Scott Motorsports: 21 Minutes, 8 Seconds with John Knowles
By:
Steve

Scott's John Knowles has been around the races for a while now

Pulpmx: How long have you been doing the Scott goggle service at the races for? And how you’d get the job?

John Knowles: This is my 9th season I believe. It all started because I was running a race track in Pennsylvania, an AMA district track. Obviously, Bevo (Forti) lives close by, and that was kind of my in. I got involved with those dudes and when I just about to graduate college, the guy that was doing the pro race support was moving on to another company. So this position became open and they offered me the job. Actually before that, while I was still running the track, I kind of went with Bevo and the crew in the Scott motorhome, and did some stuff for them, like help them sell sunglasses at the vending trailer. So I did that in outdoors of ’03 and ’04. So I guess my first season actually doing the goggle stuff was Anaheim 1, January 1st 2005.

The next week was when Chad Reed broke you in as a goggle guy?

Yeah, that’s the story we always talk about. I never wanted to really become a story like that… But it’s funny. It’s definitely funny now.

It’s not bad on Chad, it’s a guy in his second week on the job getting the ultimate break-in to a difficult job!

Yeah, it’s like way to get your bubble burst. It really shows you how you can go from being a fan one week, to being out there working with this guy, who I was like, “that Chad Reed guy’s the man.” I was a huge fan. I still am, as most people know.  As a guy that was just a fan, watching it on TV, a big fan of all those guys, and then I get to work with those dudes. It was like a dream job. And then the dude just blows my world up.

So he got sweat in his goggles is what happened, right?

Well, honestly, in my opinion, no. And I can say this now because he and I are friends and it was so long ago, but Ricky (Carmichael) hunted him down and he got 2nd I believe. I think that was just at that time period of his life where… Chad in his mind couldn’t lose. He doesn’t lose. And he’s still kind of like that. All those guys at that level, if they don’t win there’s a reason and it’s usually not because of them. It was my fault that weekend. Whether it was or wasn’t I had no problem taking blame for it. It was cool. I realized what my role was there in a hurry and what I was going to be dealing with. And obviously he and I are pretty good friends now. It progressed to be like I was sort of like his right-hand man because I would go above and beyond, whatever that dude needed to win. That’s how I always looked at it.

At that kind of level,  in any sport really, I think if any little thing can give you an advantage or make you feel more comfortable or whatever, I was willing to do that for him. Whether it was goggle related or a specific water or hold the umbrella, whatever. I just took on that role and it just kind of grew from there, to the point where I felt like I was pretty much his right-hand man. Everybody labeled it as like a “man-friend” or whatever, but at least for me I didn’t - and not to knock any of those dudes - but at least I still had my gig and that was like a supplement gig. I was the man-friend goggle guy or whatever. And you know, it’s still kind of that way now still, too. Obviously RC back in the day had his guy and James has his crew. I was proud to be in that Chad Reed group. I still am.

Well the thing for you and Chad is he’s with another goggle company now and you guys are still tight, you still talk all the time.

Yeah. And that’s really weird about our industry. Like you’re either in the circle, or you’re not, a lot of times. So for me and Chad still… and he’s at a different position in his career, obviously, but I still go over there every week. I talk to Chad numerous times throughout the week. But it’s cool that we can be friends, because a lot of people once they’re not using your product or whatever it’s just like see you later.

Like with Ryan Villopoto, but we were pretty close when he was at Pro Circuit. He went to Oakley and…we’re still “friendly”, obviously; we say hello, but not to the extent of like me and Chad are where I’ll talk to him basically about non-moto on a weekly basis. He doesn’t call me about goggles and I don’t call him and say hey, you sucked last week, or you did awesome. It’s not about the motocross part of it anymore, really. So that’s cool.

 

These goggles were prepped by John Knowles. Photo by Lissimore

Who do you build goggles for? Who are the guys that are getting John Knowles’ attention?

Pro Circuit, Trey Canard, Andrew Short, and then right now in motocross/supercross, I’m helping out on a significant level Dylan Epstein, Dakota Tedder, Zack Freeberg and his teammate Ryan Zimmer, the JAB guys (Lemoine, Audette, and Martin). And then it trickles down a little bit. And this is how the sport works, and how any sport really works, there’s the elite level and then there’s the sort-of elite level, then there’s the guys that are helping as much as I can with the amount of time that I have, then there’s also the guys that I’m helping as much as I can with the amount of resources that I have. So a big percentage of the guys out there are still wearing Scott, just at many different levels of support. I may not be able to hands-on build their stuff every week but I’m there if they need product or help with something.  Scott has always prided themselves on race support.

Most of my readers know I do the EXS Brand Goggle stuff a little bit. You’re a full-time goggle guy, but the more you get into it the more you begin to see it’s a competitive industry.

And you and Weege would always bust my balls, but for me, and I’ve told people this before, it’s basically the only thing I know. It’s my way of still being competitive on the track, I guess you could say. Competition’s good, man, it keeps you motivated. I sometimes take it too far, and I can admit that. 

Just the other day on our text message JT was talking about Fly and we threw at him, Okay, Knowles. So you’re the standard for that!

For taking it too far?

Yeah.

But there’s something to be said about that. But then also at the same time it’s like my wife says to me, you have an unbelievable job in an industry that you love; why do you let it piss you off, or be negative about any of it? You should be pumped every day to be working in this industry. And I am, but as you have learned, there are things that happen that just frustrate you. And you can’t really explain unless you’re invested like we are.

I agree. I’ve found this out and it’s gnarly. It’s a little bit tough. Easiest guy you’ve ever worked with?

Oh, they are all easy (laughs)

For example, Ben Lamay runs EKS Brand and he doesn’t even use all four I give him.

Yeah, there’s a couple. But there’s a definite difference between the elite level guys that are easy and the other dudes that are easy.

Easiest elite level guy, let’s say.

I’ve got a couple. Back in the day, when I first started, the riders had a different mentality.  Like Mike LaRocco, Timmy Ferry… those dudes were just… I didn’t even come into their realm of focus you know? You just put a goggle on, you went out. And I’m not talking about it just because you’re so tight with him, but Timmy actually kind of progressed. I think I made him a little bit more conscious of goggles, because I would always be like, “hey, what’s up? Oh, you got a little bit of sweat.” He was just like, what the hell are you talking about? But then over time of just constantly talking about those things he became conscious of them. A guy like Stanton used to say “if you don’t see sweat on your lens, you’re not working hard enough.”  Just kind of shows you the way those old school guys prioritized things.

But more recent dudes, Andrew Short is pretty easy. And you just got to figure a dude that’s that much down to earth, he’s going to roll like that. And the thing about Andrew that’s really cool is like,  if he did have an issue, it would go like this “Oh, hey, Knowles,” after the race, between just him and I. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do it at this level. Short does it the right way. I don’t have any guys that I’m just bummed on. But everybody has their own little quirks or whatever. As long as you stay consistent, that’s the thing. And that’s what I always try to do for these guys, is be consistent, have a routine. They know what they’re going to get every time. That’s helped me quite a bit.

So the hardest dude was Chad?

Again, I don’t want to really throw him under the bus…

It’s ok, he'll never read this.

Yeah, he definitely knew what he wanted out of the goggle. And again, I don’t want to make this sound like a pitch of Scott or whatever, but he single-handedly made our product better. We used a lot of the R&D, which that ultimately the goal of racing supposedly, and you can attest to this as a mechanic, but we use it to make our stuff better. I don’t think everybody necessarily does that; we definitely do it. The production goggle you can buy off the shelf right now, it’s basically all Chad Reed’s input. And then there’s a guy who isn’t necessarily picky but uses a goggle hard, like Tyla Rattray, he knows what he needs to be successful.

 

This man is very, very serious about goggles. Photo courtesy of Racer X

How’s Mitch Payton to deal with?

I can go on and on. When I first started, it was a different vibe over there than it is today.  Keep in mind though, that was 9 years ago. Mitch was in a whole different point in his life.  He’s married now, has twin boys, etc. You didn’t go into the truck unless you had a reason. It definitely was no romper room. Everybody stayed in the hospitality area. Today, its much more relaxed over there. So, Mitch has definitely, let’s say eased a little bit as far as what happens around the semi. Now, that shouldn’t let anyone think that he’s changed his mentality on winning, or how bad the dude wants to win, EVERYTHING! You know he knows gnarly.

It’s a cliche, but it’s really true. Very upset after a crappy race…

Sure. Any main event where a Pro Circuit guy doesn’t win, or get on the podium really, you can see it in his face. That dude’s fuming. There’s steam coming out of his ears. So, all that being said, he still runs a tight ship. I’m really proud of myself and Scott for being a part of that success and drive to win.

But didn’t he switch to Spy for a couple of years?

Yeah but Scott made them! Two years I think, Nick Wey was there so I don’t know the year exactly. The goggles were still Scott goggles but were Spy branded. So they basically Scott 89s with a Spy strap. Same tear-offs, same lens. Bevo actually still built them.We don’t do it anymore but back then, when PC wore them for a short stint, we did.

Mitch chose Scott a long, long time ago. Before Bevo was ever hired by Scott, while Mitch was riding his own desert racing he wore Scott. And I couldn’t tell you the name of his rep, but it was before Bevo.  So that’s a hell of a long time ago. And then also when he first started Anaheim Husky, they also wore Scott. Then Bevo came along; Bevo and Mitch became friends and it kind of snowballed from there. But except for those two years where Scott was making the Spy goggle and everybody thought at the time that it would be a good idea to maybe have the Pro Circuit just be different, Pro Circuit racing has been exclusively Scott.   

Mike Alessi is wearing EKS Brand and he’s out there holeshotting motos and leading motos. I definitely get a little nervous or whatever, like I hope I didn’t eff up- this is every race for you. There’s some pressure.

Well, it used to be a little bit more. (laughs)

With Canard, Shorty, or PC, even if they’re not winning they’re still top 3 or 5 or whatever.

Yeah. I’ve gotten a little bit better at dealing with it or whatever, but there was a time, like when you are in the hunt for every championship or whatever. The pressure is definitely there. I saw it in Hedgie from Oakley in SLC because he’s invested and RV’s trying to clinch the thing.  It’s just a huge sigh of relief almost every time the checkered flag comes out. And it’s not because we have bad product, not because the guys have a ton of goggle issues. It’s more just like you don’t want to be that reason, especially when you’re such a minuscule part of the program as a whole.  

Mechanics, and teams you guys spend so much time and money. When you were wrenching for Timmy and I was building Timmy’s goggles, if something happened to the goggle and it cost you guys your race, I would feel terrible.  I would be crushed. It just puts a level of stress that, like I said, I take it a little too serious I think sometimes.

You get into it and you have pressure. And also, you do Motocross des Nations every year. Basically one of the guys is wearing Scotts almost all the time.

Well we have been fortunate that Mitch fields a pretty badass team every year!

So Lommel last year, was that high on the stress level?

Yeah, because I had built it up in my mind anyway. Like Southwick is already bad enough and this is so much worse than Southwick.  Not even the same ballpark really.  Luckily we got some rain and that always helps the goggle guys at a sand track. I was definitely sweating that place, and the world exposure the race brings with it. But there are places that are worse for goggles. People don’t believe this but Glen Helen, Washougal… Washougal is so bad, not only because of that black silt dust they get, but the rocks and the ridiculously hard roost. Hangtown’s pretty tough. And plus dudes are just not used to getting blasted in the outdoors yet. They come into that and they’re like, “Oh, my god…” And I was like, well, you could basically ridden in sunglasses for the past 17 weeks in supercross. Now we’re using goggles again. Now you’re using energy. You’re sweating and it’s hot and dusty and it’s just tough out there.

 

Knowles gets some coffee at the Kawasaki truck while talking about goggles. Photo by Lissimore

What’s next for you? How much longer are you going to do this job? Does the travel get to you? You just had a kid. Lots of travel, lots of commitment. People don’t realize this too but you go to the Mini O’s, you go to Loretta’s…

Yeah, I spend a lot of time on the road. I have to have the longest active streak in the industry. I haven’t missed a race in 9 and a half years or whatever, including a Des Nations, Monster Energy Cup, a Mini O’s, a Loretta Lynn’s… So it’s a lot of travel, but I really my job and I enjoy working for Scott. They’re a great company... They understand the amount of time I put on the road, and my passion for the brand and my position. There’s something to be said for that. So, I could see myself doing this for a lot longer. I don’t think that that would be maybe that healthy for me and for my family.

Like you said, there’s a high level of stress, and time away from home. We just had a baby boy and he’s only 8 months old, you start thinking about missing all those weekends at home while he’s growing up and playing sports and whatnot. At some point, I will definitely have to reevaluate what I have going on for sure. I mean, I could do this forever. I enjoy doing the job itself. I enjoy being the goggle guy. For some reason I’ve got a pretty good reputation, and I’m proud of that. I’m out there for the right reasons, I’d say. Again, I take it goggles serious.

Do you have a favorite underdog rider? There’s always that guy that you help out but maybe you shouldn’t.

Oh, for sure. Not even a doubt. You probably already know who it is.

Is it Little Goose?

Factory Phil (Nicoletti), dude. Right now. And there’s been a bunch of them over the years. You mentioned Little Goose, all of the Gooses lived here at my house a whole summer, in my driveway in a camper.  It was epic.  I definitely try to help out all those dudes. Back in the day Daniel Sani used to live at my house. I’m on the East Coast, and those guys are typically privateering it in a van or whatever and they need a central location for the Outdoors.  Somewhere to hang, somewhere to ride, eat, do laundry.  Just make them feel a little more like home and save them some money. They’re always welcome here. All of the semi drivers come to my house throughout the summer too. Shane from TwoTwo, Blue from PC, King from KTM, Chavez who drives Dungey’s motorhome…All those dudes come to my house and hang out. It’s a small industry, and I have made a lot of good friends for sure.

So Filthy would be your underdog guy…

Right now Phil’s my underdog guy. But there’s numerous dudes that I still stay in contact with and help and I won’t mention any names but they don’t always necessarily deserve the effort that I put in for them, but we go back a long way, growing up with them or I’m buddies with them or whatever. If I can help, I try my best.

I've been around you a lot, do you get hit up more for goggles or for bicycles?

That’s funny, its goggles obviously, but the amount of requests for bikes, can you give me a deal, or do you guys have these…? Our bicycle division has been growing leaps and bounds. It’s good for people to realize that we’re just not a little moto goggle company. We have a lot of stuff going on and our bikes are really, really good and people are starting to take notice. But it’s a bit frustrating because people don’t understand that it kind of works as a separate entity. It’s a different division.  I can’t just…

Bikes for everybody!

Yeah, everybody kind of sometimes thinks, “why won’t you give me a deal? I wear your goggles.” Well, dude, I would love to but they have budgets, we have budgets… It’s a whole different world, obviously. And it’s a different division and it’s treated as a separate entity basically. But we do as much as we can.

You guys do have these bitchin’ bikes.

Yeah, and people should really check out the website because it blows people’s minds when they see that we do running shoes, we do a full entire line of winter sports products. Our bicycles are super legit. And we do outdoor stuff, like even backpacking. It’s insane how broad of a spectrum Scott has been able to achieve and be successful in.  And it’s global. Sometimes I forget that we have all these other things going on as a company because for guys like you and me moto is all that matters. But there are 3 other divisions at Scott that are getting after it just like we are in moto.  So that’s cool!  

Sponsor: