AMSOIL Arenacross Interview with Team Babbitt's Kawasaki Team Manager Denny Bartz

Three-rider lineup chases 1-2-3 finish in final Arenacross class standings

It's been a banner season of AMSOIL Arenacross competition for Team Babbitt's/Monster Energy/AMSOIL Kawasaki. After sweeping the overall podium on three separate occasions leading into the Race to the Championship, the three-rider lineup of Gavin Faith, Chris Blose, and Jacob Hayes enter Friday's Las Vegas finale at Orleans Arena guaranteed to have one of them hoist the Ricky Carmichael Cup at the end of night. Moreover, the Team Babbitt's trio is poised to end the season with a sweep of the championship podium, providing a fitting end to what has been an exceptional season.

As one of the most experienced point men in AMSOIL Arenacross, longtime team manager Denny Bartz leads the Team Babbitt's effort. The veteran team leader has guided his riders to countless victories and championships over the years, including the likes of former champions Tyler Bowers, Josh Demuth, and Chad Johnson. After coming up just short of the title last season with Hayes, Bartz added Faith into the mix for the 2016 season to complement Hayes and Blose, both of whom were entering their second season with the team. All three riders found success almost instantly and each have gone on to trade the points lead among one another on five different occasions. With the final round of the season upon them, only one will be able to walk away with his first AMSOIL Arenacross Championship.

AMSOIL Arenacross caught up with Bartz to talk about his team's incredible season and how he prepares his riders for what is sure to be a very intense battle for the Ricky Carmichael Cup.

Faith enters Las Vegas as the championship leader and brings a three-race winning streak into the Orleans Arena.
Faith enters Las Vegas as the championship leader and brings a three-race winning streak into the Orleans Arena.Photo Courtesy of AMSOIL Arenacross and ShiftOne Photography

Denny, it's been an excellent year for Team Babbitt's. Your three-rider team has been at the forefront of the championship since the opening round and now there's a strong likelihood you will end the year 1-2-3 in the championship. It's not unusual to see Team Babbitt's achieve so much success, but what are your thoughts on this incredible season?

I think a lot of it has to do with preparation. We can finish 1-2-3 [in the championship] but there's a possibility we don't. For sure one of my riders will win the championship and I think a lot of that success goes to preseason testing and being ready. Our bikes have really been awesome this year and Pro Circuit went out of their way to give us what we wanted, and it's been a big bonus. We've got what we need to win on, both with suspension and motors. The riders also prepared themselves in the offseason to be ready. Gavin came in [to the season] coming off a crash in Australia and hadn't ridden the bike until about two or three days prior to Round One, so to come away with the overall win there in Cincinnati was quite impressive in my opinion.

Can you talk about each of your riders individually and what they bring to the team? Gavin Faith finished third in the championship last season, Chris Blose has more racing experience than perhaps anyone in AMSOIL Arenacross, and Jacob Hayes has been knocking on the door of a championship for the last couple seasons. What makes them so successful in your opinion?

I'll start with Jacob. He's the kind of rider that does his work at home during the week. He always comes in here [to the races] ready to go. He had a great start to the season but struggled a little bit with settings midway through [the championship] and was kind of chasing that a little bit. He got that figured out and now he's back on track. That cost him a few points here and there, but he's just one of those riders that you don't have to worry about whether he's going to show up to race or not. He comes 100-percent ready to go.

Chris is a veteran. It's kind of funny because years ago he raced against us [at other events] and I kind of always had my eye on him. I never really made the attempt to hire him just because I figured if he wasn't around [in AMSOIL Arenacross], then it just meant we wouldn't have to race against him. But I always knew he could win races and I knew he could be a threat for the championship. A couple years ago I talked to him and we made a deal. He came in and he's doing exactly what I thought he was capable of. It seems like the bigger the whoops on the track, the better Chris does. He's a great whoops rider and it definitely pays off for him.

Gavin was someone I watched a lot last year. One thing I look for in a rider is not only an ability to pull the holeshot and win races, but also an ability to get a bad start and come through the pack to get on the podium. That's what Gavin was capable of doing last year. He had a few incidents with Jacob [Hayes] and some crashes here and there, but I watched him week in and week out and he's one of those guys that can come from eighth or tenth and still be on the podium. That's tough to do in Arenacross as tight as the tracks are. Sometimes the only area we have to pass is in the whoops or be really aggressive by pushing somebody out of a turn. That's what I liked about Gavin. His ability to do just that, come from a bad start to a good finish. With the two Main Event format that kind of works in your favor. It gives you another opportunity to get a good start. That's one thing all three of my guys are good at. They may have one bad Main Event, but they'll almost always have one good Main Event as well, which puts us close to being on the podium.

Consistency is extremely important in AMSOIL Arenacross, particularly with the Race to the Championship. Your riders have seemed to always be there in contention for the win and the podium every week. In your opinion, how are they always able to put themselves in that position?

I think a lot of it has to do with the preseason testing, like I said before. They love their bikes and they know they're capable of winning races. They know if they put some good laps in they're going to pass people and move up front. I think a lot of it is confidence from the rider and confidence in the bike they're on. I feel like when they go to the starting line they believe they're on a bike that can win the race for them, so that's a lot of it right there.

Blose will look to overcome an eight-point deficit and secure his first career title.
Blose will look to overcome an eight-point deficit and secure his first career title.Photo Courtesy of AMSOIL Arenacross and ShiftOne Photography

Do you as the team manager, considering everything that's on the line this weekend, give them specific advice or direction? Is it every rider for himself at this point? Has it been that way the entire season?

I've talked with each of them a bit, especially Gavin and Jacob because they're teammates, but not exactly best friends and they probably never will be. But they still understand that they're on a team. I did have to talk to them once in Colorado Springs [earlier this season]. The thing is they didn't trust each other on the track, so they were kind of playing cat and mouse with one another. They were being safe, but didn't necessarily know what the other one was going to do, and in the meantime Travis Sewell ran away for the win. Obviously I wasn't too happy about that. When they're on the track they should be racing forward, not playing games with each other. That hasn't happened since and they've been good about that. I expect them to race aggressively. I definitely don't expect any of them to come in and clean them out, but at the same time there's only so many opportunities and they all want to win the championship. I understand that there's going to be some rubbing and racing, and my thoughts on that are if one rider is going faster than you on a certain day and you're holding them up, then you can expect to be hit so they can get by. I'd expect that from any rider. At the same time, there's respect between teammates and we talk amongst ourselves about things that are and aren't working on the track. I think for the most part they have respect for one another. Does that mean they won't get aggressive on Friday night? I'm sure they probably will. Each rider needs to be aware of the position they're in [in the points] and what they need to do on the track. I don't want to see anything dirty, nor do I expect to see anything dirty out of any of them.

Were you able to learn from last year's race in Las Vegas with Jacob? It remains one of the most memorable moments in AMSOIL Arenacross history. Were there lessons to take away from that experience and apply to the final round this time around?

We definitely did. I take partial responsibility for what happened last year because we were kind of in a tough spot. Jacob won the first Main Event and he's on the podium at the other end of the track when we're told that Jacob is saying he needs a new clutch. You only get about 20 minutes in between Main Events so we were scrambling around to put the new clutch in. We get the bike together and pull up to the starting line just as Jacob is finishing up all his interviews. If I could back that up and do it again I would have went up to him and told him that he doesn't have to beat Kyle [Regal], you just need to finish right behind him. I didn't do that, but I knew that so I assumed he knew it as well. I shouldn't have assumed that. I should have been telling him that. The outcome would have been different. The championship was Jacob's to lose since we went into the final race with a one-point advantage and the tiebreaker for overall wins. It's a huge regret from me on that, but we've moved forward and learned from it and 2016 has gone really, really well.

Compared to all of titles you've won in the past managing Team Babbitt's, how does this season compare? Does it stand out more than the others?

It definitely does for sure. If you go back to 2010 when we had Bowers, Demuth and Johnson we went 1-2-3 that year. I think we had 42 of 56 podiums and something like six podium sweeps. That's obviously been our best results year, but this year with new riders and competition that is increasing every year, it definitely makes me appreciate what we've accomplished that much more. We're up against some stiff competition and everyone is going fast, so a lot of the times the top 10 guys are within a half second of one another. The success we've had this year is totally awesome. I don't really know how to explain it. [Team owner] Eddie [Babbitt] is happy, I'm happy, the riders are happy. Everyone is gelling well together and it's been a good year for sure, all the way through.

The AMSOIL Arenacross Finals, featuring the fifth and final round of the Race to the Championship, from Orleans Arena will kick off Friday, May 6, at 8 p.m. PT / 11 p.m. ET.

Hayes has nothing to lose in Las Vegas as he looks to fight back from a 26-point deficit in the points.
Hayes has nothing to lose in Las Vegas as he looks to fight back from a 26-point deficit in the points.Photo Courtesy of AMSOIL Arenacross and ShiftOne Photography