Pulpmx: First off, in Supercross I spoke to you a couple times probably right around the time where you weren’t making any mains and you did say you wished you’d raced 250 Supercross. Do you still wish you had raced 250 Supercross?
Phil Nicoletti: I kind of do because if I just look at the times behind the gate that I’ve had the past four years, I’ve maybe only raced 11 total Supercross. Just from being hurt, and having not such good teams and bikes… So my gate time really wasn’t there. And then the fact of me lining up for a 450 Supercross in the most stacked year ever, everybody’s always on you, it’s just like… I don’t know; I kind of didn’t have the confidence for it. A lot of it played mentally and it just kind of got to me.
Right. But having said that at the end of the supercross year you were on a roll, doing well.
Yeah. I was stoked that a got a few more top tens, maybe a 9th or 10th here or there to keep racing. But just had a couple of little dumb mistakes and it is what it is. But I still think it’s pretty successful. Where I was mentally and physically to where I finished the year, I was pretty happy.
How old are you?
Do you feel like this is the best you’ve ever ridden?
Phil showed some serious speed on the Eleven-10 Mods team in supercross last season. Photo by Lissimore
You’ve always had speed. You just haven’t been putting it all together until now huh?
Yeah, and that’s the thing. I think it’s all coming together. This is the most I’ve practiced consistently in the past five years.
Why is that?
Just because, like I said, the teams I was on, just not having practice bike programs and stuff like that. When you’re a professional athlete it comes down to a practice bike program. If you don’t have that and you can’t put your time in on the bike during the week, and then you’re going to the races on the weekend and going against Pro Circuit and GEICO… The start’s really impossible when they’ve got so many more hours logged into on the bike. It’s just running my head into the wall. Now that I finally got everything laid out from training and riding and keeping it consistent, it’s just… I’m not where I want to be yet but I’m way ahead of where I was.
Talking about Eleven-10 Mods a little bit, that’s where you first kind of got some prominence. Guys like you though, when you come out of amateurs, you only get so many shots before people write you off. Early on when you first turned pro, what was that like? What were the struggles like?
It was just hard. I was on the Motosport Kawasaki Team. I was with some elite riders, Tommy Hahn and those guys. I was kind of the new guy. I didn’t have much experience. Supercross really didn’t go well. Had a couple crashes, hurt my knee. By the time outdoors come around, I wasn’t that good but by the end of the year I finally started getting some top tens and whatnot, but by that time all the riders are signed. So it was kind of hard. And then the next year you kind of take what you can get and I didn’t get much. The team ran out of money. Their bike program wasn’t very good. It was just a struggle, and it was three years like that.
What did you do after Motosport Kawasaki?
I went to Team Solitaire with Ryan Clark. It was just tough. They all try their best to what they have, but our sport’s a money-driven sport and when you don’t have money to have the parts or the bikes needed it’s virtually impossible. In 2010 I was lucky enough to have some support by KTM with the Alessi’s and finally got back on track and put in a successful Supercross season, which I believe was still my first rookie season. And I was able to get an 8th overall.
That was when you were just in the van, right?
Yeah, that was me and old VarnDog, Terry Varner, getting her done in the sprinter van. And honestly that was probably the funnest and best year I’ve ever had. I loved that guy. But it was consistent, program was solid, right down to the T, and Factory KTM gave me a shot to ride a couple races here and there. It was awesome. That led on to going to Australia which I kind of still wish I was in Australia, but kind of a bummer.
That was the work visa stuff that you didn’t really take care of, right?
That wasn’t my part. So now I’m at where I’m at now and so far so good.
Phil's broken into the top ten a few times this outdoor season and that's quite an accomplishment. Photo by Cudby
The KTM year, that’s when I first started writing about you because you were good, and I knew you were in a van. So what you were doing was pretty good. The Eleven-10 seasons… Look, I love Chad, you love Chad. He’s a good guy. There’s no doubt that at times that program, we love the underdog-ness of it but it had to get at times pretty bleak. Was there a low point with them where you wondered if it was worth it?
Yeah. It was hard because sometimes there was a high and then there was a low, and then you get a high… It’s just a roller coaster ride. So you really didn’t know, just like, oh it was a good day, so let’s go to the next weekend. And then that one just atomic bomb would go off. And the next weekend we’re okay. It’s just another thing, and like I said, there really wasn’t a whole lot of money there. Chad was trying to do the whole program on his own and help from one of my doctor friends who owns St Lawrence Radiology. It was just tough, especially having two riders. It came to a point where I just couldn’t stand not finishing. I was putting in the work during the week and going through a weekend and just having it crumble. And people honestly outside the team really don’t know why or what happened when they see me pushing me off a bike. You don’t know if it’s because of me or if I crashed or whatever the deal is.
I didn’t know you that well but I heard from people that you over-revved the bike too much. You didn’t shift it. I heard that you would have jacked up any bike out there. I’m not saying I believe that but that’s just the stuff that goes around. All of a sudden now it’s Phil Nicoletti’s fault. That’s the way these things work.
Yeah, and that’s the thing; it’s weird about the industry. Sometimes it gets flipped. But things that were happening to the bike weren’t even related to not shifting a bike. Whatever could have been that broke on the bike, I broke it last year. Just dumb stuff. It’s just frustrating and then being sad, we just kind of had a talk. I just said, “Hey, I want to do a 450.” He didn’t want to support a 450 deal so I took it in my own hands. JGR built me a motor and I ran a 2011 450. They got one of my buddy’s bike and it was fast enough for me. I went out there and did it on my own.
St Lawrence Radiology, they’ve had a big part in you getting the ride on N-Fab Team. Who is this guy? Why does he like you so much? Talk about that a little bit.
I met him back when I was an amateur. Beginning of 2006, at the end of 2005, he just came up to me at Broome-Tioga. We were there in New York. It was the championship race. His name is Dr. Moresea and he came and gave me his business card and said, “If you ever need anything give me a call.” Well, a couple months went by and I was all battered and broke a wrist and this and that. I called him to see if he could help me out. And from then on we became best friends. Now his family and my family, we’re family friends.
My sister went to college up there and now she’s working for the New York Yankees, so it’s awesome. I wouldn’t be here without him. My road would have ended three years ago. But he’s supported me year after year. And that’s the thing, I wish people in the sport would kind of cater to people like this who do stick around. It’s hard. I wish the sport wasn’t like that.
There’s really nothing in it for him for all this stuff he’s done for you. There’s a little bit of stuff, but probably not.
No, absolutely nothing. For him motocross is nothing. And that’s why it’s good for him to stick around. He’s just an enthusiast of the sport, which a lot of people that are into it they just like dirt bikes. They really can’t get anything out of it from radiology company standpoint. He just loves the sport.
Nicoletti's coming close to getting a highly paid salary ride, people have to be noticing him out there. Cudby photo
I do feel like, not patting myself on the back here, but I was the only guy writing “Nicoletti’s going fast, but he broke, he crashed, he broke, he crashed…” I was telling people that this guy is running up front with GEICO bikes and PC bikes or whatever, but no one’s noticing because he can’t finish. That’s tough.
And I understand from sponsors and teams how that goes, but what’s one moto, one shot really going to do? It’s not just me that is like that. I live and I train every day with Alex Martin. He’s the same way. He works harder than me sometimes; it’s unbelievable. Just because he gets a reputation that he can’t ride Supercross, or skim whoops or something dumb it just gets overshadowed. It’s just difficult. I understand, three, four years go by and I don’t really do nothing but one moto here and one moto there. Honestly to sponsors I don’t think it really means much, or teams.
Did you have any reservations about riding a YZ450 like some guys? And how do you like the bike?
No. Honestly I love my 450. Everybody that I heard I say it was bad bike were smaller guys, but I look at the Euros and they’re all bigger guys, (Gauthier) Paulin, and (Davi) Millsaps. They’re all bigger guys in stature. It’s seriously the fastest 450 I’ve ever ridden. So for me, I love the bike. I actually have no negative downfalls over it whatsoever.
You and Zach Osborne are buddies. How’d you meet Zach?
I met Zach in 1999 at Frozen Ocean, it’s a track in upstate New York. We were there for a regional. And he showed up in his big old fancy trailer.
Because he’s a rockstar…
Yeah. My 65, me and my old man are sleeping in our pickup truck. And Zach and I went out there and we battled for six motos. Ever since then we became kind of friends. He was always kind of like a nervous kid, so he’s always a little bit standoffish. And I didn’t even know because he never really did go to the races with his dad, it was just his mechanic Al Albiker. But I thought Al was his dad.
So did I!
I didn’t know for about three years later. There really was no resemblance…
I’m with you, because I was at KTM in the 2000‘s and he was the golden child of KTM. He was the only amateur that was riding them. And yeah, I would see him and I just thought Al was his dad. Who knew?
Yeah, it was weird. And then somehow Zach and I always kept buddies between the Stroupe and Izzi amateur days. It was kind of cool.
Talk about how much you hate Southern California.
This is probably why I won’t get a ride next year because you’re saying I hate California so much.
Nah, it’s ok. You just don’t like it, right?
Yeah. Honestly I don’t think many riders even like it at all. Honestly unless you’re born and raised there… I just don’t understand it. It’s terrible scenery. It’s just highways and desert. Yeah, you have mountains but it’s not like you wake up and they’re right there or whatever. I was never a fan of it. When I first hung out there in ’06 I was just like, man, what’s all the hype about California? It never grew on me, ever. I just could never wait to get back to the East Coast.
Phil's from New York and if you meet him, you'll know it. Photo by Lissimore
Your Twitter has documented that. I don’t know how much you’re making this year money-wise, but the guys you’re racing against are all probably making more money than you. Does it cause you to have a chip on your shoulder? Does it help you?
No. That’s probably why you think I’m so angry all the time, but it’s always been like that. It’s always been an uphill battle. And even if I do get to that point someday I’m sure I’ll always be wanting more. So, yeah, it bugs me. It doesn’t really bother me; they deserve every penny that they get, without a doubt. It’s just they got a couple more breaks than I did and they might have picked things up a little faster, got on better teams, small things that made a difference. It does; people don’t think that but it really does. I just in the wrong time at the wrong time and the rest is history. I can’t look back on the past. I can only look to next year and a couple races. So we’ll see what happens.
I’m guessing though that this year with 450 Supercross and the way you’ve been doing this is probably the most financially rewarding year you’ve had in pro moto?
Yeah, you still don’t make very much money.
No, you’re not getting rich but this is probably the best year?
Yeah. I guess you can say that. I don’t get a salary. I really don’t get any bonuses. Bonuses from sponsors and stuff are top three only. Kinda stinks. Supercross is okay and afterwards is so-so, but good enough to try and get out there and make it.