Undefeated Roadracer Ryan Burke Makes History In Colorado And We Ask How

A dream season doesn’t happen by chance; it takes a lot of hard work and discipline

Nick’s Note: I had the pleasure of witnessing Rich Oliver’s undefeated AMA 250cc GP seasons and Scott Russell’s AMA 750cc Superstock all-win season. It is a flabbergastingly difficult achievement, so when Ryan Burke went undefeated and crash-free in 2017, I was really impressed. Having seen “Team Burke” in action several times last year, I can attest to the “all-in” mentality and I wanted to write about it here. This team demonstrates the strength of a group unanimously pulling in the same direction with no excuses. If you’re going racing, this is a pretty good recipe Burke has cooked up in Colorado.

Ryan Burke
How many ways are there to lose a race? Ryan Burke dodges many of those opportunities for mistakes with intense and pointed pre-race focus. In 2017, his whole team brought it.Nick Ienatsch

Ryan Burke won every 600cc and 1,000cc race he entered last year in Colorado's Motorcycle Roadracing Association (MRA). Okay, when his 1,000cc bike failed to start at one round, he rode his 600 in two Open-class races and finished fifth and sixth, but in every MRA race in which he rode the appropriate bike, he won. That's 14 for 14 on his Yamaha YZF-R6 co-owned by Jeff Brown and 19 for 21 on his personal Yamaha YZF-R1.

And there’s more: He didn’t crash either bike all year. “That’s a first,” his mom Kathy told me as his dad Dan nodded, patting his wallet with a smile. Oh, yeah, there’s even more: When his 600 blew up after winning a race, he borrowed Brown’s 2006 R6 just before the next race and won on it too, despite having never touched it prior to the warm-up lap. It was a historic year, and I believe this team’s experience holds lessons for us all, especially young racers and non-championship-winning racers.

I put together a series of questions for Burke’s team and received answers from Ryan, his mom Kathy, father Dan, fiancée Jenny Locicero, Dunlop tire fitter Bryan Moffatt, and crewman Rob Walters. I hope these answers help guide you to your own dream season.

What was the most significant moment of 2017 season and why?

Dan: Finishing the season without crashing. That allowed us to improve the bike instead of having to rebuild it. The cost was low.

Kathy: Winning the number-one plate for the third time was significant.

Jenny: Three things really stand out: 1) Ryan's lap times from Superbike Challenge (MotoAmerica Superbike Challenge support race at Utah Motorsports Campus) were comparable to mid-pack MotoAmerica times; 2) Ryan's ability to stay focused even when his grandmother was in the hospital; and 3) riding the R6 in Race of the Rockies (MRA's almost-unlimited class) and giving those guys a run for their money.

Rob: Two things really stand out: 1) Ryan riding Jeff Brown's 600 to victory; and 2) beating Chris Fillmore with no electronics (Ryan had to completely shut off the R1's traction control due to a glitch on the warm-up lap).

Bryan: Finishing the season with no crashes.

Ryan: The day I won the championships would be that moment. My main goal is to win championships. That's the day all the hard work pays off.

Jenny Locicero, Rob Walters, and Mark Schellinger
With the race won, Burke, his fiancée Jenny Locicero, crewman Rob Walters, and rider coach Mark Schellinger are already working on how to improve while they wait for the announcer. Burke got a lot of microphone time last year.Nick Ienatsch

What was the biggest mistake of the season?

Dan: Bad batteries and bad fuel. (The team tried lightweight batteries that failed when needed, and some tricky fuel that ruined the spark plugs.)

Kathy: Not sure we made a mistake. When the R6 engine blew up?

Jenny: F'n batteries.

Rob: Blowing up the R6 engine and inadvertently swapping transponders to the wrong bike.

Bryan: No mistakes come to mind.

Ryan: My biggest mistake of the season was being too aggressive on the first lap during a club race at UMC. I should have exercised more patience. See below.

What was the closest you came to messing up all of it?

Dan: No issues like that.

Kathy: When the 1,000 broke at Pueblo.

Jenny: Ryan had to take the runoff in turn 1 at Pueblo in practice a couple times, but there was no real moment, which is the shocking thing.

Rob: Battery issues.

Bryan: Blowing up the R6 engine.

Ryan: The closest I came to messing it all up was the club race at UMC. I started from the ninth row and, by being aggressive, I made it through most of the pack by The Attitudes, about halfway through the first lap. I put myself in a bad position, however, and had to take evasive action to miss another rider. My front tire touched his rear, and I ran off the track. I was so disappointed in myself. I got back on track in a calm manner and considered pulling in. I was in last place by a mile at this point, but I regained my focus and ran clean laps to the end. I finished fifth but could have won if I hadn't been overly aggressive on the first lap.

What was your most significant contribution?

Dan: Not interfering with anything, sitting back, and watching.

Kathy: Food and shelter.

Jenny: I wholeheartedly supported Ryan and was willing to be put on the back burner to racing, making sacrifices to fulfill his dreams.

Rob: Tire changes, safety wiring, tire warmers, bringing stands and drinks to the podium, mechanical duties.

Bryan: Having enough tires.

Ryan: My greatest contribution would be my quest to be the best rider I can be. Having a purpose behind my riding has inadvertently given my team a purpose and meaning behind their work, leading to the results that we share.

Besides Ryan, who do you believe was the team’s MVP and why?

Dan: Mark Schellinger. He kept the rider focused.

Kathy: Dan Burke because of his ability to find the parts and beat the bike with the money stick.

Jenny: Bryan Moffatt, the Dunlop rep, because even though he's there for the whole club, he puts Ryan first like he is family. Gear, tires, wrenching, he's always there when Ryan needs something.

Rob: Dan Burke for the financial obligation and Geoff Cesmat for his engine expertise; he built an R1 engine that lasted all year and was still running strong.

Bryan: Mom. For getting me there and waking me up.

Ryan: The team's MVP is my dad, Dan Burke. When it comes to equipping the bikes, everything is first class. He never settles and is always looking for ways to improve the package.

Yamaha Champions Riding School coaching group
Burke joined the Yamaha Champions Riding School coaching group and also instructed at Harley-Davidson’s Back to the Track program. He pointed to 24 days of riding as a major factor in his consistency, even though he spent much of this time on cruisers. From left to right: Kyle Wyman, Andrew Eichelberger, Michael Henau, Mark Schellinger, Nick Ienatsch, Burke, Louis Ferrari, and Mark Thompson. “These days gave me a chance to experiment with everything,” Burke said. “What you’re riding doesn’t matter.”Nick Ienatsch

What do you believe is the secret to a season like this?

Dan: Rider training. YCRS.

Kathy: The rider's dedication.

Jenny: Being 100 percent prepared for all aspects of the event. Refusal to accept anything but the best. Always striving to be faster, smoother, safer, better. Partnering with people/businesses who are masters in the motorcycle industry. Tires, powerful and reliable engines, highest-quality parts, training.

Rob: Everyone pulls their weight. Consistency with everyone doing their jobs.

Bryan: Rider preparation. Focus.

Ryan: I think the secret to having a season like this is focus because there are so many variables that are working against you in racing. You have to take all of them into account and find a way to overcome the odds.

Are you superstitious and, if so, how?

Dan: No

Kathy: No

Jenny: Yes. July 12th. It's a terrible day.

Rob: Yes. Same shirt and same shorts every Sunday. Blue Yamaha racing T-shirt and gray Oakley shorts.

Bryan: No

Ryan: No

What mistakes have you made in past seasons that you corrected in 2017?

Dan: We researched products better.

Kathy: We learned to surround ourselves with smart people to work on the bike.

Jenny: More understanding about the consequences of your significant other needing to do what it takes to maintain and grow a skill set. This is put in the politest of terms.

Rob: We gained consistency of bike prep throughout the weekend.

Bryan: The team's knowledge of tire performance is better.

Ryan: In the past, I've suffered from a loss of focus. I improved my focus by practicing being in the moment. I worked on turning it on and maintaining it.

Did anything funny happen during this season?

Dan: Logan screaming at the new corner worker because he didn't know who Ryan was.

Kathy: Winning on Browny's bike.

Jenny: Yeah. Nick Ienatsch ran off the track trying to keep up with Ryan.

Rob: Accidentally shooting nitrogen down Jenny's shirt and startling her. We are always having fun.

Bryan: Mark Schellinger straight-legging the R1 to start it.

Ryan: Saturday nights at the racetrack were always a good source of humor. For example, I've been approached by fans who have a had a few cocktails and they felt compelled to express their admiration for my riding and character as champion. I guess you'd have to be there but it was hilarious.

What separates your team from others?

Dan: We have a strong family bond and are always striving to be better.

Kathy: We bring total family support.

Jenny: We obsess over the process of winning. We have a plan and viable backup plans. Our family support system is legendary.

Rob: It's a family affair. Racing keeps the family tight. Everyone comes together.

Bryan: There is dedication from everyone to get the job done. We do whatever it takes.

Ryan: Our team is different than others because we are all family. This ultra-tight-knit group works seamlessly throughout the weekend to achieve great things. The trust I have in my family to do their jobs so I can do mine is something that can only come from family and 26 years of racing experience.

More Next Tuesday!