Mike Brown Unplugged: Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick

By the time I arrived in Johnson City, Tennessee, I felt more inner peace than I'd enjoyed in a long time. There was just something about driving through the eastern Tennessee countryside that made me feel welcome. I think it was partly due to the fact my father spent some of his childhood on a farm in the area, so I'd been there visiting relatives during my earlier years. It was more than that, though; maybe it was the warm afternoon light on lush green pastures, or maybe it was because every little town I passed through made me feel as though I were touring the pages of Better Homes and Gardens. The whole area was full of clean, comforting energy, and my thirsty Los Angeles soul was eager to soak it all in.I woke up tired at about 8:30 the next morning (that's 5:30 a.m. in California), so I was feeling a bit out of it when I picked up the phone to call Mike Brown. His easygoing attitude just made me more excited to interview him.Mike was just finishing up his morning workout at the gym, so I agreed to meet him in front of the Carrows restaurant next to the hotel I was staying at. I got there a little early, so I kept staring at every person who drove by in anticipation. I recognized him immediately when he finally rolled up. Actually, it was his black van with bike racks and Mike Brown stickers that gave him away. He stepped out of the car, and it was good to see Mxracer test rider Timmy Weigand get out with him. Mike invited Timmy to stay and train with him when they met earlier in the year at a Southern California practice track. After a quick handshake, we headed inside for some grub.Breakfast was spent bench racing. That was one of the best parts of the trip. I've always loved hanging with my buddies, talking about racing and telling exaggerated tales of heroic events. And gabbing away with Mike made me feel like I was with my boys back home, except for the fact that he's a national champion and one of the most intense racers in the world. He really is incredibly laid back, though, and he probably asked more questions about me than I did him. Just like my drive the day before, Mike Brown made me feel right at home.They had the whole day planned out. The first thing on the list was to go to Mike's house so we could load up their bikes and head for his private practice track. When we pulled into Mike's driveway, I was impressed; but my jaw nearly hit the floor as soon as we walked into the house. Mike is living well! He took me on a tour of his place, and it was a little spooky, because it's just way too tastefully done to be the home of a dirt biker. About halfway through the house we found Mike's wife, Missy, and his new baby boy, Brandon. After meeting Missy, the whole classy house thing made sense. I guess it's possible Mike could have a flair for interior design, but I'll bet Missy provided most of the guidance.After a few minutes chatting with Missy, Mike ushered me along to see the rest of his pad. He showed me his closet, and it doesn't look like he'll have to wash a pair of socks until mid-2004. Brandon's room was awesome. Missy hired an artist to paint murals of Mike riding on the walls to give the baby something cool to look at while he chills in his crib. Eventually, we made our way up to the top floor, and Mike showed me where Timmy was staying. I laughed out loud. The Browns' house is full of large guest rooms, and Timmy chose a room with a small twin bed. It only struck me as funny because Timmy's not exactly the biggest dude around. Actually, he's only a couple of notches above Mini-Me stature, so he probably felt comfortable in that little bed. I guess you don't see birds building nests the size of swimming pools, or rabbits digging holes nine feet around. Mike and I had a good laugh over that one.After the tour, it was time to get down to business, so we made our way down to the shop to load up the bikes. Mike rolled open the shop door, and the inside looked more like a bicycle racer's garage. Mike is an avid cyclist, so his bicycle collection is insane. He had to swap out a carb from one practice bike to another, so after some quick bike work, we were all loaded up and ready to motor.After about a 30-minute drive, we pulled up to the gates of Mike's private track. At first, all I could think of was how bummed I was because I wasn't going to be riding. The track is ridiculous; with a little grooming, it would make most National tracks look weak. Lap times are over three minutes, and the red-dirt circuit flows up and down the hillside it sits on. There are spots here and there where riders disappear into the darkness of shade trees only to come flying out of the shadows floating gracefully over one of the track's many jumps.Mike and Timmy put in a hard 40-minute moto while I shot some photographs. It was hard to shoot because I really just wanted to watch Mike carve laps. Watching a rider of Mike's caliber ride up close and personal was a sweet experience. Off the track, he is incredibly mellow, but you can see a chained intensity in his eyes. As soon as he climbs aboard a motorcycle, the bridle snaps and he becomes the perfect image of aggression. He squeezes, slams and pins his Kawasaki KX125 through rough sections with a kind of deep hatred, and caresses it smoothly through the air over every jump. I could see his eyes every time he passed me, always looking focused and relentless. There was a moment when I felt as though I was really inside his world-it was an incredible moment I wish all motocross fans could experience.The afternoon became hot and humid, so I was drenched in sweat and felt fairly sapped after running from one spot to another trying to capture images. It made me realize how fit Mike and Timmy are. Those guys still looked pretty fresh after 40 minutes of heart-pounding motocross, which was a good thing because they still had to do a bicycle race they'd planned to enter that same afternoon. We headed back to Mike's place so he and Timmy could get ready for their road-bike session.I wasn't about to embarrass myself by trying to keep up with those guys on a bicycle, so I decided to hang out at the house while they did their thing. I spent some time in Mike's office working on my laptop. Actually, I probably spent more time checking out all of the memorabilia on the walls. It made me realize how easy it is to forget the scope of Mike's career. He's been earning a paycheck racing for a long time. The success of his European career is respectable in its own right, so maybe it's due to the fact that he spent several years overseas that it seems more difficult to keep a true perspective on his career. When you combine his accomplishments there with his 125 national championship and the No. 3 plate he's earned, it becomes obvious he's had one of the strongest careers of any American racer in motocross history.Mike and Timmy returned a couple of hours later, and this time they both looked pretty exhausted. It was late in the evening, and we were all feeling tired and hungry. I waited for the boys to clean up so we could grab a bite before I hit the highway back to Knoxville. By the time we sat down to eat it was 9:30 p.m., just a little more than twelve hours from the time I first called Mike at the gym earlier that morning. That should give you a good idea of how hard some racers work.That final meal really gave me a feel for the kind of people the Browns are. Mike and Missy have a genuine kindness about them, and I felt totally at home hanging out with them. We talked about everything from the high cost of living in California to Mike's strategy for winning a title, to what Mike's going to do for a ride next year. They were both totally candid-it was cool they trusted me enough to talk openly. I was enjoying the conversation so much I didn't want to leave, even though I'd had very little sleep and still had a two-hour drive back to the hotel at the airport. However, yawns started spreading like wildfire, so I said my final goodbyes to Mike, Missy, Timmy and little Brandon. Mike led me to the interstate and gave me a farewell with his brake lights as he turned back into the night.Fireflies sparkled along the dark roadside as I reflected on the day on my way back to Knoxville. I felt really good about the whole trip. Missy had even offered to put me up for the night-so far in my experience that's a rarity. The Browns were so nice, so humble I almost had to ask myself if they were for real. After thinking about it for a few more minutes, I came to realize their calm country way was actually more straightforward and more real than the attitudes most of us city folk are use to dealing with.How old were you when you turned pro? I turned pro locally when I was 16, but didn't race nationally until I was 18.Did you do the whole amateur thing and work your way up through the ranks? Yes, I used to do Loretta's; I won there a couple of times.Who were your rivals back then? I raced with Ryno (Ryan Hughes), McGrath, Phil Lawrence and lot of other guys who aren't around anymore. Ryno and MC were good ones, they were Team Green guys ... all of us were.I understand you recently spent a few days at Ricky Carmichael's house training. I've been going there for the past three or four years. When you're out there riding with the best it has to help you. I train really hard, but he does a lot of riding. Training there has probably helped me more than anything.Does it get competitive at all? It does! When we're on the bicycles, we like to race and have fun. That's how we push each other.Do you think RC would still be cool about letting you come down there and train if you were racing the 250 class?Yeah, they've already said I can come next year, and I'm going to be riding the 250 class in Supercross. I think we're past that, we're good friends and I would never do anything to bother his racing program. I can't see that being a problem.You said Ricky's helped you a lot, and now you have Timmy Weigand here training with you. Does it feel good to pass along a little knowledge?Yeah, for sure. He's a nice kid, he tries hard, so it's nice to help him out. When I'm at home by myself I have no one to ride with me. That's why I always like to go to Ricky's.I noticed he did a good job mowing your lawn, too.(Laughs) Like I said, he tries hard, and he'll do anything to help you. I've only known him for maybe a month, and it seems like I've known him forever. He's one of the hardest workers I've trained with besides Ricky.Has anybody else ever come to stay with you to train?No, Timmy's the first guy to come ride with me. I usually just train by myself or go to Ricky's. I think I like to keep to myself more than most people, but Timmy's a quiet guy, so he's like me and not one of those guys who's all about his image. I like quiet guys and hard workers.In your opinion, how has your outdoor season gone so far?It started off really well. The first couple of races went well, and I'm still in the points lead after five races. So far I've hung in there, and even at my bad races I've still earned points. I've had a few problems with my starts, but hopefully I'll get better so I can get up there and race with Stewart.Will you lay it all out to try and beat Stewart, or will you try to ride conservatively to win the championship?If I get a start with him, I'm going to race with him. I'd like to beat him fair and square, but my main thing is finishing ahead of Langston, so I can get as many points as I can to be where I want to be at the end of the year. For me, it's all about being consistent.How is racing with Langston? Is there any leftover bad blood between you and him? Well, I don't know. I think we're past the battle we had two years ago, but I'm sure if it comes down to the end with the points, there will be.What happened with Ryan Hughes throwing punches at you at Budds Creek?It was a big thing for both of us. You know I might have bumped him to get it all started, but I wasn't trying to take him out or hurt him because his leg was hurt. I was trying to race with Ricky, and I bumped into him. He came over to me a little bit, so I think he was more aggravated because his leg is hurt. He's upset because it's affecting his championship chances, and that's a big deal. I was just trying to go fast in practice, and I came into him. It was a bad deal.Rubbing's racing sometimes, right?(Laughs) That's right! Yeah, it is. I don't care to do it when I'm racing, but when it's in practice I don't really worry about it.Do you think the media sometimes makes those situations worse?I think so, everybody called the day after it happened. You have to watch what you say, because it can get turned around. It's over now, and I'm past it, so let's just get on to the next race.How about today's fans-do you think they get drawn into that kind of drama more than they used to?Some people like to gossip and tell this person so he can tell that person, but I don't think it's a good thing for the kids to see.How long ago did you move into the new pad?We moved in around the first of November. We're finishing up the outside of it now, and I'll be happy when we're done with it.You also have a brand-new baby boy.Yeah, he's four months and a week old. It's good, and I'm excited about the change. It doesn't really bother my racing, because my wife takes great care of him, so it's OK if I have to go to Ricky's or whatever. I have to take care of my racing first, but I'm looking forward to spending more time with him when I get older. It's always good to come home and see my wife and kid, though.So it seems like your whole life has come together for you.I went to Europe in '98 and '99 knowing it would be hard, and I was thinking two things could happen. I could do well over there and stay, or I could do well and get a ride back in the States. As soon as I started to do well over there, I started getting calls from teams in the States, so I came back and tried harder than I've ever tried. The first year back, I had good results and won the championship.How much longer do you plan on racing?Another two years, for sure. I'm not burned out at all. I'm feeling as good as I ever have, and I'm riding better than ever.How about life after racing?It would be great to be a team manager, or something like that. I might invest with a friend and buy a couple of motorcycle shops.

We think Mike may have a bicycle codependency problem.
Timmy showed us this top-secret Mike Brown original helmet paint. If Mike ever gets his hands on some yarn and glitter, Troy Lee will have to watch his ass.
Our little buddy Timmy Weigand was living large in this small Hobbit bed.
Brown won't be running white numbers in SX next season. He's pointed out of the 125 class, and he's looking forward to running with Carmichael and friends.
Mike and his baby boy, Brandon, share a moment.
Brown in a barn ... easy country living sure does seem like a nice way to go.
Brown is all business when he brings it to the race track. He's always the picture of intensity, and he's usually the first guy at the gate before a moto.