told them that I was going with Ricky.

What was this like being at the forefront of the modern-day four-stroke development with manufacturer Honda? A bunch of it had been required for Japan already, from pre-production in order to Ryan Hughes racing the bike as a prototype. The only difference within the engine was from the bottom of the cylinder head on up compared to a two-stroke. Of course now there’s fuel injection and all of the electronics and programming. Hopefully some manufacturer is certainly coming out with a bunch of fuel-injected two-strokes. I actually can’t wait to get my hands on one of those!

Do you consider that motocross technology is too advanced for the average rider? Yes, I do. You have one type of fork on a single bike and something completely different on one more bike. The customer is used to adjusting their fork a specific way. There’s also fuel injection, and most people are too afraid to reprogram their particular bike. It costs us 3 times as much to race compared to the two-stroke days. Four-strokes have hurt the game in certain ways. People can’t afford the bikes like they used to.

To find out more about what Chad Watts has going on, and to have a look at Watts Perfections, visit www.chadwattsperfections.com.


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