Northern Californian Ken Chewey has been part of the MotoAmerica paddock for several years, first as a member of a team, and more recently, as the team owner of Omega Moto Racing. Chewey has a two-rider team for 2019, with one rider competing on a Yamaha YZF-R6 in the Supersport class and the other rider aboard a Yamaha YZF-R1 in the EBC Brakes Superbike class. We spent some time with Chewey in order to get to know more about him and his team. Here’s what he had to say:
Ken, tell us about your background and also how you came up with the name Omega Moto for your race team?
We hired a sports marketing agent two years ago to help us rebrand ourselves, and this sports agent was trying to define us as a high-quality brand that we could easily sell in the racing world. We were coming up with names, and he focused on the fact that Superbike racing is the premier class, and the absolute best form of roadracing. We were trying to come up with names that reflect what we’re doing.
We were throwing names back and forth via email, and for some reason the name Omega came up. It’s also something that has to do with the fact that I quit smoking years ago, and the way I did it was with vaping. It’s obviously a cigarette replacement, but it also has to do with resistance. So, it was just one of those things where the theme kept coming to my mind. I couldn’t get it out of my brain. Omega also suggests “large,” and it suggests “existence.” It’s a very strong and powerful name. So I kind of threw it out to him and he was like, “That’s phenomenal. That’s a great name.” It promotes strength. It’s a really strong name. So we kind of threw around some other ideas, and we kept coming back to Omega. So we just started building the name Omega from there and designed the logo. It fits our team and it fits who we are.
It’s a very memorable name and, of course, Omega implies the Alpha and Omega, which are the beginning and the end. You guys can position yourselves as the be-all, end-all of motorcycle racing.
Talk about your background a little bit. How did you get started in motorcycle racing and as a team owner?
Actually, I started out as a mechanic just fixing cars and working in different performance shops doing high-end engine builds. In the early 2000’s, it was Honda’s and Acura’s, the Japanese tuner cars. The owners of the shop I used to work for were big into motorcycles. They had a couple of streetbikes, and they said, “Hey, when you’ve got nothing left to do on your projects for the day, I need your help with my motorcycle.” At the time, I didn’t know anything about motorcycles, but I thought, “Well, it’s got a motor, doesn’t it? It’s got motors and wheels. You know how to work on a car. It’s not that difficult. Not much to it.” So I started working on it. I got into bikes and started working on them, helping the shop owners out, and helping out their buddies. It was 2006, 2007 when I started to ride. I bought my first streetbike. Really got sucked into riding, and it was just really fun. I didn’t want to take my stuff to somebody else, so I did a lot of my own repairs. Then, in late 2008, I had a motorcycle accident and it put me out of work. I was in the ICU for six days. I had lacerated my spleen and suffered a big contusion on my lung. I was kind of bummed. Still, the only thing I could do was work on motorcycles, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.
The car thing is cool, but I really wanted to get into doing this for a living. So, I went all in. I started my own motorcycle shop in the (San Francisco) Bay area, and I just tried to go from there. I met Ameen Sajjadi from GP Bike Parts before he became Meen Motorsports. Ameen let me know that his shop was going to close down because he was going to focus all his time and efforts on racing. He couldn’t let his shop suffer anymore from traveling. So he had approached me and said, “Do you want to get into racing? You can be a chassis guy.” At that time I didn’t know what the hell that meant. He was like, “In return, I just need a space to essentially build the bikes and kind of maintain them in the off-season and between rounds. What you don’t know, I can show you. You can learn a lot real quick.”
So I went full bore into that. In 2012, Ameen and I were at my shop stripping bikes down to the frames, putting the engines in, redoing the whole chassis. At the time, Bobby Fong, Travis Ohge, and Nadr Riad rode for Ameen. That’s how I got into it. My first race ever was going to Daytona with Ameen and kind of learning. At Daytona, I learned the hard way about what things to do and what not to do. I was green all around. I showed up in shorts and DC shoes and thought I was going to be able to rock and roll for the weekend. After the first day, I hated my life because my feet hurt, I was tired, and I was sore. I hadn’t done anything like that before. But, even with all that discomfort, I was like, “This is what I want to be doing. This is way more fun than just working on customer stuff. This is a lot more enjoyable, and a lot more excitement.” So, I stuck with it.
Ameen and I parted ways, and I met Sebastiao Ferreira. I really liked the kid. I liked his personality. At the end of 2012, Sebastiao had reached out to me and said, “Hey, I’m doing my own thing with somebody. I could really use somebody like you wrenching for me and being my crew chief. Do you want to do it?” And, I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” I hadn’t been a crew chief before, but I could learn. So, I stepped into doing that. I really liked being a crew chief, and I wanted to do something where I’m the big boss. I took pages out of everyone’s books who I was around. People like Chuck Graves and some of the other team owners around the paddock, some of the crew guys, and just kind of observing what was going on. Some of the other stuff, I’ve obviously had to learn the hard way. It wasn’t until last year that I had a conversation with a few other team owners, and I really bonded with Danny Walker last year. Danny helped me with the team owner side of things. Not actually within my team, but dealing with personalities and how you need to view things and how you need to make the right decisions for your team. Without his guidance, I don’t think I would have been back this year. I think I would have taken a long break from road racing. But, with his advice, I regrouped and I’m ready to attack 2019 and learn from the mistakes we made last year.
As a team owner, you obviously have to wear a lot of hats. Are you still involved in the mechanical aspects of the team?
I’ve tried to take a step back. I have a really bad back, so working on the bikes for more than 30 minutes, it destroys me. It’s extremely painful, and I can’t really work on it for too long. The rest of the stuff is usually done by the crew guys or our engine builder Gary Dean. Last year, before the season started in the wintertime in 2017 around November, we dropped the bike off with Gary, and he stripped it down to literally nothing. It was a frame sitting on a table. He went through the whole entire chassis and just really took care of it for us, which helped me out so I could work on getting everything set up for the season. This year, it was pretty much the same, but I didn’t need to take the bike to Gary. The bike was pretty well off at the end of the season last year and after the last test that I did with Sebastiao at Thunderhill at the end of the year. We just had to change triple clamps and the forks, and I was able to do that myself. It took me a little bit longer than it used to do just because of my bad back and so forth. But, I would say I’m about 30% involved in the mechanical aspects of the team now. I try to delegate the mechanical stuff to the team guys or to Gary Dean, if I can.
For this coming season, you’ve got two riders on your team. You have a Supersport rider and a Superbike rider. Can you tell us about those two riders?
At the end of the 2018 season, I got a phone call from Cam Peterson. There were no expectations from the phone call. It was just him talking about the idea of possibly testing my bike and seeing if maybe there was a possibility that the two of us could work together in Superbike. After talking with Cam a few more times, we came to the conclusion that this would really work, to give him an opportunity on a Yamaha– especially since he’s never raced an R1—might give him exactly what he needs to produce some really good results. He did a really good job for Honda last year with Danny Walker and those guys. I watched him all year long. Definitely, I thought that Cam would be the young talent that we need to really make the bike work. So, the initial plan was to run a Superbike and a Stock 1000 bike this year.
I got a Facebook message from Cameron Beaubier, and he asked me if I would be interested in putting together a Supersport program. At the time, I wasn’t really interested in trying to run Supersport. Our focus was on the bigger bikes and trying to develop somebody who was coming up from Stock 1000 and wanting to race a Superbike. But, I was intrigued by Beaubier’s question and said, “Let’s go and have a cup of coffee. I’ll listen to what you have to say.” Cameron brought Cory Ventura with him, and we sat down and talked about Cory wanting to move up from Junior Cup to racing 600’s. After meeting Cory and getting to know him a little better, I definitely liked what I was hearing. So we spent some time together–not motorcycle-related–doing activities, going shooting. I had taken Cam Peterson and his girlfriend out to a little spot we have out here to do some shooting and just kind of get to know each other. They had never shot a gun before. I wanted them to relax and enjoy themselves. Nothing motorcycle related. Just hang out in a nice, relaxed environment. We bonded really well, had dinner a couple times, and everything kind of clicked. Same thing with Cory Ventura. I met his whole family, and we did a day of enjoyment and dinner as a family.
I don’t think of the boys, Cam and Cory, as riders. I feel like we’ve bonded enough to where I consider both of those boys and their families to be part of my family. So, we’re trying to build a family environment for our team, and we want to portray to our sponsors that when you come on board as a sponsor, you’re joining the family. Straight up we’re going to be a family. We’ll treat you like family, just like we treat our riders like family. So I wanted to make sure that we’re not getting ourselves into a situation where everyone’s unhappy. I wanted to make sure Cam was going to be comfortable on the bike. I also wanted to make sure Cory, being as young as he is, is comfortable, his family’s comfortable, and that they can trust me as a team owner and someone who’s not going to put their child at risk or in a bad situation. I want them to trust me, and I want Cory to trust me, too. So, it was really important for me to get to know them personally, beyond the racing.
That’s interesting. Sometimes, as long as a rider is fast and is a good rider, that seems to be all that’s required. But, with you, it’s more than that. You have to make sure that the chemistry is right along with the ability to race a motorcycle or ride a motorcycle fast.
To me, the chemistry is everything. If they’re not comfortable with me when we go to a race weekend, are they going to be comfortable with the crew? Are they going to be comfortable with the motorcycle? Are they going to be comfortable with what they’re doing? If I can’t make them comfortable, it’s not going to be an enjoyable season for anybody. We’re not going to get the results that we want. If the boys feel like they can’t speak their minds to me or their crew chief or their mechanic, nothing is going to get accomplished. Nothing. So, a big thing for me is comfort and just being able to be open.
After our first test, we all felt comfortable and that we could be straight with each other, so that was good. Nothing is ever going to be perfect, so come in and talk about it. I know you’re happy. I know you’re liking it, but come say what’s wrong. That way we can immediately solve it for you and make you more comfortable. So, we’re really trying to work on that. That’s what we’re focused on this year is being open and approachable and make sure everybody’s comfortable. Not just the riders but also the crew guys, as well.
We talked with Dave Anthony a few weeks ago and he was telling us that he’s been to Chuckwalla, and he was at Buttonwillow, too. One of the things he said to us was, “For me, my off-season testing is really club racing in this area.” He said, “I can test the bike while at the same time hopefully bring in a purse or get some cash at the same time. I might be able to make a little money at the same time I’m testing, and in real race situations.” Some teams go to track days, but that’s a little tricky because of the traffic on the track. I think you seem to have the same philosophy as David Anthony regarding putting your riders in a race situation and you have that advantage on the west coast. Is that an intended philosophy for your team?
Yeah. I had considered different testing options this wintertime, in the last two and a half months. For me, it would have been ideal to go do a private with Yamaha or go rent a track. But when you look at the cost of having to do that plus having to have insurance and all that other stuff, it’s not… You accomplish a lot, but at the same time there could be three people on the whole entire track and you’re going to spin laps and you’re going to get good, valuable information but not necessarily be able to push yourself because you kind of don’t have a carrot to push or a reason to push. You’re just out there spinning laps. Some teams can do it. Some riders can do it. I know both Yamaha guys and some of the other teams have riders who can really just put their heads down, spin laps, and make some good, fast lap times all by themselves. I feel that going to a club race is a little more productive because, especially with AFM and some of the classes that the riders compete in, in AFM. It’s really pushing guys. You’ve got Formula Pacific where it’s got Andrew Lee. This past weekend, it was David Anthony, Braeden Ortt, and Michael Gilbert. There are quite a few fast guys that really gave us a good gauge of where we are, where we stand. It gives Cam and also Cory an incentive to really push and get the most out of their bikes in a race environment and find out in a 15-lap race or even a 7-lap race, how was the tire wear? Pushing really hard, pushing at the maximum that you can. What does the data look like? It made it more productive. I’m not saying a private test is not productive, but this was, in my mind, a lot more productive use of my time than just doing a private test. It also gives people kind of a preview of what to expect while they’re watching the races on TV or through the streaming app. Kind of gives them a preview that we’re serious. We’ve got serious talent this year. We’re really trying to go out and make a name for ourselves in MotoAmerica this year.
Tell us about your Superbike program. One of the things that some fans don’t realize is we have the Stock 1000 class and we have Superbike, and you could race a Stock 1000 bike in the Superbike class, but there are some things you can do with suspension or whatever, or you can go full-boat with electronics and all that. What state is your Yamaha Superbike in? Is it closer to a true Superbike, or closer to a Stock 1000 bike?
I would say our bike is closer to a Superbike than it is to a Stock 1000 bike.
The engine itself isn’t necessarily stock. It’s all within the MotoAmerica Superbike rules, and the bottom end is all OEM parts. The cylinder heads have been gone through. On the engine side of things, we’re way more than Stock. On the front-end of the motorcycle, we have adjustable triple clamps that are adjustable for rake and trail. On a Stock 1000 bike, you can’t adjust those. The forks and are not stock. They’re Superbike forks that came off a bike that somebody was racing in Europe. We bought them used, but they’re in good condition and we know they work. We’re trying to upgrade things and not break our budget for the year. So we picked and chose certain things to make the bike better for Superbike racing. Our swingarm is definitely not stock. We’re running a Febur swingarm. Some people run Suter, but we chose Febur, and the Febur guys over in Italy helped us out. They’re going to continue to help us out. Our electronics are not stock. It’s a YEC kit harness with a stock ECU reflashed with Flash Tune. Your average person can order Flash Tune and put it on their trackday bike or their club-racing bike. If they’ve got the funds to do so, they could basically make the same bike that we have. It’s just going to cost a lot of money. But we’re far from a streetbike and far from a Stock 1000 bike, too.
It sounds like, if your Superbike is equipped with the bigger forks and a different swingarm, then you’re two-thirds of the way there. It seems like it boils down to three major components with the Superbikes: the forks, the swingarm, and the electronics. So, you’ve done essentially all of that, short of a full-boat Magneti-Marelli or MoTeC ECU. You’re definitely on the sharp end of the stick as far as having a Superbike-spec motorcycle.
Absolutely. Initially, we felt that this would be the year that we would make the move to the full Superbike electronics. Cost was one of the issues, but also, we looked at some of the teams last year that raced in Superbike and were getting really good results without the Magneti-Marelli or MoTeC electronics. So, we finally decided that, if we do make the switch to a Superbike ECU, it wouldn’t be this year. We’ll do a lot of research and we’ll gauge how it does in the series this year, if we make a decision to switch. But we figured, with the Flash Tune stuff, it’s better than not having anything. We made a lot of progress last year with fine-tuning the Flash Tune electronics, and this past weekend we made even more progress. I think with the Flash Tune electronics package, it can get you pretty close to true Superbike electronics, but just not quite. But we thought about it. Especially when they announced that the Superbike guys were going to be allowed to use the MoTeC system, and the cost is significantly reduced from the Magneti-Marelli system, but we kind of figured, you know what? Why switch at this point in time? We weren’t going to have a whole lot of time to test it, so let’s run with what we know works, and if we do switch, we’ll switch in the wintertime and we’ll have all next winter to test it.
From what we understand regarding the Superbike electronics, the cost of the hardware is one thing, but you also need a dedicated data guy to be able to manipulate it because there are so many parameters that can be changed. Is that your assessment, as well?
Yeah, that’s the other part of it. It’s not just the cost of the physical components, but it’s having somebody who is really capable of tuning them. This year, just like last year, we are going to have a Flash Tune technician with us all season to work on the, between those two people, we’re going to have the electronics side taken care of for the team and we’re also going to have somebody who is able to read the data and work it out for us.
Speaking of your crew, can you tell us who Cam Peterson’s crew is and who Cory Ventura’s crew is going to be?
For Cam Peterson in Superbike, we have Evan Steel from Evan Steel Performance. He worked with Cam on the Honda team last year. I talked to Evan in the off-season. Cam threw his name out to me and I was like, “Yeah, I’ve heard of Evan. I’ve seen him around. I’ll talk with him.” Evan and I clicked over the phone immediately. Right from our first phone call, we clicked. He likes what we’re doing. I offered him a spot and he said, “Yeah, absolutely. I’d love to be Cam’s crew chief. I think we’d work really well together.”
This weekend, that chemistry showed really well. We also have Blair Ramey who was with RiCKdiculous Racing last year doing their Junior Cup bikes. He came aboard as the chassis guy for Cam. On the Supersport side of things, I have Benicio Cruz coming back up from Brazil who is going to do the chassis work for Cory Ventura. And I’m going to be handling the role of crew chief for Cory Ventura for 2019.
So, you’re the team owner for Omega Moto, but you’re also going to be crew chief for Cory.
Cory and I click really well. I feel like I can really help him. Like I said, I’ve been a crew chief before for Sebastiao Ferreira. It’s been a while, but it’s like riding a bicycle. It’s not going to be too big of a deal for me to step into that role. I’m not going to really be touching the bike mechanically. I’m going to have the chassis guy doing 95% of the work for me. I really do trust him to do most of the work. I think I can focus a lot of my time on setup and working with Cory. Just getting him comfortable and making sure his mind is really relaxed so he can just go out and have a good time and learn. That’s what this season is for Cory is getting him comfortable on the 600. It’s a big jump for him going from Junior Cup to the Supersport class. I want to set some realistic expectations for him and just go out and hit our goals every single weekend with him. Try to get him comfortable so that, next year, we can really just come out and try to swing for the fences.
You have a very experienced group of guys that you’ve assembled. We did a podcast recently with Cameron Beaubier. We talked to Cameron about Rick Hobbs, his crew chief, and the fact that Rick is a legend. He’s a Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Famer and he’s been around forever. He’s very mechanically adept, obviously. But we discussed the other side of it. The fact that, as a crew chief, you also have to be a bit of a psychologist. Can you talk about your crew chief role, not from a mechanical point of view but from the perspective of working with the rider? You touched on it a little bit with that fact that Cory is kind of going into the deep end with Supersport. As crew chief, you have to be a bit of a cheerleader and a bit of a mind reader. Tell us about that.
There are two sides to being a crew chief, you’re right. There’s the mechanical side and obviously that kind of comes with the territory. Not a lot of people talk about the other side of it where you’ve got to kind of be six or seven different people all wrapped into one. You got to be a psychologist. You got to be a friend. You got to be a riding coach. You even have to be a dad. You’ve got to really find out what’s going on in their minds. If there’s something that’s hindering them, you’ve either got to figure out whether you got to be the psychologist at that moment and say, “Okay, what’s going on in your brain right now? What are you thinking? How are you feeling?” Then, if they’re really worked up about something, you got to kind of calm them down a little bit and just get them to breathe. Something as simple as, “You’re getting a lot of arm pump.” “Well, I was fast in the session before, the whole session, and with a brand-new tire, I’m slower.” Okay, well, what are you doing? You’re trying to get them to pick apart maybe what they’re doing, because they may not be focusing on what they’re doing, but they’re focused on, “I’m going slower.” Okay, well why? Are you rushing the corners? Are you not breathing? Are you holding your breath? Are you not taking the same line as before? You’re really just trying to pick apart what they’re doing and get them to see that maybe it’s not the bike. Maybe it’s the rider. Get them to think, “Maybe I’m not breathing. I’m getting tense, and that’s why my arms hurt or my legs hurt. Or I’m riding too hard, I’m over-riding. Maybe I’m pushing it too hard because I really want to go fast, but it’s actually slowing me down. Maybe I need to just slow my brain down a little bit and just ride smooth.”
It’s been a while since I’ve had to do that. Last year, with Sebastiao on the R1, we were doing that pretty much every round. As a team owner, but also as a close friend of his, I would sit there and have to pick him apart and be like, “Hey, what’s going on? I’m not talking to you right now as the team owner. I’m talking to you as your friend. How are you doing? Did you get enough sleep last night? Did you eat breakfast this morning? Did you drink enough water? I haven’t seen you with a bottle of water in your hand. Why don’t you go grab two bottles of water and finish one and then sip on the other one?”
So, a crew chief may have to be a nutritionist, as well. That’s the other thing. “What are you eating? If you’re eating garbage and you’re having pizza and a gallon of Coca-Cola, that’s not really the healthiest diet when you’re going to go racing. Are you hydrated? Dehydration can take a toll on you and you’re trying to go out and perform at your top level. It can actually hinder you a lot.”
You got a lot of roles. There’s going to be a lot of stuff that we’re going to be working through. Josh Hayes will be working with Cory and Cam this year, too. Josh is going to be a huge help, so it kind of takes a little bit off of my plate with some of those things that need to be discussed with Cory and Cam. Josh is a four-time Superbike champion, so he knows what it takes. He can handle those situations a little bit better than I can and really get to the bottom of it with them and kind of just get them riding free again.
As a team owner, give us your assessment of the MotoAmerica TV package, this three-option TV broadcast offering that we have with Fox Sports 2, NBC Sports Network, and MotoAmerica Live+? And the fact that, for Superbike, you’re going to be part of the premier coverage on Fox Sports 2, while Supersport is going to be covered extensively on Live+. What do you think about that and the opportunities that might come about for you with getting the Omega Moto name out there and attracting more sponsors and support for your team?
I definitely am excited about it. To me, the live streaming side of it is definitely something that we needed for our series. With the way everybody is nowadays, where cable companies are dropping programming from some of their schedules and a lot of people are cutting ties with cable or satellite companies and going to more streaming services like Hulu and Netflix and Amazon Prime and all those other things, I definitely feel like that hits that marketplace. There were a lot of people I saw over the past year who were complaining about not being able to watch the races live or they were having issues with beIN Sports. And beIN Sports did really well during their time with MotoAmerica, but as a series, we needed an alternative to where fans that don’t have cable, that can’t watch it on television, can now watch it from anywhere in the world. They can watch all the sessions. That’s awesome to me, because as a fan of motorcycling, watching MotoGP sometimes I’m not at home and I can’t watch it on my TV, so watching it on my phone while we’re traveling or doing our own racing is very convenient. I can watch it whenever I want. I can miss qualifying and go back to my hotel and watch qualifying on my phone while I’m relaxing. Definitely I think that’s going to be huge.
The Live+ streaming is going to be absolutely huge for the series. As for Fox Sports 2, I really enjoy Fox Sports. It used to be Speed. I know the races used to be broadcast on Speed and I know there were a lot of people watching it on that network. I think our racing going back to Fox Sports 2 is going to be really exciting. I feel like there’s going to be a lot of good quality racing, so it’s going to be really good. Then the NBC Sports, it’s another huge one, as well. Most general packages on TV have Fox Sports 2 and NBC Sports, so you’re not paying for a special channel. It’s already part of most average channel packages. So everything is really exciting to me, especially with the programming. But for me, personally, I’m most excited about the Live+ app, about the streaming service. I’m really excited for it. I’ve got family members who are already asking me, “Can I go on and pay for it and do it?” So it’s definitely a good thing for the series. I think this first year will really pop off, and then, it’s just going to get better.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
I wanted to get across that, with our specific program, our specific team, you’ve got a lot of other teams out there that are getting support from larger-name sponsors and so forth. What a lot of people may not realize is that our 2018 season was not funded by any sponsors. It was funded solely out of my pocket. I don’t want to throw prices out there. I’m not going to throw out costs or anything of that nature, but obviously racing Superbike at the top level against the top guys, it’s not an inexpensive sport. The series needs smaller teams like us. Having factory Yamaha there is awesome and having factory Suzuki there is awesome, as well, but you can’t forget about small guys like us. Not having sponsors to start the season is extremely frustrating as a team owner. But, at the same time, we’re not going to try to let it deter us. We’re going to prevail. But the team is always looking for support sponsors to get through a weekend. Anything and everything does help. That’s kind of what I want to stress is that not a lot of people understand that, without teams like Omega Moto, the series would just be a couple of factory bikes on the grid. I don’t ever want to see that. I want to see 20-plus bikes on the grids.
This weekend at AFM, there had to have been, like, 50 bikes on the grid for the second race on Sunday. There were a ton of people in the Open Superbike race, and in Formula Pacific there were a ton of people there, too. I want to see that in MotoAmerica. I really want to see huge grids back in Superbike. But, with the state of sponsors, I’m not certain if that’s going to happen because some teams can’t make it. Having teams like me go broke because we can’t find sponsors is frustrating.
I guess I just want to stress that the team’s always looking for sponsors. We’re not looking for the big, top-dollar sponsors, but any level of sponsorship definitely helps out just to continue our great journey. I definitely feel Cam Peterson is going to be a fighter this year. I think Cory is going to learn a lot from Cam, and they’ve really bonded. So, me personally, I think those two boys together, I think we can really do a whole lot. I think 2020 is going to be a big season for Cory Ventura. I think Cam Peterson this year is going to give Mathew Scholtz a run for his money and a few other guys runs for their money, as well. Jake Lewis and Kyle Wyman and Jake Gagne. I think we’ve got a Superbike and a rider with which we can produce some great results this year. I’m looking forward to it.