Altus Motorsports has one of the bigger team footprints in the MotoAmerica paddock. Last year, they were a multi-rider team, and there was always a beehive of activity going on under their team canopy. We got in touch with team manager Janette Nassaney to get the lowdown on her team’s plans for 2019.
Janette, you and your husband George own one of the premier teams in MotoAmerica. You’ve always had a great presence in the MotoAmerica paddock. What’s your program going to be like this year?
You’re going to see pretty much the same. We’re going to have four riders again, but for 2019, we’re expanding our reach a little bit. We’re moving Miles Thornton up to the Stock 1000 class
That’s great news. Aboard which bike?
He’ll be racing the #72 Altus Motorsports Suzuki GSX-R1000. And Jaret (Nassaney) is going to be riding a Suzuki GSX-R600 in the Supersport class. Then we have Austin Phillips, who will be aboard the Altus Motorsports Yamaha MT-07 in Twins Cup. And Kevin Olmedo is going to be racing a Yamaha YZF-R3 for us in the Liqui Moly Junior Cup class.
Kevin Olmedo did really well last year for his very first year in MotoAmerica. And, he’s also a really nice kid; very personable.
Yeah, he is a nice kid. Right now, he’s got two broken ankles.
He broke both of his ankles while training. He says he’ll be ready to go, though. So fingers crossed that he will be ready for Road Atlanta in April.
So, you have four riders in four different classes?
Yes, four different classes. Hopefully that will make it a little bit easier for us, since we won’t have two bikes in one class like we did last year.
Jaret’s going to concentrate on just Supersport this year, then? He won’t be racing in Junior Cup?
He likes Junior Cup, and he does really well on those bikes, but his heart is in the 600 class. Towards the end of last year, he did really well in Supersport. He was consistently in the top 15. At New Jersey, he got eighth. So he’s really working on it. He’s been training hard. He’s really looking to stay in the top 15. His goal is to get a top-10 finish in the Supersport Championship this year, so we’ll see.
Chris Ulrich worked with your team last year. Will Team Hammer have some involvement in your team this year, as well?
Yes. We get our engine packages from Team Hammer, and we also get our data packages from them. Chris works a lot with Jaret. He’s been really good for Jaret. I think, in March, we’re going to try to do a combined teams test. So if we could do that, then we could get everybody together and get everything worked out. The Ulrich’s have been absolutely awesome to us. The first two years, we tried to do it ourselves as just 100% privateers, and while you can do that, it’s incredibly difficult. If you don’t have the data knowledge and the backing of the factory knowledge of just the mechanics and whatever else, you can’t get on the podium. We did that with JC Camacho a couple of times. But it’s so difficult. It is so much easier when you have the support of people with the amount of race knowledge that Team Hammer has. So to have their support is just invaluable.
It’s funny, just walking through the paddock, we would see either John or Chris with you guys a fair amount, so they definitely give you a lot of attention. It’s got to be nice to have such a veteran group of guys and a team like that to work with.
Yeah. It’s been great.
We’re really glad that you’re going to have a Stock 1000 rider, and that your incumbent rider Miles Thornton is moving up to the big bikes. Has Miles ever ridden a 1000 before? Or will this be his first year?
This will be his first year on a 1000, I believe.
He’s a big enough kid. He can do it, for sure. He’s definitely got the muscle to handle a literbike.
Yeah. He’s like 6’3, so I think the 1000 will actually fit him better.
We felt that way when Jake Lewis moved up to the 1000, too. It’s like these riders are almost suffering on the smaller bikes when they’re big kids like that. So that’s really good.
Miles is really excited about it. We’re in the process of building him a bike. Team Hammer is helping us build the bike right now. We’re excited to get the bike, get Miles on it, get some track time on it, and see what he can do with it.
Tell us about Austin Phillips, who is new to your team.
He sought us out. I don’t really know a lot about him yet. He’s raced quite a bit on the West Coast. He contacted us, and we interviewed him and thought he’d be a great fit. Jaret and Austin met up with our crew chief, Eric Gray, out at Chuckwalla. Austin got four podiums out there on our MT-07 Twins Cup bike, and he really loved riding it. We’ve developed some new stuff for that bike. It’s working great. It’s the same bike that Rob McLendon won on at Barber, and we’ve done some more upgrades to it. It’s the package that Andy Palmer developed, and we’re fine-tuning it and going our own way with it. We’ve been working with Hot Bodies to develop new bodywork for the bike, and that should be dropping soon.
One of the things that we’ve been talking to different teams about this year – and we want to get your thoughts on this – you touched on the fact that you’ll have four riders this year but you have four riders in four different classes. We’ve brought up this recurring theme of “teammates,” and most teams we talk to seem to think it’s a little bit overrated. However, we’ve heard that Josh Herrin and Toni Elias have been sharing data. Now, obviously, that’s in the deep end with Superbike, but it seems to be helping them to bounce ideas off each other. In your case, from a team owner/manager perspective, it sounds like it’s better for you guys to not have two riders in the same class.
It is and it isn’t. Last year, with Jaret and Miles both racing in Supersport, time management was a little difficult. Making sure that everybody is where they need to be, sometimes, is a little hard. On the other hand, Miles’ experience helped Jaret, and we could take his fastest laptime–his data–and then throw Jaret’s on top of it and say, if you did this here and there… just like Josh and Toni are doing right now. It was helping, and you could tell by the end of the season that that would help Jaret by going, “Oh, Miles is faster here. He was faster there, because he wasn’t on the throttle.” So, it did help in those aspects. As a team owner, it’s tough because, when one teammate’s always beating the other, you want your guys to both win and both be up there all the time. By the end of the season, they were both in the top ten, top fifteen, but it was just basically a time-management thing. It’s just always hard to make sure you have all your mechanics on the wall. Our crew chief’s focus was split. He wasn’t focusing on one rider or another during the race. It was on both of them. That was a little difficult. We have four riders but yet, we’re still kind of a smaller team. We have one crew chief, so he was trying to be everything to both riders at the same time. It was difficult. So having our four riders spread out among four race classes will make it easier for us.
You mentioned Eric. Is he going to be crew chief for all four of the riders?
Yes. He’ll be our crew chief, and Jaret will have his mechanic that we hired towards the end of the season, Luis Dominguez. He’s got quite a bit of experience. Eric will go over everything with Luis, and Jaret and Luis will kind of be on their own little island, unless Luis really needs something or some major changes need to be made to Jaret’s bike. Luis has a lot of experience; he previously worked with Stefano Mesa. He reads Jaret really well, and they work well together, so Eric doesn’t feel like he has to be right on top of everything with those two.
Eric moved from Florida to our dealership, Altus Motorsports. We’ve developed an offshoot of our dealership called Altus Factory Racing and we’re doing suspension work, engine work, working on people’s race bikes. We’re doing a lot of dirt bike suspension, too. So, it’s been a great thing for us. We got Eric through Chris Ulrich. When we first hired Team Hammer to help us, Chris assigned Eric to our team. It all just clicked and worked really well for us.
How’s Jaret doing health-wise these days?
He’s doing really well. He’s working full-time out at the Air Force base. He’s now an aviation mechanic, and he’s working swing shifts right now from 3:00 till midnight. They’re working around his schedule and letting him race.
I don’t know if I mentioned to you that Jaret broke his T3 a year after he had ADEM. He fractured his T3 in a UTV wreck at Low Sahara, the sand dunes. It was like, that poor kid. So he’s got vertebroplasty in his T3. It’s like a concrete type of stuff. So he’s got that in his back.
You’re talking about the thoracic third vertebrae, correct?
Yes, right at the top of your shoulder blades.
We’ve got an analogy for you. Jim Boeheim is Syracuse University’s legendary basketball coach, and even though he’s been coaching at Syracuse for more than 40 years, he’s currently in a situation that he’s never experienced before. His youngest son is a freshman at Syracuse, and he’s on the basketball team. The kid is an excellent player and a really good outside shooter. But, when he comes into the game–which is actually quite often–you have a lot of people who make a big deal that he’s “the coach’s son,” and they question whether or not Coach Boeheim is favoring his son by putting him in the game even though his son really is one of the better players on the team. What’s it like to own and manage a team on which one of your own children is one of the team’s riders? Is that a tough situation for you guys to manage?
It is. I think, sometimes, I used to be more the voice of reason. George goes in with more like, “I’ve got to be the business man, the money man at all times.” So sometimes he forgets to be dad and be compassionate. So if he’s like, “Oh, you crashed. That cost us this much.” Jaret’s going, “Okay, so I crashed.” And I’m like, “It’s okay. So you crashed.” I say the same thing to Miles when he crashes, and George is over there counting up how much it costs. But that’s George. That’s George with everything, even when Jordan, our youngest son, raced when he was little.
When we first started the team, at times, I think Jaret actually felt neglected because our focus was on JC (Camacho, who formerly rode for Altus Motorsports) and getting him a better setup, better whatever. Even last season, Jaret probably felt neglected at first with Miles. We try not to make it like, “Well, he’s our son so we’re going to spoil him,” but sometimes I think we go too far in the opposite direction. Jaret will be like, “What about me over here? I need some help, too.” So then, we have to make sure that we get him the help he needs. That’s where Chris Ulrich has really stepped up and has helped Jaret. Chris makes sure Jaret does the track walk with him and those kinds of things. That’s a big deal with Jaret. It’s hard for me at times because, as the manager of the team, I see all sides but yet, that mom in me is still very protective. I’m that mama bear. So, it’s hard. If somebody’s coming down on my kid… If Jaret and Eric are getting into it, I’m like, “Hey, back up.” But if Jaret has a bad attitude, I’m still like, he deserved it. So it’s just very, very difficult at times.
It’s got to be tough to coach your kid in a stick-and-ball sport, or manage a road racing team with your kid as one of the riders.
It’s very hard. It’s one of those things. When Jaret does well, the ride home is great. When he does really bad, the ride home can be really quiet. Like, okay, the race is over. Let it go. If you feel like he did his best, it’s like, “Okay, great. It’s over. It’s done with.” But, on those days when you feel like maybe he wasn’t trying his best, those are some long drives home.
There are a lot of parents involved with their kids in racing, but with you guys having the footprint that you have in the paddock and having a team of four riders, what’s it like to have someone who is your own flesh and blood among a bunch of other riders?
I’ve seen that a lot where some of the parents can’t be around their kid when they’re racing. I can truly see that. George is more of a high-strung person so sometimes he makes Jaret more nervous. On the other hand, I’m more calm and chill about it. I can get mad, definitely, but I’m just more “roll with the punches” about it. So I have more of a calming effect on Jaret than probably anybody. I think part of that really comes from when Jaret and I spent two solid weeks, 24/7, in a hospital room together when he was sick. That truly cemented our relationship. If something’s up, I can just look at him and be like, “cut the shit” and he’s just like, “all right, whatever.”
Will your team still have Choctaw Nation branding on your rig, bikes, and uniforms again like you did last year?
Yes, we’re continuing with the Choctaw Nation branding, but we don’t really get any support from them. We’d like to, but we’re still working on that. We’re going to keep putting it out there that we’re Choctaw and proud of it. (Supercross rider) Justin Bogle just got some help from the Cherokee Nation, so it’s great that some of the Native American Nations are getting involved in motorcycle racing. We’re still hopeful that the Choctaw Nation will get behind our effort.
You’re one of the better teams in terms of activation for your sponsors. The branding and activation that you did for Tucker Powersports last year was really great. Are you going to do some things with Tucker this year?
Yes. Tucker Powersports is one of our main sponsors for 2019. In fact, we’re actually using the Tucker semi at three or four of the supercross rounds. They’re going to be a big sponsor in MotoAmerica again.
Tucker Powersports mostly uses the color red in their branding, but Altus Motorsports is predominately yellow. How will that color combination work for your team?
We’re going to remain mostly yellow, but there will also be some red in there. Our primary team color is yellow, basically, because we can see the bikes easier when they’re out on the track. The guys are like, “Let’s change it!” and I’m like, “No.” They’re like, “Why not?” I’m like, “Because I can see them. I can pick them out in a crowd.”
Do you have any new team sponsors for 2019 that you’d like to mention?
Yes. RS Taichi stepped up really big this year and they’re going to sponsor the whole team. They’re going to be one of our main sponsors this year, also.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Janette. We’re looking forward to seeing you in early April at Road Atlanta.