Billy Payne Jr. is 28 and perhaps making his final attempt at AMA Supercross stardom. He has the pedigree of a star, the son of Billy Payne Sr., one of the pioneers of supercross back in the days of the Super Bowls of Motocross.
But injuries and surgeries have kept Payne Jr. off the race tracks. Broken wrists, surgically repaired knees, and most recently a crash at Chase Field in Phoenix that left him unconscious while preparing to qualify have taken their toll on Payne.
He talked about what it took to get him back on track for 2010 and what he expects to accomplish in the AMA Supercross series.
Q: How did you think the first Anaheim race went?
A: The first race didn’t go that great, but I guess it was to be expected. It’s been a while since I got back on the bike and raced again. I took five years off back in ’02, ‘03 due to some bad injuries that I had. I broke both my wrists and had several surgeries to repair them. I had a lot of time off. I came back in 08 and raced and then had a small knee injury that was kind of old. I had surgery that put me out for the whole year, last year. I didn’t race at all in 09. I was off the bike and I was working again.
It was actually a last-minute deal that we put together for the first race here in Anaheim.
I guess it went as expected. I was just trying to get some nerves out, getting the bugs out. I just kind of rode real conservative, didn’t get aggressive. We made the night program, which is all they expected out of me. We were in the show, but I didn’t make the main event. My goals are to be in the main event in the upcoming races.
Q: Two broken wrists in 2002 knocked you out of the sport for almost six years. What happened in the crash?
A: Before the season started, I was doing a local supercross race. I was leading the race and back then they had a defect in the Yamahas. The carburetor used to pop off the boot. When that happens, it’s pretty much like running out of gas. It happened right before a jump. Basically I went off the jump with no power which threw me over the bars and I landed into the face of the landing of the next jump. Just came down and broke both my wrists, snapped them both clean, both bones in both wrists. One of them was pretty bad. It was shattered. It was a really bad injury, one of the worst injuries I’ve ever had. I was in a lot of pain for about at least a month. A lot of surgeries. I almost lost the use of my hand. They had to open me up and open up all the arteries. There was another surgery on top of all the surgeries to put the bones together. It was hard.
The doctors were telling me I was never going to race again. I ended coming back and racing locally after that. But then I went back to work and was just about to retire. I guess five or six years off the bike, one day I wanted to get back on it again.
It took me out for a good three months. Local races. Stopped. My wrists still felt like they were in a lot of pain. I didn’t feel like I had it anymore. It took the wind out of my sails. I went back to work and I was off the bike completely for a couple of years. I went to work construction for my dad. It took me out for about six years.
Q: When you made your first return, it was in the AMA Supercross Lites-East. How did that season go for you?
A: I came back to race in ‘08. We ended up 10th in points. We made every main event. For me to come back and not race in six years and show up and make the main event, I was more than happy. By the end of the season, I think my best finish was eighth. I had a couple races where I was up there in the top five. My speed started coming around again. My conditioning was good. It always kept me consistent.
I was getting ready for a supercross race in Sweden. It was one of those deals where it was overseas and they pay some Americans to go over there and race.
Q: While preparing for that race, you had an accident at one of the Red Bull practice tracks. What happened?
A: I hit the ramp, it was a ramp to dirt, just like a freestyle jump, and I was on a 450. With our gearing and the way our bikes are set up, we have to time it, because you can overshoot it or come up short real easily. I ended up overshooting it and when I landed, my knee just buckled. I ended having to go get surgery done on that to fix it. My doctor told me the healing process was going to be about seven or eight months if I wanted it to heal right. That bummed me out. I just came back, my first year back had a good season, then that happened. I thought I was just done again.
I took the whole last year off and didn’t race at all. I wasn’t going to race again until about two months before Anaheim this year. We put together all our own sponsors and we did it all our own. I’m not riding for any team. This is all my own deal, just me and my friend Luke Greenwood and Jim Stonehouse.
We all got together and put together and deal and we’re doing it.
Q: What do you want to accomplish in your third comeback to supercross racing?
A: I just want to get back in the sport. What I mean by that is I want to stay healthy for one and I want to be in all the main events. It’s one thing to make it into the night program. You really want to be in the main show, the main event. To tell the truth, with my history and my racing career, I’ve never really missed a main event. That’s where I want to be obviously. I have some long-term goals, but for now, I would like to definitely be in the main event, be part of the show.
Q: At 28, some riders are considering retiring. You’re restarting your career. How does it feel to be one of the older riders out there?
A: It’s a whole different deal. Your heart rate, it’s a lot higher on a supercross track than an outdoor track. There’s no resting places. When you watch from the stands, it doesn’t look that gnarly. It looks like everyone’s kind of hitting their jumps, just floating through the air, twisting the throttle. In reality, it’s a real physical, demanding sport. There’s no place to rest out there and it’s really high intensity. I train on mountain bikes and I train on road bikes and I do some MMA, and nothing gets my heart rate up as high as it does on a motorcycle on a supercross track.
It’s definitely in my blood. My dad, before I was born, was a factory Maico rider. He rode for other teams as well. Back then, they didn’t have supercross. He was in one of the first Super Bowls of Motocross. My dad raced and he was really good. He quit when he was about 23, 24. When I was born, we were doing desert trips and he still rode for fun. I got my first motorcycle when I was 5 years old. My older cousin started racing. My dad was really involved in his racing. I used to go to the races with him and watch. One day, I became buddies with a lot of kids that were racing.
I was 8 years old when I started racing. It only took a couple years and we started winning races. We were full bore with it and it just became part of our life. That’s why I can’t stay away. That’s all we did.