BILLY LANINOVICH | MOLDING TOMORROW’S RACERS
Every generation, there are only a handful of riders that posses a naturally smooth riding style that ultimately leads them to success in motocross racing. Billy Laninovich fits into that category, as he obtained several podium finishes and race wins throughout his career. The 32 year old now focuses his efforts to today’s young amateur racers by showing them the things he’s learned through his successful career, ultimately aiming for a more well rounded and smarter crop of future pros. We caught up with Lano to discuss one of his unique training tools and to get his impression on today’s racing.
Photos: Chris Kimball
So Billy, what are you up to these days?
Going out to the hills when it rains. Maybe even throw a few whips (laughs). My job during the week, though, is heading up my motocross school, Lano MX Training. I'm at the local tracks three to five days a week working with my riders. The amateur nationals are coming up so I'm keeping them focused as we prepare for those races.
Like you said, you're a motocross coach for a number of kids. Do you have a set schedule as far as how many days a week you'll work with them or does it vary week to week?
It varies every week. Sometimes I'll be at the track three days a week and other times I'll be out there seven days a week. Most of my full-time riders, though, are two to three days a week and I've got roughly six full-timers. Then I've got kids that'll work with me once a week or once a month. A few of them even a couple times a year, too. In total, I've got around 50 different riders.
Riding in the hills is one of the things you're known for. Are you excited now that it's almost winter? We should be expecting a good amount of rain, too, right?
Stoked! I've taken a lot of time off the bike, and today is actually my third time riding in quite a while. I rode a 250 two-stroke for you guys a while back, then I did a photoshoot on the 2016 Husqvarnas and now I'm out here for the 2016 Honda CRF250R intro. So in the last five months, I've only ridden those three times. I just got my 2016 450 from Escondido Cycle Center on Saturday, so I'm getting it all prepped and ready to go, right now. It looks like the tracks are going to be flooded tomorrow, so maybe you can catch me in the hills (laughs).
Let's talk about those whips of yours. Since you're an instructor, have you given whip lessons to any of your students?
(Laughs) Whipping is something that's incredibly hard to teach. I get a lot of 50+ vet riders that ask me to teach them how to do whips. That's all they want to learn, and I have to tell everyone of them, no. Only because of safety reasons, though. Most of them can jump, but they want to learn how to do whips over a jump that's 25-30 feet and that's not nearly enough hang time to do it. It's really just committing, leaning the bike over and pulling. Then bringing the bike back is a whole different scenario. It's nearly impossible to teach someone how to whip. A scrub is different, though. If the rider is at a certain skill set, then yeah, you can teach them how to scrub. Teaching someone how to whip is out of the question, for me.
You recently posted a clip from the best whip contest for the Sycuan Casino a few years back. Have you done many since then?
The only best whip contests that I've done were X-Games in 2012, the Sycuan Casino contest in 2013 and then Monster Energy Cup in 2014. Last year I was hurt and I don't even know if they're planning on doing it again this year.
If the occasion presented itself, would you be up for another whip contest?
I actually pulled the plug on hitting ramps and stuff like that. However, now that I'm starting to ride a little more often I'm starting to get my confidence back, so we'll see what the future holds.
As you mentioned, your work week varies. Do you get much time to go out and ride for fun anymore?
I do, yeah. I go through my ups and downs with riding, though. Like I said earlier, I've only ridden those few times in the last five months, but honestly, I haven't had much desire to ride. I do this every year, though. So it's not like I'm getting burnt on dirt bikes or anything like that. Sometimes I get out and ride with my riders, too, so that's always fun. When it rains, though, I'm nowhere near a track because I'm up in the hills. I put maybe 40 hours on my bike in a year, so I don't do a whole lot of riding.
So sometimes you'll literally work with your students as you ride, too?
Yeah, I do. It's much more fun for me that way (laughs). Each way of instructing have it's pros and cons, though. It's good for my riders to be able to watch me go through a corner, as they can watch my technique. And when I'm on the sidelines I can watch them and explain to them what they're doing right or wrong and what they need to fix. Again, there's good and bad to actually riding with them. If a guy calls me and asks that I ride with him during a lesson, though, then I totally will. If I'm riding a lot, then I'll just bring my bike out and ride with the boys.
What do you think of the racing these days compared to when you were lining up on a weekly basis? Does it seem even more stacked now days? Maybe even faster?
The speeds are definitely quicker because the bikes are much faster. When I first turned pro, I was riding two-strokes and a few months ago when I rode that 250 two-stroke for you guys it was definitely fast. Then I got back on my 450 and it was unbelievable how fast they are these days. So yeah, the riders are going way faster. I don't think the competition is any tougher, I just think the equipment is getting better every year. Evolution of these bikes is crazy when it comes to handling now, too. All of that added together makes for much more speed. Especially the guys on 450s. That's a lot of power and frankly, it's scary and it's getting downright dangerous. But when you're at that level, you do it every single day so you're completely comfortable going that speed.
Once you retired from racing for good, did you ever miss it enough to contemplate another return?
In 2009 when I quit, it was because I got injured. Plus I was kind of over it. I was over the injuries, the ups and downs and not to mention the mental side of it all. You put in so much hard work and when the results aren't there, it's tough. It's really hard mentally and emotionally. Then I got offered to come back in 2012 with Jentronix racing. I had about two and a half years off and nearly finished seventh in the championship. I was stoked on that since I had been on the couch for so long and I pretty much had to race myself back into shape. I was really excited for 2013 and I was feeling so good on the bike during the week. My times were up there with all of the top guys and then everything kind of fell apart. The owner of the team got really sick, which halted all of the finances for the race team. I could have had a contract with the Troy Lee Designs team, but I put it on hold because I wanted to get my own deal going. I was pretty upset during that time because I was really looking forward to racing again, but now that I look back, it might have been meant to be because I could have gotten really hurt or something like that. I'm 32 years old now, and I think I still have what it takes to race, but you have to step back and ask yourself, "Is it worth it?" and "What do I have to prove?" For me, the risk vs. reward isn't worth it anymore. Now I get to work with a solid group of kids, as I show them the ropes of what I learned throughout my career and I couldn't have done it without everyone at Toyota Of Escondido, Escondido Cycle Center, Jentronix, Split Designs, LKI, Troy Lee Designs, Bill's Pipes, Gaerne, Flo Motorsports, Rad Manufacturing, Spy, The Factory Metal Works, Dunlop, Maxima and Baja Designs.