For the past two decades, Andre Laurin and his OTSFF Group have been involved with the sport of motocross in Canada. Whether it was as a team owner, series sponsor, or as a fan, Andre has given this sport everything he has. As you will read in this interview, Andre didn’t support Canadian motocross for 18 years because of ego or personal gain, he poured money into it because he loved it. Well sadly, two weeks ago Andre announced that this crazy 2020 season was the OTSFF Team’s final one in the paddock of the Triple Crown Series. The OTSFF Team’s departure is not only sad news for its riders and team personal, but it also sad for the series and the fans. To get his thoughts and why this decision was made and what is next for Andre and his family, we gave him a call for this week’s MXP Chatter.
MXP: Good morning Andre, thank you for taking my call. I feel like we could talk for hours about this sport and your involvement in it. I mean, 18 years is a long time.
AL: Well I think it’s been longer than 18 years if you count the years before our Suzuki deal. But yes, after two decades of racing and being a part of the national series it’s, unfortunately, time to move on.
Your team has most certainly had a good run with numerous race wins, championships, and countless special moments. Going back to those early days, what attracted you to the sport?
Before getting involved with motocross we were heavily involved with Iain Hayden and the Snocross Series in the early 2000s. Together we won titles in that sport and since Iain was spending the summer months racing motocross, we started to pay attention to that sport. There are many similarities to both sports so the transition was a relatively easy one to make, especially when you have the same athlete doing both. So, we decided to go motocross racing and we put together a team.
Do you remember what the sport was like back then?
Well, when we came onto the scene the sport was being dominated by the Blackfoot Team. When we began they were on Honda’s and then they made the switch over to Yamaha. As the new team in the paddock, we had to work hard to gain traction and find our place. However, we were able to sign some really good riders for not a lot of money and when you’re a new team and you’re able to have riders like John Dowd, Keith Johnson, Mike Treadwell, and even Jake Weimer under the tent, it doesn’t take long to find success and earn respect in the industry.
Yes, you had some really good riders right from the start. Not only were they good on the track, but off of the track as well.
Yes, we had some really good guys back then and that helped us to get the ball rolling. It was hard in those days to compete with teams like Blackfoot and Richmond, but we found our place quickly. At first, Suzuki was on board with us and we had a good deal with them. Unfortunately, when the economic downturn of 2008/ 2009 came Suzuki pulled out of racing altogether and we were left to do it on our own. From there, we bought bikes and kept the team going, and then when the Yamaha deal came up, we jumped all over that.
When you look back at those early years now, you must feel such a sense of pride. Like you said, you came in as the new team in the paddock and within a short time, you were battling for race wins.
Exactly, it’s been a great ride and yes those early years do make me feel really proud. We had a great team with some quality people involved and the success started from within. It began during the off-season with gathering sponsors, testing down south, and preparing for the season. That has always been our blueprint for success and that is why we were able to stick around for so long.
When you announced a few weeks ago that the OTSFF Team wouldn’t be back in 2021, I felt a real sense of sadness from within the industry. Your team has built quite a legacy in this sport.
Yes, honestly I’ve really been impressed with the comments I’ve read and with the people that have taken the time to reach out to me and my family. It’s never easy saying goodbye to anything in life, but it felt like the right time to do so. I’m proud of what our team accomplished over the years and to hear people reach out and pay their respects, that means a lot.
Each year the OTSFF Team has always challenged for race wins and championships. For the past two seasons, you had Phil Nicoletti, Shawn Maffenbeier, and Sam Gaynor. I’m assuming they all wanted to return to the team next year. Why stop now? Is it a case of things just running their course, or is was there more behind this decision?
I think that answer might take longer than we have today to explain. I’d love to say there was just one reason behind it, if that was the case then it would be easy to fix. Honestly, though, there are a lot of things behind this decision but in the end we decided now was the best time to move on. The sport is going through a difficult time right now and some of its largest sponsors have also decided to go in a different direction. That is tough for everyone. It’s tough on the series and it’s tough on the teams and riders.
As we spoke about above, you’ve not only been involved in this sport for a long time, but you’ve also seen other sports from the inside out. Do you think this sport is missing something right now? Or is it a victim of what we’re all dealing with right now?
I honestly think the sport in Canada needs a reset! Maybe not back to what things were like in your day Palms, but perhaps back to gooseneck trailers that Machine Racing used to run and box vans and sprinters. I know that’s difficult to hear and a tough pill to swallow for our top riders, but you have to be willing to take what your industry can give you. I think in the next few years we’re going to see more and more of this in sports as certain big-name sponsors change their direction. As a rider right now you have to decide how badly you want to do this sport and if the risk vs reward is worth it. If it is, then keep doing it and do your best. However, the days of making a good living racing pro motocross in Canada are going to be challenging for the next few years. So if I was a rider I would invest in myself during the off-season. Take some classes, get a part-time job, basically give yourself something to fall back on. This is such an awesome sport and eventually, things will improve. But for now, I believe we need to hit the reset button. The same way we reset our computers if they’re not working.
Do you think this is all Covid-19 related, or is it just the circular nature of our industry?
I think it’s a bit both really. As we’ve seen in many industries with Covid-19, it’s given them a chance to reset and change direction. We’ve been through recessions and things like that, but we’ve never seen anything like this. Right now it’s easy for a large company to look at the amount of money they’re putting into something like racing and decide to take that money and put it elsewhere. Under normal circumstances, they might not do that, or they may just invest less, but still keep investing. For the OEM’s, they got a gift this year as bike sales have been through the roof since May. No one saw that coming and that is why some of them cut budgets before the season even got underway. I understand that as they’re trying to run a business. But, it made no sense to me when an OEM would cut their contingency and incentive programs to their pro teams and riders. Yes, I’m sure on paper that improved their bottom line, but then that money just goes to the Government in the form of taxes. As a businessman myself, I understood a lot of decisions that were made during the past few months, but I don’t get that one. I’d love to bring that up at the next MMIC meeting!
So what do see the Triple Crown Series looking like in 2021?
I’ve love to see us return to a national schedule with races in the west as well as out east. This series has fans from coast to coast that want to see the top riders in their region. But if the team budgets aren’t there then how can they afford to do so? As a series, you don’t want to be in a position where half of your teams can’t go west because they can’t afford it. Honestly, I can see next year not looking much different than it did this year. Keep it more regional and try and keep the costs down for the teams and riders. I’d also like to see a rule put in place for the 250 class to try and keep the bikes on a more level playing field. That would give the young kids and privateers a better chance to compete in that class. As I said, the sport at the pro level needs to reset and go from there. Right now, it appears healthy at the grassroots level, and with people just riding, if that stays strong then eventually things will come back.
Well, I hate to see any team leave this series, especially one that has been around as long as the OTSFF Team has. I supposed this is the reality of the world we’re currently living in?
We had a very good run and I’m proud of how our team competed at the highest level of this sport for so long. We did it as long as possible and I’m happy with the legacy we’re leaving behind.
I know this might be a tough question to answer as I’m sure there’s a ton of great moments from all of your years in racing. However, can you give us a couple that maybe stand out?
That is a good question! If I had to pick a few I would say that those early Snocross Championships with Iain were incredible. From there, working with John Dowd was a lot of fun and he taught us a lot. The success we had with Gavin Gracyk was memorable, winning the title with Goerke was very rewarding, as was last year’s Triple Crown Series Title with Phil Nicoletti. We’ve enjoyed a lot of success and as I think back to everything, I’m most thankful for all of the people we worked with over the years! The riders, our sponsors, all of the team personal, the series with Mark and most recently the Thompson family, and of course all of the fans. Thanks to everyone and Palms, thanks for calling. Keep up the great media work and I’m sure we’ll be dealing with each other on the truck side of things.
Thanks Andre and congratulations on such a great run in motocross.